Cowboys Vs. 49ers GameDay Huddle-Up

IRVING - One click. All Cowboys. Well, Cowboys-49ers, actually, as every aspect of the season-opener gets the treatment - audio, video, inside the locker room and on the practice field, gameplanning, scoops, you name it. Cowboys GameDay Huddle-Up!

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The Big Lead

In the end, Tony Romo became "full-go.''

The training-camp-opening billing was premature, wrong, an error or a ruse. But it's true now. The Dallas Cowboys’ 34-year-old franchise quarterback coming off December back surgery is making all the throws, engaging in all the movements, doing all the things that make Romo the threat he is in a game like this ... and in a season like this, a season in which many expect Dallas to dip below its perennial 8-8.

As we ready for the AT&T Stadium 3:25 kickoff (with me joining Brad Sham and Babe Laufenberg on the pregame, which starts at 12:30, on 105.3 The Fan), Cowboys offensive boss Scott Linehan is a believer.

“A lot of guys have played far beyond his age,” Linehan said. “There’s no reason, I don’t think, why he wouldn’t be able to do the same thing. He played really well last year, I thought. So he has the ability to go out and use the experience that he has and the years he has left, and for a quarterback, he’s young in this league ... It’s going to be fun to hopefully be a part of that.”

There are some "tomorrow'' issues in that comment. For today? We reflect on Romo's prediction from camp, when he promised to be "the best version'' of himself ... and something he added this week.

“I honestly think what I’ve been able to do here over the last year, and year and a half in some other areas, has really benefited me,” Romo said of the rehab process from December back surgery. “I think you will see that moving forward throughout the rest of my career ... “I think you should be (skeptical). But that’s anybody coming back from surgery. The great thing is I’m doing things at a level I feel very excited about ... (I can) do my job at a very high level and help us win football games, and I think we will.”

Throwing Up The X

We keep prodding Dez Bryant. He keeps slapping away the prods.

Bryant set himself an artificial deadline for signing a new contract extension: Today. If there is not an agreement, the Pro Bowl receiver insists he will table discussions.
"My mind is focused on San Fran," Bryant said. "It's the only thing it's focused on. All the other stuff is going to take care of itself, I promise."

I've returned volley on this with Dez numerous times. But what if you have a huge game and beat the 49ers and Jerry calls on Monday morning with a more open wallet?

"Let me tell you something, done is done," Bryant said. "If I say it's done, it's done. ... But still, I'm not really into that right now. We got a game ..."

The focus seems real.

And really admirable.

Head-to-Head History

Series Tied: 16-16-1
Current Streak: Dallas has won last three in series
Last Matchup: 2011 Week 2, Dallas wins 27-24 in Candlestick Park. The “Punctured Lung’ Game. The “Miles Austin Stretch” Game. The “Jesse Holley Exists Forever” Game.

Niners 2013 Season Review

The 49ers made the NFC Championship game for the third consecutive season in 2013, putting the second piece of bread on top of their Super Bowl loss to the Ravens. San Fran finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak to reach 12-4. That was good for second place of the NFC West behind the eventual Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks.

The 49ers had the league’s third best net point differential, +134, on the year. Their net yards per attempt (NY/A) differential, a key indicator of overall team strength, was +0.8. Their offensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), measuring how much better the offense performs than league average in the same down/distance/game situation against the specific defense, ranked 8th last year. Their defensive VOA was 13th. Their offensive EPA, Expected Points Added and how well they improved their chances of scoring on a play-by-play basis, ranked 13th while their defense ranked 7th.

On offense, their best players according to Pro Football Focus’ cumulative game grades were LT Joe Staley (+24.4, 5th in league), WR Anquan Boldin(+15.5, 6th) and TE Vernon Davis (+13.2, 6th). Those were the only three players to grade in double digits.

