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Roster Analysis: Dallas Cowboys

The SportsXchange

Here is an in-depth look at the Dallas Cowboys' roster heading into their season opener against the New York Giants Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET.

UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS:

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Tony Romo. Backup -- Kyle Orton.

Romo not only got a $108 million contract extension in the off season but he was given Peyton Manning-like input in the offense in terms of play-calling and game plans. So despite Romo's one career playoff win, he is the Cowboys present and future at quarterback, a mainstay in the organization. The Cowboys are confident that Orton can win games if needed.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB DeMarco Murray. Backups -- Joseph Randle, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar.

Murray has vowed to stay healthy play a full 16 games in 2013. That bodes well for a Cowboys running game that will run more than last season when they had the worst rushing attack in team history. Murray missed six games last year with a sprained foot. The Cowboys drafted Randle to be Murray's primary backup but he had a slow start to camp because of off season hand surgery. Dunbar emerged as the primary change of pace back to Murray and Tanner may be the most trusted backup in terms of doing all the jobs.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Dez Bryant, Miles Austin. Backups -- Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley.

Bryant has been the talk of the off season and is poised to build on last season's breakout campaign of 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is openly talking about 2,000 yards receiver and catching 20 touchdown passes. Austin had a strong and injury free training camp and looks ready to become of the league's top receivers. Williams is a third round pick from Baylor and will be the third receiver. He will work outside, allowing Austin to do damage in the slot. The Cowboys want to see Harris get yards after catch.

TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar. Backups -- James Hanna, Andre Smith.

Offense will feature a two-tight end offense and sometimes employ three because there is no fullback on the roster. Witten is the bell cow at the position as Romo's most trusted pass catcher. Witten set an NFL record NFL record for catches by a tight end last year. He probably won't get as many chances as the Cowboys try to spread the ball around. Escobar, a second round pick, is a great pass catcher but is raw as a run blocker

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Tyron Smith, LG Ron Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, RT Doug Free. Backups -- T Jermey Parnell, T Darrion Weems, C Phil Costa, G Ron Leary, G David Arkin. G Brian Waters.

This line continues to shuffle. Leary and Bernadeau will likely be the starters at the two guard positions for the bulk of the season, but Leary is questionable for the opener after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month. The Cowboys wanted to replace Bernadeau after the line's struggles a year ago when Romo was sacked 36 times. Free is a consideration at right guard and Parnell at tackle. That was the way the team practiced the last week.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Anthony Spencer , DE DeMarcus Ware, DT Jason Hatcher, DT Jay Ratliff. Backups -- DE Kyle Wilber, DE George Selvie, DT Ben Bass, DT Nick Hayden, DT Landon Cohen, DE Edgar Jones, DE Cesar Rayford.

This is a mess heading into the season opener with Ratliff on the PUP list (hamstring, groin) and Spencer questionable after missing the preseason (knee scope). Selvie starts at end if Spencer is not ready to go and free agent pick up Hayden is set to replace Ratliff for the first six games at least. Hayden has 13 career starts but was out of the league in 2012. Ware has been healthy throughout camp and is seemingly ready to thrive as defensive end in the new scheme, free from the coverage responsibilities as a linebacker in the 3-4.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Bruce Carter, MLB Sean Lee, SLB Justin Durant. Backups -- OLB Ernie Simms, OLB Devonte Holloman, MLB Kyle Bosworth, Caesar Rayford.

Lee was born to play in the middle of a 4-3 defense. He was dominant in the preseason and is poised to play at Pro Bowl level. Carter is also considered to be a perfect fit at weakside linebacker -- fast, athletic playmaker who compares to Derrick Brooks (former Buc). Durant was a solid free agent pickup who should hold down the strongside position in 2013 while rookie DeVonte Holloman develops. Holloman is a player maker who just needs to get more consistent. Rayford was acquired in a trade Tuesday from the Colts.

SECONDARY: Starters -- CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church, S Will Allen. Backups -- CB Orlando Scandrick, CB BW Webb, SS Jeff Heath, S Wilcox, S Danny McCray.

Carr and Claiborne are big physical man to man cornerbacks but they will play zone in coordinator Monte Kiffin's Tampa Two scheme. Church and Allen look solid at safety, a chronic problem area. Allen was signed as insurance in case young guys like the rookie Wilcox and Matt Johnson didn't develop and has been the starter since the first day of camp. Wilcox is raw.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Dan Bailey, P Chris Jones, LS L.P. Loudaceur, PR Dwayne Harris, KR Dwayne Harris

The Cowboys are comfortable with their specialists who are all among the best in the league, especially kicker Dan Bailey who made 29 of 31 field-goal attempts last year, including a perfect 26 of 26 under 50 yards. Punter Chris Jones still needs to prove himself after an injury plagued 2012 season. Loudaceur has few equals and . Dwayne Harris is game breaker, especially oon punt returns. He had seven punt returns of 20 yards or more to tie of the league lead last season.
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