What are the expectations for the Cowboys this season? To get back to a winning season? To make the playoffs? Win the division? Just improve on last year’s 6-10 record?
Whatever they are, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett doesn’t think much of anybody’s expectations for his team.
“We don’t think a whole lot about the expectations from outside,” he said after Wednesday morning’s walk-through. “We have a lot of expectations that we have of ourselves. Really, that’s what we do. We go through what the expectations are, how we are going to do things on a daily basis. This is what we expect, this is how the Dallas Cowboys do it.”
No matter what expectations the Cowboys decide on for themselves, Garrett said he’ll hold them to it.
“It’s important for us to lead the way be the right example in those areas and then hold the players accountable to those expectations,” Garrett said. “Anything coming from the outside, we feel is unproductive. We just feel like you need to be great every day, this is how we’re going to do things, and if we do things this way that gives us the best chance to be successful.”
— Carlos Mendez
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett spoke with media members on Wednesday. Garrett commented on cornerback Terence Newman, inside linebacker Sean Lee and reserve wide receiver Kevin Ogletree.
Here are the topics and his responses.
On whether Terence Newman is still on target for returning from his injury:
“We believe he’s on target. The rehab for all of the guys has been really good and Terence is no different. We’ve been thinking about that…towards the end of the preseason and into that first week. It’s hard to get too far ahead of yourself, but the general target he’s definitely on pace for.”
On whether he classifies Sean Lee as a starter:
“Again, we don’t really use those words, starters. Sean’s certainly been working with the first unit a lot before Brook (Keith Brooking) got hurt and certainly since Brook has been out. We feel like we have three really good inside linebackers who can rotate through and we have a couple of other guys really developing behind them. Each of those guys will have a role, we believe, going forward. It’s good to have Brooking back. It’s good to see the development of Sean in Brooking’s absence.”
On how he manages the high expectations the team usually has going into the season:
“We don’t think a whole lot about the expectations from outside. We have a lot of expectations that we have of our self. Really, that’s what we do. We go through what the expectations are, how we are going to do things on a daily basis, this is what we expect, this is how the Dallas Cowboys do it. And we as coaches, it’s important for us to lead the way be the right example in those areas and then hold the players accountable to those expectations. Anything coming from the outside we feel is unproductive. We just feel like you need to be great every day, this is how we’re going to do things and if we do things this way that gives us the best chance to be successful.”
On Kevin Ogletree being a natural route runner:
“I think guys who have instincts for getting away from people and getting open. I think that’s the first thing when you talk about receivers. Can you get away from someone? Man-to-man coverage in the National Football League, can you beat the guy? Now how do you do it? You do it with quickness, you do it with speed, you do it with route running ability. I know how to take an extra step, I know what angle I need to have, I know what angle I need to have coming into a break, out of a break, I know how to hold the defender off, all of those things. I think those things all fall into the instincts. He has a good feel for playing the game. You can go throughout every position on your football team and there are some guys who are big and fast and quick but if they don’t have instincts to play they probably aren’t as successful as they could be. The best players I’ve been around at every position are instinctive players. If you’re instinctive and you have the physical traits necessary you have a chance to get open and be successful. I think Kevin has all of those things.”
On transitioning from college to the pro game as a receiver:
“I think the receiver position is a difficult position to transition from college to the NFL. I think the biggest reason for that is there aren’t many guys who can cover in the world and there aren’t many guys who can cover from press technique in the world. It’s a long way of saying that receivers don’t see the same kind of coverage in college that they see in the NFL where these big
strong, fast, long-armed corners are up in their face pressing them at the line of scrimmage. That’s one of the biggest reasons why it’s hard for those guys to transition. If they’re athletic enough and have feel enough they can develop those abilities to get away at the line of scrimmage and then over the course or the route. So it’s a hard position to transition in to. I do think Kevin has the physical traits. I think he showed us that right from the start. He runs well, he’s certainly big enough, he has quickness enough in and out of breaks to get away from people, and you add that instinct thing, it helps. We saw that early on. He continues to develop as a player. I think he’s doing a good job taking advantage of the opportunity we’ve given him.”
On whether Jon Kitna playing a lot last season will carry over and he won’t need as much time to get ready:
“I think the game experience within the offense was really valuable to him. A lot of times veteran quarterbacks go to a new place and everyone says ‘oh he’s a veteran, he knows how to play, he’s experienced’. There are a lot of little things within every system for a quarterback that you really need to have experience with so that it comes second nature to you. To your question, that I
think is a good one, I think Jon had a chance in game situations to get that comfort level with how we do things here. Not only a blackboard understanding, or a practice understanding, but a game understanding where I can react really without thinking about it. Having said all of that, we didn’t have an offseason and now we come back to training camp you really need to re-develop those things. I think he starts at a further point down the road, but he’s gotten a lot of work in practice, got a lot of work last week against the Chargers in practice and we’ve been trying to get him some work in the games around the work that Tony (Romo) and Stephen (McGee) are getting.”
