SAN DIEGO – Let's start this whole thing with a couple of reminders.
First, it's still August.
Secondly, the Cowboys showed us last year what a preseason can mean. They not only went 0-4 last year but were dominated most of the preseason. They ended up with the same amount of regular-season losses with a 12-4 record.
So anything you saw Thursday night that looked good or bad, maybe needs to be taken loosely.
But, it's a game. They kept score. So let's talk about it.
While the Cowboys lost 17-7 in a game that was just as sloppy as anything else, I'll focus on a few positive things. What I took out of this game was how a few guys just rose their level of play when the lights came on. And they particularly stood out because during the last two weeks out in Oxnard, they've shown basically nothing.
Again, I feel like I have to qualify everything with, "it's just one game," but let's focus on four guys who played better Thursday night than anything we saw since camp began.
For me, it starts with Devin Street. Other than one catch in the end zone, in which he injured his ankle, the second-year receiver has had a quiet camp. But he made some noise Thursday night in a big way, catching a pair of key third-down passes over the middle. He showed some toughness, not only to get off the line, but also after the catch to grind out a few more yards.
Maybe his best play occurred after a 20-yard reception when he sealed the right side with a key block to spring Gus Johnson for a few more yards. Don't forget Street played in all 16 games last year, meaning his role as a blocker is probably bigger than we anticipated. Personally, I like this kid. He's going to be good because he's got the right attitude and with his body frame, he'll only get stronger and better.
Another guy who looked his best Thursday night was Dustin Vaughan. And let's be honest, it was far from perfect. But it started with me on his first possession of the game. He got flushed out to the right and scrambled around to complete a pass to Gavin Escobar. But into the second quarter, Vaughan did a nice job of staying in the pocket, using his height to his advantage, and finding the open receivers. Now he did miss one just before halftime when he threw to the wrong guy, missing Street to his left. But overall, he showed some of the improvement that the coaching staff has been saying about Vaughan this offseason.
"I thought he handled the duress of the game and kept his poise," Jason Garrett said of Vaughan. "He moved around in the pocket and just playing when it's real life. It was nice to see him respond as well as he did."
Does Vaughan automatically win the job over Showers? Definitely not. Better question is there even a third QB job to win? Still, good first game for Vaughan.
Let's move on to the defensive side. All eyes were on Greg Hardy, the guy with huge expectations. So far in camp he had been rather so-so. Maybe that happens when you face Tyron Smith daily.
But in this game, you could see the power he plays with. Hardy has brute strength and can simply power his way into the backfield. Now, he wasn't Reggie White or anything. No sacks or tackles for loss, but he got some pressure.
Now sometimes, defensive ends can get exposed with a strong rush up the field and that happened to Hardy on the Chargers' first touchdown when Danny Woodhead gashed the left side of the line that Hardy created.
Overall, I think it was a good start for Hardy. If you can simply bull-rush a left tackle into the backfield, good things will happen. Let's not forget this is his first game since Week 1 of last year, so the rust is still there.
And lastly, the guy I liked was Corey White, the cornerback who gets overshadowed because of names like Byron Jones and Mo Claiborne, not to mention the two starters Scandrick and Carr. But with three of those guys out with injury, White played a lot and made some plays.
He nearly came up with two interceptions where he was fighting for the ball. If not for the NFL's consistent inconsistency in the way they refuse to call offensive PI, White might have gotten a call over the middle when he was in possession to get a pick. But he had two other good plays on each sideline – one of which was overruled and the Chargers got a reception after it appeared White pushed the receiver out of bounds.
Still, White was an active cornerback that seems like a player that definitely needs to make this roster, especially when you look at the injury history of some of these cornerbacks.
So all in all, it's still early. Nothing was perfect by any means.
But with Street, Vaughan, Hardy and White, that's four players who gave their best effort of training camp. And it just so happened to occur when the bright lights came on.