Too many maybes on this Cowboys night

Posted Sunday, Aug. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton Here in the birthplace of pro football, in a high school stadium 2,440 miles from their training camp home, the Dallas Cowboys began to seek their 2013 identity on Sunday night.

Well, sort of.

The role of Tony Romo was played by backup-backup quarterbacks Nick Stephens and Alex Tanney.

Performing in the role of ball carrier DeMarco Murray — and evoking bravos before he was injured — was hard-charging Phillip Tanner.

The would-be rookie starting center ended up playing right guard. The would-be backup offensive tackles — don’t ask.

Though the head coaches involved say all the proper and polite things about this traditional Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, it’s hard to believe that anyone truly enjoys it but the Canton Chamber of Commerce.

Billed as the culmination to the Hall’s induction weekend, the actual game stretches even the most liberal definitions of an NFL exhibition. Starters are whisked into the action for brief cameos, if at all. The game plans could probably fit on a hotel napkin.

Much of the same can be said, of course, for most NFL preseason games. But the annual Hall of Fame exhibition exposes its participating teams to an extra preseason game, with all risks therein.

It all seems too early, too rushed, too squeezed into the schedule.

Hence, no Romo, no Jason Witten, no eight starters on the Cowboys’ offense.

Dispense your bravos accordingly, therefore. Over the next four weeks, the Cowboys should learn whether rookie No. 1 pick Travis Frederick is more valuable to them as a starter at right guard or the starting center.

Maybe strong safety J.J. Wilcox won’t struggle as he did in Sunday’s first half. Maybe Tanner and fellow running back Lance Dunbar will still be worth the applause.

Maybe, four weeks from now, the Cowboys won’t have so many maybes.

Of immediate note were the turnovers. And for once on this night, the Cowboys were on the receiving end of them, turning two Miami Dolphins miscues into first-half touchdowns.

Balancing their turnover ratio was said to be one of the key components behind the Cowboys’ off-season hiring of Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli. And while stand-in defensive tackle Nick Hayden’s fumble recovery on the Dolphins’ first snap was more fortuitous than forced, rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman’s interception and 75-yard dash to the end zone was a big-league play.

It will likely take five weeks of big-league plays to round out this Cowboys roster. But as random moments go, Ron Leary appeared to comfortably hold his own at left guard in place of the injured (again) Nate Livings. With Frederick playing some at right guard, veteran Phil Costa settled in capably at center.

Frederick and tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith were the only Cowboys regulars to start on offense Sunday night.

On defense, the most notable presence belonged to newly acquired end George Selvie.

By the end of the third quarter, the Cowboys’ offense had gained 145 of its 202 yards on the ground. Quarterbacks Stephens, Tanney and (briefly) Kyle Orton had thrown only 15 passes.

Game plan on a napkin, like I said.

For reasons deeply rooted in tradition, however, this annual Hall of Fame Game persists. Owner Jerry Jones seems to enjoy visiting regularly, but I suspect the enthusiasm isn’t shared by his head coach.

Four preseason games are plenty enough. Coaches and most fans would agree with that.

Yet, here we were Sunday night, watching the Cowboys and Dolphins grind out the clock with lineups of guys you couldn’t even find on Google.

Too many maybes. Not enough Romos and Wittens.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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