By Matthew Postins
Wednesday marks the traditional start to the NFL work week – at least during the regular season. But as the preseason begins to fade away and the regular season comes into focus, here are the five stories you should follow the next seven days:
Dunbar’s ankle: It’s a shame, really. The drafting of Joseph Randle in the fifth round had the desired effect – it compelled both Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner to pick up their games. That made the competition behind starter DeMarco Murray one of the best ones of training camp. But Dunbar took a step back after the Dallas Cowboys announced he would miss about a month with an ankle injury. Dunbar was the unofficial No. 2 back on the depth chart and he was playing like it, even with the minor hiccup of a fumble against Arizona. It’s obvious that his hard work paid off this offseason, as he was making it quite difficult for Randle to assume the No. 2 position most had earmarked for him in April. Now, Randle will likely slip into that No. 2 role and Dunbar must hunt for reps when he gets back for the regular season. It’s worth following what happens in Dunbar’s absence. Does someone step forward and take hold of the No. 2 job? If not, then Dunbar has an opening when he returns.
Dez’s finger: Anything related to Dez Bryant is news. So when we heard something was up with his thumb, you had to assume the worst. Fortunately, it’s just jammed. This is a guy that played multiple games with an index finger that really needed surgery and put up the best numbers of his career so far. A jammed thumb isn’t likely to slow him down. What to watch for is if Bryant has a setback. It’s difficult to overstate his importance to the offense these days.
The Cover 2’s first big test: So far this preseason the Cowboy defense has played, at the least, well. At times they’ve been stifling. But let’s rationalize this a bit. Those games were against offenses that were trying to find a direction. Saturday’s opponent, Cincinnati, is the first opponent the Dallas Cowboys will face that has its act together. The Bengals were a playoff team a year ago and have a boatload of weapons – quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green, running backs Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard, and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. These Bengals are no pushovers, as the Cowboys learned last year up in Ohio. If you’re looking for a checkpoint report on how the implementation of the Cover 2 really is coming along, look no further than Saturday’s game. It will be a true dress rehearsal.
Roster Cuts: The first set of roster cuts comes after Saturday’s game. The Dallas Cowboys, like most teams, won’t part with anyone significant until the final cuts. But the Cowboys appear to still be on the lookout for depth at the offensive line. They’ve tried unsuccessfully to lure two veteran guards to the roster. But where they really need help is tackle, a position at which they are dreadfully thin. The Cowboys will watch those cuts with an eagle eye to see if they can find a gem among hundreds of players that see their NFL dreams, likely, come to an end.
Injuries: This is not the time of year you want to be hurt if you’re fighting for a roster spot. Several Dallas Cowboys are missing significant time that could impact their ability to make the team. Those players include guard Nate Livings, safety Matt Johnson, linebacker Brandon Magee and wide receiver Cole Beasley. Rattleandhumsports.com has all four of these players making the team, but they are by no means lead pipe locks to make the roster at this point. It’s worth watching who plays, and who doesn’t, on Saturday.