On defense, their highest graded guys were LB NaVorro Bowman (+23.9, 1st), LB Aldon Smith (+23.4, 5th), LB Patrick Willis (+18.6, 3rd) and S Donte Whitner (+12.1, 7th) Of those guys, only Willis is expected to see action in Week 1. Bowman was lost in the NFCC to a knee injury and will be out until midseason while Smith faces suspension. Whitner left San Francisco in free agency. Not listed here but having great seasons were LB Ahmad Brooks and CB Tremaine Brock.

Their worst losses of the season occurred in Weeks 2 & 3, back-to-back blowout defeats at Seattle (29-3) and home against Indianapolis (27-7). They bounced right back, winning their next five games by a combined score of 175-61. Those five opponents, St. Louis, Houston, Arizona, Tennessee and Jacksonville, all appear on the Dallas 2014 schedule as the less daunting part of a rigorous 16-game gauntlet.

2014 Offseason Headlines

The team has spent the offseason in the news. Chief amongst the incidents include star pass rusher Aldon Smith faces sentencing on July 25th after pleading no contest to DUI and felony weapons charges. In an unrelated incident, he had a run-in after using the word bomb in an airport. Smith was again suspended by the league, and he will miss the first 9 games of the season.

Starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick received a new deal that was “sort of” lucrative. He received what in essence is a series of one-year contracts and allows the 49ers to walk away from him after any season, although the decision would have to be made prior to that year’s draft. Kaepernick has essentially bet on himself to continue to lead a dangerous 49er offense as a dual-threat quarterback while also evolving in his ability to dissect defenses.

The front office dealt with two key members of their offense holding out for new contracts. had the skinny , but alas, both players are in the fold. Boone did not report until the 49ers caved in the last week of the preseason, extending his deal.

Also in the San Fran headlines this offseason was the rumored courting of head coach Jim Harbaugh by Cleveland to be their leading man. Draft pick compensation was discussed and based on reports that he and GM Trent Baalke didn’t always see eye to eye. SI’s Peter King did a good job debunking the thought that the relationship had reached dire stages by the Bay. At least, not yet.

Surrounded by this, the team made several roster transactions of note. In the May draft, they acquired S Jimmie Ward, who by many accounts was actually the best single-high safety available. Also in their 12-man draft haul, RB Carlos Hyde, OL Brandon Thomas, WR Bruce Ellington and OLB Aaron Lynch. They also get redshirt players from the 2013 draft DE/OLB Tank Carradine and RB Marcus Lattimore to team up with sophomore stud S Eric Reid. The cupboard is definitely not bare in San Francisco.

Through free agency and trades the club brought in WR Stevie Johnson, G Jonathan Martin, QB Blaine Gabbert, S Antoine Bethea… while losing S Donte Whitner, CB Tarell Brown and C Jonathan Goodwin.

Things had appeared to be settling down for the 49ers, until Ray McDonald was arrested on suspected domestic abuse of his pregnant girlfriend. Head coach Jim Harbaugh had previously publicly stated that "putting hands on a woman" is the one transgression he will not forgive. It will be interesting to see if the team sits McDonald, with a nudge from the league office, to avoid Joe Buck soap-boxing the situation on the first weekend of the new football season. The aforementioned Carradine would start in his place.

With Bowman, Smith, and Glenn Dorsey already sitting out, losing McDonald could keep the 49ers defense from resembling what most fans are used to seeing.

2014 Outlook

San Francisco is expected to remain a contender for the NFL throne this coming season and should be a strong test for the Cowboys right out of the gate. It might actually be a best case scenario for an opening day opponent. A loss is expected by most, and short of a blowout shouldn’t affect any aspirations for the season. A win, and the team should gain the confidence of knowing they can compete with anyone in the league.

It will remain a challenge for the Cowboys to move the ball with any consistency or efficiency Sunday against the 49ers. But it won’t be the challenge that it would have been last January — and certainly not the challenge it would have been two Februarys ago.

Welcoming Michael Sam

The timing is ... amazingly coincidental.

I have four theories regarding the flip-flip of the Cowboys on Michael Sam -- along with the companion Brent-is-back news. Know that on Monday morning the personnel department still wasn't giving him a passing grade, a draft-able grade.

