As expected, the starters were firmly entrenched on the sidelines last night, having no intention of taking the field until postgame bro-hugs. The third and fourth deep, though, had to give every ounce of try, just to have a chance to hang in the locker room a few days from now.
Here are a few observations from the Cowboys' 30-13 win over the Dolphins:
1. The receiver battle remains fairly open: Hovering on the bubble for another year, Kevin Ogletree didn't do a whole lot to help his case. While he's well versed in Garrett's system and is a special teams contributor, he hasn't progressed much beyond the few flashes of ability he showed a couple years ago.
Dwayne Harris and his insane Samson-like dreds, after a solid game against the Rams, didn't see much action against the Porpoises. Cole Beasley, the local undrafted darling, didn't get on the field much either. His similarly-prototyped teammate Danny Coale had a nice diving grab, assuaging any injury concerns for the 2012 fifth rounder. Andre Holmes also figures into the mix, further complicating a situation that will likely see a couple of these guys get cut.
2. One of the biggest concerns of the preseason was the health of the offensive line. When Phil Costa strained his back, David Arkin was forced to step into the role and escort various defensive tackles in the direction of Tony Romo and Kyle Orton. Costa returned for game four of the preliminary schedule and performed adequately. Considering the supporting cast, center shouldn't be an immensely glaring weakness, but don't be surprised if the Cowboys bring someone in off the waiver wire as an insurance policy on Costa's back.
3. The Stephen McGee Experiment might be over. He didn't have an awful game, but it took an entire quarter the former fourth-rounder to get into his groove. With two front-line caliber QBs on the depth chart and a lack of reliable backups in positions (center, left tackle, kickoff specialist extraordinaire), McGee might not bring an appreciable value to the table versus a guy off the street in the event of Romo and Orton both being sidelined.
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4. Orie Lemon played his way onto the roster. While it's assumed most of the roster is fairly well set by the fourth preseason game, there's always a chance to make the coaches take notice. With a savvy pick-six and a handful of tackles, Lemon proved that he's got the stones to hang with Sean Lee and Dan Connor in the middle of the secondary.
5. Lance Dunbar may have arrived a little too late. Even with his salacious 58-yard run and some nifty moves on special teams, the UNT alum has scant room to make noise in a stable of proven running backs. Demarco Murray and Felix Jones are entrenched, while Phillip Tanner proved himself in fill-in duty last year. If you throw a fullback in there, that brings the total backfield roster to four, leaving maybe one spot for Dunbar or fellow Dentonite Jamize Olawale to fight over, assuming Olawale can keep his helmet on.
6. We're nearing the end of coherent civilization. Midway through the game, a giant Livingsocial overlay appeared on the field, reminding everyone of the go-to site for discount oil changes and Brazilian waxes. Surely this is a harbinger of the not-too-distant day that we're cheering on the Dallas Windexes versus the Miami Subway Five Dollar Footlongs.
Next Wednesday brings with it the fresh, crisp smell of a new Cowboys season. The ebullient optimism that kept us sated over the summer will either melt into something resembling outright panic or erupt into uncontrollable elation within a few weeks. Let's just hope Justin Tuck and his serial killer facemask doesn't piledrive us quickly into the former.