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Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

Marinelli wants third-stringers prepared for close finish
by Tom Kowalski

ALLEN PARK -- The dirty little secret of NFL preseason games is that head coaches will say they want to win them, but then not commit many resources to actually doing it.

Because preseason games generally end with third-stringers on the field, the concept is basically to "let the chips fall where they may.''

Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli is a little different.

"You want to win everything,'' Marinelli said. "If we're playing marbles, I want to take all your marbles -- and your bag and everything you have, your shoes and your socks and go home. Everything you've got -- I want everything. So you're looking for that. I'm hoping we're instilling that in our "thirds.' ''

While Marinelli won't put his starters -- or even second-stringers -- back into the game to try to win it in the end, he has done some extra preparation with his "thirds.'' The Lions have spent more practice time with them in end-of-game situations, including a hurry-up offense and Hail Mary passes.

"We've been pounding `two-minute' because they're the ones who are going to be in the game,'' Marinelli said.

While the starters are expected to play only a series or two in Thursday's game against Cincinnati, they know the importance of getting off to a good start.

"For us, the preseason is very important,'' said Lions quarterback Jon Kitna. "You can't put too much into this -- it is the preseason -- but we're trying to change an attitude here.''

Kitna said the job of the No. 1 offense is to take the good work they've done in camp and translate it into a game situation.

"I think it's execution, really. The first preseason game can sometimes be a little sloppy but we've been in this system so we want to be sharp and crisp,'' said Kitna, adding that there's a significant difference in the offense this year from last -- the second in coordinator Mike Martz's system.

"Last year, we were just trying to figure out how to line up, to be honest, with all the formations,'' said Kitna, who played for the Bengals before joining the Lions last season. "Right now, we feel pretty comfortable with where we're at and it's about going to the next level. We need to do everything we need to do to get ready for (the regular-season opener).''

Rookie wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the first-round draft choice (and second overall), is not expected to start, but is supposed to play about a quarter-and-a-half.

"They do have an explosive offense,'' said Bengals defensive end Bryan Robinson. "They have the receivers, they have a quarterback that we know can play some pretty good football because he played here and played with us. He's going to test us.''

Return specialist Eddie Drummond, who was slowed by a hip injury last week, will play, but the Lions will also use several other players in the return game.

Defensive end Dewayne White (groin), linebacker Teddy Lehman (shoulder) and running back Brian Calhoun (knee) will not play for the Lions. Calhoun has practiced every day but he hasn't taken part in any inside running drills because his knee is still healing after last year's surgery. Calhoun is expected to play next week against the Cleveland Browns.

Kalimba Edwards, who has been named the starting right end, wants to get off to a quick start. When asked what he's looking for in this game, he said, "A sack. I'm just being real. Every game is serious to me, I've got a lot to prove. I want a sack in every game and that includes preseason.''

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

Johnson will get plenty of playing time against Bengals
by Tom Kowalski

ALLEN PARK -- Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz believes rookie wide receiver Calvin Johnson is destined for stardom in the NFL, but it's going to be a while before Johnson gets the star treatment.

The Lions play their first preseason game Thursday, at Ford Field against the Cincinnati Bengals, and most of Detroit's starters will get limited playing time. Johnson, who is expected to be in the starting lineup during the regular season, will be treated like any other backup fighting for a job.

"We're going to see him a lot in this game,'' Martz said Tuesday. "We're going to see him a lot in the preseason -- he's got to learn how to play in this league. We're going to wear his little froggy rear-end out.''

There are a couple of reasons Martz wants Johnson on the field for an extended period Thursday. First, Johnson missed the first eight days of training camp during his contract holdout and he's not nearly in the same "football shape'' as his teammates.

"It's hard because he'll hit a wall after about two weeks -- his legs will get real tired, so you've got to give him a reprieve. Right now, he's going to get stressed physically pretty good and then we'll try to back off a little bit,'' Martz said.