What changed? Again, four theories:

1) Jerry said, "Let's sell us some T-shirts.'' (Nah.)

2) Ownership marched down to scouting and said, "We really need defensive line help ... What's the hurt?'' (Certainly viable.)
3) This scouting department looked at one more tape and said, to its own amazement, "Oh my gosh we were wrong! He's great!'' (Nah.)

4) And finally, the conspiracy theories: Either 4A) the Cowboys decided to soften the Josh Brent news with a bigger headline grabber. Or 4B) the commissioner and Jerry conspired to let Brent come back (which makes the league look bad) and make the AD tampering thing do away (which makes the league look bad) as long as the Cowboys also opened the doors to Michael Sam (which makes the league look good).

Ding, ding, ding?

Sam is presently the 63rd man on a 53-man team. I think CowboysHQ is handling perspective just fine. I can also tell you, as you read below, that Sam handled his "give-him-a-look'' work against Tyron Smith pretty well, too.

Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast

There's nothing like the start to a new NFL season, and it must be given the respect that it deserves! KD Drummond goes in deep into the recent roster moves, the foes in the East, NFL landscape and the outlook for the 2014 Cowboys. Mike Fisher, Keith Mullins, Patrik Walker, Jimmy Kempski, Ken Meringolo, Vincent Frank, Sigmund Bloom and Cowboys legend Jay Novacek check in for some serious NFL talk.

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The Dancing McClain

The Cowboys spent a lot of time dancing around the truth, which is that from the first day of his arrival in Oxnard, they were trying to hand the starting middle linebacker job to Rolando McClain.

And McClain spends a lot of time dancing around doing enough to actually take the job. But here we are. Enough dancing.

On Monday, as the Cowboys began preparations for Sunday's opener against visiting San Francisco, McClain was to be a centerpiece of the workout, starting at Mike while flanked by Bruce Carter (weakside) and Justin Durant (strongside).

And then this happened:

You see, at the 1:10 mark, McClain coming off the blocking sled and into the next obstacle, yelling out an expletive, and limping off.

A few minutes later, he's wearing a white sleeve on his right knee (which was not present in the previous video) as his mills about the outskirts of linebackers drills:

What happened was clear: McClain tweaked his right knee. Or thought he did. Or something. And then took some time off due to the tweak.

And then we got to the post-practice locker room to visit with the controversial talent.

Rolando, did you tweak your right knee early in practice?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” McClain said.

You know. The sleeve. The knee. The tweak. (The one we all saw during the media-open portion of Monday's practice).

“I’m ready,'' Rolando said. "I’m great.”

In truth, he is neither. He is, at the very least, still struggling with conditioning -- physically or mentally or whatever.

“I’m from Alabama, so the heat’s not the problem,” McClain said. “The problem is running around without a helmet for 20 months, training and working out, and then you put the helmet on and it’s a different element. That’s the biggest difference, just getting used to breathing and everything with the helmet on.”

So the guy Dallas wants to start at middle linebacker in a pro football game is having trouble breathing while his head is inside a pro football helmet?!

"I still love the game like I’m an 8-, 9-year old kid,'' McClain insisted. "It’s just about getting back into it, building chemistry with some of these guys, some trust and just playing and having fun, really.”

Here's hoping Rolando McClain is having as much fun at football as he's having at being intentionally enigmatic.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, for one, swears he believes.

"I expect him to be really a heck of a linebacker for us," Marinelli said of McClain, slated to start in the middle (with weakside guy Durant calling signals and Carter as the SAM). "I think he has great range. He's got length. He's smart. He's a really physical player. So we just have to get him going and see how it works out from there."

A buoyant Bruce

Garrett was trying to be coy about who his starting linebackers are. A buoyant Carter is happy to note his inclusion, as noted above.

“I think Sam,” Carter said of his spot. “JD (Justin Durant) is at Will and Rolando is at Mike. And then I play Will in nickel.”

