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Game Notes

What to Watch For in Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Jess Haynie

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

For the hardiest of die hard fans, tonight's preseason opener for the Dallas Cowboys probably feel like Christmas morning. We haven't seen the Cowboys play football since December 20th, 2017. Tonight, we'll finally see The Star back on the field as they visit the San Francisco 49ers.

Of course, the first thing you want from any preseason game is for everyone to make it out healthy. That's a given.

But beyond that, there are some specific things I'm excited and hoping to see tonight. Whether it's new arrivals, players in new roles, or just seeing how certain guys are developing, there's plenty to take in even if the score doesn't matter.

One guy I'm excited to see again is backup Running Back Rod Smith (pictured above). Last season, Smith took the backup role away from veteran Alfred Morris with more effective and explosive running. He also showed his versatility with 19 catches on the season, one of which was an 81-yard touchdown.

Smith's become a bit of an afterthought after Dallas drafted Alabama's Bo Scarbrough and then brought in Tavon Austin as a gadget player. And yes, there won't be a lot of carries for Rod or any other RB if Ezekiel Elliott is doing his thing.

But all it takes is one play for Rod Smith to suddenly become a very important part of the Cowboys' offense. If something were to befall Zeke, it's good to have confidence in the next man up. I look forward to seeing Rod get the rock again tonight.

Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, Linebackers

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

It's not often that a first-round pick isn't the most anticipated guy at his position, but Leighton Vander Esch is up against Jaylon Smith for the most intriguing linebacker in tonight's game. Cowboys fans are very excited to see both in action.

Jaylon likely won't play much tonight, perhaps no more than a single series, but any glimpse of him playing full-speed football is fun. Reports that Smith is at "100%" health have us all salivating at his potential; the chance that one of the elite talents of the 2016 draft class is about to unleash that upside on the NFL.

We should see more of the rookie tonight, and Leighton is plenty interesting on his own. Dallas made him the 19th overall pick in April's draft and all signs point to him being the starting middle linebacker this year.

Seeing Smith and Vander Esch on the field together will be especially intriguing. Sean Lee's remaining time in Dallas isn't long, perhaps not beyond this season, and these youngsters are the hoped-for future of the LB position.

While we're talking linebackers, the depth at the position will also be worth watching this preseason. Free agent signing Joe Thomas, the returning Justin March-Lillard, and veteran Damien Wilson will almost certainly be needed at some point this year. It will be nice to see them in action during preseason to know what security Dallas has behind its young prospects.

Cowboys Offense Finds Rhythm to End Minicamp, Hurns and Gallup Stand Out 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

Speaking of security, perhaps no position on the team right now feels more vulnerable than receiver. Hopefully, some of the things we'll see tonight will help boost our confidence.

Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is one guy everybody is anxious to see tonight. From the day he was drafted, Gallup has been hyped up as having potential to immediately contribute, perhaps even being one of the team's top three receivers right away.

We won't get to see Gallup catching many balls from Dak Prescott tonight, but we should get a decent dose of him in the first half. He should look good against second string defensive backs, and hopefully get plenty of good passes from Cooper Rush to put his skills on display.

But the rookie isn't the only receiver to watch tonight. Veteran Deonte Thompson will make his Dallas debut and hopefully get similar opportunities to shine. We'll also get to see favorite bubble guys like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir. Hopefully we'll even get to see some of Lenoir's work as a return man.

While Tavon Austin is another guy we're excited to see, we probably won't see much of how he'll be used in the regular season. The offense will be very vanilla in the preseason, and Tavon was brought in to add flavor. We could see him in some basic plays but those probably won't be indicative of his true role.

~ ~ ~

We could go on and on, couldn't we? Fresh faces at tight end, backup quarterbacks, new defensive linemen, the young safeties; there is so much we've been waiting all these months to finally see on the field rather than on paper.

The first preseason game may not let us get much of the starters, so guys like Xavier Woods or Taco Charlton probably won't get to show you how much they've developed this offseason. We may have to wait for the third game for that.

But tonight will have plenty of its own intrigue and storylines. We'll be looking for things going in, and we'll have some unexpected things to discuss once it's done.

One thing we know for sure, though, is that 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!

Game Notes

What We May Have Learned From the Cowboys Week 1 Preseason Loss

Brian Martin

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5 Things We Might Have Learned From Cowboys Preseason Week 1

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately came out on the losing end of the battle in their first preseason contest against the San Francisco 49ers, despite pretty much dominating the majority of the game. The good news is it was just an exhibition game and means relatively nothing in regards to the upcoming 2018 season.