On former players serving as coaches to the current players:
“They’ve been excellent, they really have. I think the first thing with those guys is they have an immense amount of credibility with our players. They were very good players throughout their long careers and I think that when they speak they give a different perspective from our coaches but at the same time they’re reinforcing what our coaches are teaching. Any time you can reach a player in a different way that’s a real positive thing. I think our coaches do a great job communicating in a very clear and simple manner of what we want, but when you get that support with those guys who have credibility with the players, that can be meaningful and I think it’s had an impact on some guys on our team.”
On what his plan will be to utilize Larry Allen as a coach or mentor for the season:
“It’s not etched in stone, but he’s certainly welcome to be here for the same reasons. Larry Allen has immense credibility in this game with coaches and with players. He’s put his hand on the ground and come off the ball as an offensive lineman for a lot of years. He’s seen a lot of things he has a very simple understanding of the game, and was able to, like a lot of great players, process information and be able to function after the ball snaps. He too is very supportive of what Hud (Coach Hudson Houck) and Wes Phillips have been teaching our offensive linemen. Another resource and the guys have been very receptive to him.”
On creating competition throughout each position on the team during the preseason:
“What you’re trying to do is just really move forward and create it however you can create it. Obviously you want to draft really well year after year that creates the most competition for your team really throughout your roster. When you have some holes in a particular draft you have to address those holes in different ways whether it’s with the next year’s draft or through young free
agents that you bring in. Really what it does is provide opportunity for other people. We feel like the competition is really pretty good throughout our roster right now for a lot of different spots; guys trying to make the club and then guys fighting for roles and starting positions. You keep moving forward, you try to address those things as you go and keep really promoting competition
throughout your club and I think we’re trying to do that.”
On Miles Austin’s injury status:
“He came back and really was practicing fairly well and I think his hamstring just tightened up on him towards the end of practice, so we’re just going to monitor him here in the next couple of days.”
On whether Austin will play against Minnesota on Saturday:
“Day-to-day. See how he does today, see how he does tomorrow and by the end of the week make a decision on what his status will be for the ball game.”
On whether he feels good about Austin being ready for the season:
“I feel great about him. He’s had an outstanding camp. Really one of the things that we have to guard against with a lot of guys on our team is we practice hard, we practice at a fast tempo and he’s one of the guys that really sets the pace for everything so we have to constantly watch him and be careful of him getting too much stuff done in practice. He’s been off to a great start so were going to watch him day-to-day and see how he is and get him ready to play when he’s ready.”
On Kenwin Cummings’ injury status:
“He had a thumb issue. His thumb swelled up on him so he actually had to get it addressed yesterday in the afternoon. It seems like it’s going to be OK. We’re hopeful that he’s going to be back here in the next couple of days and be ready to play.”
On whether he thinks they are running out of time to get Montrae Holland ready and back on the offensive line:
“We’re hopeful that he continues to progress. His rehab has come along really well working on the side. We’re hopeful by early next week maybe we can get him out there practicing some football and just seeing him move around in more of a normal football environment than he’s been in. It seems like he’s getting better and feeling better so we’re hopeful that can happen.”
On whether he thinks Montrae Holland has value even if he doesn’t start:
“Absolutely. That’s the way we’ve felt about him in the past. He’s been able to come in and spot-start for us when something’s happened with those interior guys the last couple of years. He’s got a lot of starts in the league, he just needs to get himself healthy and ready to play football.”
On what he has seen from Bill Nagy so far:
“He’s done a very nice job. You guys have heard me say this a lot throughout training camp when we talk about these rookies, but it’s very impressive to me to play the position he plays, to have played some center early in camp, now playing guard not having OTAs and minicamps, and to be able to make the transition that he’s made. It’s a tribute to him. His smarts as a football player, his instincts as a player, how well he’s been coached at Wisconsin and he’s done a really nice job. He has so many areas to get better in, don’t get me wrong, but he’s really taken advantage of this opportunity and done a nice job with it.”
