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What Did We Learn in the Dallas Cowboys' Preseason Win?

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Underrated players in fantasy football 2013

Underrated players in fantasy football 2013

COMMENTARY | Football is back. The world is coming back full circle.

OK, the excitement isn't all the way back. It was just the Hall of Fame Game with the Dallas Cowboys beating the Miami Dolphins 24-20 on Sunday night. To add, it was a Cowboys team who sat almost its entire starting cast of players.

So, it was dull. But, of course, it's the Cowboys, and they won a football game. It's news to most, regardless.

But, hey, preseason is fun to speculate. It's a good chance to observe some of the things we've been talking about all summer.

These questions aren't going to be fully answered until the meaningful names step on the field, which will be on Friday against the Oakland Raiders. But what did we learn from this meaningless 24-20 win?

Quite a bit, actually.

1) There will be a good battle for DeMarco Murray's backup spot.

With Felix Jones out of the picture, the battle to be the backup running back comes with some added weight. This guy will need to be ready at all times to possibly be the starter.

Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle split the bulk of the carries on Sunday (13 for Randle, 10 for Tanner), and both looked impressive tallying a combined 123 rushing yards on 23 carries, and a first-quarter touchdown by Tanner.

Tanner is the experienced back out of the two with Randle being Dallas' fifth-round pick in the NFL draft, and the preconceived notion was that the backup spot was a lock for Randle. That doesn't appear to be the case.

Tanner has proved numerous times that he's a physical runner between the tackles, but didn't make the most of his opportunities when Murray was hurt last year. He's getting a third opportunity to be that reliable third-down back. So far, this looks to be the most intriguing position battle heading into these next four games.

2) Speaking of the running game, that was impressive.

Preseason or not, when was the last time the Cowboys made running the ball look that easy?

As a team, Dallas gained 170 total yards on the ground between five different running backs (again, bulk of that coming from Randle and Tanner), but Lance Dunbar also contributed with 22 yards on four carries.

With Bill Callahan taking over the offensive play-calling duties, the Cowboys will run the ball a lot more often this year. The offensive line did a terrific job creating running lanes in the first half and didn't have to worry protecting the quarterback.

Plus, the quarterbacks didn't need to throw as much. Twenty-one total attempts were made by three Dallas quarterbacks. It was a rare time to see the Cowboys not needing to pass as much. Very odd, to say the least.

This new running game will have to translate well to Friday against the Raiders before celebrating this great accomplishment, but the it was as fluid as ever in Dallas.

3) Travis Frederick looked solid in his debut.

The question mark comes out of Dallas' first-round pick from Wisconsin who got a lot of reps at center on Sunday.

One game down, Frederick earned himself a solid 'B' in his first game.

Frederick knows that he's had to prove to a lot of outside spectators that Dallas didn't make a mistake in drafting him. The minute he stepped into camp, he brought this intelligence in pre-snap reads to the offensive line that wasn't there the last couple of years.

His ability to know his role right away, being the one to protect Tony Romo from swarming blitz packages, has made him the key lineman to look for this summer. He's doing a great job so far in camp and it translated well against the Dolphins.

4) This 'Tampa 2' defense has a lot of promise, as does Rod Maranelli's defensive line.

Just as the story went with the lack of a running game, the same is said for not causing enough turnovers on defense. Hence why management decided to go with Monte Kiffin as Dallas' new defensive coordinator.

How about two turnovers caused by the Dallas defense? Well, the first was a fluke. Lamar Miller fumbled the ball inside Miami's own 10-yard line, making fans wish Reggie Bush was still in town.

The most impressive turnover, however, came on an interception from sixth-round pick DeVonte Holloman, returned 75 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Holloman helped his case for a reserve role on this team with that play that put Dallas up two touchdowns.

As for this hyped defensive line coached by Maranelli, the reserves in the front four recorded three sacks and hit the quarterback six total times. The most impressive player up front was four-year lineman George Selvie, who spent the last year and a half in Jacksonville, racking 1.5 sacks.

He had two against the Dolphins.

Maranelli seems to have instilled this needed toughness that was lacking up front for the Cowboys. Again, this will all be revisited after Friday. But this defense showed a lot of promise. Exciting things may be coming.

5) Get ready for another year with the microscope right on the safety position.

Only one bad thing to note. And wouldn't you know it? It's coming from the safety positions.

Matt Johnson hurt his ankle and didn't play more than he was projected, so it was a good chance for third-round pick J.J. Wilcox to get some reps at safety. Albeit for someone who only played one year of safety at college, he struggled heavily on Sunday.

Wilcox has impressed coaches during camp, but it didn't translate well on the field. He gave up a couple of plays over the middle that he could've made, and also let a Miami receiver beat him deep for an almost-50-yard gain.

Barry Church and Will Allen didn't play against Miami, hence why Wilcox saw a bit of time. He'll be hitting the coverage drills hard at strong safety this week.

All in all, if we're going to grade these sort of things, the Cowboys got a solid 'B+' just on how impressive the running game was. For Dallas to run the ball 34 times compared to 21 passes was really eye-opening. It's up for this group to keep it up.

We'll see the starters on Friday, and then we can judge a little bit more in depth.

Danny Webster is a featured columnist for the Dallas Cowboys. You can contact him by going on Twitter and following @DannyWebster21.

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