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August 12, 2013

5 things to watch in final week of Cowboys camp

OXNARD, Calif. — Tony Romo is progressing, Dez Bryant is dominating and DeMarcus Ware is gearing up for full-time pass rushing.

The stars of the Dallas Cowboys look strong heading into the final week of a long training camp in California. There are plenty of concerns for Dallas, and the biggest won't be settled before the team returns to Texas for the final three weeks of preparation for the season opener Sept. 8 against the New York Giants.

Romo and the other big names on offense finally got their first game action Friday night in a 19-17 preseason loss at Oakland — 19 days after the first practice.

The leaders of a revamped defense under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin also got into their first game. Dallas now has four turnovers in two games after getting just 16 a year ago. The highlight was Sean Lee's sack on Matt Flynn that forced a fumble deep in Oakland territory on its first possession.

Here are five things to watch before the Cowboys break camp Friday.

1. ROMO'S RECEIVERS: Bryant has been the best player in training camp, and he showed it against the Raiders. He had three catches for 55 yards on a long drive that ended in Dan Bailey's blocked field goal. Miles Austin has shown no signs of trouble with his hamstrings.

Rookie Terrance Williams has missed a week with a concussion but is expected back, and the battle for the third receiver looks like it will come down to him and Dwayne Harris.

The Cowboys like 5-foot-8 Cole Beasley, who had a touchdown against the Raiders but sprained ligaments in his left foot and is sidelined for now.

2. DEFENSIVE DEPTH: Ware looks as if he could have a huge season as a pass-rushing end free of other responsibilities that went with being a linebacker in the old scheme with a three-man front.

The Cowboys are counting on Lee and Bruce Carter to stay healthy and lead the defense at linebacker.

Anthony Spencer, Ware's pass-rushing partner, has missed all of camp after knee surgery but is expected to be ready for the opener. Jay Ratliff, who missed 10 games last year, won't practice in California because of a hamstring problem but also is expected to be ready.

The second-team defense got pushed around by Oakland. An otherwise disastrous night was offset somewhat by rookie J.J. Wilcox's interception in the end zone in the first half.

3. RUNNING BACKS: The battle to see who will back up DeMarco Murray has been one of the most intriguing stories of camp.

Joseph Randle, a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State, figured to be the favorite for that role behind his former rival from Oklahoma. But he's been behind because of thumb surgery in the offseason, leaving an opening that Lance Dunbar seems intent on taking.

The undrafted second-year player out of North Texas has been strong in camp and is the No. 2 back right now. Randle had a touchdown against the Raiders but needs more work against second-team opposition for the Cowboys to figure out what they have.

Phillip Tanner is currently ahead of Randle on the depth chart, and there's a good chance all four will be on the 53-man roster.

4. NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS: It will be an interesting week for special teams after an awful night in Oakland.

The Cowboys had a short field goal from Dan Bailey blocked and gave up a 51-yard kickoff return. The Raiders scored the go-ahead field goal after a fumbled punt by B.W. Webb gave them the ball at the Dallas 9. The Cowboys also had a personal foul for hitting a punt returner who called for a fair catch.

5. ON GUARDS: The Cowboys still have questions lingering in the interior of their offensive line, and might add a veteran who could be a starter.

But it looks as if a potential crisis could be easing if Ron Leary continues to develop now that he's healthy and Mackenzy Bernadeau doesn't have any more setbacks with a troublesome hamstring.

The Cowboys may need to let first-round pick Travis Frederick focus on center since he's expected to start there and is struggling with only occasional work at guard.

 

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