Everyone that you’re excited to see from the Dallas Cowboys isn’t going to be playing on Monday, so that’s probably the first thing worth noting about tonight’s game. Morris Claiborne is out. Phil Costa is out. Nate Livings is out. Miles Austin is out. Dez Bryant is most likely out.
The big names never get much burn in these sort of outings, but usually you at least get a glimpse. Not tonight.
Despite that, there are still a number of other interesting things to watch for when the Cowboys and Oakland Raiders clash in their first preseason showdown of the year.
We count down the three most noteworthy ones for each squad below.
What to watch for:
1. Who will be the team’s No. 3 wide receiver this year? It goes without saying that Austin and Bryant will be Tony Romo’s two favorite options, but who comes next in the power rankings? Kevin Ogletree seems to be the logical choice, but Cole Beasley has reportedly been really impressive in training camp. Danny Coale is coming off injury, so it’s hard to envision him stepping up – but Andre Holmes and Dwayne Harris might pleasantly surprise over the course of the next few games.
2. How will David Arkin look? The word right now is that Costa is fine and that he’s only suffering from spasms. Okay, cool. But people saying that it’s spasms doesn’t guarantee that it’s actually just spasms. Injuries have a fantastic way of being undersold at the start of seasons, and it would not at all be shocking if this ended up becoming a problem down the line. Arkin’s chemistry with Romo, undoubtedly, will be one of the more fascinating things to keep an eye on tonight.
3. Who will be the best punt returner? It’s hard to take things that happen in preseason games and apply them to outings that matter, but, for the most part, the return game doesn't really change. Beasley is going to get his shot at returning a few kicks today, and it would not at all be surprising to see him take one to the house.
What to watch for:
1. How will Carson Palmer look? Last year, Oakland’s highly-touted quarterback pickup was not particularly impressive when it was all said and done. Given how solid Palmer was with the Cincinatti Bengals before that relationship’s untimely demise, though, it made sense to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he needed a full summer to adjust and acclimate himself to the Raiders offense. Well, he’s had his summer now – time to perform. Early word out of camp is that he has been terrible with his reads and has exhibited the sort of bad judgment that became standard operating procedure last season, but, maybe that was just camp jitters. And by maybe, I mean hopefully. Bottom line: Oakland goes as far as Palmer takes them in 2012.
2. Will Darren McFadden play significant minutes? And if he does, can he stay healthy? Look, McFadden’s history is public knowledge. As talented as this guy is, that’s how injury prone he has been, is and probably will continue to be. Expecting that he won’t get hurt almost seems unrealistic at this point. Prior to missing nine games in 2011, McFadden was arguably the league’s best running back and appeared to be an early-season MVP candidate. We know what happened after that. Keep an eye on how the Raiders play their fragile, supremely talented back. Do they rush him into the heart of the defense early and often? Do they decrease his workload? Do they line him up at receiver? If anything can counteract Palmer’s seemingly inevitable failure, it’s McFadden finally playing up to his superstar potential for a full year.
3. Does Terrelle Pryor have the makings of a future starter? When the Raiders initially picked Pryor up last season, there were some murmurs about him possibly being the squad’s quarterback of the future. That talk dissipated quickly because of everything else that happened, but it’s back now. There is going to be room for Pryor to prove himself this year – whether he actually will or won’t be able to is a whole different story, though.