The Cowboys are on their way down to San Diego today, making the trip on the luxurious Scottish Thistle. Tomorrow night will be the first time the team sees real football action this season since training camp has been decreed a no-tackle zone. What is most exciting for us fans is that after eight very long months we finally get to see our Cowboys in action. Yeah Hard Knocks was nice but in the end it was just a tease. Tomorrow night is the start of the real thing, and hopefully the basis for what should be a truly special year.
I like facing San Diego right off the bat. The two teams are eerily similar in playing style and talent and are almost a cross conference mirror of each other. Jason Garrett's offensive system is modeled from what he learned while playing under Chargers' head coach Norv Turner, and San Diego still uses the defensive system implemented by Wade Phillips from his time there as defensive coordinator. While they have similar systems both teams are also extremely physical and hard hitting. My excitement over this matchup has dwindled a bit however, as it appears that Ladainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates will both be sitting out the game. I was looking forward to seeing how our defense would matchup with some of the best offensive players in the league.
Don't expect to see a lot of Romo, Owens, Witten or any of the other star players. Just a series or two for them to get back into the flow of the game and make way for the backups. So as we gear up for the first real action of 2008, here is what I am looking forward to tomorrow night.
Special Teams: This is where fringe players make the team; by being a beast on kickoffs and punts. Last year the Cowboys were mediocre on special teams and the coaches will be looking for players who are willing to lay it on the line and help improve the squad this year. Guys who are on the bubble can really make their mark here, especially since the only time they would play during the season would be on special teams. Guys like Danny Amendola, Marcus Dixon, Alonzo Coleman, Martellus Bennett and Dowayne Davis can force the Cowboys to keep them with an outstanding performance in the preseason games. I'm also looking to see if Deon Anderson, Bobby Carpenter and Patrick Watkins can step up into the leadership role vacated by Keith Davis.
Cornerbacks: Phillip Rivers will see very limited action in his first game since knee surgery but if Billy Volek sees extensive playing time he could give a good challenge to the young corners on the team. I want to see if the Cowboys use more press coverage than they did last year and how capable our cornerbacks are at man coverage against the pass. If the Cowboys are able to play man more often then Brian Stewart will feel more confident in unleashing his blitzers than he did last year.
While we are all excited to see Adam Jones in action, its Evan Ogelsby who I really want to get a good look at. Ogelsby has had an outstanding camp and if he can translate that play onto the field then he would almost force the Cowboys to keep six cornerbacks this year. Of course, I also want to see how Mike Jenkins is progressing and if Orlando Scandrick is really as fast as they say he is.
Linebackers: The story of training camp so far has been the play of Bobby Carpenter. The man has been all over the field the past week making play after play. All he has to do now is show that ability in a game, something he was unable to do last season. It's sad to say this for a first-round draft pick but these preseason games are pretty much his last chance to get any playing time.
I'm also interested to see how the new communication devices in the defense's helmets work out. Bradie James has said that there are times he just wants to rip it out. These games will give the defense the opportunity to work out the kinks with the new technology and see how much of a distraction it might cause.
Listening to Kevin Burnett today on the radio I learned something that not many people knew about the new devices. While Bradie James has the device in his helmet and is still active for the game, Burnett can not use his helmet with the device. Only if James leaves the game with an injury may Burnett switch to the new helmet. This means that on third downs when James leaves and Burnett comes in, the defense will have to rely on the old hand signals to get the playcalls from the sideline.
Receivers: I want to see a LOT of Sam Hurd, Miles Austin and even more of Isaiah Stanback. I want to see if Austin has improved his catching and if Hurd is improved as much as they've been saying he has. And we all want to see Danny Amendola catch some nice passes across the middle. Unfortunately I think that Amendola will be trying to catch passes from Richard Bartel when he comes into the game.
Running Backs: The Cat and Choice. Enough said.
There are a lot of things to look for in these preseason games. Don't get caught up in the box score or if the Cowboys win or not. Let's just hope for a safe, injury free game from both sides and a good look at the future playmakers on the team. A team can have 22 starters, all the best at their positions and bona fide superstars at what they do; what makes a team truly GREAT is how well the players behind them are ready to play and how much of a difference they make in their limited opportunities on the field. This is why I am excited about the preseason.
What are you guys looking for?