The flare signal has finally been lit across the nation, signaling to the masses that football is here. Facing against the storied franchise of the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys returned to Levi’s Stadium, a place where they had great success in 2017. Already present in Southern California for training camp, they would make their way north with so many questions surrounding them.

How does Dallas respond without the generational leaders of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten? What level of confidence should be held with Garrett & Linehan running this offense? Considering this “lowly” group of receivers how will they mesh with Dak’s style of play? David Irving will be absent to start the season, so who takes the reign of the interior on the defensive line? Even though Dallas ended up falling short on a late game winning drive, the players you needed to see perform well did exactly that. Here are three players that made their impact felt.

Dak Prescott

Probably under a bigger microscope than any other player on the field, Prescott has gone through an eventful last two weeks. From comments regarding the National Anthem to “not throwing a touchdown in training camp”, it was every major distraction you did not want out of the leader of a team. Also known to be more of an in-game player than one who excels in practice, the notion began to tilt into a feeling that Prescott is just a one-year phenomenon.

With reports dropping before game time that Dak would only receive about 6-10 snaps, that one drive needed to almost be perfect in order to ease the minds of much of this fanbase. Starting with a heavy dose of Rod Smith and a sack by Deforest Buckner, Prescott would go on to convert a 3rd down with his legs. Prescott did seem a bit faster than usual, possibly due to his slimmed-down frame. Connecting with three different receivers and going 3-3 for 39 yards, the offense would cap off the drive with an absolute dime by #4 to rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup for the touchdown.

The sense of calmness. The sense of comfortability within the pocket. The sense of trust with whoever was on the field, the Dak Prescott we saw for one drive tonight was reminiscent of the player we saw in 2016. As said before, it is only game one of the preseason, and furthermore only one drive, but if consistency holds its way out with Dak, the offense could’ve very well be in good shape across the whole board.

Jaylon Smith

One of the rumblings coming out of the early part of Cowboys camp was that Smith is finally back at full strength, and has the room to be better than he was at Notre Dame. A 2016 second round pick that has received so much scrutiny, is about to pay off in dividends. Since camp began, Jaylon has looked the part of the fastest linebacker out there (given Lee barely participated) with a lethal pursuit.

Right off the bat as the 49ers took the field, Smith wasted no time making his impact.

The two things you see in this video that Jaylon lacked last season, was the mental aspect of reading the play and being able to plant then sprint across the line of scrimmage for the assisted tackle for loss.

In camp, there was a play that looked eerily similar to when Garoppolo attempted a deep pass over the middle to TE George Kittle.

Considering games against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers in 2017, in which those offenses used Smith’s handicap as the target to exploit, this improvement should excite any Cowboys fan. Not only being able to be a potential deadly pass-rusher, completing Jaylon’s arsenal in the open field and coverage will take this defense to another level.

Antwaun Woods

The defensive tackle spot is one that generally goes underappreciated in most fans eyes. However, the impact that a dominant force at that position can make cannot be understated. It’s why Aaron Donald is heralded as the best player in the league that’s not a quarterback. A position that has lacked in Dallas for so many years, and is in an unstable condition even with David Irving, could Woods be the hero?

Thinking that either Datone Jones, Brian Price, and Jihad Ward would be the three fighting for the two spots, Woods has put that notion on pause. A two-year player out of USC that was released by the Tennessee Titans this past offseason, Antwaun is a true one technique with power off the snap that fills his gap. In other words, the best blessing that could happen to this Cowboys team, but will not be respected as such.

Entering as the starter alongside Datone Jones, Woods made sure his presence was felt.

In a play that highlights Joe Thomas, it was the setup of Woods that allowed this to happen. Able to see the offensive lineman step to his right off the snap, he quickly gets his outside shoulder across the center without losing ground, eliminating the assigned hole for the running back.

With much to still improve on, it was a good first game and step for Woods as being one of the bright spots on this Dallas roster.

Other notable performances: Rod Smith, Michael Gallup, Dorance Armstrong, Joe Thomas, & Byron Jones

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