We all know the routine.
We've been waiting months on months for a taste of football action; something to finally wash that disgusting flavor of last season out of our existence. We wade through free agency, then the draft, then a miserable lull during the summer. OTA's arrive, but there's really nothing earth shattering happening there. Finally, training camp and the first game action is only a couple weeks away.
Then the time finally comes; the first preseason game is right around the corner and you're finally going to get you some football. You prop yourself in front of the TV, tell the wife that she's on solo baby duty for the next few hours and you're rearing to go. Kickoff is euphoria. The first few series of the game give you a glimpse of all that you remember is good about football, and by connection, life itself.
And then... the starters get pulled. And the game gets boring... real boring, real quick. Well, unless you're one of those football junkies like me and my homies over at Blogging The Boys. Watching three quarters of backups and guys that probably won't make the team can suck all of the enthusiasm out of the exercise and make a fan crave the regular season. You realize, that you think the preseason sucks.
Don't fret my friends; we're here to help. All you need is a little bit of insight into who exactly you'll want to keep an eye on tonight during the Cowboys-Raiders preseason game once the starters get pulled. There are a number of players who will be seeing action that are beginning a three-week audition for their professional football lives. Some of them will have jobs, but might be stuck in the pigskin version of the mailroom. Others will get the "Don't call us, we'll call you" treatment. There are players that have plenty to prove.
Here's a look at who you should be watching once Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten put on their baseball hats (hopefully not backwards because, you know, that's what players who aren't serious about football do).
Arkin is pretty much a red-shirt freshman. 2011's fourth-round pick didn't dress for a single snap last season, but finds himself firmly in the spotlight for Preseason 2012. Short-term injuries to both starting guards (Livings and Bernadeau) and long-term injuries to the primary backups (Nagy and Kowalski) forced Arkin to begin taking snaps at center.
To say the camp practices have been a comedy of errors would be an understatement. Practices have been difficult to get through for the offense and then to make matters worse, starting center Phil Costa tweaked his back. The injury isn't serious, but it will make Arkin a starting center. Because of the lack of depth, the small-school mid-rounder is expected to see significant time to prove that he isn't in over his head (like some of the snaps he's delivered to Romo).
Who? Olawale is a UDFA full back that is a former wideout from the University of North Texas. What? A receiver turned fullback? But Olawale wasn't a normal-sized flanker. He stands a robust 6'0" and weighs in at 235 lbs and ran the 40 yard dash in 4.53 seconds at his Pro Day.
There is a metric that is used by Football Outsiders that translates incoming rookie running backs 40-yard dash times into a reliable measurement for who will succeed as a pro running back. It's called speed score and basically relates 40 speed to body weight. Olawale's speed score (111.6) was better than every Scouting Combine runner this year save for Miami's Lamar Miller; owner of the year's fastest 40 at 4.4. Olawale will get reps at running back and fullback due to a hand injury to Phillip Tanner. Don't be surprised if J.O. forces his way into the running back conversation.
The "No-Snap" Newbie Receivers
When receiving coach Jimmy Robinson responds with the following, after being asked if the third wide receiver is currently on the team, you know there's a lot of people with something to prove.
"Um ... I don't know if confident is the right word. I'm hopeful, let me say it that way. I'm hopeful. This preseason is going to tell the tale on that. [...] It's a competitive situation and a lot of guys who are all kind of there together, so we need someone to step up and away from the crowd."
Wow. Kevin Ogltree, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley, Raymond Radway, Tim Benford and Andre Holmes... do something. Danny Coale, a fifth-round 2012 draft pick out of Virginia Tech is just getting back to practice and is not expected to play tonight; but he is also in the competition.
Focus on the receivers, but please... evacuate the thoughts of Chad Johnson and Lee Evans; two recently released players Dallas won't come anywhere near.
This might be McGee's last hurrah. The third-string quarterback for the last few years has really done nothing to make anyone following the team think that he is even a long-term backup option for Tony Romo. Somehow, he keeps getting the opportunity. This year, however, the Cowboys will have the option of putting Rudy Carpenter on the practice squad and go with just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. In the Blue-White Scrimmage, Carpenter at least showed that he isn't allergic to looking past his check-down options; something that McGee hasn't. Time is ticking.
The cornerback, turned safety, turned wideout, turned cornerback somehow wasn't the first corner cut from the team. That dubious honor went to UDFA Isaac Madison who was jettisoned for offensive skill position camp bodies last week. There are still six corners vying to be the sixth cornerback on the roster, if Dallas even keeps that many active (and depending on how soon Mike Jenkins returns). Someone on the staff has a sweet spot for the speed/size merchant that doesn't play with size/speed and they are hoping that a return to his college position will allowhim to utilize these skills. He'll have to prove something when he's on the field or his visit from The Turk could come sooner rather than later.
When the clock strikes fourth quarter, someone needs to make Terrelle Pryor's life uncomfortable. That job might be filled by Adrian Hamilton, a pass rushing specialist from tiny Prairie View. Hamilton amassed 22 sacks last year and seems to have more than just a small-school repertoire of rush moves.
If Hamilton shows up in a major way, Dallas could look to table him for the rest of the preseason in hopes of sneaking him onto the practice squad. If he doesn't do much damage, he could wind up being out of the team's plans altogether. That is the life of a undrafted free agent.
Along the way, don't forget to check out Caleb McSurdy (7th round middle linebacker) Justin Taplin-Ross (strong safety with elite measurables) and Ben Bass (defensive end prospect). McSurdy is probably the closest to being a sure future cut unless he shows up in games something fierce. Bass is facing a logjam on the defensive line in front of him and will have to make quite the impression to make the 53.