You know that dream you have where you are running and running, but you can’t seem to go anywhere? That’s what it feels like waiting for the football season to begin.
Well, guess what? The wait is over. Sorta.
The preseason football season begins Thursday night with the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals traveling to Canton, Ohio to participate in the annual Hall of Fame game. The last time the Cowboys played five preseason games was in 2013 when they faced the Miami Dolphins in the HOF game. You might remember Devonte Holloman’s 75-yard interception return off a tipped pass.
Preseason games are a chance to get our first look at rookies in action and watch some lower depth chart players battle it out for roster spots. But it’s also about survival. Health is of utmost importance and when an extra preseason game has been slated, you better believe the team will proceed with caution. So, before I get to what I am looking forward in seeing, let’s first acknowledge what we won’t see.
Jaylon, no Jaylon?
The Cowboys have made it clear that they are being careful with their coveted second-round investment from a year ago. Sure, he looks great in practice, but any time he’s running around in live action is a risk. With Jaylon especially, the team is going to do everything they can to limit that risk.
He’ll have to get out there eventually, but in the bonus preseason game? Nah, that’s not very likely. I’d be shocked to see him out there and if he is, it would be sparingly.
One series for Kellen Moore
We never got to see Moore last preseason due to his injury in training camp. There were a lot of people buzzing about how much he had improved. He’s healthy now, so we are all interested to see if this backup QB person is as good as advertised. Unfortunately, it should be only a quick nibble for Moore. His time will come soon enough to get a good look at him, but don’t expect much on Thursday.
Anyone nursing an injury
The Cowboys have a lot of players nicked up right now. As has been the process in recent years, the team is diligent about giving those players time to heal. Each practice day has been filled with new names of someone nursing an injury. While there would be several players who would be good to go if this was a regular season game, but for preseason game number one, most of these guys won’t even dress down.
Okay, enough of what we won’t see. What should we be watching for?
The Backup Safety Battle
There are seven defensive backs locked in with roster spots. The team five cornerbacks - Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis are all making the team. But there are only two safeties - Byron Jones and Jeff Heath who are safe.
That leaves about three roster spots for Xavier Woods (25), Marquez White (39), Kavon Frazier (35), and Robert Blanton (36). It’s tough to gauge who are the likely candidates to fill out the roster.
Woods and White are two of this year’s draft picks so the team would like to give those investments plenty of opportunities to show their stuff. However, they’re late-round guys so they have just as much to prove as anyone.
Frazier was a late-round pick last year that made the squad, but has he shown enough to remain on the team? He has a year of knowing the defense under his belt so that works in his favor. The coaches have a better idea as to what type of player he is, but if he’s not trending up, they might roll with a younger player who still has upside.
Then there is the veteran free agent Blanton. While the younger guys offer up potential, the team has a better understanding what they’ll get from Blanton. If it gets down to where this roster spot is put into action, the team wants the best player; someone who will be serviceable and not someone still learning on the job. This could give Blanton the edge. Like essentially all the free agent signings the Cowboys make, Blanton is still relatively young (27) so it’s not like he’s on the down slope of his career.
There are some other guys as well - Jameill Showers (28), Leon McFadden (23), Sammy Seamster (29), and Duke Thomas (26). One of these players will create a little buzz when they make a couple plays here and there.
All of these backup defensive backs will see action, but it’s those four bubble guys that intrigue me the most.
Let’s Rush To Judgment
Let the pass rusher race begin! We all have our favorites and Thursday will mark the first time many fans see these players in action. Some will play better than others so it will provide the first litmus test of the season.
One of the great thing about not having any superstar pass rushers is that you don’t have to worry about them being held out of an early preseason game. Sure, there are some veterans who are ailing a bit so you won’t be seeing them go. Maliek Collins, for example, won’t play. But many of the new guys will see some action. That includes Taco Charlton, Damontre Moore, and the Stephen Paea. There is a good chance, we’ll be talking about at least one of these guys after Thursday game.
As an Oregon State Beaver myself, I’m betting on OSU alum Paea to start his preseason wave-making early. Prediction: two splash plays, including one sack.
Quick, how many Smith’s are there on the team? If you said four, then your name will be entered into a raffle where you can win a one-year membership to the jelly of the month club (offer only valid in July).
Everyone knows about Tyron, Jaylon, and even Keith who became the team’s starting fullback last year. But then there is Rod, who lost the fullback battle last season. He was then cut when the Cowboys need the roster spot for secondary help when injuries occurred. Well, he’s back again, only this time he’s returning to his natural position as running back.
Let’s face it, Zeke won’t see action. And it would appear sensible to keep Darren McFadden protected as well. This time of year was supposed to be the Jahad Thomas show, but an injury has made him disappear off the roster. Instead, we will get a little Alfred Morris and a taste of Ronnie Hillman. But look out for Rod. He’s been having a good camp so far and it should be interesting to see if his running back value on the team is legit. Just remember to control your excitement when he churns out a couple big runs. We’ve seen this act before from Phillip Tanner and like Tanner, Rod Smith is still just a special teams guy with some running back flex. But Smith will be trying to change that.
What do you expect to see on Thursday night?