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Cowboys Bench Offers Plenty of Preseason Intrigue

Jess Haynie

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Dallas Cowboys: 5 Players To Watch At Rookie Minicamp
Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

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:

Jon Machota on Twitter

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.

Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys Waive RB Rod Smith 1

RB Rod Smith (Paul Spinelli via AP)

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?

Taco Charlton

DE Taco Charlton

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.

Chidobe Awuzie

CB Chidobe Awuzie

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.

~ ~ ~

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!



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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4 Comments
  • ThePsychodad69

    I wanna see Rico be the #1, all game.
    I wanna see the draft and the potential.
    Just give me the best 1st team defense, I may not see till week 6 for 2-3 snaps.

    The pool is deep with talent, these kids have room to thrive, I like homegrown.

    • ThePsychodad69

      Wanna see Tapper and the 2nd 3rd years
      And Paea and the udfa LB Wacha give Smith a play, pick a down.
      I wanna see GarrettLinehanMarinelli just go win games…NextManUp , true street race mentality.

  • Russ_Te

    5 PS games, Dak & Zeke sit tonight on my team. No upside to them taking any snaps.

    Larger ? for this preseason: Does Dak play any more snaps than Rodgers or Brady will? He is not in need of extra PS reps IMO after 17 NFL starts. Nor is Zeke. I play them in PS as normal established veterans. I get Moore & McCown most of the snaps at QB.

  • Russ_Te

    So if Moore is 100% recovered, this PS will be loaded with reps for him, and he knows the offense extremely well. I figure he kicks the door in with his chance for promotion to NFL backup.

Game Notes

Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Zack Martin

The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.

Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
  • DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
  • DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
  • DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
  • DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
  • G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
  • G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
  • DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
  • LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable

The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.

Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.

The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.

Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.

Atlanta Falcons

  • LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT

It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.

The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.

Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.

So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.



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Dallas Cowboys

4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator

Shane Carter

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Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan

The big word around the Dallas Cowboys lately is about Jason Garrett and the future of the head coaching job. Some have speculated that either Quarterback Dak Prescott or Jason Garrett will get axed, and the other will stay.

Owner Jerry Jones was quoted on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas about his young quarterback, putting to bed at least half of the conflict.

"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young and he’s going to get extended."

This shut the door on the idea of Prescott being replaced.

As far as Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones has been less than committed.

"I’m not in the business of backing anybody; the head coach, or offensive coordinator, I just don’t back them publicly." Jerry Jones said.

So it seems that Jason Garrett’s future is up in the air.

But what about offensive coordinator Scott Linehan? What’s held the Cowboys back this year has been the offense, and a lot of it can be contributed to their predictable play calling and inability to adapt to today’s game and its current players.

Whether or not Jason Garrett retains his job, Scott Linehan’s job doesn’t seem near as secure. His scheme doesn’t really mesh with Dak Prescott and how the offense could look. There’s only so many times you can run a three tight end set and not get furious.

Cowboys fans may want Garrett gone but they might have to settle for a new offensive coordinator instead.

The good news is that there are many options out there. Options that not only could work well with Dak Prescott, but could bring the Cowboys offense into the 2010s.

Shane Waldron

Jerry Jones once said how the Cowboys offense was like the LA Rams. If they are able to sign their Co-Offensive Coordinator, then they could be.

When Matt LaFleur left to become the Tennessee Titans OC, the job became a shared job between Waldron and Aaron Kromer. I wonder if Waldron would rather have the job all to himself?

What makes Waldron so appealing is he is also the Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Those are two areas where the Rams excel and where the Cowboys need help.

Teams are going to start copying the offensive juggernauts of the NFL and the Rams are definitely one of them. The Cowboys should do themselves a favor and get out in front before other teams beat them to it.

Scott Turner

Cam Newton is having one of his best seasons. Not only is he an MVP candidate but he’s set to have career highs in completion percentage and QBR, as well as a career low in interceptions. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback but some of this has to be attributed to his new Quarterback Coach, Scott Turner.

The son of Norv Turner, Scott has seemingly helped mold Cam into a more accurate passer without compromising who Cam Newton is as an athletic quarterback. That has Dak Prescott written all over it.

He's got NFL lineage and a new, scary Cam Newton to add to his resume. He may not have as impressive a track record as others on here but he looks like he could be a chip off the old block and get the Cowboys where they need to be going.

Lincoln Riley

A popular head coach candidate, Lincoln Riley has shown his creativity and offensive innovation during his short time as Oklahoma’s head coach. It’s uncertain if he’ll get any real offers to be a head coach, but as an OC, he would be a serious grab.

Everyone has seen the work he’s done with Baker Mayfield and now Kyler Murray. How he’s able to incorporate different formations to open up the pass game and have the run game seem unstoppable. Just imagine what he could do with the weapons he would have at his disposal in Dallas.

It's likely that Lincoln Riley is a hot commodity for a head coach position, especially in Cleveland where he could reunite with Baker Mayfield. That shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from trying to lure him to Dallas, though. Lincoln Riley could be the real missing piece that Dallas has been looking for.

Eric Bieniemy

Another product of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The former running backs coach has the experience under Andy Reid on not only how to run an offense but to use your weapons at your disposal to the fullest.

Maybe I’m over-hyping this man but when you see the work he helped put in with Pat Mahomes and how he uses those weapons around him, it makes me imagine what he can do for the Cowboy offense.

The team has no shortage of weapons and could benefit greatly from a guy like this.

If the Chiefs make it past their first playoff game, Bieniemy could become a more attractive name when it comes time for new head coaches. However, if Jerry Jones comes calling and the right offer is met, who’s to say?

If Kris Richard can be lured from Seattle to fix the Cowboys defense, Eric Bieniemy can be lured from Kansas City to fix the Cowboys offense.



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Game Notes

Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta

The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.

As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.

The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.

It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.

Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.

Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.

If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.

The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.

In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.

Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.

It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.

The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.

Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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