On whether he thinks Bill Nagy’s lack of experience counts against him:
“You would rather have a more experienced guy at every position, but there are some positions where that is not the case. Like I said, he’s done a really nice job transitioning and he’s not playing like a rookie. He’s handled some different looks in practice and different looks in the game. If you remember the first play of the game the other night the ‘mike’ linebacker comes screaming through the A-gap and potentially could knock Felix (Jones) down for a five yard loss. Sometimes it happens by luck, but it seems like the smarter, more instinctive guys get luckier. He’s a guy who saw that ‘mike’ and knocked him off and then we made a nice run to start the football game. He’s one of those kind of guys who’s shown us a lot of that. He certainly has a long way to go, but he’s certainly off to a good start.”
On playing on turf and not grass for so long:
“The turf these days, it’s so good when you practice on this stuff. Very different from the old time astro-turf that we grew up on. They’ve done a great job with this technology. I don’t think it bothers our guys too much. It feels like grass, but obviously any time you’re on grass it’s a preferable surface on a day-to-day basis, but I think our guys handle this really well. It hasn’t been a problem for us at all.”
On the versatility of Sean Lissemore:
“That’s exactly right. He’s a very versatile player. What’s most impressive to us as a staff is how versatile he’s shown on a daily basis. He’s playing nose, he’s playing defensive end, we put him in on third down; he’s playing some spots there as well. Again, one of those guys who’s very passionate about what he’s doing. He works very hard every day. He’s a smart player and showing he’s an instinctive football player adds some versatility. We’ll continue to use him in that capacity and he is very valuable on the defensive line.”
On whether David Buehler has been cleared to kick:
“He’s a day-to-day guy as well. We’re hopeful that by the end of the week he can start loosening up a little bit and kicking the ball.”
On Bradie James saying that he felt the sense of entitlement hurt the team in the past and whether he thinks that is an issue:
“I don’t want to get too much into that comment other than to say I think it’s important that everyone understand that you have to earn in this league. You have to earn your opportunity to make a football team, to have a role on a football team, and to start on a football team. As a group you have to earn the wins each and every week. It’s hard, the NFL is hard; it’s difficult; that’s what makes it great and our players understand that. You have to earn it during training camp and you have to earn it on Sunday afternoons. That’s what we’re trying to do now regardless of what’s happened in the past.”
On whether he feels they were humbled as a coaching staff after last season the same way that some of the players have mentioned being humbled:
“We didn’t have a good year at all. I think any time in life when you have some things that don’t go the way you want them to go, I think the natural reaction is to get yourself refocused and going again. If you’re the right kind of guy, and we believe we have the right kind of guys on our coaching staff and on our football team to have the right mindset. Ideally, regardless of what the
result has been, you need to be focused and have the right mindset particularly in a league as challenging as this one. We talk to our players all of the time, every time you break the huddle and put your hand on the ground you’re going to be challenged in this league. Whether you knocked a guy on his back the previous play or you got knocked in your back the previous play there’s another one coming you need to be ready for. That’s the way we feel as an organization – play by play, series by series, game by game, and then certainly from season to season.”
Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe suffered a setback with his hamstring injury and was back on the sideline a day after returning to the practice field. Coach Leslie Frazier said the team is erring on the side of caution by deciding not to play the veteran in Saturday night’s third preseason game against the Cowboys.
“It’s nothing major,” Frazier said of the setback. “Just enough that we don’t want to chance him not being there for the first [regular season] game.”
Shiancoe first injured the hamstring during the first week of practice in Mankato. His first day back to practice was Tuesday, when the Vikings practiced for 2 1/2 hours in full pads.
Meanwhile, backup middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley missed practice because of a hip flexor that has bothered him since the end of last season.
On the flip side, Frazier said right guard Anthony Herrera will start on Saturday in what will be his first game since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last November. Frazier said the team hopes to get at least one quarter out of Herrera on Saturday.
Herrera has been practicing with the first team since last week, but was held out of last Saturday’s preseason game. With Scott Kooistra (neck) landing on injured reserve, Chris DeGeare fading and Ryan Cook probably better suited to be a backup at multiple positions, Herrera is the favorite to recapture his starting position, assuming he stays healthy.
Other highlights include:
- The team will wait until Thursday to determine whether Christian Ponder or Joe Webb will be the No. 2 quarterback on Saturday night. The two split time with the No. 2 offense today.
- Frazier was asked what he thought of the Ravens signing former Vikings’ tackle Bryant McKinnie. Said Frazier: “Good for him. Should be good for the Ravens. I wish him nothing but the best.” Frazier released the overweight McKinnie on the second day of training camp.
- RB Toby Gerhart missed practice again. Frazier said an MRI revealed no damage to Gerhart’s Achilles’ tendon or ankle. Gerhart is just experiencing soreness and will not play on Saturday.
