3 things we learned from the Dallas Cowboys' preseason win over the Raiders: Mazi Smith update, TJ Bass' roster hopes and a final 53-man roster projection

2RJM9J4 Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Mazi Smith (58) and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (96) during a preseason NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Mazi Smith update: The Michigan product flashed his elite physical traits but still showed some technical inefficiencies.

• Get this man a spot on the 53-man roster: Cowboys UDFA guard T.J. Bass has impressed so much this preseason that he appears destined for a spot on Dallas' final 53-man roster.

• Final 53-man roster projection: The Cowboys must cut their roster from 90 to 53 players by the Tuesday deadline, but who's going to make it?

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Dallas Cowboys picked up their first preseason victory against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, scoring a 31-16 victory at AT&T Stadium in a game where quarterback Dak Prescott took over play-calling duties. 

Prescott's play calling was impressive, as his ability to quickly sequence his plays put quarterback Will Grier in a position to succeed. And, boy, did he. The West Virginia product should be commended for his stellar performance after learning that his chances of making the roster were nil after Dallas traded for Trey Lance Friday. Ultimately, Grier finished 29-of-35 for 305 passing yards, two touchdowns and a big-time throw en route to an impressive 82.0 passing grade. He, at the very least, earned himself a real opportunity to get claimed onto another team's 53-man roster once Dallas waives him. 

In addition to Grier's stellar performance, other roster bubble players such as Dontario Drummond, Hunter Luepke and Tyron Johnson put together mighty impressive showings. And while none of those three will appear on my final 53-man roster projection, each set themselves up to make the Cowboys' practice squad. 

Without further ado, let's dive into a couple of the biggest takeaways from Saturday's action before we look at my final roster projection.

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Mazi Smith flashes elite talent but still lacks consistency

Smith produced a stellar start to Saturday evening's festivities, getting in on two tackles within his first three snaps. On his first snap against the run, Smith made an incredibly impressive play where he mirrored the interior offensive line from the snap, enabling him to stay connected to his gap and pursue the ball carrier, culminating in a tackle all the way out by the numbers.

Having a nose tackle who can align on the near-side hash mark and still make a tackle near the numbers on the opposite sideline is rare, and it shows why Smith was such a coveted prospect coming out of Michigan. There may be only a couple of 320-plus-pounders who can accomplish that feat.

Additionally, on Smith's third snap against the run, he showed off a more traditional nose tackle skill set, knocking back the center on a third-and-short to make a stop in the backfield. This is the kind of play most fans expected to see consistently when Smith was drafted.

On both of these plays, Smith was able to get off the ball quickly with the proper footwork, which put him in optimal positions to find success.

Unfortunately, Smith's inconsistent play reared its head again, as he lost gap integrity multiple times over his last three snaps against the run. At 6:37 in the second quarter, Smith was aligned as a wide three-technique. Once the ball was snapped, he tried to attack upfield so aggressively that Las Vegas' right guard was able to easily reach and seal him from his primary responsibility —the B-gap.

Then, on his next snap against the run, Smith was aligned as a three-technique. But this time, he was escorted out of his primary B-gap responsibility by a left guard-left tackle double team. Smith was too slow getting his second step in the ground, which prevented him from rooting his feet and holding his ground at the point of contact.

Ultimately, Smith was able to demonstrate his impressive physical skill set, showing why he's such a highly valued prospect while also displaying some of the technical inefficiencies that could cause him to struggle early on in his career. Nonetheless, 320-plus-pounders who have the athleticism and range to make tackles on the opposite side of the field on one snap before caving in an interior offensive line on a third-and-short on another don't just grow on trees.

Smith is going to be a good one — he just needs the time to develop and gain experience to get there.

T.J. Bass, welcome to the 53-man roster

Let's play a game. Across all three preseason games, who is the only Cowboys offensive linemen to not allow a pressure?

If you answered T.J. Bass, then you are correct, as the Oregon product kept a clean sheet across 80 snaps in pass protection. In fact, Bass was bested only twice in pass protection all preseason, but neither resulted in a pressure. 

Coming into training camp, Bass' ceiling appeared to be headed for the practice squad, given that he was an undrafted free agent who was buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Matt Farniok, Brock Hoffman, Josh Ball and Asim Richards; however, he's arguably outplayed each of them at guard. He was one of the Cowboys' best offensive linemen in each game, especially in pass protection, recording 79.0-plus pass-blocking grades in each game. 

Now, Bass has a real shot to make the Cowboys' 53-man roster. And if you ask me, he deserves to make it.

Bass isn't the strongest guard, but he's a smooth mover who gets to his targets quickly and battles his rear off once he is engaged at the point of attack. Additionally, Bass has shown a surprisingly developed skill set in pass protection, displaying the ability to mix up his strikes and pass sets to keep pass rushers off-balance. Moreover, Bass did an excellent job working in tandem with the center and tackle to his left and right, passing off stunts and blitzes well while demonstrating great awareness.

With John Stephens Jr. injured, Bass has now earned the distinction of the Cowboys' best UDFA pickup after the 2023 NFL Draft. The Cowboys would be wise to give him a spot on the 53-man roster to go with it.

Final 53-man roster projection

The Cowboys now must shift their attention toward whittling their roster down from 90 to 53 players by the 3 p.m. Tuesday deadline; therefore, there is no better time than now to release my final Cowboys 53-man roster projection.

Please note that the NFL rules regarding placing players on injured reserve mean that if the Cowboys want to place a player on injured reserve without exposing him to waivers and potentially bring him back this season, that player must be carried on the initial 53-man roster for a day before going on IR. In the past, the Cowboys have opted to waive their long snapper or another special teamer who is unlikely to get claimed so that they can make this kind of roster gymnastics work. This 53-man roster projection will be an attempt to predict the roster after those roster gymnastics have occurred, meaning those players won't be included.

Quarterback (3)
Running back (3)
Wide receiver (6)
Tight end (4)
Offensive line (9)
Defensive line (10)
Linebacker (5)
Secondary (10)
Specialists (3)

The biggest differences between this and my previous roster projection are 1) Lance being added, for obvious reasons, 2) Bass taking Brock Hoffman‘s spot after the Oregon product outplayed the Virginia Tech product throughout the preseason, 3) Bell moving to linebacker to help replace the injured Overshown, 4) Joseph beating out Nahshon Wright and Eric Scott Jr. for one of the last spots on the roster, 5) Thomas taking the last safety spot on the roster, and finally, 6) Aubrey winning the kicker job.


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