The Dallas Cowboys host the Jacksonville Jaguars this Saturday in both teams’ 2023 preseason opener. While it’s a low-stakes affair for the organizations and many starting players, some guys will be fighting for their spots on the depth chart and perhaps whether or not they even make the roster.
For Dallas, here are five positions that should be worth following. You can expect to see plenty of the players mentioned and, hopefully, they’re given relatively equal opportunity to show what they can do.
QB: Cooper Rush vs Will Grier
Both backup quarterbacks have been getting good reviews so far in Oxnard. While Grier arguably outplayed Rush in last year’s preseason, injury to Grier helped Rush hold his job, and he then went 4-1 as a starter during Dak Prescott’s injury. Now that Grier has more time in Dallas, and the playing field is more level with offensive changes from Kellen Moore’s departure, could he finally unseat Rush as QB2?
Preseason play certainly won’t be the only factor that decides it, but it will be taken into account. Grier has more flash in his game and that can come through in live action better than in controlled practices. But it could also lead to more mistakes, and avoiding those is one of Rush’s strengths.
RB: Rico Dowdle vs Malik Davis
The Cowboys’ first released depth chart of 2023 has Dowdle as RB2 and Davis as RB3, but both are having strong camps. This is an ongoing battle and should make for some preseason intrigue.
This is where balance and fairness in opportunities come into play. How many touches will each guy get with the better offensive linemen and surrounding talent? We might say one RB looked better at the end of the game, but was that because he was running behind first and second-team blockers and not the bottom half of the 90-man roster?
CB: Joseph/Wright vs Mukuamu/Scott
As second- and third-round picks from the 2021 NFL Draft, Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright should be filling out the cornerback depth chart in their third seasons. But sixth-round picks from 2021 and 2023, Israel Mukuamu and Eric Scott, seem to have outshined them.
The preseason isn’t always a great gauge of defensive players, particularly in the secondary. Sometimes a guy gets an interception because WR9 on the other team ran the wrong route. Meanwhile, another CB looks like he got burned but it was actually the safety behind him who made the wrong decision. So we have to take some of what happens in these games with multiple grains of salt.
Still, these guys should all get opportunities to either make or break plays. Who will be on the right side of them? Plus. who might stand out in the all-important aspect of special teams work; critical to making the roster for these depth players.
S: Markquese Bell vs Juanyeh Thomas
Let’s stay in the defensive backfield with these two safety prospects. Bell and Thomas are both big-bodied guys who feel like they may be competing with each other for the last roster spot at the position. There’s a chance both make it, but the Cowboys will likely feel comfortable putting one of them on the practice squad.
Bell and Thomas joined the team in 2022 as undrafted free agents. So far it’s Thomas who’s made more noise in this year’s camp, but Bell was a standout last summer. Can Thomas create more separation with his preseason play, or will Bell use the preseason games to close the gap?
K: Brandon Aubrey vs The Street
Aubrey may not have any competition currently on Dallas’ roster but that could change with one phone call. While he’s done enough to outlast Tristan Vizcaino, Aubrey still has to prove he’s someone the Cowboys can trust when the games really matter.
The increased spotlight of preseason games will amp up the pressure, which is what Dallas needs to see next from the former soccer player. The practice field isn’t without anxiety; evaluation is a constant process. But how Aubrey performs in these games will carry a lot of weight.