- Quarterback Donovan McNabb said he feels the timing and chemistry between himself and his receivers is “very close” to being where he wants it.
- Special teams coach Mike Priefer said the team will talk more about the punt return rotation on Saturday, but added that he would like to see Marcus Sherels go first.
- Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson continued to split time with the first team at strong safety.
- Adrian Peterson fumbled an exchange with Ponder. Off the top of my head, it was the first time I remember seeing AD fumble this summer. And it might not have been entirely his fault.
- Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave worked practice from the sideline, using a headset to communicate with the quarterbacks.
- Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph had several nice catches. He’s just so fluid and his hands are so soft. The longer Shiancoe is sidelined, the more Rudolph gains on him. But there is room for two pass-catching tight ends in this offense.
- Husain Abdullah had a nice read and interception.
- Percy Harvin made another outstanding catch, diving to grab a pass from Ponder.
- Rookie DT Christian Ballard was on the first-team goal-line defense. Letroy Guion, Kevin Williams’ replacement, made a nice stop on the goal line. He was in on three of the four stops in Saturday night’s goal-line stand. CB Chris Cook played in the nickel and had a nice pass defense while covering Michael Jenkins.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The Indianapolis Colts are bringing one veteran quarterback out of retirement.
No, not Brett Favre.
The Colts agreed to terms Wednesday with Kerry Collins, making him the likely starter in case Peyton Manning hasn’t completely recovered from offseason neck surgery when the season opens Sept. 11.
Collins said he has been given no indication that Manning won’t play at Houston.
“Hopefully, Peyton will be back, but if he’s not maybe I can be one of the guys that can help this ball club,” Collins said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday night. “The biggest draw for me coming here was just being with a team that I have a lot of respect for and a lot of history with, and really to be with a great team and play with one of greatest quarterbacks of all time.”
Collins agreed to a one-year contract and acknowledged he could be talked into staying longer than 2011.
Not everyone in the Colts locker room is enamored with the move.
“We don’t even know him, we ain’t vanilla, man, we ain’t no simple offense,” receiver Reggie Wayne said. “So for him to come in here and be the starter, I don’t see it. I think that’s a step back.”
Colts coach Jim Caldwell wasn’t available to talk with reporters about Collins, a player he coached at Penn State, because the official announcement didn’t come until after practice. Caldwell spoke with reporters before practice. But he struck a calm tone in a statement released by the team.
“He is a veteran quarterback who has started many games and he brings dimension and depth to the quarterback position, which will be helpful,” Caldwell said. “He is familiar with our division and will make a great addition to our roster.”
The move is another indication that Manning’s streak of 227 consecutive starts, including playoff games, is in serious jeopardy for the first time since 2008.
Manning had surgery May 23 to repair a nerve in his neck, and the recovery has gone slower than expected partially, Manning said, because he couldn’t work out with team trainers during the 4 1/2-month lockout.
On Saturday morning, Colts owner Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter that the Colts should be prepared to play without Manning in the opener against the division-rival Texans. Later that day, Manning acknowledged he did not expect to play in the final two preseason games and that he would need the next two weeks just to get healthy.
Collins said the first call from Indy came Saturday, too.
Caldwell hasn’t said when he expects Manning to return to the field after signing a five-year, $90 million contract to stay in Indy last month.
“I think he laid out pretty well where he is, and that he is working extremely hard to try and get back as quickly as he possibly can,” Caldwell said Monday. “He’s going to work hard at trying to get back and get ready, and he’s doing everything he can to do so.”
And if he’s not ready? Well, there’s Collins, who has played in 195 career games with Tennessee, New Orleans, the New York Giants, Oakland and Carolina before retiring in July.
Collins has a career 55.8 completion percentage and has thrown for 40,441 yards, 206 touchdowns and 195 interceptions. As the starter, Collins has led his team to the playoffs four times, including a Super Bowl appearance with the Giants in the 2000 season.
Wayne, a five-time Pro Bowl player and one of Manning’s favorite targets, has supported backup Curtis Painter. And while he called Collins “a great guy,” he said he was worried about the Colts getting better.
“Who says Kerry’s going to be the starter?” Wayne said. “Just because we bring him in doesn’t mean he’s the starter. He’s got to learn too, right? Unless they gave him a playbook months ago, he’s got to learn to.
“I don’t care who you are, I mean I’m not going to let anyone just come in here and just push someone (like Painter) aside like you’re that dog now, you know what I mean?” Wayne added.
Painter has started both preseason games this year, completing 8-of-16 passes for 95 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. In Friday night’s 16-3 loss to Washington, Painter managed only one first down and couldn’t get the offense past its 29 despite playing the entire first half.
