McGee to start, Romo to sit in Cowboys' final preseason tuneup

IRVING, Texas -- 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 Thursday night's preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins. 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."

Cowboys starters were outscored 20-0 against the Houston Texans on Saturday night, one week after being outplayed by the San Diego Chargers, too. Phillips insists those outings aren't a true reflection of his team because they weren't approaching the games the way they will during the regular season.

Still, Dallas' 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 actually might 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," Brooking 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."

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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," Brooking 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 just two quarterbacks last season.

There's no decision whether top pick Dez Bryant will make his NFL debut. Phillips was waiting to see how well the wide 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 that Phillips encouraged them to follow: Playing time is up to the coaches, and all the mistakes they've made so far can be fixed.

Wide 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."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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