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!
MRI Negative on Cowboys G Zack Martin’s Knee Injury
The Dallas Cowboys saw a few guys go down in last night's preseason game, but none scarier than All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Thankfully, they got some good news today on Martin's status.
An MRI of the knee showed no major injury, and that means Zack should be good to go for the team's regular season opener in three weeks.
Cowboys have received results of Zack Martin's MRI & it's encouraging. Source said there's no significant injury to left knee & he could be ready for opener against Carolina on Sept. 9.
Last week, Dallas lost one of their likely reserve guards when Marcus Martin went on injured reserve after the first preseason game. That leaves just Joe Looney as the only trusted reserve right now for the interior line.
But even though Looney has played well at times when called upon, he's no Zack Martin. In fact, only a couple of guys in the entire NFL can claim to be on that level.
Sprains and other non-major injuries to the knee tend to fall into the 2-4 week range for recovery. Barring complications, Martin should be ready to take on the Panthers' Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, and others.
We're still waiting for updates on other key players who were injured last night, such as Safety Xavier Woods, Running Back Bo Scarbrough, and Defensive Lineman Datone Jones. We'll get those to you as they are announced.
Hopefully, they all get the same good news that Zack Martin did today.
Zack Martin, Xavier Woods Suffer Preseason Injuries, Cowboys Down 2 Starters
Last Saturday night didn't end well for the Dallas Cowboys, who saw multiple players go down throughout the game, most notably Zack Martin and Xavier Woods. Preseason injuries are always the more painful ones, and when we're talking about someone like Martin, it just makes it worse.
Martin suffered a knee injury and was ruled out after going down. ESPN's Todd Archer tweeted out that a source had claimed the injury was a hyper-extended left knee. This surely would be great news considering the fear right now is a season-ending injury.
A source said the initial diagnosis of Zack Martin is a hyperextended left knee, but he will undergo an MRI on Sunday. The Cowboys do not practice again until Monday and play Aug. 26 against the Arizona Cardinals. Depending on the severity of the... https://t.co/1MPbJfQph8
Zack is set to have an MRI on Sunday and the team is hopeful the injury isn't that serious. We probably won't see the All-Pro left guard return in the preseason but could see him back on the field as soon as September 9th when the Cowboys kick their season off at Carolina.
Besides Zack Martin being the best offensive guard in the NFL, the Cowboys' offensive line depth is definitely not good. If his injury proves to be worse than what the front office believes, this offense will have to play without arguably their best player.
As we nervously await more news on Martin's knee, there are more injured players to talk about.
Xavier Woods injured his hamstring as he made an effort to intercept the ball and was also ruled out for the game. We still don't know about the severity, but we do know it's the same hamstring that he dealt with last year.
Although Woods isn't anywhere near Zack Martin as a football player, his injury comes at the team's weakest position in depth. Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods are the Cowboys' only legitimate safeties that will earn a roster spot.
If the hamstring injury is serious enough to keep him sidelined for multiple weeks, we could see the Cowboys getting outside help for the defensive backfield. Whether that means trading for Earl Thomas, some other safety or looking at the free agents available, I don't see the team going into the season with two safeties on the roster.
For now, we need to wait for more results regarding both of these players who will be detrimental to this team's success in 2018. The Cowboys suffered more injuries than these ones, though.
And the injuries continue... Jameill Showers is down on the Cowboys sideline with what looks like a knee injury. Still down. Duke Thomas Datone Jones Bo Scarbrough Xavier Woods and the big one, Zack Martin That's the injury list for the Cowboys tonight.
Datone Jones has been impressive during his stay in Dallas and is a quality DT and was ruled out for the game after getting tangled up with the Bengal's offensive line. Seventh-round draft pick Bo Scarbrough suffered a hip injury and is apparently not severe either.
Compared to Woods' and Martin's injuries, these ones won't keep Cowboys' fans up at night. However, hopefully they all turn out to be okay and ready to play as soon as possible. The team's starters make this team a legit threat in the NFC, but when it comes to depth, they're not in a good position.
Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
The Dallas Cowboys are halfway through their 2018 preseason. Given the injuries they're left to deal with to Zack Martin, Xavier Woods, and Jameill Showers, the Cowboys were happy to see their first home game of the season come to an end when it did. Despite the 21-13 loss, the Cowboys starters made another strong impression before exiting for backups that once again failed to hold the lead.
This is a game I'm looking forward to getting another look at on film, but for now here are a few thoughts the first time through.
