THE NEXT MAN UP: Jason Garrett’s 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys find a way to win, even without centerpiece Sean Lee on the field
The Dallas Cowboys are 2-0 without Sean Lee in the middle of the defense, but it’s not like his influence has not been felt.
DeMarcus Ware said Lee remains a big presence everywhere except the field, continuing to work with his replacement, Ernie Sims, like a coach.
“When you have guys like Lee still in there, in the meeting rooms, still teaching Ernie what to do – everybody in this league is athletic – but if you can instill what you do mentally first, especially like Sean Lee, he’s showing them so many things and what to key on, and they’ve gotten better,” Ware said after the Thanksgiving Day victory against Oakland. “He’s still there, but just in another person’s body, of Ernie’s or whatever.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Lee has been missed, but there have been benefits.
“It caused us to do some moving around a little bit,” he said. “It’s probably caused us to see Wilber, who was steady against the Giants and again tonight. That may be a blessing for us.”
Lee said the defense has played “fantastic” without him.
“I think it shows you have a lot of guys who have worked hard, who have stepped up – guys like Kyle Wilber and Ernie Sims, who put in a ton of work,” he said. “And you have to give them a ton of credit, because they’ve been a huge reason why we’ve been able to win these two football games.”
Sean Lee said he is on track to play in the next game, Dec. 9 at Chicago.
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Breakdown
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Top Performer: Jason Hatcher
When Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli were brought on board after the conclusion of the 2012 season, their vision of what this defensive line was going to consist of was a four man line of DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, and Jason Hatcher. As they sit today, only Ware and Hatcher are currently in the mix. The offseason ranking of these four players were: Ware, Spencer, Ratliff, and Hatcher.
To his credit, Hatcher has gone far and above what most believed that he could have done. We really wasn’t sure where he was going to play in this scheme, whether that was the one or three technique. Likely, the front office and coaches were having the same thoughts. Few believed he was going to be able to play with enough power at the one. To his credit, he has proven people wrong. That’s not to say that’s his best spot, because at the three he has also done things thought that he couldn’t have done. It was very evident without him in the lineup against the Saints. His ability to help in the run but maybe more importantly, was how well he rushes the passer inside was missing.
What Jason Hatcher has done through his play is make this front office sit up and take notice when it comes to making a decision on his future with this team.
Need More From: DeMarcus Ware
Right or wrong, on the radio show “Talkin’ Cowboys”, DeMarcus Ware was challenged to once again rise up and be the player that we all have seen in seasons gone by. This young defense needs that kind of player.
When Ware was lining up in those practices in Oxnard, it appeared that Ware had turned the clock back five years and this season could turn out to be one of his best ever. Injury has once again robbed him of that opportunity. Ware showed a great deal of guts playing last season at half the player he is capable of being and this year, could very well be the same. As hard as this to say for a player that has given his team so much, he is going to have to dig deeper and find ways to not only be a factor in the running game but be that dominate player against the pass.
This scheme requires pressure from its front four and without that pressure, it is difficult to have success in it. If this team in fact are going to make a run in these last six games and win this division, it is going to be on the shoulders of Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware. For six games, this defense needs DeMarcus Ware’s very best otherwise we will all be talking about what could have been.
Six-Game Forecast: Defensive linemen cant rely on safety net to stop the run
There have been some difficult games for this defensive line this season. There have also been some times where they have played well and helped this team to a victory. The road doesn’t get much easier with three division games and the matchup with the Bears and Packers remaining.
What worries the most about this group is the ability to get off blocks in the running game especially the last three weeks against the Lions, Vikings and Saints. There have been too many games this season where this defense has allowed offenses to be in manageable down and distance situations because of their inability to hold up against the run. For the next six week, this defensive line is going to be tested each and every snap to have to be physical in playing in the running game and with Sean Lee out at least the next two games, there is not that safety net of him being there to make plays.
This line needs to do a much better job of playing on the other side of the ball like they did against the Redskins and Eagles, which then will help them with their pressure in the passing game.
Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware said a team like the Saints will take advantage of a defense that doesn’t have its most experienced players, like the Cowboys on Sunday night.
“I mean, when you have five guys, six of the starters out, the best way to fix it is get your guys back,” Ware said, asked what the Cowboys can do to get better following the 49-17 loss. “Sometimes you have guys in there who sort of don’t know what they’re doing because it’s probably their first time playing in a long time. When you have a team that doesn’t make mistakes and sort of exposes you that way, with those guys that are in the game, that’s what they did. So you’ve got to get the guys back who know what’s going on and use that bye week to make a big push.”
Ware said the scheme is fine.
“It’s the play. You’ve got to be fundamentally sound,” he said. “It’s so simple, but the thing is you’ve got to be fundamentally sound when you’re doing it.”
Ware said it was a helpless feeling for him when he wasn’t in the game. He aggravated his quadriceps injury on a sack in the second quarter and was in and out of the game. He said the leg is good, however.
“I’m doing everything I can not to let it happen again,” he said. “It was something minor on the sack. The play I got the sack, it’s just my knee hit the ground and tweaked it a little bit, and it was like that the whole game.”
Ware said he’s optimistic about playing in the Giants game, and he looked back on the season as a whole as the Dallas Cowboys hit their bye week.
“It was a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “There wasn’t enough consistency like we needed. Right now we’re half and half. We’re at 5-5. We’ve got to find some way to take this bye weekend and rejuvenate ourselves, get all the guys back and come to the table with a relentless demeanor of trying to win every game out.”
IRVING, Texas – Dez Bryant is once again working through a back issue, but it didn’t keep him out of todays morning practice.
Bryant was present for the second practice of the week, and he appeared to move well in the early portion of the day’s work. It remains to be seen how involved he will be in the full day’s worth of work, but Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he doesn’t expect the injury to have a significant effect.
“His back was bothering him (Wednesday), we didn’t think he could practice so we didn’t practice him,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett at his Thursday morning press conference. “It’s a health issue that we don’t think is a long-term deal at all. Hopefully he’ll practice today and be ready to go on Sunday.”
Back problems affected Bryant during the 2012 season finale against Washington, and he has dealt with similar problems at times through the first nine weeks of this season.
“It’s bothered him a little bit off and on – I don’t know if it’s the exact same thing, but we don’t think it’s a significant deal.”
IRVING, Texas – There’s not going to be a dramatic game time decision this week –DeMarcus Ware is playing Sunday in New Orleans.
If Ware’s participation in the Dallas Cowboys Wednesday and Thursday practices wasn’t indication enough, the All-Pro defensive end said so himself outside the Dallas locker room.
It’s been roughly a month since Ware left Dallas’ Oct. 13 win against Washington early with a quad injury. His absence – three games’ worth – has to feel like an eternity for a player who had never missed a game prior to this season.
“You get frustrated, but you’ve got to find some type of positive note,” Ware said. “For me, watching the game from the sideline was a little bit different. I see how guys attack us and how they attack me in certain situations, and it’ll make me better coming in this week.”
The parallels to the Cowboys’ last trip to New Orleans couldn’t be more obvious. Four years ago, the Cowboys limped into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with an 8-5 record, having lost two straight, to play an undefeated Saints squad.
To make matters worse, Ware had suffered what appeared to be a devastating injury in San Diego just a week prior. Ware wasn’t just doubtful for the tilt against Drew Brees and Co. – he was doubtful, period.
“I didn’t think I was going to play for a long time, until – sometimes, when you go in certain places, you get certain vibes or you feel a certain way that you can do it,” he said. “And I think you get confidence from your teammates to get out there and play. That’s the way I felt – not letting them down.”
Of course, Ware didn’t just wind up playing – he starred. He sacked Brees twice, pressured him three times and forced two fumbles, the second of which ended New Orleans’ hope of a comeback. The Cowboys used the win to catapult to a 11-5 record and their most recent playoff appearance.
“I think how monumental that game was – it was a big game for us. It was like one of those turn-around-season games,” Ware said. “It was one of those type of things where it was like ‘OK, it’s a blessing to be out here again, from what I went through.”
Brees certainly hasn’t forgotten, and it’s not just the 2009 game, either. In four career meetings against the Saints, Ware has notched 10 tackles, four sacks, one tackle for loss, four quarterback hits and the aforementioned two forced fumbles.
Those aren’t the type of numbers the opposing quarterback is likely to forget.
“He’s a stud – he’s such a stud,” Brees said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to have a plan for at all times – where is he, how do you protect him, how are you taking care of him and all that stuff. You know the leadership he brings, you know the productivity he brings, and he’s just a game changer. You’ve just got to be ready for him.”
The ideal scenario is a return to typical form, but it remains to be seen how effective Ware can be when he does return. His worst outing against the Saints came in last season’s overtime loss, when he was hampered by injuries.
Ware knows he has some catching up to do once he does return. He recorded all four of his sacks this season in just two of his six appearances, and problems with stingers bothered him in those outings.
The result is that he’s tied for just 37th in the league in sacks – a good bit off the league pace of 11.5 set by Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, and the NFC lead of 10 by St. Louis’ Robert Quinn.
“You know I’m behind, so I guess I’ve got to hop on the saddle and start riding a little bit,” Ware said.
Of course, now that Ware has rounded into shape, it’s starting defensive tackles Jason Hatcher and Nick Hayden on the injury report. Hatcher has missed both practices this week with stinger issues of his own, while Hayden is battling rib issues.
