ARLINGTON, Texas – While this last preseason game usually doesn't have many of the starters or key players – at least not for long – there are some guys who will be trying to play their way onto the roster, either this one in Dallas or another team's 53-man roster or practice squad.
Like they've done in the three previous preseason games, the staff writers of DallasCowboys.com have each selected a player from both sides 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 Texans.
Darius Jackson – You know about Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar. Even if Darren McFadden begins the season on the Non-Football Injury list, the depth at running back is well documented. Factor in a fullback and the question becomes, can the Cowboys keep as many as five on the backfield depth chart? Darius Jackson has one more chance Thursday night to show the Cowboys they should. The sixth-round pick hasn't run much behind the starting offensive line, where the continuity has been better and the holes have been bigger. The Cowboys like his ability, but there are only so many numbers they can devote to one position. A solid contribution on special teams against the Texans would help Jackson's case, too.
Kavon Frazier – Another sixth-round pick who has established players in front of him in the defensive secondary. Barry Church and Byron Jones are the projected starters, and Jeff Heath is a valued special-teamer. J.J. Wilcox missed practice time this week with a neck strain. Could Frazier make a strong enough case Thursday night that the Cowboys bank on his potential and keep him on the 53? Like Heath, special teams is critical to Frazier's value.
Rod Smith -Darius Jackson is likely going to be the only running back getting carries in this ball game, which means there should be some opportunities for both Keith Smith and Rod Smith to do some work. Rod Smith has had a bit of a disappointing finish to training camp, as he was sidelined with an infection that kept him out of practice for more than a week. He appears to be back in good health, and I expect him to get some snaps – and hopefully some carries – against the Texans. The question is, is it too late for him to seize the fullback job? It seems like the odds are against him, but it's worth remembering that he's practice squad eligible. I like his odds to stick around – one way or another.
Dax Swanson -Who wouldn't want to watch Swanson return a few more punts? The guy has been sensational in the past two preseason games, and he should get several opportunities with Lucky Whitehead likely to sit out of the game. Swanson should also get some snaps at cornerback, but it's his special teams value that's interesting to me. Versatility is constantly harped on by the coaches, and any fringe player would do well to prove his worth in multiple spots. Playing largely against the Texans' reserves, Swanson should have an opportunity to do that from a variety of positions.
Andy Jones – Before the first preseason game, there were some followers of this team that thought Jones might be someone who wouldn't even be playing much in this last game, already having his spot locked up. That certainly hasn't been the case, although he's improved his play in each week of the preseason. Special teams has helped him get back on the radar after a tough Week 1 against the Rams that included a pair of drops. But in this game, Jones must excel as a receiver again and force the Cowboys to keep him, knowing another team might snag him onto their roster. And if he doesn't play much at all, then we'll know exactly what the Cowboys are trying to do with him.
David Irving – A groin injury sidelined him for the last two games and it was quite a setback for Irving, who might have had a chance to start Week 1 before that setback. What the Cowboys like about Irving is his ability to play both end and tackle, because of his size and quickness off the ball. Depending on how the Texans play this game with their starters, Irving should get a chance to make some plays. And because of the lack of depth the Cowboys have, coupled with his injuries and lack of playing time this preseason, Irving could start the game and go as long as the first half. This will be a big test for Irving to let the Cowboys know just how much he needs to be used in the team's eight-man rotation.
Jameill Showers - There was a period not too long ago where Jameill Showers was playing better than Dak Prescott. His ball had pace, it was on target and he was making decision quicker. Showers was playing himself into a position where he was clearly the best quarterback not named Tony Romo. Along the way, something happened to him where all the momentum that he was able to build left him as quickly as a Lucky Whitehead "Jet Sweep". Showers wasn't as good as he needed to be. Some of it was his own doing but you could also trace his troubles to the inability of his teammates to make plays for him. Showers wasn't as fortunate to get the same type of support that Prescott enjoyed. Dropped balls, missed blocks and untimely penalties were just part of the struggle. Jameill Showers should play the entire game against the Texans. With that in mind, he still has a chance to make this final 53 man roster. In my opinion, this is only going to happen if the front office is unable locate a quarterback that they feel has enough game experience to shuffle him to the practice squad.
Deji Olatoye - It appears that Deji Olatoye has survived the competition of Josh Thomas, Arjen Colquhoun and Jeremiah McKinnon to secure a spot on this club. Olatoye was able to do this by playing as one of the most consistent defenders in camp. Whereas others were struggling with their game, Olatoye was able to show up each and every practice. He was feisty, prepared and able to finish. Like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, he was able to make plays by getting his hands on passes. His length and range served him well when battling receivers in practice as well as the games. Olatoye was also able to show some position flexibility by lining up at safety for snaps and not looking out of place. I expect to see him start at corner in this final preseason game and to no one's surprise play well.