3 Things to Look for Thursday

Most coaches will say that the closest thing fans (and opponents) will see to a regular-season game comes in the third game of the preseason. Teams want to fine-tune their plays, not to mention their timing and continuity.

But when the final preseason game rolls around, many coaches are hesitant to allow their marquee players to stay on the field much past the national anthem. The last thing any coach wants is to see a starter shelved for part or all of the season because he was playing longer than necessary in a exhibition (the NFL hates that word) game.

So the final preseason game is reserved largely for young players trying to solidify their knowledge of schemes and plays.

Staying healthy doesn't count as one of the priorities for the Cowboys and their coaches, because that is the top priority for every team (and its coaches) in the preseason finale.

With that said, here are three things to look for when the Cowboys square off with the Jaguars:

A Little Protection Please
Drew Bledsoe isn't going to make anyone forget Michael Vick when it comes to mobility. Some would suggest the Cowboys' new starting quarterback's footspeed (or lack thereof) won't make anyone forget Michael Caine, either. So for the Cowboys to improve on last year's offensive production, Bledsoe must be kept in one piece and be given ample time to find receivers and make his throws. Thankfully, his blind side will be well protected, with Flozell Adams and Larry Allen forming as good a combination on one side as any tandem in the league.

Centers Al Johnson and Andre Gurode must show that they not only will be able to not botch the snap, but also will be able to prevent teams from coming up the middle to get to Bledsoe -- which is exactly the route head coach Bill Parcells says he'd take when trying to pressure the new Dallas quarterback. Right guard remains a question, but because of a lack of talent, but because veteran Marco Rivera -- signed in the offsesason to stabilize that side of the line -- has missed a lot of time in training camp with hamstring issues, which could be an aftershock from the herniated disk he suffered shortly after signing with Dallas in the offseason. If his health issues linger, Tyson Walter likely will take over.

Spotlight: OT Flozell Adams

With the size and talent Adams has, he might be as valuable this season as anyone on the Dallas offense. Protecting a quarterback's blind always is vital, but when that quarterback wasn't very quick to begin with, and now is 32 years old, it becomes more vital than ever. Adams will be asked to go head-to-head with defensive ends and also pick up blitzing linebackers, because he rarely will have help on the outside.

With the question marks hovering over the right tackles (Torrin Tucker and Rob Petitti), the Cowboys often will line up a tight end (either Dan Campbell or Jason Witten) on the right side to help out. In two-tight end sets, Adams will have help, but he's good enough that he shouldn't need it. He made the Pro Bowl a couple years ago, prompting Parcells to challenge him to become one of the best players in the league -- one one of the best tackles, or even one of the best linemen -- one of the best players at any position.

If he can seal off the left side, and team with left guard Larry Allen to open big running lanes, look for Adams to be making reservations for another February trip to Hawaii.
At right tackle, the Cowboys need to choose a starter and go with it -- a revolving door at tackle isn't ideal, considering the continuity needed along the offensive line. After Jacob Rogers was cut, Torrin Tucker -- he of the poor offseason conditioning regimen and numerous mental errors in early preseason games -- and rookie Rob Petitti have been competing for the spot. Petitti looks to have the edge, but can a rookie hold up over the course of the regular season?

Timing is everything
Just as the offensive line's performance is vital to Bledsoe's continued health, so to is the passing game vital to the health of running back Julius Jones. If Bledsoe and his receivers don't show opponents that they are a legitimate threat that needs to be accounted for, teams will stack seven, eight or even nine players at the line of scrimmage, and Jones will have a hard time gaining yards and surviving the season.

Tight end Jason Witten likely will emerge as Bledsoe's early favorite target, if only because of the success Bledsoe enjoyed when he teamed up with tight end Ben Coates in New England in the early stages of his career. He also should have his timing down with wide receiver Terry Glenn, with whom he played while both were with the Patriots. Bledsoe will have to show he can find Keyshawn Johnson, the big-bodied veteran receiver who is so adept at finding seams in defenses, as well as the emerging Patrick Crayton if this offense is to be respeced this season.

Getting defensive
By this point, the Cowboys have to show a comfort level -- and a level of success -- in the 3-4 defense. Fans went crazy over the show rookie Demarcus Ware put on against Seattle a couple of weeks ago, but he can not be the team's only legitimate pass rushing threat.

Greg Ellis, the best the team has had in recent years, must show he can get to the quarterback from the right defensive end spot as effectively as he did from the left side. Rookie Chris Canty also must create pressure, which he should be able to do, considering his size, speed, wingspan and familiarity with the 304 defense. Marcus Spears must be more than a run stuffer at left defensive end (although he certainly needs to do that, as well), and linebackers Kalen Thornton -- a pleasant surprise as a rookie last year -- and Kevin Burnett must show they, too, can create headaches for opposing blockers.

If Ware is the only pass rushing threat about whom opponents are concerned, they will block him out of games with double teams (with a tight end) and by chipping him with a running back. Many think Ware has the ability to reach the Pro Bowl as early as his rookie season, but if he is the only threat to get to the passer, teams will make him ineffective by tailoring their blocking schemes around him.

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