The Cowboys 2015 preseason begins tonight with a matchup against the San Diego Chargers. While many of the popular characters fans love to watch will not be on display, there will be many players on the field that will drum up plenty of reasons to get excited. Here are a few areas to keep an eye on Thursday night.
The Running Backs
The first guinea pig for the non-DeMarco Murray running attack era will be Gus "Bus" Johnson. This is an important test for a couple reasons. First, Johnson's ability will be evaluated just like every other player receiving snaps in the game. With Joe Randle (oblique), Darren McFadden (hamstring), and Lance Dunbar (ankle) all nursing injuries, an opportunity has opened up for Gus Bus to show people what he's got. Johnson is just one of the UDFA rookies that will get a chance to exhibit his skills. Lache Seastrunk will also get some touches.
While it will be interesting to see if either of these rookies can flash some good moves, another intriguing aspect will be how a player with such raw ability can perform in this offense. Granted, this first preseason game will only offer just a smidgen of snaps behind just a handful of starting offensive linemen, but fans should get a small taste. The depth of the offensive line should field some decent reserves where La'el Collins, MacKenzy Bernadeau, and Darrion Weems could open up some good running lanes. The single most alluring aspect of this RB experiment will consist of looking past the results and determining how well these "low end" running backs seek out running lanes, and what they can do when they find them.
If "The Bus" and "The Trunk" can find success, it's certainly going to make fans feel more optimistic about what the teams stronger running backs can do.
The group of fighters that Rod Marinelli has in his defensive line arsenal has vastly improved since his first year with the team and it's time to see them in action. One of the appealing things about this group is that there are still a lot of things to figure out. Who's playing where? Who will be getting the snaps? This should make for a nice cycle of pass rushers on Thursday. There are so many players that fans want to see that if one guy goes out, another player of interest is sure to follow.
The Cowboys will get a sneak peek of what Greg Hardy will bring to the table once he returns from his suspension. The new kid, Randy Gregory will get to play against tackles not named Tyron Smith so he'll have a real opportunity to get fans amped with some splash plays.
And it's not just the new guys. Fans will get to see some of the "new-look" guys. DeMarcus Lawrence has added some strength to his game. Jack Crawford has bulked up as he's transitioned to his new defensive tackle position. And that's not even the best part. Fans will finally be able to watch the fabled Ben Gardner rush the quarterback.
Gardner missed out on any action in 2014 due to a shoulder injury in camp last year. He knows he'll be given a chance tonight and he is confident:
But one of the sneaky players who is having another good camp is Davon Coleman. He became a forgotten man after his calf injury last season and slipped further into purgatory after his word exchange with Greg Hardy in April, but Coleman is letting his play do the talking now. While there hasn't been a whole lot of moments where the defensive line has won their battles against the offensive line this training camp, Coleman's name has been coming up in a few of them. Some may not remember, but he also had a good camp last season and was an opening day starter against San Francisco. With the team always trying to find someone to unseat the great Nick Hayden at the 1-tech position, Coleman's continued strong play could make him this year's defensive line surprise.
The Cowboys have a slew of guys in the secondary that look to be on the verge of being starting caliber players. Morris Claiborne is up to his old tricks again. And those tricks would be to lull fans into thinking this is going to be his breakout year because of the strong camp he is having. Fans have heard that song before and it only comes natural to be reluctant to get out there and start dancing.
Tyler Patmon gets to see if he can build upon a solid 2014 campaign. He's also been performing well in camp and has given people more to talk about than his little scuffle with Dez Bryant. He's done a great job with his assignments and gets himself where he needs to be and is active in contesting passes.
But the real fun is going to be watching the Cowboys first-round pick, Byron Jones. The coaches have been challenging him in camp and seeing how much he can take in, and he continues to deliver. In a normal game, a rookie corner may be eased into the action and be put in more manageable situations. But this isn't a normal game. This is a game where the coaches can roll the dice and let him loose. Sure, these moments will come with some growing pains and possibly some instances where he'll get burned, but that's what these games are all about.
It's going to be fun just watching the players hit someone with a different looking helmet, but there is a lot of things that Cowboys fans can't wait to see.
What are you looking forward to seeing?