The second reason Johnson needs extra work is because he doesn't totally understand the prime conditioning Martz requires out of his receivers. Pro Bowl receiver Roy Williams had to go through a full season before he completely understood it -- and he's still trying to reach that conditioning goal.

Martz believes his system thrives when his receivers are going full speed on every play -- and not just during the play. He wants them to hustle back to the huddle and rev it up again.

The difficulty isn't just in the conditioning, but in maintaining the focus and concentration when a receiver is dead tired. Martz does not believe in rotating receivers, but in keeping his best players on the field and lifting their game to the highest level.

"He just has to get used to the constant getting back in the huddle and going full speed again,'' Martz said. "There's no way you can prepare yourself for that until you get to camp. Of course, when that happens, the sharpness of what you do -- the routes and seeing the ball -- (suffers) and you've got to get used that.''

Johnson, who played with the No. 1 offense last Friday when he signed a six-year, $55 million contract, is now running with the second team. He's expected to stay there until he gets in better shape and proves to Martz that he can maintain his intensity, both physically and mentally.

Martz knows that day is coming soon, but he's going to make Johnson earn it, nonetheless.

"He's a remarkable player and remarkable young man, so he'll be fine," Martz said. "Some of the things he struggled with the first day, he did real well out here (this week) so you can see the progress.''

In the first two preseason games, Martz said the Lions will concentrate on running plays and not be concerned about down-and-distance or game circumstances. For instance, in a third-and-eight situation, Martz might call a play that he normally wouldn't in that circumstance.

"What we try to do is put people in position to make plays. It's not as much about attacking a defense as it is putting guys in position to see what they can do,'' Martz said. "For an offensive lineman, it's trying to put pressure on them in the running game. For a receiver, it's certain routes and matchups, and for the quarterback, it's putting him in a stressful situation to see how he responds so you can learn about him.

"That's how preseason games go -- you're looking to test them and see how they respond.''

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NFL Preseason Preview - Cincinnati (0-0) At Detroit (0-0)
(Sports Network)

An initial glimpse at first-round draft choice Calvin Johnson will be among the enticements for fans in the Motor City on Thursday night, as their Lions play host to the Cincinnati Bengals in the initial preseason tilt for both teams.

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Johnson last Friday inked a contract that could be worth as much as $64 million, and Detroit supporters will be eager to see if the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft lives up to his billing. Johnson, who caught 76 passes for 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns in his junior season at Georgia Tech, is expected to see a great deal of action during his first game in a pro uniform.

Throwing passes to Johnson and the receivers will be a trio of quarterbacks, beginning with starter Jon Kitna, who should appear only briefly. Succeeding Kitna in the lineup will be the recently-acquired J.T. O'Sullivan and holdover Dan Orlovsky.

A fourth quarterback expected to be in the running for a spot on the 2007 roster, second-round draft pick Drew Stanton (Michigan State), has already been ruled out for the season with a knee injury.

Running back Kevin Jones (foot), who is expected to miss the entire preseason, will be among the other Lions notables not in action on Thursday. The backfield starter is expected to be former Bronco Tatum Bell, who like Johnson will be making his first appearance in a Detroit uniform.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, will be on the field for the first time since concluding the 2006 campaign with a disappointing three-game losing streak that dropped them to 8-8.

After rebuilding his defense during the offseason, head coach Marvin Lewis will be eager to assess the gameday work of new faces such as first-round draft choice and cornerback Leon Hall (Michigan), as well as middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who is being pressed into a starting role in just his second year in the league.

With offensive standouts like quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Rudi Johnson, and wideouts Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh slated for only limited minutes on Thursday night, many eyes will be on younger Bengals players such as running back Kenny Irons.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Irons starred at Auburn before being selected with Cincinnati's second-round pick in the April draft.

The Bengals have a 18-15 lead in their all-time preseason series with the Lions, including a 23-10 home victory in the last such matchup, in 2003.