Last week was the first chance for a lot of us to see what this years Dallas Cowboys team could possibly look like. There was a lot of roster turnover this offseason, which means there were quite a few new faces on the field for the Cowboys Thursday night. But, I can't say that I was disappointed in what I saw, at least so far.

Now that I've had time to study and evaluate the Dallas Cowboys game against the 49ers, I wanted to share with all of you some of the things we may have learned. Up until this point we were left speculating about certain things, but I think the picture is much clearer now.

To keep myself from going overboard here, I decided to narrow it down to just five things I think we may have learned about the 2018 Dallas Cowboys last Thursday night. Continue to read below to see what they are.

✭ Rookie WR Michael Gallup the Real Deal✭

Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

With so much unknown surrounding the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver position, it was really good to see rookie WR Michael Gallup play well against the San Francisco 49ers Thursday night. Despite being a rookie, Gallup looked like the best WR on the field for either team. I don't believe I'm exaggerating the slightest either.

The highlight of the game might have been when he and Quarterback Dak Prescott were able to hook up on a 30 yard touchdown pass to close out the Cowboys first offensive series. Gallup might have scored a second TD later in the game if QB Cooper Rush's pass wouldn't have been under thrown. But, that's neither here nor there now. If Gallup continues to play like he did Thursday night, he could easily be the Cowboys top WR in 2018.

✭ Blake Jarwin Favorite to Replace Jason Witten✭

Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim

Dallas Cowboys TEs Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim

Geoff Swaim may have gotten the start and provided some good blocking Thursday night against the 49ers, but it was Blake Jarwin who may have ended up becoming the favorite to replace Jason Witten this season. Out of all of the options in the receiving game for the Dallas Cowboys, it was Jarwin who was on the receiving end of Dak Prescott's first pass of the game. And, if he hadn't had stepped out of bounds later in the game he would've found himself in the end zone.

Now, it's a little early in the process to claim Jarwin as the victor in the Cowboys TE competition, but he was able to carry over what he's been doing in practice into the game. That's no small feat to accomplish. I'm sure we'll see some of the other TEs on the roster receive opportunities to prove themselves, but for now, it's looking as if it could be Blake Jarwin's job to lose.

✭ Tavon Austin More Than a "Gadget" Player✭

Ezekiel Elliott and Tavon

Dallas Cowboys RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tavon Austin

When the Dallas Cowboys traded for Tavon Austin earlier in the offseason no one really knew exactly what kind of offensive role they had in mind for him. Since arriving in Dallas, Austin has been described as a "web-back", but that made things even more confusing because it sounded like a made up position. The only thing anybody really knew is that Austin has been mostly a "gadget" player since entering the NFL.

I know it was just Week 1 of the preseason, but if Thursday night was any indication of how the Cowboys plan to use Austin, then he will be more than a "gadget" player this season. Austin didn't line up in the backfield or receive any handoffs. He didn't even return any punts or kickoffs against the 49ers. The only thing he did do was lineup at WR and run routes. His role could change and expand later, but it looks as if he will be more involved offensively than we had originally thought.

✭ DE Taco Charlton Looks Much Improved in Year 2✭

Taco Charlton

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton

The Dallas Cowboys defense may not have recorded a single quarterback sack Thursday night against the San Francisco 49ers, but they did put consistent pressure on the opposing QBs. One of those pass rushers to consistently pressure the QB was the Cowboys second-year Defensive End Taco Charlton, who looks like an entirely different player this year. He was getting after the QB, making tackles, and deflecting passes.

Charlton is starting to look more and more like the first-round draft pick the Cowboys were hoping he would be last year. He looks bigger, stronger, faster, and more technique sound than he did a season ago, which should be good news for the pass rush this season. He also showed that his knowledge of the game has improved. Last season he would've been fooled by some of those bootlegs, but it doesn't look to be the case now.

✭LB Depth No Longer a Concern✭

Joe Thomas

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas

The Dallas Cowboys played the entire game against the 49ers Thursday night without Sean Lee, their best defensive player. Unfortunately, it may have provided a glimpse of what we could see at some point during the 2018 season since #50 has a problem of remaining healthy. The good news is, it looks like the Cowboys have covered themselves for such scenario.

Yes, all eyes were on Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch against the 49ers Thursday night, and rightfully so. Both players didn't do anything to disappoint, but it was the Cowboys free agent addition, Joe Thomas, who stole the show. Thomas was filling in for Sean Lee and did an outstanding job doing so. He was all over the field and even ended up getting an interception off a Kavon Frazier deflection. The way all the Cowboys LBs played should ease any concerns with the depth of the position heading into the 2018 season.