With the issues they’ve already overcome, though, Ware said he’s got confidence in whoever lines up on what has now become a famous group of non-famous people (Marinelli’s Misfits).
“You know what? It’s the no-name defensive line,” Ware said with a smile. “We’ve got guys coming in that can play, and we have confidence in those guys to play. Hatcher and Nick will get out there and play and do the best that they can.”
INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints | Dez Bryant back tightness
ARLINGTON, Texas – For a couple of reasons, the Dallas Cowboys moved practice indoors Wednesday to AT&T Stadium in preparations for Sunday’s game with the New Orleans Saints.
But a few key players were not included, highlighted by the absence of wide receiver Dez Bryant. Early reports indicate tightness in his back.
Other players not in attendance were Jason Hatcher (stinger), cornerback Morris Claiborne
(hamstring), wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) and safety J.J. Wilcox (knee).
One player back to practice was DeMarcus Ware, who has missed the last three games with a quad strain. Ware could be limited when the team releases the official injury report later in he day.
One new face on the field was defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, who signed with the team today. Dawkins, who joined the team from Minnesota’s practice squad, is wearing No. 90.
Coach Jason Garrett said the team went inside to escape the rainy conditions and to crank up the noise inside to try simulating the expected noise at the Superdome in New Orleans.
INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings | DeMarco Murray back in lineup
ARLINGTON – DeMarco Murray will be active today against the Vikings after missing each of the Dallas Cowboys’ previous two games with a sprained knee.
DeMarcus Ware, on the other hand, highlights the inactives list, which also includes wide receiver Miles Austin, cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety J.J. Wilcox, linebacker DeVonte Holloman, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith.
Wilcox (knee), Holloman (neck) and Claiborne (hamstring) were all ruled out after Friday’s practice. Ware (thigh) and Austin (hamstring) were both listed as doubtful. Along with Murray, Ware’s also missed each of the last two weeks after getting injured against the Redskins, and he’ll now miss his third straight game.
Austin has been given rest and sat out last week after trying to give his sore hamstring a try against the Eagles on Oct. 20.
All the Cowboys players who were probable entering the weekend will be active, including Jason Hatcher (neck), George Selvie (shoulder) and Barry Church (hamstring).
Guard Brian Waters was also ruled out after Friday’s practice with a triceps injury, which has since moved him to injured reserve. Defensive back Micah Pellerin took Waters’ spot on the 53-man roster and will be active.
CHANNELING THE X-FACTOR: Jason Garrett has talk with Dez Bryant; team appreciates his passion and emotion (Special Feature)
Jason Garrett talked to Dez Bryant after Sunday’s game, encouraging the receiver to put his passion and emotion to better use than with sideline outbursts.
“You talk to him very direct, man-to-man and you just say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get locked in on what’s happening,’” Garrett said on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM 105.3. “We appreciate the passion, the enthusiasm. That’s what we want from all of our players. The great players have that, the great teams have that, but you just have to focus it and channel it. He understands that.”
Since Bryant received national headlines for his behavior on the sideline Sunday, including criticism from analyst Brian Billick during the telecast, the Cowboys repeatedly have defended Bryant, insisting his emotional outbursts are not a distraction.
TV cameras twice caught sideline rants by Bryant. In the third quarter, Bryant appeared to be expressing his displeasure at not getting the ball more. Tony Romo targeted Bryant six times in the game, with Bryant catching three passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
After the Lions scored with 12 seconds left, Bryant had a heated exchange with teammates Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, who said they were trying to calm down Bryant and get him focused for the final play.
“I know everybody wants to read into Dez’s emotion on the sidelines, but contrary to popular belief, he’s not as negative as you would think over there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on his radio show on KRLD-FM 105.3. “He’s not every time that happens, saying, ‘Give me the ball! Give me the ball! Give me the ball!’ He’s encouraging in his way. Obviously, everyone has their opinion, and they’ll have that. But Dez will be fine.
“…It’s not an issue. The only thing Jason Witten was telling him, ‘Get your mind right here. We may have to get back out and try a Hail Mary.’ …Dez is highly competitive. He really wants to win the game. Winning is important to him.”
Editors note: Bill Billick was selected in the 11th round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers but was cut by the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, and never played in the NFL. Billick coached for the Minnesota Vikings from 1992-1998, and was the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007.
RELATED: Dez Bryant explains his sideline emotions
Dez Bryant wants to make it perfectly clear: He is a team player who wants nothing except to win.
Bryant talked for some 15 minutes Monday, explaining his sideline behavior that drew national attention during the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-30 loss tot he Lions. He said he is misunderstood outside the locker room.
“I think for the most part, all of my teammates, they know,” Bryant said. “They know how much I love this game. They know we compete; we battle; we go hard. It’s all about wanting to win. But I honestly feel – me speaking for myself – that’s the kind of attitude you have to have to try to get where you want to go.”
The Cowboys have defended Bryant, whom TV cameras caught ranting on the sideline twice.
The first came in the third quarter after a Tony Romo incompletion on a pass intended for Dwayne Harris on third down, leading to a field goal and a 13-7 lead. Bryant yelled at Romo, receivers coach Derek Dooley and head coach Jason Garrett, none of whom seemed to pay him much attention.
Bryant said he was not demanding the ball, though he had only two catches for 22 yards to that point.
“It wasn’t directly to [Romo],” Bryant said. “It was like, ‘Our defense, they’re getting turnovers. We’ve got to help them out.’ I’m saying that to everybody, including myself. We’ve got to help them out.”
After the Lions scored to take the lead with 12 seconds remaining, Bryant and tight end Jason Witten were seen yelling at each other with defensive end DeMarcus Ware stepping in calm Bryant. Witten and Bryant both said the tight end was trying to get Bryant to focus on the task at hand, which was a final offensive play.
Bryant said his relationship with Romo and Witten remains solid.
“All Witt was doing was trying to get me focused and get me ready for the next play,” Bryant said. “I was just kind of heated, because they scored. As far as Romo, I know you all got sound bites and stuff on these cameras, I mean, or whatever, if you go back and look at it what I was saying to Romo, Terrance [Williams] just scored a touchdown and I was like, ‘They’re going to play him like that, keep throwing him the ball.’ From all the good stuff that was going on, go look at it. I had the same demeanor, the same demeanor. It was just one of those guys to where you know, we’ve got to win this game.”
Jason Garrett talked to his fourth-year receiver about Bryant better channeling his emotions.
“We love the passion,” Garrett said Monday. “We love the enthusiasm. Just got to keep the focus. We addressed it with him during the game. We addressed it with afterward. And he is going to be ready to go.”
Bryant said he has no regrets and will continue to wear his emotions on his jersey.
“No regrets,” he said. “It’s all love. Like I said, I know it looks crazy, but I promise you all it’s not.”
RELATED: Dez Bryant passionate about winning
Dez Bryant is not going to apologize for his antics on the sidelines. He’s a passionate and emotional player who is driven to win. Something, he said, that has been going on since he first stepped on a football field.
So, yes, he’s going to get into animated and sometimes heated conversations. He had a couple with quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten in the second half of the Cowboys’ 31-30 loss to the Lions on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
And there will be more throughout his career.
“I love this game. I love my teammates,” Bryant said. “That’s what it is. It’s going to forever remain the same. It started in Pop Warner, went to middle school, went to high school, went to college, and it’s here. It’s going to stay that way. It won’t change.”
Nobody in the Cowboys’ locker room has any issues with Bryant wearing his heart on his sleeve. Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and his teammates all approved of it in a positive light, saying passion is necessary to succeed in the NFL.
Here’s some reaction on Bryant’s sideline antics:
Jason Witten: “He has more passion than anyone I’ve ever played with. That’s a good thing to have. With 12 seconds left, we were all upset but there was still time left. I tried to communicate that. There was more football to play. We were going to get the ball back and the play we had drawn up, he was a big part of that play. We were trying to get him to calm down because we were going to try to get him the ball on that play.”
Tony Romo: “He’s a competitive guy. … He’s never complained to me about getting the ball. He knows the ball is going to where it’s supposed to. He knows that. I think more than anything it’s about him willing the team. When you guys see emotion sometimes from Dez, it’s just rah rah more than it is being a me guy. That’s not who Dez is. I think that would be completely out of character for him for it to be a me situation. He does a great job…sometimes, it’s come on guys, we’re better than this, really emotionally. But he’s never a selfish guy.”
Jason Garrett: “Dez is a very passionate player. He is a very competitive player. He gets a lot of attention from the opposing defenses. He wanted the football. We want guys who want the football. Dez has never been a distraction to our team. He is a really positive asset to our team on the field and off. The way he works. The passion for the game. That is good stuff.”
Jerry Jones: “That’s emotion and I don’t place any issue on his demeanor or his sideline activity. He’s a very emotional player and this was a tough game for him to compete in because he wanted to really contribute and do everything he could for the team and to win. I have no issue at all in terms of criticizing him for sideline demeanor or sideline behavior.”
Related: Dez Bryant sideline audio (1:53) – (Watch Video)
Want to find out what Dez Bryant says during his sideline appeals vs. the Detroit Lions? Watch and listen as he interacts with quarterback Tony Romo, players, and Dallas Cowboys coaches.
