The Dallas Cowboys have now played two preseason games and it’s getting a little easier to find some separation between certain players involved in key position battles. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the battles that we have been monitoring closely and see which player has the advantage.
QB Cooper Rush vs. Will Grier
With Rush being a little off last week and Grier out of action, the backup spot wasn’t looking all that promising after the first preseason game. Saturday was a different story as both quarterbacks played like themselves. Rush was boring and conservative, but didn’t make any mistakes. His finished with just 5.3 yards per attempt. Grier looked downfield a little more and finished with 9.8 yards per attempt. He also didn’t make any mistakes and had one quality throw to hang his hat on.
Advantage: Grier is playing just as well as Rush if not slightly better and offers more upside.
RB Rico Dowdle vs. Malik Davis
Last week, the new UDFA got everyone's attention with a better performance. Things were a little tighter this time around. Dowdle make a couple of defenders miss and finished with the longest run of the night when he bounced outside. The rookie Davis wasn’t too shabby himself finishing again with a higher yards per carry average (4.6 vs. Rico’s 3.4). Davis also had a very nice block on special teams that helped spring kick returner sensation KaVontae Turpin for a 98-yard touchdown.
Advantage: Player control plus a slight edge in performance gives the rookie Davis the lead.
LG Tyler Smith vs. Connor McGovern
Will he be ready is the question on everyone’s mind as the rookie Smith tries to get himself right for Week 1. If he’s not, the team is likely to lean on McGovern until he is. Both did a good job blocking inside as McGovern played over at right guard. Neither of them allowed a pressure in 12 pass blocking snaps, which is good, but the rookie gets the edge for being more effective in run blocking.
Advantage: “Ready or not, here I come” - Tyler Smith, probably
WR Noah Brown vs. Dennis Houston
The veteran Brown didn’t play against the Chargers as reps were deferred to the younger players. That’s a strong sign that Brown’s place on the roster is safe. The only question that remains now is will the team also keep Houston bringing the grand total of WRs to seven (CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, Simi Fehoko, KaVontae Turpin, Noah Brown, and Dennis Houston)? The Cowboys haven’t really featured Houston very much this preason and one can’t help wondering if they might be trying to sneak him on the practice squad. Additionaly, last year’s UDFA receiver Brandon Smith continues to play well and he could serve as the team’s backup plan should Houston get claimed. It’s going to come down to specific skillsets the team needs and what the player has to offer.
Advantage: Both could make it, but Brown’s spot looks more secure.
EDGE Dante Fowler vs. Tarell Basham
We touched on this last week so we won’t spend a lot of time on it here. Fowler looks like the clear-cut better edge rusher. He’s more disciplined in his gaps and sheds blockers better. Basham can be found overpursuing at times and only makes the play if the play goes right at him. While he hasn’t played poorly, it’s hard seeing the Cowboys keep him around because of the surplus of defensive linemen. Basham would make a nice trade candidate for a team looking to add defensive end depth.
Advantage: It looks like this battle is over with Fowler coming out on top.
DT Trysten Hill vs. Carlos Watkins vs. John Ridgeway
Hill was player whose roster spot wasn’t really in jeopardy as I had him ranked 31st out of the 85 total players on the Cowboys roster. but there are some that still have their doubts. Saturday’s game might’ve helped remove some of that doubt because Hill shined. He was shedding blocks, sacking the QB, stripping the ball, basically everything you want your defensive tackle to do. The question now shifts towards determining whether they want to shore up their depth with a veteran like Watkins or the rookie Ridgeway. And it’s not even about who is the better player. The team’s overall depth at the position may allow them to part ways with Watkins to stash Ridgeway for development. Then again, the depth is so good that they may not even need to keep Ridgeway and put him on the practice squad.
Advantage: Hill is atop this group and now all the others can do is wait.
CB Kelvin Joseph vs. Nahshon Wright
Last week, this battle also featured the rookie DaRon Bland, but he has shown enough to keep him around longer even if there are some kinks to work out. That leaves last year’s second- and third-round picks Joseph and Wright. While neither have given us anything great to talk about, Wright has clearly struggled the most. He did a better job tightening up the separation between his man this week, but he’s still not able to make good plays on the ball. Based on his performance, it’s hard see the Cowboys keeping him around.
Advantage: The lesser of two evils is Joseph right now.
LB Luke Gifford vs. Devin Harper
The veteran Gifford looked good early as he and Jabril Cox were getting clean looks at ball carries thanks to great play upfront by the Cowboys interior defensive line. Gifford came away with one run stop. The UDFA rookie Harper is regarded more for his ability on special teams, but is developing faster than expected and was solid against the run on Saturday. He was tackling everything finishing with a game-high eight tackles. Consider the experience gaps between the two, we have to like what the rookie is showing thus far.
Advantage: Harper. Another situation where player control might make this decision for them.
S Israel Mukuamu vs. Markquese Bell
This was Mukuamu’s coming out game as he was good in several facets on Saturday. He was in the backfield being disruptive, he was knocking around receivers causing them to drop the ball, and he even came away with an interception. He did get washed out in the short passing play that resulted in a Chargers touchdown, but overall, Mukuamu made a strong statement to justify keeping him around. UDFA Bell was pretty good too. He had a nice play where he burst through the line to make a tackle in the backfield near the goal line. He led all Cowboys defenders with five solo tackles.
Advantage: If they keep just one, Mukuamu might have the edge, but both these guys could end up making the roster.
K Liram Hajrullahu vs. Brett Maher
The kicking game was better this week than last as both guys made all the easy stuff. The only thing that wasn’t converted was Brett Maher’s 61-yarder that was on target, but just a couple yards short of the goal post. In all, Hajrullahu was 2/2 in total kicks with one 35-yard field goal and one extra point, while Maher was 2/3 in total kicks with both his makes coming on PATs.
Advantage: This one is so hard that it’s practically a coin flip, but lean slightly towards Maher since he’s still got the bigger leg.