He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2009. Another backup, Dan Orlovsky, has played in 13 games in six NFL seasons, and the other quarterback on the roster is undrafted rookie Mike Hartline.
For his part, Painter doesn’t expect it to take Collins long to get up to speed.
“He’s a veteran guy, been around a while, I’m sure the terminology across the league isn’t too different,” Painter said. “I expect he’ll come in and pick it up quite well.”
Collins didn’t waste any time getting started, either.
“It’s going to be like learning a foreign language,” he said. “The concepts will be the same, but the terms will be completely different and that’s why I need to bust my tail and get in the classroom so I can get out there and operate the offense sooner rather than later, hopefully.”
The good news is that Collins already has some familiarity with the Colts’ brain trust.
Indy vice chairman Bill Polian took Collins in the first round of the 1995 draft, No. 5 overall, when he was in charge of the Carolina Panthers. And Caldwell was Penn State’s passing game coordinator from 1988-92, during part of Collins’ college career.
The other big question is whether Collins has rediscovered his passion for the game since announcing his retirement July 7. He said then he was unsure he was committed to properly preparing for game day.
Two weeks later, Collins said he had even considered retiring at the end of last season.
But the chance to win a Super Bowl ring, something he doesn’t have, was enough to end the retirement after seven weeks.
“I know we’re going to have a heck of a football team here, and it would be great to be on a team that ultimately wins the whole thing,” Collins said. “But I know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.”
Irsay had tweeted to ask for suggestions about signing a veteran free agent and on Sunday said he was in Hattiesburg, Miss., stirring speculation that he might be trying to lure Favre out of retirement (again). Instead, it was Collins.
ARLINGTON– Orlando Scandrick has mentioned sevreral times during this training camp that everyone knows this is the final year of his contract.
Not any more.
The Cowboys made it clear that they consider Scandrick part of their future when they agreed to a 5-year, $26 million extension with the cornerback. The contract includes a guarantee of slightly more than $10 million.
Scandrick is in the final year of a rookie contract that pays him a base salary of $555,000.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been effusive in his praise for Scandrick during this camp. He calls the former fifth round pick a special player and one of the smartest guys on the team.
Scandrick is invaluable as the Cowboys nickel cornerback. But he has seen his role expand in this camp as starters Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins have been sidelined with injuries. He has started at cornerback in both pre-season games and then moved inside on the nickel as needed.
The added responsibilities haven’t been a burden. Scandrick has consistently been one of the better players in this camp.
He was rewarded tonight a few hours before the players took the field at Cowboys Stadium for the Silver and Blue debut.
Receiver Miles Austin’s return to practice was a brief one after reaggravating his strained hamstring in Tuesday’s practice.
He was kept out of the walk-through Wednesday morning and now listed as day to day, putting his availability for Saturday’s game against the Vikings in doubt.
Austin was held out of last Sunday’s game against the Chargers.
“He came back and was practicing fairly well,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think his hamstring tightened up on him a little bit. We are going to monitor him the next couple of days.”
Linebacker Kenwin Cummings was held out of the walk-through with at thumb injury.
— Clarence E. Hill Jr.
Prominent owner Jerry Jones had seen enough of head coach Wade Phillips and reluctantly let him go at midyear in favor of up-and-coming mastermind Jason Garrett. The promoted offensive coordinator led the Cowboys to a 5-3 mark the rest of the way, leaving many to wonder whether the players had given up on the previous regime.
Either way, Garrett brought the Cowboys back to respectability and now gets an entire offseason to prepare for his first full stint in charge.
Former Dallas head coach Chan Gailey, who now holds the same position in Buffalo, knew Garrett had the tools to become successful when the latter was serving as a backup quarterback to Troy Aikman as a player.
“I wasn’t sure if he was going to be smart and not coach, or go ahead and coach,” Gailey said of Garrett. “But I knew if he wanted to, he could. He decided to go this way and I knew he would be very successful. Just the way he prepared, his knowledge of the game, the way he communicates, his leadership when he got his opportunities…all of that was great.”
Garrett’s winning record was lost in Dallas’ 6-10 finish a year ago, much like that of the players’ focus when Phillips was running what seemed to be a resort. The defense was especially lax, finishing 23rd overall in yards allowed and 31st in scoring in a season where the group received more criticism than President Obama.
Dallas needed a change in that department and tabbed Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Ryan, of course, is the twin brother of New York Jets outspoken head coach Rex Ryan, as well as the son of former NFL head man Buddy Ryan.