Dez Bryant spoke to the media on Monday for an extended period of time to try to clear up what happened on the sideline on Sunday.
IRVING, Texas – There were some encouraging signs for the Dallas Cowboys today as they took the field for their first practice in preparation of the Detroit Lions.
It remains to be seen if DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Ware will be able to contribute in Detroit this weekend, but both players were at practice. Murray dressed out in shoulder pads and a helmet and was active in the open portion of the Cowboys’ practice, though he did wear sweatpants instead of football pants.
Ware did not dress out, but he did work out with the team trainers using conditioning cords. He seemed to be moving well, though it’s unclear how far he has progressed with his quad injury.
“We’ll see what they do today. They seem to have gotten better over the last couple of days,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett at his morning press conference. “They might warm up a little bit today and we’ll see if they can practice.”
Lance Dunbar returned to the practice field, as predicted by Garrett.
“We’re going to warm him up today and see how he responds,” Garrett said. “He’s done well with his running the last few days.”
Miles Austin and Dez Bryant both dressed out for practice, though neither receiver participated in individual drills with the rest of the wide receivers.
IRVING, Texas – Forget three or four weeks. DeMarcus Ware might still be playing this weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Dallas Cowboys’ all-time sack leader doesn’t know his status yet, but he’ll travel with the team on the flight to Philadelphia, and he thinks he’ll be a game-day decision. He said he doesn’t need to practice this week to remain a possibility to play.
“I’m not going to be out three or four weeks,” Ware said. “I don’t know where that came from, but somebody said it. My recovery’s pretty fast, and I’m feeling pretty good today.”
Ware has never missed a game in his career, despite suffering hamstring, shoulder and elbow injuries last year and dealing with stinger problems this season. The latest thigh injury had many thinking he’d be out multiple weeks, but he said he’s already started running and will continue to work off to the side at practice before the ultimate decision is made.
He admitted the leg is still sore, but he’s continuing to get treatment and believes he’ll be in proper shape if he’s able to go this weekend. Ware said he can’t worry too much about his remarkable games played streak, which sits at 134.
“I think when you look at it, the bigger picture is always important,” Ware said. “You don’t want to ever be defined as just a number. You want to be somebody that when you get out there, you’re wreaking havoc and playing. If I can do that this week, I’m going to get out there and play.”
In addition to running, Ware said he can also plant and cut. It wouldn’t really be a surprise to see him return to action and play, despite the initial prognosis.
Ware’s iron man streak of consecutive games played continued even after getting carted off the field with a neck injury in 2009 that left him temporarily motionless. He played six days later against the Saints after missing practice throughout that week.
“I know that I can get through injuries, but you never can (predict) what one injury’s worse than another,” Ware said. “Each week, just like I took it with that injury, you’ve got to take it that whole week and make a game-day decision.”
He said he needs to weigh the importance of being on the field this week against the potential for future harm. He said he needs to be able to run, pass-rush and change direction with ease, particularly considering the speed at which the Eagles play.
If Ware can’t go, Kyle Wilber will get the call at defensive end. Wilber went in after Ware’s injury last week, recorded a strip sack on Robert Griffin III and secured the fumble.
“Last week, when I went down, Wilber went in there and made a big play on a really great tackle,” Ware said. “I know that he can get out there and play, me just showing him a lot of things, his confidence level has boosted through the roof. You’ve got to let him keep playing that way, and I know he can get the job done.”
Wilber continues to talk to Ware as the second-year player prepares himself for a starting opportunity. Head coach Jason Garrett preaches the “next man up” philosophy, while Wilber hears from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin that everyone in the defensive room should consider himself a starter. For Wilber, it’s now time to play like one.
“It’s pressure and it’s a challenge, but it’s good pressure and a good challenge,” Wilber said. “You want to be a dependable guy, so the team looks at you like, ‘This person right here, we can count on him.’”
Wilber went from 240 pounds last year to 248 pounds this year, as he made the move from linebacker to defensive end. He said it’s difficult for him to put on weight, but eventually he’d like to be around the 255-pound mark. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik is pushing him to help reach that total.
It’s been tough for Wilber to serve as a backup since getting drafted in the fourth round in 2012. He’s accustomed to starting, and last year was particularly tough for him after getting injured because he felt like he didn’t help the team.
“You have to kind of motivate yourself,” Wilber said. “It’s kind of hard being a backup, especially behind a Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer. You’re not seeing yourself getting a lot of playing time. You definitely have to prepare yourself mentally.”
He may now get his chance to stand out on a “no-name” defensive line. Well, almost a no-name defensive line. Wilber said Jason Hatcher has become more of a household name after his five-sack start to the season.
“As long as we’ve got ‘Hatch,’ I feel like we’re good,” Wilber said. “He’s one of the best three-techniques out there.”
Wilber, however, feels like a no-namer until he demonstrates what he can do consistently. Even after his performance last week against the Redskins, he knows teams aren’t going to strategize for him, but they will have to plan for his presence.
He feels more ready than ever for a starting role if Ware can’t go, and a lot of that has to do with the star pass-rusher getting him ready.
“Definitely,” he said. “D-Ware, he’s still on me, still coaching me up. He’s making sure I can do everything.”
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys players and coaches had plenty of time to organize their thoughts of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff in the hours between his release Wednesday and Thursday’s open locker room session.
Aside from the medical and financial implications surrounding Ratliff’s release, members throughout the Cowboys organization were quick to point out the defensive tackle’s value and impact within the playing field.
Ratliff appeared in 104 games and started 85 as a seventh round pick by the Cowboys in 2005. He notched 27 sacks and 317 total tackles in his eight seasons with the team. His efforts earned him four straight Pro Bowl trips from 2008-11 and established him as one of the league’s best 3-4 nose tackles in that time period.
“Heck of a player — I keep going back to that, because he played the right way for the Cowboys. He was always a guy who practiced hard, he played hard, the game was important to him. Anybody that was around him knows the demeanor that he played with,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “He was an intimidating figure. He was an incredibly productive player for us, a Pro Bowl player, and a great example to his teammates about how to play the game.”
Of any teammate that saw that example, DeMarcus Ware stands out. Following Ratliff’s release, Ware is the final member of the Cowboys’ 2005 draft class on the roster – Ware was taken 11th overall, in the first round, while Ratliff’s seventh round selection came all the way at No. 224.
Ware said it’s odd looking around the locker room and seeing only long snapper L.P. Ladouceur remaining from the team’s 2005 rookie class.
“When you talk about just the business of the game, things happen for certain reasons, reasons I don’t know. You’ve just got to keep playing,” Ware said. “He came in with me. I feel like now, me and L.P., we’re the last Mohicans here. You’ve just got to look at it as a business. I know Jay, he’s going to end up going to another team because he’s a great player like that.”
Having spent nine seasons on the defensive line with him, Ware is well qualified to talk about Ratliff, but several other Cowboys veterans had thoughts to offer.
As of Thursday afternoon, Ratliff’s locker had yet to be cleaned out. Jason Witten, whose locker sits our feet away, said he’ll remember the high level of play evidenced by the Pro Bowl sticker’s adorning Ratliff’s area.
“He’s a guy I’ve known for a long time. We played together a long time – a core group of us, and he’s a guy you wanted on your side on Sundays, that’s for sure,” Witten said.
In Ratliff’s official statement, delivered by his agent Mark Slough on Wednesday, he was sure to thank Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones for taking the chance of drafting him. In addressing the decision to release him Thursday, Jones repaid those thanks to the veteran.
“You know, I have a long history of having an appreciation for guys who give it up and work and play through pain, and I do with Jay. So it is disappointing that that great career of his has to end. As it turns out, all great players have to have a time,” Jones said. “Now, his career has maybe not ended, but I know he gave us great effort. He’s a tremendous competitor. I don’t look at anything but positives, I really don’t. We needed him when we had him, and we need him now that we don’t have him. But that’s just not the way it is – that’s the reality of it. We do, as I certainly would, wish him the very best and a speedy rehab and hope for him that he has more career.” (Watch video | Play audio)
RELATED: Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones discuss details of Jay Ratliff’s release
IRVING, Texas – One day after their decision to release Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys spoke about the implications and issues surrounding the move.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, as well as coach Jason Garrett spoke to the media about the past year of uncertainty around Ratliff. Jones said the decision to release the veteran involved a number of variables – most notably, consideration of the salary cap and the team’s prospects this season.
“This was a decision that certainly had salary cap implications – every decision does in this day and time,” Jones said. “But it also had immediate consideration for what it’s going to mean for this season, and we’re excited about what our opportunities are here. So both of those things were part of this decision.”
The decision to cut Ratliff will save the team the cost of paying him had he been moved to the injured reserve. That raises the question of why the Cowboys placed him on the Physically Unable to Perform List to start the season. But Garrett said he still had hope of using Ratliff after he strained his hamstring during his pre-training camp conditioning test.
“I think you’re always hopeful about the health of every player and you make designations accordingly,” he said. “I can give you 50 examples of decisions we’ve made as to when to put someone on IR and why, when to put someone on PUP and why, and when to keep someone on the active roster and why. That was the decision we made.”
