ARLINGTON, Texas – Tonight's preseason game against the Vikings will have a different look for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it's the Cowboys' first game of the season at AT&T Stadium after two preseason road trips.
More importantly, it's also the so-called "dress rehearsal game" before the start of the regular season. For at least a quarter or two, this is as close as the Cowboys are going to look to the real deal until Sept. 13 when they open the season against the Giants.
With that in mind, the staff of DallasCowboys.com has highlighted eight players worth watching tonight, as the team inches closer to final cuts. We'll re-visit the picks Saturday night after the game.
Joseph Randle – While I'm not the only one who will be watching this guy and this position, there are some specific parts of his game that need to be addressed. For starters, his pass protection has been questioned throughout his camp and his holding penalty last week against the 49ers only heightened the issue. But toughness isn't the problem with Randle because we've seen it too many times on special teams and as a runner that he isn't' afraid of contact. Randle's ability to follow his blockers and make the most of the play, regardless of space, will go a long way in this team figuring out the starting tailback come Sept. 13.
Tyler Patmon – All eyes will be on him, especially in the nickel defense when they put Patmon inside in the slot. Can he handle it? We're about to find out, obviously. But for the record, I had never heard of him when he was on the tryout roster for the 2014 mincamp, but he made the roster and went to camp. And I probably gave him no shot to make the team then. And I probably wouldn't have sided with him had I know he was going to fight Dez in practice and later a host of Rams in the middle of a brawl. My point is that Patmon just finds a way to succeed. Something tells me he's about to do the same.
A.J. Jenkins: The 49ers' former first-round pick was among the best stories of camp over the final two weeks in Oxnard. Jenkins was quiet early but came on late, routinely making difficult catches in practice and his return to San Francisco in the second preseason game. Maybe undrafted rookie David Porter's arrival and quick impact midway through camp was a motivator for Jenkins. Regardless, he has a chance to make the 53-man roster, and he should get plenty of playing time Saturday with Devin Street (ankle) and Porter (groin) injured and the Cowboys taking a deliberate approach with Dez Bryant in his return from a hamstring strain.
Sean Lee:The Cowboys have also had a plan for working Lee back into full-go mode following last year's ACL injury. How much time will he get Saturday? Lee will take any rep he can get. No doubt the team captain has been itching to play, but he understands the team's approach. With several other defensive starters held out of the first two preseason games, the dress rehearsal game would give Lee an opportunity to work with a larger complement of starters. He's expected to start the season on the weak side (Will), a high-production position in Rod Marinelli's defense because he'll be chasing plays more than taking on blockers.
Darren McFadden:I hope this glimpse of McFadden is a longer one than we got last weekend in San Francisco. He got the start, but he carried the ball just three times on the night. With the Cowboys' starters expected to play at least until halftime, hopefully we get a better idea of what McFadden is capable of – and not just as a runner. At the team's practices in Oxnard, we saw him get plenty of looks as a receiver, and he looked impressive. This would be a great opportunity for him to show us what all he can do before the start of the regular season.
Morris Claiborne:I probably would have picked Mo regardless, because I'm incredibly curious to see him get some game reps after a nine-month injury absence. But after the loss of Orlando Scandrick for the entire season, this selection takes on added significance. Claiborne is the first man up at the right cornerback spot, across the field from Brandon Carr, with Scandrick out. He's played that position before, and it hasn't always gone well. This will be a great opportunity for him to show us just how game-ready he is – and how effective he can be. In a perfect world, the No. 6 pick will be able to shoulder the load. He can start proving he's up to the task tonight.
Travis Frederick: I have to admit that I really wasn't sure what kind of follow up to his Pro Bowl season that Travis Frederick was going to have. As well as he played in 2014, he has come into to this campaign even better. He has always been given credit for his smarts and toughness, but now we are beginning to see his athletic ability and technique take center stage. His consistency throughout this training camp has been quite impressive. There are blocks that he is now executing that, two seasons ago, I do not believe he would have been able to make. Where there has been shuffling throughout this offensive line due to injury, Frederick has been rock solid in the middle and he will have my attention against the Vikings.
Ken Bishop: I tend to go back and forth on whether Ken Bishop can really make this roster. To his credit, he has taken what he was able to show last season and bring it into this one. There are some physical limitations to his game, but that has not stopped him from making plays -- not only in practices, but the games as well. Where Bishop is in a rough spot is that he is likely battling Davon Coleman for that final backup spot in the rotation and Coleman has been outstanding. Where Bishop has a chance is if Terrell McClain is unable to show that he has his roster spot locked down, and there are those that believe that might not be a given. I expect to see Bishop continue to play hard and see where the chips might fall.