There. Done and dusted. We have all survived preseason of NFL football for another season and can now discard all of those thoughts and memories of watching the best players stand on the sideline for an entire month of glorified practice games.
Honestly, there is more to the preseason than that, and the exercise of a team selecting each of the 53 parts carefully is fascinating on its own level, but I remain staunchly set on my opinion that this exercise could be done in 21 days instead of 40 and two preseason games instead of four. Really, the story here is that once upon a time (before 1977), the NFL thought they should play six preseason games. Six!
Regardless, the calendar has turned to September, the rosters have been cut to 75, and by tomorrow that number will be 53. From there, the players will take a day off, take their team picture, and by Tuesday, the first NFL work week will begin as the preparations for the Sunday night meeting with the New York Giants will be started. Fantastic news.
But, for one final time, since many of you were likely smart enough to enjoy something else (real college football) with your time on Thursday evening, allow me to share a few things here and there about the final preseason contest - a meeting with cross-state "rivals", the Houston Texans.
- Following the traditions set by both the Cowboys and the NFL, Dallas played pretty much nobody on Thursday night of consequence. Gavin Escobar played on offense, Byron Jones played some on defense, but really none of the Cowboys projected starters or players you would consider to be in the "Top 30" of their roster stepped on the field aside from those two names. Deep roster battles were still waged a bit - especially along the defensive line, but for the most part, the Cowboys did what so many teams did last night, which was to sit pretty much every single starter that they have on their roster. Once you do that, with the rosters already down to 75 and you sit the Top 25, you can see how the other 50 players are going to see all sorts of action.
- There was also the curious use (or lack of use) of the 4th string QB Jameill Showers. A 4th preseason game seems like the perfect time to hand him a half of football and see what the young man is capable of, but the Cowboys gave him no shot at QB. This was after he spent time in the locker-room a few days back addressing the idea that he would be on the main stage. It was surprising and even a bit disappointing to not see him in place of Dustin Vaughan at a certain point as the Cowboys ran 57 plays. Now, should we recognize that the Cowboys think he has nothing? Or, are the Cowboys trying to keep the tarp on their find and attempting to hide him from the rest of the league in an effort to cut him and slide him through to their practice squad over the weekend? If the Cowboys think he is good, but don't want him to be claimed elsewhere, then you could argue it is a smart attempt to keep him under wraps. I could be reading it wrong, and honestly, the rest of the league likely won't fall for this trick (assuming someone else thinks he can play), but we were quite possibly witnessing some gamesmanship from the Cowboys by NOT allowing the UTEP QB to show his ability to the rest of the league. I wonder.
- We said this early in camp and there has been no reason to change minds. The Cowboys defensive line rebuild has been most impressive and unlike the offensive line, the depth never seems to run out. As you could see last night, Davon Coleman is the type of guy who should be in the NFL in 2015. He makes play after play when he is out there and is also versatile enough to help you at several spots. And yet, he is on the fringe of the roster and maybe only your 3rd string at both 1-tech and 3-tech. The Cowboys have very impressive depth there. Meanwhile, Ben Gardner or Lavar Edwards are likely about to be cut by the team and both flash as useful and also likely would be claimed elsewhere if the Cowboys turn either into the wild. Ryan Russell was on the fringe, but I am taking that designation fully off. Another productive night from Russell and Coleman put them on the roster if I am king (I am far from king), and now it looks like the team must decide between Gardner, Edwards, and Ken Bishop. I think they could only keep 1 of those 3, but I think it is fair to wonder if the other 2 are both good enough to be claimed elsewhere. This is a very good problem to have. Too much NFL talent.
- I should remind you here that there were many years that not only did the Cowboys not have cuts that would be claimed elsewhere, but very likely there were years recently where the Cowboys did not have actual members of the team that were good enough to be claimed elsewhere if they were set free.
