Friday, August 08, 2008

Cowboys going old school for preseason opener

OXNARD, Calif. (Map, News) - The Dallas Cowboys went old school to travel for their preseason opener.

They didn't take the less-than-hour flight from their training camp to San Diego, or even a three-hour bus ride. The team instead boarded a Southbound train Friday for a trip along the Pacific coastline for five hours - about the same amount of time it'd take to fly across the country.

"I wanted to try to some way kind of do what they used to do when they traveled around in the old days," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

"Taking the train where the players can move around and relax a little bit will give us some time that I think we need at this point to get ready for a game," said coach Wade Phillips, who couldn't recall the last time he traveled by rail.

After 15 consecutive days on the field since opening camp, Dallas plays its preseason opener Saturday night against the Chargers. Phillips was defensive coordinator in San Diego before he was hired by Jones after the 2006 season to replace Bill Parcells.

While their mode of transportation is different this time, the Cowboys haven't changed much since their 13-win season came to a bitter end in January in home playoff loss against the New York Giants. All of their NFL-record 13 Pro Bowl players are back.

The only significant change on offense was the departure of running back Julius Jones in free agency, but he had already been supplanted by Marion Barber as the starter anyway. Felix Jones, the team's highest draft pick in April, will now back up Barber.

Defensively, the preseason game will mark the unofficial Cowboys debuts of seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas and still-suspended cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, whose last NFL game was the 2006 season finale with Tennessee.

"I had me a long vacation, not saying that I wanted it," Jones said. "It's football season and I'm happy to be back to work."

Jones isn't expected to start at cornerback or return any kicks against the Chargers.

Rookie cornerback Mike Jenkins, the team's other first-round pick, will likely start at left corner against the Chargers in place of injured Pro Bowler Terence Newman (groin). Jones has been working primarily on the right side behind starter Anthony Henry.

Rookie Danny Amendola and other young players will return kicks. Phillips said the Cowboys already know what Jones, acquired from the Titans in April, can do in that area.

While Jones can play in the preseason, the Cowboys aren't sure when they will find out if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will fully reinstate the cornerback for the regular season. Goodell has only said he will decide by Sept. 1, the week of the Cowboys' season opener.

"I'm doing everything that I'm supposed to do to make sure I get reinstated," Jones said after practice Thursday. "I'm not even worried about that right now. I'm worried about playing football ... staying out of trouble and making sure I know my plays."

Thomas, a Texas native who was a standout at Texas Tech, signed a free-agent deal with the Cowboys after being released in February by the Miami Dolphins, where he spent his first 12 seasons and had at least 100 tackles 11 times.

After being limited to only five games last season because of a concussion and migraines, Thomas is ready to get back on the field. And he expects his only anxiety will have nothing to do with taking hits.

"I've never really gotten nervous for preseason games, but I'm sure I will because I'm in a new uniform," said Thomas, a starter. "It will probably be like my rookie year."

Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and the rest of the starting offense are expected to play about one quarter, which is normal for a preseason opener.

After that unusual train ride to get there.

"It will be definitely something different," Owens said. "I've ridden on the train before. When I was in Philly, we did ride the train to Washington. It's going to be fun for everybody."