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

Tune in early to see regulars

Manning and friends will likely play only a series or two in Colts' exhibition

Can't wait to watch the Super Bowl champions tonight? Don't wait too long after the 8 p.m. kickoff, not if you want to see the real thing.

Or as real as it gets in the preseason.

Quarterback Peyton Manning and most of the Indianapolis Colts regulars will play only a series or two when the team opens a four-game exhibition set at Dallas.

Coach Tony Dungy said the only first-teamers who will play after that are the new starters: cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden, rookie slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez, rookie offensive tackle Tony Ugoh and weakside linebacker Freddy Keiaho.

Regardless of who is out there, execution is expected.

"Like against the Rams last year, I don't like going down there and getting embarrassed on national TV," Manning said Wednesday of a 19-17 loss at St. Louis in the 2006 preseason opener. "Hopefully that won't be the case.

"Our preseason record has not been very good. I think at times you'd like to look better all the way around, but obviously coaches are looking for certain things and they don't necessarily tell the players."

The Colts have won only once in their past nine preseason games and are 8-13 in exhibitions since Dungy became coach in 2002.

But the ugliness hasn't carried over to when the games count. The Colts are 14-2 in September under Dungy.

Like all coaches, Dungy balances a disdain for losing with the big picture of needing to see more of certain players in game situations.

"I don't think you ever learn anything by losing," Dungy said. "It's not something we enjoy, not playing our best, but there are a lot of other things that we're trying to get accomplished as well."

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

Terrell Owens to Play Thursday

Enigmatic Dallas Cowboy's wide receiver Terrell Owens is expected to suit up for his team's NFL preseason opener versus Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts on Thursday in Texas.

The start comes despite back spasms and a sore hamstring that kept Owens out of practice for two days earlier this week, but he says he's now ready to go.

"I was able to run around full speed and make some cuts, so the last day, I was at practice," Owens told reporters Wednesday. "I know my body. It's something I never felt before, and if it takes a long time to respond to treatment, I get a little worried."

T.O. missed every preseason game save one last season and was clearly unhappy with the direction of head coach Bill Parcels. This season, however, things appear different under Wade Phillips and a change in attitude and motivation could spell trouble for defensive secondaries around the league. It could also be great news for Bodog Fantasy Football players. 

Phillips wants to get his team going early and plans to put his best players—including Owens— on the field early on Thursday.

"We're planning on playing our first-group at least a quarter," said Phillips today. "And then we'll go from there."

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

What bettors need to know: Thursday's NFL action

Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys (-4 ½, 34)

Battle in the trenches

Colts fans will be paying extra attention to the left side of the offensive line in this game. Indianapolis’ success this season hinges on whether rookie lineman Tony Ugoh can protect Peyton Manning’s blindside.

Left tackle has long been an area of strength for the Colts but because of the sudden retirement of Pro Bowler Tarik Glenn, Indianapolis is counting on its second-round draft pick (Ugoh) to grow up fast. The Arkansas product has good size (6-foot-5, 305) and as a former two-sport athlete who competed in the discus event on the Razorbacks track and field team, you know he's athletic enough.

"Ugoh has outstanding ability and a nice, easy-going, level personality, too," said Colts president Bill Polian. "I think he'll be fine."

“Doctor said I need a backiotomy!”

Cowboys fans were relieved to learn Terrell Owens’ back is fine. An MRI revealed no damage and the star receiver is expected to see some action Thursday night.

“I was able to run around full speed and make some cuts,” Owens told the Dallas Morning News after practice Tuesday.

Owens missed two practices last week because of a sore hamstring and two this week because of pain in his back. He missed all but one preseason game last season because of a lingering hamstring injury.

Key players injured

The Colts dealt with several significant injuries en route to their first Super Bowl victory in Indianapolis. This year is off to a similar start after the team announced 12 players won’t play on Thursday.

