One day after the NFL announced a six-game suspension for Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys face the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Unlike the Rams, this is the Cowboys’ second preseason game, as they are coming off a 20-18 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the meaningless Hall of Fame Game.
This game means little to nothing in the grand scheme of Dallas’ 2017 season, but it does mean a lot to each player fighting for playing time or a spot on the roster.
Here are three things to keep an eye on for the Cowboys on Saturday night.
Battle for No. 6 WR spot
It’s unclear whether the Cowboys will actually keep six receivers or not, but if they do, it will likely come down to Andy Jones and Noah Brown battling for that spot.
Jones is coming off a year in which he spent the entire season on the practice squad. He doesn’t create the most separation with his routes, but his leaping ability and soft hands allow him to excel in contested catch situations. Jones plucks balls out of the air with ease on a regular basis.
Brown is a big-bodied rookie out of Ohio State who plays like a classic possession receiver. Brown can use his size to box out corners at the catch point, and he has a knack for making impressive catches. However, his athleticism is never going to wow anyone.
Ultimately, Brown’s upside and draft pedigree make him the favorite to win the job as of now, but if Jones can string together some good performances, he may convince the Cowboys he’s worthy of that No. 6 receiver spot on the roster.
La’el Collins’ progress at right tackle
The Cowboys showed their confidence in Collins’ ability to successfully switch from left guard to right tackle by inking him to a contract extension a couple of weeks ago. However, he just isn’t quite there yet.
The switch is extremely difficult, so it’s not surprising that Collins has had some bumps in the road as he gets acquainted with the new position. In the practice video that has been released, Collins has had inconsistent pass sets and hand placement problems in pass protection. Those issues carried over into the Hall of Fame Game where Collins had a solid performance with some technical errors throughout.
Nevertheless, for all the problems Collins has had in pass protection, he hasn’t had any trouble run blocking. Collins’ pure power and demeanor lead him to dominate opposing players at the point of attack, creating big lanes in the running game.
Against the Rams, pay attention to how well Collins fares on pass downs. If he looks smooth and powerful with his movements, then it points to him becoming even more comfortable on the right side.
UDFA to watch: Lewis Neal, DT
Neal has been flying under the radar for most of training camp, but thanks to Maliek Collins and Stephen Paea missing practice, Neal found himself lining up with the first-teamers at practice during points this week.
This was an important development because it could mean that Neal has passed Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell on the Cowboys depth chart, giving him a chance to make the final roster as the No. 4 defensive tackle.
Listed at 6 feet, 298 pounds, Neal plays with great effort and a good burst. In the first preseason game, Neal flashed the ability to disrupt from the interior with his quickness.
Against the Rams, expect to see a lot of Neal throughout the second, third and fourth quarters. He needs to continue to play well and develop because if it’s close among him, Ivie and Carrell to make the team, the front office will probably choose the players who they invested a draft pick in.
The LSU product fits defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s type on the interior, and it’s time people talk about him as a legitimate candidate to make the 53-man roster or practice squad.
MORE COWBOYS COVERAGE
- Dallas’ goals are now limited in wake of Ezekiel Elliott suspension
- Examining Dallas’ path to the Super Bowl
- Who are the top 5 players on Dallas’ roster?
- Devising a defense to stop QB Dak Prescott