The matter of Ratliff’s debilitating injury, not the hamstring strain but the one suffered against Cleveland in 2012, remains confusing. Mark Slough, Ratliff’s agent, said Wednesday that his client’s lower body injury had been mischaracterized as a sports hernia, when it in fact involved severe ligament and muscle damage.
Neither Jones nor Garrett would speak in specifics, as a matter of legal obligations. But both supported the reliability of the team’s medical staff in its evaluations.
“I can’t comment on the medical aspects of this thing. Without being trite, I don’t want to be because this is not a trite matter,” Jones said. “It’s a sad matter, because we do need him and he wants to be out competing and helping his teammates and helping us win. But I can’t operate in a world where I go back and take today’s information and apply it to decisions made one year ago.”
Garrett added: “We have a tremendous amount of confidence in our medical staff, and the only way that I can answer that is injuries are challenging and you don’t always know how a player’s
going to respond. The ability for him to come back in a timely manner – you make a lot of highly educated guesses about the status of a player based on the player, based on what the injury is, what particular position he may play. So you’re always doing that. We do that every day.”
That extends to the conditioning test, which both Garrett and Jones said is only ever performed at the discretion of the player involved. Again, though, few specifics were provided.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Whatever might have been spoken behind closed doors, there was nothing but love in the Dallas Cowboys’ open locker room Sunday afternoon.
Reports surfaced during the weekend of an altercation between Jason Hatcher and Tony Romo, in which the veteran defensive tackle took the $100 million quarterback to task.
To hear it from Hatcher, it’s really quite the opposite.
“Where is Romo at? Tell him to come over here. I’m going to hug his neck,” Hatcher said. “We ain’t got no issues. Where’d you all get that from? I love Romo – Romo loves me. We are teammates, we are brothers – brotherhood.”
Hatcher’s own words are the most telling, as it was he who had reportedly called out the Cowboys’ quarterback this week for audibling too much and not committing to the run.
Plenty of other voices within the organization begged to differ, however. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Hatcher certainly spoke during the Cowboys’ preparation for St. Louis, but it wasn’t merely directed at Romo so much as the whole team.
“I think those reports are inaccurate,” Garrett said. “One of the things we try to do as a football team is empower the people – get everybody invested. Get players invested, get coaches invested and guys to take leadership roles. This is their football team, and leadership manifests itself a lot of different ways. It’s best when it’s just by performance – by what you do, by example. But sometimes you need to step up and say something. I thought Hatcher’s words after practice were directed at our entire football team.”
That message was one of consistency, to hear it from the players. The Cowboys have had a recent inability to string together positive results, highlighted by last week’s ugly loss to Kansas City – something Hatcher said needs to change.
“The main thing I got from Hatcher’s speech was being consistent, being consistent, not being a roller coaster team, not being up and down, winning a big game then going a losing a game,” said DeMarcus Ware. “That’s what we did last week, losing a game that we should have won — not to talk about the past. Now, how consistent can we be playing week in and week out, that’s one thing that Hatch talked about. Let’s be a consistent team. We can be a great team, but the consistent teams are the ones that are going to win.”
Romo himself agreed with that assessment. Asked about it following his postgame press conference, the Cowboys’ quarterback said he hadn’t heard about the report. He did say Hatcher’s words were good for the team and the team’s younger players to hear.
“He wants the guys – young guys – to understand how important this is,” Romo said. “I thought it was a great talk … Guys who have been around – when Witten talks, guys listen. When I talk, when Hatch talks, they listen.”
It remains to be seen how the message resonates going forward. This is the eighth time in 11 years the Cowboys have managed a 2-1 record through three weeks. They failed to improve to 3-1, instead falling to 2-2, on six of those seven previous occasions.
Next week’s game against San Diego will be telling in that regard.
“I love Romo to death, man. I wasn’t getting on Romo – I love Romo to death,” Hatcher said. “He came out and balled out tonight. Did you see that? He balled out. They ran the ball, he threw the ball great – he’s the best quarterback in the league. So I love Romo to death. That’s my brother.”
Editors comment: A lot is said about the ‘start’ of the season with the Dallas Cowboys in the past decade. Some of that ebb and flow is the result of NFL scheduling, some of that is NFL parity … and yes, some of that is finishing 8-8 in consecutive years. I think the emphasis should be on how they finish, not necessarily as much about how they start. It’s an interesting thing to watch, based on this recent history of on-again and off-again peaks and valleys. At this point, we should all hope to see a team mentally balanced … and confident enough to put together some nice long winning streaks. Jimmy Johnson was a master at keeping the players psych up, even during tough stings of games. It’s Jason Garrett’s job to build on the confidence gained during these big wins, not to let it slip away with the next opponent. It’s the players responsibility as well. Kudos to Jason Hatcher and the other leaders on this roster. The St. Louis (and New York Giants) games show the potential of this years’ Dallas Cowboys. If this is the ‘slow start’ … I can’t wait to see how they develop as the year progresses.
ARLINGTON, Texas — DeMarco Murray found the perfect antidote for his recent malaise: the St. Louis Rams.
Murray rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown two years after torching St. Louis with a franchise record as a rookie, and Tony Romo threw for three scores in a 31-7 victory Sunday.
Murray’s first 100-yard game in more than a year started with a 14-yard run on Dallas’ first offensive play, and he had plenty of open space on a 36-yarder to start Dallas’ second drive to a 10-lead late in the first quarter.
Sam Bradford, Murray’s old college teammate at Oklahoma, didn’t have nearly as much room to operate.
The Cowboys (2-1) sacked him four times in the first half and had six in total after St. Louis (1-2) hadn’t allowed a sack in four games dating to last season. It was the longest streak for the Rams since John Hadl was under center for a division champion in 1973.
Bradford still went 29 for 48 and was not intercepted.
DeMarcus Ware had two sacks and broke Harvey Martin’s 30-year-old franchise record of 114.
The Rams, trying for their first 2-1 start since 2006, had just 18 yards total offense in the first half compared to 96 for Murray alone. The Cowboys had 202 yards before halftime.
Romo, who had 217 yards passing, went 2 yards to Dez Bryant for the first Dallas score. He had a pair of 24-yarders in the second half to rookie tight end Gavin Escobar and Dwayne Harris, who bounced back from a muff on the game’s first punt.
When the Rams finally started getting defenders around Murray at the line of scrimmage, Romo found him on the outside for a pair of catches on a drive that ended with a 2-yard run by Murray for a 17-0 lead. Murray, who had 253 yards against the Rams in 2011, went around left end before extending the ball over the goal line right on the pylon, and there was no review. His last 100-yard game was the 2012 opener, and he was coming off a 25-yard performance in a loss at Kansas City.
St. Louis avoided the shutout on Bradford’s 4-yard pass to Austin Pettis on fourth down late in third quarter after an interception by rookie safety J.J. Wilcox was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty against Jason Hatcher.
The Rams had a chance to stay in the game on their next drive, but Bradford threw behind Chris Givens while Givens on fourth down. Dallas scored three plays later for a 31-7 lead when Romo hit Harris in stride in the back of the end zone.
Tavon Austin had an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown called back by a holding penalty. The Rams also were penalized for a blind-side block that laid out Dallas’ Kyle Wilber, who stayed down for a few minutes before leaving the field on his own.
Dallas Cowboys Jason Hatcher voluntarily spoke to his teammates after practice earlier this week, making an impassioned plea for them be accountable and lay it all on the line heading into Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams.
Hatcher called out rookies and veterans alike in hopes of helping the Cowboys break through the malaise of mediocrity and self-inflicted wounds that has engulfed this franchise for more than a decade.
The Cowboys (1-1) are off to another win-one, lose-one start to what has been a win-one, lose-one decade.
They have a 105-105 record since 2000. And some of the same problems that plagued during them last season’s 8-8 campaign reared their ugly heads in last Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Chiefs, namely turnovers, failures in the red zone, untimely penalty and an inability to get a stop when needed.
Hatcher didn’t want to talk about what he said but defensive end DeMarcus Ware backed him up in explaining the overall message in the locker room this week. They are tired losing games they supposed to win because of their own undoings.
“It’s forget about that game but remember your accountability and where you were and how you played in that last game,” Ware said. “Did you play hard enough and did you do what you needed to do to leave it all out there on the field? We’ve been telling that to the younger guys and even the leaders on the team, the older guys too. Each week you’ve got to leave it out there on the field. Some weeks there are games you’re supposed to win and you’ve got to win those games. We look at it as now, it’s an etching stone each week, you’ve got to be immediate in your actions and plans.”
Ware added this is not just about pointing the fingers at the young guys and saying follow me, its demanding accountability from the veterans and leaders too.
“You’re calling out all of the leaders and saying hey, this is how we need to play, calling out the rookies, this is how we need to play, week in and week out, because that’s how we’re going to win,” Ware said. “It’s not like we don’t have enough talent to win or have the guys not to win, but what type of demeanor, what type of heart are you going to play with every week.”
DeMarcus Ware 1.5 sacks from becoming Cowboys all-time leader; wants to learn about Harvey Martin
Defensive end DeMarcus Ware is 1.5 sacks from surpassing the late Harvey Martin as the Cowboys all-time leading sacker.
Ware has 113 heading into Sunday’s game against the Rams. Martin ended his career with 114.