Highlighting the group is defensive end Robert Mathis and safety Bob Sanders. Mathis (knee) has led Indy in sacks the last two seasons while Sanders is their strongest defender in the secondary.

Dungy said Mathis would be playing if this were a regular season game but since it’s an exhibition, the coach doesn’t want to risk further damage to the left knee. Sanders is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery but he’s expected to be ready come September.

Are you ready for some football?

This will be the first nationally televised NFL game of the year because the NFL Network had the rights to the Hall of Fame Game. The Fox Network will be airing the Thursday night contest featuring two of the league’s most popular teams.

Dallas handed Indy its first loss last year in Week 11 at Texas Stadium.

Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions (-3, 34 ½)

Beat-up Bengals

There may not be any razzle-dazzle with the touchdown celebrations tonight. Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson missed several practices this week and he’s not expected to play. Johnson is troubled by a sore left ankle and though the injury isn’t considered serious, it hurts the overall depth at receiver this week.

Wideouts Glenn Holt (hamstring) and Antonio Chatman (groin) have both been ruled out. The Bengals enter the game down four receivers with Chris Henry has been suspended for first half of the season.

Blast from the past

This will mark first time quarterback Jon Kitna plays against his former team. He won the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 2003 while leading the Bengals to an 8-8 record.

Carson Palmer would take the No. 1 job the following year but Kitna’s importance to the franchise is not forgotten.

“(Kitna) was, no question, the leader of this team – on the field and subtly behind the scenes,” Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis told the Dayton Daily News. “He was an extension of the coaches. We wouldn’t have (had success) if it weren’t for Jon Kitna and his leadership.”

Rookie showdown

It’s no secret Detroit coaches have been drooling over No. 1 draft pick Calvin Johnson since the receiver showed up at camp, but surprisingly, word out of Detroit is that they aren't going to treat their prodigy with kid gloves in the preseason.

“We’re going to see him a lot in this game,” offensive coordinator Mike Martz told the Booth Newspapers. “We’re going to see him a lot in the preseason – he’s got to learn how to play in this league. We’re going to wear his little froggy rear-end out.”

Martz’s goal is to have Johnson in the necessary condition to run with the first unit for the season opener. The rookie is taking snaps with the second unit and has been doing so since joining camp late after a brief contract holdout.

Cornerback Leon Hall, Cincinnati’s top draft pick, is excited about the opportunity to line up against Johnson.

“It’s going to be very exciting to play against the top receiver in the draft,” Hall said. “It’s always good when you’re going against some of the best athletes in the world. It only makes you better.”

Brace yourselves

All eyes were on Palmer’s surgically-repaired knee last season. He wore a brace throughout the year as a precautionary measure but he started training camp this year without the device.

Earlier this week he went back to the brace but assured Cincinnati fans there was no reason to be concerned.

“Nothing’s wrong,” the Pro Bowl quarterback told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’m going to wear it all year, and I’m just getting used to it again.”

Don’t get too comfortable in my seat

Running back Tatum Bell should be motivated to string together a couple long runs on Thursday. Bell, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Denver Broncos, said earlier this week he expects to be the starter.

Kevin Jones, who was last season’s No. 1 tailback is recovering from foot surgery. He sounded unimpressed with Bell’s assumptions.

“I have to deal with competing for a job against (Bell) as a competitor,” Jones told the Detroit News. “But when he says, ‘It is mine,’ that is when I have a problem. If I was 100 percent, it would not be a question. My goal is to come back and it (starting) won’t be an issue. I am the better back and I will be the starter.”

Jones is expected to be 100 percent healthy by Week 1 of the regular season.

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

Thursday’s NFL starter report

Wide receivers Terry Glenn and Chad Johnson top the list of VIPs sitting out today’s games, but there are a slew of others.

Here is a team-by-team breakdown of who’s sitting, who’s playing and for how long.

