FRISCO, Texas – In just 18 days, the Dallas Cowboys will find themselves in Charlotte, N.C., opening the season against the Carolina Panthers, 3:25 p.m. (CT).
And if you think about it, there are not many practice sessions left. Two more this week, with a preseason game on Sunday. Likely one more next week, with the final preseason game on Thursday. A light run-and-lift session after that, trim the roster from 90 to 53 on Saturday, Sept. 1, sign a 10-man practice squad on Sunday, and it's time to labor on Labor Day for the first week of regular-season practice.
So time is running short for at least 37 guys on the current roster, the final two practices this week and the final two preseason games of utmost importance for a lot of these guys. Might be their last shot to make an impression.
For us, we've got a lot of shots left.
Defense For Real? So far, so very good for the Cowboys' defense in these first two preseason games. Here is the way to look at things: The first-team defense, as a whole, has played three quarters so far, one against San Francisco and two against Cincinnati. This defense has yet to give up a single point. In fact, the Cowboys have given up just 119 totals yards. Here is a quick three-quarter statistical breakdown:
Total yards: 119
Rushing Yards: 38
Passing Yards: 81
QB Rating: 41.8
QB Pressures: 7
Tackles For Loss: 11
Fumble Recoveries: 1
So, when it comes to this potential 2018 defense, you'd have to say the early signs are encouraging. More to come Sunday night against Arizona.
Line Moves: With the return and emergence of Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins in pads but yet to participate in a full padded practice and just not knowing when or if David Irving ever gets back into practice, the Cowboys are tinkering with their defensive front. While practicing in shells the past two days, Rod Marinelli has Gregory working with the first-team defense, not just on the nickel, but on the base defense, too. That then, has kicked Tyrone Crawford from right defensive end inside to defensive tackle, along with Antwaun Woods. Marinelli says he is just trying to get Gregory more looks and chances to read keys. As for Crawford moving inside, "He does anything he's asked, he's a leader . . . we're looking for guys inside." And as for what Crawford thinks? "That's what I do . . . does this surprise you," Crawford quipped. Nope, not at all.
Bease Alert: After missing the majority of the training camp practices with a strained groin, Cole Beasley was at least back in shells working into practice and some team sessions this week. That sure makes this wide receiver group look stronger. So, if you are counting numbers, at this point, not including the walking injured, the top receivers look like this: Terrance Williams, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup and Beasley. Lance Lenoir Jr. keeps pushing the pile, and none of this accounts for Tavon Austin (hamstring), Deonte Thompson (sore Achilles) and Noah Brown (hamstring strain) trying to get back from injuries.
AW: This might be the After Witten Era of Cowboys football, but they sure haven't shied away from working their two tight-offense. The top two tight ends are Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin. And Dak Prescott certainly hasn't shied away from throwing them the football, either. Swaim is more of the short threat. Jarwin will line up more in the slot and either go across the field or down the hash. Now another way for the Cowboys to compensate for not having Witten's annual 60-plus catch season is to throw the ball a little more to the fullback, now Jamize Olawale, and to running back Ezekiel Elliott.
O In KC: After spending 10 years with the Dallas Cowboys, but basically wanting out after seeing the young cornerback writing on the wall, Orlando Scandrick is now with his second team since the Cowboys designated him a June 1 release back in March. Scandrick showed up the other day in Kansas City, the Chiefs signing him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with no guaranteed money after being released by the Washington Redskins on Aug. 14. Scandrick walked away from the Redskins with his $1 million signing bonus, and now finds himself no more than the Chiefs' fourth corner on a prove-it contract. We'll see if he has anything left after the Redskins decided quickly he didn't. At his KC introductory press conference, Scandrick said, "This is like the first day of school every day for me. I spent 10 years in one locker room and kind of knowing everything that was coming. At this point, I'm just trying to soak up everything and learn how they do things around here so I can just fit in."
The New X: More and more second-year safety Xavier Woods was making an impression at free safety, showing his ability to play single-safety high and get to the boundary on deep throws, yet be a force underneath. That was before straining his hamstring almost making a diving interception against Cincinnati. Says Cowboys COO Stephen Jones, "He's an A (player), like a blue-type performer in training camp . . . breaking on the ball and doing the things we need in coverage." Might be a reason if the Cowboys don't make a panic move back there even if X misses the first game of the season.
Scattered Shots: See where tight end Rico Gathers is getting some upgraded snaps in practices of late, and don't be surprised if during these next two preseason games you see him getting a few snaps with the first offensive unit . . . Maybe not think of Sunday's game against Arizona as the "Dress Rehearsal," especially for the offense with the likelihood of center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin out nursing injuries. That means the offensive line would consist of backup center Joe Looney and two guards who have never taken a real NFL snap, second-round draft choice Connor Williams left and first-year Kadeem Edwards right. With 29 offensive snaps against Cincinnati, that just unknowingly might have been the "Dress Rehearsal" for the first-team unit . . . Don't get bent out of shape because the Cowboys gave Jeron Johnson No. 29. He's only started three games during his six seasons in the league, and has only appeared in four games over the past two seasons, none of those last year . . . RB Bo Scarbrough might be the Cowboys' seventh-round pick, and he did excel at Alabama, but darn it, there is something to this Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2016 if they are to keep three running backs on the 53.
That's enough shots for one week. But not to worry, there will be plenty more shots next Wednesday leading up to that, if you can believe this, final preseason game already.