Some fans don’t need a reason to watch preseason football. It’s football, after all, and you’ve been waiting six months for just a taste. For two fortunate fanbases, tonight’s Hall of Fame Game gives Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals followers an earlier fix than the rest.
To be sure, you won’t see much of your favorite players tonight. We already have one list of players who did not make the trip to Canton with the team, so obviously won’t be playing:
Players not traveling to HOF game: Maliek Collins, Ryan Switzer, Justin Durant, Jourdan Lewis, David Irving
You can also add Jaylon Smith, perhaps the team’s most intriguing player right now, as he is reportedly not playing tonight. While seeing guys like Smith, Switzer and Lewis would’ve greatly sweetened tonight’s game, there is still plenty for Cowboys fans to be interested in. The first-team players should get at least one or two series, but the intrigue won’t stop when the game gets turned over to the backups.
On offense, many wonder what quarterback Kellen Moore is going to look like after a long time away with an ankle injury. The Cowboys seem to have handed him the backup QB job; is he ready to perform if needed during the regular season? It will also be interesting to see if veteran Luke McCown, who was just signed last Friday, can push Moore at all for the number-two spot.
At running back, Rod Smith has been making noise during camp and could be on the way to earning a spot on the 53-man roster. There’s also the recently-signed Ronnie Hillman, whose quickness give the Cowboys a unique options compared to the other backs. Both players pose major threats to the job security of veteran Alfred Morris.
Even without Ryan Switzer, there’s still plenty to see at receiver. Veteran Brice Butler is trying to fight off rookie Noah Brown and prospect Andy Jones. Switzer’s absence also impacts the kick and punt return jobs, were rookies Javontee Herndon and Lance Lenoir may get some looks. Neither can likely earn a roster spot, but solid returning could gets them closer to the practice squad or perhaps a shot with another team.
Who isn’t interested in the tight end position right now? Rico Gathers is a player everyone wants to see; has the former power forward developed into a football player over the last year? It will also be nice to see the returns of Geoff Swaim and James Hanna from their injuries. Who will emerge as Jason Witten’s primary backup this year?
Don’t sleep on the offensive line. Will Emmett Cleary continue to work his way to ward the swing tackle job? How will veteran Byron Bell fit in? What will massive rookie Dan Skipper, all 6’10” of him, look like on the field?
The offense has nothing on the defense in terms of intrigue. What fan doesn’t want to see the first-round pick in action? Taco Charlton should take the field tonight and get some soft assignments against backup tackles. We’re also curious about Charles Tapper, who missed his rookie year with a back issue, and should debut tonight. These two young defensive ends should get plenty of work.
Defensive tackle also offers some fresh faces. Seventh-round rookies Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell should get a lot of work. Undrafted rookie Lewis Neal, who has been earning some praise and even Maliek Collins comparisons in camp, is also worth watching.
While no Jaylon Smith is a huge disappointment, linebacker still has players you’ll want to pay attention to. Mark Nzeocha was one of the stars of the 2016 preseason and may be a significant reserve player this year. John Lotulelei was a standout during the early summer practices and is on the roster bubble.
Second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie stands out among the corners and perhaps the entire defense tonight for intrigue. He’s been making plays in camp and may have to play big snaps early in the regular season if Nolan Carroll gets suspended. Fellow rookie Marquez White doesn’t have nearly the same job security, but any drafted player should be on our radar.
We won’t get to see much of Jeff Heath as a new starting safety, if any, but the backups are also exciting. Kavon Frazier was buried behind veterans last year but once considered the same quality of prospect as breakout corner Anthony Brown. Also, rookie Xavier Woods had a lot of hype coming out of the draft as a potential late-round steal.
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You can’t blame the Cowboys for being cautious with their players in this extra preseason game. Many would like to see the preseason reduced, so you can imagine how having to play five games goes over with some organizations. Still, important and intriguing roleplayers for the 2017 team will take the field tonight in Canton.
Football is back… kind of!