IRVING, Texas – If any seasoned players take the field tonight for the preseason finale, it's not going to be for long.
The fourth preseason game is all about finalizing the final roster and testing the younger players. Tonight is the time to shine for the guys who have struggled to find playing time earlier in the month.
That's why there aren't any big names among our staff picks for players to watch tonight – there's no need. Instead, here are our picks of eight guys who could make a serious bid for a roster spot with a good showing against Houston.
Geoff Swaim –Here's one of the few guys that will actually be playing for a spot on the 53-man roster. A lot of these guys have either made it or really don't have the chance to sneak in. But Swaim is a bubble guy that has to convince the Cowboys to go long at the position. Maybe keeping just two quarterbacks will help, or the fact the Cowboys have just five receivers expected to make it. Either way, Swaim has to perform at a high level against the Texans. And he'll definitely get plenty of chances considering he's the only available tight end to play after Gavin Escobar, who isn't expected to be in for long, if at all.
Ryan Russell –I went with another draft pick who seems to be on the inside of this bubble. But if he struggles against Houston, and better yet, is outperformed by Ben Gardner, things might change for Russell. Now he's come a long way from the guy routinely yelled at by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. And it's not that Russell has stopped hearing it from the coaches, but he started to make a little noise with his play. Russell hasn't just responded with a few plays here and there, but shows his positon flex with the ability to slide inside to tackle. I think Russell will make the team but getting activated each week might be tough. A good performance in this game might be the difference in dressing on game days, at least in the first four weeks with Greg Hardy suspended.
Jameill Showers: The undrafted UTEP quarterback has been one of the best stories of training camp and preseason in a unique dual role of passer/special-teamer. As the fourth quarterback in preseason, Showers has completed 15 of 32 attempts for 125 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Will the Cowboys keep a developmental third quarterback, Showers or Dustin Vaughan, on the 53-man roster behind Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden? Thursday's their last audition. The better question for 2015 might be whether Showers can convince the coaches he can help the special teams on game days (he has a team-best three tackles through three preseason games) and be a solid scout-team quarterback in practice during the regular season.
Keith Smith:Re-signed to the roster following a workout in training camp, Smith should be in consideration for one of the final linebacker spots. He was all over the field in the second preseason game at San Francisco (five tackles, two for loss) and he has eight tackles in three games, including two for loss against the 49ers. The Cowboys have tried him at multiple linebacker positions to gauge his versatility. Smith also ranks second in special teams tackles (2) and that's likely the first way he'd get playing time in the regular season if he makes the team.
Shane McDermott: McDermott is likely going to find himself on the practice squad after having a nice training camp. When he has taken snaps, his play has been better than expected after being signed as an undrafted free agent. In looking into his future there are some solid traits to his game that can be worked with. He does show the ability to play on his feet and with leverage. I believe that he needs to develop more power and strength, but in due time that can be done. I could see him taking that same route that we have seen from a player such as Ronald Leary: get plenty of snaps on scout teams working against quality defenders, then make that push for a real roster spot later in the season or into the following year. McDermott has the ability to work at a couple of different spots, which makes him an asset.
Lavar Edwards: I have Edwards on my final 53-man roster. My reasoning is that I have felt like he has out played the others that he has been competing with. He has been far more consistent as a pass rusher in those situations, and the fact that he can rush from either side makes him valuable as well. He is also a different player than what we saw last season when he was on and off the roster. There is more consistency to his game and that is just not against the pass. Edwards has become a better finisher and when you compare him to the other defensive linemen that are going to make this squad, he is right there.
David HelmanGus Johnson:I think Gus is going to wind up playing a part for the Cowboys this fall – just not on the 53-man roster. There's bound to be a practice squad spot for a running back, which leaves Johnson and Ben Malena as the primary competitors. You've got to assume the primary trio of Joe Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar is going to sit tonight, so that leaves plenty of opportunities for these two. Johnson has had a solid camp, and this is one last opportunity for him to earn a place.
Ben Gardner:Earlier in the article, Nick picked Ryan Russell and Broaddus picked Edwards. So I'm going to the other side of that position battle in Gardner. It's been an up-and-down camp for the second-year defensive end. We've seen some serious flashes, such as the San Francisco game, but we've also seen him struggle to find consistency. I think he and Edwards might be two of the last guys fighting for a spot on the 53, so anything Gardner can show against the Texans could be huge for him. It's also worth pointing out that he's practice squad eligible, so he can also state his case for one of those 10 spots.