Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cowboys Roster Report - August 27

http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/2015/08/sturm-roster-cutdown-report-august-27.html/

Congratulations, football fans.  You have made it to the 14 day mark.  In 14 days, the NFL will kickoff its next season with real football of great significance when the Steelers visit the Super Champion Patriots (with or without their QB) for the NFL's kickoff.  This means we are 17 days from the Cowboys hosting the New York Giants.  It is finally within sight.
But, the teams still have plenty of work to accomplish in that they have 2 more games and countless more employment decisions to work through to determine who makes it to the final 53.  September 1 - next Tuesday - will be the cut down day to 75 players and then September 5 - next Saturday - is the day teams drop to 53.
Since the last time we did this study on August 11th, the Cowboys have been pretty busy. It is a bit of a simplistic misnomer to claim that the team simply drops from their original 90 players to 53.  In reality, every day the scouting staff is trying to find the right 90 players and if someone is an "easy cut", then shouldn't we just cut them today and bring in someone else to examine?  32 teams are cutting players periodically, perhaps the discard in Houston or Atlanta is better than player #89 on the list in Oxnard.  If you spend time at training camp, you can often see the team working out men who hope for just a chance to suit up.  It is quite amazing to consider the full player pool that teams cast their nets into to fill out their roster.
Anyway, since August 11th - just 2 weeks ago - the Cowboys have signed 9 new players and waived 10 - because one of their new players, Brandon Smith, was then waived 9 days later.  But, since we last did this chart, the Cowboys have bid farewell to Chris Whaley, Jason Wilson, Ray Vinopal, George Farmer, Lache Seastrunk, Deontay Greenberry, Reggie Dunn, and Cody Clay.
New to the chart below are Ben Malena, Michael Hill, David Porter, Rod Sweeting, Dakorey Johnson, Clyde Gates, Phil Bates, and Carlif Taylor.  All of them will go directly to the longshot column for now.  So let's see how the chart looks, divided into 3 categories - "Made the Team", "On the Bubble", and those who are the "Longshots".
PositionAlready Made TeamOn The BubbleLongshots
QB(2) Romo, Weeden(2) Vaughn, Showers
RB(4) Randle, Dunbar, Clutts, McFadden(1) Johnson(3) Agnew, Malena, Hill
TE(2) Witten, Escobar(2) Hanna, Swaim(1) Barden
WR(5) Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Street, Whitehead(6)  Jenkins, Porter, Harwell,  Goodley, Gates, Bates
T(2) Smith, Free(2) Weems, Gibson(2) Wetzel, Dill
G-C(5)  Leary, Frederick, Martin,  Collins, Bernadeau(2) McDermott,  Patrick
DT(4) T Crawford, Hayden, T McClain, J Crawford(2) Bishop, Coleman(1) Taylor
DE(4) Lawrence, Gregory,  Hardy, Mincey, Russell(3) Boatright, Gardner, Edwards(1) Obada
LB(6) Lee, Wilber, Brinkley, McClain, Hitchens, Wilson, Gachkar(2)  K SmithNzeocha(4) Brown, Baggs, Glaud, Johnson
CB(5) Carr, Claiborne,  Jones, White, Patmon(3) Steeples, Ross, Sweeting
S(4) Church, Wilcox, McCray, Heath(1) Scott
ST(3) Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur(2) Hornsey, Kreiter
Totals46 + 21426
(Bold names in the middle column are my picks for the team that I have added to the 46 players on the left if I had to pick the 53 this morning).
Chaz Green and Orlando Scandrick have been taken off the chart.  They will not count on the 53 now because of injuries.  Also, Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain will not count immediately because of suspensions.  So, for the original 53, you can take them off, too.
Mark Nzeocha, the draft pick LB who has yet to really make an appearance is more of a practice squad consideration at this point.
Technically 46 (but 48 with the suspensions are locked up).  I confess that of the 26 "Longshots", I may be misreading a few of the new signings, but until I get a better handle on those new 8 names, I will leave them over there.  Let's just say a big game against Minnesota may not be a horrendous idea for those guys.
