Expectations are high for a talented Dallas team, as usual, and there are also several holes that could make or break this 2012 version of the Cowboys. Preseason isn't the end-all, be-all that will determine how the season flows, but it can be telling of what the team will have to compensate for as it tries to march to another Lombardi Trophy.
Here are some things to look for during the Cowboys' first preseason game:
Standouts on offensive line
We know Tyron Smith will start at left tackle. We know Doug Free will start at right tackle. The rest is pretty much a crap shoot and Bill Callahan has his work cut out for him. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings were brought in to shore up one of the weakest points of the team. Livings has been solid and Bernadeau is really just getting back into game shape following a couple of surgeries.
The center position has been pretty much decimated and there is a rumor that Dallas is considering bringing back Andre Gurode. Not necessarily a bad move if it happens and perhaps he can flourish under Callahan.
I expect interior offensive lineman to get an extended amount of time even during the first preseason game. Fielding the best O-line has to be the top priority for Dallas and it begins against Oakland.
Third wide receiver
Laurent Robinson has raised expectations for this team's third wide receiver to levels that have never been seen before. Patrick Crayton was a solid No. 3, but his production never equaled to what Robinson displayed in '11. It's probably that whole lightning-in-a-bottle thing, but he stepped up and produced.
That resulted in a lucrative contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, one in which Dallas did not want to pay in order to keep a No. 3 guy.
So, Kevin Ogletree is yet again trying to be that guy. So is Andre Holmes, Danny Coale, Cole Beasley and a few more. I tend to agree with others that the Cowboys next No. 3 receiver is not on the roster. The eventual guy is there, but it won't be this year. I expect Dallas to sign Plaxico Burress after the first preseason game.
Secondary still suffering
I was stoked when Dallas brought in Brandon Carr in free agency and then moved up to draft Mo Claiborne. Solid, solid corners. They also brought in Brodney Poole to take one of the safety spots.
This was supposed to be a position of strength heading into this season, but Mike Jenkins is not available because of shoulder surgery and Poole is no longer on the team.
I'm still confident with the corner position - so long as Claiborne can get back on the field - because Dallas still has a more-than-capable player in Orlando Scandrick on the roster. Safety is a different issue.
Barry Church has been penciled in as Poole's replacement in the starting line-up, and he's a solid player. Here's to hoping the third-year player from Toledo is ready for the fire.
Running back depth
I think all of Cowboys Nation was excited to see the potential of DeMarco Murray. I certainly don't want to invoke the names of Emmitt Smith or Tony Dorsett, but Murray's flashes of brilliance last season were certainly promising.
But Murray came out of Oklahoma with the reputation of being a fragile player. Now, no one could have predicted that his ankle would get rolled up on against the New York Giants, and I don't think anyone at the time thought it would be fractured. Well, it happened and it was broken, thus ending a very uplifting rookie campaign.
The running game was never the same. Felix Jones suffered through his own setbacks. Veteran Sammy Morris was even brought in to carry the ball.
What I'm looking for in this preseason game is for Murray to display the explosiveness and ability to cut that he showed while racking up 897 yards in just 164 carries last year. I'm also looking to see if a lighter Jones can become the change-of-pace runner most thought he would be, and stay healthy while doing so.
Then there is the all-important third guy. Who will that be?
John Ingle is a graduate of the Midwestern State University Mass Communication program with an emphasis in journalism. He is a lifelong Dallas Cowboys and football fan dating back to the late 1970s and covered the Cowboys as a journalism intern during two training camps at MSU. Follow him on Twitter @inglejohn1973.
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