The Dallas Cowboys play their first preseason game tonight, and although most starters aren't expected to see a lot of snaps, we should still get a feel for this team's new-look offense. Regardless of who is on the field, I'll be looking at the formations and looks the Cowboys have for all of their running backs and wide receivers.
One receiver that's taken on a noticeably larger role in training camp is veteran Cole Beasley. A favorite target of Quarterback Dak Prescott in his rookie season of 2016, Beasley's decline in production last season led to frustration on offense for a team that finished outside the playoffs at 9-7.
Dak Prescott on @nflnetwork asked about his go-to receiver: "It's Cole Beasley. … He can stretch the defense, so it's about moving him around, making the defense respect that he can beat you over the top. Once we open that up, he's hard to cover underneath. That's his game."
There were a number of factors that led to Beasley being less effective in 2017, and even more ways the Cowboys are looking to change this for 2018.
Even with Dez Bryant on the field, opposing defenses were scheming to take Beasley away as Prescott's first option. Now without Bryant, the Cowboys are hoping their rotation of pass catchers can keep defenses honest and allow Beasley to be featured again.
Establishing Beasley as an “over the top” target, as Prescott calls him, would be a huge step for the Cowboys offense. Prescott has struggled to find his touch on deep passes in training camp. With receivers capable of stretching the field in Deonte Thompson, Lance Lenoir, and Michael Gallup, big plays from Beasley feel like the most certain way for the Cowboys to balance their passing offense.
In tonight's preseason game, look for the depth behind Beasley to fill in his role. Tavon Austin, Ricky Jeune, and Lenoir are all capable of replicating his route running ability to uncover all over the field. If they're able to get going with Cooper Rush and Mike White at quarterback, it will be a great sign for Prescott and Beasley.
It took up until the Cowboys first real game of 2018 for Prescott to admit that he does have a top receiver, though the answer should surprise nobody. After tonight, the team will return to Oxnard and continue working in their other young receivers – all imperative to the success that Beasley finds in his seventh season.