Ware said he dosen’t know much about Martin but plans to learn more about the legendary Cowboys pass rusher who was the co-MVP of Super Bowl XII.
“I’m not a big historian, but when you have an opportunity to break someone’s record, it’s always a blessing. So you need to know the reason why you’re doing it, and you need to know about that person,” Ware said. “I need to make sure I learn about him.”
Ware said the record will mean a lot because of the long list of pass rushers in Cowboys history. But he still is searching for the thing that really sets those before him apart _ a Super Bowl title.
“You know with the tradition the Cowboys have had, the pass rushers they’ve had, Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones, Randy White, Charles Haley, Harvey Martin, you can keep going,” Ware said. “Being part of that tradition, being able to get your name with those guys, that’s what it’s about when you talk about playing with the Dallas Cowboys. There is always one more thing you need to add to that, and that’s winning a championship. That’s what we’re trying to do this year.”
Cowboys center Travis Frederick versus Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe:
This will be rookie center Travis Frederick’s first experience playing with a man on his nose the entire game. He has had to deal with shades, but in training camp and during the preseason games, he was largely uncovered.
Dontari Poe is an interesting player because when he came out in the draft two seasons ago, he had the tag of boom-or-bust. My observation of him then was that he had more boom because of his natural ability. I did not see him play all that well with his technique, but I felt like once he got into the league that would all change.
Poe has always been a powerful, point-of-attack player, who if you attempted to run the ball at him, blockers were going to have a difficult time moving him. That is still the case today.
Where Poe has made his biggest improvement is in how he is playing with his hands. He is doing a much better job of quickly working them inside to control the blocker. He is shedding blockers with more consistency, and then working to his left or right to find the ball.
Frederick will also need to be on guard for Poe’s swim move, run or pass. For a big man, Poe is surprisingly very nimble with his footwork. If he does have a weakness, and this is where Frederick can take advantage of him, it’s that he tends to be a tick late off the snap.
Frederick is smart enough and savvy enough to find ways to work the edges on Poe but also put himself into position when getting help. This should be a good battle inside between two young players.
Cowboys defensive ends George Selvie and Anthony Spencer versus Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher:
Eric Fisher is making his second career start, and after a week against Jacksonville where he had some questionable moments at right tackle, these Cowboys defensive ends should be anxious to attack him. There is no doubt that one day Fisher will be a factor for the Chiefs, but right now he has struggled when he has had to face a rusher that plays with power.
Technique-wise, Fisher can put himself into position to secure the block. Finishing it, though, is where he gets in the most trouble.
From what I have seen in George Selvie, I do not believe that he can play with the same power as Anthony Spencer, so that might be a wash for the Cowboys defense.
Look for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to find plenty of ways to get Spencer off the edge in this game, which will allow him to take advantage of Fisher. Spencer will also be able to attack Fisher with more pass-rush moves, which is always difficult for a rookie to deal with.
I fully expect to see DeMarcus Ware move to the opposite side and take some cracks at Fisher as well. Selvie will then move to the right side and face Brandon Albert, who I feel like is the best of the Kansas City offensive line. Ware, like Spencer, can present a whole set of different challenges as well. We have talked about this before in that Ware has that ability to turn speed into power and get blockers off balance.
As long as Selvie can hold up at the point of attack against the Chiefs, then Kiffin can continue to move these rushers around to create the best possible matchups and get pressure on Alex Smith.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media for the final time from training camp in Oxnard, California.
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OXNARD, Calif. – Just a little clearing of the notebook following Friday’s 19-17 loss to the Raiders in the second preseason game.
– In the amount of snaps that DeMarcus Ware played the other night, he was very productive but the best player on the field for the Cowboys defense was Sean Lee. If there is concern of how he would bounce back from his injury he suffered last season, well put those thoughts to rest. Lee was in midseason form with his reads, adjustments and the manner in which he attacked the ball.
The Raiders offensive line does not touch him the entire opportunity he was in the game and his blitz that caused the first turnover of the game was textbook. His quickness and agility was outstanding but the physical way in which he finished the play was even better.
– Jason Hatcher continues to impress in the way he is going about his business in this camp and in the way he played in this game. Hatcher has been able to handle a steady diet of playing in this scheme.
He not only has played with tremendous quickness and agility but his power has shown to be better as well. I worried about him getting off blocks consistently but now that he doesn’t have to two gap blockers and he can attack the gap, it’s a much better fit for him. He has also shown the ability to understand what Rod Marinelli is asked him to do technique wise. He is better with his hands and you really see it when he rushes the passer.
– Some were expecting a big game from Dwayne Harris but instead, got it from Cole Beasley. Every time I want to doubt Beasley or question his roster spot on this club, he reminds me of the unique skill set in which he plays with.
The Raiders had no answer in how to deal with his quickness and his route running ability. He was money on third downs and his touchdown in the red zone was also a reminder that despite his height, he can still make plays down there. He is a confident and reliable receiver that when put in the right situations can make those catches when no one else will.
Instead of thinking about all the things he can’t do like play consistently on the outside and by the way, he is getting better at that, we need to concentrate on what he does well and that is the reason he will be in this wide receiver mix. If he can give you something in the return game its a plus but there has to be packages that Bill Callahan can do to get him the ball because he has proven he can make plays.
–As much as I want to have concerns about that breakdown in kickoff coverage against the Raiders on Friday night, I am aware that it’s about the opportunity to evaluate players and not for what the scheme looks like.
Still it was a great example of how important that these teams are when young guys like Jakar Hamilton, Kendial Lawrence, and Jared Green are trying to make the team or get noticed by the coaches. Special team are about effort and desire but also playing with smarts. The Greg Jenkins return came after the Joseph Randle had put the Cowboys ahead and though the defense held, the field position was in the favor of the Raiders who recovered the muffed punt from B.W. Webb and kicked the game winning field goal.
But focusing on the kickoff coverage, Green was knocked into Lawrence who both went to the ground. Hamilton was doubled at the point and couldn’t release off the blocks. As the ball came down the hash, two players were on the ground and Webb was widen, which caused a huge crease which Jenkins was able to take advantage of for the return. It really was nice execution by the Raiders on the return but for some young players on this team trying to get noticed, it was the wrong way to get noticed.
TEXAS 2 SHAKEDOWN: Dallas Cowboys defense showing potential to be better than good (Special Feature)
OAKLAND – When the 2013 team profiles and scouting reports are listed, it usually mentions key losses and additions. And on defense, the “players acquired” section will have guys like Will Allen and Justin Durant. A more updated list could include guys like George Selvie and Nick Hayden.
So it makes sense for people to have their hesitations about this defense and how good it can be.
After three weeks of training camp practice, two preseason games and really just two series from the first-team (Texas 2) defense, I’ve changed my tune about this squad. It’s early but I’ve raised my ceiling and expectations for this group.
This defense has the ability to be better than good. It could be a great defense.
And it’s not because of the additions like Durant and Allen and anyone else new to this unit. The real additions on this defense are Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli. And the impact they’ve already made is definitely noticeable.
The first-teamers didn’t play long in Friday’s 19-17 loss to the Raiders at O.co Stadium in Oakland.
It’s not just the turnovers. To me, it’s the pressure. They know how to generate a pass-rush and they’ve done it with players who don’t have the credentials like DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
If you’ve watched one practice in Oxnard, you’ve seen D-Ware do anything he wants. He’s been the best player at camp – on either side of the ball. He’s been so good that we’ve started to have our doubts about Tyron Smith, who has lost way more battles than he’s tied. I can’t ever remember Smith actually winning one of those with Ware.
And he comes out here in Oakland and makes a nice tackle in the running game, showing this 4-3 switch shouldn’t affect him at all in that department. Ware doesn’t need a great scheme to be an All-Pro. It does appear that he’s in one again and that will only enhance his performance.
Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defense forces Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn to fumble the ball and giving the Dallas Cowboys great field position.
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“Lining up at defensive end is easier. You are down in the trenches,” Ware said in a halftime quote Friday night. “There is no difference than playing outside linebacker, you are out wide, but when you are in the six technique, there are a lot more techniques you have to work on. But I felt like I did really well for the first game.”
What I like about this defense is how aggressive they’ve been already – and there’s a combined five Pro Bowls that hasn’t even been out there. Anthony Spencer is better than Selvie. Jay Ratliff is better than Nick Hayden. If and when those guys return for the start of the regular season, the defense will be even more dynamic.
Spencer is such a tough matchup for opposing linemen because he plays with uncanny technique. That’s part of his game that has really improved over the last few years. In this scheme, he might be even better, especially with the amount of attention that must be placed on Ware’s side.
If Ratliff can come back soon and provide a 1-2 punch with Hatcher, this really can be an explosive front-four with a healthy rotation of guys like Kyle Wilber, Ben Bass, Selvie, Hayden and Sean Lissemore. I’m not sure all nine will make the team and/or be available on game days, but it’s a solid group from top to bottom. And it has the potential to be even better because of the scheme.
But what I really like about this defense isn’t just the front four. It’s the ability to get pass rush from the linebackers. If, and it’s the second-biggest “if-he-can-stay-healthy moniker on this team behind DeMarco Murray, but if Sean Lee can stay healthy, he’ll be an absolute star. He’s got everything going for him, except the fact he hasn’t played a season from start to finish.