- Rookie Connor Williams is still a work in progress at guard, as he'll get himself in trouble trying to catch rushers too often.
This "catch blocking" is not uncommon for young offensive linemen, particularly ones learning a new position in preparation to start on the league's best front. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Williams was caught back in his stance dealing with a twist from the Bengals with Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down from Dak Prescott. With Williams' footwork being as consistent as it has, I wouldn't worry too much about his upper body technique and strength improving greatly before week one of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, Williams has looked smooth playing in space, something the Cowboys are prepared to ask the second round pick to do plenty of.
- With Randy Gregory back in the lineup, the Cowboys potential to have a great rotation of defensive ends was on full display.
The play that stands out is a tackle for loss by Safety Jeff Heath. On the play, Defensive End Tyrone Crawford did a great job setting the edge against the run, allowing Heath to come down and make the aggressive play.
Crawford created penetration against a tight end, staying disciplined in his rush lane from the right defensive end position to force the run outside.
On the Bengals' offensive series prior to this play by Heath, the Cowboys forced a punt following a missed Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green. Despite not being tight in coverage on third down, Randy Gregory looked sharp coming off the edge to rush Dalton slightly.
With Taco Charlton also looking strong against the run, and rookie Dorance Armstrong continuing to develop as a weak side pass rusher, the possible match ups the Cowboys can create up front are seemingly endless.
Almost all of them will include last year's sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, who was also disruptive on nearly every snap in this game.
- Give credit to Joe Looney for handling the reps he did at center, but the backup interior lineman left a lot to be desired from this position.
It should come as no surprise that Looney is a better guard than center, or that the Cowboys would look significantly worse at center without Travis Frederick in the lineup.
Overall, this was a disappointing game for the Cowboys thin offensive line depth. Paul Alexander's unit was unable to give quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White a fair chance to settle into the game.
Looney's contact balance was suspect throughout the evening. Not the most powerful player, it's important for Looney to play with leverage and balance, which he did inconsistently last night.
Awaiting news on Zack Martin's first quarter injury still, the Cowboys should have already been concerned about their backups at tackle, with the guard position becoming a late concern now.
- This is becoming the standard for Jaylon Smith, but I did not see one Bengals blocker effectively slow him down.
The power that Smith is playing with is an outstanding sign for continued success. Not only is Smith physically up for the challenge of starting at MIKE for the Cowboys, but he's physically dominating opponents with strength, speed, and range.
Whether he was running laterally and avoiding blocks with great awareness, or attacking the pocket, Smith's path to the ball was rarely impeded against the Bengals.
No matter who the Cowboys lined up in their front seven, the group did a great job setting a strong tone. Antwaun Woods was once again impressive at the one technique position inside, and Brian Price made a flash play from this position late in the game as well.
Thanks to Smith's gap shooting ability, and the Cowboys willingness so far this preseason to be creative with the Notre Dame product, the team's defensive tackles don't have to be asked to do too much. Holding their spots while drawing blockers will be more than enough to free Smith and the rest of the Cowboys linebackers to make plays.
- Chidobe Awuzie's interception in the second quarter is a reminder of just how high the second-year cornerback's potential is.
Sure, Awuzie's length put him at an advantage to take a leap into year two once Kris Richard arrived as the Cowboys passing game coordinator.
Being productive on the ball, as Awuzie was here, is a testament to just how athletic he is as a boundary cornerback though. A beat late recognizing the ball coming his way, Awuzie remained in perfect position to get a hand on this pass.
Doing so with an explosive leap off the ground and full extension, Awuzie snagged the ball with one hand before bringing it into his body to secure another turnover for the Cowboys first team defense.
The Cowboys cornerback depth proved suspect beyond Awuzie and Byron Jones in this game, but being as good as they already are on the boundary is a huge step in the right direction for Rod Marinelli's defense.
I also thought that UDFA Tyree Robinson did a great job answering the bell at safety, showing up a number of times in run support with the Cowboys in desperate need of depth at his position.
It's in the slot, where Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis continue to feel the pressure of competition, that the Cowboys are struggling to find the right starter - even trying Lewis on the outside well into the fourth quarter of this game.
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The Cowboys will remain in their home state to conclude their training camp and preseason. Needing to see more out of their second and third team, practices will resume at The Star on Monday before another preseason game at AT&T Stadium.
This time, it will be the Arizona Cardinals coming in for a Sunday Night Football tune up. The Cowboys starters could very well see even more playing time than they have through the first two weeks, giving them a better chance of sustaining success and coming away with a preseason win.
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