SAN DIEGO — Former Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells once opined, “Football players play football in football season.”That statement must be amended.They do unless it’s the preseason opener and you play for the Cowboys under coach Jason Garrett.It was a who’s who list of who wasn’t playing in the preseason opening debacle against the San Diego Chargers Thursday night and the list might be aptly named “who’s that.”Twenty Cowboys were held out of the game, including six healthy scratches. The Chargers wound up winning handily 27-7.We knew about quarterback Tony Romo and his surgically repaired back. And being cautious with established stars like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, cornerback Orlando Scandrick and defensive tackle Henry Melton is understandable.But why does second-year running back Lance Dunbar need to be put in a glass bubble?Clearly, the theme for the 2014 preseason is two-pronged — prepare for the season and stay healthy.Somewhere the basic principles of playing defense should be mixed in, but more on that later.Thursday night, the primary focus was to find out what the Cowboys had in quarterback Brandon Weeden, the former Cleveland Browns first-round bust who has replaced Kyle Orton as Romo’s primary backup.Weeden’s two years in Cleveland were a failure. He went 5-15, including 0-5 in 2013 when he was benched three times.There was never a question about Weeden’s arm but the word was he didn’t have much touch or a good feel for the game. Accuracy was definitely a problem as he completed just 55.9 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.The Cowboys have always liked Weeden from his Oklahoma State days and thought he would be a good developmental quarterback in the future. They didn’t know the future would be now, thanks to the Orton ordeal.But Weeden was impressive during the off-season when he took first-team reps because of Romo’s back and Orton’s absence. He has continued to look the part in training camp.Cowboys fans finally got to see against the Chargers what the coaches have been raving about.Weeden completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards with one touchdown in the first half.He showed a lively arm. But he also showed touch and resolve.His opening drive — the only one with the first-team offensive line — was stalled by an illegal hands to the face penalty against guard Mackenzy Bernadeau.An undeterred Weeden brought the Cowboys right back down the field on the ensuing drive, going 80 yards on 11 plays.Weeden completed 4 of 4 passes on the drive. And saved the best for last, a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Hanna. He rolled right and delivered the ball to the back of the end zone before taking a huge hit.Weeden’s next drive ended because receiver Tim Benford wasn’t ready for the ball on a third-and-1 play. And the clock ran out on the last drive at the end of the half.All in all, it was a very good first impression for the former Brown, who is now one injury away from being the starting quarterback of the Cowboys.If Weeden left a good taste in your mouth after one half of preseason play, the defense did nothing but conjure up nightmares of last year when it ranked last in the league and seemingly couldn’t stop anybody.The Chargers racked up 15 first downs and totaled 221 yards in the first quarter — 111 on the ground and 110 via air where the quarterbacks were a perfect seven for seven.Quarterback Kellen Clemens made it 9 for 9 on the Chargers’ first drive of the second half, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Dontrelle Inman.The Cowboys opened the game without five defensive starters and the injury-ravaged secondary was down to guys signed off the street the day before the game.But if truth be told, the defense has been horrible for much of training camp with the so-called regulars on the field.The Cowboys need all the help the can get on defense — which should answer any questions as to why they are holding a roster spot open for convicted killer Josh Brent.
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr