3 Things to Look For Saturday

It's been a few days since Cowboys fans could be heard uttering commentary like "that Lawrence Taylor -- he had nothing on DeMarcus Ware." Settle down. The Cowboys' top draft pick, as talented and promising as he is, has played in exactly two preseason games.

In the first, against Arizona, he didn't exactly outshine the desert sun. Then, in Seattle, he turned in a highlight-reel game … much of which was played against Seahawk reserves. He also made some mistakes.

"Did you see that 15-yard run (Shawn) Alexander had in the first half?" Dallas head coach Bill Parcells asked at his Thursday press conference. "That was some of (Ware's) work.

Make no mistake, the guy has a world of talent and athletic ability. He will be making trips to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl, and not just to lead the Jason Witten/Roy Williams cheering section. But to quote Parcells, "let's not put him in the Hall of Fame just yet."

NFL schedule makers are funny. Rather than allow Dallas fans to spend an eternity comparing Ware to the Charles Haleys and Chuck Howleys of the past, they make teams suit up and play more games. The Cowboys get back to work tomorrow night against the Houston Texans in the sauna known as Texas Stadium (at least in August). Some things to look for:

Be Free
Ever since Darren Woodson got injured -- and eventually retired -- last season, free safety has been a huge question mark for the Cowboys. Roy Williams slid over to the free safety spot a year ago, because he was the best the team had. But Williams is not a safety -- he's a strong safety, and a strong safety only. He earns his paychecks and his Pro Bowl trips when he's allowed to roam near the line of scrimmage, pressuring quarterbacks and stuffing ball-carriers. Playing center field in pass coverage is not his forté.

Williams is back at strong safety, where he belongs, leaving the Dallas coaches with some options at free safety.

Justin Beriault has shown great instincts and that he's a fearless hitter. But he's got two things going against him with Parcells. One: he's a rookie, and Parcells is not a big fan of starting rookies, especially at a position that is the last line of defense. Two: he has a condition in his knee (he had arthroscopic surgery before college, so Ball State officials had no medical documentation to give the Cowboys before the draft) that makes his availability inconsistent. He can play a game, or take part in practice, but then it swells up sometimes, forcing him to miss practice time. Even without the "rookie" tag, players who can't practice consistently have to dazzle Parcells to retain a big role with the team. Just ask Billy Cundiff.

Spotlight: Chris Canty

Granted, no real games have been played. But it's looking more and more like the Cowboys pulled off the steal of the draft when they snatched defensive end Chris Canty in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

The 6-foot-7, 295-pound Canty, who is well schooled in the 3-4 defense after playing the scheme under Parcells disciple Al Groh at Virginia, has recovered nicely from offseason facial injuries and has quickly entrenched himself in the defensive end rotation. With fellow rookie Marcus Spears injured for much of training camp, and veteran Greg Ellis still adjusting to the switch from the left side to the right, Canty has a chance to be the team's most effective player at that position.

His lanky frame and long arms will allow him to add even more bulk as he gets stronger and more physically mature, but he has the quickness and pass rushing technique to stay at end, instead of sliding inside to defensive tackle. If he can hold up physically to the pounding players at his position take from offensive tackles, the Cowboys might have found themselves an anchor for the defensive line for years to come.
Keith Davis has been getting most of the time with the first-team defense at free safety. Parcells has said he's not opposed to making Davis his starter, except for the fact that Davis also is the team's best special teams player. If Davis emerges as the clear-cut favorite at free safety, Parcells said Davis's special teams duty will be limited to one special team (presumably either kickoff coverage or punt coverage).

The Cowboys added a third option this week with the signing of former Texas A&M defensive back Rich Coady, who has spent most of his career with the St. Louis Rams. Coady is strong against the run, and decent in coverage. He also excels on special teams.

It's Better to Receive …
It's really kind of hard to determine what the Cowboys have at wide receiver. Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn will get little action in the preseason, because, as Parcells likes to say, "I know what they can do." Patrick Crayton has emerged as the No. 3 receiver, at least in Parcells' opinion, but Quincy Morgan said this week he doesn't consider the battle closed. With Ahmad Merritt having been cut this week, Terrance Copper might again be assured of a spot somewhere in the top five … although considering Parcells' affinity for those who can contribute on special teams -- and he thinks very highly of Copper's special teams play -- that might have been a foregone conclusion, anyway.

Avoid Running on Empty
The freak injury (broken scapula) that Julius Jones suffered last year is all the evidence needed to verify the idea that no matter how young and strong and healthy a guy is, injuries do happen. With that in mind, the Cowboys made a concerted effort in the offseason to seriously upgrade the position. Anthony Thomas was signed away from the Chicago Bears, Marion Barber was drafted and Tyson Thompson was signed as an undrafted free agent. All three have had their moments in training camp, although none of them have emerged as the definite No. 2 back.

Barber has a similar running style as Jones, and seems most likely to get the No. 2 job. However, he got an infection in his foot cleared out this week ("at this point, you're just dealing with a cut," Parcells said) and may well sit out the Houston game. Thomas almost certainly will be the second back into the game. Depending on how he fares, fans might get a look at two local guys: Thompson (of Irving), who played on special teams but not offense against Seattle, likely will get a heavy load of carries against the Texans, or Keylon Kincade, the SMU grad who spent much of the 2004 season on the Dallas practice squad and played this year in NFL Europe. Parcells has said he really likes Kincade, but has been very frank about how Kincade has "a lot of obstacles" in his way toward a roster spot. If Barber doesn't play, Kincade might get some late carries, but he likely will have to blow Parcells away to get a roster spot. Chances are if he plays at all, he'll be auditioning for another team, or perhaps another stint on the Dallas practice squad.

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