Cowboys: Five Things To Watch Vs Vikings

If you're wondering what to follow in tonight's dress rehearsal as the Cowboys host the Minnesota Vikings, fret no more. We lay out the five key things to watch as the team prepares for the regular season.

The Cowboys dress rehearsal for the regular season happens tonight at 7pm ET, as they face off against the Minnesota Vikings. Dallas enters the game 0-2 in the exhibition games, but much more importantly not seeing much of anything out of several of their key players.

The preseason for Dallas has basically been an extended audition for just a handful of open roster spots. With just two games to go before the curtain goes up on the regular season, they’ll still be without a key cog to their offense. Here’s a look at that, and four other things to watch tonight.

Dez Bryant Will Not Play

Cowboys fans have been waiting all offseason to get a glimpse of the $70 million man, to no avail. Bryant will miss his third straight preseason tilt as he nurses a tight hamstring suffered after missing the entire offseason while negotiating his new deal. In fact, owner Jerry Jones said Bryant won’t play in the preseason finale, either (Cowboys starters rarely ever play in the final warmup).

Bryant was highly disappointed earlier in the week when he was held out of team drills, and there’s word he tweaked something towards the end of practice on Friday. The Cowboys primary mantra for the preseason is “health above all else”, as Keith Mullins coined in our latest Crunchtime podcast. Still, this bears watching.

Dez’s absence means the trickle-down will be in full effect. Journeyman and former 49er first-round pick A.J. Jenkins has come on strong over the last two weeks. Can an extended look earn him a shot as the team’s sixth receiver?

Debuts of Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne

Despite Jerry jones retracting his sentiment about the (lack of) quality of the field at Levi Stadium in San Francisco, the Cowboys delayed these debuts for fear of a trashy field. At home, Cowboys fans will be graced with the long-awaited return of Sean Lee, after suffering an ACL tear in the opening OTA of 2014.

Lee is now a weakside linebacker, and his return is paramount as the leader of the linebacker group and with MLB Rolando McClain scheduled to miss the first four games of the regular season due to suspension. One of the league’s top linebackers, Lee transforms the Cowboys defense when on the field, much like Bryant does for the offense.

Claiborne will be playing in his first preseason gam since 2012. The loss of Orlando Scandrick for the season (ACL) gives Claiborne an opportunity to return to the starting lineup and in the final year of his contract, he’s finally had an offseason program to build momentum for the games that matter. Who will take over on the outside for the Cowboys? Claiborne, rookie Byron Jones and free agent surprise Corey White will battle for that role, as will Tyler Patmon who will get first crack at filling the Scandrick-hole as the slot corner.

The New Cowboys Pass Rush

Dallas’ 12-4 season and playoff win are even more remarkable in light of the fact they couldn’t even generate two sacks per game (and not even close with just 26 on the season). This offseason, they’ve bulked up with the additions of Greg Hardy and second-round pick Randy Gregory. They also got Ben Gardner back from a redshirt rookie year, and have fifth-rounder Ryan Russell from Purdue. The three young guns have combined for four preseason sacks, with Gregory notching two as well as several holding calls on overmatched offensive linemen.

In the dress rehearsal for both teams, it will be very interesting to see if this new Cowboys sack parade continues, and from who, as the team prepares to miss Hardy for the first four games due to his suspension.

The Running Back Committee

The Cowboys are doing everything they can to have a top runner emerge as a lead dog; giving both Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden first team reps over the last two weeks. McFadden missed most of the offseason with a hamstring injury to each leg, then after three touches last week, missed a practice with a sore shoulder and neck. He’s not doing a good job of shaking the oft-injured label. Randle appears to be the better option to the Cowboys zone blocking scheme, as his quickness and shiftiness is much more of an asset than McFadden’s straight-line speed, but none of the top three backs (including Lance Dunbar) is a complete back for every situation.

That opens the door for power-back rookie Gus Johnson to bulldozer his way onto the 53 man roster. His inclusion is a long-shot, and is moreso predicated on how special teams shapes the bottom fifth of the roster. Speaking of which…

The Very Special Team Alignments

The Cowboys special teams have been atrocious this summer, but they were the same last summer and barely gave up any return yardage over the 2014 season. Tonight, we’ll get a glimpse of the guys they want on the coverage and return units, instead of individual auditions. Want a hint as to how the bottom of the roster will work out? Pay special attention to who is on special teams in the first half.

The team will pull their coverage guys from the RBs, TEs, LBs, CBs, and safeties. Expect to see the two safety specialists Jeff Heath and Danny McCray, as well as ST stud LB Andrew Gachkar. Want a hint whether they’ll keep four tight ends? See how much ST work Geoff Swaim gets. Same for Gus Johnson at running back.

Will the Cowboys go with six wideouts? Being able to roll with only eight offensive lineman will go a long way there, but so will being able to be a tackling machine and working their way into the gunner role normally reserved for those who can tackle.

All eyes on special teams tonight.

Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast

Check Out Sports Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Cowboys Crunchtime on BlogTalkRadio

Show Rundown
  • KD Drummond Monologue
  • Rant about the media's insistence the Cowboys are in trouble after two preseason games | 00:00
  • Keith Mullins (@KeithDeuces) | 11:25
  • How much has he gleaned from bad preseason performance? | 12:25
  • What's the deal with the young QBs? Are they worth a roster spot? | 18:49
  • #TeamRandle or #TeamMcFadden? | 26:02
  • Update on Scnadrick ACL | 32:54
  • Ryan Burns (@FtblSickness) | 36:30
  • Are the Patriots about to run roughshod? | 39:20
  • Handicapping the AFC North | 40:48
  • The latest on Johnny Manziel | 43:53
  • Surprise team in AFC? Playoff teams? | 45:56
  • Cami Griffin (@CamiAnng)| 50:05
  • Thoughts on the RB Battle | 51:34
  • Overview on team's preparation for regular season | 56:45
  • Introuduction to CTC Sports movement | 59:02
  • Patrik Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) | 62:05
  • Two 1,000 yard backs? | 63:00
  • Getting grip on Scandrick injury | 65:30
  • How necessary is the preseason? | 72:38
  • Mike Fisher (@FishSports) | 79:42
  • Bringing camp to a conclusion | 81:01
  • Moving beyond Scandrick injury | 84:32
  • Who's winning the jobs? | 88:00
  • Running back moves coming? | 94:00
  • Dallas entering season with hope | 99:01
  • Outro | 102:00

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