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Cowboys vs. Cardinals: Three important storylines heading into the Hall of Fame game

Hall of Fame game is an audition. Defense has delivered on swagger and who is playing like a “can’t cut”. Plus, preseason previews.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Green Bay Packers vs Indianapolis Colts Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday will mark the first preseason game for the Dallas Cowboys as they head to Canton, Ohio to take on the Arizona Cardinals. Now, for some, this game is met with little excitement, but our own Dawn Macelli lays it out for us as to why this game has plenty of importance:

D-Mac says don't sleep on this game, it means everything to one group:

"Reality is much different. Anywhere from forty-five to fifty of those slots are already ‘reserved’ for certain players. For the sake of discussion let’s make an assumption that 48 players are safely entrenched in Dallas. That leaves just five roster slots open and 42 men competing for those roles. The players whose future is not certain now face a one in eight chance of making the club."

She's absolutely correct and let's take this further with the notion that Cowboys are losing large snap-count contributors from last season. If you talk to these coaches and front office guys, they don't feel much nervousness replacing them with what they added in free agency and the draft. There are battles in certain positions but not as many as you may think. Opportunities don't come in bunches:

"Getting that one extra opportunity can mean the difference between selling insurance this fall and putting off finding a real job for one more season."

She mentions a former roster bubble guy, Jeff Heath, that most likely earned his spot in this very game. Here's Heath on that opportunity:

“I was really lucky that we got that game my rookie year because the starters didn’t play at all. I really wanted to make a good first impression in live action like that and I think I made the biggest impact on special teams in that game just because I was trying to show my speed and my instincts and being around the ball.”

Defense Maintaining Swagger, Keyword "MAINTAINING"?

In the past several years, we have seen the various incarnations of the Cowboys' defense come to come to camp with some swagger. Last season, the entire Cowboys' world was talking daily updates on Morris Claiborne with excitement. Claiborne played well in his seven starts before missing nine games with a groin injury and departing in free agency. What also seems to happen is that after a few days, the defense starts to get beat often and that swagger gets chipped away at.

With that said, this defense, although pretty young, has been bringing it on every rep. It's added some chippiness to some practices but the defense doesn't seem to readily accept that they are overmatched by one of the most powerful NFL offenses. La'el Collins whipped Taco Charlton's backside for days, then Taco responded with some wins of his own. Stephen Paea has been giving fits to All-Pro's Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. DeMarcus Lawrence has been by far the most explosive edge rusher.

Orlando Scandrick is phenomenal when he's healthy and dejected when he's not. Two years removed from that devastating injury, Scandrick is back to being himself. He also did what nobody has done thus far, stop Cole Beasley. Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, and Anthony Brown have all picked off these quarterbacks. The linebackers have played well. Overall, there is an attitude that the defense has brought to practice and they have demanded this offense to bring the heat. This defense has seen their fair share of butt-kickings but they keep coming.

Cowboys' ‘Can't Cut Me’ Candidates

RB Rod Smith pushing the vets in front?

Tom Ryle dished the goods on Rod Smith, the guy affectionately known as "Jaylon's brother":

"While this is just practice, the sheer volume of good plays is indicative of how Smith is showing up this year. He is showing every sign of supplanting Alfred Morris as the RB3.

His experience as a special teams player is actually a great advantage for him over Morris, who is not a teams’ guy. As a backup, he is much more likely to contribute with the ST, while still being available as depth at RB. In practices, he is showing a complete game, catching the ball well out of the backfield as well as running it effectively in both normal and short yardage/goal line situations."

Truth be told, Alfred Morris could be the best candidate to replace Ezekiel Elliott but his value as a blocker, pass catcher, or special teams contributor is very low. Here's DannyPhantom calming the hype a little:

"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."

Another guy that's overlooked but has been performing well and should play in Thursday's game, Marquez White, the sixth-round cornerback from Florida State. I penned a piece on the possibility of hitting sixth-round gold again:

"First, White is the longest cornerback on the roster and that's important to the Cowboys. White is 6'0, 194 lbs, has 32 1/8'' arms and 10'' hands."

So far in Cowboys' training camp, Marquez has denied Dak Prescott from connecting with the slot machine, Ryan Switzer, and Andy Jones. Sure, it's not Dez Bryant, it's not Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams or Brice Butler but it's a start.

One thing is certain, through the first week of camp, Marquez White is making it extremely hard for his evaluators to justify cutting him anytime soon."

Certainly, there is plenty about this game that should get the excitement to boil a little bit. Before we sign off, don’t forget to check out our BTB podcast with Landon McCool as he preps you for the offense on Thursday night. As well, make sure you check out OchoLive!, in partnership with BTB, as RJ Ochoa breaks down his thoughts while getting yours too. Preseason football is better than no football at all, CowboysNation.

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