The Dallas Cowboys are scheduled to play their first preseason game on Saturday night, traveling east from Oxnard to take on the Denver Broncos. With only three exhibition games this year, it’s highly unlikely the Cowboys will play all of their starters for many snaps. Instead, expect to see those fighting for roster spots to get the majority of the work.
If the first-string guys do line up, it won’t be for long. The Cowboys won’t be exposing quarterback Dak Prescott, linebacker Micah Parsons, left tackle Tyron Smith or wide receiver CeeDee Lamb for more than what’s needed to knock off a little rust. Dallas just doesn’t have the depth to take those unnecessary risks.
However, if the Cowboys do line up their starters on both sides of the ball, one might be wondering who will be opening up the game. Perhaps even more interesting will be the pecking order for those positions that have been having camp battles.
For anyone questioning what the depth chart will look like heading into the game, the Cowboys have obliged with the first look. Following are three observations of what it means for the players on the roster.
The unofficial depth chart
It’s important to note that where a player is right now doesn’t mean they’ll stay there. It doesn’t mean a current first-stringer can’t lose his job, but the rookies appear to be buried.
Only one first-year player, wide receiver Jalen Tolbert, is listed as a starter. First-round pick Tyler Smith is listed as the second-string left guard behind veteran Connor McGovern, and second-round selection Sam Williams is a third-string defensive end. Defensive tackle John Ridgeway is also listed as a third-stringer, which isn’t a shock considering he was a fifth-round pick.
Tolbert’s place as a starter is understandable, the Cowboys have a need for him to play right away and he’s performing well in camp. His inclusion as a first-teamer shows how much the team believes in Tolbert.
Smith being listed as the backup at LG is surprising. Not many first-round players aren’t going to be starters, so the hope is that Smith can win the job over the course of the preseason. The rookie doesn’t need to be listed as the starter on the depth chart to ensure he’ll get plenty of exhibition work, expect Smith to play a good deal in all three games.
The Cowboys could also be making sure the young players earn their spot on the depth chart, instead of just being handed their opportunity. When it’s all said and done, Smith will likely be joining Tolbert as a starter and the hope is that Williams plays a big role for Dallas’ defense.
Dorance Armstrong is the starting DE
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Ironically, the Cowboys will be playing the Broncos in the first preseason game, and Armstrong is listed as a starter. Armstrong will be replacing former Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory, who is now with the Broncos, and currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Perhaps there’s a bit of gamesmanship going on by the Cowboys.
Even if there isn’t, many fans were wondering who would be lining up opposite DE DeMarcus Lawrence and Armstrong has the first shot at winning the job. In being listed as the starter, Armstrong has beaten out veteran pass rushers Tarell Basham and offseason addition Dante Fowler. For those hoping for Fowler to make a return to his double-digit sack ways under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, that doesn’t appear to be the case right now.
Armstrong also is ahead of the rookie Williams on the depth chart, which shouldn’t be a surprise.
The Cowboys re-signed Armstrong to a larger than expected deal this offseason with the idea he’s an ascending player and his inclusion in the starting lineup is conformation the team believes in him. Things may change before the regular season, but Armstrong gets the first crack as a starting DE.
Lirim Hajrullahu wins first battle for kicking job
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While many Cowboys enthusiasts were worried about other position this offseason, the kicking battle was a quiet issue. Thus far in training camp, the kicking battle has taken front and center as the most troublesome spot on the roster. Neither kicker has established himself as the front runner and the results have been disappointing.
Jonathan Garibay and Lirim Hajrullahu have been so shaky that the Cowboys ditched the experiment and have cut the rookie, replacing him with former Dallas kicker Brett Maher.
Garibay was assumed to have the lead in the kicking competition heading into camp, but flopped. Hajrullahu has more NFL experience and has outperformed the undrafted rookie in camp, so he’s earned the first nod.