Wednesday, August 31, 2011 Updated: September 1, 1:05 PM ET
Roster spots up for grabs in finale
By Calvin Watkins ESPNDallas.com
The third preseason game typically is a dress rehearsal for the starters, a last gasp for the first-team offense and defense to get coordinated before the start of the regular season.
The last preseason game, which comes Thursday night for the Dallas Cowboys against the Miami Dolphins, isn't without meaning, however. The Cowboys have to make deep cuts on a team that is trying to regroup coming off a 6-10 season.
It's an opportunity for bubble players to make a good impression and help the Cowboys move forward.
Jason Garrett, the man in charge of the on-field product, understands what it means to be on the bubble. He was a backup quarterback for the bulk of his NFL career.
"I was on the bubble for 14 years," Garrett said. "We're going to let guys play and let guys prove they deserve to make this football team."
The Cowboys have to trim their roster from 80 to 53 by Saturday. We look at 10 players who need to play well.
10 TO KEEP AN EYE ON:Josh Thomas, DB:
The Cowboys' fifth-round pick was drafted as a potential third cornerback and reminded some of Orlando Scandrick. Well, Scandrick has a future with this team, made clear by the five-year, $27 million contract extension he received. Thomas has struggled at times and is battling a hamstring injury. Mario Butler, a rookie from Georgia Tech, is getting more time on special teams, and that could push Thomas out.
Raymond Radway, WR:
His speed impresses the Cowboys and he's drawn a few pass interference penalties. He's developing into a better practice player than Dwayne Harris, the sixth-round pick from East Carolina. Radway is also working to improve on special teams.
"I think I've been doing well, but you just can't take off right now," Radway said. "I got to crank it up more than I ever have for this last game so I can give the coaches a good look and hopefully make it a hard decision to let me go."
David Buehler has spent much of the preseason on the sidelines and will need to make his kicks if given the opportunity.
Dwayne Harris, WR:
In the first preseason game, Harris caught two touchdown passes and picked up more than 100 yards receiving. But he didn't catch a single pass the next two weeks and has been struggling in practice. He needs to outperform Radway to make the roster.
The defensive end has impressed the front office and the coaching staff with his pass rush and run-stopping ability. There's a feeling the team wants him for the practice squad, but he might not clear waivers and could be lost to another team. At least six defensive linemen will make the team, but having one more is tricky because it could mean the team would have to go lighter at linebacker or corner to allow for that slot.
Akwaski Owusu-Ansah, S:
When the Cowboys drafted Owusu-Ansah last year, his speed and ability to return kicks were his strong points. But he hasn't wowed anyone with his return skills and now at safety, his coverage skills have come into question. Bryan McCann is ahead of him in terms of special teams and Butler could be an added defensive back.
Owusu-Ansah said he needs to play well on Thursday night to make a strong case to stay on the 53-man roster.
"I think I could have done better," he said. "I missed a couple of key tackles. So I've played all right, but not the best."
David Buehler, K:
The Cowboys had five kickers in camp and Buehler, the incumbent, is hanging on. There are two veterans, Dave Rayner and Shayne Graham, along with rookie Dan Bailey getting a chance to solve this kicking mess. Kai Forbath was placed on the NFI list Tuesday, so he won't be available until at least Week 6. Buehler said he has done enough to win the gig, but his hip injury allowed Graham and Bailey to get more reps in games and practices. He's healthy now, but if given an opportunity Thursday night he has got to make all his kicks.
Brandon Williams, LB:
Williams has badly underachieved with the Cowboys since he was drafted in 2009. Last Saturday night might have been his worst game with the team. During a quarterback scramble by the Vikings' Joe Webb, it seemed as though Williams stopped running. The linebacker was trailing the play and maybe he didn't think he had a chance at a tackle, but he held up as Webb ran by. Williams has displayed a good first step, but not on a consistent enough basis and doesn't seem physical enough.
Alex Albright, LB:
He's on the first-team special teams units and the Cowboys like his energy. In the first preseason game, Albright was active and always seemed to be around the ball. He's slowed down some on defense, but he has excelled on special teams. He's outplaying Williams right now.
Jason Pociask, TE/FB:
Shaun Chapas and Chris Gronkowski are natural fullbacks, but Pociask was added to the group to challenge for a spot because he has some experience there. But the position remains unsettled.
"We need to find somebody who can go in there and be very physical at the point of attack and be very dependable," running backs coach Skip Peete said. "And right now they're all stuck together."
Martin Rucker, TE:
He's gotten better at blocking and the Cowboys like his receiving ability at tight end. But can the team keep four tight ends? The ankle injury to Martellus Bennett, who is out two to four weeks, and the struggles of the fullbacks might give Rucker a shot at making the 53-man roster.
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.