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ARLINGTON, Texas – After weeks of talk about players who won't be on the field for San Francisco's first visit to the $1.2 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys, the time has come to focus on those who will.
There's Tony Romo taking his first meaningful snap since throwing a touchdown pass with a herniated disk to set up a winner-take-all finale that he had to miss because of back surgery.
And the Dallas quarterback will oppose Colin Kaepernick, who was an unknown rookie on the sideline three years ago when Romo beat the 49ers while playing with a punctured lung.
Or how about the San Francisco quartet of linebackers Dan Skuta, Michael Wilhoite, Corey Lemonier and rookie Chris Borland being among those filling in Sunday for the suspended Aldon Smith and the injured NaVorro Bowman.
Dallas also has many questions on defense, but one of the answers won't be Michael Sam.
The league's first openly gay player made news again this week by signing with the Cowboys' practice squad after his release in St. Louis — still a step shy of appearing in a regular-season game.
"There are certainly some things you feel good about going into the opener," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "There are some other things there are some questions about as we go forward. That's the exciting part about Week 1."
Even without Smith, Bowman and possibly defensive tackle Ray McDonald after his arrest in a domestic violence case, the 49ers have the proof of three straight trips to the NFC championship game behind one of the league's best defenses.
The Cowboys had the NFL's worst a year ago, and have been scrambling all offseason to settle on a front seven. It certainly doesn't help that cornerback Orlando Scandrick will miss the first four games on a drug suspension.
Dallas will use a rotation on the defensive line, hoping free agent pickup Henry Melton will be a key even though he missed all the preseason games with a groin injury.
End George Selvie, grabbed off the scrap heap at training camp last year, is the only Dallas lineman who had more than two sacks a year ago. And his status is in doubt because of a shoulder injury.
"They're a fast team," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I'm sure they'll have things for us in the first game that you don't expect, that they've been preparing for."
Here are some things to watch in a game that will break a 16-16-1 tie in a series that includes six NFC championship games:
Romo took it easy in the offseason and got frequent days off during training camp following December surgery. He had already injured his back when he led a drive to beat Washington, only to watch from his house when a third straight season ended with a loss to an NFC East rival that left the Cowboys at 8-8 and out of the postseason. "I feel very comfortable going into the season and I feel as well as I could possibly hope for at this point," Romo said.
SAN FRAN'S FRONT
The 49ers' offensive line had problems protecting Kaepernick during the preseason, though the tight-knit unit has hardly had any continuity so far. Right guard Alex Boone ended his holdout just in time for Week 1, though it was unclear whether he or right tackle Anthony Davis — dealing with a minor hamstring injury — would start and play. Jonathan Martin, who got a fresh start under Harbaugh, his coach at Stanford, after a bullying scandal in Miami, could be called upon.
McCLAIN BACK ON FIELD
Dallas linebacker Rolando McClain will play his first game since 2012, the last of his three seasons with Oakland after the Raiders picked him eighth overall in 2010. He walked away from the game twice with Baltimore after the Ravens acquired his rights. The Cowboys got him in a trade before training camp after a season-ending knee injury to Sean Lee, and now it looks as if McClain will start at Lee's spot in the middle.
San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree, who played for a Dallas high school and Texas Tech, worked concessions at old Texas Stadium with his youth football teammates. He walked to his locker in a Texas Tech T-shirt on Thursday before pulling on a 49ers hoodie. Now, he has purchased 70 tickets for family members to attend Sunday's game. "It's going to be fun, and it's going to be challenging going back home seeing my family," he said.
IN THIS CORNER
Scandrick's absence gives former top 10 pick Morris Claiborne a chance to prove his worth as a starting cornerback after an injury-filled 2013. Claiborne is battling a shoulder sprain this time, but should play. Tramaine Brock is back after leading the 49ers with five interceptions last season.
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