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Saturday, August 24, 2013 12:20 AM

Associated Press

Browns-Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden have come a long way in a year.

The two bright-eyed rookies who took turns staring at Hall of Fame busts during last summer’s rookie symposium are now established starters and franchise cornerstones.

So when they meet again tonight, Luck and Weeden will be following a different preseason script — playing at least one half and likely into the third quarter as they try to fine-tune their offenses before the scores and games start counting.

“This is the dress rehearsal, the most extended time, a chance to really go out there and hopefully put some good stuff on tape and if it’s not all good, a chance to fix it before the opener,” Luck said. “So there’s a lot of focus going into this game.”

Not just for the starting quarterbacks in Indianapolis and Cleveland, either.

The Colts (1-1), like most NFL teams, spent this week simulating a regular-season schedule of team meetings, practice and mapping out game plans.

Even longtime veterans such as Robert Mathis and Cory Redding understand this is the one preseason game that matters most.

While nobody should expect to see a flurry of trick plays or complex blitz packages, most starters will stay on the field longer and those on the cut-line will get one last chance to impress coaches before the cutdown to 75.

For Luck and Weeden, there are other things to work on.

Both are still getting accustomed to new offenses and new offensive coordinators.

Again.

Weeden, who had to win a quarterback competition for the second straight year, has led Cleveland (2-0) on six scoring drives in two games and will be out to prove that new coach Rob Chudzinski made the right call after selecting him as the starter Tuesday.

“I’ve worked hard. I’m excited about what we have going on and our progress,” Weeden said. “Now we just got to keep it rolling. We got to keep going. I feel comfortable. I’m excited. I love this system.”

Luck has never had to contend with that sort of challenge.

He became the incumbent the instant Indy parted ways with Peyton Manning and decided to take Luck with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

But, like Weeden, he’s been far from perfect. Luck came into training camp with three primary goals: Improving his completion percentage, reducing the number of interceptions and winning more games.

But a rash of injuries has made it tough to show the improvement.

Indy is keeping its top two tight ends — Dwayne Allen (right foot) and Coby Fleener (right knee) — on the sideline. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (right foot) will miss his third straight game, too, and now starting guard Mike McGlynn will sit out with a bruised knee.

Weeden also has a tough task after losing two key running backs with injuries — Dion Lewis (broken leg) and Montario Hardesty (knee surgery) — and working with a receiving group that is still trying to prove itself.

Running back Trent Richardson made his preseason debut last week and Brandon Jackson, who is trying to win the job as Richardson’s backup, is likely to get extensive playing time against the Colts.

Cleveland also will be without first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo, who is recovering from a bruised lung.

Those aren’t concerns for the 30-year-old Weeden, who remains confident he can get the job done.

Luck owns one win over Weeden, having beaten the Browns 17-13 last October.

And while winning is always a priority for Luck, the Colts’ franchise quarterback now understands the most important facet of tonight’s game is getting the offense in sync in its last real tuneup before the Sept. 8 season opener against Oakland.

———

Bengals-Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys’ first-team offense are still looking for their first touchdown this preseason with Bill Callahan calling the plays.

Eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, coming off a record-setting season, still doesn’t even have a catch.

“Yeah, don’t want to hurt that spleen, you know,” Witten joked this week about the injury he sustained last preseason before his 110 catches, an NFL single-season record for tight ends.

There really is no reason to be too concerned about Romo and Witten but it would be nice to get in the end zone tonight in what will likely be their most extensive and last game action before things count for real.

“Absolutely,” Witten said. “It’s all right though. You work on it in practice doing that stuff and this is the same system even though it’s a different play-caller, I’m sure that will all work out.”

Dallas plays the fourth of its five preseason games, the first at home, against Cincinnati. It comes two weeks before the season opener against the New York Giants.

The five series Romo has played this preseason have resulted in a field goal, a missed field goal, a punt and lost fumbles at the end of two big plays. The only score came after a drive started inside the Oakland 20 and lost 4 yards before the kick.

Last weekend in a 12-7 loss at Arizona, Romo completed 7-of-10 passes for 142 yards but was undone by two fumbles at end of completed passes, one inside the 10 and another by Dez Bryant. Those were the first of five first-half turnovers by the Cowboys, six overall.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for third-year Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who played the first game of his TCU senior season at the Cowboys’ stadium, a victory over Oregon State that started a 13-0 season culminating with a Rose Bowl victory.

Dalton is first quarterback to lead the Bengals to the playoffs each of his first two seasons and most of their offense is mostly intact from a year ago.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of new learning gong on so far,” Dalton said. “Everybody basically knows what we’re doing. That’s going to make us better going into the season.”

The Bengals’ starting offense last week had 220 yards, including 115 yards passing and a touchdown by Dalton while going 9-of-14 passing, and built a 17-3 lead against Tennessee.

Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green might be even back for a few plays against the Cowboys. Green bruised his left knee during the first training camp workout and returned to practice last week without playing so far in the Bengals’ two preseason victories.

Bengals starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis sat out last weekend’s game just to get a rest, providing an opportunity for 5-9 Giovani Bernard, the second-round pick who had seven carries for 37 yards and a touchdown and turned a short pass into a 22-yard gain against the Titans.

Bernard is expected to get a lot of time this season as the backup running back and on passing plays.

 

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