Things to watch in the Cowboys’ preseason opener

08/06/2014 3:41 PM

08/07/2014 12:53 PM

Tony Romo won’t play. Neither will several other starters. The Dallas Cowboys will be looking more at backups and the bottom of their roster than their starters as they kick off their 2014 season with their first preseason game.

“We have to keep in mind we have to get ready to play that first regular-season game the first week in September,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We want to make sure we stay on that track.”

The Cowboys, who took the train from Oxnard to San Diego on Wednesday, will have plenty to look at Thursday night against the Chargers:

1 - Brandon Weeden’s first game

The Cowboys are hoping they never see Weeden on the field in the regular season, but they want to have him ready just in case something happens to Romo. Romo, still rehabbing his surgically repaired back, won’t play until next week against Baltimore at AT&T Stadium. Weeden will play much of the first half Thursday. Weeden, the 22nd overall pick of the Browns in 2012, was 5-15 as a starter in Cleveland.

2 - Zack Martin’s debut

The Cowboys passed on quarterback Johnny Manziel to take offensive lineman Zack Martin with the 16th overall choice. The Cowboys immediately made Martin the starter at right guard, with Mackenzy Bernadeau moving over to the left side to compete with Ron Leary. Martin, a Notre Dame product, has impressed the Cowboys in practice, but this will be his first chance to really show his “nastiness.”

3 - Rod Marinelli’s defense

The Cowboys finished last in total defense last season, the third worst in NFL history. Marinelli replaced Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator, and the Cowboys have faith he will make a difference. Tackle Henry Melton and weakside linebacker Bruce Carter are among the keys to improving the defense.

4 - Scott Linehan as the play-caller

Linehan, the former head coach of the Rams, is the team’s third play-caller in three seasons. He took over those duties from offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, who held the play-caller duties only one season. Before that, Garrett had called the offensive plays since 2007 when the Cowboys hired him as offensive coordinator.

5 - Long extra points

The league began its experiment with long extra points during Sunday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey will get his first shot at the 33-yard extra point against the Chargers. Owners voted to move extra-point tries from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line during the first half of the preseason after kickers made 99.6 percent of their PATs last season.

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