If that can happen for him, Sean Lee will be considered one of the NFL’s best linebackers, possibly even in the same category with a guy like Patrick Willis in San Francisco. Yeah, I know what I just did – comparing Lee to a perennial Pro Bowler such as Willis. Again, the caveat is Lee must stay healthy – something he has never done. But that’s literally how good he can be.
I mean, we all can see that. His instincts are off the chart. And you put him a defense like this, he can be every bit as good as Hardy Nickerson was in Tampa Bay. Now can he be Urlacher-good? That’s a stretch but it’s a nice goal for a player like Lee.
Now, if you really go back and dissect that sack play he had against the Raiders Friday night, Lee still got some help from his good friend Ware. That’s why it’s so important to have a complete superstar like D-Ware in the lineup. We all saw Lee make the hit. But it was Ware’s rush inside that forced the line to adjust. If there’s anyone that can’t be unblocked on a play, it’s Ware. But his hard rush inside freed up Lee to make the hit.
You’ll see Lee in the backfield on play. And 25 yards down the field in pass coverage on the next. This middle linebacker position isn’t for everyone. You’ve got to be good enough at both to play the run and the pass like Lee has shown. He’s a special player and like Ware, has the chance to thrive in this scheme.
Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defensive back J.J. Wilcox picks off Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a Dallas Cowboys touchback.
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It’s not just about the players, but takeaways, too.
The turnovers are evident. I guess they were always stressed in the past but not like this. The coaches talk about turnovers in the meeting rooms and then coming out of the meetings there is a football on display that defenders must grab. It’s just always on the mind and it’s starting to translate to the field.
On the second-quarter drive where the second-teamers were gashed for about eight straight players, leaving J.J. Wilcox to make every tackle, they still find a way to tighten it up. Wilcox finished off the drive with a pick in the end zone.
Last week, one of the rookie draft picks scored a touchdown on an interception. This week, they saved a touchdown by an interception.
All in all, I’m just getting these vibes the defense will be much better than people think.
And this is, in no way, a knee-jerk reaction from the game. In fact, I told some of my colleagues this idea and was just hoping the defense would hold its own in the one or two drives from the starters.
They did that perfectly.
It’s early for sure. The defense has played the Dolphins and the Raiders. I get that. Ryan Tanneyhill and Matt Flynn are not exactly the NFL’s elite. So it’ll get better of course.
But the potential of this defense, at least from this perspective, is a squad that can be much better than good.
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CANTON, Ohio – Head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t going to let the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen miss the induction of Larry Allen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Garrett brought all of his team’s offensive linemen, as well as select veterans on the team to watch Allen’s speech as he was inducted a day before the Cowboys are set to play in the Hall of Fame Game.
Left tackle Tyron Smith was just five years old when Allen won his Super Bowl with the Cowboys in January 1996, so needless to say he only watched Allen sparingly growing up. But Smith quickly learned what Allen meant to the team.
“I didn’t learn much about him until I got with the Cowboys,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience to be here, and I definitely didn’t want to miss it.”
The experience was just as great for the young undrafted players and backup offensive linemen in attendance. First-year tackle Edawn Coughman, who’d never been to the Hall of Fame before, said words couldn’t express how he felt to walk through the Hall of Fame and watch Allen get inducted.
“It’s a great honor,” Coughman said. “I watched him a lot when I was younger. I’m excited to see this man in person. I’m elated.”
Jason Garrett wanted to make sure the majority of his veteran starters and the players on the team who knew Allen got to see the induction.
The list of veteran players at the ceremony included Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant,Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Jason Hatcher,DeMarcus Ware, Danny McCray, LP Ladouceur, Will Allen, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.
IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is just days away.
With just four days until the Dallas Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., one question centers on DeMarcus Ware closing-in on the team’s sack record and where that might put him among the franchise’s best players.
Where does DeMarcus Ware rank among Dallas Cowboy greats?
Barring any significant injury – and if 2012 showed us anything it’s that it takes a lot more than just an average injury to sideline DeMarcus Ware – at some point early this season the Cowboys will have a new all-time sack leader.
The late Harvey Martin has held that distinction since he retired in 1983, sitting at the top of the charts with 114 sacks. Ware currently has 111, meaning he needs just four more sacks this year to surpass Martin as the Cowboys’ all-time leader.
Officially, according to the NFL, Ware already holds the mark because the league didn’t start registering sacks as an official stat until 1982. But the Cowboys have kept the correct stats and Martin has had the lead for 30 years. That will likely change this season, considering Ware hasn’t been held under double-digit sacks since his rookie year of 2005.
So when that happens, what will it mean for DeMarcus Ware’s legacy with the Cowboys? Will it even change at all?
Martin holding the club’s sack record hasn’t been enough to land him a spot in the Ring of Honor. Many pundits believe Martin is the biggest snub of the Tom Landry era and is the most deserving to get into the Ring. However, Ware is seemingly a lock for the Ring of Honor when his playing days are done.
But even if he never plays for a championship team, is it possible for Ware to be considered one of the best defensive players in Cowboys history? Stats-wise, he’ll be more accomplished than Bob Lilly or Randy White and Martin. But those guys have Super Bowl rings.
Just how far does Ware have to stretch the sack record to overlook his lack of team success? Then again, Ware turns 31 next month. He still has a few good years in him and who knows what the Cowboys will do as a team over the next few seasons.
With four sacks, Ware will be considered the very best Cowboys player to rush the quarterback. But just how many sacks will he need to be considered the best defensive player in franchise history?
Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let’s take a closer look at the number 4:
- DeMarco Murray had just four rushing touchdowns last season to lead the team. Kevin Ogletree also had four receiving touchdowns, which ranked him third behind Dez Bryant (12) and Miles Austin (six).
- The only player drafted No. 4 in franchise history was Scott Appleton, a defensive tackle in 1964. Appleton never suited up for the Cowboys, who traded his rights to the Steelers.
- Only four players have donned the No. 4 for the Cowboys: Mike Saxon, Toby Gowin, Micah Knorr and Shaun Suisham.
- Isaac Holt is the Cowboys’ all-time leader in blocked punts with four, all occurring in a four-year span from 1989-92.
- Dennis Thurman and Dexter Coakley are tied for the most interception returns for touchdowns in team history with four each.
- Bob Hayes (1970) and Terrell Owens (2007) are the only two players in Cowboys history to record four touchdown catches in a game.
HANDS-ON APPROACH: Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware working with instinctive DE Kyle Wilber this spring
Anthony Spencer watched Kyle Wilber fill in for him at defensive end in the OTAs and mini-camp, and he said Wilber showed instinct for the position.
“He’s quick off the ball,” Spencer said of the second-year player, drafted in 2012 as an outside linebacker but moved to defensive end in the switch to the 4-3. “He’s just got to trust in himself to get off the ball and doing that every play. Just his get-off alone makes up for a lot of his type of size, playing in the trenches. That’s what he’s definitely working on right now.”
Wilber got a chance to get first-team snaps in the offseason practices while Spencer sat out with a knee injury. It gave the Cowboys an extended look at the 6-4, 252-pound Wilber. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli has said he believes Wilber can be a speed rusher.
Spencer, speaking at the mini-camp last week at Valley Ranch, said Wilber held his own against tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free in the practices. It reminded Spencer of his days as a young edge rusher going against former Cowboys tackle Flozell Adams.
“I got my butt whipped by Flo a lot when I was a rookie and my second year,” Spencer said. “It definitely helped me develop and get to where I am right now. I tell him all the time, it happens to everybody. So it’s good for you. It’s humbling, and it gets you on the right track, definitely.”
Spencer said he and DeMarcus Ware were literally hands-on in showing Wilber everything they could about the position, much as former defensive end Greg Ellis did for them.
“When Greg was here, he would always try to help us with our hand placement. Just talking it out, it helps us at the same time, to be able to explain what we’re doing to somebody else,” Spencer said. “And it helps us to realize what we’re doing. So it helps him, it helps me at the same time, especially with me being out right now. It’s kind of like living vicariously through him right now.”
Photo: Dallas Cowboys 2012 Draft pick – Defensive End Kyle Wilber
IRVING, Texas – Most players don’t look back at a season with 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles and call it the most difficult time of their professional career.
But that’s how DeMarcus Ware referred to his 2012 season, in which he dealt with more injuries than he could have possibly imagined. The first hit him early in the year, while the rest limited him later on.
“Training camp, I tore my hamstring, so I was dealing with that the whole season,” Ware said. “I fractured my right wrist, wore a cast on that. It’s fine now. I had an elbow harness on and the last three games I tore my labrum. I had an elbow and a shoulder harness on. I didn’t have that arm.”
Ware’s 11.5 sacks were his fewest since 2009, when he totaled 11. He’s finished each of his last seven seasons with double-digit sack totals, so even through all the injuries, he was bound to reach the quarterback better than most outside linebackers or defensive ends throughout the league.
He compiled four of his forced fumbles and nine of his sacks within the first eight games of the season. Most of his sacks occurred before a hyperextended elbow and a torn labrum in his shoulder rendered his entire right arm practically useless.
“I still had my feet, being able to run,” Ware said. “It was hard. But the thing is, it’s what you’re out there playing for. There was a passion of playing with your teammates and being part of the Dallas Cowboys organization.”
