The preseason is almost here, and with it comes a significant amount of intrigue around specific position groups and young players looking to make an impact in the season's exhibition work ahead of roster cuts and the regular season.
Going into the preseason opener, eyes are set on a couple of intriguing position battles for both Dallas and Jacksonville, but a few key matchups are also in the spotlight that have implications for both roster management and how the 2023 season could shape up for either team.
Here are three matchups to keep an eye on going into Saturday's preseason opener.
Dallas running backs vs. Jacksonville linebackers
The running back situation behind Tony Pollard in Dallas has been arguably the most fluid position battle in Oxnard, Calif. through the first two and a half weeks of training camp, as Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, Ronald Jones, Hunter Luepke and Deuce Vaughn have all earned praise from head coach Mike McCarthy at some point during camp and have all taken valuable reps with the first-team.
With Pollard expected to sit out on Saturday, reps will be plentiful for the depth of the group as each try to secure a spot as the backup running back going into 2023. The opportunity on Saturday will be especially intriguing given the talent in Jacksonville's front seven, specifically in the linebacking corps.
Josh Allen, Foyesade Oluokun and Travon Walker all will be valuable assets to Jacksonville's first-team, and they are expected to play on Saturday after head coach Doug Pederson said earlier in the week that his starters "will take snaps."
Even if they are on the field for just a series or two though, the depth of that group is intriguing as well. Devin Lloyd and K'Lavon Chaisson will bode as formidable opponents for any Dallas running back as well in the later quarters of the game.
Almost all of these running backs for Dallas have a heavy receiving aspect to their overall game, and if either can pop one loose against a strong linebacker corps for Jacksonville, it could help write a spot on the team moving forward. But even in the run game, bursting through that second level could help spell a similar fate for a running back looking to make an impact.
Jacksonville receivers vs. Dallas cornerbacks
If you want a treat in the form of athleticism on Saturday, keep your eyes locked in on the passing game when Jacksonville has the ball.
Even if Trevon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore are not expected to suit up, the Dallas cornerbacks will have a unique challenge in front of them with a receiving corps for Jacksonville that is out to prove a lot this season.
It starts up top with a strong three-headed monster in Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones.
Kirk, who is entering his second season in Jacksonville after a 1,000-yard season in 2022, will be the speedy slot option that will force either DaRon Bland or Kelvin Joseph to step in to cover. Ridley, who is coming off a year-long suspension in 2022 and is heading into his first season as a Jaguar, has proven to be dangerous in the past, but can he replicate the success he had in Atlanta? Jones, a native of Austin, stepped in after Ridley's suspension last season and delivered an 823-yard season on 82 receptions. Either of those boundary options could see either Nahshon Wright's length or Eric Scott Jr.'s quick fluid coverage line up on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Even as the game goes on and starters get pulled, the intrigue remains.
Jacksonville sixth-round draft pick Parker Washington will be one of the most athletic players on either side to take the field on Saturday, and he will most likely get a healthy dose of usage once the starters are pulled. He would be an interesting challenge for Eric Scott Jr. if he's still in the game when Washington makes his appearance, but it could also be a proving opportunity for anyone in the depth of the defensive back group.
Anton Harrison vs. Sam Williams
When it comes to specific one-on-one matchups, the clash in the trenches between Anton Harrison and Sam Williams could provide some early fun to the preseason.
Harrison, who was Jacksonville's first round pick in April, will make his NFL debut on Saturday and is expected to play "a touch longer" than the rest of the starting group, according to head coach Doug Pederson. His first challenge? A hungry second-year pass rusher in the form of Sam Williams.
If Williams does end up suiting up (a shoulder injury has made this picture a little murky going into Saturday), then a matchup against a strong and athletic first-round pick at tackle would be the perfect ramp-up into the season.
With most of the starting defensive line expected to sit out Saturday's preseason opener, the table is set for Williams to make an impact. It will just have to come against one of the best prospects from the 2023 draft.