Also never short on words, Rob Ryan got his own trash-talking started early on when he tabbed fellow NFC East member Philadelphia as the “all-hype team” following the Eagles’ spending spree during the free agent period. He went on to state he won’t be eating those words when his stop unit faces Philly twice in the upcoming season.
“I don’t know if we win the all-hype team,” Ryan said. “That might have gone to someone else, but we’re going to beat their [backside] when we play them.”
One Dallas defender who clearly has his new coordinator’s backing is All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who could be more important than Romo to the team’s success and has been a terror on opposing offenses ever since the Cowboys drafted him out of Troy in 2005.
Ware had 16 sacks in 2010 and has registered 11 or more in five straight seasons, while having appeared in all 16 games in each of his first six years in the league. Like Ryan, he’s confident the Cowboys can quickly turn around last season’s results.
“We weren’t a 6-10 team last year, but that’s what the record said,” Ware quipped. “I know we can really improve from that 6-10, especially with the new improvements we have on defense. We think the offense is going to keep rolling. I think there’s not going to be another 6-10 season.”
Ware credited Ryan’s new philosophy and the way the players have adapted to the changes as reasons for his optimism. And if the defense can indeed turn things around while an offense that will have a few new faces behind the line of scrimmage gets back in gear under Romo, Dallas should have reason to feel good about its prospects.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Dallas Cowboys, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2010 RECORD: 6-10 (tied 3rd, NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2009, lost to Minnesota in NFC Divisional Playoff
COACH (RECORD): Jason Garrett (5-3 in one season)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Garrett
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Rob Ryan (first season with Cowboys)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Tony Romo, QB (1605 passing yards, 11 TD, 7 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DeMarcus Ware, OLB (66 tackles, 15.5 sacks)
2010 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 7th overall (16th rushing, 6th passing), tied 7th scoring (24.6 ppg)
2010 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 23rd overall (12th rushing, 26th passing), 31st scoring (27.3 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: OT Tyron Smith (1st Round, USC), DE Kenyon Coleman (from Browns), S Abram Elam (from Browns), RB DeMarco Murray (3rd Round, Oklahoma), WR Dwayne Harris (6th Round, East Carolina)
KEY DEPARTURES: WR Roy Williams (to Bears), OG Leonard Davis (released), OT Marc Colombo (to Dolphins), RB Marion Barber (to Bears), WR Sam Hurd (to Bears), OT Alex Barron (to Saints), DE Stephen Bowen (to Redskins), ILB Leon Williams (not tendered)
QB: Romo (1605 passing yards, 11 TD, 7 INT in 2010) wasn’t able to build off a successful 2009 campaign in which he led the Cowboys to the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs. He threw for more than 4,400 yards with 26 touchdown passes and nine interceptions that season, but expectations for a grand encore in 2010 were trounced even before Romo went down with a broken clavicle. The three-time Pro Bowl selection has the advantage of playing for a former NFL quarterback in Garrett, and said he’s “ready to roll” now that he’s back healthy. The Cowboys will go as far as the right arm of Romo will take them, and his rapid release and quick decision making are among the best at his position. He will have to run a complex system under Garrett, but should have the experience and the tools around him to succeed. Jon Kitna was handed the reins when Romo went down and passed for 2,365 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The veteran is a reliable backup and proved that a year ago by leading Dallas’ strong surge in the second half. Third-year pro Stephen McGee saw action in two games in 2010 and is again expected to serve as the third option.
RB: Now that the Cowboys have cut ties with hard-charging running back Marion Barber, now with the Bears, the tandem of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice will take center stage in the backfield. Jones (800 rushing yards, 1 TD) will most likely get the majority of the carries and is also a major threat out as a receiver out of the backfield. The 2008 first-round draft choice still must prove he’s durable enough for an increased load to make sure the release of Barber, whose aggressiveness and passion for the game will be missed, will not come back to haunt the team. Choice (243 rushing yards, 3 TD) is also entering his fourth season but hasn’t had as much success as Jones, though he’s gotten better over the years and should make a fine replacement for Barber, who never cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark in any of his six seasons in Big D and had been demoted to short-yardage work upon Garrett’s takeover. Chris Gronkowski is slated to get the starting nod at fullback in his second year and appeared in 14 games a season ago.
