The Cowboys will take the field at Levi’s Stadium tonight for their second preseason game against the 49ers, in hopes of improving the team that aims to be back to San Francisco when it matters – for Super Bowl 50.
Headlines have been abundant so far this week, which gives us a number of players on both sides of the ball to watch tonight.
Of course, there is the “Dez Bryant” fight from training camp still looming over the team’s head, which should leave Cowboys’ fans anxious to see what #88 does on the field.
Bryant and Romo are both expected to get limited time tonight, depending on the condition of the turf in San Francisco – which is a concern.
However, when it comes to the offense in tonight’s game, my eyes will be on the offensive line and running backs. Zack Martin will not play, and it is unclear who else from the starting offensive line will see time.
With Travis Frederick being the only lock to start, we will get a look at the depth the Cowboys have along the line with the likes of La’el Collins – who impressed in week 1 – and fellow rookie Chaz Green.
While this unit should still be solid, more pressure will fall on the running backs competing for a roster spot to make their mark tonight.
It is not clear who will see the majority of the touches in the backfield, but Jason Garrett is hopeful that Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar can all see time.
How the carries will be divided up will be something to keep an eye on during the game.
Lache Seastrunk was recently cut, leaving Gus Johnson as the other running back competing in this group.
Randle, McFadden, and Dunbar all bring an element of explosiveness every time they touch the ball, and all three should be aiming to make a highlight-worthy play tonight.
The Cowboys are deep at many positions, and talented players are going to be left off this roster based on the team’s needs at certain positions. This effect may be most notable in the backfield come week 1.
While preseason reps are important for starters to begin getting live game action, they are infinitely more important for coaches to figure out who they can actually utilize in the regular season – and use that information to form the final roster.
All the running backs that we will see tonight deserve to be part of the offense, because they all improve it in different ways.
While Randle is a lock for the final roster, he may have to separate himself from McFadden and Dunbar to assure that he becomes the feature back.
McFadden’s role is the most uncertain, and this game will serve only as the first step in forming his identity at the position.
With limited practice time, no live game reps and a long injury history, nothing will surprise me from McFadden tonight – whether he fails to get anything going or rips off a big run.
That leaves Dunbar and Johnson, who are likely both fighting for one final spot. This is an intriguing position battle because the two backs present completely different skill sets to the offense.
Should the final roster be Randle, McFadden, and Dunbar, the Cowboys would have three backs that all compliment each other very well. The big play ability is evident with all three, and Dunbar serves as the best pass catcher in the group.
Randle would likely be the feature back, being called on in short yardage situations.
This is also where Gus Johnson could have a role, as the team’s goal-line style running back.
Johnson showed great physicality in San Diego, but little hope to be a high-carry type of back. If given his chance tonight, he will have to show consistency in his yards per carry.
Whether the Cowboys carry Dunbar or Johnson will likely not be decided until the end of the preseason, but a lot could be learned on the field tonight in San Francisco.
Amidst the position battle in the backfield, Jason Garrett and the Cowboys enter this game with a clear focus – do what it takes to ensure a second game at Levi’s Stadium this season.
What do you expect from the Cowboys’ backfield tonight? Let me know below or on Twitter @ShoreSportsNJ!