We are less than three weeks away from the Dallas Cowboys opening their 2023 NFL season at the New York Giants. But first, we have the final preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders, and then the team has to make the cutdown to the initial 53-man roster the following Tuesday, August 29.
So what does this Saturday’s matchup mean? It is, after all, a last chance to evaluate players for the remaining roster spots. Also, given that they have been held out of both previous preseason games, it is the only chance for the starters to get some live action before things start to count.
Well, on that last point, let’s keep that streak alive. After the multiple injuries against the Seattle Seahawks, it makes absolutely no sense to risk the health of any of the key players. Any benefit for them, especially with an established quarterback and so many strong veterans, is marginal at best. It is far outweighed by the possible damage to the team’s chances this year. This is of course an opinion, and the coaches will make the call. It is just hard to see them not having faith in the starters. Almost everyone is a returner, and the two notable exceptions, Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore, are seasoned NFL players that know their jobs well. Let’s hope Mike McCarthy and his staff sees it the same.
We discussed this idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
That also brings up the fact that every season there just aren’t that many uncertainties about who will make the team. Especially for a franchise like Dallas with so many returning players. There are too many known quantities to add a whole bunch of new faces.
Theoretically, the entire 53-man roster could be predetermined and the final game could be almost entirely left to players who are auditioning for practice squad jobs or a chance to catch on elsewhere. But that isn’t really feasible. Numbers alone make it nearly impossible, because that would just be 37 bodies. Three players who will make the team, P Brian Anger, LS Trent Sieg, and presumably K Brandon Aubrey, have to play anyway. And they might not want to roll the entire game with Will Grier at QB. That is certainly an option, although Cooper Rush would have to at least suit up for emergency use. But Rush and Grier both seem fairly entrenched as QB2 and QB3 respectively, so their presence is just a matter of being able to play the game.
There are some things that can still be determined in this last game. But to understand those, we have to take a look at others that are becoming clear. Cooper Rush is apparently locked in as QB2, and the team appears ready to roll with Aubrey kicking field goals and extra points, whether or not he gets any opportunities at the latter this game. Here are some other things that we can look forward to.
Depth is problematic at best. It is uncertain if Matt Waletzko will be able to go after he injured a shoulder last Saturday. Whether he is or not, there is work to be done here. It seems safe to assume rookie Asim Richards makes the roster, but he needs reps to continue acclimating to the pro game. Matt Farniok is also a likely player to make the cut, but the rest of the picture is very unclear. Who starts against Las Vegas will be worth noting, but that is no guarantee those players will still be in the lead come Tuesday. As long as the regular season starters are healthy, the offensive line will be fine. But that is a very big if, in case you haven’t paid attention the past few seasons.
Don’t expect Jalen Tolbert to see much if any action on Saturday. He has clearly been the best of all WRs that have been in the first two preseason games, and he is going to be WR4. He has nothing else to prove and should be afforded protection.
You can pencil KaVontae Turpin is as WR5. He is the return specialist, which means he has to be active, and the staff has been giving him some run as a wideout as well. Expect him to be used more sparingly in the regular season, but he will at least see some action, which was not the case last year except for some jet sweeps.
But there is an expectation that the Cowboys will have six WRs on the 53, and the last spot is wide open. Simi Fehoko and rookie Jalen Brooks are the obvious contenders, but Dontario Drummond has had a very good preseason and could be challenging. Fehoko did not have a very impressive outing in Seattle, and could be slipping. The Raiders game is the last time for these players to impress, although what goes on in practice could be more important.
It is hard to doubt that Rico Dowdle and Deuce Vaughn have sewn up the RB2/RB3 jobs, although the exact order is probably more a matter of preference than of meaningful value. What is a big question still is whether that is all they will roll with, or will they carry four?
In any case, Dowdle and Vaughn might get protected this game, leaving Malik Davis and Hunter Luepke to carry the load. We don’t know if Ronald Jones is still in the mix despite his suspension and injury. If we don’t see him this week, that would be a bad sign. That may not be that bad except for him, as this could let Davis and Luepke make the case for adding that fourth RB on the roster as well as competing to see who it would be. Davis would seem to be the expected leader in that competition, but don’t count the former college fullback out. And both are definitely in play for a practice squad job as well, which is true of many of the others that will be on the field.
One of the real bright spots from camp was dimmed when John Stephens was injured last weekend. He was making a legitimate case to make the team. Now, it is clear that Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot, and Luke Schoonmaker are the top three, and if the team carries four, Sean McKeon should be joining them. Schoonmaker will get a nice share of the snaps in this game to advance his transition. Expect Princeton Fant and Seth Green to handle most if not all of the second half.
This might be tied to running back, with the team choosing one of the two position groups to carry four while just using three in the other.
It was looking like time for Sam Williams to join the other locks on the sidelines, but now he might be there because of his recent off the field incident. It will be interesting to see what the staff does with Dante Fowler, who may be on a bit of a bubble. He might be competing with Viliami Fehoko for the fifth edge rusher job, given how the team likes to protect draft picks. And Isaiah Land has stood out now that the coaches are bringing him off the edge. He is more likely a practice squad priority, but you can never have too much pass rushing talent.
Mazi Smith should see a lot of action. He needs to keep developing to make himself useful in the regular season. Osa Odighizuwa needs to sit, but Quinton Bohanna, Chauncey Golston, and Neville Gallimore may be fighting over one or two spots on the final 53. They should see a lot of snaps.
The injury to DeMarvion Overshown was particularly galling, as he was having a simply outstanding camp and preseason, arguably the best of any of this year’s draft class. Now that has really simplified the roster decisions, with the real question being how many more than whom. But the team may not be able to protect any more LBs than Leighton Vander Esch just due to numbers, both on defense and special teams. This should make sure Jabril Cox and Devin Harper both make the roster, and Malik Jefferson will if the team doesn’t roll with just four. But given how Dan Quinn deploys his defense, four might be all they need.
Jourdan Lewis’ health complicates the decisions here, but there are several players who may need a good game to make it onto the team. Kelvin Joseph has really helped himself this preseason, and Nahshon Wright might need to be looking over his shoulder. Eric Scott needs a strong performance to not get relegated to the PS. One of the most interesting players to watch is C.J. Goodwin, the longtime special teams ace. But the game itself is not likely to determine if he makes it back this year. It is going to be a numbers game, and right now, he is probably not sticking around. He’s had a long run, and could catch on somewhere else, but it is always tough to see guys who just contributed year after year get cut, especially when they were in a non-glamour job like him. There are lots of things to sort out in this room.
Overshown’s injury may also open the door for both Markquese Bell and Juanyeh Thomas to make the team, as Quinn uses safeties to fulfill the functions of linebacker in traditional defenses, as he has so effectively with Jayron Kearse. Bell seems a certainty with the staff talking openly about him being in the same hybrid role Kearse fills so well, but now both might be in line with Thomas’ strong performances in preseason. It will be as interesting to see how they are lining up and what their assignments are as watching their performance once the ball is snapped.
We will absolutely see little of the starters if they even dress for the game, but there is still plenty to watch. Let’s just hope all get out of the game healthy this week.