FRISCO, Texas– The Cowboys have arguably the most important preseason game on the schedule in front of them Saturday night against the Raiders.
Not only is this a good test against a playoff-team with talented players across the board, but this will be the "dress rehearsal" game for both teams, meaning the starters could play as much as the entire first half.
With that, the writers of DallasCowboys.com have a few more players to evaluate in picking two guys to keep an eye on.
Here are eight players the staff will be watching closely come Saturday night:
Chaz Green – At some point, the Cowboys will want to settle their starting five on the offensive line. La'el Collins seems entrenched at right tackle, so who takes his place at left guard: Green or Jonathan Cooper? Green has worked at both guard and tackle in camp, and he took first-team left guard reps in practice Thursday. The Cowboys were pleased with Green's play last season filling in for Tyron Smith at left tackle, but injuries have limited his availability. Guard is a transition for him; he only played one half there in his entire college career. But if the Cowboys believe he might be their fifth-best lineman, they should continue giving him opportunities to win the job. It'll be interesting to see Saturday how they use Green and Cooper, who started the third preseason game at left guard.
DeMarcus Lawrence – The fourth-year defensive end looked dominant at times in practice this week, and seems to be getting better and better the further removed he is from January back surgery. Lawrence could have gotten the surgery last fall, but he showed toughness and leadership by trying to manage it through the playoffs. Now healthy, you can see that explosive first step, and with Damontre' Moore and David Irving facing suspensions to start the year, the defense will look to Lawrence for production in the early going this season.
Brice Butler – There is no real drama in terms of roster spot with him. We thought that might be the case back in April but Butler has been so good that he's a virtual lock to make this team. What isn't so clear is how much he'll play in the offense. With all of these great catches, combined with the speed element he brings, Butler could push for playing time, possibly taking some reps away from Terrance Williams. I'm interested to see Butler in this game with the first-teamers on both sides of the ball. It doesn't hurt that he spent the first three years of his career with the Raiders as well.
Taco Charlton –While most people will be watching this guy anyway, it's an important time for him. We know Irving and Moore will be out with suspensions, but Charlton's play will likely affect how the Cowboys handle it when it's time to cut the roster down. Those two suspended players won't count towards the roster but if guys like Charlton continue to step up, it might lead to them going longer at other positions instead of having to fill the void with defensive ends – either on this team or off the street. The Cowboys need Charlton to play well for other reasons, too. He seems to get better and better with each game so against a team like the Raiders with a great O-line, I'll be anxious to see how he holds up.
*La'el Collins *- This week will be a huge test for Collins as he squares off against Khalil Mack. Jason Garrett has been pleased with what he has seen from his converted guard so far in this camp. Where Mack is going to test Collins is in his ability to play with his hands. When he has been poor, that's been the issue. Collins is going to have to be good with that right hand because if he's not, Mack will hurt him off the edge and that's the last thing that Dak Prescott wants to see.
Orlando Scandrick -A healthy Scandrick has been a good Scandrick. Now two years removed from him knee injury, Scandrick appears to be back to his old self. He appears to have his speed and quickness back in his legs. He's not laboring in his movements and gone are the struggles of having to carry receivers around the field. You can tell through his play that he's has been able to put his heath issues behind him. The Raiders will throw some outstanding receivers at him in this contest. Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper are a super competitive and will test Scandrick on every levels which will give us an even better idea of where he is going to be for the upcoming season.
WR Dez Bryant –Keep that momentum going, 88. Right around the time the Cowboys got back from the Hall of Fame Game in Ohio, Dez Bryant has been an absolute monster. He has lit it up in practices, and he caught two passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in his only preseason action to date. He looks like a guy who is ready to return to his dominant, All-Pro form during the 2012-14 seasons. Saturday promises to be his most extensive playing time of the preseason, and it will undoubtedly be the last serious action we see from him until Sept. 10. I want to see him keep it going. Keep working on that connection with Dak Prescott, and keep showing out. It looks like 2017 is going to be a big year for Dez, so hopefully this game is another step in that direction.
CB Nolan Carroll –There have been more ups than downs for Carroll during this camp, in my opinion. Yes, he has been beaten his fair share of times. But you haven't seen him make too many mistakes when the lights are on and there are 10 other defenders on the field with him. I assume this game will offer a solid glimpse of what I assume will be the Cowboys' starting trio of Carroll, Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown. Carroll is probably the guy that worries people the most, so I want to see how he holds up over a full half of football. He needs to be up to that challenge, because it doesn't seem likely that Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis will be ready for Week 1. Carroll doesn't have to be outstanding, but it would big news for the Cowboys if he can just be reliably good.