Romo not playing preseason finale; McGee to start

Whatever improvements Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys expect to

make before the regular season will have to come on the practice

field.

Romo and most starters will sit out the preseason finale

Thursday night against Miami. Like many teams, the Cowboys usually

rest their first-teamers this close to the regular season to guard

against injuries, but coach Wade Phillips had been tempted to send

them back out for one last chance to work out their kinks – such as

Romo producing only one touchdown in four games.

”We’ve got a lot of work to do no matter what,” Phillips said.

”We know that.”

Dallas starters were outscored 20-0 against Houston on Saturday

night, a week after being outplayed by San Diego, too. Phillips

insists those outings aren’t a true reflection of his team because

they weren’t approaching the games the way they will in the regular

season.

Still, their struggles have prompted a lot of scrutiny.

There are questions about whether the team is too tired from the

NFL’s longest training camp, which covered three cities and five

weeks. There are questions about whether Phillips’ approach is the

right one. And, most of all, there’s the question of whether this

might actually be a true reflection of this team.

Linebacker Keith Brooking said the panic has spread to his

household.

”My wife is freaking out,” he said, laughing. ”I had to sit

down and have a talk with her last night. … I was able to calm

her down. She is a believer again.”

Brooking realizes this is a high-profile team with high

expectations. He also realizes the Cowboys have given fans reasons

to be concerned.

Still, he considers the backlash an overreaction that he hopes

stays out of the locker room.

”I don’t think you disregard (the preseason) by any means,” he

said. ”But you can’t let it affect you to where there’s a little

bit of hesitation, a little bit of a doubt in your mind about how

good of a football team we are because confidence, swagger –

whatever word you want to use – is very important in this league

and this game. We have a lot of reasons to be confident about this

football team.”

What’s the best reason?

”The way we practice and prepare when not everybody is looking

at us and not on tape for everyone to see, not nationally

televised,” he said. ”That preparation has been very good. We’ve

had good practices. We’re right where we need to be.”

Brooking is among the injured veterans who won’t play against

the Dolphins. Romo is the only other starter Phillips specifically

said will sit out.

”Our starters will play in some cases some, in some cases

none,” Phillips said. ”Different things determine it. Some of it

is in numbers, how many people we have to play.”

Third-stringer Stephen McGee will start at quarterback. Like

most of the guys who see a lot of action, he’s vying for his spot

on the 53-man roster. Dallas kept only two quarterbacks last

season.

There’s no decision yet whether top pick Dez Bryant will make

his NFL debut. Phillips was waiting to see how well the receiver

came out of practice Tuesday, his first in pads since having a high

ankle sprain early in training camp.

Players spoke with reporters before practice. Most stuck with

the script Phillips encouraged them to follow: playing time is up

to the coaches and all the mistakes they’ve made so far can be

fixed.

Receiver Patrick Crayton, who usually speaks his mind, at least

offered a colorful description about following the company

line.

”There’s no bass in the lake,” he said. ”It’s trout season

now. Everybody’s down low. You’ll have to find another lake to fish

in.”