The Cowboys made their cuts to reduce their roster to 53 men Saturday, and they've fine tuned a little more Sunday. More moves are always possible, but we now have a good feel for the roster that Jason Garrett will take into the season. Let's take a look at the personnel by position and then by phase.
QUARTERBACK (3) - Average age: 31.3 (starter: 31)
Romo is now on the backside of his prime, and talk about competitive windows will only increase from here. He's still athletic, and if his line holds up he looks primed for one of his best years. His set of skill position guys rivals 2007, with an explosive back, two dangerous receivers and Witten. Kitna is hanging on for another year, while McGee continues to try to prove to coaches that he can succeed him.
RUNNING BACK (5) - Average age: 24.2 (starters: 24.5)
practice squad - Shaun Chapas
Jones looks great again this summer, increasing hope that the run game will be much more productive. Murray looked fast, fairly strong and not elusive - pretty much just as advertised - in his appearances. The club decided to keep Choice and Tanner, opting for running talent over special teams contributions. Fiammetta was added Sunday and gives Garrett the pure lead blocker he lacked in his camp options. One of those options - 2010 goat Chris Gronkowski - was claimed by the Colts.
WIDE RECEIVER (5) - Average age: 24.6 (starters: 24.5)
practice squad - Teddy Williams
practice squad - Andre Holmes
IR - Raymond Radway
Austin and Bryant are not finished products, but they offer threats unrivaled on most rosters. Austin will be happy to see Romo back on the field, opening up his route tree ... if the offensive line can do its part. Ogletree won the third receiver job but has much to prove. Harris might have benefited from Radway's unfortunate last second injury, but he did show well at times in games and in returns. Holley contributed offensively in camp, but he's still around because of his special teams ability.
TIGHT ENDS (4) - Average age: 25.8 (starter: 29)
Witten had another great season in 2010, though primarily during Kitna's games. Injuries hang over Bennett and Phillips. Bennett is still recovering from his high ankle sprain and may miss the opener. Phillips is back, but he's still not at the level he'd reached a year ago before his knee injury. Rucker makes the team - at least for now. If he sticks, he could be used in the passing game when active.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9) - Average age: 25.0 (starters: 25.2)
The line is the one questioned unit on the offense, after veteran starters from last season Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Montre Holland were all wiped out, one year after Flozell Adams was dumped. The new era will be market by more athleticism and Garrett hopes fewer missed assignments. Nagy will probably have to fight off Dockery and Arkin all season, but he did have a nice camp after barely playing at Wisconsin.
Offensive Unit: Romo, Jones, Austin, Bryant and Witten form one of the strongest sets of offensive talent in Cowboys history - and that's saying something. The questions will be: a) can Romo, Jones, Austin and Bryant stay health, and b) will there be enough blocking? Smith looked pretty solid in camp, suggesting that the Cowboys should do fine on the perimeter, particularly with solid blockers in Phillips and Bennett. The question will be whether Costa and Nagy can hold the fort, particularly against powerful interior linemen.
The Cowboys are trying to develop young depth in the line and at receiver, but that project's success is to be determined. Murray figures to offer an interesting element to the passing game, reducing some pressure on Ogletree to perform as the third receiver.
DEFENSIVE LINE (7) - Average age: 26.9 (starters: 30)
The Cowboys went long despite releasing Igor Olshansky because they like Lissemore and Geathers. There are questions all around for this group, starting with whether Ratliff can bounce back from his sub par 2010 and fit in Rob Ryan's scheme that tends to favor the bulky nose tackle. Brent figures to get real minutes behind him, but he didn't blow anyone away in camp. Spears will help solidify the run defense that was poor late in the preseason and after he was injured in 2010, but someone needs to create pressure, and the unit can't afford to allow teams to run right up the gut. Hatcher had a good camp and could see an increased role with Stephen Bowen gone.
LINEBACKERS (7) - Average age: 27.6 (starters: 30.3)
(PUP - Bruce Carter)
practice squad - Orie Lemon
practice squad - Isaiah Greenhouse
There are more questions here, at least outside of Ware. Inside, Brooking and James are getting old, and James received poor reviews for his summer. Expectations have been high for Lee, but observers haven't seen what they hoped from him either. The club opted to go short inside, cutting the likes of Kenwin Cummings and Orie Lemon and crossing their fingers that injury prone guys like Brooking and Lee will stay on the field at least until Carter is back and ready to contribute. If not, it doesn't appear that the cuts here were league-wide favorites on the waiver wire.
Albright beat out the disappointing Brandon Williams outside. Butler had his moments, but when he saw more time early in games in the final preseason games, he showed some of the same warts seen in Spencer. Someone has to create some pressure, between that pair and the defensive ends, because doubling Ware and, when necessary, Ratliff has become too simple of a formula for offenses.
SAFETIES (4) - Average age: 25.8 (starters: 28.5)
practice squad - Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
Elam and Sensabaugh were a mess at times in the preseason, blowing assignments, dropping interceptions and tackles, and generally looking confused. Elam's familiarity with the defense should serve him well, while Church has actually shown more coverage skills in camp than Sensabaugh. McCray also figures to be in on some packages. This group needs major improvement from 2010 for Dallas to have a winning season, but at least Alan Ball isn't playing out of position any longer. Andrew Sendejo was claimed by the Jets after failing to hang on, while AOA has reportedly stuck on the practice squad.
CORNER BACKS (5) - Average age: 26.2 (starters: 29)
practice squad - Mario Butler
The concerns here are just as big as at the other defensive spots, with the starters both trying to rush back from camp-long injuries to start the season. Scandrick received a big contract extension, which makes some sense considering Newman's age and deteriorating skills and the fact that Scandrick is just 24. Ball looks useful again back at corner, but McCann was beaten a lot in the preseason. Jenkins is one of the biggest keys for 2011, and we have no idea what kind of form he'll be in. Fifth rounder Josh Thomas didn't make the final cut and was grabbed by Carolina.
Defensive unit: There are questions basically everywhere outside of Ware, and numerous guys are going to have to rebound from poor seasons for the unit to have a good season. Guys like Spears, Hatcher, Lee, Spencer, Sensabaugh, Jenkins and Scandrick must step up. Given the bodies on the line and linebacking groups, we can expect to see a fair amount of four-man lines in nickel situations. As I heard Tim McMahon say on the radio this past week, the Cowboys will face less than stellar quarterbacks in their first three weeks. They come out of their week five bye facing Tom Brady, Sam Bradford and Michael Vick, so they'd better figure some things out by October.
SPECIALISTS (4) - Average age: 27.3
(PUP - Kai Forbath)
The Cowboys basically came out of camp with no answer to their kicking question. They went with potential in Bailey, who started and finished strong but was not consistent in camp. At least they aren't depending on Buehler, who inspired zero confidence when attempting field goals in must make territory last season. Buehler will once again handle kickoffs, and the Cowboys will count on him burying them beyond the endline.
Special Teams unit: The Cowboys did keep Holley, their coverage ace from last season, but going short on backup linebackers and aggressive defensive backs means that they're going to count on Buehler to not ask for many kicks to be covered. As unsettled as the field goal kicking situation is, the returners are just as questionable. The plus is that there won't be a ton of kicks to run back, and if absolutely necessary there is a terrific punt returner on the roster in Dez Bryant. Otherwise, we should see quite a bit of McCann, Tanner, Murray and Harris.