Cowboys, Phillips to make preseason debut against Colts

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IRVING, Texas (AP) -- There are so many ways to hype the Colts-Cowboys game Thursday night.

Wade Phillips making his debut as Dallas coach against a team playing its first game since being crowned Super Bowl champions!

The Colts returning to Texas Stadium, where their bid for a perfect season ended after a 9-0 start last November!

Dallas' upstart quarterback Tony Romo vs. the standard of excellence, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning!

And how about this for a new grudge between franchises linked since the Colts beat the Cowboys with a field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl V: Indianapolis seeking payback for the May vote that awarded the 2011 Super Bowl to Dallas' new stadium instead of its own!

Alas, this is only the preseason -- worse yet, the opener. Not even Fox, which will televise the game to a national audience, has enough exclamation points to make this game more meaningful than it really is. Uh, isn't.

"You do like to go down there and play well and try to put on a good performance. It just makes you feel better about yourself," Manning said. "But, ultimately, it's about doing what you have to do to get ready for the regular season."

Phillips and Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy will be far more interested in examining the bottom 30 players on their rosters than the top 30. That, plus the fear of injury, is why Romo, Manning and most known commodities will play about one quarter, if that much.

"We will probably have more of a mass substitution at the tail end of the first quarter," Dungy said.

Still, this game will help both teams start compiling the answers to the biggest questions they face heading into this season.

For Indianapolis, it's how they will replace injured defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and retired left tackle Tarik Glenn. For Dallas, it's whether Phillips and his new staff can get more out of virtually the same lineup that went 9-7 and didn't win a playoff game for Bill Parcells last season.

Although this is Phillips' 31st year in the NFL and his third stint as a head coach, he's excited about stepping onto the field, looking up at the hole in the roof and knowing he's in charge. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett likely will get a similar thrill in his first time on the Dallas sideline since he was Troy Aikman's backup in 1999.

As much as the newcomers want to see their players handle live action, they'll have to balance that with revealing little about the new playbook.

"I'm not for hiding everything," Phillips said. "If you don't ever run it in the game and then all of a sudden you try during the regular season, you're not able to execute well."

Ken Hamlin, signed this offseason to settle the free safety spot, likely will sit out because of a recent hit to the head. Linebacker Greg Ellis isn't back from a torn Achilles' tendon that ended his 2006 season, making room in the starting lineup for top pick Anthony Spencer.

On offense, the Cowboys will be without receiver Terry Glenn and both starting tackles, Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo, all because of recent knee surgeries. Terrell Owens is expected to play despite having missed some practice earlier this week because of back spasms.

"I'm going to try to be smart about it," Owens said.

Dungy said his starters likely will play 10 to 15 snaps, which means they could be done after one long drive. Exceptions may include top pick Anthony Gonzalez at receiver and second-rounder Tony Ugoh, the front-runner to inherit Glenn's starting job protecting Manning's blind side. Charlie Johnson, Ugoh's competition, will miss the game because of a hip injury.

The focus is more likely to be on a defense that was high on turnover before McFarland went down.

Defensive tackles Corey Simon and Montae Reagor, cornerbacks Nick Harper and Jason David, linebacker Cato June and safety Mike Doss are all gone. Plus, safety Bob Sanders hasn't practiced because of offseason shoulder surgery.

Tackle is the only spot where the replacements are still vague. Rookies Quinn Pitcock and Keyunta Dawson, who has always been an end, have been practicing there.

Sanders, linebacker Keith O'Neil (sports hernia), rookie defensive back Brannon Condren (groin) and defensive end Bo Schobel (chest) won't play Thursday night because of injuries. Sack specialist Dwight Freeney didn't know if he would be used.

"When you practice, you want to play," he said. "So, hopefully, I'll get out there and do something."

The teams also will have the semi-bonus of seeing how they can handle the heat. Temperatures are expected to approach 100 degrees Thursday afternoon, and the turf likely will be every bit that hot for the 7 p.m. CDT kickoff.

It may take more of a toll on the Cowboys, as they've been training inside the 70-degree Alamodome, while the Colts' practice field reached 118 degrees Tuesday afternoon.