THE BOYS ARE BACK TONIGHT: 2014-2015 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers | Pre-Season opener 2014 | Weeden getting feet wet | Nine intriguing players to watch | Five storylines to watch

THE BOYS ARE BACK TONIGHT - 2014-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers - Pre-Season opener 2014 - Weeden getting feet wet - Players to watch

SAN DIEGO – When Brandon Weeden signed with the Dallas Cowboys back on March 17, he had both short-term and long-term goals. 

Of course, one of the reasons he picked Dallas was the opportunity to make the team as the No. 3 quarterback behind Tony Romo and Kyle Orton. And eventually, perhaps in 2015, he could be the backup and then after that, who knows.

Fast forward about five months and here’s Weeden, who has taken the majority of first-team reps all summer long and many here in training camp, about to trot out with the first-team offense when the Dallas Cowboys take on the San Diego Chargers.

Just as he planned all along?

“No, not exactly,” Weeden says with a chuckle. “In this league, you never know what to expect. But I did think Dallas was a place where I could go and compete for a job. I didn’t really think it would turn out like this, but you just have to take advantage of opportunities. But so far, I couldn’t have dreamed for a better situation.”

And while no one needs to remind Weeden this is a temporary status as the Cowboys continue to be smart with Romo’s rehab of back surgery, he also knows the advantage of taking as many reps as possible, especially when the regular season gets here and he’s backing up a quarterback who has undergone two back surgeries in the last two off-season’s.

Weeden, the 21st overall pick of the Browns in 2012 who started 20 career games (5-15 as a starter) and was cut by Cleveland this offseason, still has a hard time calling himself a backup. He’s not far removed from being the No. 1 guy so he’s still adjusting to this role as well.

“It’s a completely different mindset. I’ve never really had to be a backup other than last year when I got injured,” Weeden said. “But really the last four years I’ve been a starter. You try to prepare the same way but you’re not getting the same amount of reps. You have to stay behind and get a lot of mental reps.”

Fortunately for Weeden, he’s received a lot more of the physical reps than he ever imagined. Not only was Romo extremely limited in the offseason and will still sit out a few practices during camp – not to mention Thursday’s game with the Chargers – but Orton was a complete no-show this summer and was eventually released.

That meant Weeden was under center just about every day. He was throwing the balls to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and giving the handoffs to DeMarco Murray. And it was his blindside being protected by Tyron Smith.

And that’s how it’ll likely be for a little while tonight (Thursday) at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The first-team offense generally gets a series or two in this preseason opener.

“We’re not really preparing for the Chargers or breaking down what they do,” Weeden said. “It’s more about us and what we do. For myself, it’s about going out and functioning within the offense. I don’t want to have pre-snap penalties or mistakes. We need to go out, take care of the football and put together some 8-10 play drives and punch it in the end zone. For the most part, I’m not worried about numbers or anything, just going out and playing smart football.”

And don’t be surprised if Weeden gets a few snaps with the second-teamers as well since technically, he is still a backup.

“We anticipate Brandon playing a lot in this game,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He needs to play. If you know his biography, his time he spent in baseball, a two-year stint at Oklahoma State and playing in a couple of different systems in Cleveland he just needs to takes snaps. He has a lot of natural ability. You can see that. Really good throwing the football. He can throw any kind of ball you want him to throw. He just needs to take snaps.”

Veteran quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, who also played 19 seasons in the NFL, has had constant work with Weeden this entire summer. Wilson said Weeden already has a good command of the two-minute offense, something that typically takes more time with players new to the system.

“He’s throwing the ball extremely well. I’ve been very impressed. He’s had a real solid camp,” Wilson said. “To me the best thing that he’s done is the no-huddle code word stuff. It’s similar to what he did in college. He’s adapting to the new system he’s here with now, but the hardest part for him is calling the play, the verbiage. A lot of that is new words and just getting the play called, there’s a lot of verbiage. But he’s very confident in what he’s doing.”

Still, Weeden knows that however he performs tonight, it’s not going to change his status as the backup – at least not for now.

“Tony Romo is the starting quarterback of this team and it’ll be my job to help him the best way I can,” Weeden said. “He helps me a lot more than I help him but as the backup, there’s things you can see from the side and maybe a tip here or there. More than anything, you just have study and be ready.”

