Ahhhh football is (almost) officially back. The Cowboys will play in their first preseason game of the year on Thursday against the 49ers. Being the first preseason game of the season, most of the starters won’t play but a few series, if at all. But even though we won’t see much of the starters in Thursday night’s game, there are still plenty of things to look out for in the game. Here are five of the top things to keep an eye out for when the Cowboys take on the 49ers tonight!
1. How does Leighton Vander Esch look in live action?
The Cowboys first-round pick has yet to really stand out so far in two-and-half weeks of practice. Leighton Vander Esch will see his first live game action on Thursday night, and will be looking to finally stand out. The 49ers have a few really nice running backs who Vander Esch will be looking to contain. We are still unsure how much playing time starter Jerick McKinnon will get, but he is likely to see at least a series or two, and Matt Breida will also see playing time as well. All of the running backs on the 49ers roster are good runners, but are most dangerous due to the receiving threats they are out of the backfield. One of Vander Esch’s best traits coming out of Boise State was his cover ability due to his elite athleticism. He will have his hands full on Thursday night, but is hoping to finally start showing why the Cowboys spent the 19th overall pick on him back in April.
2. Which young receiver will stand out most?
There is so much uncertainty from the wide receiver position that it’s likely every receiver (that is healthy) will get some kind of playing time on Thursday night. Whether it’s Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, Lance Lenoir, Cole Beasley, or Noah Brown, all of Cowboys Nation will be looking for one of these guys to stand out against the 49ers. All of these guys, except Noah Brown, has had their moments of looking really good so far in training camp, but we have yet to see them in game situations. Which one of these guys will stand out?
3. Does the Cowboys defense continue to dominate?
The word out of Oxnard is that the Cowboys defense has dominated so far in training camp. We will soon find out if the Cowboys defense is really that good, or if the Cowboys offense is really that bad, or something like that. The defense is relatively healthy, so they will be at almost full strength on Thursday night. The Cowboys defensive line will have a good matchup against a young offensive line of the 49ers, and the secondary could have its hands full with Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, and second-round pick Dante Pettis, if they play any amount of the game. We will get good looks at Donovan Olumba, Charvarius Ward, Duke Thomas, Tyree Robinson, and Kam Kelly who have all had good starts to camp in the secondary. Will they be able to compete against the 49ers reserves?
4. Who shows up on special teams?
For bottom of the depth chart guys, being a key contributor on special teams is a great way to find yourself on the 53-man roster. It also helps that this offseason, the Cowboys lost one of their key special team players to free agency. Kyle WIlber was one of the top special teamers the Cowboys had on their roster. Wilber is no longer with the team, so someone will need to take over his role. Kavon Frazier is another key player on special teams, but hasn’t been practicing, so likely won’t play much, if at all, on Thursday. A lot of the young guys will get special team snaps early on in preseason, so look for Justin March-Lillard, Tyree Robinson, Joel Lanning, and Kyle Queiro and others to get plenty of reps on special teams, as the Cowboys look for key replacements in 2018.
5. Will Dan Bailey get his chance at redemption?
It has been a long eight months since the Cowboys defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in week 17 of the 2017 season. In that game, Dan Bailey missed his lone field goal. In the month of December, Dan Bailey missed five field goals, and Cowboys Nation started to panic, and rightfully so. Bailey has dealt with multiple injuries throughout his career and it looked as if they were starting to catch up with the 30-year old kicker. Bailey answered the critics with an excellent start to Cowboys training camp, before missing a handful of easy kicks in last week’s practices. Bailey hopefully, will get his opportunity to silence all of the critics with a few field goal attempts in Thursday night’s game.
Of course, there will be a lot to focus on in the game, but these are the five questions that should be near the top of every list. The deeper we get into the preseason, the more answers we’ll get regarding the starters. But for now, we’ll look at these on Thursday night.