Regardless of the Cardinals plans for this game, which will undoubtedly be without quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Carson Palmer, the preseason still serves its purpose. For players that are battling it out for a roster spot, the preseason is a month-long audition. For certain veterans, the preseason is a time to prove they still deserve extensive playing time
The Cowboys have shown that they will not hesitate to give a young guy playing time if he deserves it. It happened last year when the Cowboys may have rivaled their 1975 draft class. By finding their heir-apparent quarterback late with a compensatory pick, running all over the league with their first-round running back, having their third-round defensive tackle record 5.5 sacks, and getting nine starts out of a sixth-round cornerback, Dallas nailed 2016.
There are still some question marks that the team will be required to answer. There are veterans on this team that will need their reps in the preseason to keep their starting positions or extended playing time. Which Cowboys' veterans will not get the perks of rest and must go all out in order to win the preseason? Who is under pressure?
5. CB Nolan Carroll
This has very little to do with his impending DWI arrest and more to do with who he's going up against. Carroll has been described as a more athletic Brandon Carr but the Cowboys are not committed to anyone. They basically signed Carroll to a team-friendly three-year deal that is essentially three one-year deals. Carroll is a guy who has spent time in this league which may give him a leg up early but that certainly doesn't mean he safe.
Among others, Carroll will battle rookie Chidobe Awuzie, who was one of the country's best cornerbacks in 2016. Awuzie is so versatile and that's been a must-have for the Cowboys over this offseason. Dallas gave Anthony Brown a chance last season and he did not disappoint. That sixth-rounder started nine games and may win a starting role this season. Other teams like the Chiefs have shown they are not scared to start the young guns, Carroll must show that his experience and knowledge is too good to pass on.
4. DT Cedric Thornton
After signing his deal before the 2016 season, Thornton failed to be the athletic and versatile weapon the Cowboys thought they signed. Cedric was unable to breakthrough last season competing against other tackles on the roster. He's shown in the past that he's a valuable piece to a defense for his ability to take on double teams and still have pass rush ability. The Cowboys lost Terrell McClain in free agency, which gives Thornton another shot at the job.
The Cowboys move guys all around and Thornton was better to close the year than when he started. If Cedric can resemble the guy that we all saw in Philadelphia, this team will be able to say that they have found an upgrade to McClain, who could never stay healthy. Still, Thornton will not only face a few rookies, he'll also battle against Stephen Paea, who has shown his best performances under Rod Marinelli. These two vets have a lot to prove but the money is already attached to Thornton who is feeling the brunt of the pressure right now.
3. DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Sure, Tank is in a contract year, that alone should cause the pressure level to raise but it's more than that. Lawrence has been the Morris Claiborne of the defensive line, think about it: Dallas gave up collateral to draft him because he was their "last chance" at right defensive end. Since then, he broke his foot as a rookie and missed eight games. He stepped out in 2015 with eight sacks but he also had Greg Hardy. Lawrence ended up having offseason back surgery before the 2016 season. Lawrence also had to undergo another back procedure this offseason.
After a lackluster 2016 season, Lawrence will have the opportunity to win that starting right end job. That's a position the Cowboys really need someone to emerge at. They drafted a speed-demon in Charles Tapper in 2016 but he redshirted his rookie season. They also drafted Taco Charlton this year but Lawrence is getting the first crack at the position. Lawrence needs to perform well this year not just for the team he's on but any team who may be interested for next year. Lawrence has the combination of skills to be that guy. If Tank Lawrence is as ready as he says he is, the Cowboys may see a substantial improvement in 2017.
2. LG Jonathan Cooper
Cooper has huge shoes to fill departed by Ronald Leary in the offseason. For the first time in several years, the Cowboys are replacing two positions on their vaunted offensive line. Where the real question lies is at the left guard position. The pressure is on Cooper who was a first-round selection. Dallas has had success with guys in the past like Marc Columbo and Leonard Davis.
Cooper has been nowhere near the guy the Cardinals thought they drafted a few years ago. Still, this is his chance to really prove that he can make it in the NFL. After flaming out for several teams, he has to beat out a third-round pick that has an injury history. The Cowboys like Cooper but they will not accept their offensive line being weak. Guys like Doug Free and Leary were underappreciated but they won't be a breeze to replace.
1. QB Kellen Moore
Where some like Scott Linehan and Wade Wilson seem comfortable with their QB2, others are not so decided. We'll need to see Moore move the offense in the preseason and finish scoring drives to prove Linehan's confidence. In a perfect world, your starter and immediate backup will at least get three points on their drives. Moore will need to look like a man who not only understands the offense but a guy who can run it with success.
In the NFL, nobody is completely sold on their backups and the Cowboys are no different. If someone becomes available, what Linehan feels will not matter, the Dallas Cowboys want to avoid a 2015 performance at all costs. If Moore is lackluster in the preseason, the Cowboys will make a move.
The exhibition matches may not seem as important but when you look at guys that are competing for a roster spot, it’s super important. This is not like most training camp battles, there are real opportunities for young players. That puts a lot of pressure on veteran guys that are trying to keep their playing time.