With one preseason game now in the books, some Dallas Cowboys got to put their skills on display for a wider audience. Between the game and practice reports in the days leading up, who seems to be taking the biggest forward and backward steps in their job security?
We have a tendency to overrate what happens in the preseason games when it’s the bulk of our exposure to the team. It’s important to remember that Dallas’ decision-makers get way more insight from practices and meetings than we ever will. Plus, guys may have a hard time looking good when surrounded by weaker talent in these games.
Still, some players clearly stood out in this game and have been getting positive press recently in Oxnard. Others have struggled, either confirming or shifting perceptions. Let’s see how the needle’s moved for some.
WR Jalen Tolbert
While two catches for 29 yards and a touchdown are hardly big numbers, Tolbert showed some of what we’ve been hearing about from camp. His understanding of routes has greatly improved, evidenced by how he left his defender in the dust with a nifty move to give Will Grier an easy toss for the score.
Tolbert’s best play isn’t in the box score because of a ticky-tack call of offensive pass interference. He was flagged for a push-off, highly debatable on replay, but made an impressive twisting catch near the sideline. Tolbert is looking like a different receiver in his second season and one who’s ready to step up and contribute to Dallas’ offense.
LB Damone Clark
Clark seemed to be everywhere on defense against the Jaguars, either making the tackle or being near the ball on most stops. He was also trusted to be the defensive signal-caller in the game, which could bear fruit in the regular season if Leighton Vander Esch has to miss time.
While there was some angst last March about Dallas not signing Bobby Wagner or some other known linebacker, Clark showed why they may have held back. He’d already flashed potential as a rookie despite missing so much time recovering from offseason spinal surgery, and now he looks ready to take things to the next level.
S Juanyeh Thomas
After getting some love in recent reports out of camp, Thomas made a statement with an athletic interception on Trevor Lawrence’s first pass attempt. It only fueled the growing belief that he could make the roster as a backup safety.
While Markquese Bell also had a strong showing on Saturday, Thomas looked more like what Dallas needs as a backup to Malik Hooker. With Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson already more suited for the traditional “strong” role as safeties, and Israel Mukuamu potentially moving to cornerback, Thomas could provide valuable depth behind Hooker.
G/C Matt Farniok
The third-year prospect had already reportedly fallen behind Brock Hoffman among the roster hopefuls and didn’t look solvent against the Jaguars. While he may perform better with o-line starters around him, Farniok is losing what seemed like an early claim on the primary backup role on the interior line.
Even Josh Ball was cited for competence in guard work last Saturday. If Hoffman has taken over as the backup center and Dallas likes Ball’s versatility to play guard or tackle, Farniok could be in trouble at final cuts.
TE Sean McKeon
Now entering his fourth year as a developmental prospect, McKeon seems to be losing ground to fresher faces. We don’t even know if Dallas will keep four tight ends in 2023, but if they do that last spot may now belong to John Stephen over McKeon.
The one thing that McKeon has going for him is blocking out of the backfield. While Dallas does have Hunter Luepke as a true fullback, blocking is not his strong suit. McKeon’s best path to the 53-man roster now appears to be what he can contribute in that role, because he seems to be falling off the map as a passing target
RB Malik Davis
Four carries for three yards is rough, but hardly all Davis’ fault. The Jaguars were playing mostly starters on defense early while Dallas had their backups out on offense, making life hard for Davis and any other player to look good.
But whether it was on the ground, in the passing game, or as a kick returner, Rico Dowdle out-shined Davis at almost every turn on Saturday. Only a fumble served as a mark against Dowdle. Davis also a bad moment in pass protection, failing to recognize and pick up a blitzer, which is where Dowdle has excelled so far in camp.