Indianapolis Colts

Defensive end Robert Mathis (left knee) and Bob Sanders (shoulder) both will not participate in today’s game. Cornerback Marlin Jackson hasn’t practiced this week but he is expected to see some time.

Head coach Tony Dungy said the early plan is to give the starters 10 to 15 plays before giving way to the untested players. Rookies Tony Ugoh (left tackle) and Anthony Gonzalez (receiver) are the only starters expected to be given additional time.

Dallas Cowboys

While Glenn is on the outside looking in, his Cowboys receiver partner, Terrell Owens is expected to play against the Colts. Patrick Crayton has been penciled in as Glenn's replacement to start the game.

The offensive line will be without both of its starting tackles as both Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo are both recovering from knee injuries. Starting free safety Ken Hamlin is also expected to sit out after getting shaken up from a hit in practice this week.

Head coach Wade Phillips says quarterback Tony Romo and some other starters will play the entire first quarter. Backup QB Brad Johnson will play the second while rookies Matt Moore and Richard Bartel will handle the mop-up duties in the second half.

Cincinnati Bengals

Besides Ocho Cinco, the Bengals will be missing the services of receivers Tab Perry, Bennie Brazell, Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis told reporters he would “err on the side of caution” with injured players, likely ruling out starting offensive linemen Levi Jones (knee) and perhaps Willie Anderson (rest) as well.

Lewis hasn’t tipped his hand for tonight’s rotation but from the sounds of things, the coaching staff would like quarterback Jeff Rowe to get as many snaps as possible.

Rowe, a rookie from Nevada, has impressed a lot of people in practice and Lewis wants to see how the kid will do in a game situation. Second-round pick Kenny Irons has also turned some heads, so expect the rookie running back to have his number called several times.

Detroit Lions

Matt Millen’s boys are relatively healthy heading into their preseason opener with the exception of rookie quarterback Drew Stanton who was lost for the season due to a knee injury.

Stanton’s loss as created a void at the backup QB slot. Head coach Rod Marinelli said J.T. O’Sullivan would play the majority this week with Dan Orlovsky taking his turn next week.

Both players have little to no experience in the pros, so Marinelli will need a good long look at each.

The starters are expected to see 10-12 snaps before giving way to the backups. Rookie wideout Calvin Johnson has been told to be ready for extensive action in the game. The coaches want the rookie to bring his conditioning up to par after a brief holdout from training camp.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz and defensive coordinator Joe Barry each stressed the play-calling would be conservative tonight.

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

NFL Preseason Preview - Indianapolis (0-0) At Dallas (0-0)
(Sports Network)

The 2006 Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts will be in uniform Thursday night for the first time since last season's ultimate triumph, as Peyton Manning and company visit the Dallas Cowboys in the 2007 preseason opener for both teams.

A little more than six months removed from their first title since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, the Colts have some immediate concerns to address on both sides of the football. Gone are players such as running back Dominic Rhodes (now with the Raiders), left tackle Tarik Glenn (retired), defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (expected to miss the year due to injury) and cornerbacks Jason David (now with the Saints) and Nick Harper (now with the Titans). What's more, oft-injured safety Bob Sanders is expected to miss much of the preseason following offseason shoulder injury. The process of filling those gaps will take an important step for Tony Dungy's team on Thursday night.

Many of Indy's highest-profile players are expected to see only limited time, including Manning, running back Joseph Addai, and wideouts Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

Expected to see slightly more action, however, is wide receiver and first- round draft choice Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio State), who will be making his first appearance in a Colts uniform.

The homestanding Cowboys, meanwhile, will be on the field for the first time since a heartbreaking loss at Seattle in last year's NFC Wild Card game. Since that 20-19 setback, Dallas has added a new head coach in Wade Phillips, who takes over for the departed Bill Parcells. Phillips has a 48-39 record in his career as an NFL coach, which includes full-time stints in Denver and Buffalo.

