ARLINGTON, Texas. – With the Cowboys using Saturday night as a "dress rehearsal" game, we got a chance to many more starters and regular contributors for a lengthy period of time.
Before the game, staff writers of DallasCowboys.com picked two players each to watch throughout the game. Here is the review following Saturday's game at AT&T Stadium.
A.J. Jenkins: With Dez Bryant and Devin Street inactive, Jenkins got early playing time with the starting offense when the Cowboys used three wide receivers (Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jenkins). For the first time in preseason, Jenkins did not record a catch. Tony Romo targeted him in the first quarter on second-and-19 with the Cowboys lining up five receivers, but the ball sailed out of bounds incomplete with Romo facing pressure. Jenkins is in the running for a backup receiver spot, but fellow candidate Lucky Whitehead helped himself with an eight-yard touchdown catch in the first half.
Sean Lee: As expected, Lee made his preseason debut Saturday – his first game action of any kind since the end of the 2013 season. The veteran linebacker started on the weak side ("Will") and had three tackles (two solo) in three defensive series. All three of Lee's tackles came on the Vikings' first scoring drive in the first quarter. His final two stops were inside the red zone to help force a Vikings field goal after Teddy Bridgewater found Mike Wallace to give Minnesota's offense a first down at the Cowboys' 12-yard line.
Darren McFadden: We still aren't talking about a huge sample size, but Darren McFadden might have been the most fun aspect of the entire game. He got a measly four carries on the night, but he ripped off 37 yards – an average of 9.2 yards per carry. It wasn't just that he gained yards, though. He ran with decisiveness and authority. He got to the second level and came within a broken tackle or two of breaking some seriously long runs. Again, it's a tiny sample size. But McFadden looked like the guy the Cowboys were hoping for when they signed him in March.
Morris Claiborne: There was one telling play in the first half that gave cause for optimism for Mo Claiborne. Late in the second quarter, Shaun Hill went deep for Adam Thielen on a go route toward the Dallas end zone. Claiborne had step-for-step coverage, and he went to the ground fending off the pass. The ball fell incomplete, and Thielen was flagged for offensive pass interference – on top of that, Claiborne wasn't hurt on the play. It was an encouraging series of events for a guy who needs a confidence boost. It wasn't all good, as Claiborne was also flagged for defensive pass interference. But it was a mostly solid performance for a guy who played his first game since tearing his patellar tendon.
Joseph Randle: Interesting night for Randle, who did start the game and played most of the first quarter as the featured back. He had a few nice plays, but overall, it wasn't anything that will have Cowboys fans missing DeMarco Murray. Let's not forget, Zack Martin and Dez Bryant are All-Pro players. One guy opens holes and another one creates room with his playmaking ability. But, Randle didn't outshine Darren McFadden, who came in and showed some juice in the second quarter. The thing that concerned me more about Randle was yet another issue against the blitz. If he continues to have problems there, it will affect his time on the field. Overall, I think McFadden's night should be a sign that he's still got something left. But I don't think Randle did anything that would say he's still not the leader in the clubhouse.
Tyler Patmon:I really didn't notice a lot from Patmon, and as a cornerback, that's a good thing. He wasn't challenged much – again, a good thing. He did blitz once off the edge like Orlando Scandrick would often do. He wasn't spectacular, but showed enough that it's unlikely the Cowboys need to go and get some help for the slot. Patmon has done everything the Cowboys have ever asked from him, from getting signed off a tryout in rookie minicamp, to making the team, to getting on the field last year. So he'll be fine in this role. He might not be as seasoned as Scandrick, but let's not forget that Scandrick was a fifth-round pick in 2008 and was already good enough in the slot to take over for Terence Newman, who played Saturday night for the Vikings, still going in his 13th season.
Travis Frederick: Coming into this game I thought he was going to be a nice test for Frederick dealing with Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph inside. Joseph is a power player while Floyd relies more on his quickness and on both fronts - Frederick was up to the task. Where I feel like that Frederick has improved his game the most - has been with his ability to play on his feet and there were several snaps where he was right where he needed to be on his blocks whether it was at the point of attack or on the second level.
Ken Bishop: Bishop didn't get as many snaps as he has had in the first two preseason games. His night really started late in the 3rd quarter and then through the 4th. He was paired with Davon Coleman and Ryan Russell but I didn't feel like he was as active as he had been in those two games. There were snaps where it looked like from my spot in the radio booth where he played as if he was having trouble getting off blocks and that's not normal for him. He wasn't able to get that up the field rush or make those plays down the line that we had seen from him all camp. It was like he never really got into the flow of the game coming in when he did.