WR/TE: The Cowboys do not have Roy Williams anymore, as he was released and also caught on with Chicago. That departure opens the door for a greater role for second-year wideout Dez Bryant (45 receptions, 6 TD), who was limited to 12 games last season because of a broken ankle but appears ready to break out into stardom in 2011. A speedy and physical wideout, Bryant can stretch defenses and pull defenders away from No. 1 receiver Miles Austin (1041 yards, 7 TD), Dallas’ 2009 breakout star who recorded a career-best 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns on 81 catches that season. The undrafted Monmouth University product was second on the Cowboys with 69 catches in 2010 and finished the year with seven touchdown receptions. The Cowboys need all the weapons they can get playing in the competitive NFC East, and the presence of tight end Jason Witten gives them yet another one. Witten (94 receptions, 1002 yards) led the Cowboys with nine touchdown catches last season and recorded over 1,000 receiving yards for the third time in the last four years. Backup tight end Martellus Bennett played in 16 games and caught 33 passes a season ago, though his contributions as a receiver are limited with Witten aboard. Felix Jones is also a pass- catching threat out of the backfield and had 450 yards on 48 grabs in 2010.
OL: Two major pieces to Dallas’ 2010 offensive line are gone, as right tackle Marc Colombo and right guard Leonard Davis were released in the offseason, and the team also decided not to retain reserve tackle Alex Barron. The unit will still have some familiar faces across the board for the upcoming campaign, as center Andre Gurode is back and recovered from offseason knee surgery and the Cowboys re-signed both left tackle Doug Free and left guard Kyle Kosier. Free, a fourth-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2007, was considered Dallas’ top priority in free agency after becoming a solid full-time starter last year, while the reliable Kosier will be entering his 10th NFL season and sixth with the Cowboys. Top 2011 draft pick Tyron Smith will most likely start at right tackle in his rookie campaign after the former USC star was taken by Dallas with the ninth overall selection, while fellow draftees David Arkin (4th Round, Missouri State) and Bill Nagy (7th Round, Wisconsin) have been getting looks at guard during the preseason. The Cowboys finished sixth in passing yards last season and the line gave up 31 sacks, a number that could be cut down simply because Romo’s a more mobile option than Kitna.
DL: Dallas hopes Ryan’s bag of defensive tricks can improve a disappointing stop unit from a year ago. Primarily a 3-4 scheme, the new coordinator will also implement many new looks along the front line like he did while serving in that same role for the Cleveland Browns the past two seasons. Ryan says players make his scheme, and he’s got a good one at nose tackle in Jay Ratliff (31 tackles, 4 sacks), a three-time Pro Bowl honoree whose tenacity and tremendous athleticism gives opposing offensive lines trouble. He will be sandwiched by run-stopping ends Marcus Spears (19 tackles) and Igor Olshansky (38 tackles), with Kenyon Coleman (68 tackles, 2.5 sacks) coming over from the Browns to be part of the rotation. Spears agreed to terms on a five-year deal in the offseason and missed half of 2010 with a torn calf muscle.
LB: Ware (66 tackles, 16 sacks) is an All-Pro linebacker enjoying a Hall of Fame career. He’s always the top priority to account for when opposing offenses scheme for Dallas, but more often than not cracks the code and comes up with game-changing plays. One of the top sack masters in the game over the past few seasons, Ware hopes to continue to thrive under Ryan, who will most likely have a few designs for his best pass rusher when the regular season commences. Anthony Spencer (63 tackles, 5 sacks) had a bit of a down year playing opposite of Ware on the strong side, and the former first-round pick may have a lot to prove to the new defensive staff, as he’s been pushed for time by Victor Butler and (18 tackles, 2 sacks) and Brandon Williams in camp. Keith Brooking (97 tackles) is in the same boat as Spencer, as the veteran inside linebacker needs to have a more productive season to fight off second-year pro Sean Lee (32 tackles, 2 INT), who will again start out the year handling nickel duties. Brooking turns 36 in October and was battling a hamstring injury in preseason. Bradie James (118 tackles) led the Cowboys in tackles from the other inside post last season, while rookie Bruce Carter — a second-round pick out of North Carolina — could see extended time once he fully recovers from an ACL tear suffered last December.
