By Zach Walker
Thursday – August 7 – 9:00 p.m.
Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego
What should fans expect to see on Thursday?
Start back subtracting Tony Romo from your playbill, because he WILL NOT PLAY. Why risk anything, in terms of a setback of his back, to throw a couple of gratuitous passes at Dez Bryant? Hide his helmet, his shoulder pads, don’t even invite him, bubble wrap him and see how Brandon Weeden can drive the offense.
And that’s what should be expected, lots of Brandon Weeden. The former 22nd overall pick has the moves to be a successful player, he’s got a strong arm, he’s no Romo, in terms of elusiveness, but he’s no stone. This offseason, and the rest of his career until he gets another shot as the starter, must be focused on his decision-making, trusting his eyes and ability to make bigger plays, further down the field.
Hopefully, the beginning of an emphasis on the running game. In the Blue and White scrimmage, it was hard to say anything about the running game, because tackling wasn’t allowed of first teamers, and it’s hard to evaluate how well the run game is coming along when players aren’t trying to bury each other, and DeMarco Murray won’t likely batter a teammate in a scrimmage.
What fans should be looking for.
Who are the second and third running backs going to be? With Scott Linehan coming in from Detroit, he might be looking at Lance Dunbar in a new light, as a parallel universe version of Reggie Bush, with capable speed, confident hands, and hopefully now, fumble free. But Joseph Randle was worth a draft pick according to the Cowboys, and can’t be tossed aside yet because of lack of reps. In the stable, there’s another redemption opportunity on the Cowboys, with running back Ryan Williams, who was drafted 38th overall in the same draft as Murray. Williams blew out his knee, on his first carry, of his first preseason game of his career. Now, I know that athletes aren’t “why me” people, but that’s a crappy hand to be dealt. Coming out of college, Williams was worth that high of a choice because of his potential to be a burner, now he, like others on the Dallas Cowboys, needs a season without an injury setback to continue playing.
I think everyone is looking for a tone setter for this defense, and that player won’t likely emerge in the lightning quick flashes of limited first team reps in the preseason games, but maybe someone can stop the music on this game of mystery musical chairs, on the defensive side of the ball. JJ Wilcox put a pop-shot on Dez Bryant during the Blue and White scrimmage, and a scrap broke out. Now, the shot was, in a scrimmage, a tad uncalled for, but had that hit come Thursday against the Chargers, the Dallas Cowboys sideline would have exploded. Eyes will likely turn to Henry Melton to be the noise maker on defense with no Sean Lee, but I think it’s got to be a member of the secondary to really make a difference on Thursday. Scandrick? Barry Church?
Two Players on each side of the ball to watch.
Devin Street – The fifth round pick has got the size to play outside, but the Cowboys corps of receivers is deep. He has a great talent, the ability to adjust to the ball in the air, which sounds very common, but it’s a real skill that can help bail out his quarterback on a sluggish throw.
Gavin Escobar – The second year tight end could end up having a stellar season, if coverages start to roll towards Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, especially in the red zone, where his size can cause fits for a linebacker or a safety.
JJ Wilcox – Wilcox has the ability to ratchet down a starting job in the secondary. He has good range in the air, and as I mentioned, he’ll put a lick, even on his own teammate. Thing is, he’s raw, not unlike most of this defense, and adjustments have to be made on the fly to stay in front of the play, and take opportunities.
B.W. Webb – Much of the same could be said for B.W. Webb, but he isn’t treading the same water, in the same manner, he’s needing to make plays to keep a spot on the roster. Webb was torched when he was in, and really need to have a solid preseason to stay afloat.
Position groups to watch:
Defensive Tackle: Henry Melton is one of the starters, then it’s a log jam of guys wanting to get after it. Dartwan Bush, Ken Bishop, Davon Coleman, Ben Bass, Nick Hayden, Terrell McClain, and at times Tyrone Crawford moving inside. There’s a boat load of young up-starts trying to make their mark.
Second team offensive line: Whether it’s Ron Leary or Mackenzie Bernadeau winning the left guard job, the depth past them hasn’t really been impressive. Listening to local broadcasts and watching the Blue and White scrimmage, the second team line isn’t a strong group, but at least the Dallas Cowboys aren’t needing someone to emerge from this group.
A smig and a half about the San Diego Chargers:
Jason Verrett, their first round cornerback from TCU, is unfortunately going to miss the game, because he’s going to be an Orlando Scandrick type of corner, just a tough guy that you can’t just shake off, a serious technician. Keenan Allen exploded his rookie season, and is a major player on the outside. Ladarius Green is ready to overtake Antonio Gates as the big man disrupting in the middle.