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BTB Roundtable: Four ideas on whether starters should play in the “dress rehearsal” preseason game

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Let’s discuss.

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It’s understandable if your panic and/or sensitivity to potential injuries has heightened over the last 10 or so days regarding the Cowboys. A lot has happened.

Zack Martin had a scare last Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals (not to mention Jameill Showers tore his ACL and Xavier Woods developed a hamstring issue), Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, and Thursday provided the latest jolt with a mild panic (that would soon be calmed) regarding La’el Collins. We’re on edge. It’s normal.

This is an interesting way to feel this week of all weeks because this Sunday the Cowboys are slated to host the Arizona Cardinals in the third week of the preseason. As you know this is often referred to as the “dress rehearsal” and historically has seen the most playing time for starters across all NFL teams. It’s simply been the way that most teams throughout the league have handled it forever.

Things are starting to change a little bit across certain teams, though. The Los Angeles Rams announced that Todd Gurley will not play in the dress rehearsal and the Green Bay Packers are sidelining Aaron Rodgers for it. Like everything else throughout football history teams are adapting and changing how they’ve always done certain things for the sake of development.

Naturally this brings up the question regarding our Dallas Cowboys... should the starters play? If you feel this way, who do you qualify as starters that should sit? Where does the line begin and end? There are a lot of details to dissect.

Thankfully BTB boasts some of the finest minds across the entire internet (a vast space, mind you) when it comes to America’s Team so we put some of them together for thoughts. Here’s what we had to say.


1. The “Health matters over everything, even rust” mindset

Tom Ryle: I think it’s time to sit the starters. Even if it means a bit of rust in the opener, it is more important to protect health. Preseason tends to involve a mix of skill and talent level, as teams are already being cautious with their first and second string. It is foolish to mix an All-Pro in with people who likely will be looking for a new gig in a couple of weeks. That poor level of play is actually a risk to better players. All injuries are random, but they sure seem to happen more in preseason. So put me down as sitting any and all starters from now on.

2. The “I want guys to get specific levels of work in” stance

Danny Phantom: If I am calling the shots, I let Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee play one series and one series only. I pull Dak Prescott and my veteran starters on both offense and defense after three series (Tyron Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, etc.) Any other starter/rotational guys, I’m playing into the third quarter. There are just certain guys that need the reps. I want to see how Randy Gregory plays when he’s tired. I want to see how Jaylon Smith hold up to the extra workload. I want Byron Jones to continue to expand on his NFL experience at cornerback. I understand that an unfortunate injury will always be scrutinized in hindsight, but get these guys ready to play!

3. The “I’d sit Dak, Zeke, Tyron, Tank, and Lee specifically” approach

Dave Halprin: I would approach the upcoming preseason games just like any other season. Sure, the Zack Martin scare and the Travis Frederick issue have created an unsettled feeling among the faithful, but in reality the Cowboys are doing okay in terms of injury this training camp. Martin should be back for the opener, and none of the other injuries looks to be anything long-term, with Xavier Woods likely to be back sometime early in the season. Frederick’s case is different, his is a disease and kind of a separate category since it has nothing to do with being injured on the field. Now, I might keep Dak on the bench given he’ll be missing Martin and Frederick, and I really don’t need to see Zeke for anything. A few other starters I might limit to a couple of series like Tyron Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence and Sean Lee, but other wise nothing has really happened this training camp/preseason that should alter the Cowboys normal plans.

4. The “Everyone needs to play” philosophy

Michael Strawn: I’m of the opinion players expected to play need to play in preseason. There’s barely any real tackling in practices nowadays and if you don’t play in the preseason you’re expected to go full bore in week one with virtually no real contact since last season. Players get hurt; if a player isn’t going to make it through a few preseason possessions it’s unlikely he’s going to make it through 16 full games. Also, September is really the NFL’s training camp. The lack of contact in practice and coaches keeping players under wraps during preseason games means teams now use September to work the rust off. I’d rather see my team enter that week one game ready to go. This means if the other team is ready, the Cowboys will be up to the challenge. And if the opponent isn’t ready (as we see quite often) then Dallas should be able to take advantage of them.


While we’ve only listed four there are many schools of thought when it comes to this issue. For what it’s worth I tend to side most with Tom in that I don’t see how the potential benefit of whatever could come from the work in this preseason game can outweigh the risk. If it did then people would champion for starters/whoever to play in the fourth preseason game as well, but it’s universally accepted that nobody plays in that.

We’re so close to the 2018 season beginning, we’re almost 14 days away. We’ve literally waited for meaningful Dallas Cowboys football since Christmas Eve 2017 and that was eight long months ago. There is no way you can convince me to risk falling back into that purgatory for 20 snaps against the Arizona Cardinals. It’s not like these guys aren’t practicing at all and are missing the only opportunity to do so.

What say you, BTB?

Poll

How would you prefer the Cowboys handle their third preseason game?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    #1: Rest everyone, don’t take chances
    (163 votes)
  • 38%
    #2: Let’s get guys in for a specific number of series
    (214 votes)
  • 22%
    #3: Treat it like always then pull the obvious names
    (123 votes)
  • 10%
    #4: No fear, play everybody no matter what
    (58 votes)
558 votes total Vote Now