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Depth Chart Review: Cowboys Hurting at TE

Rookie Brandon Sharpe scored on a six-yard interception return against the Bengals.

Most who follow the Cowboys know by now that backup tight end John Phillips is out for the season with a torn ACL. The team has announced the signing of a new backup tight end and the release to two other players. This move will affect the depth chart for a few of the positions discussed a few days ago.

Offensive Line

Free vs. Barron: Doug Free looked very solid at left tackle. Backup Alex Barron didn’t. Here’s a clip showing some of Free’s better plays in the opening series:

Second-Team Lineup: The Cowboys’ starters only played one series in the first quarter. The second-team line consisted of the following: C Travis Bright, LG Mike Tepper, RG Pat McQuistan, LT Barron, and RT Robert Brewster. McQuistan was beaten by a spin move on one play, and Barron had trouble with a speed rush that led to a sack late in the first quarter. Brewster also almost gave up a sack in the first quarter.

Offensive Backfield

Jones’ Fumble and Barber’s Fist-Pumping: Felix Jones had only one official carry, with two other negated by penalties. His final run looked like it might be a touchdown, but he fumbled into the end zone. Fortunately, Cincinnati was called offsides on the play. Marion Barber rushed twice, including a two-yard gain on third down that gave the Cowboys a first down. Barber, of course, provided his signature “go crazy folks!” routine for his two-yard effort.

Tashard Choice: Choice saw the most action with seven carries for 41 yards. He had a couple of decent runs, including an 11-yarder that gained a first down.

Herb Donaldson Doesn’t Impress: It would be hard enough for Herb Donaldson to make the team, and his fumble in the second quarter didn’t do him any favors.

Receivers

Tight Ends Look Good Before Injuries: Dallas quarterbacks targeted tight ends John Phillips and Scott Sicko 11 times and hit on 9 of those passes for 104 total yards. However, Phillips is gone for the season, and Sicko suffered a concussion. Dallas on Tuesday signed rookie Dajleon Farr, who played in college at the University of Miami and the University of Memphis.

Roy Catches the Ball!: On the opening drive of the game, Tony Romo threw a high ball over the middle to Roy Williams, who typically finds a way to drop such passes. However, Williams pulled the ball in for a 21-yard gain down to the Cincinnati 19.

Ogletree vs. Holley vs. Hurd: The entire receiving corps from 2009 is back, but the team has added rookie Dez Bryant. This means that there is probably only one slot open for Kevin Ogletree, Jesse Holley, or Sam Hurd. All three caught passes against the Bengals. The stats:

Ogletree: 7 targets, 2 receptions, 25 yards.

Holley: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 20 yards.

Hurd: 3 targets, 1 reception, 4 yards.

Defensive Line

Stephen Bowen: Stephen Bowen had an impressive game with a sack and three QB hurries.

Good Depth: The Bengals only managed 43 yards on the ground for the entire game, even with the Cowboys relying on backups along the defensive line. Jason Hatcher and Junior Siavii were solid last year and looked good against Cincinnati.

Linebackers

Lots of Williams: Jason Williams and Leon Williams combined for 11 total tackles against the Bengals. And Brandon Williams picked off a pass and returned it 36 yards to set up a field goal.

Welcome, Brandon Sharpe: Brandon Sharpe appears on the third team on the team’s depth chart page, but his bio is completely blank. He is a rookie free agent from Texas Tech who made a big splash by returning an interception six yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sharpe played the majority of the game.

Defensive Backfield

We Didn’t Shut Out T.O.: Terrell Owens was the target of four passes, and he caught two. One of his receptions came when he was matched up against Mike Jenkins. The second came against Jamal Wall. Owens would have had a third in front of Terence Newman, but the play was negated by a penalty.

Reserves in the Secondary Frustrate Bengals’ Backup QBs: Several younger players saw considerable action against the Bengals, including Wall, Cletis Gordon, Michael Hamlin, Barry Church, Bryan McCann, and Danny McCray. Backup QBs J.T. O’Sullivan and Jordan Palmer struggled against the Dallas reserves, combining to complete only 14 of 31 passes for 135 yards and three interceptions. McCray picked off a desperation pass on the last play of the game.

Special Teams

Buehler Passes His First Test but Misses Long Attempt: [Note: this has been corrected]: David Buehler’s long field goal was 34 yards, and he missed a 49-yarder after the opening drive of the third quarter. Two of his five kickoffs were also downed for touchbacks.

Church and McCray Active on Special Teams: McCray not only picked off a pass, but he also recorded two special teams tackles. Church had a total of three tackles on defense plus a special teams tackle.

Titus Ryan is Injured, Then Released: Titus Ryan opened the game with a 38-yard kickoff return. However, he suffered a broken thumb and was released on Tuesday.

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Some Names to Watch on the Cowboys’ Depth Chart

Miles Austin and the Cowboys open their preseason on Sunday.

The excitement that comes with the start of preseason will evaporate after about a quarter of Sunday’s game between the Cowboys and Bengals when the starters come out, but at least we have football.

There are few positions on the team where the starters are in question. What is less certain is the status of several of the backups.

Here’s a look at the names on the Cowboys’ depth chart on the eve of the first preseason game.

