Daily Archives: August 28th, 2011

HOMERS: Vikings give a little sneak preview

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MARK CRAIG, Star Tribune Updated: August 28, 2011 – 1:00 PM

The Vikings opened the most important game of the preseason with exactly the kind of offensive attack they’re hoping will stun the rest of the NFC North during a regular season that starts two weeks from Sunday.

The result was a perfect combination. Powerful running by Adrian Peterson setting up a 49-yard, quick-strike touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to last year’s forgotten man, Bernard Berrian, for a 7-0 lead over the Dallas Cowboys in front of 62,800 fans at Mall of America Field.

Yeah, the Cowboys ended up winning 23-17 behind a blocked field goal that Alan Ball returned for a second-quarter touchdown. But if you’re a Vikings fan, you’re not nearly as nervous about this new offense after Saturday night’s game.

“That drive,” said coach Leslie Frazier, “was really indicative of what we want to be like during the course of the year.”

If you’re a Vikings fan, you’re also breathing a giant sigh of relief because starting cornerback Antoine Winfield’s right shoulder is A-OK. He went down with a stinger in the second quarter and did not return, but he would have if it had been a regular-season game.

The game billed as the regular-season dress rehearsal couldn’t have started any better.

After the Vikings defense held the Cowboys to one first down on the game’s opening drive, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave gave fans their first glimpse of how he intends to move the ball this season.
His first call was a power run by Peterson behind three tight ends lined up to the near right side.

Peterson gained 4 yards and then touched the ball four more times for 25 more yards — converting two third-and-1 situations — during a seven-play drive.

And just when the Cowboys decided they’d better stack the box, quarterback McNabb took a seven-step drop and stood there with all the time he needed to launch a perfectly thrown ball to Berrian. Berrian caught the ball between two defenders at the goal line.

“We’re counting on Bernard to make the kind of plays he made on that opening drive,” Frazier said. “If that does happen for us, we have a chance to be an explosive offense.”

It was a perfect knockoff of the Atlanta Falcons (Musgrave’s old team), using power to move the ball, bring the defense close to the line, slow the pass rush and set up a quick strike down the field for the first touchdown by the first-team offense this season.

Musgrave also mixed in a brief no-huddle offense and had McNabb throwing to receivers instead of sticking with tight ends and running backs. McNabb looked comfortable throwing short and long, completing 12 of 18 passes for 164 yards behind a line that played well in the first game back from knee surgery for right guard Anthony Herrera.

“I love Coach Musgrave’s offense,” said receiver Percy Harvin, who was moved around quite a bit. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

McNabb wasn’t flawless. He tried to force a ball through double coverage to Jim Kleinsasser, but the ball was tipped and intercepted. The Cowboys converted the turnover into a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.

The first-team defense held the Cowboys to 10 first-half points. The special teams struggled with the blocked field goal and a 52-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Longwell that fell short.

But the offense clicked for the most part as the starters played through the first series of the third quarter. Peterson ran 14 times for 81 yards (5.8-yard average). McNabb targeted his wideouts 13 times, completing nine passes for 141 yards. Berrian, who was lost in last year’s offense, was targeted four times, catching two for 64 yards.

“We want to spread the ball around to different guys,” McNabb said. “But Adrian is kind of the straw that stirs the drink. When we get that part of the game going, it opens up a lot of things in the passing game.”

Most of the Vikings’ starters are expected to rest in Thursday’s preseason finale against Houston at Mall of America Field. The team must cut from 90 to 80 players by Tuesday.

Gameday Injury Update: Bennett, Ball, and Thomas

Tight end Martellus Bennett was in a walking boot as he left Mall of America Field. He has a high ankle sprain of his right ankle. Bennett, who is in the last year of his contract, has made 68 catches for 702 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons since the Cowboys made him a second-round pick.

“I don’t know the length of time [Bennett will be out],” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “It’d be a big setback for us, because we’re counting on him.”

Cornerback Alan Ball left the field after his 20-yard touchdown return of a blocked field goal. He has a hyperextended left elbow. He is expected to be able to play in the season opener on September 11.

Rookie cornerback Josh Thomas did not finish the game because of a left hamstring injury.

Garrett says Cowboys played good ‘situational football’

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett liked the way his team responded to “situational football” in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Vikings.

He has stressed an understanding of scenarios to the Cowboys in practice.

“That play at the end of the game was a good example,” Garrett said. “They catch the ball inbounds, we tackle them, the clock runs out. Understanding the  situation, handling it the right way.”

Two of Garrett’s goals are to make the Cowboys a good fourth-quarter team and to make sure they know the value of turnovers, such as the blocked field goal by Gerald Sensebaugh and return for a touchdown by Alan Ball.

