The Dallas Cowboys face off against the Cincinnati Bengals tonight (on NFL Network) and there will be many things to keep our interest. With several roster battles still on the line, players will be fighting to make the team. Some players are safe, but are still developing into their role on the team. Which players will you be watching tonight? Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the player to keep an eye on during the Bengals game.
QUARTERBACK - Mike White
People are torn whether or not the fifth-round rookie will make the squad. There hasn’t been anything impressive from this young QB thus far and that has some fans a little down on him. The Cowboys saw something in him and it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t be a little patient with him. Quarterbacks are lottery tickets and sometimes the winning numbers don’t present themselves right away. But while they may plan to give him a longer leash, certainly things can happen to change their plans. Cooper Rush could play really well. White could play really terrible. And other bubble guys at other positions may force the team’s hand to not keep a third quarterback. The good news for him is that all three of these things would need to occur for him to be left off the roster.
RUNNING BACK - Darius Jackson
Bo Scarbrough is making the team. One could argue that if he was just a one-dimensional bruiser back, then maybe that wouldn’t be enough to earn a roster spot. Fortunately for Bo, he’s been doing a little bit of everything. He’s pounding out the dirty runs, he’s catching passes, and he’s playing special teams. Reports out of camp is that Scarbrough is embracing his new roles and doing just fine. The only thing that will keep him off the team is what has ailed him his entire college career - health. As long as he can avoid any type of lingering injury, he should be okay.
Don’t be surprised if the stock rises for Darius Jackson throughout the preseason. He’s got some good wheels and when he gets in space, it could open the door for some eye-popping runs. Jackson could very well make an NFL roster, it just won’t be for the Cowboys.
WIDE RECEIVER - Michael Gallup
I sure wish we could all talk about the great battle for that last wide receiver spot that includes Lance Lenoir, Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown, and Cedrick Wilson. Unfortunately, only Lenoir is healthy. The Cowboys sixth-round rookie Wilson is out for the year. Free agent Thompson is dealing with an Achilles injury and Brown is nursing a sore hamstring.
With all those other guys missing in action, that doesn’t create much competition for Lenoir. If he keeps finding the end zone, could he deliver the knockout blow before these other guys even get a chance to step into the ring?
While the last wide receiver spot is still up for grabs, my eyes will be on the Colorado State rookie Michael Gallup. He has been playing well and this continued rise may help fans feel a little better about what the team has at the wide receiver position.
TIGHT END - Rico Gathers
Last preseason, Rico Gathers was catching touchdown passes. It’s early, but those fans looking for an encore performance from Gathers were left a little disappointed last week. Will this be the week the Cowboys unleash him? With Gathers’ roster spot up in the air, you’d think we’d get a good look at the young tight end during the preseason.
Rico isn’t the only tight end that needs to perform. While his fourth-round draft cost and first-year status might buy him more time, Dalton Schultz still needs to show he can do things on the field.
The performance of these two bottom depth guys are not mutually exclusive. The Cowboys have a lot of questions at tight end and will need to have options available. The struggle of one player, could make the other one have more value. It will be interesting to see how these two perform in the remaining preseason games.
OFFENSIVE LINE - Kadeem Edwards
Seven offensive linemen are sitting pretty. The starting five plus swing tackle Cameron Fleming and backup guard/center Joe Looney will make the squad. That leaves one offensive linemen spot left and after the injury to Marcus Martin - it’s just a two-man race. Can Chaz Green salvage what remains of these last few weeks of camp? Can he make it through the preseason game without being carted off the field?
Last year’s practice squad guy Kadeem Edwards is trying to slide into that last OL spot. While the team doesn’t have the draft investment in him as they do Green, none of that matters now. If Edwards can show he is capable of fending off defenders, he can move ahead of Green and snag that last spot. How both of these bubble players perform will go a long ways in determining the winner.
DEFENSIVE END - Randy Gregory
The backup edge rushers have us all excited. Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong are having good camps and the return of Randy Gregory just adds another element of excitement to the group. The great thing is that these guys are reserves and we should be able to see a good dose of snaps from these guys, however, if Gregory plays, he’s likely to be kept on a pitch count. Anything we see from him will be great and if he manages to get a sack in limited action - boy, that’s going to generate some buzz.
While those three will be the most fun to watch, the real battle begins later when two other defensive ends continue to fight for a spot on the team. Both Charles Tapper and Kony Ealy are trying to find their place and they both need a good showing from here on out.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE - Datone Jones
Can Antwaun Woods continue to get push up the middle on a consistent basis? Let’s hope so because what a delight that would be. The upstart play of Woods has him on the fast track of making this team, but things are a little hazy beyond that. Datone Jones, Jihad Ward, and Brian Price are all trying to prove they can contribute inside, but will the Cowboys have room for all these guys?
With Maliek returning soon, time could be running out for one of these depth defensive tackle guys. The suspension of David Irving might buy someone a little time, but with the ability of some of the edge guys to move inside, it might not be necessary to keep all these interior defensive linemen. Any splash play from this group will help improve their chances to make the team.
LINEBACKER - Chris Covington
Besides ironing out the pecking order of the linebackers that will make the team, there is really only one thing left to be determined - will Justin March-Lillard earn that last roster spot? He’s in a good position right now for two reasons. First, he’s playing well. March-Lillard isn’t standing out with great athletic ability, but he’s pretty reliable as of late. JML provides the team a solid floor for their no. 6 linebacker. You can’t go wrong there.
If there is anyone who has a shot to jump March-Lillard, it would be six-round draft pick Chris Covington. He’s been battling bronchitus lately, but he’s finally healthy and returned to practice this week. Will he have enough time to show he belongs on the team? I’m a big fan of Covington as he offers better upside because of his athleticism and energy level. But he’s very raw and missing precious time at camp really hurts a player like Covington. Keep an eye out for him. If it looks like Anthony Hitchens is still out there making plays (Covington wears 59), then that could start messing with your mind and cause the rookie to get some love.
CORNERBACK - Charvarius Ward
Duke Thomas, Marquez White, Charvarius Ward, and Donovan Olumba - pick one.
After the main four (Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis), it’s anyone’s guess how the Cowboy fill out the rest of their cornerback spots. Maybe they go six deep? These four depth guys are battling it out and every play will count.
Thomas is instinctive and is always around the ball, but at 5’10” his size isn’t what new defensive backs coach Kris Richard is looking for. Olumba has the size at 6’2” but is he making enough plays? If you are looking for the best of both worlds, Ward might be your guy. He has the size and aggressiveness to play his way onto this roster.
SAFETY - Tyree Robinson
Just as the corner position has four locks with four candidates vying for a roster spot, the safety position has three locks with three candidates fighting for a roster spot. Jameill Showers, Marqueston Huff, and Tyree Robinson are the names we are hearing most about right now, but neither of them are doing anything to separate themselves. Just like with the corners, a big play would be a nice first step in inching ahead of the pack. A Tyree Robinson pick-six would sure be nice.