The Dallas Cowboys end their preseason schedule in AT&T Stadium against the Denver Broncos. For several players, this will also be the last game they will see in a Cowboys uniform, and perhaps their last time to suit up in the NFL. For the marginal, or bubble players, this is the last audition. They are not just trying to make the Cowboys' roster. They could also get a chance with another team. And of course, some players are practice squad eligible. With the expanded practice squads, that is 320 potential jobs that players cut from the team rosters can still aspire to. Teams also will be looking for other things, like how well some players may be recovered from injury.
With all that in mind, here are some players to watch during the Broncos game.
Henry Melton. Stephen Jones stated that the team expects to get Melton on the field for a few plays to test out his repaired ACL. (If you just uttered a tiny whimper of fear, it is all right. When you are a Cowboys fan, the "I" word occupies your worst nightmares.) With the lack of a pass rush during the previous preseason games, the team needs to see if this whole Melton experiment is going to work. Since he is just getting onto the field, he is not likely to be terribly impressive, but we all want to see some push into the backfield from the three technique when he is in. (Well, any other time would be nice as well, but I'm sure you know what I mean.)
Ahmad Dixon. This game may be more crucial for him than for any other player. His willingness for contact is something that can the team can use, if he can keep it within the ever more restrictive NFL rules. He may have swung the game against the Miami Dolphins with his totally unnecessary roughness penalty. After the game he was unrepentant and defiant in his comments, but after the head coach basically called him out on it, he suddenly started talking a lot more about adjusting his style of play. If he cannot dial it back at the appropriate times, he could play himself right off the roster. The team cannot afford someone who said they would take a fine every week rather than change how they played, which was his original stance.
The offensive line. Outside of the starters plus one backup (assuming Ronald Leary starts at left guard and Mackenzy Bernadeau becomes that backup), nothing is certain. It is especially dicey at tackle. Add in the various minor injuries, and there are a lot of questions that the team has not sufficiently answered. Between Uche Nwaneri and Ronald Patrick, it looks like the team has sufficient depth in the interior of the line, but no one has stood out as the guy you want to step in if disaster should occur at tackle. This is not just a time to see who plays the best, it is an opportunity to try and figure out if the Cowboys will be forced to go with a waiver wire pickup or two to back up Tyron Smith and Doug Free.
Middle linebacker. Will this be Anthony Hitchens? Rolando McClain? Justin Durant? Is there a leader in the minds of the coaching staff? Could the player they plan to start in the season-opening San Francisco 49ers game be held out this game? Some indications can come from this game, but it may require more interpretation than most.
Wide Receivers. This should be the most fun, especially if the offesnive line can give Brandon Weeden and Dustin Vaughan enough time. The receivers can do the math and know that they need to show some serious flash to catch some eyes. There could be some wild catches made by desperate players going after the ball.
Jemea Thomas. Reports on the internet are that the Cowboys had a sixth-round grade on their latest acquisition during the draft. He was slowed by injury while he was in camp with the New England Patriots, which may have led to his being waived. If he is healthy, he could be an immediate competitor for the fifth cornerback position. He also has some position flex with the ability to play safety. That could be crucial for the team, since there is going to be extra pressure on the roster due to players like Anthony Spencer and Terrell McClain who will be on the 53, but not able to play right away. If Thomas looks like he could be both the fifth corner and the fifth safety, the team might want to go light in the secondary and try to sneak players like Terrance Mitchell, Tyler Patmon, Keith Smith, Ryan Smith, and Ahmad Dixon onto the practice squad. As the players that are still mending get healthy, room can be made to move one or two defensive backs onto the 53. It is a bit of a long shot, but it might happen.
Those are some things I will be watching, but there are other individuals and position groups worthy of your attention. What are you wanting to see during the last game before they start to count?