I wasn’t a huge fan of the Cowboys’ requesting a fifth preseason game simply because I thought it was an unnecessary risk, but it was at least a good opportunity to see a lot of the young players in action. A bunch of the ‘Boys’ backups really impressed on Sunday night. Here are four things we learned.
Lance Dunbar appears to be the clear No. 2 running back.
Dunbar barely got any playing time, but he started the game ahead of Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle. That’s probably a sign that the Cowboys are comfortable with Dunbar as their backup running back. At 191 lbs, Dunbar is undersized, but he’s the right choice for the job. There’s no single metric more strongly correlated with running back success than 40-yard dash time, and Dunbar’s sub-4.50 speed trumps both Tanner and Randle. I think we could actually see all three backs make the roster.
Ronald Leary will be a starter in 2013.
Leary got significant playing time against the Dolphins, and the Cowboys’ interior line looked light years ahead of where it was last season. Leary and rookie Travis Frederick repeatedly generated a push on the inside. We’ll need to see more of both players, but the duo should be a significant upgrade over Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ryan Cook.
Cole Beasley isn’t worth a roster spot.
I know everyone wants the Cowboys to have a small, shifty slot receiver, but that’s not really what they need. Remember, this offense has no trouble at all moving the ball up the field. They have trouble getting it into the end zone, and Beasley isn’t going to help in that area. At 5-8, 180 lbs, Beasley basically becomes useless inside the 10-yard line, and he’s a liability on special teams. Miles Austin is this team’s slot receiver. If he gets injured, it should be Dwayne Harris.
Tyron Smith will be more involved in the running game.
Smith was the Cowboys’ best run blocker in 2012 by a wide margin, but the Cowboys rarely ran behind him. With Bill Callahan calling the plays, that looks like it might change. Dallas ran outside way more often than usual, getting Dunbar on the edge early. They did it from power formations, showing that just because you have three tight ends on the field doesn’t mean you need to run it right up the middle for a two-yard gain.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.