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Cowboys vs. Texans: Questions that need answers in the last preseason game

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They finish up the meaningless games with a trip to Houston to play the Texans. You won’t see any stars, but the team still has plenty to evaluate.

NFL: Preseason-Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys
Yeah, there will be a lot of players that we won’t see again.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

We’re down to one. One more preseason game for the Dallas Cowboys against the Houston Texans this Thursday night (when we will see the one time each year all NFL teams will play a game within a single six-to-seven hour window). And given that Dallas basically jettisoned the idea of a “dress rehearsal” last week in favor of protecting some starters on offense, this game will mostly involve players that will be looking for work within 24 hours as the deadline for the cut to 53 hits.

So why watch? Well, there are still some questions that need to be answered for the Cowboys, and this is the last chance to do so for players that are on the bubble. This game also can be used to sort out some depth chart issues. So here are some things the Cowboys might be looking to do in the most meaningless of meaningless games. And also what we might be able to figure out about roster decisions from who plays.

Who is the backup for Dak Prescott?

A couple of weeks ago, it looked pretty obvious that Cooper Rush was QB2 and Mike White was QB3. But a totally unimpressive performance by Rush last Sunday, a somewhat better but still lackluster job by White, and the overall impressions from training camp put that very much into question. It may be too late, and the Cowboys may be more or less locked into Rush as QB2, but this is the last chance to evaluate that. If Rush takes the field to start the game, and White comes in later (assuming no injury to Rush), then there is still a bit of competition going on. But if White comes out to start the game, it is likely a done deal, and White’s opportunity is mainly to try and stick on the roster as a third QB, rather than see if he clears waivers to go on the practice squad.

However, how Rush and/or White are used may not tell us as much as some other positions. The team only has two quarterbacks to use, and someone has to take the snaps.

Running backs.

If Bo Scarbrough and/or Darius Jackson are held out, then we have a pretty good idea they are making the roster. Otherwise, the backs that see the field are auditioning for other teams or the practice squad.

Tight ends.

Expect Dalton Schultz and Rico Gathers to get a lot of work, the former because he needs the reps to help his transition, and the latter to make his final case for the roster. But don’t get your hopes up too much for Gathers. He would have to have a really good night in all phases of the offense to have much of a chance.

Wide receivers.

It is likely that Lance Lenoir and Deonte Thompson will see lots of reps, possibly serving as WR1/2 for most of the game. They are not only in competition with each other, but having to build a case for the team to keep more than five WRs on the roster. And that is hardly a given. Unless one has a lot of special teams value, having a sixth and/or seventh WR on the roster just means someone who won’t suit up for most games. Putting a wide receiver or two on the practice squad is a more cost-effective way of having some injury insurance, and that would rule Thompson out for that job.

Offensive line.

Connor Williams has gotten a lot of snaps to get him ready for the regular season, but it seems unwise to put him out there in this game. Hopefully the staff will not take that risk. Joe Looney will also likely be protected. Of the rest of the linemen, Kadeem Edwards could be one to watch. Otherwise, look for lots of unfamiliar names, including the new signees, Matthew Diaz and Kyle Bosch. The team is looking for possible depth. And while that may bode ill for the quarterback’s protection and running lanes, these guys will be going up against the same level of players, for the most part. Maybe it will even out.

Defensive line.

This is one place that may see some names that will make the roster. The team might want to get more reps for Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong, but that seems risky, and both are almost certainly going to make the roster. Numbers may dictate their use, however. More likely, players like Kony Ealy, Charles Tapper, Jihad Ward, Caraun Reid, and Daniel Ross will get the work to try and prove their worth to the team.

Linebackers.

Don’t expect to see any of the top six. This is going to be one long tryout for someone to make a case to keep seven linebackers, most likely to have more help on special teams. It is probably a big night for Chris Covington to show the team what he can do.

Secondary.

There is not much depth at corner or especially safety. This is going to be all UDFAs and second-year players not named Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis. The team could give Lewis some work out there, but he seems certain to be on the roster as the CB4, and it seems imprudent to have him play.

That is how I see it, but of course, my opinion doesn’t matter. Still, we know this is not a game where the team wants to risk injury to any of the players they are counting on. We’ll see how it actually shakes out. Almost none of the players we actually see will survive the cut down. This is their last moment to shine.