The Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers are set to play in an actual game for the first time in seven months. They’ll meet on Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium to help kick off Week 1 of the 2015 NFL preseason.
The first exhibition game of the year means very little to established starters, evidenced by the fact that Tony Romo is healthy but still won’t play. The contest will help coaches determine position battles and award final roster spots.
According to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, the competition for Dallas’ kick and punt returner is “wide open.” The Chargers have a number of players vying for time at safety, which may be where San Diego has the closest competition.
The biggest hole the Cowboys have to fill from last season is at running back. After leading the NFL in rushing yards, DeMarco Murray left Dallas for the rival Philadelphia Eagles. While three players will be looking to take his place and get their share of carries, it appears that all of them could miss the preseason opener.
Darren McFadden signed with Dallas after playing his entire career with the Oakland Raiders, but the running back hasn’t been able to stay on the field for the Cowboys. He’s been battling a hamstring injury, and won’t practice until after Dallas visits San Diego.
Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar will play more of a role this year after backing up Murray in 2014, but they might not be able to show what they can do in Week 1 of the preseason. Joseph Randle has been able to practice in spite of an oblique strain, but the team might hold him out of their game against the Chargers. Dunbar’s ankle injury has kept him off the practice field this week.
The team’s biggest free agent acquisition, Greg Hardy, will see the field on Thursday night. He’ll play in the preseason before he begins his four-game suspension in Week 1 of the regular season. Dez Bryant will sit as he nurses a hamstring injury.
While the Cowboys battle through injuries to some of their most important players, the Chargers are relatively healthy. Nose tackle Sean Lissemore has missed practice this week with a hand injury, though he isn’t expected to miss a lot of time with the ailment.
Quarterback Philip Rivers will take the field as he tries to develop chemistry with new wide receivers Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones. He’ll hand the ball off to Melvin Gordon for the first time in an NFL game, four and a half months after the team traded up in the draft to acquire the best running back in college football last year.
Antonio Gates has been one of Rivers’ top targets for the last decade, but like Hardy, he’ll miss the first four games of the regular season with a suspension. Both Ladarius Green and he will see time at tight end. While there have been high hopes for Green, he’s caught just 40 passes for 658 yards in three seasons with San Diego.
The contest is set to kick off at 10 p.m. ET. It will air locally in Dallas and San Diego on CBS, but the game will also be broadcast nationally. NFL Network will have live coverage of the Cowboys and Chargers, following the preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, which begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.
A free live stream is available online at nfl.com.