The NFL preseason is a time for backups to shine. And the Dallas Cowboys have intrigue in that area this season.
Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are expected to return to their Pro Bowl level of play after injury-plagued seasons, but the depth of teams is largely a separating factor in the NFL.
The Cowboys lacked depth a season ago, going 1-11 with three backup quarterbacks and struggling to get a pass rush. This year, though, the Cowboys hope they have more talent and depth at each position.
Saturday marks the first test as the Cowboys open the preseason against the Los Angeles Rams. And this will not be a typical preseason game.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is expected to be packed as the NFL returns to LA and, of course, America’s Team as the opponent.
Here are five things to watch:
Forget about Tony Romo. This preseason is about seeing whom the Cowboys will have behind him in case something goes awry as it did last season. Kellen Moore is out 3-4 months with a broken right ankle, and the Cowboys are seeing if they can fill the void internally. They like rookie Dak Prescott, who has shown flashes in camp, as well as second-year pro Jameill Showers. But if Prescott and Showers don’t perform well, the Cowboys could be forced to bring in a veteran.
The Cowboys had 31 sacks a year ago. They had 28 in 2014. Improving the pass rush has been harped on endlessly the past two off-seasons, and the Cowboys didn’t make many big splashes to address it this off-season. Instead, they are hoping some of their young players take strides and it’ll be telling to see how guys such as Ryan Russell, David Irving and Jack Crawford fare in the preseason.
Andy Jones has made an impression in training camp, and has put himself in the mix to make the 53-man roster. But can he take what he has done in camp into a game situation? This is true for all the young receivers. Devin Street also must do well in the preseason if he wants to make the team a third consecutive season.
Backfield in motion
Ezekiel Elliott is sidelined with hamstring tightness. Darren McFadden is recovering from elbow surgery. That leaves Alfred Morris as the only known quantity in the backfield. But the bulk of the carries will go to rookie Darius Jackson, who has shown speed in camp, and second-year pro Rod Smith, who is working at tailback and fullback. Fullback Keith Smith, transitioning from linebacker to fullback, is another guy to watch.
Former Baylor basketball standout Rico Gathers is hoping to become a professional football player, and certainly passes the eye test. But he has a long way to go based on his early performance in camp. Going against air on Thursday, for instance, Gathers ran the wrong route and dropped a pass. This will be Gathers’ first game action in years, and he certainly is someone to watch given his background.
Cowboys at Rams
7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/8, ESPN