Oh yes, I will be watching tonight's Hall of Fame game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins. Nothing beats this annual early-August feeling. Thrilled at 8 p.m. that football is back, bored out of your mind by 8:30 because preseason NFL games are some of the most unwatchable things in all of sports.
And because this is an "extra" preseason game -- i.e., the Cowboys still have the normal four scheduled in addition to this one -- it's not going to be a star-studded affair. Tony Romo's not going to play, and I'd be surprised to see many (if any) Cowboys starters at all, let alone for more than a series or two.
But that doesn't mean there aren't reasons to watch, and one of the things on which I'll be keeping a close eye is the safety position for Dallas. My guess is that rookie J.J. Wilcox and second-year man Matt Johnson will get most of the reps at safety tonight, and those are two very interesting guys for Dallas this year. With Barry Church locked in at one of the starting safety spots and veteran Will Allen looking like the favorite to open the season at the other, the question becomes about depth and the future at the position. Coaches say it's tough to evaluate safeties until you see them in the preseason games, because the hitting is such a big part of their jobs and they don't do much (if any) of that in practice. So tonight could offer a chance to see Wilcox and Johnson do some things they haven't yet been able to show.
Calvin Watkins reports from Oxnard that Wilcox has looked good:
He's the personal protector on the punt unit, the only rookie on the special teams and he's making plays on the ball at safety. Against the run, Wilcox continues to display toughness and isn't afraid of contact. When receivers and tight ends run around after catching a pass, Wilcox is bringing them down.
Which all sounds great, especially for a guy who was picked in the third round as something of a project. If Wilcox comes quickly, he could offer depth and maybe even a better option as a starter at some point this season or going into next.
As for Johnson, the fourth-round pick from 2012 who missed his rookie season due to injuries but has drawn raves from the coaching staff for his playmaking abilities, this preseason offers a chance to show some things. The team brought in Allen for insurance and for veteran leadership, but they certainly wouldn't mind if Johnson (or Wilcox) played well enough to steal the starting job from him in this camp. Johnson was the one about whom everyone was excited a year ago. He'd likely enjoy a chance to outshine Wilcox, who's been getting so much of the positive attention in this year's camp.