What to Watch vs. Minnesota

Saturday's game against the Minnesota Vikings will be the Cowboys' third of the preseason, meaning it's basically the team's dress rehearsal for the season opener.

The starters still won't play the whole game, but those who are healthy (meaning not wide receiver Miles Austin, defensive end Marcus Spears, etc.) will play more against Minnesota than in the fourth exhibition game next week against the Miami Dolphins, when many starters might as well not even dress, because they'll be in and out of the game so quickly.

As for Saturday's game against the Vikings, there are some things worth watching:

Running game
Since the start of training camp, it was assumed (accurately) that Marion Barber would be cut. Beyond that, the assumptions looked a little more like guesses. The common belief was that Felix Jones would be the No. 1 guy, with Tashard Choice backing him up and rookie DeMarco Murray as the third back. But injuries have prevented Choice (calf) and Murray (hamstring) from taking the field yet in an exhibition game. If either Choice or Murray wasn't able to return in time for the season, Lonyae Miller was assumed to have the inside track for a roster spot. But Miller was ineffective in the Cowboys' first exhibition game against the Denver Broncos, and watched as rookie free agent Phillip Tanner ran effectively (31 yards on four carries) in last week's loss to the San Diego Chargers. How those two do against the Vikings could go a long way toward determining who makes the roster and who doesn't.

Wide receiver
The first two are easy: Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are the top two wideouts on the 2011 Cowboys. After that? Kevin Ogletree, who has 10 receptions in two seasons, has had a strong camp and appears to have the upper hand in the race for the No. 3 receiver spot. But with the team likely to carry five or maybe six receivers into the regular season, who gets the other two? Rookie Dwayne Harris had two touchdowns in the exhibition opener against Denver, prompting some to label him as the likely fourth receiver. But he failed to catch a pass against the Chargers, so his spot is not secured. Jesse Holley has played well on special teams, but the NFL's decision to move kickoffs up five yards could reduce his value by limiting the number of returns. Holley and Harris are competing with Manuel Johnson, rookies Lyle Leong, Tysson Poots and Raymond Radway and second-year experiment Teddy Williams for roster spots.

Cornerback
If healthy, Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins are the 2011 starters. After signing a five-year extension, Orlando Scandrick is a lock, too. The Cowboys began the 2010 season with three cornerbacks, but likely will enter this season with four or five. Veterans Alan Ball and Bryan McCann are competing with rookie Josh Thomas for the remaining positions. Ball and McCann should have a leg up on Thomas because they are veterans and versatile — Ball spent last season playing safety, and McCann is a weapon in the return game.

Guard
When he was drafted in April, Bill Nagy produced a lot of raised eyebrows and had people asking "who's he?" But the 6-3, 299-pounder from Wisconsin has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp. The team seems to like veteran Montrae Holland, who has been shelved during camp by a sore neck, coming off the bench as a reserve who can play either guard position, and the coaches appear comfortable with the idea of letting Nagy start at guard, at least against Minnesota. If he earns a starting job, the Cowboys will have two rookies (Nagy and tackle Tyron Smith) starting on the offensive line.

Kicking game
David Buehler has a cannon of a leg, but if there was any question about the team's faith in his accuracy, that question was answered when the brought in three candidates to replace him: rookies Dan Bailey of Oklahoma State and Kai Forbath of UCLA, and now veteran Shayne Graham, the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history who recently was cut by the Washington Redskins. Buehler is another who could be hurt by the change in the NFL's kickoff rules, as his strong leg was viewed as an asset over most other kickers. With the kickoffs moving up five yards, kickers with slightly less leg strength now have a chance to collect just as many touchbacks.

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