Many wonder why the NFL has a fourth preseason game.
Just about every team rests its starters and the Dallas Cowboys are no different. There’s no reason to expose starters such as Dez Bryant or Jason Witten to injury with the regular season so close.
But the game means a lot to plenty of players trying to secure a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad. And, quite frankly, it marks the last time dozens of players will ever put on an NFL football uniform.
The Cowboys host the Houston Texans on at 7 p.m. Thursday night at AT&T Stadium.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones certainly doesn’t take the fourth preseason game for granted, as some have played their way onto the team with performances in this game.
“It’s a great opportunity for these young players to make one last push,” Jones said. “There’s fights for those last four or five spots on the roster. There’s fights for the practice squad and guys can really step up. We’ve changed our mind. Obviously, you have it set in your mind as we sit here today what you might do when Friday rolls around, but we’ve had these games change our mind in a positive way.
“So it’s great to see the back end of this roster go out and compete and we’ll see if some guys can make some plays and maybe get themselves a spot, whether it’s on the final 53 or the practice squad. We all know that practice squad feeds our roster during the season. So it’s a competitive situation out there. I actually really enjoy watching the game.”
Here are five things to watch in the Cowboys-Texans preseason game:
Jameill Showers finished last season on the 53-man roster, and is trying to secure a spot on it this season. The former Texas A&M and UTEP quarterback has flashed potential and is expected to have a full game to showcase his abilities. The Cowboys would like a veteran quarterback option behind rookie fourth-round pick Dak Prescott, but Showers remains on the radar to fill that void. At the very least, Showers could be the team’s third quarterback considering the health concerns of starter Tony Romo.
Tight end watch
Could the Cowboys keep four tight ends to start the season? Jason Witten is a lock, of course, and second-year pro Geoff Swaim has become a favorite target of Dak Prescott. Gavin Escobar has disappointed since being a second-round pick in 2013 and suffered a torn Achilles in Week 15 last season. But he still has ability and, at this point, could be trade bait. But the real question the Cowboys face is what to do with undrafted rookie Austin Traylor, who earned an opportunity after impressing as a workout invitee. The former Wisconsin tight end has earned praise from coach Jason Garrett throughout training camp, and has made much more of a mark than fellow undrafted tight end and former Baylor basketball star Rico Gathers.
Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley are locks to the make the team. Brice Butler and Lucky Whitehead are safe bets, too. That leaves former fifth-round pick Devin Street on the outside looking in. Is there a way Street shows enough to justify another year on the 53-man roster? And what about undrafted rookie Andy Jones? The Cowboys raved about Jones throughout training camp, but he’s struggled in game action. Jones has only four catches for 35 yards through three preseason games.
The secondary is considered one of the strengths of the defense and the starters are set for the most part. But there are plenty of roster battles left, particularly at backup safety. Third-year pro J.J. Wilcox lost his starting job last season to 2015 first-round pick Byron Jones, and might be looking for another job if the Cowboys opt to see what they have in rookie Kavon Frazier, a sixth-round pick from Central Michigan. This is also an opportunity for cornerbacks Anthony Brown, a sixth-round choice from Purdue, and third-year player Deji Olatoye to secure roster spots.
Among the top storylines in training camp has been developing a pass rush. Plenty of questions remain about the pass rush, and this is the last opportunity for someone to stand out. Second-year pro Ryan Russell needs to show something to secure his roster spot. Linebacker Kyle Wilber has been working with the defensive line of late, and could get some action at defensive end in this game. Also, players who have been slowed by injuries such as free-agent acquisition Benson Mayowa and rookie third-round pick Maliek Collins could see action as they try to round into regular-season form.
Cowboys vs. Texans, preseason
7 p.m. Thursday, KTVT/11