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Final Thoughts: Big First Test For The Defense


FRISCO, Texas – It's about time.

We've been through 43 days to get to this point. Watching training camp practices, breaking down this team, studying preseason games and making our best guesses. It has all been speculation leading to this, our final preview of the Dallas Cowboys heading into the season opener.

The 2018 season will take shape from this point on, one way or another. But it is finally time to sit down and watch this team play a football game. We aren't going to learn everything about them in one afternoon, but it's a better alternative than continuing to fruitlessly speculate.

So before we get to Sunday, here are my final thoughts on this Week 1 matchup between Carolina and Dallas:

· I don't have much concern about the health of Chidobe Awuzie and Kavon Frazier for this contest. Both were listed as questionable all week for practice, but I think they were able to get enough work to allow them both to play at a high level.

· I'd expect that we will see the Cowboys dress six receivers for this game and give all of them key roles in the game plan. The one I am most interested to see is Tavon Austin. There were days with the Los Angeles Rams where they had a specific game plan for him each week. I could see Scott Linehan with the same approach, but I also believe we will see him with some true receiver snaps.

· Look for Tyrone Crawford to fill a couple of different spots along the defensive line against the Panthers. When Crawford does move inside, the natural thought is that Randy Gregory is the logical replacement. On nickel situations I feel that will be the case, but let's also remember how much these coaches like to rotate their ends -- which means that we could see Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong getting some snaps there in order to keep Gregory fresh. The last thing they want to do is wear Gregory down.

· I have been hearing that Leighton Vander Esch has practiced well this week, and what earlier appeared to be an inactive situation for Week 1 means that he will play some significant snaps. Vander Esch has shown the ability to play all three of the linebacker positions, and he can be a cover man in nickel packages. In facing Carolina, they will need as many bodies as they can in the front seven -- not only to deal with Christian McCaffrey but Cam Newton, as well.

·  In the past, Rod Marinelli has liked to roll his safeties throughout a game. With that being said, I am not sure how much he is going to pull Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier off the field to replace them with Tyree Robinson and Ibraheim Campbell. Where Marinelli might be in a bind with Heath and Frazier is that both play on the majority of all special teams units. Given that this is an early season game, they might not be ready for that type of workload where they're playing the entire game. We need to keep an eye on how that develops throughout the game.

· I have always felt that Ezekiel Elliott is an outstanding one-back runner who doesn't need a fullback to clear space. Elliott is capable of making the first man miss in the hole, so the need for a lead blocker wasn't necessary. If Travis Frederick was suiting up for this game, I don't think a fullback is necessary, but with the way that Luke Kuechly flows to the ball, getting a blocker on him quickly could help the running game. Jamize Olawale got some work during training camp so Elliott should be comfortable with him if they choose to go that route.

· I have a feeling that, with Kadeem Edwards back on the roster, that means newly-signed Adam Redmond will likely be inactive. Edwards knows the offense better, and if he was forced to play could function better than Redmond from a knowledge standpoint. With Redmond down, it brings up an interesting question. Who would be the backup center if something were to happen to Joe Looney? I think the answer would be Zack Martin with Edwards sliding into his guard spot. Martin doesn't get many snaps there during practice, but he could play in this situation.

· My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mike White, S Xavier Woods, DT Datone Jones, LB Chris Covington, C Adam Redmond, C Travis Frederick, TE Rico Gathers.