Upbeat in the Big D

A different sense of anticipation is surrounding the Dallas Cowboys this week.
Sure, the optimism has flowed freely since Wade Phillips took over as head coach, and quarterback Tony Romo got an entire offseason to prepare as the starter.

Phillips, a proven defensive coordinator and a Texas native, brought an attacking 3-4 defensive scheme to a unit already filled with talented defenders. Romo is a Pro Bowler with only 11 career starts after waiting 3 1/2 years to finally throw his first NFL pass.

That alone has led to plenty of super predictions after four seasons with Bill Parcells.

But this is finally the week of the season opener - and that changes everything.

Concerns are suddenly magnified. Stark reality can quickly replace the rosy optimism that only got fueled by decisive preseason victories over Super Bowl champion Indianapolis and Denver.

Overlooking the preseason losses at Houston and Minnesota is easy, considering how much more serious the Texans took that game, and only a handful of starters even played against the Vikings).
Heading into Phillips' real debut at home Sunday night against NFC East rival New York Giants, there are already a few potential problems:

- There are missing pieces on defense, with the status of starters cornerback Terence Newman (right heel) and linebacker Greg Ellis (Achilles' tendon) uncertain for the opener and maybe longer, especially Ellis.

For a restructured defense that puts a premium on attacking offenses, Newman and Ellis - or at least their positions - play key roles. Ellis hasn't practiced at all and Newman missed the final three preseason games with a pesky partial tear of tissue in the base of his foot.

Newman knows he may be bothered by the foot all season, but wants to play. And if he's not ready, Jacques Reeves will begin his fourth season with only his second career start, his first since his rookie year.

First-round draft pick Anthony Spencer, who didn't have a sack in the preseason, will debut as a starter. Ellis hasn't practiced in the new scheme, though Phillips insists the veteran would know what to do.

Backup linebacker Kevin Burnett (ankle) is also hurt.

- Add to Newman's uncertainty the unexpected release of veteran Aaron Glenn, and the Cowboys have big questions at cornerback.

Nate Jones, like Reeves a fourth-year starter with only one start, suddenly has a bigger role in pass situations. Evan Oglesby joined the team this week after being claimed off waivers from Baltimore.
- Glenn's departure not only eliminated a nickel corner, but took away a 14-year pro and locker room leader who didn't fit Phillips' criteria when the final 21 cuts were made.

``We gained a lot from him being here certainly,'' Phillips said. ``Because they were around him in the meetings. They saw how a real pro acts and how a real pro gets ready to play.''

Particularly angry about Glenn being cut was four-time Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams, whose locker was next to Glenn's.

- Romo goes into the season without one of his primary coaches, with new quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson serving a five-game NFL suspension.

Wilson was suspended for using a banned substance in an effort to cope with the diabetes he's lived with for more than 20 years. He can't be around the team again until Oct. 9.

New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett already had a direct involvement with the quarterbacks, but Wilson's absence comes after the preseason when they had already worked out their game-day operations. Garrett will get help from offensive assistant Wes Phillips, the 27-year-old son of the head coach who was coaching quarterbacks at Baylor last season.

- Terry Glenn, a 1,000-yard receiver the past two seasons, didn't play any preseason games in Garrett's offense after arthroscopic surgery Aug. 1 to remove loose cartilage from his knee. Plus, he's 33 and going into his 12th NFL season.

Glenn was back on the field Monday, but didn't take part in team drills.

(Notice that there hasn't been any mention of the other 33-year-old starting receiver, which in this case is a good sign. Terrell Owens is a happy camper and ready for his second season in Dallas).
With all the questions, the games start to count Sunday night.

By Monday morning, there will be a renewed optimism for a five-time Super Bowl champion, or more questions for a team that has gone a franchise-worst 10 seasons without a postseason victory.
Phillips insists he isn't worried about the perception regardless of the first result.

``I've been with coaches that said 70 percent of the time teams that are in the playoffs win the first game,'' Phillips said. ``Well, 30 percent of the time, the other teams get in the playoffs. It's the whole season. We're looking at 16 games. Hopefully more.''

By: Michael Cash - theSpread.com - Email Us

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