3 Things To Watch For In The Cowboys First Preseason Game Vs. The Broncos

brett maher

Football is finally back. Well, kind’ve.

Dallas kicks off its preseason on Saturday night against the Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson, who hasn’t yet been ruled out of the matchup.

On the Cowboys side, nearly all the offensive players locked into starting spots will be sitting along with some players on the defense. While this may deter some potential viewers, there are still some entertaining storylines you can follow that will shape how the starting lineup looks when the regular season rolls around.

Here are the three things to watch for during Saturday night’s preseason opener:

The rookies

First round pick Tyler Smith has been competing with Connor McGovern for the starting spot at left guard, but Smith has been practicing with the second-string offense as of late. A solid showing Saturday could change that.

Sam Williams speed off the edge helped him bring down the QB a lot during his days at Ole Miss, and that’s carried over into training camp. Media members have been raving about him and if he plays well early on, the coaches may pull him to make sure he’s available Week 1.

Jalen Tolbert has also been getting lots of love from his teammates dating back to OTAs. CeeDee Lamb recently commented on his ability to come down with jump balls, saying 50/50 balls don’t feel like even matchups when Tolbert is involved.

Jake Ferguson is fighting for the TE2 spot with veterans Sean McKeon and Jeremy Sprinkle. While Ferguson has the most upside, that doesn’t mean he’ll be given snaps from day one. He’s had a quiet camp to date, but that can change with a big performance when it counts.

Kicking competition

The Cowboys only kicker on the roster before training camp was undrafted free agent Jonathan Garibay out of Texas Tech. Garibay went 15/16 on field goal attempts in 2021 and landed a spot on the All-Big 12 team.

Garibay crushed it at OTAs and minicamp, impressing his teammates and coaches in practices. Based on the reports, many thought Garibay had the starting job locked up as long as he stayed the course in training camp.

Before the team reported to Oxnard, CA, Dallas signed Lirim Hajrullahu to make Garibay compete for the job, and that’s when things went downhill. Day after day, reports from camp were that neither kicker was running away with the job. But if one had to choose, Hajrullahu was winning the competition.

Eventually, Dallas’ coaching staff had seen enough and decided to cut Garibay.

Days later, four more kickers flew to Oxnard for a  workout and Brett Maher walked away with a roster spot, so now it’s him vs. Hajrullahu.

Both players have previously kicked in the regular season for Dallas. Hajrallahu played one game with the Cowboys in 2021 when Greg Zuerlein was out with COVID. He went 5/5 on extra points (XPs) and no FG tries. He also appeared in three games with the Carolina Panthers last season, going 3/3 on XPs and 4/ 5 on FGs. That’s all the NFL experience he has.

Maher is entering his fourth NFL season and spent his first two in Dallas. In year two, the Cowboys released Maher midseason because he was hitting just 66.7% of his FGs. 

Maher played eight games with the New Orleans Saints in 2021 after starter Wil Lutz suffered an injury. Maher was ultimately released midseason.

Considering Hajrullahu’s lack of experience and the bitter taste fans have from Maher’s days on the team, this isn’t the sexiest competition going on in Cowboys camp. Regardless, it’s an important one to watch, and each player will have the chance to make a statement with a strong showing against Denver.

Backup QB competition

Dak Prescott has done an outstanding job at avoiding injury in his six seasons as a pro. In 2020, he fractured his ankle in week five and missed the remainder of the year. Outside of that, he’s missed only one game.

But the injury in 2020 showed that in the blink of an eye, your backups could be called to action to save the season. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well when Prescott went down in 2020. Three different QBs started after the injury and none were capable backups, leading Dallas to a 6-10 record.

These are the players vying for the QB2 spot:

  • Cooper Rush signed with Dallas in 2017 and has only started one game during his time in Big D. The 28-year-old has thrown for 422 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in his career. He’s known for being a safe decision maker, rarely throwing risky passes in danger of being intercepted.
  • Will Grier has been performing well thus far in training camp, but a groin injury held him out of Thursday’s joint practice with the Broncos. Mike McCarthy said if Grier sits Friday, he’ll also sit the preseason game. 

Grier was a third round pick to the Carolina Panthers in the 2019 draft. He played poorly in two games that season and hasn’t seen regular season action since.

If Grier can find the field in the preseason and play well, he can certainly earn QB2 duties over Rush.

  • Ben DiNucci is on the outside looking in on the race for QB2. But if Grier can’t play Saturday night, it’ll just mean more snaps for DiNucci. He was a seventh round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft and he played in three games that season. DiNucci had 23 completions on 43 attempts for 219 yards. The Atlanta-native didn’t see the field in the 2021 regular season.