And being ready without taking snaps during the season is a challenge.

“You’ve got to go about it a different way but somehow someway you’ve got to find a way to get prepared,” Weeden said. “It’s a tough spot and it’s challenging. But at the same time, if I get thrown in there, they expect me to be ready and not miss a beat. I’ll be ready. We’ve got a great set of skill guys and an outstanding offensive line so what better position to be in.”


RELATED: Intriguing players to watch tonight 

SAN DIEGO – Regardless if it counts in the history books, or even how long the starters will play, tonight will signify one simple fact that should please fans all over the country and world: football is back.

The Dallas Cowboys will strap up the helmets, lace up the shoes and put on the shoulder pads for the preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium for a 9 p.m. kickoff (CDT).

As usual, the starters likely won’t go more than a series or two and don’t expect all of the first-teamers to even play. Tony Romo has been managing the back injury all summer and won’t play, meaning Brandon Weeden gets the start.

Weeden is one of many players the Cowboys are anxious to see, but with this first game, there are dozens of players that will be intriguing to watch.

Dallas staff writers have each selected a player from both sides of the ball to evaluate throughout the game, followed by a review of their performances afterward.

Let’s check out who we should be following closely in the game … .

Kavner

Ryan Williams: The former second-round pick has talked throughout camp about how he wasn’t hurt last year and Arizona failed to give him chances. He’s also talked about how he just needs opportunities during the preseason to show he’s still the guy multiple teams were interested in during the 2011 draft, and this is his opportunity to do it. He’s come a long way from a serious knee injury, but he needs to show some unique qualities to make the squad as the team’s third back.

Terrance Mitchell: Coaches have talked about how Mitchell will jump back into drills to get more reps, even when he’s not supposed to. Well, this time it’ll be necessary for him to keep jumping in. The Dallas Cowboys only have a few healthy corners on the roster against San Diego. He’s been the most physical and bothersome corner to the receivers this camp and has game-changing potential. Everyone’s waiting to see if he can be that same guy to his opponents while maintaining the correct position and not drawing flags.

Helman

Gavin Escobar: Jason Witten isn’t likely to play much, if at all. With that in mind, Escobar is on top of the tight end depth chart, and he’s one of the offensive contributors with the most eyes on him. Do the Dallas Cowboys plan on using him extensively this early in the season? And which parts of the field will we see him? Escobar strikes me as the type of guy who could get everybody buzzing with a few big catches in the preseason. I want to see if he can manage that tonight.

Davon Coleman: I felt good about Coleman’s odds of making the roster way before all the injuries set in on the defensive line. His size makes him a hard guy to handle, as he has shown on several occasions in training camp. Coleman is guaranteed to get a lot of playing time, as the starters and veterans should all be sitting by halftime. He has been impressive against the Cowboys offensive line, but is that enough practice to help him excel against an opponent. Right now, I think Coleman has been one of the two or three most impressive rookies, and I’m excited to see him in a game.

Eatman

Devin Street: I’ve said it numerous times this offseason how much I think Cole Beasley will be a big factor in the offense and have thrown out a 60-catch prediction as well. Knowing Dez will be the man and Terrance Williams should get plenty of chances, too, I don’t know where the other guys will fit in. One of these other guys is Street, who has been impressive so far in practices. He’s silky smooth in his route-running and has a way of playing this game at his own pace. I’ve tossed around the Alvin Harper comparison with Street and I’m looking forward to seeing him more and more. Street should get plenty of reps in this game. I bet we see him late in the first quarter in some three-wide looks and maybe as deep as the third quarter.

Jeremy Mincey: The thing the Dallas Cowboys are hoping more than anything with this defense is that Rod Marinelli can somehow work his magic with some of these players to have their best seasons. Last year, Selvie, Hayden and Hatcher all had career years and that’s’ exactly what the Cowboys need from Mincey. That was before DeMarcus Lawrence went down for about 2-3 months with a broken foot. Now, Mincey is going to be called upon even more, especially when it comes to rushing the passer. In this game, I’ll be looking to see how Mincey can get to the quarterback when it’s not third-and-long. The second-and-5 plays where his main focus is stopping the run, and then he’s got to get off the edge and try to collapse the pocket is what separates average linemen from the some of the NFL’s best.