“When you make a big play in the kicking game like we did – obviously blocking a field goal and running it back for a touchdown is a huge play, and then when you create a couple of turnovers and you take care of the football – you have a good chance of winning ballgames,” Garrett said. “So I think that was a good thing for us, to understand as a team.”

Jerry Jones admits Cowboys defense is work in progress

The Cowboys defense hasn’t looked much better the wretched unit from last season.

The starters gave up 216 total yards in the first half against the Vikings Saturday.

Most troubling was a run defense that was again gashed on the round. The  Cowboys gave up 89 yards on 14 carries in the first half, including 69 on 11 touches for running back Adrian Peterson.

Jones says it still a work in progress as the Cowboys are trying to grasp coordinator Rob Ryan’s new scheme.

“They were very effective running the ball early, we know that,” Jones said. “I can give you all the excuses. There were three or four breakdowns here, three or four breakdowns there. But you got to put those together. At this time, no I’m not worried. I’m very calm. I’m just not worried about it. I know what they are trying to do. At this time, I’m not concerned at all what we are doing out there on defense.

Scandrick determined to be more physical

Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who signed a five-year extension worth $26 million this week, said he has a new goal for himself.

“I need to be more physical,” he said. “I missed a tackle. I’m going to challenge myself personally. I’m going to work on playing the ball. I had a chance to make an interception. I barely missed it.”

Scandrick knows the Cowboys gave up a lot of yards to the Vikings and running back Adrian Peterson. But he’s encouraged by the work of the secondary, and he’s ready for cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman to return in time for the  Sept. 11 season opener.

“I know Mike’s almost ready to go,” Scandrick said. “He practiced. He looked great. He didn’t miss a beat. I’m just excited to get those guys back. It will give us more flexibility. Alan Ball’s done tremendous. I’m real happy for him.  We’ve just got to keep competing, challenging each other. I’m ready to go.”

Choice, Murray impress during their debuts

Running backs Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray made their preseason debuts Saturday night. Choice rushed for 14 yards on three carries, and Murray gained  32 yards on seven carries.

Murray hadn’t played since January. He had been out with a hamstring injury until last week.

“It felt good,” Murray said. “But my legs were heavy.”

Choice had been out after injuring his calf in the team’s first practice.

“It was awesome,” Choice said. “It felt good. I’m going good. I was just limited in how much I could run.”

There has been speculation about Choice’s future in Dallas, but he and Murray are expected to be Felix Jones’ primary backups this season.

“Yes, I am,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said when asked if he was comfortable with Murray and Choice. “I don’t want to dismiss [some other running backs, though]. We’ve got a couple of young ones back there. But I’m certainly comfortable with those guys. I think we’re fortunate to have them.”

Phillip Tanner has a chance to make the 53-player roster as an undrafted free agent. He carried five times for 25 yards Saturday and now has 18 carries for 100 yards this preseason.

But Jones was happy to have Choice and Murray back in the backfield.

“Choice ran real well with authority and certainly you could see the power of Murray, and you could see some of his acceleration,” Jones said. “You actually saw him have the one reception. He’s outstanding with his hands. He can really  help us in the passing game as a receiver.”

— Charean Williams

Romo-to-Bryant connection growing stronger

Tony Romo’s confidence in Diamond Dez Bryant is becoming clearer and clearer.

Romo sent seven passes Byrant’s way in the Cowboys’ preseason game Saturday  night against the Minnesota Vikings. Bryant caught five passes for 67 yards,  including a high grab on the sideline for a first down.

Romo liked what he saw, but Bryant is not perfect yet.

“He runs great routes and has great hands, and we need him to get better with  the details,” Romo said. “We had a couple times tonight where he struggled with  that, but otherwise, he is doing well, and I think we will continue to get  better and better each week.”

Romo threw for 141 yards, completing 15 of 20 passes. He was sacked once.

Gurode likely to be released, rather than traded

The Cowboys want to work out a trade with center Andre Gurode. They owe to  themselves to try to get some compensation for the five-time Pro Bowler.

The problem is its unlikely some one wants take on Gurode’s $5.5 million  salary for this season, especially when they know the Cowboys have forced  themselves into making a move.

There has been talk of a salary cut but there is no reason to do that. The  Cowboys need to simply move on after embarrassing Gurode by taking him to the  game against the Vikings Saturday and them making him sit out and watch his  teammates play.

A release is more likely and teams who interested in Gurode can then get him  for free.

Clarence Hill

Bennett’s Status For Opener In Doubt

IRVING, Texas — Tight end Martellus Bennett’s high right ankle sprain is likely to sideline him at least two weeks and possibly a month or more.

Considering the Cowboys will begin preparing in earnest for the New York Jets in about a week’s time, it seems doubtful Bennett will be ready by the Sept. 11 opener.