Let's go position by position:
OFFENSE
QB - You likely have heard my riffs about the 3rd QB spot.  For what it is worth, I think Showers is the most interesting of the 3 men behind Romo.  I can't tell you how impressive his interest and willingness in special teams work generally is to the front office. He literally is doing anything he can to stay.  With Weeden and Vaughan, there are strengths, but also considerable weaknesses.  But, Weeden has the Cowboys affection, so he is safe.  For me, I think if you really like Showers, you would prefer the practice squad, but you also realize that if you try to slide him through, he might get grabbed.  This is a tough call, but I think PS for Showers is my call right now.
RB - I moved McFadden off the bubble, because let's be honest - they aren't cutting him for now.  They believe he can really make a difference this year and until they have a better option, I am not going to argue.  There are simply no upgrades.  Gus Johnson has separated himself from the others, but I also think his ultimate home is the practice squad in 2015.
TE - Again, this is one of the real either/or decisions of camp.  James Hanna is a NFL player for sure and if the Cowboys don't employ him, somebody will.  But Geoff Swaim has been featured plenty in the preseason and they like what they see.  Swaim is under contract through 2018, Hanna through December.  That might make the difference, but in this case, it might not be either/or.  It might be both.  They could keep 4 Tight Ends and dedicate the back 2 to special teams.
WR - I think Lucky Whitehead is in and off the bubble.  The other 6 WRs who are in the longshot column are going to have a tough time convincing the team to keep 6.  PS is a real option for a few - especially TCU's Porter.
T - You have your 2 starters.  But, is the best reserve tackle La'el Collins or Zack Martin?  If so, do you dare keep only 2 tackles?  No.  Darrion Weems or Gibson stay.  Weems on the 53 and Gibson to the PS seems likely.
G-C - Easiest spot on the team.  The 5 are clear and easy.
=====
DEFENSE
DT - It is pretty clear now that the Cowboys see Jack Crawford as the best replacement for Tyrone Crawford at the 3-technique (leaving Greg Hardy out of the discussion for now). I think Jack has flashed quite a bit at every opportunity this year and has made the team after trying to find the right fit positionally.  Hayden and Terrell McClain are both on at the 1-tech spot and I believe the final spot will go down to Davin Coleman and Ken Bishop.  Personally, I would lean towards Bishop because I love his style and motor, but Coleman does offer a little more flexibility.
DE - I think Ryan Russell has made the team since we did this last.  That leaves Ben Gardner and Lavar Edwards fighting for the last spot.  If Gardner can prove he is a special teams option, the edge goes to him.  Otherwise, this is a photo finish.
LB - 7 Linebackers are in.  But, Rolando McClain being suspended makes it 6 on opening day.  Keith Smith is interesting for sure and squarely on the bubble.  I see he is being used on all special teams so they might go heavy there to save him.
CB - With Orlando Scandrick's news hurting the team, this is a real job opportunity for the next man up.  Tyler Patmon and Corey White are on the squad for sure and now, you wonder if there is a spot for one of the long shots through special teams.  Is that Joel Ross or Rod Sweeting?
S - The two starters and the two special teams leaders in McCray and Heath.  I think all 4 are locks.
ST - Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur.  Easy as can be.
For reference, here is a chart I have used since 2007.  It is the final 53 man roster for the Cowboys based on the numbers they have used at each spot.  Of course, you should be aware of the scheme affecting this as when they went from 3-4 to a 4-3, the DL/LB numbers were impacted.  Otherwise, this might be useful if you choose to try to make your own roster.
Position200720082009201020112012201320142015
QB22333323
RB54454444
TE33324343
WR65555655
OL1011101010999
DL6667771011
LB78997867
DB111199910108
ST33434333
Total535353535353535353

