We get Friday Night Football this week as the Cowboys return home to deal with Miami -- a team they seem to make sure is on the preseason schedule every year. Clearly, with last week's game now in the rear-view mirror, some players try to confirm what we saw last week, some players try to erase what we saw last week and others who we haven't seen will join the battle. The observations and reactions will have to wait until tonight, but there is plenty of work to be done, no doubt. Meanwhile, I have work to do as well, as I dig through your mailbag queries:
Q: What are 3 or 4 things you'll be focusing on in Friday's game vs. Miami?
Well, I am with everyone else in wanting to see the continued play of the QBs. I thought both Dak Prescott and Jameill Showers were impressive Saturday night with Prescott having some more help and less sabotage from his mates, but Showers looking the part as well. I expect Prescott will have less than a 154 passer rating this time, but we just want to see continued competence and poise. We fully understand the ball is going to hit the ground a time or two, but he needs to know where to go with the ball and deal with more complex coverages and so forth. I think he looks great, but this is a very long journey and I already think some people are forgetting that.
Beyond that, I really want to see a fourth and fifth receiver step up and grab the job. It was pretty thin last year and the year before despite the Cowboys spending draft picks to try to fix it. Luckily, it seems that decent depth WRs are out there to be found on cut-down day, but it would be nice if someone would step up. I would say Lucky Whitehead did his job on Saturday by showing game-breaking return ability, but we could use some size if Cole Beasley and Whitehead are both in the group. They are both useful, of course, but if someone 6-foot or bigger wants to join Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams with some remarkable results, I would enjoy that. The smart money says it is Brice Butler right now, but I would say that is far from in stone.
Defensively, let's keep watching that defensive line. No David Irving tonight and likely too soon for Benson Mayowa tells us to not get too carried away with expectations from DE. And it would be great to see more from Byron Jones at FS.
But, you know what I will really be watching tonight? Special teams participation in preseason Games 2 and 3 are very much worth tracking. These games are where we will see who they trust in covering kicks and punts. And that will tell us who is making this team, because if you are not a starter, then you better add some real value to special teams. So, if you are looking for who is going to win the fifth WR, third RB, fifth-seventh LB and so on, watch the punts and kicks early.
Q: Do you think Jameill Showers has already been knocked out of the QB battle?
Not at all. Of course, it was always going to be a long shot that he would be on this roster until Kellen Moore fell. But once that happened, he had to play well enough to chase them away from shopping for another veteran. Prescott certainly alters things because if they are feeling extra adventurous, they could roll with two QBs, but I can't imagine a team that hasn't seen Romo play 16 games since 2012 would risk that. So, if Showers does his job to continue to run the offense like he has in the 2015 preseason and now in 2016, I expect he makes the team.
Let's not forget: Many things change over the course of a preseason. Things happen. Unexpected things. So, you just keep putting in work and you never know what will occur around you.
Q: People are saying Claiborne has had a great camp. Do you think this could be the year he shows he was worthy of being a first-round pick?
I am going to need to see it for an extended period of time. The bar is now so low for Claiborne that there will be false alarms. Remember, around Week 4 last year, there were proclamations that Mo Claiborne had finally come around. Then, time passed and we had another disappointing year due to health and not staying on the field. He has to stay on the field. He has to play. Maybe the results are less important now than his attendance record. If a corner can't stay on the field, then he is just not going to ever be a massive contributor.
Since drafted No. 6 overall (at the cost of picks Nos. 14 and 45 in that 2012 draft), he has played 2,199 snaps in the regular season. To compare, Brandon Carr, also acquired in 2012, has played 4,182 snaps. They play the same position, so you know that Carr is dependable and consistent. Claiborne is yet another player this franchise depends upon who evidently cannot be depended upon at that same level or even close.
So, I appreciate his camp performance in the first few weeks in August. I want to know if he is going to be around in October and November this year. A guy cannot determine his own health, but that is a large part of our issues with Mo Claiborne in Year 5. He, of course, may be playing for his next deal elsewhere, because a great year this season would no doubt make it difficult to keep him, but given his track record, "great" years are rather rare at this level.
Let's see it week after week.
Q: This is the last year of Terrance Williams' rookie deal, right? If he doesn't improve much, is he worth re-signing?
I actually wrote about the next level of free agents for the Cowboys back on Tuesday, which I shall link for you right here. In there, we showed you the list of players who are in the "contract year":
Expires after 2016: Lance Dunbar, Terrell McClain, Andrew Gachkar, David Irving, Darren McFadden, Brice Butler, Barry Church, Jack Crawford, Ron Leary, Kellen Moore, J.J. Wilcox, Terrance Williams, Morris Claiborne, Gavin Escobar, Rolando McClain
Williams is high on that list of names, of course, but it is a weird spot. If he disappoints this year, then you would expect the Cowboys would rather spend a pick on his replacement and not spend a ton to keep him. If he is awesome, then the price for his next deal might be high above the Cowboys' threshold and suddenly you want to draft his replacement. I am sure there is a sweet spot, but as we have talked about for quite a while, his next deal (based on his current resume and conservative projections moving forward) could be very similar to the deals that are currently out there in the 5-year/$40-million range. At worst, you figure Williams will get $6M a year and if he is huge this year, there is no question it could creep up near $10M. The questions, of course, are going to be whether you think he is a difference-maker on an offense that already has declared that designation for Romo, Zeke, Dez, Witten, Tyron, Zack and Frederick. You cannot keep paying everyone elite money on one side of the ball, so if I had to guess, Williams will be playing his final year in a Cowboys uniform.
Q: Zeke figures to be the mainstay, but should the Cowboys have taken a look at Arian Foster over Alfred Morris perhaps? I know he's had a rough couple of years but the thought of him healthy behind that Cowboys OL.
I promised everyone I wouldn't bring up Ezekiel Elliott's pick every single time we talk roster construction, but my plan last spring did not include a RB at No. 4. I would have gone after 24-year old free agent Lamar Miller (now in Houston) and Alfred Morris and if I failed on either, I would have looked for a RB on Day 2 of the draft, with my belief that Derrick Henry (picked 45th by Tennessee) would have been an unstoppable beast on this offense in this scheme.
They didn't agree (nor have most Cowboys fans) and now the Cowboys have an amazing RB in Elliott, so the issue isn't really whether they have quality. They do. The issue is did they need it when they already have this group? I say they did not, but it is over.
As for Foster, who visits tonight with the Dolphins, the No. 1 thing I look for in a RB is durability. So, the fact that he has played in 25 of the past 48 NFL games he was scheduled to play in was not overly appealing to me. This sport demands so much from the bodies of its players, that when it goes, there is often no getting it back.
Q: How did you think the Cowboys' defense performed in the first preseason game? Is there reason for hope for a competitive unit?
I thought there were some nice things there. The blitzes that led to big plays are something that makes me wonder about how often we can expect to see pressure and extra rushers this season. We know the Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli does not prefer to blitz, but we also saw last year more Cover 1 man coverage, so perhaps they are more willing to play with more aggressiveness and potentially risk things this season. For several years now, the Cowboys have played a very conservative brand of defense. Rush four, drop seven has been what we have seen since Rob Ryan left town. Maybe they are planning to change that with a better free safety on patrol and more capable coverage players with the return of Orlando Scandrick and veteran secondary men in Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
As they say, "it can't be any worse," in some respects.
If you have to roll the dice to cause the offense to make mistakes, that might be the best way to attack this year. Especially with an offense that might be able to cover up some mistakes with scoring more often.