Bennett left was helped off the field in the third quarter of Saturday’s preseason win over the Vikings and flew home with the team wearing a large walking boot. X-rays were negative.

Without him, third-year veteran John Phillips and Martin Rucker will move up the depth chart. Rucker could make the team if the Cowboys decide to keep four tight ends.

Timetables for high ankle sprains are hard to pinpoint, however. The injury is more severe than a normal sprain because it affects the ligaments that connect to the fibula and tibia.

Learning Not To Doubt Holley

MINNEAPOLIS – I’ll just say I had my mind made up about Jesse Holley before he ever put on a Cowboys uniform. I thought he was the result of a publicity stunt, that there was no way a player picked from a reality show could contribute in the NFL.

I thought in 2009 when he showed up that he would be among the first few guys cut in training camp, and he proved me wrong. And as of Saturday afternoon I didn’t expect him to be part of the 53-man roster this year. But I think he’s proved me wrong again after catching three passes for 51 yards, and converting three first downs, two of them on third down.

Following the performance against the Vikings, I now think he’ll be active every week as the fourth or fifth receiver.

“Minnesota is good to me,” Holley said afterward. “Anytime I’m on the cusp of needing a job, I’d love to come back to Minnesota.”

Holley originally stuck on the practice squad two years ago after an improbable punt return touchdown that beat the Vikings in an otherwise totally forgettable preseason finale.

Since then he’s impressed the front office and coaches with a stellar work ethic, and was upgraded to the the active roster last season when the Cowboys needed special teams help. I’ve thought he was a special teams-only guy since then, and believed the Cowboys would add a receiver who could do that and catch a few passes on waivers, but now it looks like Holley is that guy.

Every time he’s given an opportunity, he does something good with it. This summer, the opportunity has been more frequent snaps with Tony Romo and the starters, and Holley has made the most of them.

“The biggest thing that you want to do, especially working with the first-team quarterback, is make him confident in you,” Holley said. “It’s one thing to do it in practice, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to do it in the game. And when you make these plays, the slant and another play that I made, it gives Tony confidence that when he looks out there and sees (No.) 16, it’s not just a body out there.”

Josh Ellis

DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer

UPDATE: Gurode Pulled, “no comment” after MIN game

Apparently, the injury to Phil Costa that will keep him out 2-4 weeks is more of an issue than it initially seemed. That is because veteran center Andre Gurode will not be in the lineup Saturday night against the Vikings, despite it being the dress rehearsal to the regular season.

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said the club is holding out Gurode because of a “business decision,” likely meaning his future with the team is in jeopardy. The Cowboys could be looking at possible trade opportunities for Gurode and don’t want to risk an injury.

“He got pushed,” Jerry Jones said, an indication that Costa had already won the preseason competition with Gurode, who missed the first two weeks of camp following a June knee surgery.

Rookie free agent Kevin Kowalski will start against the Vikings with Costa out with a sprained PCL. Jones expressed confidence that Costa would be healthy in time for the regular season opener at the New York Jets on Sept. 11.

The Cowboys will get an extended look at Kowalski, but could end up sliding Bill Nagy to center later in Saturday’s preseason game. Nagy will start at left guard, but the Cowboys have some guard options in David Arkin and Montrae Holland.

Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowler who was ranked 57th in the NFL Network’s Top 100 list voted on by the players, is the longest-tenured Cowboy, a second-round pick in the 2002 draft.

Nick Eatman

RELATED STORY:

Cowboys C Andre Gurode: ‘I’m not saying nothing’

By DAVID MOORE DMN Staff Writer

Andre Gurode, whose career with the Cowboys is in doubt, spoke briefly with the media as he left the Mall of America.

“I’m not saying nothing,” the five-time Pro Bowl center said.

Owner Jerry Jones said Gurode did not play against Minnesota because he has salary cap issues to address. If Gurode does not agree to adjust his cap number, it appears the Cowboys are ready to cut ties with him.

Jones said the meeting with Gurode’s representative, Kennard McGuire, will take place Sunday.

“I’m glad the team won,” Gurode said, again refusing to address his situation. “We had a good night tonight.”

RELATED STORY:

Jerry Jones, Romo praise undrafted rookie center Kevin Kowalski

By BRANDON GEORGE DMN Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was really pleased with the way undrafted rookie free agent center Kevin Kowalski played Saturday night against Minnesota. Jones said Kowalski gained valuable experience by becoming a late fill-in at
starting center when the Cowboys didn’t play Pro Bowler Andre Gurode.

“He did play very well,” Jones said. “We were sensitive about having him step in there and play the whole game at center with Felix [Jones] and Tony [Romo] and a lot of your top guys back there. We wanted them blocked as good as he could do it and I think he did a very good job.”