2007: 26 Offense/24 Defense/3 Specialist
2008: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2009: 25 Offense/24 Defense/4 Specialist
2010: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2011: 26 Offense/23 Defense/4 Specialist
2012: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2013: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist
2014: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist
=====
Ok.  46 are locks (not including Rolando or Hardy).  Let's add the final 7 names as of this morning:  Hanna, Swaim, Weems, Gibson, Bishop, Gardner, and Smith.  Of course, the fact is the Cowboys will sign a handful of players in early September that will make their 53 that are on another roster right now, but using the info we have, those are my 53 as of this morning.
Set me straight with your comments below.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mailbag - 1 Technique, 3 Technique, DL Terminology

http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/2015/08/sturms-email-bag-1-technique-3-technqiue-explain.html/

Here are a few emails that are similar that I have received recently from readers just like you:

#1 - Hi Bob I know that occasionally you will do a series that helps us lay football fans better understand some of the nuances of the game. In that same vein I have a question for you regarding the defense of line. What is the five technique, And what does he do? I sometimes hear media types like yourself referred to that position but not go on to explain exactly what it means. Love the show thanks for all that you do in educating football fans like me who want to understand the sport better. 
Chris

 =====

 #2 - Bob, Since you are currently breaking down the Defensive Tackles, I would like to hear your philosophy on what YOU look for in a 1-technique and a 3-technique. Also, could you shed some light on why the Cowboys operate with such undersized interior linemen and seem to have such a low regard for the 1-T. This has bothered for years. If your 1-T can be single blocked, then your leading tackler is probably a safety because your LB’s are fighting guards and centers every week. If you find a 1-T that can split double teams and wreck havoc in the backfield, well, then you’ve got a monster. But, I've heard Bryan Broaddus and others talk about how this staff doesn’t value spending a high pick on a 1-T, and they’ve proven it, not only passing on Sharrif Floyd(not a 1-T in my book) or Sylvester Williams in the first round of ‘13, but taking at TE with Johnathan Hankins on the board in the second. Wouldn’t Hankins look pretty good next to Crawford in the middle of this thing. To me, not spending a high pick on a 1-T is crazy talk, along the same lines as taking a guard in the first round will get you 8-8 every year. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks. -Rich in Euless

=====

And #3 - Sturm - Please show me the alignments of the 1-techniques and the 3-techniques so I can spot them on television.  Thanks!  Steve

=====

Ok. 3 emails about similar topics. So, I decided to put together a little visual aid to help us along this morning.

Above, please find the alignment locations of a typical NFL defense. Yes, there are several slight variations in this chart through the years with different systems, for instance, several utilize a "2i" and a "4i" inside the 2 and the 4, and then move the 3 and the 1 technique's closer inside still. They also will have the TE as the "6" technique in some systems, but for this one, we will go with the traditional charts that are used in several places.This chart shows that if you line up directly on the center, you will get the "0", directly on a guard would be the "2", and for somewhat confusing reasons, straight up on the nose of a tackle would be called the "5" (of course, in the 3-4 the 5-tech is the DE, but here the 5 is actually to the outside of the T where I placed the #6 - 

Again, this is all minutiae that varies from coach to coach). Basically, in the Dallas offense, the two most talked about alignments which you will want to learn are the "1-technique" and the "3-technique".

1-Technique: This DT is there to occupy. In the pass rush, it is his job to make sure that he makes the guard and the center on his side to go to him off the snap. He does that by lining up in the A-Gap in such a way that neither has the necessary leverage to leave him until he has done his job. His job, by the way, is to make sure that center cannot go help on the 3-technique AND that the guard cannot go help against the Defensive End. The idea here is that you would like to take the 4th best pass rusher on the defensive line and have him occupy two interior offensive linemen. In any 4 vs 5 matchups, if you can accomplish that, you have won. Then, in running situations, this man is able to stand his ground against a double team and "keep the linebackers clean" so that they may scrape off him and make the tackle. If he is easily moved or handled by one guy, then a guard can move onto a LB and the defense is in big trouble if that happens on runs. Nick Hayden has been the Cowboys 1-technique since the scheme change and has always been a topic amongst fans for replacement. Yet, through it all, the Cowboys have stuck with him because in the right role, he can accomplish much of these two main objectives and seldom is blown off the ball. He plays the ultimate thankless position, but he clearly is not as easy to replace as the fans believe. Because to this point, he hasn't been replaced. And to Rich's point (above), the Cowboys do not value this in terms of draft pick or pay check. So, if Hayden is "good enough", then the Cowboys are fine with that unless they can find a better option at a similar price (no pick, minimum money). 

