The final game of the preseason is always the most frustrating and generally can be fairly boring. The luster of just seeing the Cowboys on the field again has worn off and now everyone is amped for the actual season to begin. The fact that these final games still cost as much to attend as regular season games is a travesty; fans want to see their star players on the field, not to watch a horde of backup players battle it out for the final 10 spots on the 53-man roster.
For me, it's that final battle that actually makes this game exciting. Personally, I love to see young and unproven players stepping it up on this stage in a final attempt to show their worth. The football itself might not be great, and the way the game is played is not going to be any sort of indicator as to how the season will go, but here is our chance to see some players given the spotlight to see what they can do.
In 2006, Tony Romo was given the ball for the entire game against Minnesota and while he was far from perfect, he proved that he had what it takes to compete at the NFL level. That preseason was Romo's big coming out party and just six games into the season he became the starting quarterback. Now, something like this isn't close to happening this season -- but it's a great example of how this final game should never be considered a throwaway game by hardcore fans.
After the jump, I go down the list of who I'll be looking at tonight. Like any game during the preseason, I'm not looking very closely at schemes or play-calling; I want to see the individuals perform.
How will the starting offensive line perform without Kyle Kosier? The veteran guard and the play-caller for the offensive line did not make the trip to Miami and thus will not play tonight. There hasn't been much word on how much the young starters will play tonight, but it's going to be interesting to see how they fare as a unit with perhaps the biggest key component of that line missing.
We're all excited about the potential of the young and athletic group, but the truth is that without Kosier this is a woefully inexperienced line and they'll be without their leader, the guy who makes all the calls at the line of scrimmage. If history has told us anything, however, is that Kosier is likely to miss at least a bit of time this season with a minor injury and there will be times when this line will have to take the field without the vet. Tonight is the final big test to see how they'll perform as they gear up for a very tough matchup against the New York Jets next Sunday night.
Who wins the final running back spot?
Personally, I think this decision has already been made. Mostly. The Cowboys decided not to bring Tashard Choice along on the trip because of an apparent knee injury, and there is still one final spot up for grabs. Whether the Cowboys go with three or four running backs this season is unknown, but I guarantee you it's all going to depend on how well Philip Tanner performs when given an expanded role on the field.
Felix Jones isn't going to dress for the game tonight and Choice is sitting at home. The Cowboys will give DeMarco Murray some more carries, but he'll be a bit limited as they remain careful not to aggravate his injury. That leaves running backs Tanner, Lonyae Miller and Frank Warren to prove their worth and right now it's Tanner's job to lose. His performance tonight could influence whether the Cowboys stick with four running backs or decide to jettison Choice.
Can I get a fullback, please?
Shaun Chapas has shown some improvement but neither he nor Chris Gronkowski have exactly knocked my socks off this preseason. The Cowboys aren't very impressed either, evidence by the fact that both Jason Pociask and Isaiah Greenhouse have been converted to fullback the past few weeks as well; Pociask actually had one heck of a block on Felix Jones' touchdown run last weekend.
Tonight is the chance for someone to prove that the Cowboys actually need a fullback but with Martellus Bennett's injury, there's no telling how the Cowboys might approach the position. Last season, the loss of John Phillips prompted the Cowboys to keep a fullback and Gronkowski turned infamous for being the man who missed The Block. This year, the Cowboys may decide to roll with four running backs and not stick with a true fullback -- which makes sense, considering the lack of players with an actual fullback on the field anyway.
Defensive Line needs a push...
If you think the Cowboys won't be playing most of the "starters" on the defensive line tonight, you might be a bit delusional. Kenyon Coleman, Jay Ratliff and Marcus Spears might not see much action -- if at all -- but the rest of the line will get plenty of playing time tonight. This is Igor Olshansky's final shot at making this team and there's a good chance he's gone no matter what happens.
Josh Brent needs to prove he's capable of providing a solid anchor at NT. He has secured the backup spot behind Ratliff but needs to show he's capable of more playing time during games. The Cowboys will be rotating linemen throughout games, so it's going to be very important to see what Brent, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore and company can do when given extended playing time.
Is this Stephen McGee's final shot?
This is McGee's third season in the NFL. At this point, Tony Romo was starting to emerge a bit and other quarterbacks around the NFL start to show their true abilities their third season as well. It's been incredible to watch his progression since being drafted in 2009, but I'm still not convinced that McGee has what it takes to be a full time quarterback in the NFL.
He's pushing to secure the backup spot behind Tony Romo and while I don't think he's ever going to push Romo for playing time -- ever -- I need to know that the Cowboys have a backup who can fill in for a few games if needed and actually be successful against at team that isn't mailing it in during the final game of the season.
McGee can't be "ok" tonight for me to be impressed; he needs to be dominant, he needs to have complete control over the field and show that he's capable of playing in the NFL by taking over a game played mostly by guys who won't have a chance at making the team next week.
What will you be looking for tonight?