It's always a pleasure to preview an upcoming Houston Texans versus Dallas Cowboys matchup, be it the most inconsequential game for our starters all year or not. In this week 4 of the 2013 preseason, the Texans take it north on I-45 and our back-ups will battle the Cowboys back-ups at Jerry's World for a test of wills that means absolutely nothing.
All that being said, true fans of each team have lots to look out for. After all, one injury, benching or a rotation could send some of the players for this week's game onto the field into important gametime situations.
With that, we check in on our very talented friend, K.D. Drummond of www.bloggingtheboys.com. His entertaining and sharp responses regarding our questions about that team to the north will let you know exactly how fans of the franchise feel about the direction of the team and battles for open positions.
Will the Cowboys' offensive line changes back up Jerry Jones' statement that it's the best it has been in a few years?
In a nutshell, yes, but you have to understand where this Cowboys line is coming from. Dallas completely retooled their line from the 2010 catastrophe. Out with the old, literally. Now, they have a relatively young line that looks like it’s finally getting it’s act together. Tyron Smith, at age 22, is still younger than a lot of the incoming “freshman” to the NFL. Entering his third season, he is poised to make a leap that has commonly been seen amongst players with that amount of service. He has all of the physical attributes to be a dominant left tackle and his knowledge base is always increasing due to matching up with DeMarcus Ware. Doug Free, he of the myriad of penalty issues and hash brown blocks (the opposite of a pancake) seems to have reverted to the form that earned him the contract Dallas had to roll back this past offseason.
Travis Frederick, first-round draft pick that was widely mocked (and I’m not talking about the annoying exercises that we tire of by the first week of April), has been a God-send for this line, as he is way ahead of his time in calling protections, deciding who on the line to help and picking up twists and stunts. The Cowboys still have a weak spot at guard due to injury. Second-year UDFA Ron Leary (3rd round grade- career knee concerns) was slated to be the left guard but had a scope a few weeks ago and is in doubt for Week 1. Nate Livings, who regressed as last season progressed, is a possible IR candidate with a knee ailment that could be career-threatening. That leaves Mack Bernadeau and David Arkin, with Bernie being flagged as the right guard. Things are so hectic after being turned down by Brandon Moore and Brian Waters during camp, the team is working Doug Free at right guard (with early positive reviews) and Jermey Parnell at right tackle. Parnell has been dealing with his own health ailments.
So when Jerry says it’s the best in a few years, he’s right. It’s just that a few years ago it was so horrid the Motion Picture Association refused to rate the Cowboys game films.
Who can make or break their chances to be on the 2013 Dallas Cowboys final roster in this preseason game?
Nothing really sexy here. Anthony Armstrong has a chance to be the sixth receiver, but it’s hard to justify that with other needs and a QB fighting to be the third guy. He’s probably the biggest “name”. UDFA rookie S Jeff Heath is battling second-year 4th round pick Matt Johnson for the role of 5th safety at the moment. Johnson can’t blink without pulling a muscle and all that potential could go by the wayside. ST ace and defensive liability Danny McCray is in the mix there as well. LB Caleb McSurdy is battling Brandon Magee for 53 or Practice Squad designation. DB Micah Pellerin could make a push. DT Sean Lissemore doesn’t really fit the new scheme and may be trade bait for a 3-4 team like the Saints. Demetress “Dinner” Bell was signed at an out-of-shape 350+ pounds. Well, there were a lot of shapes in there, none of them good. The club seems to have long-term plans for him so we’ll see.
Who do the Texans need to be ready for this Thursday night? Are there any head-turners we've not heard about yet?
On defense, you should see a fair amount of six-round pick Devonte Holloman. He’s a playmaker and a half, with a pick-six, a second interception, a strip sack (that was erroneously called back for forward-moving-hand) and another sack. The rook from South Carolina can play. Also look for JJ Wilcox, rookie safety from Georgia Southern who can pack a punch and is improving with coverage. This is only his second season playing safety, as he was a running back/wide receiver most of his career. On offense, you’d have been impressed with RB Lance Dunbar before his foot injury, but you’ll get a heavy dose of rookie Joseph Randle, who looks to be a DeMarco Murray clone.
It seems fans are high on Alex Tanney in the 3rd QB position behind Tony Romo and Kyle Orton. How realistic is it that the UDFA makes the final 53?
All eyes are going to be on Alex Tanney, the quarterback. Dallas released fourth-string guy Nick Stephens yesterday, so Tanney will play the entire game against the Texans. Signed right before camp, Tanney has been very impressive with his command in the pocket, escapability and fitting passes into tight spaces. He did this on two key third downs in a game-clinching drive last week. Of course, he’s famous for his trick-shot videos on Youtube, but the dude’s completion percentage in Div III ball was over 85%... the guy can play. If he doesn’t make the 53, I don’t see how he makes it past these QB-hungry teams and onto the Practice Squad. With the injuries Dallas is dealing with, it’s going to be tough (taking up inactive gameday slots) to keep a third quarterback, but my opinion is that it’s worth it.
What injuries are the team deal with and are there any that can affect the week one opener versus the New York Giants?
There are enough to impact things. Jay Ratliff was just put on in-season PUP, so he’s out for six weeks. Anthony Spencer just began running after a late July knee scope so it’s hopeful he’s back. Dallas already lost Spencer’s backup Tyrone Crawford for the season to an Achilles injury. I spoke about G Ron Leary’s knee earlier, as well as the other starters on the line. CB Mo Claiborne is just getting back from a knee tweak. I spoke about backup RB Lance Dunbar’s foot. Those are the main ones, which means that Dallas is probably more fortunate than most of the teams currently (knock on wood). Romo, Dez, Miles, Ware, Hatcher, Carr, Witten, Murray, Lee, Carter.. all healthy. How can you complain?
Special teams have been a concern for the Cowboys this preseason. Where have you seen improvements and where do more improvements need to be made?
When I see an improvement, I’ll let you know. The company line is that they’ve been using many players that won’t make the final roster, but the special teams haven’t been special in a couple of years. With new ST coach Rich Bisaccia in the fold, we’ll see how things progress. The team has a lot of turnover from their special teams units last year, so we’ll see. Dallas has given up a punt return touchdown, a 40+ yard kick return, a field goal block.. they’ve muffed a punt, fumbled a punt, run into a guy that was calling for a fair catch, twice.
Yeah, I’ll let you know when I see an improvement.
In your 4th preseason game, DeMarco Murray was benched for a fumble in the Cowboys second possession. What kind of statement do you think HC Jason Garrett was trying to make with that move?
Actually Murray was benched for making two mistakes. The first was he missed a blocking assignment on the first play of the game that got Tony Romo sacked; then he fumbled the ball. I love that Garrett pulled him out, I love that Murray was pissed off about it. Garrett is always preaching accountability, but he’s often been handcuffed by the fact that whomever would be substituted in, would adversely affect the team. With the way he’s improved the roster now, there are capable players waiting in the wings should someone screw up. That helps you drive home the message.
Dez Bryant has been having a stellar preseason. After a strong 2nd half of 2012, is 2013 the year Dez becomes the Cowboy's go-to playmaker in the air?
That transition already happened. Dez would have made that leap earlier than the second half, but he had the incident with his mother and the pending charges hanging over his head. The line you see in Dez’s game-by-game performance exactly coincides with when he received the news that he was not going to face a penalty; the Baltimore game. On top of that, he’s even more mature, on and off the field, than ever and the sky’s the limit for Dez. We finally get to remember what it’s like to have an unstoppable force at wideout. I think you Texans fans know a little about that life.