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5 key position battles that got a little bit clearer after the Cowboys' first preseason game

It’s not much, but we got a little sampling that might help us determine who could win some key Cowboys roster battles.

Dallas Cowboys v Denver Broncos Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

The first preseason game for the Dallas Cowboys didn’t make fans feel all that great, but hey, it’s early. There is definitely a lot to sort out, but at the very least we did get a taste of how a few key position battles could play out. Today, we're going to take a look at five battles and what we saw on Saturday that could influence who stays and who goes come final roster cuts.

Dante Fowler vs. Tarell Basham

These veteran edge rushers started on the outside for the Cowboys' defense. On the surface, there were good and bad from both. Each of them had a nice play where they shed their blocker as if he wasn’t even there and made a tackle for a loss in the backfield. They also were both called for a mental lapse penalty as Fowler was flagged for a personal foul down near the goal line and Basham got hit with a roughing the passer penalty. In Basham’s defense, the hit shouldn’t have warranted a flag.

The Cowboys have a lot of young players who need reps, so it’s hard seeing them keep both of these veterans on the roster. From a right-now talent perspective, both are roster worthy, but this is a numbers game and the team is going to have to make some tough cuts. Based solely on this one performance, Basham showed more discipline whereas Fowler was slightly splashier in getting around blockers.

Winner: Dante Fowler, but just barely

Nahshon Wright vs. DaRon Bland

It was a game to forget for the second-year corner out of Oregon State. Wright got plenty of opportunities on Saturday and each time he came up short. The lanky corner had trouble closing the gap between his man and was found lagging behind on multiple plays. And even when he was in the vicinity of his man, he failed to look up and jump to make a play on the ball. His feet looked flat and he never had a chance to use that springiness to make a play.

Bland was a lot quicker with his feet, and you could see him keeping his head towards where the action was. He was able to keep things out in front of him but to be fair, he wasn’t challenged down the field as much as Wright was. They did take a shot at him in the second half, and Bland did a good job staying with his man and impeded his path just enough to where the receiver wasn’t able to get under the ball. Overall, the rookie performed better than the more experienced corner.

Winner: DaRon Bland, and it wasn’t really close

Josh Ball vs. Aviante Collins

We were hoping this battle would be between Ball and rookie Matt Waleztko, but a shoulder injury to Waleztko has made him unavailable. The starting tackles for Saturday’s game were Ball (LT) and “don’t call me La’el” Collins (RT). Neither of these guys played well on Saturday. Ball had moments where he had a wide stance and held his blocks, but there were other instances where he was too rigid and allowed the Broncos rushers to blow right passed him. Ball got hit with two holding penalties in the third quarter against an opponent that might not be on an NFL roster come September, so that’s a little unsettling.

As disappointing as Ball was, Collins was much worse. His balance was terrible and he too got called for flags, including a holding penalty that negated a big passing play. The Cowboys need to find themselves some help at tackle because the depth they have right now just won’t cut it.

Winner: Josh Ball, but that’s still not saying much

Jeremy Sprinkle vs. Peyton Hendershot

This one is a little weird because it’s the good play of rookie Jake Ferguson that could make Sprinkle expendable. Ferguson was solid both as a blocker and in getting in space catching passes. He had a terrific first game and by all indications, he could be an immediate contributor to this offense.

So, if the Cowboys keep a fourth tight end, it might make more sense to hang on to the rookie Hendershot unless Sprinkle is the clear better option. And after Saturday’s performance, he’s not. Both played okay. They each caught some bootleg passes, and they each had some mental mistakes. Both had costly penalties for their team. Sprinkle got called for a hold on a short yardage play that was initially converted for a first down when the running back bounced outside. Unfortunately, that exposed Sprinkle to a holding penalty when the defender tried to pull away toward the ball carrier. Hendershot was later called for a false start that turned a 4th-and-1 into a 4th-and-6. He was able to redeem himself on the very next play when initially the Cowboys converted the fourth down after Cooper Rush hit Hendershot down the field, but unfortunately, it was called back from a holding penalty from reserve tackle Aviante Collins.

Winner: Peyton Hendershot, tie goes to the youngster

Liram Hajrullahu vs. Brett Maher

There wasn’t much to see with the kicking battle, but each of these guys did attempt a kick. Hajrullahu missed on a long field goal attempt, whereas Maher made an extra point. It’s really tough to gauge which one was better because it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but just going off of statistics the recently signed Maher looked a smidge better.

Winner: Brett Maher, eeney meeney miney Maher

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