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Spagnola: Starting To Focus On The Youngsters


OXNARD, Calif. – With regards to the Dallas Cowboys offense at the line of scrimmage, "Here we go!"

That's right, after spending 19 days here in this lovely, temperature-controlled training camp just off the Pacific Coast, the Cowboys headed home on Friday for Preseason Game 1. That will be played at 4 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars before thankfully returning here to escape the triple-digit temperatures of North Texas for another week of training camp, likely using three more of their allotted 10 padded practices.

So far, this has been a relatively smooth training camp by Cowboys standards, save Zack Martin's contract-induced holdout, trying to leverage his Pro Bowl ability into a pay raise, and then a few mid-range injuries, including fifth-year offensive lineman Chuma Edoga being carted off the practice field with a knee injury.

No fights. Only one cut from the 90-man roster so far, that of kicker Tristan Vizcaino, leaving the kicking chores – for now – on the foot of raw rookie Brandon Aubrey, the former soccer player turned valuable USFL kicker for two seasons who turned into a "steady Eddie" this past week.

So with head coach Mike McCarthy seemingly committed to playing a whole bunch of his youngins in this preseason game – with very few starters scheduled to play while Jacksonville head coach Doug Pederson says he'll play his starters a series or two in the game – thought we'd give you some players to keep an eye on, complete with their jersey numbers to better allow you to follow along at home.

So yep, "Here we go."

No. 1 K Brandon Aubrey: Might as well start with the most obvious guy since he's now the only kicker on the roster even though he has only actually kicked a football for a few years after a professional soccer career. After a rough Saturday, converting six of 10 kicks, Aubrey nailed 26 of 29 attempts this week in practice. He will handle kickoffs, extra points and field goals in his first live NFL competition. Seems to have a strong leg and displayed consistency this week as well as a steady demeanor. Easy to follow this one.

No. 75 OG Josh Ball: With Martin having missed these first 19 days of training camp, consuming 14 practices, this third-year converted tackle to guard has been working with the first-team offense at right guard. "Definitely getting better," McCarthy says of the former 2021 fourth-round draft choice. Now we start to find out if better is good enough.

No. 58 DT Mazi Smith: The Cowboys first-round pick still has to earn his way, meaning earning game snaps. You will see him on the defensive front. He's a strong dude. Now he needs to be quicker off the ball. And his stamina must improve. Not only is "The Maz" trying to earn snaps, but he's also battling for a starting job up front. Will be great to see if not only he can hold his ground against the run, but also create some penetration to become more of a disruptive force.

No. 83 WR Jalen Brooks: Now this lengthy wide receiver from South Carolina has flashed repeatedly in practice. Seems to have the size and speed to separate and hands to create a wide catch radius. But that's in practice. They don't hit or tackle receivers in practice. They do in games. Let's see in his first NFL competition what he can do when the lights come on.

No. 18 WR Jalen Tolbert: If what we're watching here in practice is not deceiving, last year's third-round draft choice appears to be making that much sought after jump from Year One to Year Two. He is running more precise routes, getting open and, most importantly, not only catching the ball but making spectacular catches. Tolbert did some of this during last year's training camp but when the lights came on, he disappeared. The former South Alabama receiver seems better prepared to make a difference this year.

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