Offensive Line

Players lost from 2009: T Flozell Adams, C/G Cory Proctor, C Duke Preston

New starter: Tackle Doug Free, who filled in for Marc Columbo at right tackle for nearly half of the 2009 season, replaces Flozell Adams at left tackle.

Backup center: News from the Cowboys is that starting guard Kyle Kosier will be the backup center, with Montrae Holland moving to guard to replace Kosier. With the team losing Cory Proctor and Duke Preston, the team doesn’t have a true backup center on the roster. The depth chart now lists two reserve guards in the backup center position– Travis Bright and Phil Costa. Bright was on the practice squad last year.

New backups at guard and tackle: The Cowboys acquired Alex Barron from St. Louis in a trade for linebacker Bobby Carpenter, and Barron will be the principal backup at tackle. Pat McQuistan has been a tackle since entering the league in 2006, but he is now listed as a backup at right guard.

Draftees to watch: Robert Brewster was a third-round pick in 2009 but missed all of last season with an injury to his pectoral muscle. List on the third team behind Brewster is a sixth-round pick from 2010, Sam Young.

Other rookie free agents: In addition to Bright and Costa, two others (both rookie free agents) will try to make the team: Will Barker and Mike Tepper.

Offensive Backfield

Few changes: There is virtually no change in the offensive backfield from 2009. The Cowboys’ site still lists Marion Barber as the starter, though news during the offseason indicated that Jones would be the starter. Tashard Choice should see more action this year as well. Quarterbacks are, of course, Tony Romo, Jon Kitna, and Stephen McGee. With Kitna not looking especially impressive last preseason, and with him not playing a down in 2009, some eyes will be on McGee to see whether he might be ready to step up in front of Kitna.

Rookie: The only new name that shows up on the depth chart for now is a rookie fullback named Chris Gronkowski.

Receivers

Depth chart without an injured Dez Bryant: The biggest question about starters has focused on receiver, where many want rookie Dez Bryant to supplant Roy Williams in a starting role. But with Bryant out for four to six weeks with high ankle sprain, the lineup at receiver looks the same as 2009. The talented list includes Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton at receiver, with Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, and John Phillips returning at tight end. Bennett hasn’t made many friends among fans, and several have called for Phillips to move into the second tight end role.

Hurd ahead of Ogletree? : Sam Hurd was good on special teams last season, but he only caught seven passes in 2009. Kevin Ogletree saw more action towards the end of the season, and it’s not a bad bet to think he has a better chance than Hurd to make the team.

Rookie: One new name that shows up at receiver is Titus Ryan, who played in Canada in 2009. At the moment, Ryan is listed as the principal kickoff and punt returner.

Defensive Line

Same starters: The Cowboys brought back defensive end Marcus Spears to match up once again with opposite end Igor Olshansky and nose tackle Jay Ratliff. However, Spears sprained a ligament in his knee and will miss the entire preseason. His backup is Jason Hatcher, who had a solid season in 2009 as part of the defensive line rotation. Also returning are backups Junior Siavii and Stephen Bowen.

New names: The Cowboys have three new names for the defensive line on the current roster– seventh-r0und pick Sean Lissemore, former practice squad member Marcus Dixon, and rookie free agent Josh Brent.

Linebackers

Starters return: The Cowboys have a strong corps of linebackers, with starters DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Keith Brooking, and Bradie James returning.  The 2010 season would (barring injury) mark the first time since the Cowboys ran a 4-3 defense in 2003 and 2004 that the team would have all of its starting linebackers return for a second consecutive season.

Promising backups: Three of the Cowboys’ backups were draft picks in 2009: Victor Butler, Jason Williams, and Brandon Williams. Butler and Jason Williams saw action in 2009, but Brandon Williams missed the entire season with a knee injury. A third Williams– Leon Williams— also signed with the Cowboys in the 2010 offseason. Two other members of the 2009 team– Steve Octavien and Curtis Johnson— also remain on the preseason roster.

Rookie draft pick: The team’s site lists second-round pick Sean Lee as a third-stringer, but he will likely move past Leon Williams as a backup inside linebacker. Lee will likely miss the preseason opener with a quadriceps injury.

Defensive Backfield

New free safety: With the Cowboys releasing Ken Hamlin, the new free safety is Alan Ball, who has been with the club since 2007. Otherwise, the backfield remains largely intact, with Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman in place at the corners and backed up by Orlando Scandrick. Gerald Sensabaugh returns for a second season at strong safety.

Backups: The “other” Hamlin from 2009– former fifth-round pick Michael Hamlin– appears to be the primary backup at safety. Patrick Watkins remains on the depth chart, but he is current listed on the third team. The other veteran backup is Cletis Gordon, who saw action in one game for the Cowboys in 2009. Other backups are rookies: fourth-round pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, sixth-round pick Jamal Wall and free agents Bryan McCann, Danny McCray, and Barry Church.

Special Teams

All eyes on David Buehler: David Buehler showed he was a great kickoff specialist in 2009, but now he will need to show he can make field goals. Word is that he has been generally accurate during camp, making 20 of his first 24 attempts as of last Monday.

Returner? The Cowboys have a number of players who can return punts and kickoffs– Felix Jones (kickoffs), Patrick Crayton (punts), Kevin Ogletree (kickoffs), Terence Newman (punts). Right now, though, the name that shows up for both returner positions is Titus Ryan. We shall see.

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