Final time to make an impression in last preseason game

For many playing Thursday's Cowboys-Texans preseason game, it is the final look before rosters are set.

The final preseason game is usually a going-through-motion affair for most NFL teams. It's even moreso for the Dallas Cowboys, who have already played four of these practice games.

So what's there to look for in Thursday's Lone Star State battle with the Houston Texans?

If you're hoping to see Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarcus Ware and all of the Cowboys' bigger names perform, you're out of luck. Very few starters, if any, will see any playing time as a precaution against injuries.

There will be some drama associated with the game. However, only the most dedicated students of depth charts and rosters will realize what's at stake as many of Thursday's participants will be wearing an NFL helmet for the final time.

Rosters have to be cut down to a final 53 by 5 p.m., Dallas time, on Saturday. The roster currently is at 75 players.

After four previous exhibition games and an extra week of training camp, few players are actually on the bubble at this point, but it never hurts for a player to make a final impression.

The one area where there is some intrigue is the starting offensive line. Considering the experimentation going on there, it wouldn't be surprising to see the first team O-line get significant playing time.

Last week against the Bengals, starting right tackle Doug Free started and saw his first action at right guard. That bumped starting right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau to the left side, and inexperienced backup Jermey Parnell took Free's spot at right tackle.

The results were somewhat encouraging, especially for a team desperate for healthy, effective guards. It wouldn't be surprising to see Free at right guard again to get him more experience in that role.

On defense, the big news of the week is that tackle Jay Ratliff will be placed on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he will miss the first six games. The Cowboys had hoped Ratliff would regain his Pro Bowl form, especially after missing most of last season, but a groin injury has not allowed him to practice so far.

That's bad news for a defense that is equally as thin on the interior line as it is on the offensive side. How the defensive front performs against the Texans is worth keeping an eye on.

Special teams will also be an area to watch, as many of the same faces you'll see in the regular season will be playing on these units.

The Cowboys' special teams haven't exactly sparkled in the preseason, so more miscues could prove ominous.

But special teams is also where players who will be considered for the final cuts can make a big impression. Big returns and big hits always catch the eyes of the coaches, such as the jarring tackle undrafted rookie safety Jeff Heath delivered last week.

Just don't look for a highly-charged game. With the focus already starting to turn toward the opener against the Giants, the coaching staff's goal will be to get out of the game without any injuries to players who might see the field Sept. 8 at New York.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire

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