Dallas Cowboys

5 things to watch in Cowboys-Chargers preseason game

Dallas Cowboys Running Back Gus Johnson

With the Dallas Cowboys running back choices limited due to injuries, Gus Johnson could make lasting impressions on the coaching staff when he plays against San Diego. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley
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With the Dallas Cowboys running back choices limited due to injuries, Gus Johnson could make lasting impressions on the coaching staff when he plays against San Diego. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

It’s never wise to put too much stock into preseason games, especially the first one, which is essentially a glorified scrimmage.

A year ago, the San Diego Chargers whipped the Dallas Cowboys 27-7 in the first preseason contest. The Cowboys finished 12-4 and won the NFC East, while the Chargers missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

Yes, football is back, and there are plenty of storylines in the preseason opener Thursday night:

With the Dallas Cowboys running back choices limited due to injuries, Gus Johnson could make lasting impressions on the coaching staff when he plays against San Diego. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

The running game

Finding a way to soften the blow of losing the league’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, remains the No. 1 goal for the Cowboys. Joseph Randle has looked good so far in camp, but is probably out with an oblique strain. Don’t expect, either, to see the other two backs of the projected three-back committee; Lance Dunbar (ankle) and Darren McFadden (hamstring) are injured. But that will give former Baylor back Lache Seastrunk and Stephen F. Austin rookie Gus Johnson plenty of opportunities to showcase their abilities.

Greg Hardy didn't have much luck going against All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith during Thursday's practice.

Greg Hardy’s return

The troubled defensive end has gotten plenty of support from fans so far in camp, and will be playing a game for the first time in almost a year. He played only one regular-season game last year before being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list related to a May 2014 domestic violence incident. Expect Hardy to get plenty of preseason reps, as he still faces a four-game suspension to begin the season.

Dallas Cowboys rookie Byron Jones finds out the rookie always loses when pies and cake are being thrown by teammate Barry Church as part of the annual 105.3 The Fan's Pie Challenge at Cowboys Camp. Star-Telegram video by Paul M

Rookie watch

The Cowboys created a buzz by landing arguably three first-round talents in cornerback Byron Jones, defensive end Randy Gregory and offensive lineman La’el Collins. This is the first true opportunity for those three to show what they can do. Keep an eye on fourth-round pick Damien Wilson, who has been getting a heavy workload at linebacker with Rolando McClain sidelined and Sean Lee being monitored in camp.

The Dallas Cowboys coach gushes about the play of his star quarterback so far this training camp. (Video by Paul Moseley, Star-Telegram.com)

Romo’s replacements

Who’s behind Tony Romo? Some within the organization like the strides that Brandon Weeden has taken. Beyond that, it’ll be interesting to see Dustin Vaughan’s development and whether he justifies a roster spot as a third quarterback. Jameill Showers will play Thursday, and he could be an intriguing option as a potential third quarterback and special-teamer.

Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, with the media after the special teams walk through, talks about the new PAT distance for the upcoming season. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

New PAT rules

The league experimented with longer field goals for point-after touchdown attempts last preseason, and are implementing them this season. Dan Bailey was perfect in his longer attempts in the preseason a year ago and converted all of his regular-season PATs. It’s worth watching to see if teams change their strategy in going for a 2-point conversion or PAT. Coach Jason Garrett said he’ll rely more on the PAT.

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