That means, for one thing, that McClain returned to practice and stayed ahead of rookie Anthony Hitchens in the middle. It also means the group is as interchangeable as Garrett says it is, becuse Carter and Durant have played other spots ... though "black-and-white'' seems wiser to me.

“As far as our game plan, I feel like it’s black and white,” Carter said. “We’re just going to have to line up and it’s kind of old-school where we just line up and just beat the man in front of you.

Mark Lane's Ref Report

Four key tidbits from our Mark Lane, part of his weekly "Cowboys 100'' series:

Since becoming a referee in 2001, today's crew chief Terry McAulay has refereed 10 San Francisco games. The 49ers have a 4-6 record thus far.

Dallas has a 10-5 record when McAulay officiates its games.

Terry McAulay has refereed six contests between the NFC East and NFC West with the East holding a 5-1 record.

The home team on Opening Day doesn’t go home disappointed having an 8-1 record when McAulay calls their contests.

One click, all Cowboys!

Keep it here on CowboysHQ as we will keep you posted in a variety of ways from inside your team ... Here on the HOME page, here on CowboysHQ Discussion Boards, and on Twitter, where we encourage you to follow Mike Fisher, KD Drummond, Mark Lane and Jordan Ross along with our 105.3 The Fan colleague Bryan Broaddus. ... Thanks for joining us!

Onside Kicks

Terrance Williams (back), George Selvie (shoulder) and Zack Martin (foot) all popped up on the injury report this week, but all three are expected to be good to go today ... Dallas' signing of C.J. Spillman, a 49ers special-teams ace, for the purposing of spilling secrets, is overblown. Spillman is a big help on Teams and is also a second-team safety ... Lance Dunbar lining up in the slot continues to be a practice-time feature. Dallas also seemed to run some empty-backfield stuff (Witten and four wideouts) this week ... Want to be a Cowboys Insider with Premium coverage? Click here to take our free 7-day trial and then for 10 cents a day, you are among the most informed Cowboys followers on the planet! ... Erstwhile Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent is being given a chance to resume his NFL - but only after he serves a 10-game suspension handed down Tuesday by commissioner Roger Goodell. ... And Orlando Scandrick's return? Maybe next week, as the NFL "Molly-fies'' its drug rules ... We've got exclusive visits regarding two scout-team centerpieces: Cowboys QB Dustin Vaughan, who is imitating Kaepernick in practice; and Michael Sam, of whom Tyron Smith provides CowboysHQ Premium Subscribers with a private scouting report. Take our 7-day free trial and come inside! ... Pssst: Wanna hear a secret about Bruce Carter being used as a spy against Kaepenick? ... "We have a lot of talent here regardless of what you see on paper," Jeremy Mincey said. "We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of hardworking, lunch-pail guys. And that’s what wins games. It’s all about the hungry dog."

A Garrett Extension?

I'm a Jason Garrett guy. Have been for 24 years. But when you read Mark Lane's breakdown here, you'll come to the same conclusion we have: "A Cowboys Extension For Garrett? Of Course Not.''

Cowboys captains

Romo, Jason Witten and Dan Bailey are repeat selections as team captains. The defense? New leadership with Barry Church and Durant

"It's not something I take lightly,'' Witten tells me. "It's a big honor. But it's also a big responsibility to be asked to lead men.''

Melton in the middle

The Cowboys won't spy Kaepernick. What they will do is ask their ends to contain and hope interior D-linemen like Henry Melton -- fired up to be on the field for the first time in a year -- get pressure upfield.

“I am excited,” the new Cowboy and former Bears Pro Bowler said. “It’s going to be my first game in almost a year.”

Melton tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last September. He's been slowed by a groin this summer but he's been held back largely as a precautionary measure.

Dallas hopes there's no holding back now.

The Final Word

“The thing I kept reminding Tony about as we went through this process starting all the way back in the spring is the goal is to be ready for the 49ers on September 7. We are going to find a way, somehow some way. We are going to get you to that point where you are ready to go and hopefully beyond that. Play this game and that’s the start of a heck of a year for you.'' - Jason Garrett.

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