Game Buzz: 49ers vs. Cowboys

Does Larry Allen have an axe to grind with the Dallas Cowboys? What will Antonio Bryant have to say to former coach Bill Parcells? This is what we're seeing and hearing about what's pertinent to the 49ers in Saturday's exhibition encounter at Dallas, a make-or-break game for several players on the roster.

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Allen was all smiles this week when asked about playing for the first time against his former team, which released him earlier this year for salary cap reasons after the burly veteran had established himself as one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history during his 12 stellar seasons in Dallas, 10 of which ended with Allen earning Pro Bowl honors.

Allen made the Pro Bowl last year, too, but his excellence and history with the team apparently didn't matter much when the Cowboys were making their 2006 cap decisions.

You might think this would be an emotional return for Allen, who still has a home in Dallas, along with a bundle of memories too numerous to mention.

But no.

"Just another game, really," Allen said with a straight face.

Allen said he hasn't really talked much to anyone in Dallas since the 49ers quickly signed him to a two-year deal a few days after the Cowboys dumped him, which five months after the fact still seems like something of a surprising decision by owner Jerry Jones and Co.

"No, I didn't think it was going to happen," Allen responded when SFI asked if he'd ever thought he'd be standing on the opposite sideline at Texas Stadium. "But it happened."

Allen, a master of brief replies, said he had a "cool" relationship with the fans of Dallas during his dozen years of stardom there, but when asked about the response he expects Saturday, he said, "I couldn't tell you."

This is one guy who isn't going to let any question about the Cowboys get him worked up.

But when asked if getting cut after a Pro Bowl season would give him motivation in his return Saturday, Allen inferred that the Cowboys better be ready.

"I think I'm still Larry," Allen said. "And I'm going to go out there and do what I do."

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And who will be lining up in Allen's place as Dallas' starting left guard on Saturday?

Don't look now, but it's Kyle Kosier, a seventh-round draft pick by the 49ers who played for San Francisco from 2002-2004.

The Cowboys signed Kosier in free agency earlier this year, a move that led to Allen's release.

You have to believe that's a switch of players the 49ers would make any time.

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There was talk around 49ers camp this week about the team's "Jeckyl and Hyde" performance so far in the preseason. The Niners routed defending NFC North champion Chicago 28-14 in their exhibition opener Aug. 11, then were hammered 23-7 by the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 20.

Will the real 49ers please stand up?

"The first game I felt real good about our team," coach Mike Nolan said. "But Chicago looked real flat to me. Last week, we were the flat team. So, I'm anxious to see what happens this time."

Saturday's game also will determine how Nolan will handle his team in next week's preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers.

Nolan said his starters will play the entire first half and perhaps into the third quarter against the Cowboys, and how those first units perform will determine the extent of action they'll see Sept. 1 against the Chargers. Most teams usually give their starters minimal action in the preseason finale to keep them fresh and healthy for the start of the regular season.

"This game has a lot to do with what we'll do in the last game," Nolan said. "This week will kind of tell where we need to go with that last week."

Nolan would like to play it safe next week, but at the same time, he said, "We're certainly not established as an offense or a defense where we're just going to take it off like some teams. I don't know if Peyton Manning or those kind of guys need to play in the last preseason game. But we're not at that level."

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Nolan said linebackers Parys Haralson (foot), Brandon Moore (knee) and Renauld Williams (ankle), cornerback Shawntae Spencer (hamstring), safety Vickiel Vaughn (hand) and offensive lineman Ben Sobieski (stinger) will not play in Saturday's game and won't travel to Dallas with the team..

Offensive lineman Adam Snyder (biceps) also won't play against the Cowboys, but he will travel to the game with the team. Defensive lineman Jerry DeLoach, returning from a MCL knee sprain that kept him out of the first two preseason games, also will travel to Dallas but whether he plays or not will be a game-time decision.

Nolan indicated some of the injured players are "behind the 8-ball" as they miss time in the competition for roster spots. But Snyder isn't one of them. "It's been a setback for him," Nolan said, "but I know what Adam can do. He'll be challenging for both (right guard and right tackle) starting positions as soon as he can compete again."

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Like Allen, Bryant isn't put much time or thought into his return to Dallas, where he spent two-plus tumultuous seasons to begin his career and had a few well-chronicled run-ins with Parcells. Bryant once threw a sweaty jersey in Parcells face after a June practice, and he said he has not talked once to his former coach since Parcells traded him away to Cleveland just before the October trade deadline in 2004.

Bryant said he learned from Parcells and his time in Dallas and holds no grudges, but he won't be seeking out his former coach in his return to Texas Stadium as a 49er.

"I'm not really concerned about that," Bryant said. "I have respect for coach Parcells, but I just want to go out there and be successful and see us as a team be successful. I'm not saying I'm going to have a chip on my shoulder. I just want to be successful."

So how does it feel to be going back to Dallas, then?

"I don't know how to feel," Bryant said. "But it's not about Antonio Bryant. It's not about Larry Allen, or the guys who have the experience and the exposure. This is business. It's still a 100-yard field and the ball is still pigskin."

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The 49ers usually don't game plan for a particular opponent much in the preseason, but they spent a little extra time on Dallas this week because the Cowboys run a 3-4 defense, something the Niners won't see much this season other than when their own defense runs it in practice.

"You do want to prepare your players for what they're going to see," Nolan said, "so they don't get out there and stumble all over themselves and not know what's going on."

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Heated summer competition is likely to go down to the wire at two key positions. One of them is competition for a starting position. One of them is competition for a roster spot.

Tight ends Vernon Davis and Eric Johnson both will make the team and be key players in the 49ers' offensive attack. But Nolan still is undecided which player is going to get the starting nod, noting that both players will spend a lot of time on the field together this season.

"We have two starting tight ends," Nolan said.

When pressed further, Nolan said, "They're both competing with each other. I like both of them. I'll say more about that next week. Right now, we're just letting it play out. The key to me is they're both good players we want to have on the field. To me, that's really where it's at."

Nolan will have a tougher decision when he determines who his punter will be in 2006. Fourteenth-year veteran Tom Rouen has kicked well this summer and has put the heat on third-year veteran holdover Andy Lee.

"I like experienced kickers," Nolan said. "I like guys that have been in the heat of battle and have had to kick in pressure situations. Tom was a good choice for us to bring in here. He's pushing Andy."

But Rouen will have to do more than just push the incumbent to take his roster berth.

"You've got a younger guy (Lee), he's been here and he's established," Nolan said. "So Tom has to take the job from him."

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Parting shot:

"We have to do a better job this game as a team," Nolan said. "That's what I'm anxious to see. We're on the road and playing a good team, so stats will matter to me this game. I want to see what the stats are."

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