Weekend Preview: The Underwear Olympics

IRVING, Tex. - "The Underwear Olympics,'' I used to call it, and they return to Valley Ranch for the weekend as TheRanchReport.com does the same – chronicling every gasser, every hangnail, every highlight. … and hopefully not too many lowlights.

Five things I'm looking for from our three-day weekend mini-camping with the Cowboys:

1) The Phillips Atmosphere: The Dallas paper writes already that new coach Wade Phillips has been "demanding.'' I'm not sure how that's manifested itself in May. Many, many Cowboys are already on the record as saying Wade Phillips has created a more open, more cooperative mood in the locker room. There's a fine line, of course, between being "cooperative'' and being "soft.'' Prediction: This weekend, many, many more Cowboys will go on record as giving Wade the thumbs-up (and in effect, giving the departed Bill Parcells style a thumbs-down). Were Parcells and these players really so poorly matched that they represented the football equivalent of George Bush dining with The Queen? ("What're all these here forks fer, Darling?'' George is alleged to have said to Liz.)

Keep talkin', ‘Boys. … but keep in mind that doing so will put some self-imposed pressure on the Wade Disciples to accomplish something around here. Like be substantially better than .500, for instance. Or maybe win a game or two in December.

2) The Jumble On The Edge: Where does Anthony Spencer line up? Where does Bobby Carpenter fit? And does Greg Ellis fit at all? I can't imagine that first-rounder Spencer is being tagged for anything less than a starting job; Dallas pulled off a lot of machinations to bring him here. At the same time, the more Spencer plays, doesn't that mean less burn for Carpenter, himself a young first-rounder? And Ellis, coming back from the Achilles' injury, figures to do nothing this weekend but jog. … and talk to the media about his disgruntlement.

My guess is that it all adds up to a good problem to have. Of course, I also guessed "Mavs in 6'' against the Warriors. And all I got right was the "6'' part.

3) Romo Vs. Quinn, Chapter 2: Chapter 1 came on Draft Day, when the Cowboys showed faith in the incumbent by passing on the selection of potential franchise QB Brady Quinn. Chapter 2 comes this weekend, when I'm looking to see if Tony Romo returns with his unique combination of "aw-shucks'' understatement and "follow-me'' cocksuredness. I'm assuming that Quinn (and that botched snap in Seattle) will become distant memories starting right now.

But the truth is, Romo's pedigree – despite his Pro Bowl berth -- remains questionable. And Quinn's pedigree is pure. So we watch this weekend and we watch all year and we watch for maybe 10 years as more chapters unfold. If this thing doesn't go just right for Tony and the Cowboys, the situation could get as sloppy as David Hasselhoff's Whopper.

4) Terrell Owens, Unleashed: Is T.O. a more consistent personality and more consistent performer without the bullying presence of the former head coach? Does he know the playbook? How's his hand? How are his hands? How's his mood. I promise not to O.D. on T.O. – I want to see for ourselves this "marvel'' that is rookie slash Isaiah Stanback, I want to see Patrick Crayton take a big step up, I want to see all of ‘em – but Owens with his head screwed on straight is a critical storyline if the Cowboys are to be contenders.

Owens is still rehabbing the hand after two surgeries and is catching tennis balls. (Hey, I could use a guy like that when I'm trying to tennis.) And Stanback's foot will restrict him, too.

But "get yer popcorn ready''? I ate all my popcorn while watching Oscar and Floyd "save boxing.'' (I went to a friend's house, so actually, the real thing that was "saved'' that night was my $49.95.) So screw the Orville Redenbacher, Terrell; I want the main course.

5) The Glue In The O-Line: This is an annual escapade around here. I assume in May that things will come together. I observe in August that maybe they have. And then I spend four months apologizing for being wrong. Flozell at left tackle and Kyle Kozier at left guard are returnees, as is big-money center Andre Gurode. Leonard Davis is signed up for even bigger money to be the new right guard. Marc Colombo is supposed to be the right tackle. Coaches are all hepped up on a handful of kid backups. Let them play together and create some cohesiveness, and. …

What could possible go wrong?

Nothing. Not this weekend. The offensive line, like the rest of the Cowboys' roster, promises to look terrific – because it's only "The Underwear Olympics.''

As Phillips told DallasCowboys.com, "You see (the players) on tape, but that doesn't necessarily tell the story. And seeing them in shorts won't completely tell the story, either. But it starts the process.''

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