Rams Kick Cowboys, 24-17

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING – Dave Campo remains a coach without a preseason win. Or a pass rush.

He'll have to wait until next season for a chance to win a preseason game. He has 10 days to find a pass rush.

Dallas ended its preseason with a 24-17 loss to St. Louis on Thursday before a crowd of 57,261 at Texas Stadium. Dallas (0-5), which has lost 14 of its past 15 preseason games, completed the fourth winless preseason in franchise history.

The last time occurred in 1998 under former coach Chan Gailey. Dallas finished that season 10-6 and won the NFC East.

Perhaps the winless preseason is a harbinger.

There is, however, no indication the Cowboys' pass rush is going to get any better.

Dallas finished the preseason with seven sacks – none by a starter.

On some teams that wouldn't cause much concern, but Campo has consistently said the performance of the Cowboys' cornerbacks is the team's biggest question. The best way to protect questionable cornerbacks is with a pass rush that terrorizes quarterbacks.

"They didn't play a lot, but our defensive line did some good things in the preseason," defensive ends coach Jim Jeffcoat said. "I still believe the pass rush is going to come.

"We have the talent to do it. We have some young guys, and it's just a matter of time before they figure it out."

Defensive ends Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Ekuban are the keys.

Ellis, a 1998 first-round pick who broke his leg in two places and missed the last five games of last season, has struggled some in his rush to get ready for the first game. Ekuban, who has played the position only four years, is still learning the game's nuances.

Ellis, who had 71/2 sacks when he was injured, said he's frustrated.

"I'm not where I want to be. The leg is good enough to play, but it's a hard thing to deal with," Ellis said. "It takes time, but as an athlete, you're just in a hurry to get back to where you were."

Campo and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer are also eager for Ellis to regain his form.

Rookie cornerback Kareem Larrimore, who played at West Texas A&M last season, is scheduled to start despite struggling in the last two games.

The Cowboys' other options are rookies Dwayne Goodrich (second round) and Mario Edwards (sixth round), both of whom have missed the past two games with hamstring injuries. Veteran cornerback Charlie Williams (knee) is still two to three weeks from being ready to play.

The Cowboys sacked St. Louis starter Trent Green – league MVP Kurt Warner didn't play – once on a blitz, and they knocked him down at least three times against a patchwork offensive line.

Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace didn't play. Right tackle Ryan Tucker moved to left tackle, and backup Cameron Spikes, who has a strained hamstring, played right tackle.

In the second quarter, with most of Dallas' offensive and defensive starters on the bench for the night, Zimmer sent Ekuban, Chad Hennings, Leon Lett and Ellis into the game to rush the quarterback. But they put no pressure on Green.

In the locker room after the game, Campo didn't focus on the lack of pass rush. Nor rookie Michael Wiley's fumble that Keith Lyle returned 42 yards for a touchdown and a 10-3 St. Louis lead. Nor Troy Aikman's end zone interception on Dallas' first drive.

Instead, he told his team the preseason losses mean nothing. All of their energies, he said, must be directed at beating Philadelphia in the season opener.

Owner Jerry Jones agreed with the tone of Campo's message.

"If you had told me that we could get the new offense installed, do a good job of evaluating the players that we had in training camp and not have any major injuries," Jones said, "then I would have taken the losses.

"Everything we did in the preseason was based on getting out of it with no injuries. That hasn't happened in years past. We wanted to make sure we managed our injured players."