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Cowboys Q&A: Leighton Vander Esch’s availability? Who will lead the Cowboys in catches this season?

You have questions and we have answers...

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are heading to Carolina in their 2018 season debut against the Panthers. With the team’s roster finally announced and a few players nicked up, there are a lot of questions heading in to the first game of the season, so we turned it over to you to see what’s on your mind.

We asked, and you answered with questions, that we will now answer.

That’s just the nature of being an invested Cowboys fan. We are so connected with the team that it’s hard not to be excited about the upcoming season. With Ezekiel Elliott embarking on his redemption season, an improved defense, and Dak Prescott having an assortment of new weapons, you can’t blame anyone for feeling good about the new season.

Of course, we set our expectations high and that puts a daunting task ahead of our beloved Cowboys. With so many great teams in the NFC, it’s easy to be concerned about how far this Dallas team can go. This is a great time of year for fans!

Here are three good reasons why the team only hung on to two running backs for the time being. First, roster space is scarce and they have so many other things to sort out right now at other positions. Between the new guys on the offensive line and the defensive backs they’ve recently added, these extra roster spots allow the Cowboys to evaluate the guys worth keeping around.

Second, when would the team eve use a third running back? Zeke will handle so much of the workload that they won’t even have many touches for backup Rod Smith. It’s just wasteful to have an extra running back on the team if he’s going to sit around and do nothing. Sure, an injury could strike and then the need would be there, but the team can address that problem when it gets here. Which brings us to the last one...

Should the Cowboys have a need for another running back, how big is the drop-off from that third RB to whoever they could get in free agency? It’s not that big. If there was a somewhat talented player who separated himself from the rest of the pack, then it would be worth stashing him, but there’s not. The team is not losing much by waiting to get a third RB on the roster.

The Cowboys have already made the decision to alter their approach on offense to allow them to be more dynamic. A better route-running receiving group, the speedy Tavon Austin, and even a fullback who is a solid receiver will all add new elements to this offense.

But as much as these new things will help, this team’s identity is running the football. Don’t expect the Cowboys to pull the reigns back on the running game just because the there are a couple new pieces on the line. The creativity will be there, but it won’t stem from the changes on the offensive line.

There are seven inactives, and I project them to be...

We’ll start with the guys who are banged up:

  • C Travis Frederick (illness)
  • DT Datone Jones (knee)
  • S Xavier Woods (hamstring)
  • OL Paker Ehinger (knee)

The healthy scratches:

  • QB Mike White (project guy)
  • DT Daniel Ross
  • TE Dalton Schultz

It is possible that one of the new offensive linemen (Adam Redmond) or one of the new defensive backs (Ibraheim Campbell) doesn’t dress, but that could depend on how quickly they become acclimated with the playbook.

The Cowboys have a diverse group of receivers and each of them give the team something different. Allen Hurns can really pile on the yards with good run-after-the catch production throughout his career. Deonte Thompson is a deep threat and had the fifth-highest WR rating for deep balls last season. And rookie Michael Gallup could lead the team in touchdown passes as he had the lowest drop rate for red zone targets of any college receiver last season.

But if we’re talking about catches, go with Cole Beasley. Remember, he’s just a year removed from being the most reliable slot receiver in the league as he’ll look to rekindle that connection he had with Dak Prescott in 2016.

The Cowboys first-round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch has not been listed on the team’s official injury reports. That’s good news for fans hoping to get a look at him in action on Sunday. LVE has been sidelined with a groin injury since mid-August, but the team has been careful with him, keeping him out of most of the preseason action. While he may be good to go now, don’t expect a lot of reps for the youngster. Not only will they want to ease him back slowly, but this Cowboys defense is sitting in good shape at linebacker. It might be hard to get potential breakout player Jaylon Smith off the field.

Second-year running back sensation Christian McCaffrey is an absolute monster catching the ball out of the backfield. He is going to be tough for the Cowboys defense to keep tabs on. When he gets in space, he can be real dangerous.

The Cowboys signed Thompson in free agency not just because of his receiving skills, but because new receivers coach Sanjay Lal had a great rapport with him. The felt like they knew what they were getting with Thompson and they didn’t want to just give that up. While Lenoir had a great camp is may be a more complete receiver, Thompson is a better option to stretch the defense down field. Finally, Lenoir is eligible for the practice squad since it’s only his second year in the league whereas Thompson is a veteran who is not. Going this route essentially allows the team to sink their hooks into both of these guys if needed.

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