Which kid RT will win the Petitti Sweepstakes guarding Tony Romo's right side this weekend? (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
You're only about 24 hours away.
The four weeks of camp have been prologue. The reports, injury aside, have mostly been positive. The top rookies, when healthy, look great. Dez Bryant's and Sean Lee's play suggest that the team was not mistaken in giving both top 20 draft grades.
The defense, and linebacking corps in particular, looks strong. The 2nd year players, who missed much of last year's camp due to injury, are stepping forward to provide welcome depth and playmaking skills.
But how does the '10 edition of the Dallas Cowboys size up? We'll get one of our few telling hints against the Chargers. Consider that the starters played one series each against Cincinnati. I've discounted the Raiders game as it came just four days later, while the team was relocating to Valley Ranch in its extended layover between San Antono and Oxnard.
The "real dress rehearsal" traditionally comes the following week, but this year's opponent, the Houston Texas, will host Dallas for keeps just four weeks later. I'm guessing the looks and "game plans," such as they are, will be the weakest strains of vanilla. Which brings us to the Chargers
The coaches appear to be shifting their emphasis from player evaluation more to preparing the team for game weeks. The initial cut-down day still lies ten days into the future, but the team likely has a handle on all but the final handful of roster spots. This week, we'll see the Cowboys attack and defend with a purpose, rather than just calling situational plays off a shorter play sheet. Compare that to Cincinnati week, when the offense worked one session of one practice against Cincy's 4-3 front. And the starters worked against the backup offensive players, not the defense.
As always, the evaluation game will continue, but this week, the emphasis will shift to key veteran backups. For instance, can left guard Montrae Holland hold up to heavy work loads? His Dallas career thus far provides no clear answer. Holland, you'll recall, took nearly 16 weeks with the team before he supplanted Cory Proctor at left guard. Holland started the Thanksgiving Day game against Seattle, then went down with a leg injury 20 minutes into the Steelers game the following weeks.
He's a five-quarter Cowboy and is three years removed from his last starting action. He's also coming off a hamstring injury. He'll get lots of playing time the next three weeks, so coaches will have a much better understanding of his capabilities should Kyle Kosier's rehab sputter.
Outside, rookie Sam Young and redshirt sophomore Robert Brewster will each likely get extensive time at right tackle, but this time with lots of tight end, fullback, running back and game plan help. Look for lots of chips on ends lined up over both kids. Look for some misdirection runs and passes to their side, to slow down full-blown blitzing off their edge.
Look for special teams to shake out, with the first team coverage and return units starting to congeal.
Defensively, we'll get to see how good the defense really is. Few passing attacks pushed the Cowboys secondary in the regular season the way Philip Rivers and his bunch did. Vincent Jackson won't play, but the rest of his mates will. They looked sharp in San Diego's opener last week. Meanwhile, they'll have a new running threat in rookie Ryan Matthews, who looked better in his handful of minutes than LaDainian Tomlinson did at any point last year. This year's Chargers O looks more two-dimensional than before.
If you want the best assessment you're likely to get all pre-season, tivo the game, or turn off your phone, send the wife to visit the in-laws and tuck the kids in early. If you miss the first half tomorrow, you'll likely have to wait until opening night to see the real 2010 Dallas Cowboys.