Commentary

Young Cowboys have chance to impress

Preseason games, starting Sunday, are important proving grounds for hopefuls

Updated: August 7, 2010, 12:47 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

SAN ANTONIO -- When the preseason starts Sunday, there are several young Dallas Cowboys players who need to prove themselves.

The Cowboys will run their first-team offense and defense for about two series before the backups take over.

"We're going to get to see our draft picks of last year," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We got a couple of draft picks we won't see up there, but we will see last year's draft picks in this game and some of these younger guys we brought on. That's a positive thing."

We look at young five players to watch in the Hall of Fame Game against the Cincinnati Bengals:

Quarterback Stephen McGee

At times during training camp, McGee has looked like he's running for his life, especially against the first-team defense.

[+] EnlargeStephen McGee
AP Photo/Eric GayStephen McGee needs to prove to the team he can perform under duress if he is to stay in its plans.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said McGee needs to show him he can make the right decisions when under duress. If not, the Cowboys have a problem at their No. 3 quarterback position. If McGee struggles, it's not impossible to think the team will go with just two quarterbacks.

The key for McGee is making plays. He must command the offense and prove he can get the ball downfield on a consistent basis, regardless of the pressure around him.

The Cowboys will give McGee every opportunity to prove himself this summer. Expect the first two preseason games to be vital to that evaluation.

"I think with Stephen McGee we're trying to get him to come through as our quarterback of the future," coach Wade Phillips said."When we drafted him, that's what we wanted and that's what we're trying to look at. It's not really him trying to be No. 2. It's whether he can play in this league and also if he can play well in this league and come through for us in later years. But we'd like for him to come as quick as he can."

Tackle Sam Young

The Cowboys' sixth-round pick has surprised the coaches and scouts with his work in camp.

"I'm really excited about him," offensive line coach Hudson Houck said. "He's a lot better player than I thought he was. You tell him something he can emulate and he does it better than some of the players. He needs a lot of experience."

Young is going to see plenty of time in the second half Sunday, and the Cowboys are somewhat down on backup tackle Robert Brewster. Jones said Brewster is getting consistent with his play in training camp, yet Young is doing all the right things right now.

Inside linebacker Jason Williams

Phillips said Williams has struggled somewhat in pass coverage, and during training camp practices he's being corrected by the head coach and linebackers coach Reggie Herring. Sean Lee is going to play the nickel linebacker spot. Williams is on the dime. The Cowboys are seeing some good things out of Brandon Sharpe, who is being moved from a college outside pass rusher to play both inside linebacker spots in the pros.

Sharpe seems to be around the ball, while Williams doesn't. Williams does well on pass rushes from the inside, yet he needs to understand what to do on pass coverage. He did a nice job covering Felix Jones on a pass route at practice Thursday. But he needs to be consistent.

Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree

He received plenty of hype coming into training camp but has struggled with drops and his inability to fight for the ball on several pass routes. One route drew the ire of receivers coach Ray Sherman on Thursday.

Ogletree acknowledged that the coaches haven't always been satisfied with his play but pointed out that he's received positive feedback, too.

"So as long as I am out here getting better and people are saying good things, then I know I am doing my job well," he said. "[Training camp] is a grind, and it will continue throughout the whole season."

But Ogletree has to play well Sunday. It appears Ogletree figures he has a roster spot -- and that might be true -- but Garrett has said if he doesn't practice well on a consistent basis, he won't play in the games.

Ogletree will get plenty of snaps Sunday to prove he deserves more game action.

Cornerback Cletis Gordon

Cletis Gordon
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCornerback Cletis Gordon has shown a nose for the ball during camp against the likes of Miles Austin.

The Cowboys have been searching for a fourth cornerback this summer because they don't want safety Alan Ball, a converted cornerback, playing that position.

Gordon has about seven interceptions this summer because he's shown some speed and an ability to make plays on the ball, whether that's knocking it down or intercepting it.

Secondary coach Dave Campo said Gordon is the fourth corner right now, but don't rule out Bryan McCann and Jamar Wall.

"One of the things I need to do is stay consistent," Gordon said. "I'm pretty comfortable in the scheme, so it's all about me making plays and I'm trying to do that."

Gordon has good speed and he could also see time on kick returns. The Cowboys want bubble players to become versatile, which gives them a chance to make the 53-man roster. If Gordon has a few good returns against the Bengals and makes some plays, he is on his way to being on the roster.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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