3-Technique: Warren Sapp, Tommie Harris, Jason Hatcher, Henry Melton, and now Tyrone Crawford. All of them are terrific players (at wildly different levels), but all of them excelled at this position under the mind of Rod Marinelli (and Monte Kiffin). In some ways it makes you wonder if the player makes the position or the position makes the player (or what percentage of each should be considered). The 3-technique lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard. Which guard depends on which front the Cowboys are running, but in the 4-3 Over, he is on the strong side (TE side) and in the 4-3 under he is on the weak side. You might recall the 2013 season saw Hatcher and Ware on the weak side in the 4-3 under which insured that both were going to be singled up with the guard and tackle. Either you give them help or that duo was going to get home, and Hatcher did for 11 sacks and $27.5 million. So, the 3-technique is outside the guard where the center can't help and the tackle has his hands full with the defensive end. This allows this player to attack a guard in a 1-on-1 situation and often in space as they try to create for him a lot of space to have a "2 way Go" against the guard. This means that he has clearance to attack either side of the guard in pass rush. They want strength, but even more quickness. Lots of athleticism and a guy who can live in the backfield is coveted. 3-techniques are what this whole defense is trying to feature. They are where you would spend big money or a big pick (or both) to secure. You must have a difference maker here. Now, Chris wanted to know about "5-technqiues" and while Rod may refer to his DEs as 5-techs, they aren't really that. In today's NFL, a 5-tech is usually the 2-gapping DE in a 3-4 defense. Marcus Spears, Hatcher, and Igor Olshansky here. Those guys were never rushing the passer, but rather staying head up on a tackle and trying to stand and steer to help corral the rusher. In this Cowboys 4-3, the alignment is actually often a 7 (a step outside the tackle), 8 (head up on the TE), or 9 technique (outside TE). 


You will hear broadcasters say a "wide 9" stance, which is well outside the tight end and incredibly wide angle to rush the passer. But, being out that far is a mess against the run. When you are out that far, you are trying to set the edge and also make the tackle kick-step fast to cut you off on your way to the QB in a pass rush. On 1st down, you will seldom see DEs out wide, but by 3rd down, they will get way out there to improve their angle and to give more space to the DTs to try to get the guards in trouble. Like I admitted earlier, there are some variations of the numerical alignment positions, but you get the idea above. I hope that photo helps as a reference tool when you need it. 

Any other football terminology questions can be directed to sturm1310@me.com

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cowboys Roster Report - August 11

http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/2015/08/sturm-ranking-the-roster-on-august-11th.html/

The preseason games start this week, and I know one of the fun traditions at training camp is for all of us who fancy ourselves as GM-wannabes to evaluate on our own as we watch these practices and talk to scouts and front office people about what they think.  As I go through a few weeks at camp, I sometimes like to make notes and see how the roster falls for me.

Then, we are constantly updating that until we get to the cutdown days to see how close our roster matches up to the roster that the Cowboys eventually plan on going with.  Now, this is a useful way to pass the time, but it does miss one very important element - which is, of course, that the Cowboys know what is going on everywhere else; their scouts will go to most all the preseason games in the NFL this August and evaluate players on all 31 other teams to decide how the discards of other franchises will rank against who the Cowboys presently have in camp.  History shows us that of the 53 jobs the Cowboys will decide upon by September 5th, probably 2 or 3 of them will be given to players who are not even on this camp roster right now on August 11th.  Last year alone, Jack Crawford (Oakland), Lavar Edwards (Tennessee), CJ Spillman (San Francisco), and Korey Toomer (Seattle) were all added from other team's rosters between August 30th and cutdown day.