Ware still found a way after all the injuries to play in all 16 games. He’s suited up for every game of his professional career since getting drafted in 2005, and he doesn’t plan on missing any time now that the 2013 season is getting underway.
In his first season as an NFL defensive end, Ware’s easing into Organized Team Activities after undergoing surgery on his labrum after the season. He elected not to get surgery on his elbow.
“I actually feel pretty good,” he said. “I’m probably about 85 percent. I’ll be ready for the season. It’s a process, a process of healing and rehabbing and getting ready.”
The former linebacker said he’d never dealt with injuries that completely stopped him from doing what he knew he could do. He could go out and pass rush, but his body wouldn’t allow him to make the same moves he was accustomed to making throughout his career.
“That’s sort of discouraging,” Ware said. “But getting out there and still playing and fighting through it, I think that was the main thing.”
Just like Jason Witten, who somehow suited up to start the season after lacerating his spleen in the preseason, Ware was a veteran who wasn’t going to miss time.
Ware finished with just 2.5 sacks the second half of the year, but teams still had to account for No. 94 on the outside. That allowed players such as Anthony Spencer, who compiled eight of his 11 sacks the final half of the year, to thrive.
“Sometimes your presence out there is a lot more than what you think,” Ware said. “If you’re hurt, you still can get the double teams that can really free a lot of other guys up. You might not be as productive, but it’s going to transition. There’re 11 guys out there. The other 10 need to make plays while you’re out there still doing what you can do.”
The Cowboys expect Ware to come back and play the same way he had in the past at the start of this season, and he’s excited about how he fits in with the schemes of new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
“It’s very simple, but it’s a lot of technique work that goes into it, which Marinelli and Kiffin are teaching,” Ware said. “I think it’s going to be really great for us. I see the corners out there locking guys up and playing really well, and Sean Lee, he’s being that vocal mike ’backer for us. I think this transition is going to be really good for us.”
Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware sits down with Rowan Kavner to discuss what he called his toughest season as a professional athlete. (Duration 4:16)
THE DELICATE BALANCE: Veteran Anthony Hargrove adds defensive line depth, but youth must eventually take over
Currently, three of the four projected starting linemen are at least 30, and defensive end Anthony Spencer is 29.
Hargrove turns 30 in July.
The Dallas Cowboys didn’t address the defensive line in the draft but did so in free agency with the signing of Hargrove.
Jason Hatcher is in the final year of his contract, and he turns 31 in July.
Spencer, who doesn’t turn 30 until next January, is playing on the franchise tag and talks have slowed down regarding a new deal. Hatcher and Spencer could play elsewhere in 2014.
As for Jay Ratliff, the defensive tackle who will battle centers and guards this season, he will turn 32 in August. Do you remember the man Ratliff replaced? Jason Ferguson was 32 when he suffered an arm injury early in the 2007 season, opening the door for Ratliff to become the full-time starter. Health and age dooms NFL players all the time.
Ratliff is coming off an injury-filled 2012 season and it’s assumed this could be his last season with the Cowboys given his age and how his health betrayed him last season.
DeMarcus Ware isn’t going anywhere. Ware, however, turns 31 in July and is coming back from shoulder surgery and a dislocated elbow.
Age isn’t on the Cowboys’ side when it comes to the defensive line. While it’s good to have Hargrove provide depth as someone who can play end and tackle in the 4-3, the future is uncertain for this position.
Based on the offseason moves by the Cowboys, the defensive line is geared for the here and now, not for the future. The Cowboys had a chance to address the defensive line in the draft but expressed support for what they currently have.
That’s fine, but at some point youth must take over.
DeMarcus Ware is the latest NFL player to make the switch to an enhanced facemask.
The Dallas Cowboys defensive end on Wednesday gave fans on Facebook a look at his new helmet, which includes a facemask with eight horizontal bars. Ware’s previous helmet had four bars.
“Getting my armor ready for the season,” Ware wrote. “Will be suited up for battle!”
The facemask is similar to the one used by Justin Tuck. The New York Giants defensive end added the extra bars last year to make it harder for opponents to grab his facemask. Tuck suspected offensive linemen were yanking on his facemask in an attempt to aggravate a neck injury.
Ware likely seeks similar protection. The Cowboys star has dealt with recurring neck stingers going back to an injury caused by a helmet-to-helmet collision in December 2009.
So yes, the facemask gives off a subtle Bane vibe — which is obviously solid. But it also has practical value.
PHOTO: Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware unveils his eight-bar facemask he’ll wear in the 2013-2014 season
The Dallas Cowboys had a first-round grade on Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. He was probably the top player on the Cowboys’ draft board when they were supposed to pick at No. 18 in the first round. But they chose to trade back and Floyd went to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23.
So why have him on the board?
Well, because they liked Floyd as a player but some in the organization weren’t sold on how he’d fit into their new 4-3 scheme.
Judging solely off the body language of Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and assistant director of player personnel Tom Ciskowski, trading back and missing out on a player like Floyd wasn’t the unanimous decision.
Ciskowski doesn’t have final say on the players the Cowboys draft. He presents information to the team and it’s up to Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and the coaching staff to ultimately make the decision.
“I think in a lot of cases, it’s kind of like a bridge,” Ciskowski told the G-Bag Nation show on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “We bring the players to the bridge and the coaches have to take them across. The main thing is just to communicate exactly what the coach wants. There was a defensive tackle from Georgia, John Jenkins, who as a matter of fact, was drafted by New Orleans. If we were still in the 3-4, we would’ve liked him as a nose [tackle]. But now that we’ve transitioned back to a 4-3, he really doesn’t fit what we’re looking for. So a lot of it is about the new coach educating us on what he wants at each position and it’s our job to go out and find it.”
What also factors in to the Cowboys not drafting Floyd at No. 18 is that the franchise feels good about the defensive linemen on the current roster. As of right now, the Cowboys have DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer starting on the ends with Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher on the inside. The top two reserves at tackle will likely be Sean Lissemore and Tyrone Crawford.
“I like our group, I really do,” Ciskowski said. “Between Spencer and Ware and then we got the guys inside in Ratliff and Hatcher and two young players who have shown great flash in Lissemore and Crawford. Then we have some other guys that have done some good things but they’re somewhat untested. A lot of teams go into the season with five players they feel good about, maybe six. And I think we’re at that level, and we might find another one in the group.”
Kyle Wilber, a fourth-round draft pick last year, has been moved to defensive end and could see time behind Spencer and Ware.
Editors note: To listen to the show, click HERE.
The Dallas Cowboys have no cap room and aren’t signing anyone. Does it really matter? How desperate are the Dallas Cowboys, really?
Bryan Broaddus wrote about defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and the way he’ll fit into Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defensive alignment. Bryan’s excited because he thinks Ratliff is the kind of player who will flourish in the 4-3, and that he can play either of its defensive tackle positions well:
In this scheme, the defensive coaches want their guys to play with more speed and quickness, which is right down the alley for Ratliff. There is a reason that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett never wavered about Ratliff coming back for this 2013 [season] despite the legal problem he faces in the coming months. He was built to play in this scheme.
Jay Ratliff is part of a talented nucleus in Dallas that should contend for the NFC East title again this fall.
Think about it. Sure, Ratliff’s a knucklehead for blowing up at Jerry Jones in the locker room. Worse yet, he was arrested and charged with DUI a month and a half after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident for which teammate Josh Brent was charged. And sure, he had no more sacks last year than you or I did. But when healthy and on the field, Ratliff is still an excellent player, capable of disrupting an offense from an interior line position.
Ratliff isn’t exactly alone on the roster. On the defensive side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is an excellent player. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are very good. Linebacker Sean Lee is outstanding, and fellow linebacker Bruce Carter sure looked headed that way last season before his injury. Jason Hatcher was excellent last season, and so was Anthony Spencer, whether he’s worth his $10.6 million franchise tender or not.
On offense, the Cowboys have excellent players at quarterback, tight end and both starting wide receiver spots. They have a very good running back and left tackle. Can you find fault with any or all of these players? Sure. But on balance, I just gave you 14 starting positions at which the Cowboys are at least above average, and in several cases much better.
The point? Well, as Cowboys fans bemoan the lack of cap space and resultant lack of activity in this first week of free agency, it might be worth remembering that there are some really good players on this team, and that it might not be the kind of team that needed to have a big first week of free agency.
Now, of course they need work. They’ve been 8-8 each of the past two seasons. The offensive line is a wreck, that they have question marks at safety, and that depth is an issue in spots. They need to find another starting linebacker to go with Lee and Carter. And yes, of course Tony Romo’s reputation for playing small in big spots. All of that stuff is true. It’s too easy too often for Cowboys fans to get negative about the way they perceive their team. It’s all doom and gloom in Dallas.
Each of the past two seasons, they made it to the final game with a chance to win the division. By definition, that’s a contending team, and as close to being a playoff team as one can get. They must improve in spots, most notably the offensive line, or it’s going to be hard to believe they can make any big leap forward. You don’t have to agree with the perception that they’re in big trouble because they were hamstrung this week in free agency. In part, because of last years splash, there are a lot of very good players on the Cowboys’ roster. If properly supported by a good draft and some smart free-agent bargain hunting, this a competitive team in 2013, just as it was in 2011 and 2012.
That’s worth keeping in mind.
