Saturday, August 09, 2008

Time for Cowboys to make a good impression


SAN DIEGO — San Diego Chargers’ All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson won’t play tonight. Dallas Cowboys stars such as quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Terrell Owens aren’t likely to get extended playing time, either, in the preseason opener for both teams.

Coach Wade Phillips said his starters will play no more than one quarter, if that much.

This game is not for the proven veterans. It’s for young players hoping to make the team and others trying to find a defined role.

"I’m trying to earn a spot," said receiver Danny Amendola, an undrafted rookie free agent from Texas Tech. "They are going to give me a chance to make some plays. I’m trying to make the most of it."

Some story lines for tonight’s preseason opener:

Pacman’s return Nobody has received more attention in training camp than cornerback Adam Jones, above left. Certainly his off-the-field issues have a lot to do with his notoriety. But Jones has been very active on the field in camp. He is happy to be playing again after being suspended last season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He has a little dance planned if he scores a touchdown.

Watching the rookies

Running back Felix Jones and cornerback Mike Jenkins have shown glimpses of why they were drafted in the first round. Jenkins will start at left cornerback in place of the injured Terence Newman. Jones will get plenty of touches as a running back, receiver and kick returner. Also keep an eye on No. 2 tight end Martellus Bennett, who was picked in the second round. He needs to improve his pass blocking and be more consistent catching the ball.

Thomas banging heads

Zach Thomas, a 12-year veteran linebacker, won’t be on the field long. But considering the concerns about the head injury that cut short his season in 2007, it is important to see how he runs around and handles full contact for the first time this year. Thomas says he is fine and expects no problems from last season’s concussion that limited him to just five games in Miami. Nevertheless, it will remain a concern for the Cowboys.

Feel for camp standouts

Danny Amendola has been one of the best surprises in training camp. Despite a very productive college career at Texas Tech, Amendola went undrafted because he is considered too small and too slow by NFL standards. So far, he has been too good, catching everything thrown to him. He’ll also return punts tonight against the Chargers. The Cowboys also will pay close attention to cornerback Evan Oglesby and safety Courtney Brown.

Third-receiver battle

The release of Terry Glenn has made third receiver an issue. The Cowboys, who tried unsuccessfully to add another receiver during the off-season, need Sam Hurd and/or Miles Austin to become playmakers behind starters Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton. Both have been solid in camp. Hurd is a reliable route runner and receiver. The key is Austin, above right. The team’s fastest receiver, he has to show he can catch the ball consistently.