So it's not the fourth pre-season game for the Dallas Cowboys tonight against the Miami Dolphins, it's the fifth. That's just way too many - so let's give thanks that it will finally be over and we can start concentrating on the Sept. 12th opener against the hated Redskins. This training camp has been a trying one for the team and the fans; way too many injuries and some very sloppy play in the pre-season games.
But the Cowboys will be playing a game tonight, and for the guys fighting to make the 53-man roster, it's probably the most important game of their lives. Some will battle their way onto the Cowboys active roster, some will end up on the practice squad. Still others will be "auditioning" for a spot on another roster, and the unlucky ones will see their football dream come to an end, at least for this season. So what's going on tonight for Dallas?
Stephen McGee - From what we've heard it appears McGee will play most, if not all, of this game. The young QB has yet to impress although he's made some strides from last year. During training camp he got few reps so it was really hard to evaluate him. He looks the part but there are questions about whether he has mentally been able to absorb what he needs to be an NFL QB. With injury issues and talented prospects at other positions, McGee is suddenly being talked about as a 'bubble' player. Getting to start tonight's game and play most of it should go a long way towards deciding his future. I'm guessing the Cowboys will want to hold on to him and not give up just yet, but he really needs to show something.
Sam Hurd and Kevin Ogletree - Unless the Cowboys get an offer for Patrick Crayton that they just can't resist, the first four WRs on the roster are set with Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant and Crayton. That leaves probably just one spot (unless they go heavy with 6 WR, which I doubt) to fill the WR roster. Hurd and Ogletree are supposed to get the start tonight with Dallas resting the regulars. Hurd's advantages are his proven track record on special teams and in games when he's actually gotten a chance. Joe DeCamillis is probably lobbying hard for Hurd, but as a veteran he comes with a pricey contract for a guy who will likely be relegated to special teams. Ogletree is the guy with the untapped potential, he's a more dynamic receiver and could also be a help as a return guy for special teams. He's shown flashes along the way, if he turns in a big-time performance tonight, he could just tip the scales in his favor. The Cowboys could then turn around and deal Hurd for whatever they can get. This is a good battle.
Safety/Cornerback - As detailed by Brandon in earlier posts, the situation at corner and safety appears to be very fluid right now. The top two safeties, (Alan Ball, Gerald Sensabaugh), and the top three corners, (Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick) are set. Behind them it looks like Cletis Gordon has nailed down the fourth corner spot with his ball-hawking skills in camp and his ability to play special teams. Second year safety Mike Hamlin will start tonight and appears to be a lock for one of the safety spots. After that, things get dicey. AOA has been getting looks as a special teams return guy and as a slot corner, along with reps at safety. That kind of versatility will likely earn him a roster spot.
The real battles begin after that. Danny McCray and Barry Church have both shown skill at safety. McCray has given Joe D. a lot to think about with his special teams play. Bryan McCann has performed pretty well at corner and has also been getting looks on the special teams units. How the Cowboys decide to set the mix between corner and safety will decide which of these bubble guys get in. On the outside looking in right now are Jamar Wall and Teddy Williams.
Other Battles - At NT, Junior Siavii and Josh Brent are battling to backup super-stud Jay Ratliff. The TE/FB mix is still in flux but I think Chris Gronkowski has shown enough to grab a spot. The questions is whether any TE not named Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett can force their way into the mix. The backup offensive linemen are still a question, especially now that Sam Young has hit the injury list. Also, the Cowboys will have to decide on either eight or nine linebackers.
For the average fan, tonight's game might be one to skip. But for us die-hards - we'll be watching. And for the guys on the roster bubble, this game means everything.