The third preseason game is basically the dress rehearsal for the regular season. While there will be a few key players sitting out due to minor injuries this is the best chance we'll get to judge how good the team will be heading into the regular season. I'm excited to finally get an extended look at several parts of the team. Here is what I'll be looking for:
1. Is the offensive line ready for prime time? The season opener is going to be on Sunday Night Football against the Jets. There will be blitzes and pressure coming from all over the place. The offensive line needs to be ready to go. It seems like we might finally have an idea of what the starting line is going to look like. From left to right it appears that Doug Free, Bill Nagy, Andre Gurode, Kyle Kosier and Tyron Smith will be the starters. The Vikings don't run a sophisticated blitz scheme like the Jets but they can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Hopefully we'll see an offensive line that can open running lanes and protect the quarterback.
2. Is the defense rounding into shape? Without the two starting cornerbacks it will still be tough to judge exactly what to expect from the defense. But I hope to see the missed assignments that have plagued the defense so far this preseason kept to a minimum. My biggest concern right now is the run defense because they have looked really soft up the middle on several occasions.
3. What can DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice bring to the running game? Felix Jones is running like a guy who is ready for a break out season. But the depth behind him is a big question mark. Murray just started practicing this week so his playing time will probably be limited. But since he wasn't on the field for training camp I'm excited to see how he looks on the field. And Tashard Choice has a lot to prove based on the performance of Lonyae Miller and Phillip Tanner both in practice and in the first two preseason games. I have a feeling Choice is going to come out very fired up to prove his critics wrong.
4. Is Kevin Ogletree going to win the #3 receiver role or will the Cowboys need to start looking for a cheap veteran free agent? When Ogletree makes plays he always looks like a dynamic receiver who is capable of big things. But he also disappears at times. If he wants to be counted on in a more prominent role in the offense he needs to show that he can consistently get open and make plays. He'll get his shot with Miles Austin sitting out with a sore hamstring.
5. Will someone win the kicking job outright? Shayne Graham wasn't signed this week to be another training camp body. Clearly the Cowboys are either concerned about Buehler's hip injury, Buehler's inconsistency on field goals, Dan Bailey's inexperience, or a combination of all three. Shayne Graham wasn't sitting around in free agency for no reason. He really struggled early this preseason with the Redskins, but maybe he can find his groove again considering he is one of the best field goal kickers of all time statistically. But then again the Cowboys thought they had cured their kicking woes a few years ago when they signed Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history at the time. The only way we'll know if Graham can get it done is if he gets a few opportunities.
There are still a lot more unanswered questions about this team than I would hope at this point. But there are still potential solutions to all of the perceived problems. I'm just hoping that the solutions can be found before the games start counting.