Taylor Williams

Dark Horses Who Can Still Make The Cowboys' Roster

Created on Aug. 30, 2013 9:17 AM EST

It’s the same old story, the same old song and dance.

Aerosmith might as well have been talking about the Dallas Cowboys with their 1974 hit. But it’s 2013, the first wave of roster cuts descended on the NFL, and with scant time to whittle the count to 53, the ‘Boys are facing the same positional dilemmas they did in April.

The last few roster spots — probably four to six openings, according to this most insightful piece — represent positions that have been liabilities from the start. Safety and offensive guard have been inconsistent for a year now, and Jay Ratliff’s placement on the physically-unable-to-perform list relegates the D-line from potentially exceptional to undeniably questionable. The ‘Boys are back to square one in some cases, and not entirely through their own doing.

If nothing else, the last men standing can expect to see immediate playing time. Without further ado, here’s a pitch for each player who’s emerged a true dark horse — and is still hustling.

S Jeff Heath

The hit by Heath — the player who’s risen fastest from obscurity — that forced a fumble during the Bengals game proves why he’s made such a good impression: he fits the schematic bill. He’s an aggressive ball-seeker, plays for turnovers and brings lateral range to the position. And perhaps best of all for Dallas, he has the downhill speed to augment those skills in special teams play.

Matt Johnson is clearly a talent, but this is a team decimated by injuries in recent years — one that can’t afford to take chances on perennially banged-up players. For this reason, Heath deserves a spot over Johnson or Eric Frampton.

DT Landon Cohen

Cohen hasn’t stood out like fellow camp body signee George Selvie. But as Dallas gambled on Ratliff by passing on a defensive tackle in the draft, he’s the best option they have as a true defensive tackle.

Ben Bass could end up taking more reps at end than at tackle. Anthony Spencer could be rusty after camp-ending surgery, and Kyle Wilber isn’t acclimated to the position at the NFL level. With Jason Hatcher playing on the inside for the first time and Nick Hayden running on little experience, defensive tackle has to become a heavily rotated position.

OG Kevin Kowalski

No veteran guards appear to be coming, Nate Livings reportedly has a degenerative knee condition, and Ronald Leary is coming off his own injury. Plus, the ground game is looking downright nasty thus far — all valid reasons to keep another player at this position.

Let’s be fair: Doug Free has looked good this preseason — all preseason. That didn’t change when he moved to right guard against the Bengals, but he still needs to be the starting right tackle.

LB Caleb McSurdy

Though he could still beat out Brandon Magee for a sixth and final spot, McSurdy as a seventh linebacker still makes sense in lieu of, say, a sixth receiver. He’s a special teams contributor, and the Cowboys need to be thinking about developing a solid corps of young linebackers as quickly as possible.

The new defensive identity hinges on the linebacker duo of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter captaining the style of swarming, turnover-forcing play. Not to mention, making calls and covering tight ends — the NFL’s new Apple of positional stocks. If either gets hurt again, he can’t be hurried back into action, and the Cowboys will need backups who’ve acquired experience.

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