So, given the fact that all 4 made the final roster and none were here for even preseason game action, the following exercise is even more impossible than first imagined.  But, it is still enjoyable to look at the preseason from a perspective of 53 jobs.  There are 90 players here so to get to 53 means - quite simply - that (at least) 37 players will not make the squad.  10 of those players might qualify for the practice squad and eventually work their way into the mix, but just 53 will be in the team picture which is always taken before Week 1.  And even then, they could be replaced at any time if they are on the very bottom of the roster.  There is literally no time a young player can fully relax about job security until he earns that contract with a nice guarantee.

On the other hand, there are between 40-45 jobs that were already secured before the plane left DFW for California.  Barring a complete catastrophe, there is a massive group of players because of investment would be on the 2015 Cowboys no matter what.  They have been essentially guaranteed jobs by the team over the spring and while camp is important to them to prepare for the season ahead, it never really crosses their mind that they have to make the team.  I don't mean to use hyperbole when describing their place in the organization, but let's just say that they enter camp with over a 90% chance of having one of those 53 jobs.

So, I have divided the 90 players into 3 categories below.  I may have these categories wrong (and I am sure some of you will be happy to assist me with any mistakes), but as I sit here this morning with the laptop, I have used the chart to group players into either the column for "Already Made Team", "On The Bubble", or "Longshots".  The players on the bubble who are underlined are those who I think are in the 53 presently, but that can change in a minute.

I want to adjust this chart after each preseason game, but this is where I am presently.  Let's look at the chart and then I will attempt to elaborate on any topics that might require some explanation.

Position Already Made Team On The Bubble  Longshots
QB (2) Romo, Weeden (1) Vaughn (1) Showers
RB (3) Randle, Dunbar, Clutts (1) McFadden (3) Seastrunk, Johnson, Agnew
TE (2) Witten, Escobar (2) Hanna, Swaim (1) Barden
WR (4) Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Street (1) Whitehead (6) Dunn, Jenkins, Harwell, Farmer, Greenberry, Goodley
T (3) Smith, Free, Green, (2) Weems, Gibson (2) Wetzel, Dill
G-C (5)  Leary, Frederick, Martin,  Collins, Bernadeau
(3) , McDermott, Clay, Patrick
DT (3) T Crawford, Hayden, T McClain (2) Bishop, Coleman (1) Whaley
DE (4) Lawrence, Gregory,  Hardy, Mincey (5) Boatright, J Crawford,  Gardner, Russell, Edwards (1) Obada, 
LB (7) Lee, Wilber, Brinkley, McClain, Hitchens, Wilson, Gachkar (2) Nzeocha, K Smith (3) Brown, Baggs, Glaud
CB (4) Carr,  Scandrick, Claiborne,  Jones (2) White, Patmon (3) Steeples, Ross, Wilson
S (4) Church, Wilcox, McCray, Heath
(2) Vinopal, Scott
ST (3) Bailey, Jones, Ladouceur
(2) Hornsey, Kreiter
Totals 44 18 28

So I have 44 jobs locked down, with 18 on the bubble for the last 9 jobs.  The long-shots are all candidates for the practice squad, but unlikely to make a real run at the 53 for now, but I have been wrong in the past enough (Cole Beasley) to know that maybe someone like Gus Johnson can move all the way to the roster with a big month here.

OFFENSE

QB - I don't see any reason to keep a 3rd QB from what I have seen so far.  Dustin Vaughn and even Jameill Showers will have most of the time in the preseason to show they deserve a spot, but I am anticipating my 3rd being a practice squad guy.  I have too many other spots to worry about keeping a 3rd QB spot unless that guy is knocking my socks off.  Those two are not to this point.

RB - I suppose Darren McFadden should be in the first column, but I wasn't much of a believer before camp and we still have yet to see him in any capacity.  As for the RBs who are long shots, there is almost no spot on the roster where there will be a better chance to make a preseason impression.  Of course, Ryan Williams set a few games on fire last preseason and still did not make the team.