Broaddus

Joseph Randle: The battle between he and Ryan Williams has been ongoing during practice so this will be the first real opportunity to separate. Last year at this time Randle was a lost kid just trying to find his way through the football day but he appears to be a more focused player and it has resulted in more consistent snaps. He physically looks better and I have noticed that he is playing with more of a fluid style. His running style is not as stiff and upright. He still catches the ball well and there have been signs of improvement as a pass blocker.

Anthony Hitchens: One of the linebackers on this roster that has a real nose for the ball but also has the athletic ability to get there for the tackle. I like that these defensive coaches have decided to keep him on the outside and given him the responsibility to run to the ball. If you play linebacker in this scheme, you have to be able to play in space and make tackles and during the Blue-White Scrimmage last Sunday he was able to do just that running down Ryan Williams down in the flat for what could have been a big gain around the corner resulted in only two to three yards. I have a strong feeling that his name will appear several times in the stat sheet.


RELATED: Five big storylines to follow in tonight’s game

SAN DIEGO – We all know the first preseason game isn’t a time for Pro Bowlers or established starters. Once the big names take a seat on the bench, though, there are plenty of things to watch when it comes to determining the makeup of the Dallas Cowboys final roster.

Here are five of the biggest storylines to watch in San Diego.

  • Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary: With Leary now back on the practice field here in camp, that battle at the left guard spot takes center stage for a starting spot on an offensive line that has upgraded itself with the addition of Zack Martin. Bernadeau has had the upper hand so far in practice, but Leary is working himself into position to put pressure on him. We could see both on the field at the same time with the second offense — Bernadeau taking snaps at center and Leary at guard. I have a feeling this position will not be settled until after the Dolphins game this preseason, but that journey starts tonight.
  • Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams: If you asked which of these running backs would make the team as of right now, I’d say it’s Randle’s job. When camp opened there was some nice back and forth during the practices, but over the last three days Randle has shown a little more as a ball carrier and receiver. What will be key here for these backs is which one can have the most production behind whichever offensive line they are working behind. This always happens in preseason games where young guys make mistakes and there are unblocked players that appear in the backfield. This offensive staff will game plan in their rotation and try to allow these two the best chance to show what they can and cannot do.
  • BW Webb: The defense is in a terrible mess for this game against the Chargers when it comes to the cornerback position. Orlando Scandrick has the most experience of the group but will most likely only see limited snaps. That leaves B.W. Webb to take his spot and try to carry the position throughout the majority of the game, which isn’t a bad situation. Webb needs to play and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. In practices he has shown more confidence and aggressiveness in his play. He has developed more toughness, which was something he badly lacked in his rookie season. Will be interesting to see if he can carry over what we’ve seen from him these last two weeks and continue to play with this style and win a job as the fourth cornerback over Sterling Moore on this defense.
  • Backup Receivers: If practices and a Blue-White Scrimmage tell anything, it’s that the receiving corps has some depth to it. The question all during camp was whether the front office would carry five or six on the 53-man roster, but with the way these kids are playing, they could carry eight. From what I have been able to observe each day, there has been someone different that has caught eye’s from this group. Just when you want to write a guy like Chris Boyd off, he comes up with a nice play or two that makes you rethink your position. This front office is having the same problem. From talking to folks who work with the Chargers, they are excited about their group of corners and the depth they have there, so tonight should be a good test for these Dallas Cowboys receivers who are trying to prove they belong on this roster.
  • Young Defensive Tackles: I am looking forward to seeing how Davon Coleman and Ken Bishop play against the Chargers’ offensive line. There have been moments in practice where these two tackles have been outstanding working against the veterans along the Cowboys offensive line. With all the issues this defense has had with injuries, they have taken full advantage of the situation and turned a few heads with their play. I especially like what I have seen in the recent practices with Bishop. He appears to be more active in his approach, playing with a sense of urgency. You see him attacking the pocket, playing with better technique and his overall production has improved. Coleman started out playing several different position along the line but has now settled into the under-tackle spot, working with Bishop. I am looking forward to seeing if both of these tackles can continue to be disruptive and carry that over into this game against the Chargers.
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