The Cowboys were the last team to report to training camp and now, they’ll join the Raiders as the last team to play a preseason game, despite some teams already having played two.
The Cowboys will make up for lost time with their own evaluations. Several injuries will keep at least 15 players out of Monday night’s game in Oakland.
That leaves opportunities for players trying to improve their stock or simply make the team or practice squad.
Here are five key players or positions to watch when the Cowboys take the field in Oakland:
- Center of Attention: No other position has been decimated with injuries like the center spot here in camp. The top three centers on the depth chart are all injured and didn't make the trip to Oakland. That leaves second-year guard David Arkin, who has only played center for two weeks, as the starter, snapping for Tony Romo. While the first team will likely only play eight to 12 snaps at most Arkin will likely play most of the game because there are no other viable options. Other guards like Mackenzy Bernadeau, who might not even play considering he just returned to practice this week from a summer-long hip injury, and rookie Harland Gunn, have also taken snaps at center. Guard/tackle Pat McQuistan could get some work, too.
- Wide-open race: The wide receiver position has only taken a backseat to center because of the lack of numbers. But with Miles Austin (hamstring) out and Dez Bryant (hamstring) out or very limited, it gives several young receivers a chance to shine. Kevin Ogletree, Cole Beasley, who left the team 10 days ago for personal reasons but has returned and played well, along with Andre Holmes will likely get the most reps in the first half. But Raymond Radway, Dwayne Harris and Tim Benford aren’t too far behind in the next group.
- New Carr: The Cowboys gave $50.1 million to free-agent CB Brandon Carr back in March with hopes he would give an immediate boost to the secondary. Carr has looked impressive in the preseason so far, often going head-to-head with Bryant. Just seeing how Carr looks in a game and how it might affect the pass-rush will be something to watch.
- Going to Church: When the team decided to waive veteran Brodney Pool just a week into camp, it suggested a sense of confidence in Barry Church, who takes over as the strong safety next to Gerald Sensabaugh. An undrafted player in 2010, Church has slowly worked his way up from special teams ace, to role player on defense to now the starter in the secondary that struggled mightily the last two seasons.
- Left side: The Cowboys made the call to flip the offensive tackles this year, hoping second-year pro Tyron Smith is ready for the challenge at left tackle. He replaces Doug Free, who now starts at right tackle. Smith had a good rookie year and was named a Pro Bowl alternate, having only a few struggles on the right side. But left tackle is a different beast. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in his first test protecting Romo’s blind side.
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