High-profile players such as Dallas quarterback Tony Romo are expected to see brief time against Indianapolis, but wideout Terry Glenn (knee) is out and running mate Terrell Owens (back) could make only a token appearance.

The Colts hold a 5-3 edge in their all-time preseason series with the Cowboys, though Dallas was a 23-21 home winner in the last such matchup (with the then- Baltimore Colts) prior to the 1977 campaign.

Dallas was a 21-14 home winner when the teams met in Week 11 of the 2006 regular season, handing Indianapolis its first loss of the year following a 9-0 start.

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

2007 NFL Football Preseason - Get Ready to Rumble   
By Geoffrey Vogel 

For many teams their first preseason game will be everyone's first look at a new rookie, a new head coach or a new free-agent addition. Here's a quick rundown of the all Week 1 preseason games and who you should be keeping your eye on ...

Indianapolis at Dallas - New Dallas coach Wade Phillips will be manning the sidelines for the first time in this game, which means you'll want to focus on the Cowboys' defense to get a few hints on what Phillips has planned for this season. The Colts will debut rookie wide out Anthony Gonzalez, most likely in the third receiver spot.

Cincinnati at Detroit - The Calvin Johnson highlight reel should start rolling in this game. The faster Johnson and QB Jon Kitna get acquainted in game situations, the better for Detroit. The Bengals have a decision to make at the third WR spot, where they'll be without Chris Henry for at least eight games.

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Re: Thursday NFL PreSeason News and Notes

2007 NFL Preseason Notes


Indianapolis Colts - QB Rotation: Peyton Manning (10-15 plays), Jim Sorgi, Josh Betts (see below).

The plan is for Manning and most of the offensive starters to play between 10 and 15 plays, or midway through the first quarter

Coach Tony Dungy said the only first-teamers who will play after that are the new starters: cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden, rookie slot WR Anthony Gonzalez, rookie offensive tackle Tony Ugoh and weakside LB Freddy Keiaho.

RB Joseph Addai won't get a lot of carries. The team wants to avoid wearing down Addai as he assumes the No. 1 role in his second season. Second-year RB DeDe Dorsey has been working as the No. 2 back.

Defense thin. Safety Bob Sanders (shoulder) is on the PUP list along with LB Keith O'Neil (sports hernia surgery). Dungy said they will join practice after the Aug. 9 preseason game at Dallas.

D-Line weak: DT Anthony McFarland will miss the season after a serious knee injury. Defensive lineman Corey Simon was let go.

With McFarland out, the Colts will move forward with Raheem Brock at one starting defensive tackle spot. The list of replacements for the other spot is long, but short on pedigree. Darrell Reid and Dan Klecko have appeared in a combined 62 games but share only four starts. Four of the other five prospects are rookies, including third-round draft pick Quinn Pitcock and seventh-rounder Keyunta Dawson, who has been moved inside after spending most of the offseason at end.

Dallas Cowboys - QB Rotation: Tony Romo (1st Q), Brad Johnson (2nd Q+), Richard Bartel and Matt Moore.

QB Tony Romo and the rest of the first-team offense will play at least a quarter Thursday.

However, they will be without right tackle Marc Colombo and possibly left tackle Flozell Adams. Both have missed time in training camp recovering from off-season knee surgery. "We will see how they are when it gets closer to the game," HC Phillips said.

Wade Phillips is the new coach (Chargers' defensive coordinator in 2006).

WRs thin. WR Terry Glenn is getting arthoscopic knee surgery and will miss the first 2 preseason games and rookie WR Isaiah Stanback has shin splints. WR Terrell Owens had an MRI on Monday after back spasms forced him to miss a second straight day of practice, but he's better and is OK to play Thursday.

Look for more blitzing: The Cowboys were a read-and-react defensive scheme under Bill Parcells, but Phillips and new DC Brian Stewart bring in more of an attacking, disruptive philosophy. They also want defensive players to take third-down conversions personally.

