The Dallas Cowboys will play their first game of the pre-season on Saturday in Los Angeles against the Rams. Between all of the injuries, suspensions, resting veterans, and general questions, there will be a lot to keep track of in this first real look at the 2016 Cowboys. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for.
This is quite obviously a major question for Cowboys fans going into the season. When primary backup Kellen Moore broke his ankle, several names (Nick Foles, Josh McCown, Michael Vick, Josh Freeman, and even Tim Tebow) popped up as potential additions to the team. However, no roster moves have been made yet, and instead we’ve seen an increase of reps for 4th-round rookie Dak Prescott and second-year player Jameill Showers.
Tony Romo might not even take the field on Saturday, but if he does, he’s likely to only play one series. Needless to say, we’ll see plenty of Prescott and Showers. Prescott was an impressive player at Mississippi State, but the offense in Dallas is almost completely different, which is why the Cowboys initially intended for the former Bulldog to play third string for some time as he developed. Now, Prescott has been getting reps with first-team units in practice while Romo rests some days. Reports are that he’s making visible improvements each day.
Meanwhile, Showers was an undrafted rookie this time last season for the Cowboys. Coaches were impressed by his cannon for an arm and his overall athleticism, so they kept him on the practice squad. Reports from practices have listed Showers as heavily improved, so Saturday will be a perfect opportunity to see if that’s true or not.
While DeMarcus Lawrence, who is suspended for the first four games of the regular season, will likely play on Saturday, everyone should be watching to see how the other defensive linemen perform. Rookie Charles Tapper has seen a lot of reps in training camp at both defensive end spots, while former Raider Benson Mayowa will likely get the nod across from Tapper in relief of Lawrence. Beyond those two, it’s a cast of unknowns with David Irving, Shaneil Jenkins, Mike McAdoo, Lawrence Okoye, Ryan Russell, and Zach Wood.
On the interior of the line, fans will be eager to see how the combination of 3-technique Tyrone Crawford and 1-technique Cedric Thornton work together. Backup defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford should both get ample opportunities as well, but the biggest question for every defensive lineman is if they can rush the passer.
Two months ago, the linebacking corps was fully formed. Sean Lee and Rolando McClain were the two main guys, with Anthony Hitchens coming in for base packages. Damien Wilson and Andrew Gachkar would be primary backups that also contributed on special teams. Jaylon Smith would essentially redshirt 2016 and hopefully return to the field in 2017.
The only parts that have remained the same are Lee’s status and Smith’s injury. McClain was suspended and is now refusing to report to camp; Wilson is on the non-football injury list; Justin Durant has been added to the mix at linebacker and could potentially start; Hitchens might start at middle linebacker; Gachkar might actually start too.
The biggest thing to look for at this position is how each linebacker set performs. Lee will obviously start no matter what, but who plays at middle and right outside linebacker are questions that will be answered in the pre-season, so Saturday will give us the first clue as to the position group’s starters.
The Cowboys-Rams game will air on ESPN on Saturday at 7:00 PM CST.