Friday, August 08, 2008

NFL Preseason Preview - Dallas (0-0) at San Diego (0-0)

By Tony Moss, Sports Network
The Sports Network
The soap opera that is the Dallas Cowboys organization will move from the cable airwaves to the football field on Saturday night, when "America's Team" faces the San Diego Chargers in the preseason opener for both teams.

The Cowboys, the current subject of the HBO documentary "Hard Knocks," will be in uniform for the first time since a 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in a NFC Divisional Playoff last January. That defeat, which came despite Dallas having earned the conference's top seed, extended the franchise's string of seasons without a postseason victory to 11 consecutive. The Cowboys last won a playoff contest following the 1996 season, a drought that the organization will be trying to end this year.

Dallas will be taking the field following a headline-grabbing offseason. Shortly after the 2007 season, owner Jerry Jones managed to retain offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who was being courted as head coach by multiple NFL teams. Garrett was given a pay raise and assigned the title of assistant head coach in Big D, moves that are seen as exerting pressure on head coach Wade Phillips.

Elsewhere on the staff, the Cowboys were forced to weather the defection of respected assistant Tony Sparano, who became the head coach with the Miami Dolphins and brought three Dallas assistants along with him.

From a personnel standpoint, Dallas made a splash by trading for troubled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, also drafting running back Felix Jones (1st Round, Arkansas) to push Marion Barber atop the depth chart at that position.

Barber and other key starters such as quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Terrell Owens are expected to see only limited time on Saturday, in keeping with first-game-of-preseason tradition.

Compared to the tumult in Dallas, the San Diego Chargers experienced a decidedly tranquil offseason.

After finishing 11-5 and advancing to the AFC Championship last January, Norv Turner's club experienced precious little roster or coaching turnover, and is the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC West once again.

Among the primary questions in Chargers camp is who will fill the backup running back role behind starter LaDainian Tomlinson, who traditionally does not play in preseason games.

Following Michael Turner's free agent defection to the Falcons, holdover Darren Sproles and rookies Jacob Hester (3rd Round, LSU) and Marcus Thomas (5th Round, UTEP) should see carries on Saturday.

On the injury front for the Chargers, wideout Vincent Jackson (hamstring), tight end Antonio Gates (toe), and center Nick Hardwick (foot) are among the players who will not see action against Dallas.

Terence Newman (groin) is the most notable Cowboy ruled out for Saturday.

The Cowboys hold a 6-4 edge in the all-time preseason series with the Chargers, but were 28-16 road losers in the last such meeting, prior to the 1990 season.