August 3, 2013

Five things to watch in the Cowboys’ preseason opener

Alex Tanney making move to take No. 3 quarterback job.

It’s only preseason, but it’s a football game — not just a dressed-up practice — and that alone is enough to excite Alex Tanney, no matter what happens Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game.

“You’re not throwing 7-on-7,” Tanney said. “There’s so much more that goes into it.”

The Cowboys’ fourth-string quarterback was talking about the Blue-White scrimmage when he said that. Imagine how he will feel Sunday night in Canton, Ohio, when he and No. 3 quarterback Nick Stephens will play the majority of the game against the Miami Dolphins.

“Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s really going to give the young guys an opportunity to show the talent they have,” Tanney said.

Quarterback Tony Romo and some of the other starters are not expected to play.

Tanney will have a chance to continue his strong training camp, where he has impressed the coaches with his instincts, pocket mobility and arm strength.

Five things to watch Sunday night:

1 Alex Tanney’s debut

He has moved past Nick Stephens in training camp, although it doesn’t show on the depth chart. Tanney has shown a livelier arm, awareness out of the pocket, speed in his scrambles and what coach Jason Garrett calls an instinct for the game. If he can show accuracy, he might take over the No. 3 spot.

2 Matt Johnson’s chance

This is the chance the second-year safety, and the Cowboys, have been waiting for. Johnson did not play a game and hardly practiced last year as a rookie because of injuries. Now he has a chance to finally play and show why the Cowboys liked him so much that they kept him on the active roster more than half of last season.

3 A play from J.J. Wilcox

This is the rookie safety who impressed in the first two weeks of training camp with his hitting and play-making. The coaches had to tell him to ease up on tackling his own teammates, which only made him chuckle. He said he’d rather be told to slow down than speed up.

4 The inside line

This will be rookie center Travis Frederick’s first game, but he’ll have to play without starting guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Instead, he’ll have to create communication chemistry with Ron Leary and David Arkin and organize the line against blitzes and stunts. Not to mention, create running room.

5 Joseph Randle’s running

The rookie running back from Oklahoma State, drafted to help take a load off DeMarco Murray, didn’t practice in the off-season because of a thumb injury, and he was spotty in the first week of camp. But he scored two touchdowns in a goal-line drill last week, and his confidence is high.

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