The Cowboys didn’t win the game, but that wasn’t really the point.
Cooper Rush’s days as the backup to Dak Prescott in Dallas might not be over.
Rush ended two long drives with touchdown passes while the star quarterback watched once again in the Cowboys’ 20-14 preseason loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday night.
Prescott’s third straight exhibition absence means his first snap in a game since the severe ankle injury that ended his 2020 season will be in the opener Sept. 9 against Tom Brady and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay.
Rush, Prescott’s backup for most of three seasons from 2017-19 before becoming expendable after the club signed Andy Dalton, is giving the coaching staff something to think about with one week to go in training camp.
Garrett Gilbert has taken almost all of the first-team snaps in camp with Prescott sidelined by the shoulder injury. He earned that mostly with a solid first career start in a loss to Pittsburgh last year when Dalton was out with COVID-19. Rush rejoined Dallas (0-3) during that tumultuous stretch.
5 takeaways from Cowboys-Texans, including a potential backup quarterback battle - Calvin Watkins, DMN
A few defensive notes.
The Cowboys started the game in a nickel defense, meaning Micah Parsons and Keanu Neal were the linebackers. Yet the Cowboys mixed and matched their linebackers in a similar fashion as they did against Arizona in their second preseason game. When the Cowboys went with a base four-man front, Parsons was joined by Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch at linebacker. With the Texans game being the dress rehearsal, we got a glimpse of who the starters will be, particularly at linebacker. Parsons is an every down player, if you didn’t already know, and it seems Vander Esch and Smith will be in on run downs. Vander Esch incidentally had four tackles in his first half of work.
Osa Odighizuwa might have secured a job
With defensive tackle Neville Gallimore out for an extended period after an elbow injury, it’s given rookie Odighizuwa a chance to showcase his skills. He started in the base defense, provided good pressures including a stop on a fourth-and-1 play early in the second quarter when running back Phillip Lindsay was tackled for a 1-yard loss. Odighizuwa has taken advantage of his chance and should be a Week 1 starter.
Have no fear. Dak will be clear for the season opener against Tom Brady and the Bucs.
Prescott has been held out of team drills since late July because of a latissimus strain in his right shoulder. He has had no setbacks and remains on track with a progressive throwing program designed to increase volume of work, the source said.
On Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy said “there’s a good chance” Prescott won’t play in the preseason. Heading into training camp, the team had hoped to get Prescott plenty of reps now that he has recovered from the dislocation and compound fracture of his right ankle that ended his 2020 season in Week 5.
Dallas opens the regular season on Sept. 9 with a Thursday night game against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Stephen Jones talks Dak Prescott, Malik Hooker, and where the Cowboys defense should rank in 2021 - Matthew Lenix, Inside The Star
Fingers crossed Malik Hooker can remain healthy and be an impact player with the Cowboys.
The safety position has been a major topic of discussion when it comes to the Cowboys for years because of their unwillingness to address it. Donovan Wilson showed he was the team’s strong safety of the future with his breakout performance in 2020, but who would play opposite him going forward was still a concern.
In an attempt to put upgrades on the roster the Cowboys first signed Keanu Neal in late March but he has transitioned to linebacker. Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse were added as well, but another addition received the most buzz, Malik Hooker. When Jones was asked if where the Cowboys had him ranked before the 2017 NFL Draft made them comfortable with signing him he agreed and also mentioned his progress from his Achilles injury.
“Absolutely,” said Jones. “We had him right there where everybody else had him, top-10 type defensive player, a playmaking, and it’s just been unfortunate. He’s had a lot of injuries in his career, and he’s coming off an Achilles, and they’ve held him back some. But we certainly see what made us like him coming out in practice. Now that he’s working back into practice, he’s going to get some good work in the game tomorrow against the Texans, and then hopefully even more work against the Jaguars. Feel good about him.”
Will Jaylon Smith make the Cowboys final 53-man roster for the 2021 season?
Dallas Cowboys: LB Jaylon Smith
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith has been a tackling machine over the past four years (498 combined), though he has too often been a liability. In each of the last three seasons, he has allowed an opposing quarterback rating of at least 102.0 and has missed 33 tackles over that span.
Smith hasn’t looked good in preseason action, while rookie first-round pick Micah Parsons has been a star. Smith isn’t a core special teamer either, having played less than 20 percent of special teams snaps in each of his four campaigns.
The reality is that Smith is no longer worth his hefty six-year, $68.4 million contract.
“I think there is a very slight chance he is on the roster in 2022 and a greater-than-zero chance he is not on the roster in 2021,” The Athletic’s Bob Sturm wrote. “... I see some major issues with his ability to do his job and the money has already been spent. He cannot play special teams for the same reasons he cannot play linebacker at a high enough level.”
Smith may stick around because of his contract, as Dallas will save nothing by cutting him. But the Cowboys should be looking for more reliable options at linebacker. Trading Smith would be ideal, but it’s time to pull the plug if one cannot be facilitated.
Who will be Dak’s primary backup in 2021?
Team executive vice president Stephen Jones was non-committal when asked on Friday about who had the upper hand in the camp battle. But his answer did offer some clues as to how the organization might be thinking about the backup spot with less than three weeks to opening night.
“I think Gilbert and Cooper have got to continue to work, and they’re fighting for that Number Two spot,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “Obviously, Gilbert’s got a little advantage there, but they’re obviously working to hold on to that role there.”
DiNucci was notably absent from Jones’s answer. The second-year passer out of tiny James Madison was thrown into the fire as a rookie, but it’s possible he’s being viewed as little more than a long-term practice-squad project at best right now.
But that doesn’t mean it’s either Gilbert or Rush. Jones hinted that Prescott’s primary backup may well be a quarterback who’s not even in the building at this point.
Cowboys’ Israel Mukuamu is showing his versatility, highest-graded rookie safety per PFF - Matthew Lenix, Cowboys Wire
Israel Mukuamu has gone from longshot to potential roster lock this offseason.
Making an NFL roster is tough, however sixth-round picks like Israel Mukuamu have an even harder climb. Players picked that far into the draft process are seen as projects and not someone who can contribute to a roster early. Nonetheless, the former South Carolina Gamecock proclaimed that he’d be the best cornerback in the 2021 NFL draft. His career has taken a slight turn.
The 6-foot-4 defensive back has taken his talents to the safety position. Mukuamu has played free safety and in the box and he’s played both positions so well that according to Pro Football Focus he’s the highest-graded rookie safety in the NFL during the preseason.
Dallas is using rookie Israel Mukuamu everywhere, and he's handled things well — highest-graded rookie safety right now.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) August 14, 2021
LOS: 8 snaps
Mukuamu has also taken snaps at the line of scrimmage and slot or nickel cornerback. With Trevon Diggs and Donovan Wilson as seemingly the only locks at cornerback or safety heading into the new season, Mukuamu’s versatility will allow him to put plenty of reps on film and earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
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