The fourth game of the preseason is generally accepted as a "backup's game", where those at the bottom of the depth chart get one final chance to impress the coaching staff. The first units traditionally only get a series or two, but Parcells has indicated that he may play his starters a little longer than usual. His reasoning is he doesn't want them to lose their "sharpness" with a long layoff until the first game of the regular season. Still, the majority of interest in tonight's game revolves around some of the backups and special teams guys and their push for roster survival. But, there are a few starter decisions left, so let's take a look at what to watch for in tonight's game.
Terrell Owens' return? - We're not sure if he will dress for the game, let alone play in it. But the potential for Owens to return to the sidelines, of being dressed for an actual game (even if it's preseason) will give the Cowboys a sense of normalcy they haven't had since Owens first tweaked his hamstring. Of course, normalcy and Owens go together like peanut butter and castor oil, but we'll take what we can get. Dallas would finally have all the pieces of the puzzle together (excepting Flozell's absence) and to watch Owens actually play for a series would be a bonus for the evening.
Mike Vanderjagt's kicks - Parcells expects Vanderjagt to play tonight and wants him to take the first kickoff for Dallas as well as a couple of FG's. All eyes will be watching that first kickoff, but it's hard to believe that Parcells will make a decision on whether to keep a kickoff specialist based on this one kick. But if Vandy comes out and puts one short to the 10-yard line, Shaun Suisham can finally unpack his boxes and get the cable hooked up because he'll be here for a while.
Roster battles - Dallas still has a few roster decisions to make and tonight's game will likely be the final arbiter in a few situations.
Offensive Tackles: Watch closely for Pat McQuistan's battle with Erasmus James. From my point of view, it looks like Parcells is trying to get a read on McQ being ready NOW to be the #1 backup to Flozell Adams. This will be McQ's second week in a row going up against the opposition's first team. If McQ plays well for a second week in a row, Parcells could decide that McQ is ready to play in real games if necessary, and in turn that could effect his decision on keeping 4 or 5 tackles.
Tied into the McQ situation is the decision on Rob Petitti and Jason Fabini and whether both or just one end up on the final 53-man roster. Both players, now that Petitti has gotten some reps at LT, can be considered swing tackles. Parcells has seen Fabini before and knows he could play on the left side if needed even though he hasn't given him any reps there in this camp. If Parcells is satisfied with McQ being a viable backup, Petitti or Fabini may find themselves with another team next week.
Free safety: Keep an eye on the division of labor at the free safety spot in tonight's game. If Pat Watkins starts ahead of Keith Davis again, that might be a good indication that Parcells is seriously considering starting Watkins in Week 1.
Backup NT: Yesterday, Parcells said that he doubts whether he can keep both Thomas Johnson and Montavious Stanley. The battle between these two in tonight's game may be for their roster lives. While Johnson has the experience and quickness, Stanley has the better body-type for the 3-4 NT.
Skyler Green - No player needs to be more impressive than Skyler Green in tonight's game. Drafted to become the Cowboys' return specialist, Green has been less than dazzling in the first three preseason games. With the emergence of Jamaica Rector, who can also return punts, and Green's lack of proficiency at being a true WR, his roster life is probably at stake. If he doesn't show something tonight, it will be hard for Parcells to justify keeping him on the roster at the expense of another player who can help on special teams and be a backup at a regular position.
Linebackers - The Cowboys have a logjam at the linebacker position and will end up cutting or trading someone that could be a pretty good prospect. Ryan Fowler is battling to keep his 2nd string position against Oliver Hoyte, who has shown he is a special player on special teams. Will it be enough for Parcells to go with the inexperienced youngster? Keep an eye on his playing time tonight in the regular defense. Also, Junior Glymph has one last chance to do something special after having two silent games following his excellent performance in Seattle.
Kenyon Coleman - Coleman is a darn good backup to have on a team, but the numbers just don't work out for him in Dallas. Parcells may play him a lot tonight in an attempt to showcase him for a trade.