Dallas Cowboys Kick off Preseason Against Oakland: What to Watch For

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 13, 2012

Jun 12, 2012; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (50) and Bruce Carter (54) take a break during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys headquarters.  Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders are the last two teams to take the field this preseason. That means it'll be a cramped preseason for the Cowboys, who play four games in just 17 days before getting a week to prepare for the opener in New Jersey Sept. 5.

Here's what we'll be watching for during tonight's nationally-televised game:

Auditions at center

Phil Costa isn't a lock to start the season at center, but he's held the job by default because no one's been healthy enough to emerge and challenge him. Now, Costa's going to be out tonight with back tightness, giving someone a chance to be that guy.

That first "someone" will be David Arkin, a second-year guard who has stepped in for practice snaps in camp, many of which he's botched. Undrafted rookie Harland Gunn will also have a chance to make a statement. 

Costa knows the system, which is why he has an edge. But his first full year as a starter wasn't good.

With Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski also out and Mackenzy Bernadeau's status up in the air, you can also expect to see a lot of undrafted rookie Ronald Leary at guard. 

Auditions at wide receiver

Miles Austin won't play, and Dez Bryant will be very limited if he does. As a result, this might be Dallas' best chance to assess what they have in the No. 3 receiver contest. Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris could start, with Danny Coale, Raymond Radway, Tim Benford, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley all getting cracks at impressing.

It really is a seven-horse race, which is intriguing because nearly half of those guys won't even make the final 53. Any of them could be the No. 3 guy and the next Laurent Robinson, but any of them could also find themselves jobless in three weeks.

Making the competition more interesting is the fact that the Cowboys have three competent quarterbacks on the roster. Sure, it'll benefit Ogletree and Harris if they get to work with Tony Romo, but the rest of the receivers in this competition won't have much of an excuse working with Kyle Orton or Stephen McGee. Plus, they'll be facing backups. 

Big opportunities for Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent

The two 24-year-old, 300-plus-pound defensive linemen are supposed to play much bigger roles in their third seasons, and they'll have the chance to start with a bang tonight. With Jay Ratliff out, Brent will gain crucial reps with and against first-teamers, while Lissemore will compete for reps with Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman and Clifton Geathers. 

If both youngsters can stand out tonight, we could be getting a glimpse into the future for the Cowboys' defensive line. 

Dan Connor vs. Bruce Carter

The top competition of camp reaches a new plateau tonight, as the veteran Connor continues to attempt to stave off the talented young Carter for the right to gain starter snaps next to Sean Lee. There's a good chance we see a lot of both linebackers this season, so this battle might not make or break Dallas' season.

Still, the competition is good because it's pushing two guys to step up in the weakest spot of the linebacking corps.

Connor and Carter have split first-team reps throughout camp, although Connor is officially listed as the starter. 

Of course, check back with us later tonight for a complete review of game No. 1.