Editors comments: The Dallas Cowboys have one of the highest payrolls in the NFL. There is a reason for this. They are loaded with talent. The team needs health on their side and a few pieces to break away from the 8-8 mold. Addressing the offensive line will allow the Cowboys to have an offense few can match, week-to-week. This Kiffin experiment has validity also, again … a few pieces are needed to execute on this side of the ball. This offseason, if the Jones’ focus on the trenches and a safety, this team has a chance. This is not a roster of desperation, it’s a core of players on the brink. Dallas doesn’t need another millionaire free agent. What they need can be accomplished on a modest budget (with a little more salary restructuring) … trusting the talent evaluators on staff, and a youth infusion through the draft.
The Dallas Cowboys’ move back to the 4-3 defense is music to Leon Lett’s ears. He’s going to get a chance to teach what he knows.
“In a 3-4 you did more of a read-and-react. This is more of a react-on-the-run – rush the quarterback and then react to the run on the way to the quarterback,” he said last week as the Cowboys’ assistant coaches met with reporters. “Kind of the same thing I did as a football player, so I’m kind of used to it, and I’m looking forward to teaching it and coaching it.”
Lett collected 22.5 sacks and 229 tackles in a 10-year career with the Cowboys, twice making the Pro Bowl. He played at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds.
“I think we have players all across the board that have the instinct for that defense,” Lett said. “DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore – I think all our guys can adapt and play this 4-3 scheme. They’re fast, they’re quick, they’re big, they’re athletic, and that’s what you need.”
Lett was retained as assistant defensive line coach, and he’ll get a chance to work with respected NFL veteran Rod Marinelli, who is now in charge of the Cowboys’ defensive line.
“We just have to get them to adjust to a different technique,” Lett said. “In a 3-4 scheme, you were a little bit more two-gap, head-up. We’re going to get them to shade on the shoulder and penetrate and get up field. So I’ve been talking to Coach Marinelli about that, and we’re looking forward to retraining the guys in that scheme.”
Lett said it was the focus on penetrating into the backfield that made the position fun for him when he played.
“Some guys just love to play the 3-4, head up, but the 4-3 is more about a penetrating, we-get-to-eat-first type of deal. That’s what we’re calling it. We’re at the front of the food chain.”
No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.
The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.
Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:
Tony Romo – B
This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.
Kyle Orton – I
He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.
DeMarco Murray – C
A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.
Felix Jones – C
Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.
Lance Dunbar – B
Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.
Phillip Tanner – C
Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.
Lawrence Vickers – C
Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.
A lot has been made about the Cowboys’ switch from the 3-4 defense to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, and rightfully so. Although a great defense ultimately comes down to talented players executing a well-crafted scheme, it’s not as if elite players can simply line up at any position and succeed. If the chances of success at a particular position are optimized at a certain height, weight and speed, it follows that getting farther from those ideal traits will lower the probability of succeeding.
Kiffin’s defenses have typically emphasized speed over size at most positions, and that’s certainly a plus for a Cowboys defense that seems as if it hasn’t kept up with the NFL’s pass-happy evolution. Still, the truth is that the best defensive coordinators tailor their scheme around their personnel.
Kiffin’s version of the 4-3 in particular, known as a 4-3 Under, could potentially accommodate the Cowboys’ personnel better than most other 4-3 schemes. One reason is the presence of the 1-technique defensive tackle. A 1-technique tackle shades the offensive center, nearly playing heads-up over the top of him like a 3-4 nose tackle. The other defensive tackle, the 3-technique, is typically a smaller player that almost acts as a large defensive end in the interior.
There are certainly areas where the Cowboys might have holes to fill, of course. To figure out just how far away Dallas might be from Kiffin’s “dream” defense, we’ve researched the height and weight of each defensive player for Tampa Bay from 2003 to 2008. Kiffin was the defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers during that stretch, emphasizing specific traits at each position. Below are the averages of each player on the roster at every position.
1-DT: 6’3’’ 304 pounds
As mentioned, the 1-technique tackle is a strong presence in the inside, but he also has to be nimble enough to shoot up field.
Cowboys’ fit: Jay Ratliff (6’4’’ 303 pounds) matches Kiffin’s prototypical player at this position to a tee. The issue is whether or not the Cowboys can afford to continue to pay Ratliff the big bucks. Sean Lissemore (6’3’’ 303 pounds) also fits the bill.
3-DT: 6’2’’ 285 pounds
The 3-technique defensive tackle is much smaller than the 1-technique. Also note that, at an average of just 6’2’’, the 3-technique is shorter than the defensive ends.
Cowboys’ fit: This position in particular is difficult to project for the Cowboys. Jason Hatcher could potentially play any position along the defensive line, although at 6’6’’ 305 pounds, he’s much taller and heavier than the typically short, light tackles Kiffin has used in the past. Tyrone Crawford (6’4’’ 285 pounds) will probably play defensive end, but he also could have some versatility.
DE (Strong): 6’3’’ 279 pounds
Kiffin has typically used a very large, bulky player to man his strong-side defensive end position.
Cowboys’ fit: If there’s evidence that the Cowboys could let Anthony Spencer walk, this might be it. At 250 pounds, Spencer doesn’t come anywhere near matching the profile of Kiffin’s past ends. As mentioned above, Crawford checks in around this size, but his pass-rushing ability is a question.
DE (Weak): 6’3’’ 267 pounds
On the weak side, Kiffin’s defensive ends have been relatively close to the same size as the typical 3-4 outside linebacker.
Cowboys’ fit: DeMarcus Ware will play this position, although even he is listed at only 254 pounds. Ware shouldn’t have much of a problem adjusting, however. Alex Albright might need to transition to this position as well at 6’5’’ 260 pounds.
MLB: 6’1’’ 232 pounds
The “Mike” linebacker in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense has to have the ability to turn and run, so it’s no surprise that they’ve averaged only 232 pounds.
Cowboys’ fit: At 6’2’’, 245 pounds, Sean Lee is a bit oversized compared to the average 4-3 middle linebacker. He’ll often be asked to run downfield when tight ends run vertically, but Lee should be up for the challenge.
WLB: 6’1’’ 224 pounds
At only 224 pounds, the average “Will” linebacker in Kiffin’s defense must have the speed to run sideline-to-sideline.
Cowboys’ fit: Like Lee, Carter is “oversized” for the 4-3 at 240 pounds, but it really shouldn’t matter. As one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, Carter won’t have a problem transitioning to the 4-3. He could potentially play any of the three linebacker spots, giving the Cowboys plenty of flexibility heading into the draft.
SLB: 6’1’’ 235 pounds
As the biggest of Kiffin’s linebackers, the “Sam” is still smaller than all but one linebacker the Cowboys had on the roster in 2012, Ernie Sims.
Cowboys’ fit: Assuming Carter plays the “Will,” the Cowboys may have a hole to fill here (and vice versa if Kiffin uses Carter as the “Sam.” If Dan Connor (6’2’’ 242 pounds) ends up starting for Kiffin, he’ll almost assuredly play this position and Carter will play the weak side.
CB: 6’0’’ 193 pounds
Due to Kiffin’s emphasis on Cover 2, his cornerbacks don’t turn and run in man coverage as much as in other defenses. Playing near the line, they need to be able to press and play the run, meaning they’re typically tall, although perhaps not as heavy as many believe.
Cowboys’ fit: Although there are questions about how Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can transition to Kiffin’s scheme, I think they’ll be just fine. Carr has great size at 6’0’’ 210 pounds, and it isn’t as if they’ll be in Cover 2 every play. Even at 5’11’’ 185 pounds, Claiborne isn’t that far off from Kiffin’s prototypical cornerbacks over the years.
S: 6’0’’ 207 pounds
Since Kiffin generally plays with two-deep alignments and dares offenses to run, his safeties don’t need to be excessively big, but rangy.
Cowboys’ fit: The Cowboys could have an issue here since starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church are both at least 212 pounds and don’t necessarily excel in deep coverage. Kiffin has made it work with big safeties like John Lynch in the past, however, but the ’Boys still might need to look for a faster safety of the future in this upcoming draft.
We so often hear that teams need to find “their guys” that fit into their particular schemes, and that’s true; certain players are tailored to play in specific ways. However, the job of any coordinator is to mold their scheme to fit the skill sets of the current personnel. It’s certainly preferable to have a roster full of players built for a particular scheme, but creating that is a whole lot more challenging than slightly altering the scheme to fit the most talented players on the team.
When all is said and done, the success of Kiffin’s tenure in Dallas will be determined by how well he can manage this delicate balancing act, acquiring “his” guys while still being flexible with his scheme to accommodate what he already has.
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was named today to the Pro Bowl roster, replacing Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, who will not participate because of an injury. It marks the first Pro Bowl appearance for Spencer, whose presence will give the team three Pro Bowl honorees this season.
Spencer’s selection also will up the financial ante as he heads toward free agency following a season when he led the team in tackles (95) and set a career high in sacks (11). The Cowboys must decide if they will put the franchise tag on Spencer for a second consecutive season, sign him to a long-term extension or let him go in free agency.
Spencer is joined on the NFC roster by tight end Jason Witten and outsider linebacker DeMarcus Ware, although Ware will not play in the Jan. 27 contest in Hawaii because of post-season surgery.