Gus Johnson isn’t in the Dallas Cowboys media guide. The undrafted rookie doesn’t have a locker, even a temporary one, at Valley Ranch. Heck, he’s still being called “No. 37,” instead of by name, by many of his teammates.
“A couple have learned my name now,” Johnson said. “I feel like that’s a good thing. But I will always be a rookie until I can surpass that. It’s something I’ve gotten used to.”
Johnson, who signed with the team the day training camp started, likely starts for the Cowboys on Thursday night in their exhibition opener at San Diego.
The team’s top three running backs — Joseph Randle (oblique), Darren McFadden (hamstring) and Lance Dunbar (ankle) — are nursing injuries, elevating Johnson to the top of the depth chart. So he, Lache Seastrunk and Tyler Clutts could receive a lot of work.
“I’m a rookie, so they need to find out what I can do,” Johnson said.
That’s the purpose of the first preseason game. The familiar names will stand on the sideline and watch the young players try to make a name.
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of young guys,” coach Jason Garrett said. “They’ve done a good job up until this point in training camp. Typically, they get a chance to play in this game maybe more than the others, so it’s a good opportunity for us to see where they are. It’s a good opportunity for those guys to play under the lights and experience it, positives and negatives and see how they respond.”
Besides Johnson, here are some other players to watch:
▪ Dustin Vaughan — The third quarterback was inactive for 15 games last season, dressing only for the Arizona game that Tony Romo missed. Vaughan has not played since the fourth preseason game last year, completing 22 of 43 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown in his preseason work a year ago.
“It’s a big game for anybody that’s trying to get a job on the 53-man roster,” Vaughan said. “I went through it last year, and it was big-time doing it last year. I think the best thing is having been through it one year, you kind of know what to expect going out there. You know what the coaches are expecting. In the end, we’re going to be able to go out there and just play football, which is nice.”
▪ Jameill Showers — He’s competing with Vaughan. The former Texas A&M and UTEP quarterback also has a role on special teams, working on the kickoff return team as an off returner and on the punt team as a personal protector.
“He’s actually done well,” special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. “We get a big kick out of him, because he flips over to us, puts his gloves on and puts his wristbands on and feel like he puts bigger shoulder pads on because he seems to grow a little bit. He’s really done well. It’s funny, we think every day he gets a little bit better. It’s coming back to him a little bit. We’re going to try to put him in position to do some things that he’s familiar with.”
▪ Lucky Whitehead — The Cowboys are having open tryouts for the kickoff and punt return jobs vacated by the departure of Dwayne Harris. Dunbar, J.J. Wilcox, Whitehead, Reggie Dunn, Tyler Patmon, Nick Harwell and Seastrunk have worked as kickoff returners. Cole Beasley, Dunbar, Wilcox and Whitehead are candidates for the punt return job.
Whitehead has caught Jerry Jones’ eye, with the owner singling out the rookie free agent last week.
“Once he brings that out, people start to look at No. 13,” Whitehead said. “So I don’t want him to swallow his words. I’ve got to come out here every day with an edge and ready to compete every day.”
▪ Darrion Weems — Weems has gotten work with the first team at both right tackle and left tackle this week. The Cowboys are hoping Weems can develop into the swing tackle Jermey Parnell was last season.
Weems, 26, has never played in a regular-season game. He missed all of last season after injuring his shoulder in training camp, spending the year on injured reserve.
“Every day is an opportunity,” Weems said. “Come out every day and you take it day by day.”
Running out of options
Injuries have depleted the Cowboys running backs and limited practice time. Here’s a look at who’s out and who’s available:
On the sidelines
▪ Darren McFadden, hamstring
▪ Lance Dunbar, right ankle
On the field
▪ Joseph Randle, potential starter
▪ Gus Johnson, undrafted rookie
▪ Lache Seastrunk, 2nd-year pro
▪ Tyler Clutts, fullback
▪ Ray Agnew, fullback