There is no reason to believe that the Dallas-Oakland rematch on Thanksgiving day will resemble the exhibition opener in the slightest. After all, Thursday's game was the first NFL game experience for the rookies on both teams, and the first time veteran newcomers could take the field with their new teammates. First-team players barely broke a sweat, while much of the second half was dedicated to free agents and rookies hoping to have jobs in a month.
Nonetheless, much of the fallout from Oakland's 31-10 thumping of the Cowboys has smacked of impending doom, at least according to many Dallas fans. Yes, the Cowboys lost, and yes, the margin was convincing. But the play-calling doesn't resemble what teams will do in the regular season, and when guys like Tony Romo and Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff play four quarters and the team still gets whipped, then it's time to get concerned.
The first question many asked after this (or any other exhibition) game was "who earned a roster spot?" The answer: nobody. Wade Phillips is not going to write in a guy's name for the final roster based on what took place in Oakland, nor is any other coach going to assure a roster spot based on one game. But there were some guys who definitely started to make their case:
Nose tackle Junior Siavii: Think the big man isn't feeling better after the first exhibition game? Siavii entered the Oakland game ranked second among four Dallas nose tackles behind Jay Ratliff, and held up well. There were a couple of times Oakland blockers got up under him and forced him to play too tall, thereby losing his leverage, but overall, he did well, including against the Raiders' first-team offensive line, which stayed on the field longer than the Cowboys' starting defensive line. Has he made the team yet? No, but he and Jonas Seawright performed well enough that the Cowboys cut nose tackle Tim Anderson shortly after the team returned to San Antonio. Siavii has been ahead of Seawright all along, and Anderson was viewed as a more serious challenger, because of his past experience playing for Phillips. With Anderson gone, Siavii looks like he has the inside track on the backup nose tackle job. If Seawright proves useful on special teams, he might stick, as well.
Wide receiver Sam Hurd: Hurd is another guy who didn't make the team in the exhibition opener, but certainly strengthened his case. He has had a very good training camp, anyway, and probably will earn a spot. But with Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin ahead of him, Hurd is perceived to be in a battle for the last two receiver spots with Isaiah Stanback and a gang of rookies who were brought in to compete.
Hurd's performance against the Raiders started with a resounding thud, when he was called for holding on the opening kickoff, but for the rest of the night, he was the team's best receiver. Always a high-energy guy, Hurd ran crisp routes, caught almost every pass thrown his way, and laid out some serious hits while blocking downfield. If he continues his great camp, and continues to play the way he did against the Raiders, Hurd soon will become a lock.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick: Making the team isn't an issue for Scandrick. With the offseason departures of Anthony Henry and Pacman Jones, Scandrick entered training camp in a battle with fellow second-year cornerback Mike Jenkins for the starting spot across from Terence Newman.
With Jenkins sitting out the Oakland game, Scandrick started and performed very well. He held the Raiders' first-round draft choice, Darrius Heyward-Bey, in check, and gave up no deep plays all night. In addition, he showed the ability to shoot forward and take on running backs, easing concerns about how his slight build would affect his ability to be a full-time player in the Dallas defense. He hasn't earned a starting spot yet, but after a strong showing against Oakland, he clearly has a leg up on Jenkins for the starting role.
Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh: Sensabaugh might not be a household name, but in his first performance with the blue star on his helmet, Sensabaugh showed exactly why he was signed in the offseason: in stark contrast to former Dallas safety Roy Williams, Sensabauugh is anything but a liability in pass coverage.
When teamed with Ken Hamlin, Sensabaugh gives Dallas its best pair of pass-coverage safeties in years. He has the speed and ball skills to stay with many wide receivers, and has the strength to cover a lot of tight ends and running backs on pass routes, as well. A lot has been said about Keith Brooking, Anthony Spencer, Igor Olshansky and the other new faces on the Dallas defense, but Sensabaugh has a chance to be as big an addition to the Dallas defense as anyone.
Running back Keon Lattimore: Lattimore has the challenge of vying for a roster spot that might not exist. With Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice likely locked in as the top three runners on the Dallas roster, Lattimore finds himself as the fourth man in what likely will be a three-man rotation.
Nonetheless, the former Maryland star has had a strong camp and turned in an exceptional performance against the Raiders. After dropping nearly 20 pounds since last year, Lattimore is much quicker than he was a year ago, and against Oakland, he showed a nice burst and good power in traffic, and he also displayed patience while waiting for lanes to open that normally is shown only by veteran players.
Lattimore knows he faces an uphill battle to crack the Dallas backfield, and realizes he likely was auditioning for 31 other teams against the Raiders and in San Antonio. If so, his performance opened a lot of eyes, as he was the most consistent runner on the field against Oakland, and he continues to perform well on special teams in drills at the Alamodome.
Fallout from Oakland
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