What stood out for you in the Dallas Cowboys game against the 49ers?



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Game Notes

LB Joe Thomas Steals The Show In San Francisco

Kevin Brady

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LB Joe Thomas Steals The Show In San Francisco
Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into last night's preseason opener Cowboys fans had their minds on three linebackers: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch. Of course, they were right to focus on those three. They are the three most talented linebackers on the roster, and each were taken within the first two rounds of their respective drafts.

During the game against the San Francisco 49ers, however, an under-the-radar linebacker stole the show for the Dallas Cowboys. If you were watching you know that linebacker is Joe Thomas. With Sean Lee out Joe Thomas got a chance to play with the first team defense, and boy did he take advantage of that opportunity.

Joe Thomas finished his night with five tackles, one TFL, and an interception on the play below. Thomas was relentless in pursuit, flying all over the field and keeping himself near the ball at all times. This relentlessness put him in position to capitalize on Kavon Frazier's pass deflection, and come away with the pick.

Multiple times during the first half Joe Thomas made everyone in Cowboys Nation ask "who is that!?" And in the preseason, that's at the top of the to-do list of every lesser-known player.

NFL on Twitter

On the very next play... PICKED. #DALvsSF https://t.co/X62FGTNpKV

Over the last few seasons the Cowboys have severely lacked depth at the linebacker position. When starting WILL Sean Lee is out, which happens quite frequently, the entire unit seems to fall apart. Their attempts at bargain shopping at linebacker, or snagging mid-round depth in the draft, hasn't necessarily worked all that well.

Adding Leighton Vander Esch during the 2018 draft was a step towards building the linebackers as a complete unit, but Joe Thomas' performance last night adds even more stability.

No, Thomas isn't going to take a starting role from Sean Lee, but he does add quality depth behind what are high profile linebackers. Jaylon Smith looked better and healthier last night than he has during his entire time as a Dallas Cowboy, Vander Esch looked like an athletic freak at times, and Sean Lee is still Sean Lee.

If Joe Thomas is going to show up like he did against the 49ers on a nightly basis, the Cowboys suddenly possess one of the deeper front sevens in all of football.



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Offense, TE Usage, Defensive Line Rotation Stand Out at 49ers

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Offense, TE Usage, Defensive Line Rotation Stand Out at 49ers
(Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys first game of 2018 is in the books. Although it goes as a loss on the scoreboard, last night was a win for the Cowboys in the important areas. Above all else, the team avoided any major injuries, and navigated Quarterback Dak Prescott through his first scoring drive.

There's plenty for the Cowboys to like about what they left on the field in San Francisco before returning to Oxnard, as well as plenty of room for improvement. Here is my first official Sean's Scout of the season, on some takeaways from the Cowboys performance against the 49ers.

  • Great block from Tight End Dalton Schultz to seal the corner for Rod Smith's first run of 15 yards.

The rookie was able to come off the ball with good explosiveness, using his quick hands to sustain the block downfield. This relentless blocking ability is Schultz's best trait, and if he can continue to show it off on the second and third level of the defense, he's going to earn snaps in this offense.

  • Dak Prescott continues to be a "gamer", finding rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup for a 30-yard touchdown on the Cowboys first drive.

Prescott had been struggling to connect on deep passes like this one in practice. As we know about the Cowboys third-year starter though, Prescott continues to be better in real game situations. The protection was perfect for Prescott to deliver this ball to Gallup, but his small window of opportunity to do so didn't allow Dak to step up in the pocket.

The throw was still perfect to Gallup, who uncovered right as he ran under the scoring pass -- his first of what the Cowboys can expect to be many more receptions this season.

  • Jaylon Smith's first signature "swipe play" of the game was really set up by Linebackers Joe Thomas and Damien Wilson.

Take nothing away from Smith, who looked fantastic running around last night, but the Cowboys got everything they could ask for out of their veteran linebackers in this game too.

As a defense, the Cowboys excelled at containing the edge all night long. On this play it was Wilson motioning down from his SAM position before the snap to do just that. Joe Thomas also stayed home to meet the runner in the hole and Smith was there to finish off the play.

Later in the same drive, on a third and long, Smith carried a 49ers tight end down the seam to force the ball underneath. The Cowboys got off the field, and it was an even better sign seeing Smith plant and flip his hips in coverage.

  • I really wish we got to see Defensive End Taco Charlton at LDE since the start of his rookie season.

