SANTA CLARA, Calif.– While many more starters are expected to play in Sunday's preseason game with the 49ers, this game is still more about the individual evaluation.
The DallasCowboys.com staff highlights eight players worth watching closely at Sunday night from Levi's Stadium and will revisit these same players following the game.
Geoff Swaim: Backup tight end James Hanna is still recovering from a sprained knee, so the rookie Swaim should get plenty of playing time against the 49ers. The Cowboys could have taken their chances on signing Swaim after the draft, but they valued him on their board too much and actually traded a 2016 sixth-round pick to the 49ers to move back into the seventh round and grab the University of Texas tight end. Swaim was billed as a blocker, but his best asset might be his receiving skills. The question is, can he do enough to make the team as a fourth tight end behind Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar and Hanna? Would the Cowboys keep four instead of a fullback? May depend on what Swaim continues to show in preseason.
Damien Wilson:On Friday, Jerry Jones noted how many rookies have a chance to make an impact on this year's Cowboys team. Wilson was among the names Jones mentioned. The fourth-round pick delivered a big hit in last week's preseason opener and has drawn praise from the coaching staff for his progression in the defense. A little like Anthony Hitchens did last year as a fourth-round pick, Wilson has worked at multiple positions where needed, and he spent time with the first unit this past week. His versatility is an asset. What could he do with more playing time Sunday?
David Porter: The TCU guy has done nothing but impress since he got here, so I'm pretty intrigued to see what he can do in a game situation. The natural assumption is that Dez won't play, and I'd guess Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley will be limited – if they play at all. That leaves plenty of touches for the younger receivers. Lucky Whitehead and Nick Harwell have been the best of the young guys, but I don't think the gap is that big. Porter can make a lot of noise with a good night.
Danny McCray: If McCray makes this team, it's going to be primarily for his skills as a special teamer. The problem for me is that the numbers don't seem to work out. You've got J.J. Wilcox, Barry Church, Byron Jones and Corey White as safety candidates. You've also got Jeff Heath, who fills a role at backup safety and core special teamer. Where does that leave McCray? I'm not sure the numbers are in his favor. So I think it's worth watching him in the latter stages of the game, to see what he can bring to a table. He's an experienced player, and I don't think it'd be smart to write him off.
Darrion Weems:Everyone who saw the game last Thursday night knows Weems has to perform better and be more consistent if he's going to be the Cowboys' swing tackle this year. He had some plays where he struggled but he also made a few nice blocks as well. Again, this guy has never played in a regular-season game before and he missed all of last year due to injury. He's got some rust that has to be knocked off but the Cowboys need to see more out of him. If he struggles Sunday night, this team might have to rethink the positon of La'el Collins, who has played tackle before but currently works at guard. The Cowboys aren't giving up on Weems for sure but they'd like for him to turn that corner fairly soon.
Davon Coleman: Coming into camp, my "pet cat" was Ken Bishop, who is probably the biggest competition for Coleman for one of the final spots on the D-line. But so far in camp, Coleman has been slightly better. He's taking advantage of injuries to both Nick Hayden and Terrell McClain, not to mention a few setbacks to Tyrone Crawford. Coleman has the ability to play both the 1- and 3-technique in this scheme, which always helps when it's time to trim the roster. In this game, I want to see if Coleman can get some reps against quality starters for the 49ers and just how he fares against top-notch players. He's a guy who likes to laugh and smile and seems to enjoy training camp. But he doesn't mind mixing it up as well. Let's see how he performs on the big stage Sunday night.
Lance Dunbar: It was a productive week on the practice field for Dunbar after returning to action from injuring his ankle. His explosiveness was back as well as his cutting ability, which is the strength of his game. There were snaps during practice where he was featured out of the backfield as a wide receiver, and I am interested to observe if this continues to be the plan for him in this offense. With the injury to Joseph Randle, I expect that we should get an extended view of his work against the 49ers in both areas.
Ryan Russell:I didn't feel like Russell was as good against the Rams in the joint practices last week as he was against the Chargers in the preseason game. There is a side of me that believes Russell is on the bubble for a spot in this defensive line rotation. I am sure that the front office and coaching staff are looking for more consistency in the way he is playing. There have been times where he has flashed, both as an end and defensive tackle, but in the scouting world that's not enough. Russell will get plenty of chances to prove he belongs Sunday night.