For some folks; the preseason can seem like one giant snooze fest. That is not the case though when your team is playing. As fans of the NFL, we love to see the tomorrow's newest stars battle it out for roster spots. The preseason is also a lot of help for the coaching staff as they try and figure out how to establish their most competitive gameday roster. Football is NOT back by any means, but with the preseason beginning, some form of football is back. With that said, which Cowboys on the roster will be worth the watch against the San Diego Chargers?
5. DE - Randy Gregory
Though Greg Hardy could certainly be added to the list, he's a proven pass rushing commodity. Randy Gregory is still trying to get used to the speed of the NFL. A lot of scouts will talk about the lack of bulk to Gregory's frame but we've heard recently that maybe on of his best traits is his 'heavy hands'. Todd Archer spoke to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few days ago; he had some good observations to share:
"It’s just physical; just heavy," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "When you strike something, you’re just heavy with it. Explosive. Heavy. He’s very strong in terms of that."
Those heavy-hitting hands allow Gregory to battle bigger offensive linemen and have success. Gregory is also superbly athletic as pointed out earlier this offseason by our own O.C.C. via SPARQ scores. He's got the innate ability to make himself smaller coming off the edge and is deceptively strong for his 240+ frame. It will be interesting to see how he fares against unknown competition in San Diego.
4. CB - Byron Jones
Jones will likely see ample playing time tomorrow night to gauge just how ready he is after this coaching staff has thrown everything at him. For all the talk that surrounds other players like La'el Collins and Randy Gregory; don't forget that Jones was the first-round pick for a reason. His intelligence matched with his athletic ability are a potentially dangerous combination for opposing NFL offenses. Lately, with a few of the Cowboys' corners banged up, he has been getting plenty of reps. Jones is a long player that has great range to play any position in the secondary. He seems to always stay close to the receiver without getting grabby and causing unwanted penalties. Brandon George of Dallas Morning News spoke as to why there is a lot of confidence in the young man:
Cowboys coaches have been impressed with Jones’ professionalism and his ability to absorb a lot of information. The Cowboys believe Jones can thrive in their scheme, but they’d like to see him make more plays on the ball.
Jones is learning that Rod Marinelli expects turnovers and will not accept anything less. Looking at his ability to play tight coverage, it wouldn't be surprising if he came away with one tonight.
3. (TIE) QB's - Jameill Showers & Dustin Vaughan
Before camp started, many had reason to believe that Vaughan could be challenging for the backup position against Brandon Weeden. However, he's struggled quite a bit through training camp. Mickey Spagnola claims that he seems too shaky and may be 'inside his head too much'. As our very own Dawn Macelli pointed out in June, here is a bit more about Vaughan:
"One cause for concern with Vaughan is that he needs to improve his awareness and mobility in the pocket. In limited action during the last preseason, Dustin took five sacks. He needs to learn to feel when the pressure is closing in on him and throw the ball away. Improving his mobility will also help him elude the pass rush as will an opportunity to play behind the first-team offensive line. He cannot continue to take sacks at the rate he did during 2014."
Jameill Showers is a different story, the son of a coach, he's been trying any and everything in order to snag a roster spot. They got him working special teams as well as quarterback. He's got a good, strong arm and very solid in the mobility department. However, like Vaughan, he's not very decisive and has trouble getting through his progressions. The Cowboys kept three quarterbacks last season, at this point it's hard to see that happening again. However, anything can change if either of these guys find a way to perform well.
2. WR/ KR - Lucky Whitehead
With Dez Bryant not playing and others such as Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley slotted for minimum play time, it comes down to Lucky. All week long in practice, Whitehead has been the go-to receiving option for the above-mentioned quarterbacks. The Cowboys have a question to answer in the return game with the much-publicized loss of Dwayne Harris. Now, Reggie Dunn and others have had opportunities but Lucky Whitehead has been the guy with his eyes on the prize. Rich Bisaccia, albeit enamored with his dreads, spoke about Whitehead briefly:
"He has great hair, man. Great hair. I wish he’d get some blue in that stuff instead of red. He’s real fast. He’s strong. He’s smart. He loves football. He spent a lot of time kind of learning our system and we’re excited to see him play."
Whitehead's audition truly begins this evening when they face off against the Chargers. Practice can only show so many things and now it's up to Whitehead to show he's able to grab the job when guys are flying at him from all over the field.
1. RB - Gus Johnson
Now, we finally get down to the guy everyone is excited about - Gus. With Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar all wearing caps tomorrow; it'll be the Gus Johnson show. He was an undrafted product that many felt was too slow for the NFL but has really come on strong the last two weeks. The position at running back remains wide open according to Jason Garrett; Can Gus Johnson really become the guy? Nobody is sure, but Bryan Broaddus says the kid sure is confident:
"Rookie Gus Johnson is ready to do whatever he has to do Thursday night when the team faces the San Diego Chargers. In talking with him after practice on Tuesday, he wasn't so much worried about the physical side of the game in his preparation but more the mental one. Johnson knows that while on the field, the coaches will be evaluating him -- not on how he carries or catches the ball, but how he carries out his assignments without mental errors or breakdowns. From the practices I have observed, he has appeared just fine in this area. Johnson will split the workload with Tyler Clutts and Lache Seastrunk to get through this game."
Johnson knows this is his opportunity, though guys like Spagnola and others will say 'pump the brakes', it wasn't too long ago other undrafted guys like Tony Romo and Barry Church were longshots to make the team. One thing is for sure, Johnson will have a heavy workload ahead of him against the Chargers. Let the auditions begin.