SAN DIEGO– The preseason opener always has it shares of good and bad, especially since many of the starters are either held out or get limited reps.
While the Cowboys fell to the Chargers, 17-7, several players stood out for several reasons.
Before the game, staff writers of DallasCowboys.com picked two players each to watch throughout the game.
Here is the review following Thursday's game at Qualcomm Stadium.
Randy Gregory:The second-round pick made his NFL debut in the second quarter after the Cowboys' defensive regulars finished their night. Gregory also started the second half and flashed the quick first step that made him an elite rusher at Nebraska. More than once he pressured the quarterback around the edge and forced a quick throw. Finally, late in the third quarter, he used the "heavy hands" head coach Jason Garrett referenced in training camp to beat his blocker inside for a sack on Brad Sorensen as the pocket collapsed. Gregory finished with two tackles, one tackle for loss and one sack.
Lucky Whitehead:The rookie's performance was a microcosm of the Cowboys' night: some good, some not so good. Whitehead had one catch for two yards on offense and a combined 61 yards on three kick and punt returns, flashing the dynamic quickness that could earn him a backup wideout/returner role. But he also fumbled a punt return in the second quarter after a 19-yard gain, which flipped field position in the Chargers' favor. San Diego scored a touchdown on its next drive.
Devin Street:I was hoping for big things for Devin Street in his preseason debut, and I think it's fair to say I got them. It's only the preseason, but it was an incredibly positive showing for the second-year wide out. Street was targeted four times on Thursday after being targeted just seven times all of last season. Of those four targets, he hauled in three catchers for 45 yards, all of them in the first two quarters. They were nice catches, too. The first was a four-yard, extended effort on the sideline. Catches No. 2 and No. 3 came in traffic, in the middle of the field, for gains of 20 and 21. Not a bad way to start his sophomore campaign.
Byron Jones:We knew Byron would get a lot of work to open his career, and he certainly did. After being victimized by Keenan Allen on the first pass thrown his way, Jones rebounded to play some solid coverage. More noticeable than that was his physicality. Jones wasn't afraid to stick his hat into the mix, as he tied for the team lead with five tackles on the night. It wasn't a flashy effort, but Jones said he felt calm and comfortable in his debut – and he looked like it.
Gus Johnson: The Cowboys planned on giving the bulk of the carries to Johnson Thursday night. And had it not been for a shoulder injury, he might have played the entire game. Overall, the rookie from Stephen F. Austin looked pretty solid out there. What I liked the most was his ability to cut back into the line. That's a play that was so effective from DeMarco Murray last year and even though Johnson is a bulkier back, he has the vision and quick feet that all backs needs. At the goal line, he showed the power as well, carrying a few defenders into the end zone. While there's a perception that all backs can run behind this line, don't forget that only the interior starters played the first series and were pulled. So Johnson did enough to earn some credit. His injury is an AC joint separation although Johnson said he's fine and doesn't expect to miss any time.
Greg Hardy: I thought he was pretty good in his first appearance. I'm sure people are expecting sacks and tackles for loss with every snap, and fortunately for the Cowboys, that will start to happen more frequently. But I saw some straight power out of Hardy. We always talk about pass-rush moves, but sometimes the best one is the straight bull-rush, assuming you've got the strength to do it. Hardy used that power-move a few times on San Diego left tackle King Dunlap and it worked. He drove Dunlap backwards several times. Now he did get up the field too far on one play, allowing the Chargers to gash him for a touchdown run. So it wasn't perfect by any means, but you wouldn't expect that from a guy who hasn't played in nearly a year.
Dustin Vaughan: To be honest I was little surprised in the way that he played against the Chargers. Not so much the physical side with the throws that he was able to make but how he played on the mental side. I thought he showed pocket awareness and poise when handling the Chargers rush in his ability to move and buy himself a chance to work the ball down the field. His clutch third down throw to Devin Street was a great example of his ability to hang in there all while keeping his eyes down the field and delivering a perfect ball. I also thought he did a much better job of not holding onto the ball and getting it out of his hand quickly instead of what we have seen in practice where he tends to struggle in this area.
Damien Wilson: The one word that comes to mind when describing Wilson's game against the Chargers was - active. He has always had a nose for the ball and he continued to show that trait the more he played. I thought the Chargers offensive line struggled to handle him consistently when he was on the move. There were also several snaps where he was able to make plays at the point of attack by extending on blockers and working to put himself in position to make plays. If there is a fault to Wilson's game it might be that he will be too aggressive chasing the ball and will over run the play. He will see the tape and with more practice and game snaps will be able to correct himself in those situations.