Players trying to make an NFL team in the summer find themselves with the rare opportunity of having two chances to make a first impression.
There is training camp, where they can catch the eye of coaches and observers by outworking their competition in the controlled environment of practice. Every year the first few days of camp bring breathless reports of previously unknown players making a big splash and giving themselves a chance to stick around for the long term.
Then comes the first preseason game, when those players get a chance to show that those skills carry over when it really matters. Even though most of the guys on the field during the opening week of the exhibition season will be looking for other work in a couple of weeks, players looking to force their way onto the roster have to impress to build on what they did in camp.
Lonyae Miller made a very good first first impression, but his second first impression wasn't quite as overwhelming. Miller gained just 11 yards on nine carries in Thursday night's 24-23 win over the Broncos, a performance that should slow down the train that seemed to be carrying Tashard Choice out of town while Miller was starring at practices Choice missed with a calf injury.
Miller was playing behind the second offensive line so it wasn't like he was getting the best possible scenario to succeed. Of course, the Broncos were playing backups on defense and their starters aren't all that good in the first place so Miller can't really place all the blame on other shoulders. Outside of a touchdown saving tackle on an interception, Miller didn't make any notable plays in a game that was set up for him to burnish the image he fashioned in San Antonio.
He might not get too many more chances. Choice is expected back at practice on Saturday, as is rookie DeMarco Murray, and Miller's reps will shrink as the Cowboys integrate them back into the offense. Miller could still be impressive, but it means a lot less now that he wasn't able to make it happen in a game.
Although Choice is the guy that would go if the Cowboys choose to keep Miller, Murray will be the guy who allows any shakeup to happen. If he can prove capable of handling the role of the second running back, it would be much easier for the Cowboys to move Choice and keep Miller as a backup on offense and key special teams contributor. If Murray's hamstring problems linger or if he simply seems overmatched, the Cowboys won't be able to move on from Choice while feeling comfortable about what they had behind Felix Jones.
That might have still been the case if Miller dominated on Thursday night, but it would have been much easier for the Cowboys to roll the dice if he made a better first impression.