ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jason Garrett has a lengthy wish list for the Dallas Cowboys’ final big test of the preseason Saturday night in Minnesota.
He’d like to see Tony Romo string together several crisp drives, especially if they can feature running backs Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray. Injuries have kept both out all preseason, and they’re battling for the backup spot behind Felix Jones. Garrett hasn’t said whether they will play, but the club clearly hopes so.
Touchdowns would be great, but Garrett also would like to try a bunch of field goals to help sort through his collection of kicking candidates.
Garrett also hopes to see Rob Ryan’s new defense become a lot stingier. In two preseason games, they’ve struggled to stop runners and receivers. Most of all, they’ve failed to get any of the turnovers that Garrett covets. Dallas and Cincinnati were the only teams not to recover a fumble or snatch an interception in either of their first two preseason games.
One more thing: He would like to see it quickly. Whether the starters play in the third quarter will depend on how well they meet their objectives in the first half.
"I don’t have a specific play number for anybody, but play more, play the bulk of the first half if not into the third quarter," Garrett said. "The game will dictate that. If they go three and out, three and out, three and out, three and out, they’re going to play more than those series because we need to get more plays, we need to drive the ball a little bit. "
He was talking mostly about the offense, the unit he coordinates. He’d be thrilled if Dallas’ defense was only on the field three plays at a time.
"I think our defense, like our football team, is a work in progress," Garrett said. "The defensive system was not in place last year like our offense and kicking game systems have been in. They’ve had to learn more quickly. They’ve had to understand how to make adjustments and be resourceful more quickly than the other units have. ... We’re a long way off in all areas, but I think we’ve made some progress there and hopefully it will show up on Saturday night and through the rest of the preseason."
Dallas is 1-1 this preseason, winning the opener against Denver when Romo and the offense played just a single series and losing to San Diego this past Sunday night while showing a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball.
Although there’s a fourth preseason game still to be played, this is considered the dress rehearsal because the Cowboys aren’t likely to use their starters in the finale to keep them healthy for the regular season. They’ve even watched some film of the Vikings.
"It’s not as extensive as a normal game-planning week in the regular season," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "But you do try to simulate it as much as possible."
After two home games, they also get to see what it’s like playing somewhere else.
"It’ll be a good test for us to get a lot of drives going, to test our wind, to test our communication on the road," tight end Jason Witten said.
Position battles still going on include seventh-round pick Bill Nagy trying to nail down the starting spot at left guard and Kevin Ogletree ensuring he deserves to be the third receiver. Phil Costa is still trying to snatch the starting center job from veteran Andre Gurode. Whether Costa gets any snaps with Romo will be an indication of how intense that competition is.
Kicker might be the most difficult to decide. Undrafted rookie Dan Bailey didn’t get a chance to kick any field goals against the Chargers, and now he’s joined in the competition by veteran free agent Shayne Graham. There’s also incumbent David Buehler, who’s availability depends on his hip injury.
Like Choice and Murray, Brooking returned to practice this week and could play for the first time this preseason. Cornerback Mike Jenkins has done some work but may be more iffy as he recovers from a stinger.
"We just have to be careful with him," Garrett said. "He’s done a nice job the last couple of days in practice just working and getting his practice reps in without hitting that thing where he would take a backward step. We have to see how he responds to the work the last couple of days and then make that decision about Saturday."
Fellow starting cornerback Terence Newman remains out, which means newly re-signed Orlando Scandrick is certain to start regardless of Jenkins’ status.
The Cowboys wrapped up training camp Thursday. They spent two weeks practicing at the Alamodome, then kept it going for two weeks in Arlington. Players lived in a hotel near Cowboys Stadium and rode buses back and forth for practices. They were a short drive from their families, but were hardly allowed to see them.
"This has probably been one of the more productive camps I’ve been involved in," said Witten, who went through four training camps under Bill Parcells and four under Wade Phillips.
"We’ve gone about it the right way, as Jason says. We know we’ve got a long way to go. We’re just getting started. We want this thing to go on until February."