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Dallas Cowboys Roster Depth Makes Fourth Quarter Fun

A look at some of the impressive performances by Dallas Cowboys backups during the second half of the preseason game versus the Baltimore Ravens.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot to learn about a football team during the preseason, and Cowboys fans were in for a treat in the second half if they decided to watch the bottom of the roster depth compete for jobs in Dallas. I suffered through some odd looks and verbal jabs when friends and associates left the bar showing the Dallas Cowboys preseason matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens at halftime. I stayed to watch the entirety of the preseason game and was rewarded with some good football from guys fighting to make rotations and roster spots. For those that missed it, or had as much as fun as me watching it, here are a few observations from the fourth quarter of the Cowboys second preseason game.

Welcome Zach Minter

Cowboys fans were introduced to the newest Rushman to join the Marinelli collection of ‘no names' when Zach Minter played in this preseason game just days after joining the team. In about one-half of football, this young man earned the defensive player of the day.

  • Four tackles - one for a loss - and two sacks and a forced fumble
  • Several QB pressures, including one that led to the Martez Wilson sack

Minter made several splash plays in his limited time, fighting hard to make an impression and earn a chance to survive to the 53-man roster. He was getting consistent push at the line of scrimmage and has surprising burst and mass to be disruptive in the backfield while maintaining his gap...something Devon Coleman struggled to do during snaps against the first-team Ravens defense. However, in the second-half, the Cowboys d-line depth was playing strong versus the Ravens, with Minter and Coleman crashing the pocket with Dartwan Bush and Ken Boatright finding some success of the edge.

While Minter made the most big-plays, including a sack and stuffing a run for a loss based purely on his great individual effort, most came because of a strong group effort or tandem, more of swarm than one-man show. Minter helped create a sack for another by creating pressure, but also benefited in his sack by the pressure created by Dartwan Bush - who also recovered the fumble.

First-Round Pick Versus Backups

Ryan Williams made it clear that he belongs on the field versus stronger competition. Joseph Randle had a solid showing, even with/against some starters on his way to 41 yards on seven carries. But Williams looked faster, stronger, and more agile than anyone around him in the fourth quarter. He had a phenomenal broken tackle, where he got low and bounced off a serious collision with a safety to gain an additional ten yards on his longest run (27 yards) of the night. Williams seemed decisive, tough, and flashed short-area acceleration and a physicality that you don't often see by running backs returning from many seasons of injuries.

The depth at running back is going to make the 3rd, and possibly 4th, roster spot competition fun to watch. Even Tyler Clutts showed some ability, making matters more complicated. There are going to be some tough choices to make regarding these kinds of "flex" spots on the Cowboys 53-man roster, and Dallas may want to consider using Randle or Williams to gain some trade value instead of a possible last-day cut.

One Back Injury Away

While Tony Romo provided a strong performance that raised no cause for concerns, the backup quarterbacks also worked hard to help reduce any worries further. On the stat sheet, Brandon Weeden had a poor performance at 10/19 for 128 yards and one INT. But I liked the way he commanded the offense and wasn't afraid to attack deep. One deep pass to Terrance Williams was just short enough to allow the corner back a chance to make up ground and a great diving pass deflection. And while Weeden's interception on the deep pass to Dwayne Harris was not a wise decision, I can't help but wonder if Weeden didn't accept that risk for a chance to thread the needle on a deep ball. Again, the defender made a good play to stop a big gain, but I would rather Weeden take such shots with confidence in the preseason than play conservatively and end with a better stat sheet. I think he showed enough reasons to think he is an upgrade over the departed Kyle Orton.

Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan each threw a touchdown as they made some nice plays to help the team rally with a few minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Their combined drives led to 20 points and a failed two-point conversion (smart coaching move to avoid overtime scores, and perhaps the only bad route by Jamar Newsome). Perhaps it is a combination of these quarterbacks and Scott Linehan's effect on the offense, but every quarterback on the roster was looking to attack the defense. It seems the days of check-down backups and practice-squad QBs are over.

The Road to the Practice Squad Is Dangerous

Jamar Newsome will have a very tough time making the final 53-man roster. Even if the team decides to carry six receivers, he is currently behind LaRon Byrd who is making plays on offense and special teams. However, Newsome's path to the Cowboys practice squad may have become too dangerous for the team to accept. Jamar had a very good game, the only clear mistake being that he didn't run his 2-point conversion route as flat as he should have for an easy catch and points.

However, he made several impressive catches in the fourth quarter, even if one was eventually challenged and overruled. In his ‘non-catch' and two others (including a touchdown) Jamar did a great job fighting to secure the catch while controlling his body to keep defenders at bay and his feet inbounds. Cowboys fans following practices knew Jamar was making plays, but now the secret is out. Any staff watching film from preseason games will be sure to add Jamar's name to the receiver waiver-wire watch-list.

A Long Night for the Challengers

There are several rookies and young players who are not just fighting for a spot on the roster, but competing to get significant snaps during the regular season. Both Davon Coleman and Terrance Mitchell had snaps alongside the starters in the first quarter, but were also playing in the fourth quarter. As should be expected, both had some growing pains facing the Ravens' starters. Coleman had some gap integrity issues versus the run and Mitchell was beat twice, including once for a touchdown. While Coleman did show an impressive burst off the line and Mitchell did have good positioning against a nearly indefensible and perfect TD throw-and-catch, it was their second-half performances that are most noteworthy.

Both rookies showed some impressive conditioning at this midway point in training camp by playing a rather remarkable number of snaps. Even better, both players got better as the game went on. Though it should be expected that versus backups Coleman should play stronger and create greater push, while Mitchell does better in coverage and allows fewer receptions, it is impressive that they did not allow the drop in competition or large number of snaps to tire them out and cause mental and physical fatigue and mistakes late in the game. Coleman was a large reason why guys around him were making splash plays, and Mitchell nearly came away with an interception made more difficult by some friendly fire. It was good to see two rookies that battled and, despite a few mistakes, held their own versus starters and overwhelmed backups...especially if the team is going to rely on them to get significant snaps Week 1 vs. San Francisco.

Long Way to Go

There are still two preseason games left this offseason. While every fan would like to see their team as good as they hope the team will be when the regular season begins, every franchise is still hard at work teaching and training their players, who in turn are still learning and practicing new plays and techniques. As Jason Garrett would say, it is a process, and it continues to be as much of a process during the regular season. The team fans will see in preseason, the season opener, by midseason, or during the playoffs will continue to improve or digress depending on the coaching and players (and, of course, injuries). It is good to see young players making a name for themselves in the fourth quarter of the second preseason game, but they will have to show that effort and execution can remain consistent throughout the preseason (much less the regular season). Yet so far, it seems the Cowboys have improved the depth on their roster, and it is making preseason games fun to watch in their entirety.

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