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W2W4: Dallas Cowboys

8/7/2014

The Dallas Cowboys (0-0) and San Diego Chargers (0-0) open their preseasons Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium.

Three things to watch:

Brandon Weeden time: With Tony Romo sitting out as the Cowboys continue their conservative approach with the starting quarterback, Weeden will get the start. He could play as much as a half with the bulk of the action likely coming with the backups. Weeden ascended to the No. 2 role when the Cowboys cut Kyle Orton before training camp and has performed well. This is the first time the Cowboys have had such an inexperienced backup since 2006 when Romo was Drew Bledsoe's backup. The coaches are not so concerned with Weeden lighting it up statistically as they want to see him able to function in a new offense and communicate the plays. With Romo sitting out of the competitive drills in the spring and Orton absent from the offseason program, Weeden took all of the first-team reps in the organized team activities and minicamp. With Romo resting every third day in camp so far, Weeden has taken more first-team reps than a normal backup.

Strong up front: So far in training camp the offensive line has been as good as advertised. At times they have been dominant, especially in the running game with DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar sometimes not getting touched by a defender until well down field. With Weeden getting the start, the line could play more than the customary series or two. The Cowboys want to be able to run the ball when they want in the regular season and that mindset will have to start against the Chargers. Zack Martin has not looked like a rookie, but this is his first game against different competition. Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith will be playing in his first game since signing a 10-year, $110 million deal. Mackenzy Bernadeau will start at left guard, but the competition with Ronald Leary is far from over with Leary returning to practice last weekend after recovering from a strained hamstring.

Where's the defense? Already a question mark, the Cowboys could be severely shorthanded. Defensive end George Selvie missed two days of practice with a groin strain. Safety Barry Church has been slowed by an ankle sprain. Cornerback Morris Claiborne will not play because of tendinitis in his knee. Brandon Carr is expected to report to training camp for the first time since his mother’s death when the team returns to Oxnard. Second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence is out at least the first three regular-season games with a broken foot. The injuries will give others opportunity, like Tyrone Crawford, who would take over for Selvie at left defensive end. He missed last season with a torn Achilles. One player who needs to shake off the rust after not playing since 2012, Rolando McClain, is questionable because of hamstring and quadriceps soreness. The Cowboys have only three healthy corners and needed to sign two defensive backs that could be forced into action without having a practice.