SEATTLE – The starters should play more this week as the Cowboys take on the Seahawks in the third preseason game, which is typically a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season.
The staff writers of DallasCowboys.com have each selected a player from both sides of the ball to evaluate throughout the game, followed by a review of their performances afterward.
Let's check out who the staff writers will be following closely in Saturday's game against the Seahawks.
WR Terrance Williams: The knock on Williams last year is that he doesn't always rise to the occasion when he's the focal point of the offense. That's really not his fault as he wasn't drafted to be at No. 1 receiver. Still, he did make huge strides at the end of last year with a career day, despite Dez Bryant being out of the game. Here we go up to Seattle and Dez won't be playing. I'm interested to see how Williams does against Seattle's secondary, especially in matchups with Richard Sherman. It might be a preseason game, but this is an important one for Williams, who is in a contract year. If he can make some plays against this defense, without Dez on the other side and possibly with Dak Prescott at quarterback, it could go a long way for Williams moving forward in his career.
LB/DE Kyle Wilber: He's been slowed by a bad back in training camp but if last week was any indication, he looks like he's back to form. With so many issues at the defensive end position, I'm wondering if Wilber will get some chances to rush the passer again like he did last week. He's expected to be the starter at the SAM position but the Cowboys are looking to get Damien Wilson some reps there, too. But Wilber has always moved around on this defense and this could be yet another opportunity for him to show his versatility. Wherever he plays, it could be a domino-effect for other players on this defense.
RB Ezekiel Elliott: Jason Garrett anticipates the 2016 fourth overall draft pick making his NFL debut Thursday night. What better preseason test than the Seahawks' stout defensive line on the road in a "dress rehearsal" situation? Garrett said he likes to give running backs a few different looks in their first game back from injury – some runs, some catches. Elliott has a complete skill set, and he's looking forward to running behind "the best O-Line in America." Should be a really good environment for the rookie in his first professional game.
DE/DT Jack Crawford: No roster position has gotten more scrutiny than the defensive line, but Jack Crawford should make fans feel better about the team's depth. He might not be a 16-game starter, but he's the perfect rotation player for Rod Marinelli: versatile, quick, relentless. Crawford had, in my opinion, the most underrated training camp of anyone on the team, and we saw how disruptive he can be from the defensive end spot in last Friday's preseason win over the Dolphins. Crawford had been playing a lot of three technique defensive tackle in training camp, and with Tyrone Crawford (concussion) ruled out Thursday against Seattle, we could see Jack Crawford move inside some. He played all four line positions last year and thrived. The Cowboys are counting on him again this year.
WR Brice Butler: Hey Brice. No pressure, but this is a gigantic opportunity. With Dez Bryant sitting out, I expect Butler to start opposite Terrance Williams as the Cowboys' primary deep threat. He showed off his skills in the Dolphins game – now he needs to do it as one of the focal points of this offense. No, it's not going to mean much to Butler's immediate playing time. I firmly believe that both Dez and Terrance are entrenched as this team's top two wideouts. That said, Butler has a chance to show he's capable of something more. That could be huge when the coaches consider his role going forward – not just in 2016, but when they decide whether he's worth re-signing in the spring.
LB Justin Durant: We've seen plenty of Justin Durant in the past, but now we'll be getting our first look at him in 2016. Ironically, Seattle is the last place Durant made a big impact for this team, as he led the Cowboys with nine tackles during the 30-23 win in 2014. A veteran like Durant isn't going to play the entire game this time around, but it'd be nice to see flashes of that same type of player. Durant's signing gives the Cowboys some depth and flexibility at linebacker, but is he anything more than that? Will he command a starting spot this season? Hopefully this game helps us find out.
C/G Joe Looney: With Ronald Leary sitting out this game with a groin injury, look for Joe Looney to get more snaps at guard. Even with Leary's injury, I believe the coaching staff would like to see him play guard to just get a little bit better idea of his versatility for the positions. From what we have seen so far in these practices and games, Looney has primarily lined up at center while rookie Jake Brendel plays guard with the backup offensive line. This week against the Seahawks, I expect that we will see Looney and Brendel change roles in order for the coaches to get that look. Something else to also think about – if Looney can show that he can handle the backup guard role, does it allow this front office the ability to move on from Leary and feel comfortable about it? At this point, I do not believe they are there with that transaction so keep an eye on how Joe Looney plays.
DT Maliek Collins: This will be the first NFL game action for Collins who will be starting in place of Tyrone Crawford. Collins will line up at the three technique and will be paired with Terrell McClain. Since coming off the injured list, Collins has flashed some initial quickness and pop. When he attacks the gap, he can get that outside shoulder on the blocker and put them in a poor position. He also shows some upper-body power to penetrate. Keep an eye on him and how he works with Terrell McClain and Cedric Thornton when it comes to the twist stunts. While at Nebraska, this might have been his best trait. He has a knack for not only getting himself home on the rush but his teammates as well.