FRISCO, Texas – Back in Texas, camp and preseason continues.
Before the Cowboys return to training camp mode next week, they'll continue their roster evaluations in their third preseason game this Saturday at AT&T Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts – a matchup that figures to include more work from the starters.
The DallasCowboys.com staff will keep a close eye on these eight players:
G Jonathan Cooper – It's Jonathan Cooper job now at left guard. I thought there was a chance that we would have seen more of Chaz Green but his focus now appears to be at tackle. With Tyron Smith having on and off issues with his back, it makes perfect sense to get Green ready at that spot just in case. Cooper did practice better at guard in the previous four days. I felt like there were times during camp where quite frankly, he had his struggles. Some of those struggles were his own doing but others were from the players around him, especially when he wasn't running with the first unit. Cooper will have two more opportunities to prove that he can handle the job before the coaches have to make their final decision.
CB Duke Thomas – If Marquez White was the forgotten cornerback before training camp, I don't know how to describe Duke Thomas. With all the injuries to Cowboys cornerbacks, Thomas has taken advantage of the opportunity by not only practicing well during the week but also playing well during the games. Thomas has showed the ability to not only line up on the outside but he's also been able to play in the slot as well. With that kind of flexibility, he has made himself a valuable potential piece to this secondary. These coaches are looking for reliability and depth which Thomas has been able to provide. I believe it will come down to Thomas and White for that final cornerback spot.
RB Ronnie Hillman – There had to be a reason the Cowboys signed Hillman after undrafted rookie Jahad Thomas went down with an injury. Getting an established vet like Hillman was no accident and with Zeke facing some kind of suspension, the Cowboys wanted as many experienced bodies as they could find. But time is somewhat running out for Hillman to show what he can do. He's got some explosiveness in his game and he might be the best-catcher among the backs. He doesn't get a ton of chances to get involved but needs to make the most of his chances this week. With Rod Smith being a versatile special teams player, and McFadden and Morris having the experience of 1,000-yard seasons, this might a last shot for Hillman to distinguish himself.
S Jeff Heath – While I wouldn't call his training camp and preseason a disappointment at all, I think I was expecting a little more from Heath by now. That's not to say the coaches are in any way down on him. But I'm starting to see guys like Frazier and Woods insert themselves into the equation. As it stands now, there's really no reason the Cowboys wouldn't rotate their safeties, which isn't really a bad thing. One guy in favor of that would be special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who has called Heath one of his best special teamers he's ever coached. So a rotation would allow Heath to play more on teams. However, this is another opportunity – against a good offense – where Heath can showcase his skills and prove that he needs to be an every-down safety.
TE Geoff Swaim– Rico Gathers is an intriguing talent who has shown a lot of improvement in the last year. The Cowboys have another young player at tight end, Swaim, who has put together a solid camp. Swaim was known primarily as a blocker in college, but during practices in Oxnard you could see he's a good athlete who can get open as a receiver. Swaim was having a very good second season before he got hurt last November. Now he's healthy, and with Gathers in the concussion protocol this week, that could mean more snaps for Swaim on Saturday.
S Kavon Frazier – When it comes to the Cowboys' safety competition, sixth-round pick Xavier Woods rightfully has gotten a lot of attention over the last week after an outstanding game against the Rams. But Frazier, a sixth-round choice a year, somewhat quietly had a good camp. He picked off Kellen Moore in practice and also jarred a fumble loose against the Rams. Known as more of a box safety, he's been around the ball some, and he's a good special teams player. With Woods limited by a tight hamstring this week, Frazier could have more snaps to show his improvement on defense.
David HelmanRB Alfred Morris –I wrote earlier this week that I'd like to see Morris take the bulk of the carries while Ezekiel Elliott is suspended. It's too soon to say whether that's going to happen, but I think he'll get plenty of action on Saturday night. I expect Darren McFadden to start, but I assume he'll sit down after a couple of series. That should leave plenty of work for Morris, who seems to sit either third or fourth on the depth chart depending on the day. I'd like to see him have another nice outing, like he did against Arizona, to solidify his case for a bigger role when the regular season arrives.
DT Stephen Paea –I was excited to watch Paea against the Rams last weekend, only to discover that the Cowboys left him off the trip to Los Angeles so he could rest his knee. He returned to practice this past week and looked his usual dominant self, even getting the better of elite players like Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. I've been plenty impressed by what he can do against his teammates – I want to see what Paea can do against the Colts, who have shaky offensive line play. If he plays the way he practices, he should have quite an outing. I'm not going to be surprised if he's the Cowboys' starting nose tackle come Sept. 10.