Phillips has tweaked the 3-4 defensive scheme, moving strong safety Roy Williams closer to the line of scrimmage and allowing outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware, and when healthy, Greg Ellis to blitz more.

The heat could be a factor. The Cowboys practiced indoors at the Alamodome the past two weeks and admitted they might not be ready for the searing temperatures expected for Thursday's game. "I think going back to Dallas, the weather is going to be an issue," Terrell Owens said.

Cincinnati Bengals - QB Rotation: Carson Palmer (1st Q), Doug Johnson (2nd-3rd Qs), rookies Jeff Rowe (mop up) and Jeff Smith.

The play of the Bengals' quarterbacks - other than Carson Palmer, of course - continues to be underwhelming in practice.

The offense will be without tackles Levi Jones (knee), Willie Anderson (rest), WR Chad Johnson (ankle) and fullback Jeremi Johnson (hamstring).

Several players who are getting close to returning to action from injuries will be held out of the Detroit game, head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We will err on the side of caution."

Wide receivers thin. Chad Johnson won't play. The injury is not considered serious but his absence only further thinned the wide receiver ranks. Tab Perry, Bennie Brazell, Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman were already on the sidelines. Marvin Lewis said Perry, Chatman and Brazell are close to returning but that they probably would not play Thursday at Detroit. Lewis said the team would "err on the side of caution" with any player who was close to returning to practice.

Offensive line changes: Gone are center Rich Braham and left guard Eric Steinbach from 2006. Eric Ghiaciuc takes over at center, while either Stacy Andrews or Andrew Whitworth will play left guard. LT Levi Jones is rehabbing from offseason knee surgery. 12-year right tackle Willie Anderson has not been practicing. The Bengals will benefit more if he doesn't have to take all the rigors of a normal training camp.

Depth on the defensive line is a concern.

Marvin Lewis isn't saying who will play how much Thursday. But he did allow what has him interested: "I'm curious to see the young linemen. I'm curious to see the tight ends and what they do blocking-wise. I'm curious to see how we play defensively," Lewis said. "Do we run and attack the football? Do we eliminate mental error? Do we get in and out of the huddle and play aggressively?

"In the kicking game, we want the young guys to take over. We've spent a lot of time on that, and it's important to us. I think each and every one of these guys understand that when they come in here. I want to feel like we had some productive snaps at the end of the day. We have some jobs at stake, and they will be based on the guys who we can count on fourth down."

The defense goes into Thursday's game relatively healthy.

Skyler Green will get the first opportunity to return punts against the Lions. The Bengals averaged 6.6 yards per return last season, the fourth-worst average in the NFL. The thin ranks at wide receiver will also give Green a greater look at that position. Whoever wins the return job won't be the only factor in improving that area of the team.

"The first thing I look at in the offseason is the things we have to improve upon and obviously the punt return game is one of them," said special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. "There are a variety of reasons why and why not but the first thing is technique. We have to get better at some of the techniques."

Detroit Lions - QB Rotation: Jon Kitna (10-12 plays), J.T. O'Sullivan (will follow), Dan Orlovsky (3rd Q+) (see below).

The starters on offense and defense will play 10-to-12 plays, HC Rod Marinelli said. The subs will take over late in the first quarter or at the start of the second.

Newcomer J.T. O'Sullivan will be the first relief man for starter Jon Kitna. Dan Orlovsky will be the backup next week at Cleveland.

QB Drew Stanton (knee) had arthroscopic surgery and is out for the year.

O'Sullivan has impressed and took the majority of the snaps Tuesday. He and Orlovsky divided time with the No. 1 offense in practice, though Kitna is still No. 1. During Monday practice, O'Sullivan took most of the plays while Dan Orlovsky, a lightly used backup the last two seasons, watched.

The focus will be on what the Lions are doing themselves, not on the opponent. The Lions won't get into any actual game-planning until the third preseason game.


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