5 Things to Watch in Thursday's Cowboys' Pre-Season Opener

No Tony Romo. None of the top three running backs. And zero importance on the game’s outcome.

Despite that, there is plenty of intrigue Thursday night as the Cowboys open the pre-season against the Chargers in San Diego.

1. Cornerbacks – Almost feels like we’re watching two debuts tonight with Byron Jones and Morris Claiborne. The rookie No. 1 pick, of course, will play for the first time as a Cowboy. But Claiborne needs a re-birth. Injuries and a lack of confidence have detoured the potential of the 6th overall pick in the draft. He said he’s healthy. He needs to make plays. With starters Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick not playing, both corners should get plenty of reps.

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2. Greg Hardy – He won’t play in the Cowboys’ first four games because of a suspension, but he’ll play Thursday for the first time since starting for the Panthers early last season. I’m anxious to see even a glimpse of what should be the team’s best pass-rusher since DeMarcus Ware.

3. Returners – The Cowboys need to find this year’s Dwayne Harris. As in, a kick returner and special teams stud. The leading candidate might be plural, in that it could take a few players to fill Harris’ void. While Lance Dunbar might get the gig when the regular season arrives, let’s keep an eye on Cole Beasley and undrafted rookie Lucky Whitehead. Both are sure-handed, quick and shifty. The Cowboys need to find a returner they trust.

4. Gus Johnson – With Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar all held out with various minor injuries, it’s the undrafted rookie out of Stephen F. Austin’s chance to shine. He’ll start and get the bulk of the carries. NFL teams thought he was too slow to draft, and the spotlight is all his to prove them wrong. Chances are come Thanksgiving we won’t remember his name.

5. Dustin Vaughan – Can he push Brandon Weeden for the backup quarterback job? Time to find out how – or if – he fits into the Cowboys’ present and future.

A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.

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