- Meanwhile, one thing that has been clear about this offensive line is that there is depth, but not much. Now, you only need 8 offensive linemen on a game-day, so the relative strengths of OL guys 10-15 is only relevant on the August practice fields, but man, there really wasn't a single guy down the depth chart of the offensive line that worked his way to "intriguing". Again, this is a massive nit-pick, because not too long ago, the Cowboys didn't have 5 good offensive linemen, but when you see in these last 2 preseason games that they field an entire line that struggles to do anything, it is clear that they have camp guys. The most disappointing on this topic is the feeling that back in April the Cowboy grabbed 3 young prospects to populate the reserves with La'el Collins, Chaz Green, and Laurence Gibson. Well, Collins is being brought along slowly, but Green hasn't been seen and Gibson has been very poor. I assume that Gibson will be cut, but they will try to keep him on the practice squad. But, he seems to have miles to go. His night against Houston was one disaster after the next, with several Texans running him over to get to Vaughan.
- By the way, some fans need to relax on La'el Collins. Some emailers have even asked me if he is a bust and want to know why he hasn't taken over the guard spot as was suggested in this space. Listen, the Cowboys already believe that A) Ron Leary was part of a great offensive line in 2014 and has done nothing to lose his spot and B) it is a healthy thing to make a rookie earn his promotion and to wait his turn. I have no problem with either, but that doesn't make me think for a second that Collins isn't the better player. He is. And it really won't be close when it is said and done. Leary is solid. Collins was the best OL prospect in the 2015 draft. His ceiling is much higher, but the Cowboys are going to let things develop at their natural speed. I have no problem with that at all. What a luxury to have.
- Lucky Whitehead will fumble an important kick at some point this year. Nearly every speedy return man has a moment or two where they get popped and the ball comes loose. It is going to happen and it is just a matter of when it does. That said, I have no problem taking that with all of the good he brings to the table. He is looking to make plays, take a chance, use his speed, and not give up on a return. I love that. Also, he is already more useful at Wide Receiver than most deep roster guys have shown. We should not get carried away with projections, but just on the surface, I am more than happy handing him the jobs of KR and PR and setting sail. He might even offer injury cover in small doses for Cole Beasley. I think Whitehead has done his part in August to secure this spot.
- The running back position has been talked about the most and now we have 2 deep reservers in Gus Johnson and Ben Malena who both look incredibly useful. The facts seem clear that the Cowboys knew who their 3 RBs were going to be before they went to California and there was nothing anyone else could do if those 3 stayed upright. But, Gus Johnson, in particular, has sure made people pay attention. I think he has something and personally would be tempted to keep him over Darren McFadden. I just also know that won't happen until McFadden plays his way out of contention, and after those 4 carries against the Vikings, the team might actually consider McFadden their best running back. We have no idea how this running game is going to perform this year, but if you could take all of the names and salaries off each player, I wonder which 3 RBs would have impressed enough to earn jobs in 2015. But, that is never how the NFL works. Names, salaries, and investments mean everything.
- We got to see flashes from Efe Obada, the massive project from London who the Cowboys have worked in at Defensive End. He is an unbelievable athlete, but has spent less than one year playing football. The likelihood of him ever being more than a project is remote, but the story is wonderful and seeing him yesterday on the field showed both promise in the pass rush and reinforced my hope that the Cowboys try a year on the practice squad. I admit I am biased due to his story and the idea that the game is becoming world wide, but I think his tools justify the investment.
- I have about 200 projects every offseason and I get to about 100 of them. One I did not get to is the "why did the Saints cut Corey White" project that would have required the 200-snap All-22 treatment. I assume Saints fans have a story to tell, and I have also heard that the Saints massive cap issues were to blame. Regardless, Corey White has been quite impressive all preseason and his Pick-6 last night was the highlight of the game. He is a fine depth corner in the NFL and usually teams don't let those guys go. The Saints moved on and the Cowboys may profit. He looks the part of a representative corner who can handle his business for Rod Marinelli.
Beyond that, we now wait for the cuts and proceed. I think most the cuts are easy, but like we have said, there are always surprises and the scouts are waiting for other teams to make their moves as well to see who they want to try to add.
You made it. The preseason is over. On to the good stuff.