The Dallas Cowboys open their preseason schedule against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Here are a couple of things to look out for as the 2012 Cowboys take the field against a hostile opponent for the first time.
1. The offensive line: It looks as though David Arkin will start at center in place of the injured Phil Costa. Center and guard are two positions of great concern for the Cowboys right now. Even healthy, Costa wasn't very good last year, and Arkin has no experience at the position outside of the practice reps he's been taking in Oxnard for the past two weeks. You'll see some of Harland Gunn (also learning the position), and if free-agent signee Mackenzy Bernadeau is healthy and active for the game, he could get some center snaps as well. They also need to find answers at guard, where Bernadeau and Nate Livings were brought in to help, but Livings has also been hurt and isn't likely to play. Keep an eye on undrafted Ronald Leary, who's been getting a lot of first-team snaps at guard and is someone the coaches like. Also watch left tackle Tyron Smith, a great talent who's making the switch from right tackle in his second NFL season. See if he's got that footwork down yet.
2. The wide receivers. With starters Miles Austin (out) and Dez Bryant (game-time decision) beset by hamstring injuries, Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes, Cole Beasley, Danny Coale and a host of others will get significant reps at the wide receiver spot. The No. 3 receiver position is open, and the coaches will be watching to see who stands out as a route-runner, a blocker and a pass-catcher from that group. They'll probably only have starting quarterback Tony Romo for one or two series, but backup Kyle Orton is good enough that they'll be able to evaluate receivers with him throwing them the ball as well.
3. The defensive line. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is also out with an injury, so all three line spots are offering auditions tonight. Jason Hatcher seems set as a starting end, but the other end spot could go to anyone from the group of Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore or Clifton Geathers. And with Ratliff out, Josh Brent has a chance to show what he can do with significant playing time inside. With third-round pick Tyrone Crawford a sure thing to stick as a pass-rush specialist and projected future starter, not everyone from this group is going to make the roster.
4. The rest of the defense. Sean Lee looks as though he's ready to pick up where he left off as an emerging star, but there's a good fight going on between Dan Connor and Bruce Carter for the other inside linebacker spot. Barry Church has won himself a job as a starting safety with a big camp, so this is a chance for him to show everyone he's taken a big step if indeed he has. And while Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins are out with injuries, this will be the first look for a lot of Cowboys fans at free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr, who's so far been everything the Cowboys expected.