Sunday, August 10, 2008

Special problems crop up for Dallas Cowboys

Fumbles, bobbles, penalties and coverage miscues hurt Cowboys
01:18 AM CDT on Sunday, August 10, 2008

By BRIAN DAVIS / The Dallas Morning News

SAN DIEGO – Rookie jitters may have gotten the best of Danny Amendola when he fumbled on a punt return in the first quarter against San Diego.

That was just the start of a rough night for the Cowboys' special teams.

Alonzo Coleman bobbled the ball on the lip of the goal line on a kickoff return. Justin Rogers couldn't contain Darren Sproles, allowing the speedster to slip outside for a 25-yard punt return.

Amendola let the Chargers down a punt inside the Cowboys' 10-yard line. Making matters worse, Courtney Brown was flagged for a personal foul on the play, pushing the Cowboys back to their 3.

Three plays later, the Cowboys had to punt from the 1. This time, Mark Jones dodged three Cowboys and picked up 16 yards. The Chargers started at the Cowboys' 32 and scored in less than a minute.

"We're all learning, and we're all making mistakes," Amendola said. "But we're learning from them. We're going to assess it on film and we're going to try to get some things straight."

■ Thomas starts strong: Zach Thomas did not appear to have many problems in his first game since November. The seven-time Pro Bowler zipped through traffic and stuffed Sproles for a 3-yard loss right after the Chargers recovered Amendola's fumble at the Cowboys' 31.

Thomas believes he's past the concussion and migraine issues that forced him to miss all but five games last season. On the first day of training camp, Thomas butted heads with Leonard Davis. On Tuesday, Thomas had the hit of the day when he popped backup running back Keon Lattimore.

"I've never been nervous for a preseason game," Thomas said, "but for this one I was because everything's changed. But it will come. I still have a long way to go myself."

■ Scandrick goes in hard: Fifth-round draft pick Orlando Scandrick had a big hit in the third quarter when he smashed into Chargers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst near the sideline.

Scandrick appeared to hurt his right shoulder and had to be helped off the field. However, he was laughing with teammates minutes later and was back on the field in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys can't afford more injuries at cornerback, once thought to be their deepest position. Terence Newman (groin) and Quincy Butler (hamstring) did not play because of injuries.

■ Hold that line: All five spots on the offensive line feature entrenched starters. But the second-team line has gotten a lot of attention in training camp. That unit was up and down during the second quarter.

Second-team quarterback Brad Johnson was sacked twice. The second came late in the second quarter, when the Cowboys were at the Chargers' 17-yard line. A 5-yard loss on second down forced a third-and-long. Felix Jones picked up 5 yards on the next play, but the Cowboys settled for a 35-yard field goal.

■ Welcome home: Saturday's game was a homecoming of sorts for Cowboys coaches Wade Phillips, Brian Stewart and Hudson Houck.

Phillips was the Chargers' defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2006 before he became the Cowboys' head coach. Stewart was a defensive assistant under Phillips during that time.
Houck was the Chargers' offensive line coach from 2002 to 2004.