For a lot of Cowboys fans, the Hall of Fame game may have been a little underwhelming. We didn't get to see much action from the starters, and the players we did see ended up losing the game 16-3. All in all, there wasn't much to cheer about.
However, for this fan, the game offered up snaps galore, which can be so gratifying if you've been starving for football over these past eight months. I'm embarrassed to say that I have now watched the game against the Steelers four times as I carefully examined the play of certain players. Trying to get a feel for how this roster shakes out is a real challenge for some of us, and every bit of game film provides us with small little pieces to the puzzle.
With one game in the books, I have compiled myself a "watch list" for some players who will have my attention in Friday night's game against the Arizona Cardinals. Here are three players who might surprise us as they put up a fight for one of the final roster spots on this football team.
An undrafted free agent a year ago, Carter is a player who has kept our interest because he has a lot of intriguing traits. He's quick off the snap, he's a capable defender against the run, and he has the flexibility to play both the left and right defensive end positions. These attributes could be one of the reasons the Cowboys' front office gave him the largest signing bonus of all their priority free agent rookies last season.
Carter didn't make the Cowboys' final roster last season, but they did sign him to their practice squad. He was poached by the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks later, only to never see the field and be released in November. The Cowboys went after him again the following day and Carter even saw a handful of snaps down the stretch of last season. He re-upped with Dallas again this year, signing a one-year deal back in March.
He should be in line for plenty of opportunities as the team has some of their edge rushers banged up. DeMarcus Lawrence shouldn't see very much action in preseason games as the team attempts to preserve his health. The Cowboys also have youngsters Bradlee Anae and Chauncey Golston dealing with injuries as they, like Lawrence, didn't travel to Ohio for the first preseason game. Injuries should continue to give others more opportunities, and the only question is - can Carter take advantage?
When the Cowboys selected the Nebraska offensive lineman in the seventh round, I immediately labeled his 2021 ceiling as a potential practice squad candidate. Part of that was not knowing anything about him, and part of it was just how stacked the Cowboys' offensive line was entering the new season. Fundamentally, he's incredibly raw as he plays too upright, doesn't use his hands very well, and struggles to maintain good balance. The good news is that these are all coachable traits that can improve over time, which is why the practice squad seems ideal.
The better news though is that Farniok's athletic traits are standing out in camp and he's actually showing a lot of fight. He's a smart player (two-time team captain), who understands his responsibilities, but even more impressive is how well he's moving. Farniok is quick to position himself and has done a good job holding his blocks. He's using his leverage well and is not getting pushed around. The rookie held his own against Pittsburgh in the Hall of Fame game.
With players like Josh Ball (injury) and Ty Nsekhe (injury and underperforming), the Cowboys may have to rethink their offensive line strategy. And considering Farniok's versatility allows him to play all three offensive line positions, keeping him around may prove to be a wise move.
The Cowboys need major help at the defensive tackle position. Such a thing would be a big plus for Dallas as their interior defensive line has been a huge liability for them over the years. With no ability to push back in the trenches, the defense's ability to stop the run was atrocious last season. A new season brings with it another opportunity to change that.
Brent Urban has been the free agent defensive tackle with the most buzz as fans were excited to add a run-stopping specialist to their squad. Often times Quinn has chosen to line Urban up outside leaving plenty of reps for players like Neville Gallimore, Quinton Bohanna, and Carlos Watkins. While the team is still trying to figure things out, I'm interested in seeing what Watkins can bring to this unit. Initially, he seemed a little too undisciplined to be a consistent player, but in camp, he's been working hard and using his length to maneuver around would-be blockers. There have been no stand-out defensive tackles in camp thus far, so it still feels wide open as far as which players make the team. Watkins' athleticism and continuous motor could punch his ticket for one of the team's final roster spots.
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