The Michigan product always projected best as a left end. Drafting for need at 19th overall though, the Cowboys felt the need to try Charlton at right end at the start of 2017. This was a less than ideal position for him to begin his career, and it made his strong push at the end of the season from the left side even more impressive.

Above all else, Charlton looked like he had a plan for every rush off the strong side in this game. With Taco off one edge and Tyrone Crawford on the other, the Cowboys deep defensive line has a chance to be great against the run.

Charlton looked much more comfortable turning the corner and avoiding blocks with quick change of direction ability, which led to him being in the quarterback's face multiple times.

Sean's Scout: Offense, TE Usage, Defensive Line Rotation Stand Out at 49ers 1

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas, S Kavon Frazier (Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)

  • That's a perfect angle from Kavon Frazier on the blitz to tip a pass that was intercepted by Joe Thomas.

I already mentioned the Cowboys ability to play contain defense very well, and this was an area that Frazier brought some juice to. Reading the eyes of the QB on this pass play, Frazier avoided a low block to time his run and leap for the ball.

If Beathard held onto the ball for another second, he likely would have been sacked by rookie Defensive End Dorance Armstrong, who also did a nice job collapsing on the play. Instead, his pass resulted in one of two turnovers Dallas came up with last night -- both on deflected balls.

  • Nice job by Blake Jarwin to look back for the ball as he converted a third down in the red zone to set up a Bo Scarbrough touchdown.

Jarwin ran wide open on the wheel route underneath. It would have been easy for him to continue the route up the field into the end zone. With Cooper Rush needing to throw the ball under pressure, Jarwin turned back at the perfect time and presented his quarterback with a big target.

Jarwin's athleticism and size really stands out at TE, catching this pass easily and turning up field to move the chains.

This drive ended with Bo Scarbrough crossing the goal line from one yard out, pushing behind rookie Left Guard Connor Williams. Though it was nice to see Scarbrough score in a short yardage situation, I thought Rod Smith had the much better overall game, and is nearly a lock to be this team's second running back.

I don't know how far Scarbrough has to rise up the depth chart to make the Cowboys roster, but spots behind Ezekiel Elliott and Smith should be at a premium given both backs completeness.

  • Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has to absolutely love Defensive Tackle Brian Price running down a screen pass to knock Ricky James out of bounds.

The Cowboys play caller on defense is all about effort from his defensive line, and there's no better example of this than Price's effort here. Playing without a true 3T in David Irving's absence to start the season, the Cowboys are more than prepared to still hold up at defensive tackle thanks to their depth at 1T.

Collectively, this group has the size and range to hold up on the interior for Dallas. Brian Price -- whose first season was cut short due to injury last year -- deserves a chance to start at 1T over Richard Ash and Antwaun Woods.

Ash did push the pocket with a spin move that put him in position to tip a pass that was intercepted by Cornerback Duke Thomas in the fourth quarter.

Not only is Price hard to move off the spot, but he is freakish in his pursuit of the football once disengaging. As the 49ers failed to get a seal on Price for this screen play, the 318 pound DT flew to the sideline and made the play 21 yards downfield.

San Francisco would score their first points of the game on this drive, but that shouldn't matter when the team reviews the tape to see Price's effort.

  • Lance Lenoir's awareness in a tight space set up his touchdown reception from Rush.

We've said all along that a talented wide receiver is going to miss the Cowboys final cut, and Lance Lenoir continues to do everything he can to assure it won't be him. Not on the active roster in 2017, Lenoir did show enough as an undrafted rookie to stick around on the practice squad, and has shown significant improvement this year.

Lenoir is the type of route running technician that Sanjay Lal is looking for. With his defender planted in the back of the end zone at the stem of his route, Lenoir knew he would have little room to work with in selling the route to the inside before breaking out.

It was a violent and quick move from Lenoir that gave him some separation towards the sideline, gathering himself to tap both feet in bounds and score. It's hard not to be impressed with the way Lenoir shows up and competes every day at training camp, and it was great for the whole Cowboys offense to see his efforts rewarded with a touchdown.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys will return to Oxnard to prepare for the second week of the preseason now. A home game at AT&T Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals awaits them - another opportunity for the players fighting to make this team to prove themselves.

The Cowboys should be impressed by their depth at OL, TE, and DL based on this performance against the 49ers. Having depth in the trenches has gone a long way for this team before, as competitions for playing time are sure to heat up this week.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Offense, TE Usage, Defensive Line Rotation Stand Out at 49ers" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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