SAN DIEGO – Regardless if it counts in the history books, or even how long the starters will play, Thursday night will signify one simple fact that should please fans all over the country and world: football is back.
The Cowboys will strap up the helmets, lace up the shoes and put on the shoulder pads for the preseason opener against the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff (PDT).
As usual, the starters likely won't go more than a series or two and don't expect all of the first-teamers to even play. Tony Romo has been managing the back injury all summer and won't play Thursday, meaning Brandon Weeden gets the start.
Weeden is one of many players the Cowboys are anxious to see, but with this first game, there are dozens of players that will be intriguing to watch.
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 Chargers.
Ryan Williams: The former second-round pick has talked throughout camp about how he wasn't hurt last year and Arizona failed to give him chances. He's also talked about how he just needs opportunities during the preseason to show he's still the guy multiple teams were interested in during the 2011 draft, and this is his opportunity to do it. He's come a long way from a serious knee injury, but he needs to show some unique qualities to make the squad as the team's third back.
Terrance Mitchell: Coaches have talked about how Mitchell will jump back into drills to get more reps, even when he's not supposed to. Well, this time it'll be necessary for him to keep jumping in. The Cowboys only have a few healthy corners on the roster against San Diego. He's been the most physical and bothersome corner to the receivers this camp and has game-changing potential. Everyone's waiting to see if he can be that same guy to his opponents while maintaining the correct position and not drawing flags.
Gavin Escobar: Jason Witten isn't likely to play much, if at all. With that in mind, Escobar is on top of the tight end depth chart, and he's one of the offensive contributors with the most eyes on him. Do the Cowboys plan on using him extensively this early in the season? And which parts of the field will we see him? Escobar strikes me as the type of guy who could get everybody buzzing with a few big catches in the preseason. I want to see if he can manage that on Thursday night.
Davon Coleman: I felt good about Coleman's odds of making the roster way before all the injuries set in on the defensive line. His size makes him a hard guy to handle, as he has shown on several occasions in training camp. Coleman is guaranteed to get a lot of playing time, as the starters and veterans should all be sitting by halftime. He has been impressive against the Cowboys' offensive line, but is that enough practice to help him excel against an opponent. Right now, I think Coleman has been one of the two or three most impressive rookies, and I'm excited to see him in a game.
Devin Street: I've said it numerous times this offseason how much I think Cole Beasley will be a big factor in the offense and have thrown out a 60-catch prediction as well. Knowing Dez will be the man and Terrance Williams should get plenty of chances, too, I don't know where the other guys will fit in. One of these other guys is Street, who has been impressive so far in practices. He's silky smooth in his route-running and has a way of playing this game at his own pace. I've tossed around the Alvin Harper comparison with Street and I'm looking forward to seeing him more and more. Street should get plenty of reps in this game. I bet we see him late in the first quarter in some three-wide looks and maybe as deep as the third quarter.
Jeremy Mincey: The thing the Cowboys are hoping more than anything with this defense is that Rod Marinelli can somehow work his magic with some of these players to have their best seasons. Last year, Selvie, Hayden and Hatcher all had career years and that's' exactly what the Cowboys need from Mincey. That was before DeMarcus Lawrence went down for about 2-3 months with a broken foot. Now, Mincey is going to be called upon even more, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. In this game, I'll be looking to see how Mincey can get to the quarterback when it's not third-and-long. The second-and-5 plays where his main focus is stopping the run, and then he's got to get off the edge and try to collapse the pocket is what separates average linemen from the some of the NFL's best. [embedded_ad]
Joseph Randle: The battle between he and Ryan Williams has been ongoing during practice so this will be the first real opportunity to separate. Last year at this time Randle was a lost kid just trying to find his way through the football day but he appears to be a more focused player and it has resulted in more consistent snaps. He physically looks better and I have noticed that he is playing with more of a fluid style. His running style is not as stiff and upright. He still catches the ball well and there have been signs of improvement as a pass blocker.
Anthony Hitchens: One of the linebackers on this roster that has a real nose for the ball but also has the athletic ability to get there for the tackle. I like that these defensive coaches have decided to keep him on the outside and given him the responsibility to run to the ball. If you play linebacker in this scheme, you have to be able to play in space and make tackles and during the Blue-White Scrimmage last Sunday he was able to do just that running down Ryan Williams down in the flat for what could have been a big gain around the corner resulted in only two to three yards. I have a strong feeling that his name will appear several times in the stat sheet.