DB: Cornerback Terence Newman (79 tackles, 5 INT) and free safety Gerald Sensabaugh (71 tackles, 5 INT) will anchor a Cowboys secondary that was burned by opposing offenses a year ago, as the team ended 26th in pass defense. Dallas made a run at coveted free agent Nnamdi Asomugha over the summer, which led to rumors that Newman would be cut, but the 33-year-old will be back at left cornerback after the Cowboys ultimately lost out in the chase. Newman may miss the start of the season due to a groin injury, however, with Orlando Scandrick (46 tackles, 3 sacks) penciled in as the replacement until he returns, while right corner Mike Jenkins (55 tackles) will be aiming for a rebound after the promising youngster produced only one interception during a disappointing 2010 campaign. New strong safety Abram Elam agreed to terms with Dallas just prior to camp after spending the past two years in Cleveland playing under Ryan. He had 79 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks with the Browns in 2010. Defensive backs coach Dave Campo received some more added depth to his group with the Cowboys’ selection of University of Buffalo cornerback Josh Thomas in the fifth round of April’s draft.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker David Buehler returns for his third season and connected on 75 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2010, going 24-for-32. He blasted 4-of-6 from 50-plus yards and made 42-of-44 PAT tries in an inconsistent year, which prompted the Cowboys to bring in undrafted rookie Dan Bailey to provide preseason competition. Punter Mat McBriar’s job is safe after he averaged 47.9 yards per kick and landed 22 balls inside the 20-yard line last year. The Australian also serves as the holder on field goals and extra-point tries. Bryan McCann and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah handled kickoff return duties last season, with McCann averaging 22.0 yards per return and Owusu-Ansah 21.7. Bryant averaged a team-best 24.4 yards per runback in that department, as well as an outstanding 14.3 yards per punt return while scoring two touchdowns, but likely won’t be used as much on special teams after suffering his ankle injury taking back a kick. McCann handled punts in Bryant’s absence and averaged an excellent 20.6 yards on eight returns, along with a 97-yard touchdown. L.P. Ladouceur is back at long snapper and has been with the Cowboys since the 2005 campaign.
PROGNOSIS: Jerry Jones’ Super Bowl dream of last season actually turned into a nightmare twofold when first his team did not reach the NFL’s showcase event, then inspectors found numerous safety problems at Cowboys Stadium and about 400 people were denied a seat despite incurring great expenditures on tickets and travel for the game. Just like obstructed viewing was an issue with the team’s state-of-the-art facility, visions of the Cowboys ending their championship drought were hindered after a 1-7 start. Dallas no longer has a bulls-eye on its back after last year’s debacle, but there will still be big expectations for the Cowboys with Romo ready to return from a broken collarbone. Romo has to feel a bit cautious with a new-look offensive line, but still looks to be set up for success with Austin, Witten and Bryant still catching his passes. The defense will also have a new attitude with Ryan taking over, and the Cowboys hope the change leads to more positive results as well. Though Ryan has some big words to back up, only injuries and a lack of focus may be able to prevent Dallas’ from returning to the postseason after a one-year hiatus if the defense shows great improvement.
By Shawn Clarke, Sports Network
Tri-City Herald (Washington State)
Veteran Keith Brooking is back on the practice field after being sideline since the first week of camp with a strained hamstring.
But there remains a question of whether he will be back in his regular role as a starter next Bradie James.
Second year man Sean Lee has played well in his absence and bidding for a larger role.
All coach Jason Garrett has confirmed is that the 14-year veteran Brooking will remain on the roster, smaller role or not
Brooking has served as a mentor to Lee and says not worried about it. He’s just glad to be back playing football again.
“I think it’ll all work itself out,” Brooking said. “I think we have three really good inside linebackers that can play this game. I’m not worrying myself about that at all or thinking about that. You come out here every day and get the most out of each day, work your tail off, put your blinders on. You start worrying about stuff like that in this league and what’s going to happen and what they’re thinking, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. I really, honestly do not think about that stuff at all. It’s going to take care of itself just fine, and I’ll be happy with whatever role they decide for me to have on this football team.”
The Cowboys are easing Brooking back into action. His reps are being limited practice and he has yet to be given the green light to play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Vikings.
“I think these guys know what they’re going to get with me as a player,” Brooking said. “I’m at the point in my career where obviously I’m a competitor — I want to be out there, I want to be helping my team by making plays — but whatever my role is, I’ll accept it with everything.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.
Kicker David Buehler doesn’t like the fact that Cowboys decided to sign veteran Shayne Graham.
But what’s more frustrating to him has been his inability to take hold of the job during a training camp battle with rookie Dan Bailey and a hip strain that kept him out of the second preseason game against the Chargers. Both are huge reasons why the Cowboys decided to add Graham, who is the third most accurate kicker in NFL history and is now the favorite to win the job
But Buehler plans to keep fighting for his job.
He is pushing to get back on the field for Saturday game against the Vikings.
“It’s frustrating,” Buehler said. “But it’s frustrating getting hurt and not being able to get the opportunities. It’s not like Danny got a lot this last game, but in practice those opportunities are just as good as game-time opportunities, so every day I’m out it’s definitely frustrating … I’ve just got to get healthy and get back out there. It doesn’t matter who they bring in, I know if I get healthy it doesn’t matter who they bring in I can get the job done.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr.
Shayne Graham (11) talks to place kicker David Buehler (18) during a morning walk thru practice.