After grinding through the first two weeks of camp, dealing with injuries and scouring the waiver wire for guards and defensive linemen, it was finally nice to see a glimpse of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys. Yes, it was a meaningless preseason game, but it's the beginning of a new season.
The Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins 24-20, and with the first game in the books, it's now time to use it as an early assessment tool. It's also a time to be realistic about several aspects of this team as well as a chance to see if any answers are a match to the questions that exist.
How did the offensive line hold up? How did the rookies perform? Did the defense play well? Who leads the competition at backup running back?
It's hard to answer all of those questions in one fell swoop, but it's smart to take it in stages. And that's what the Cowboys need to do through two weeks of camp. The progression of this team will continue to take shape as the weeks unfold and so will the battle for roster spots.
Let's take a look at those who are on the rise and fall.
This position could all of a sudden be as deep and talented as the wide receivers. DeMarco Murray is the undisputed starter but what lies behind him is anyone's for the taking. The camp battle between Joseph Randle, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar may turn out to yield a unique combination of runners.
This group has power, speed, explosiveness and grittiness that is going to be consistent with Bill Callahan's commitment to the run. All of those characteristics have been on display in camp and the victory over Miami yielded 170 rushing yards.
This entire group is on the rise because of the sudden opportunity this team has at improving from last year's debacle of finishing 31st in the NFL. The Cowboys need to commit to the running game and that will happen under Callahan.
This unit just might have what it takes to provide this offense with the proper balance and help setup big plays off of play action. Sounds like a win-win situation.
Unwanted negativity is not going to make Matt Johnson stay healthy for an entire season, but it's enough to make you hold your breath every time he is around the ball. Johnson did show his tackling ability against Miami, but he also tweaked an ankle that will have to be monitored.
With J.J. Wilcox still adjusting to the safety position, and the NFL, Johnson absolutely needs to stay on the field. It's simply time for Johnson to show the fans why this team held a roster spot for him last season. The fact that he did hurt his ankle automatically sets the wheels of pessimism in motion.
It's only natural, but his development this year will be crucial for next year as Will Allen is only a stop-gap measure. Maybe I'm overreacting to the situation, but maybe fans should realize that the success of this team is contingent on its depth.
It might be premature to think that the pro personnel department uncovered another gem, but it's hard not to like what George Selvie has done in a short period of time. Selvie, out of football until a few weeks ago, played like a man possessed against Miami.
His stat line read two sacks, four tackles and three quarterback hurries. As hard as it was seeing Tyrone Crawford go down to injury, opportunities open up for opportunists, and Selvie is taking advantage of his. The former seventh-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, Selvie may have found his fit in the 4-3.
He plays with speed, power off the edge and he uses his 6'4" 270 pound frame to dip his shoulder and turn the corner on opposing quarterbacks. Let's see if he can sustain his performance, but early reviews have to bring a smile to this fanbase.
This might seem a bit of a stretch to some, but through two weeks of camp and a preseason game, Gavin Escobar needs to show off those velcro hands and athleticism. Right now, Andre Smith is a better blocker and Dante Rosario is a better H-back.
He is a rookie and it is early, but the second-round pick needs to show something in the preseason matchup against the Raiders to help this fanbase buy into why he was a necessity for their team. Escobar, along with Jason Witten and James Hanna can really pose some headaches for defenses.
They can dominate the hashes, open up things for Dez Bryant outside and also help create running lanes for the quartet of runners in the fold. Let's give him his time to develop, but through two weeks, let's see a sign towards justification for the pick.
Travis Frederick has quietly enjoyed a nice offseason that began with the first OTA as the starting center. In the victory over Miami, Frederick really had a nice game as he showed great command during pre-snap recognition, he blocked well and showed an ability to get to the second level.
Frederick also played with strength and power and it showed in the stats as the Cowboys pounded the ball pretty well. For Frederick, and the Cowboys, his progression and position flexibility will provide this team with confidence as they look to find the best five offensive linemen.
So far Frederick is off to a good start, especially when this team is rushing for 170 yards. If he can continue his progression, and use that intelligence that made him highly coveted by this team, Frederick could be primed for a leadership role in this offense.
Wilcox isn't falling because he isn't a good player. We just need to remind ourselves that he is still learning the position and that he just needs time. He will make his initial mark on special teams and in defensive packages, but when he gets it, it's hard not to see the talent.
Wilcox is an aggressive, active, athletic safety who will patrol the defensive back end soon enough, but in the preseason opener, you can tell he missed some assignments and he needs to be more aware of his responsibilities.
But his tackling ability was on full display and the flashes of talent did come through. Wilcox plays with a certain attitude and edge that will be a welcome addition to this team. However, he needs to grasp the coverage aspect of this scheme as he was beaten over the middle in the season opener and chased down a few receivers in the process.
All in good time.
As long as Ronald Leary plays like he did against Miami, Nate Livings needs to get used to being a backup. Leary received extensive playing time, and ever since he returned from his injury, the right guard position is his to lose.
He looks comfortable playing with Frederick along the interior of the offensive line and this is the best possible news at a position filled with major questions. Leary plays with power, he reads his blocks well and the thing I like about him is he looks smooth in his combo blocks.
Keeping Tony Romo upright is going to be paramount this season and it looks like last year's prized undrafted rookie is about to pay off major dividends. Jason Garrett will continue to preach competition at all positions, but Leary's ascension into the starting lineup is probably the desired result.
While everyone thought Jermey Parnell was primed to give Doug Free a battle at the tackle position, it has been a non-event. Free is playing well and has pretty much cemented his status as the starting right tackle.
And while Parnell deals with injuries, do you realize that this team is one injury away from the Darrion Weems and Edawn Coughman era? The swing tackle position firmly falls on the shoulders of Parnell, but he needs to start playing fast to get his conditioning and timing back.
The Cowboys failed to add another veteran or draft pick in the offseason, so the plan is to go with Parnell and possibly develop someone else as a capable backup. So far through two weeks this position is still one in flux and one that needs to be monitored.