The final pre-season game is the final chance for many players to try to make their team's regular season roster. The team uses it to make the final decisions on who to keep, who to cut, and who to try to sneak onto the practice roster.
There were some players for the Dallas Cowboys who made a clear case for themselves against the Miami Dolphins in the fourth pre-season game, and some who gave indications that they have no future with the team. But many of the questions the team had to answer are still as puzzling as they were before the kickoff. Here are some issues and how they stand.
Keep a third quarterback?
Stephen McGee had another performance so like those of his earlier seasons. He came out and looked uncomfortable in the pocket, and looked to run in situations when he should have been trying to buy time to find a receiver. He did have a good second quarter, but that roster spot probably should be used somewhere else the team needs to go deep. Rudy Carpenter did not play well enough to make him a viable third QB. However, his eligibility for the practice squad may allow him to earn a paycheck and serve as an emergency backup.
How many running backs?
Phillip Tanner showed that he is still the logical choice for the third running back, turning in a solid five yards a carry and scoring a touchdown. The problem is that Lance Dunbar and Jamize Olawale both looked very, very good. While Olawale would have a good shot at making the practice squad, Dunbar's 105 yard run, including a 58 yard scamper and a 27 yard punt return, make him highly unlikely to clear waivers. Can the team afford to keep a fourth running back? Given the injuries to DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones and Tanner in 2011, it does make sense. It just is hard to find the slot for it.
Who are the backup wide receivers?
None of the contenders had a very good night. Kevin Ogletree did not catch a pass, and had at least one very bad drop. Danny Coale had one very nice catch, but is that enough to keep him? Andre Holmes also only had one catch as well, out of four targets, and hurt his knee, although it does not seem serious. Cole Beasley didn't even get a chance and Dwayne Harris only saw one ball thrown his way. The only receiver who had a good stat line was Tim Benford, who was targeted four times and caught three of them for 47 yards, and he was not really in the conversation before tonight. This is going to be a very difficult call for the team.
Is there any depth for the offensive line?
Well, some. Jermey Parnell had a good night. David Arkin was all right at center, but got embarrassed when he had to play guard. Derrick Dockery left early due to a death in his family, Daniel Loper was hurt, and Harland Gunn and Ron Leary did not impress. Pat McQuistan - I really don't want to go there. Expect the staff to scour the waiver wire before this is finally settled.
Who are the best defensive linemen?
The team does have depth here, but just which players do you go with? Clifton Geathers seems a bit disappointing, Ben Bass is looking better than anyone expected, Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman are playing hard but could be looked at as progress stoppers. Robert Callaway may be a better option. And little heralded Baraka Atkins made a bit of a statement tonight with five tackles. The problem is that the differences are not clear cut here. I think the team will have six or seven good players here, but I can see several combinations to back up the starters, all of which can probably be justified.
Which linebackers are forcing their way onto the team?
Orie Lemon had a very good game inside, largely due to a very nicely played interception that showed excellent football intelligence. Alex Albright is considered to be almost certain to make the team, and he looked it, with a team leading 11 total tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss. The biggest question though is whether Dan Connor is going to live up to expectations. He continued to struggle in coverage, and was banged up in the game.
Can we give up on the experiments in the secondary?
Teddy Williams did not look good in coverage, and should have sealed his fate with the fumble in the return game. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah likewise looks to be gone. On the flip side, Mana Silva continued to surge and is going to be a very hard to cut with his recent performance.
Which draft choices will stick?
We all know Morris Claiborne makes it. Tyrone Crawford has probably flashed enough to be safe. Kyle Wilber is also very likely to stick, although he will need a little time to heal before he can start contributing. Matt Johnson and Danny Coale both have had very little playing time, and with players like Silva and Beasley showing so well, may put the team in a very bad situation, since getting them on the practice squad is a bit problematic. Johnson may be considered for IR, but again, clearing waivers first might be a risk. However, James Hanna has been a very pleasant surprise, suddenly displaying sure hands and looking good in the other facets of his game.
A lot of these decisions will hinge on how the team allocates the roster spots among the various positions. We will know shortly what the answers to all these questions are.