The Dallas Cowboys are over halfway done with the preseason. Of course there are only three games so there is no perfect halfway point, but the statement is still nonetheless true.
It remains to be seen exactly how Mike McCarthy will handle the preseason finale becasue we are sort of in uncharted territory here. McCarthy has only coached in a world where there were four preseason games given all of his time prior to 2020 (when there was obviously not a preseason). The NFL did adjust to a 17-game regular season last year that bumped the preseason down to three contests, but the Cowboys played in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game which kept up the status quo. That means this is the first time that McCarthy is approaching a three-game run up to football with consequences.
Beyond the scheduling details, McCarthy is not dealing with any sort of major injury to a player (or pending injury of any kind) so he has no obvious reason to keep things on ice. Still, though, he has prioritized the joint practices that Dallas had with both the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers ahead of the actual preseason games against those teams, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been able to learn anything from them.
The Dallas Cowboys may have one of the most dynamic returners in the NFL this season
There should be no hard conclusions drawn from the preseason because of the nature of exhibition games, but that being said, I am fairly certain that KaVontae Turpin is going to wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It is undeniable that what we saw from Turpin against the Chargers was impressive. Perhaps the most important takeaway from it all is that the Cowboys have someone who is at the very least capable of that sort of dynamic gameplay at the returner spot. Obviously he won’t have a return for a touchdown in every game (we’ll settle for every other contest), but having a devoted person in that spot is a good idea.
We have seen the Cowboys float out different options at returner over the years, but the last truly dedicated ones experienced success if you look at Lucky Whitehead and Dwayne Harris as examples over the last decade. Hopefully Turpin produces similar results.
There are more than two talented running backs on this team
We have spent a lot of time
screaming as loud as we possibly can talking about how Tony Pollard deserves more carries and work out of the backfield. That remains true, but he is suddenly not alone.
Rico Dowdle seems ticketed for the RB3 spot in Dallas but Malik Davis is an intriguing prospect as well. Both of these runners have highlighted, sigh, how easy it is to find running backs who can contribute to your football team without spending exorbitant resources on the position. This is perhaps the deepest that the Cowboys backfield has ever been in the Ezekiel Elliott era.
Time will tell if Dallas decides to even carry four running backs but consider that while it was a different coaching staff, we have seen them carry two with number 21 as the face of the backfield.
We still haven’t learned anything about the starting offense which is at least something that should be said out loud
Speaking of Ezekiel Elliott, we obviously haven’t seen him or any of his fellow first-teamers throughout the preseason. Boo!
Different teams approach the preseason in different manners and just this past weekend we saw the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills let their starting quarterbacks play a little. There are pros and cons to every sort of approach to this time of year.
So if you will allow me I am cheating here a bit. The thing that we have “learned” about the first-team offense is really nothing to this point. It wasn’t a glamorous joint practice for them against the Denver Broncos and the receiver position was about as thin as it could possibly be against the Los Angeles Chargers. The good will they have built up over the years as far as on-field success has earned them the benefit of the doubt, but this offense was inconsistent over the second half of last season and that was with Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, and Connor Williams in the fold (not to mention a healthy Michael Gallup). It would be nice to know a little bit more, but we probably won’t get that wish granted.
This defensive front is going to be very good
Before training camp started my own personal opinion was that the deepest point of this team was the secondary. The way that Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright have played has weakened that argument a bit, though.
There is no question that the deepest part of this roster lies on the defensive side of the ball, but in the opposite direction of the secondary. As a unit, this is some of the most depth we have seen along the Cowboys defensive line in some time.
Just about everybody has had some time to shine on front level and this past week Sam Williams started to break out with some nice moments. We are even at a point where Trysten Hill is making plays and forcing us to really think about whether or not he should be on this roster for the final year of his rookie contract.
This is also a bit of cheating, but part of what is exciting about the “depth” within this group is the health of some of its star players. Last year the Cowboys got 12 games combined between DeMarcus Lawrence and Neville Gallimore so if there is regression to the mean in that department the way that there usually is regarding injuries the rising tide will lift all boats. Oh and none of this even considers how Micah Parsons and Anthony Barr will work into the pass rush.
Jalen Tolbert is not a superstar yet... and that’s totally fine
Following Saturday night’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers we had rookie wide receiver Jalen Tolbert in the stock down department and that was met with some, we’ll call it, spirited debate!
If we are being fair then looking at his two preseason games he has had a poor moment that cost his team in each of them. Against the Broncos he had a crucial drop on fourth down and against the Chargers he did not have enough awareness of where he was at on the field and did not get two feet down in bounds. Thankfully the Cowboys still scored.
But if we are being fair, none of that is too troubling or concerning. Tolbert is a rookie third-round pick so huge expectations for him right away would in fact be unfair. That is the obvious other side of the coin.
If we flip back over though, part of the reason this is so concerning is because of the decisions that the Cowboys have made over the last few months relative to the wide receiver position. This isn’t about re-hashing the Amari Cooper trade, but the Cowboys and a lot of fans put a lot of hype and expectation on Tolbert this season, and if he doesn’t deliver then this group that is already facing an uphill battle is all of a sudden facing just a little bit more adversity. As our own Connor Livesay put it, this team desperately needs Tolbert to play well this season so the fact that he isn’t quite doing so yet is a bit of a bummer.