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



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - America's Team opens up the preseason in America's Finest City when the Dallas Cowboys visit Qualcomm Stadium to take on the San Diego Chargers.

The Cowboys have been the definition of mediocrity in recent seasons and have strung together three straight 8-8 finishes. A .500 record, though, might seem like the halcyon days for Dallas this time around, though.

The Cowboys have been able to stay competitive with virtually no commitment to the running game, a pedestrian offensive line, and a historically bad defense thanks in large part to talented quarterback Tony Romo.

Romo, the same guy who gets most of the heat in Dallas when things go wrong, is the very player that has been keeping this thing afloat. He's also now 34 years old, however, and coming off back surgery to repair a herniated disc.

By all accounts, Romo is healthy but bad backs are as tricky as it gets and the Cowboys waived goodbye to a rather significant insurance policy by releasing veteran backup Kyle Orton. Ex-Cleveland bust Brandon Weeden is now set to be Romo's caddie with ex-Bear and ex-Bronco Caleb Hanie running with the third-string.

Romo said Sunday he won't play in the preseason opener.

"We've talked about it a little bit, and we're going to be smart," Romo said. "Most likely I'll probably sit out the San Diego game and play in Game 2 and go from there."

In other areas Jerry Jones has finally started making some prudent personnel decisions. Two years ago the Cowboys had one of the worst offensive lines in football and now they have three potential stars on that unit, this year's first-round pick Zack Martin, left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick.

Martin is expected to start his NFL career at right guard but he is so versatile he could kick out to right tackle if the aging Doug Free falters or flip over to left guard and play next to Smith if offensive play caller Scott Linehan feels that's the prudent way to go.

The short- term outlook in the Lone Star State remains bleak, however, especially on the defensive side of the ball where there is little talent, a fact exacerbated by the loss of perhaps the only difference maker on the unit, middle linebacker Sean Lee, who went down with a torn ACL during OTAs.

Rod Marinelli might have had the toughest job in football with Lee available. Without him, the Cowboys' first-year defensive coordinator could yearn for the days of his 0-16 performance as the head coach of the Detroit Lions back in 2008.

The biggest question in San Diego could be the effect of losing offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who moved on to become the head coach of Tennessee.

Quarterback Philip Rivers had quite the resurgence under Whisenhunt's tutelage and it will be interesting to see how things unfold now that Jim Kelly's former backup in Buffalo -- Frank Reich -- was promoted from QB coach to offensive coordinator.

One development that will certainly help Rivers is the fact that lengthy, proven receiver Malcom Floyd has been cleared to return from a career- threatening neck injury suffered in Philadelphia early last season.

"We've got a lot of weapons, we've got a lot of depth and I'm really just happy to be a part of this group," Floyd said.

The Bolts didn't add all that much to their offense but Kellen Clemens did arrive from St. Louis to backup Rivers after Charlie Whitehurst followed Whisenhunt to the Titans. Rivers has proven to be quite durable over the years but getting an established veteran presence at backup QB is always prudent in today's NFL.

On defense, pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers was brought in after being cut loose by division-rival Kansas City.

Flowers posted 68 tackles, one sack and one interception over 13 games for the Chiefs in 2013, his sixth in Kansas City but often struggled in man coverage, something the Chiefs started leaning to more and more under defensive chief Bob Sutton. The Chargers, however, play more of a zone concept and that suits Flowers' talents very well.

The Cowboys and Chargers have met 14 times in the preseason, and have evenly split the series, winning seven games.

08/05 16:14:56 ET