LOS ANGELES – Time for a second go-around.
The Cowboys are making the short trip from their camp in Oxnard, Calif., to the Los Angeles Coliseum, where they'll face the L.A. Rams for the second preseason in a row.
Last year, this game gave football fans a first glimpse of Dak Prescott, who made the most of extended playing time in one of the most memorable preseason performances in recent memory.
Once again, as we get set for kick off, the staff of DallasCowboys.com has a new batch of players they'll be watching during this pivotal audition for the final roster.
RB Rod Smith -- Smith is one of my favorite players to watch in camp because of his running style: powerful, explosive and decisive. He was making a strong case for a roster spot even before Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, and now he has a clear path to make the team with Elliott heading to the Reserve/Suspended list at the end of preseason. Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris are most likely to share carries when the season starts, but Smith has four exhibition games left to show he should be part of that rotation.
LB Mark Nzeocha -- Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith were held out of the Hall of Fame Game, and it's unlikely either will get much playing time, if any, Saturday. That should mean more reps for Nzeocha, primarily a backup middle linebacker with the versatility to play the strong side, too. Nzeocha is an interesting player because he can cover a lot of ground for a 240-pounder. He was playing well in last year's preseason game against the Rams until he strained his Achilles' tendon. Let's see what he can do with potentially a lot of snaps.
RB Ronnie Hillman -- After some brief action against the Cardinals last week, Hillman will likely be receiving a more extensive look against the Rams. Where he has shown up the most is during those one-on-one periods against the linebackers and when Jason Garrett calls him out for Compete Period. His running style is more like Ezekiel Elliott than the other backs on the roster due to his quickness. There is a noticeable difference with the ball in his hands, which is why the pro personnel department brought him to camp. As a veteran player, his path to making the club will have to be as that loose play guy, similar to what they had with Lance Dunbar – a guy that can also contribute on all special teams. With the running back depth chart a little muddy to start the season, how well he plays in these types of situations will determine his fate.
CB Sammy Seamster – He is in the group of the "last man standing." One of the few cornerbacks on the roster that is healthy enough to play. Should come into the game after Orlando Scandrick and Nolan Carroll depart. He has not been disappointing at all when given the opportunity. His length has served him well in these practices, and he has shown the ability to read routes and put himself in position to defend passes. Very competitive in the way he goes about his job. Short memory when things don't go as well. Seamster is in a battle with Marquez White and Leon McFadden for that final spot on the roster at cornerback. He needs to continue to be consistent with his play and not let it fall off badly in these games
David HelmanOG Nate Theaker –We've spent a ton of space dissecting the starting left guard job – and for good reason. But while the coaching staff sorts out the top of the depth chart, I want to take a closer look at some of these young guys. Theaker was considered by many to be the best undrafted free agent the Cowboys signed this year, coming out of unheralded Wayne State in Detroit. He has been solid during training camp, but the odds are against him to make the 53-man roster simply because of how deep the position group is. That said, I love his odds to make the practice squad – or to get picked up by another team at some point. It's unlikely the big names play a lot tonight, so this game will be another big opportunity to make an impression. I think he's up to the challenge.
DT Woody Baron –Perhaps the most forgotten man on the roster. There's a lot of chatter about his linemate, Lewis Neal, who has made a favorable impression in camp so far. But Baron hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's basically a guarantee that Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton and Stephen Paea make this roster. But if the Cowboys are going to carry a fourth defensive tackle, it's a mystery who it'll be. Neal has flashed, and the two seventh-round draft picks have been solid. I want to see if Baron can make some noise in that competition with a good game tonight.
WR Andy Jones – There seems to be a natural competition forming between Jones and Noah Brown. The way it's shaping up, both players appear to be vying for the final spot, and that's if they keep six receivers. Of course, there are still four games to play and both players will likely be in all of them. Jones had a great start to camp last year, but it was in Los Angeles where he struggled a bit and didn't continue to shine like he did in practice. This year, he's been good again so I'm anxious to see if he can turn the corner when the bright lights come on.
DT Lewis Neal – A few weeks ago, no one would've really given this guy much of a chance to make the team, and it's still a long shot. But because of the suspensions and injuries across the line, someone we didn't think would make this team is probably going to be on it – at least when the season starts. Maybe it could be Neal, who has a leg up on some of the other guys because of his position flex. He's been playing end and tackle and he's one of those high-motor guys who could easily flash in the game and get a sack or two and some tackles for loss.