Even though Saturday’s game “doesn’t count,” there are still a lot of things both coaches and fans would like to see from the players. A variety of training camp battles have yet to reach a conclusion and a handful of injuries will force would-be backups into the starting lineup.
Here is what Dallas should and should not do Saturday versus Houston:
DO give Alex Barron plenty of reps at right tackle.
This appears as though it will be the case, since Barron is probably going to start. He would have started at right tackle last week had he been healthy. Robert Brewster, who started at right tackle against the Chargers and did a fine job, will become the swing tackle.
It will be important for Dallas to see how Barron plays on the right side. Like Doug Free, he is a bit of a “finesse” offensive tackle, meaning his game is probably better suited for the left side. If he plays well at right tackle, it will give the Cowboys a lot more confidence in their situation at the position. He better hope Mario Williams doesn’t line up on his side too often.
DON’T take Marion Barber out of the game too early.
Barber, who lost some weight in the offseason, is supposedly quicker and more explosive this year. I haven’t seen it. He still looks a bit sluggish and that “barbarian” mentality we saw a few years ago still hasn’t returned. I’d love to see Barber get a bunch of touches to prove that he’s truly back.
DO implement “max protection” so the quarterbacks can throw the ball downfield.
The Cowboys threw just six passes over 10 yards against the Chargers, and only two traveled 15+ yards. An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.
A lot of that was due to the losses of Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo, but there are still ways to get the ball downfield without having total confidence in your line. One is max protection (eight or even nine blockers), and I would expect the Cowboys to use it a few times against Houston so their quarterbacks can have an opportunity to practice throwing the deep ball.
DON’T throw the ball to tight end Martellus Bennett in the red zone.
This might seem like a strange request, but the last thing the Cowboys want is for Bennett to acquire a sense of entitlement. With John Phillips out for the year, he knows he’s the surefire No. 2 tight end. I’m not saying scoring more touchdowns would go to his head, but. . .who knows sometimes with this guy? Bennett’s primary responsibility is as a blocker, and he needs to remember that.
DO run a lot of Shotgun with Phil Costa at center.
I’ve been extremely impressed with Costa’s play this preseason, but I’d like to see him snap a few more balls out of Shotgun. The Cowboys figure to use a lot of it this season, and if anything happens to starter Andre Gurode, the ‘Boys should know if they can feel comfortable with Costa providing the snaps.
DON’T take safety Michael Hamlin out of the ballgame too quickly.
Starting strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is playing on a one-year deal. The Cowboys may or may not sign him to a long-term contract, but that definitely won’t be the case if they feel Hamlin is ready to become a starter.
Hamlin will start this week and, although the Cowboys will want to see more of rookies Barry Church and Danny McCray, they have the entire fifth preseason game for that. Saturday night is about Hamlin and determining if he’s the future at safety.
DO give Dez Bryant plenty of reps.
Not. Just seeing if you’re still reading!
DON’T put safety Barry Church solely “in the box.”
Church has shown to be an excellent tackler and I think he’ll make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster. However, he needs to show he can become a complete player, and that starts with being rangy in coverage.
The Texans have an excellent backup tight end named James Casey who figures to test Church. Let’s see how he holds up.
DO throw a back-shoulder fade or two to Roy Williams.
The back-shoulder throw has been an obvious point of emphasis for Tony Romo this offseason and he’s already utilized it on completions to Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton in the preseason. On paper, Roy Williams is the perfect receiver for back-shoulder throws, as he is a big target with (like it or not) excellent body control and hands.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why Romo and Williams still seem disconnected, but it doesn’t appear to happen with Romo and the other receivers. If they can somehow get it going, the back-shoulder fade can be a big, big weapon in Dallas’ offensive attack, particularly around the goal line.
DON’T keep Bradie James in for nickel plays.
Apart from the fact that James is a veteran and doesn’t need the added playing time, I’d love to see Sean Lee and Jason Williams on the field together. Williams isn’t guaranteed a roster spot and needs every opportunity to prove he is of worth to the Cowboys.
I’ve been impressed with his run defense this preseason, but he’s made a few mistakes in coverage. That can’t happen for a nickel linebacker. Let’s see how the youngsters perform in nickel duties if they are on the field at the same time. If they can give starters Bradie James and Keith Brooking a breather during the regular season, that could be a huge asset to Dallas.