TE - James Hanna has the inside track, but when the Cowboys traded a 6th round pick from next year's draft to get Geoff Swaim in the 7th round, it had to register as a run at Hanna's job in the final year of Hanna's rookie deal.  Swaim has a 4-year rookie deal so as far as looking for team control, he is nearly on equal footing.  But, Hanna (only Jeff Heath and Kyle Wilber are on the roster and played more last year on special teams) is a major special teams contributor, so that is how Swaim can compete with him.

WR - Here is a spot where 4 of the 5 are already here.  In fact, the 5th spot is Dwayne Harris' old spot which tells you it might be completely made by special teams.  That puts Lucky Whitehead ahead of the pack, but when you watch preseason games, it is vital you watch punts and kickoffs to see if any of those WR long shots make a lot of tackles.  That is their meal ticket.

T - 3 of the 4 spots are in cement.  But, your 4th tackle (which is your 3rd until Chaz Green gets healthy) might play early if there is an injury.  That is why the veteran Darrion Weems likely has the inside track over 7th rounder Laurence Gibson for the last spot to replace Jermey Parnell.

G-C - I think all 5 jobs are claimed.  I don't see any way that this changes to be honest.  And, if they want to get creative, La'el Collins might be their 4th tackle, too, but it is probably too early for that.

=====

DEFENSE

DT - it is a bit complicated because there are several players who can play DT and DE, but we will define DT as 3 of the 4 jobs are already given to Crawford, McClain, and Hayden (even though fans try to cut Hayden every camp - he plays nearly 700 snaps and hardly ever is to blame for much).  The last job is a contest between Ken Bishop and Davon Coleman and while that job is close, I like Bishop more right now.

DE - The Cowboys generally go heavy here.  They might keep 6 or maybe even 7 DEs in the 53, especially if they can get some Special Teams added value.  3 of the 5 on the bubble can make the team, and Ryan Russell as a 5th rounder and Ben Gardner from the 2014 draft both look like they have a good chance.  I also love Jack Crawford as depth, but this spot is up in the air.

LB - I think all 7 spots are already determined, so even those on the bubble are going to have to be great at special teams.  Andrew Gachkar is on the roster - with a nice contract -  to take all of Cam Lawrence's 300 special team snaps from last year.

CB - They may keep 6 corners, so Corey White and Tyler Patmon are likely in the club, but the numbers indicate they cannot relax.  I think White's safety ability is his meal ticket.

S - The two starters are locks, but beyond that, Danny McCray and Jeff Heath are here for special teams and insurance.  I think they are on the roster for sure, but the fact that Byron Jones and Corey White are playing so much safety might make us consider some roster creativity.

ST - There is absolutely nothing to see here.  Those 3 spots are locked up.

For reference, here is a chart I have used since 2007.  It is the final 53 man roster for the Cowboys based on the numbers they have used at each spot.  Of course, you should be aware of the scheme affecting this as when they went from 3-4 to a 4-3, the DL/LB numbers were impacted.  Otherwise, this might be useful if you choose to try to make your own roster.

It should also be noted that Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy will be suspended to start the season and they will not count against the 53 to start - so technically they have 55 jobs to work with at first.


Position200720082009201020112012201320142015
QB22333323
RB54454444
TE33324343
WR65555655
OL1011101010999
DL6667771011
LB78997867
DB111199910108
ST33434333
Total535353535353535353


2007: 26 Offense/24 Defense/3 Specialist
2008: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2009: 25 Offense/24 Defense/4 Specialist
2010: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2011: 26 Offense/23 Defense/4 Specialist
2012: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2013: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist
2014: 24 Offense/26 Defense/3 Specialist

=====

So there you have it on the morning of August 11th.  But, as you know, this will change many times before cutdown days.  On September 1st, the team must drop to 75.  September 5th is the final cutdown to 53.  Know that every day along the way the team is evaluating every rep and trying to examine and argue about every possibility on how to keep the right 53, stash the right 10 on the practice squad, and cherry pick someone else's discards.

Roster building is the very essence of the NFL game and if you watch preseason games from this perspective, it might enhance your experience through the tedious preseason.  Week 1 will be here before you know it, but between now and then, put yourself in the position of the front office and keep a close eye on those special teams scenarios to see who makes the team that way.