SAN DIEGO – If there's a preseason game to watch, it's always the third one.
While few people care about preseason records, the third preseason game is referred to as the dress rehearsal, because it's typically the game the starters play the most. That should be no exception as the Cowboys get set to face the Dolphins on Saturday night in Miami.
The staff writers of DallasCowboys.com have selected one player from each side of the ball to evaluate throughout the game, followed by a review of their performances afterward.
Let's check out who the staff writers will be following closely in Thursday's game with the Chargers.
Doug Free: Going to keep a close eye on how Free plays against Cameron Wake the fine defensive end for the Dolphins. Should be an outstanding matchup for the reason that Wake will test Free technique wise. If Free is poor with his hands or with his feet, then you will be able to know very quickly. Wake is one of those players that attacks you from all different angles with his pass rush. Free has to be ready to deal with his ability to work hard up the field then dip back down inside. Wake does a really nice job of keeping the blocker off balance and not giving the same type of rush over and over. We will know very quickly how Free is doing in the first half of this game.
Will Smith: With all the injuries that this club has suffered at linebacker, it is going to be up to guys like Smith and Anthony Hitchens to grow up very quickly. I have always felt that in watching Smith play his college ball that he was a game day type of player. He is never going to look pretty in the way he plays but at the end of the day, you find him in on the play. The Miami contest will be an important game to see really how much confidence this coaching staff has in him. He played well in his limited snaps against the Ravens last week and that was not surprising. He has been working with the 2nd defensive group this week in preparation for this opportunity to show these coaches what he can do.
Tyler Clutts: I think this offense will be good with or without a fullback but if the mindset is to run the football more and possibly good enough to close out games, then a fullback might be more needed than it's been in the past. Clutts is the top fullback on the roster right now but that doesn't mean the Cowboys won't look to find another option on the waiver wire in the next few weeks. With perhaps a full half of the starters Saturday, this will be an option for Clutts to show his worth. There might not be a ton of chances for him, that's why he has to make the most of his inside blocks and the work he gets on special teams. We know what the skill guys can do but for Clutts to stick around, he has to show he can handle the dirty work inside.
Brandon Carr:He's one of the key defensive players we have yet to see so far. Not that I expect him to struggle, but just seeing what kind of football shape he's in will be a key. Carr hasn't missed a game in his entire career so it's expected he will be ready. More than that, the Cowboys need him to be really good. Carr struggled at times last year but they need him to be more like his 2012 version. With Mo Claiborne banged up and Scandrick to miss the first four games, Carr has to be at his best. Getting to that point starts Saturday night in Miami.
Tony Romo: Apart from a mishandled snap, there was nothing but rave reviews about Tony Romo's preseason debut last week – and deservedly so. He demonstrated an ability to get around in the pocket and the ability to throw the deep ball to Dez Bryant, both very encouraging signs. I'm interested to see if he can replicate those results, limit any timing issues on running plays. He stayed on his feet against the Ravens, which is a good thing, but it'd be interesting to see how he bounces back from a quarterback pressure or hit.
George Selvie: He's probably not discussed enough, given how vital role he'll play on this defense if it's to improve in 2014. He needs to repeat the results of a breakout 2013 season he'd never seen before in his career. The Cowboys need to generate pressure somewhere, and he could be the leader in that regard. Selvie's used to playing left end, but it sounds like they'll try to get him work at right end as well. I'm interested to see how handles a bigger workload and pressures the quarterback coming back from a groin injury. [embedded_ad]
Devin Street: Our guy Bryan Broaddus gave the rookie some love last week for his blocking against Baltimore. But the Cowboys didn't draft Street primarily for his blocking. Street has had a pretty solid camp, but it has yet to show up in either preseason game. When the starters eventually leave the field, I'd like to see him put up some numbers – most likely in the second half. We've seen some quality play out of him during training camp, but I'm not sure Street has done anything that genuinely qualifies as explosive.
J.J. Wilcox: The third preseason game is undoubtedly the best time to watch a starter, and Wilcox appears to have sewn up that starting job. I honestly expected it to at least be slightly more of a competition, but Wilcox assumed control on Day 1 and hasn't looked back. He's certainly had a memorable camp, whether it was that tussle with Dez Bryant or his big hit on Ray Rice last weekend. Wilcox taking a big step this season could be imperative for a defense that look like it will struggle. The Dolphins passing game should offer a quality test of his progress.