The pre-season games for the most part are used as an evaluating tool for teams to see what they have in the younger players on the roster. Pre-season games allow players the opportunity to standout and make their case as to why they should be on a 53-man roster. These games aren't measured by wins and losses, in fact they should be measured by the performances of the players battling for a roster spot.
I cannot remember the last time I was so pumped up about watching football games in the summer that technically don't matter, but the Cowboys have a lot of position battles to watch for this year. The Cowboys have been one of the more successful teams in the NFL when it comes to UDFAs. Players like Tony Romo and Miles Austin show that there can be the occasional diamond in the rough, and we have also seen a receiver in our division, Victor Cruz, rise to stardom.
It may be unrealistic to hope for another Romo or Austin, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility to see one of the Cowboys' UDFAs step up and become a very good football player. Not only is there a bunch of UDFAs to watch for this pre-season, but also there are some drafted players towards the bottom of the depth chart who will be competing for a job.
What players will I be watching for this summer?
Take the jump to find out...
Last year UDFA Phillip Tanner instantly became my pet cat after we signed him. After watching his college highlights I was blown away by his physical running style and the second gear he possessed. Tanner was one of our best players during the 2011 pre-season. After getting some playing time during the regular season and looking like a very solid running back, Tanner suffered a season ending hamstring injury.
By no means is Tanner guaranteed a roster spot, which is beginning to become a staple under head coach Jason Garrett. There will be competition at every position, especially at running back.
The running back that may have the best opportunity to dethrone Tanner as the #3 RB is UDFA Lance Dunbar from North Texas. I can't say that I have ever seen him play, but everything that I have read about him suggests that Dunbar has the athletic ability to be a very productive running back. Dunbar left North Texas as the all-time leading rusher and he was extremely productive during his four-year career there.
Dunbar isn't a powerful runner, he is more of an elusive and scatback type of player. At just 5'8, 191 pounds, Dunbar will have to show the Cowboys that he can hold up to the physical play of the NFL. Tanner will have to fight Dunbar off in order to secure his roster spot, and I expect to see Dunbar give everything he has in the pre-season games. Since I have never seen him play in college, I will be looking forward to watching Dunbar in action this summer.
One UDFA that has really opened up some eyes recently has been SMU wide receiver Cole Beasley. The reason he went undrafted is probably due to his size (5'8, 174), but he may be the perfect receiver for the slot due to his route running and quickness. In his last two years at SMU, Beasley caught 173 passes for 2,100 yards and 8 TD. That is big time production no matter what conference you play in.
There are going to be opportunities for the young wide receivers to make this roster, and so far Beasley is taking advantage of those opportunities. Throughout the OTAs and mini-camp, Beasley has been one of the most talked about players by the media and coaches. He is a tiny guy that isn't the fastest, but he runs crisp routes and has very good hands. If he continues this over into the pre-season, it will be hard for the Cowboys to cut him.
I like what I see on his tape, but there is a reason he went undrafted. I am trying to temper my expectations with Beasley, but I am very excited to see him play in the pre-season.
Dwayne Harris was a draft pick that I was very high on after he was selected in the sixth-round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Harris had a breakout performance against the Broncos last pre-season, but he never separated himself from the other receivers after that game. He didn't look that fast and he lacked explosiveness, especially as a returner on special teams.
Reports on Harris this offseason tell a different story. He appears to have lost some weight and that may have helped him in the speed department. Harris was never the fastest player to begin with, but last year he didn't show the quickness or burst that he did have while at ECU.
He is going to face a lot of competition from the other young wide receivers, so even though this is only his second season, it may be his last as a Cowboy if he doesn't step up and play well in the pre-season. I will be rooting for Harris because he reminds me a lot of Patrick Crayton, and I will take a reliable wide receiver on the roster who can make plays when his number is called.
Perhaps the most intriguing wide receiver physically is Andre Holmes. Holmes is a former small-school standout who really dominated the competition he faced while at Hillsdale College. I really love what I saw on his highlight tape because not only does he have the size (6'5, 208) to dominate smaller cornerbacks, but he also has the speed to beat safeties over the top.
A lot of people in the front office, especially Jerry Jones, see something in Holmes. He offers Jason Garrett some versatility in his play calling because he can line him up on the outside, allowing Miles Austin to play the slot. The Cowboys could also use another red zone target, and Holmes has the size to become a weapon down there.
I will be looking to see if Holmes can do a couple of things in the pre-season games. He will need to show that he can separate from the cornerback and use his big frame as a target for Tony Romo. Holmes will also need to show the Cowboys that he can run the route tree effectively, but he also needs to show the coaching staff that he can catch the football on a regular basis. If he can do all of that, then the Cowboys may have found themselves another UDFA steal.
The competition at the wide receiver position has plenty of interesting options, but none of them have performed on the NFL level. I will be sleeping a whole lot better at night knowing that these young receivers can actually show up in the games, not just practices.
The Cowboys showed heavy interest in Leary throughout the draft process and I believed he was going to be a player that the front office would use one of their later draft picks on. Due to a chronic knee condition Leary ended up going undrafted and he was eventually signed by the Cowboys, who made him one of their priority UDFA signings. I probably would have given Leary a late third or fourth round grade, so the Cowboys actually got a bargain on the Memphis offensive lineman.
Leary appeared in 44 games for Memphis, starting 36 consecutive games on the offensive line at various positions. He started at left tackle in 2009 and 2010, so he must have some decent pass blocking ability. The move inside will benefit Leary due to his lack of athleticism. He would have had too much trouble attempting to play the tackle position in the NFL, but his strengths come into play as a left or right guard.
His best asset is as a run blocker where he can use his strength to overpower defensive lineman. Leary plays with a mean streak, and loves to be physical. Check out his interview with DCFanatic where he talks about having a physical type of approach towards the game of football. I really like what Leary can bring to the Cowboys' offensive line. He just has that mean streak that has been lacking at the guard position the past few years.
If Leary can show that he can hold up against pass rushers and give us positive gains in the running game, he could really make a push for a starting job. Jerry Jones has pretty much dubbed Leary his "pet cat", and he gave Leary fifth-round type of money. Even if Leary struggles, I doubt they cut him after just one pre-season, especially considering the amount of money they gave him. I will be watching him closely in the pre-season games because right now he is one of my sleepers for a starting job on the offensive line.