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Preseason Games A Chance To Shine For Cowboys’ 2012 Rookie Class

Tight end James Hanna will likely get extended playing time on Monday. Will he make the most of it?
Tight end James Hanna will likely get extended playing time on Monday. Will he make the most of it?

For the better part of two weeks we’ve been reading training camp reports out of Oxnard about how CB Morris Claiborne has battled Dez Bryant almost to draw; how DE Tyrone Crawford could potentially be the steal of the 2012 draft; how WR Cole Beasley keeps making plays (when he’s in camp); how TE James Hanna is not dropping balls and how unheralded defensive end Ben Bass is raising eyebrows.

Those are just five players out of the Cowboys’ 27-strong rookie class of 2012, many of whom will get an opportunity to showcase their talent in the upcoming preseason opener against the Raiders. If the previous years are anything to go by, the Cowboys starters probably won’t play more than one or two drives, and certainly not more than a quarter, leaving a lot of playing time for the rookie class to show that they belong on an NFL roster.

Several of the Cowboys’ 2012 draft picks – Morris Claiborne, Matt Johnson and Danny Coale – are unlikely to play after sitting out parts of training camp with injuries. But that just leaves more room for other rookies and down-roster players to get valuable snaps against live competition.

And that is what pre-season games are all about: extended tryouts for down-roster players and rookies in real game situations. As such, enjoy the pre-season games for what they are - and don’t try read too much into the pre-season overall team performance.

We all know that the pre-season performance isn't any indicator of regular season performance. The 2008 Lions are the best example of that, famously going 4-0 in the pre-season and ending up 0-16 in the regular season. In 2009, the Rams won three times more games in the pre-season (3) than they did in the regular season (1). This list could go on and on, but you get the point.

So instead of using pre-season results as a predictor of the coming season, focus instead on individual players and how they perform. How good is this rookie corner at jamming the receiver off the line; how effective is that second year linebacker at getting around a blocker to the tight end; how does that undrafted wide receiver block downfield; how does this rookie lineman move downfield to block at the second level?

Here are a couple of players that might bear watching carefully on Monday:

  • Guard Ronald Leary could get extensive playing time both with the first and second units after a rash of injuries along the O-line. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t drafted because of injury concerns.
  • OLB Kyle Wilber has been getting reps with the second team unit in practice, and has looked very promising in those reps. A solid outing against Oakland could further solidify his position and could possibly lead to a few snaps in the regular season down the line.
  • OLB Adrian Hamilton injured his wrist yesterday and was taken in for x-rays. No news on his situation yet, but if he plays on Monday, it will likely be opposite Wilber where he will get to show off his pass rush moves. His challenge will be to prove that he is more than a small-school standout.
  • The absence of Miles Austin, who’ll likely sit out as he recovers from a hamstring injury, means the whole wide receiver depth chart moves up a little, which could allow the likes of Raymond Radway and Tim Benford to show what they’re capable of.
  • With both Mike Jenkins and Morris Claiborne out against the Raiders, and the Carr/Scandrick combo playing for no more than a quarter, this will give cornerbacks numbers five through nine extensive playing time. Of course, the results of this particular scenario may not be too pretty, but only if the young guys don’t make the best of the opportunity they’re provided.

Which player or players will you have your eye on when the Cowboys meet the Raiders on Monday night?

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