OAKLAND -The Cowboys have already practiced in pads nine times, including the Blue-White Scrimmage eight days ago, but the bullets are only live beginning tonight, when the preseason kicks off.
With so many jobs on the line, these four games are truly more than exhibitions, but a showcase for players young and old trying to prove they belong on the team. Young players who stand out have a great shot of sticking around, while anyone not pulling their weight could be let go.
After the Monday Night Football matchup in Oakland, the Cowboys will resume training camp in Oxnard, Calif. on Tuesday, then wrap up camp and head to San Diego for another game Saturday. They'll practice twice with the Chargers before returning to Texas for the dress rehearsal game against St. Louis on Aug. 25, when starters are expected to play at least to halftime, and the preseason finale against the Dolphins, Aug. 29 at Cowboys Stadium.
With so much sure to unfold in such a short period of time, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at what to expect over the next 16 days.
What To Look For With The First Team Offense:
Nick:You have to wonder how the center spot is going to look with David Arkin taking snaps for the first time in his life. The center controls it out so if there are problems there, it won't look too pretty Monday night.
Rowan:The two biggest questions revolve around an injured offensive line and a competition for an open third wide receiver spot. The success of the offense depends more on the former, which will have to find the right first-team combination in limited time.
Josh:I just think the offensive line as a whole is the most intriguing. Four out of the five positions (and all five for Monday, at least) will be filled by different guys than last year. That's almost half the offense. How will they fare?
Bryan:I will be interested to see how Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray function behind this offensive line. Romo has done a really nice job getting rid of the ball quickly in camp, and Murray has shown a combination of speed and power which might go a long way toward helping this line get off to a good start.
What To Look For With The First-Team Defense:
Nick:Again, injuries are hampering the defensive line and pass rush. I'm anxious to see how Brandon Carr will look in his first game. Maybe a few seconds more in coverage will help that pass rush immensely.
Rowan:Barry Church. The third-year Cowboy is on the fast track to become a first-year starter at a position that's been lacking the last few years after a strong offseason that forced out veteran Brodney Pool.
Josh:For all the things this team did to fix the secondary, I think inside linebacker is also an area that had a lot of room to improve. Let's see how Bruce Carter and/or Dan Connor play.
Bryan:Is Victor Butler more than just a one down player? I want to see him on first and second down making plays. I want to see if Barry Church is, in fact, the player that we have seen in training camp. And who gets a better jump on the job, Bruce Carter or Dan Connor? I have Carter a little ahead now.
Rookie To Watch:
Nick:Hard not to look at Beasley, but also focus on guard Ron Leary, who will get plenty of snaps at guard. Leary has a chance to compete for a job, either as a backup or a possible starter.
Rowan:Cole Beasley. The 5-8 undrafted rookie's story is intriguing enough, from leaving the team to potential starting third wide receiver within a week.
Josh:He won't play against the Raiders, but we'll get to see plenty of Morris Claiborne along the way these next couple weeks. The Cowboys need him to be more than just solid. They need him to be a playmaker. Let's see if he can at least be solid during preseason, though.
Bryan:Would love to see Claiborne, but I am going to go with tight end James Hanna. With John Phillips nicked up, Hanna is going to get plenty of work with the first group in the "12" personnel group. He has played much better in camp than his college film, so I really want to see how much he can contributed on offense, but special teams as well.
Veteran On The Bubble:
Nick:While I still think of him as a young guy, quarterback Stephen McGee is entering his fourth season. He's definitely on the bubble because he's not only competing with Rudy Carpenter for a No. 3 spot, the Cowboys may not even keep more than two on the final roster.
Rowan:Marcus Spears. The Cowboys are deep on the defensive line, and Spears, who's started 12 games the last two seasons, could be the last man out.
Josh:Kevin Ogletree has to show in these games that he can get open and make plays. That's all there is to it. If he doesn't make much happen, the Cowboys will go with a young guy as their No. 3, or bring in an outsider.
Bryan:It is Stephen McGee. There are too many positions where this team might go heavy, and McGee has a roster spot that the front office might need. With Kyle Orton here now, there is no reason to carry three quarterbacks on the roster.
Nick:So far it has been Dez Bryant. He's been outstanding on the field and seemingly put the off-the-field issues on the backburner while he's at practice. Staying healthy is always the big key with him.
Rowan:Tyrone Crawford. The third-round defensive end returned from a calf injury and has the burst on the outside to be a difference-maker.
Josh:With the interior of the offensive line looking like a mash unit right now, it's even more imperative that Tyron Smith play well on Tony Romo's blind side. If the Cowboys get out of the preseason without anything happening to their star quarterback, Smith deserves a very knowing nod.
Bryan:If you are talking about just practice, it's Dez Bryant. But if you are going to base it off the number of snaps to be played in four preseason games, my guess is going to be linebacker Orie Lemon or running back Jamize Olawale. I have a feeling that these two guys will show up big in the second half of games when the threes and fours are going at it. They have been productive in this training camp so far.