The preseason isn’t about wins and losses but players trying to either make the team or solidify their spot on the depth chart. Even without the best supporting cast around them, Cowboys Brice Butler and Rico Gathers made the most of their opportunities in the team’s 20-18 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the 2017 Hall of Fame Game.
On just two catches, Butler reminded us why he’s a potentially dangerous receiving option for the Cowboys offense. Using his pure speed on both plays, Butler got past his man and hauled in two lob passes from Kellen Moore for 46 and 32 yards each. One ball in particular was almost thrown too far ahead but Butler reached out and snagged it for an impressive catch. He might have had a touchdown on the other throw if Moore had put a little more heat on it.
Some, including me, have speculated that Butler might not make the roster if younger guys like Andy Jones and Noah Brown came to play. It’s still early, but good reports from training camp and games like this one will keep Brice in Dallas and perhaps even earn him some more opportunities on offense in the regular season.
If you went into the game with Rico Gathers as one of your most interesting players then you were not disappointed. The tight end prospect had three impressive catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. His scoring catch was on a jump ball and the former basketball player looked like he was taking a rebound out of the air over the defender.
Rico’s other two catches showed that he has some natural hands as a receiver. Both passes from Cooper Rush were off target but Gathers adjusted and secured the ball. On one player, Gathers had to go to the ground to complete the catch but had the presence of mind to realize that he hadn’t been touched. Rico got up and rumbled for a much larger gain, showing good football awareness for such a novice player.
The Cowboys sat both James Hanna and Geoff Swaim tonight so Gathers got to play the entire game. He probably won’t get as many snaps in other preseason games, but Rico did his part tonight to maximize the opportunities he had.
- Alfred Morris had a strong showing with 42 yards on just seven carries. His experience shined through with good reads behind zone blocking, and Morris finished runs with both power and athleticism for big gains. Even if he doesn’t make the team, more good preseason play could help Dallas find a trade partner.
- The reason Morris could be expendable is Rod Smith, who dominated the second half offense and put on a great display of both his power and athletic ability. Smith had 64 yards on 18 carries and also 25 yards on three catches. Where Rod really impressed was with some vision and improvisational running, taking nothing plays and making things happen.
- Kellen Moore put in a solid outing, playing the entire first half. He rallied back from a disappointing 3-and-out on the first series and moved the offense well the rest of the way. Moore finished with 182 yards on 12-for-17 passing and threw the touchdown pass to Rico Gathers. Kellen’s night ended with an interception on an endzone throw to Noah Brown; a jump-ball opportunity that wasn’t really on the QB.
- The second half was Cooper Rush’s time at quarterback and the undrafted rookie wasn’t bad at all. Under fire from several all-out blitzes, Rush didn’t turn it over and made some heads-up plays in some chaotic situations. He threw a touchdown to EZ Nwachukwu and also showed some good wheels with a few big runs to pick up first downs.
- DE Damontre Moore looked beastly throughout the night, disrupting the pocket numerous times and sending the quarterback scrambling. He never registered a sack but his impact was obvious.
- FB Keith Smith caught three passes out of the backfield and looked good with the ball in his hands. The Cowboys haven’t had an offensive weapon at fullback since the days of Richie Anderson and it’s a nice wrinkle for a run-heavy team. If he’s developing as a receiver on top of his strong blocking, Keith’s roster spot is almost guaranteed.
- It was not a standout night for the Cowboys defense, who allowed the Cardinals to move the ball easily in the first half. Blaine Gabbert looked like a former 10th-overall pick, and not Blaine Gabbert, during the first half as he carved Dallas up for 185 yards. Things got better in the second half as the Arizona offense stalled, but Damontre Moore was really the only defender who was making his presence felt consistently.
- Before the game, it was nice to see Orlando Scandrick embrace Jerry Jones when the Cowboys owner was introduced as one of the Hall of Fame inductees. There was a little friction this offseason around Scandrick and trade rumors during the draft. Clearly, there’s no lingering animosity like we had a few years back with Mike Jenkins.
- The Cowboys now return to Oxnard and get a nine-day break before resuming preseason play in Los Angeles against the Rams.