Quarterback Tony Romo said he was impressed with Kowalski, the first-year player out of Toledo. Kowalski was told two hours before the game that he would start. He and Romo practiced snaps in the end zone before the game with Gurode looking on nearby from the sideline.

“He did a great job. He stepped in and played well,” Romo said of Kowalski. “I was proud of his effort.”

THROWBACK: Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker (born March 3, 1962) played college football for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and earned the 1982 Heisman Trophy. He began his professional career with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League (USFL) before entering the NFL.  In the NFL he played for the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

Early life

Walker was born in Wrightsville, Georgia to John Willis and Christine Walker. He was raised as one of seven children in a blue-collar family.  Walker said that as a child he was overweight and was born with a speech impediment. Walker’s mother taught him not to use these problems as excuses in life. Walker was able to overcome his speech impediment with the help of Ryan Nielsen, his long-time and most trusted friend

High school

Walker played for the Johnson County High School Trojans in Wrightsville, Georgia from 1975–1979. In 1979, he rushed for 3,167 yards, helping the Trojans to their second state championship. He was awarded the first Dial Award for the national high school scholar-athlete of the year in 1979.

College

Walker played running back for the University of Georgia, where he was a 3-time All-American and winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award. He is the only player in NCAA history to finish in the top 3 in Heisman voting every season he played football. During his freshman season in 1980, Walker set the NCAA freshman rushing record and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

He played a major role in helping Georgia go undefeated that year and win the National Championship with a victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. He would go on to win the Heisman in his junior year. In 1999, Walker was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame and is considered one of the greatest players in college football history.

United States Football League

With the formation of the United States Football League, Walker saw an opportunity to do something then forbidden by NFL rules—to turn professional after the end of his junior season rather than wait for his class to graduate the next year. He also sought to choose where he would play professionally, as he felt he could make considerable money from product endorsements, as he was quoted on one occasion: “I don’t know if I would want to play in the NFL unless it was for the two New York teams or the Dallas Cowboys.” Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in 1983, owned by Oklahoma oil tycoon J. Walter Duncan, who after the 1983 season sold the team to real-estate mogul Donald Trump.

In order to circumvent the league-mandated $1.8-million salary cap, Walker signed a personal services contract with Duncan (later compensated by Trump) to the protest of no one, as the other owners appreciated Walker’s name value to the league. Similar arrangements were made later when other big-name college stars signed with the league. Although this move was challenged in court, Walker and the USFL prevailed and Walker began play with the Generals.

He went on to win the USFL rushing title in 1983 and 1985 and in the latter year also gained over 4,000 yards in total offense. He holds the professional football record for single-season rushing yards with 2,411 yards in 1985, averaging 5.50 yards per attempt.

National Football League

The Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League, suspecting that the USFL was not going to last, acquired Walker’s NFL rights by drafting him in the fifth round of the 1985 NFL Draft. When the USFL succumbed after its technically successful but financially fruitless antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986, Walker went to play for the Cowboys, eventually establishing himself as a premier NFL running back with two consecutive Pro-Bowl seasons (1987 and 1988).

In 1989, at the height of his NFL career, the Cowboys traded Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for a total of five players (LB Jesse Solomon, DB Issiac Holt, RB Darrin Nelson, LB David Howard, DE Alex Stewart) and six draft picks (which led to Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith, and Darren Woodson). This was judged to be one of the turning points in the rise of the Cowboys to the top echelon of the NFL. Nicknamed the “HWT” (Herschel Walker Trade), Walker’s trade was widely perceived as an exceptionally poor move considering what the Vikings had to give up in order to get him and remains one of the most frequently vilified roster moves of the team’s history. The Vikings coaches reluctantly accepted Walker after the trade and never totally used the tool they had been given.

Scout.com says, “Walker was never used properly by the coaching brain trust.” Walker played for the Vikings for two and a half years, never amassing 1,000 rushing yards in a season. His rights were then acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles and subsequently the New York Giants. Eventually, he was re-acquired by the Cowboys, where he was used not only as a running back but as a wide receiver and other offensive positions as well. In addition to running and catching passes, Walker was also often used to return kickoffs throughout his career.

Legacy

Walker rushed for 5,562 yards in his USFL career. His combined rushing numbers for the USFL and the NFL (13,787 yards) place him 5th All-Time on the NFL’s career rushing list. In 12 NFL seasons, Walker gained 8,225 rushing yards, 4,859 receiving yards, and 5,084 kickoff-return yards. This gave him 18,168 total combined net yards, ranking him second among the NFL’s all-time leaders in total yardage at the time of his retirement. He also scored 84 touchdowns: 61 rushing, 21 receiving and two kick off returns for touchdowns. Walker is the only other player besides Derrick Mason to have 10,000+ yards from scrimmage and 5,000+ return yards (all of which were on kickoff returns).

He is the only player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways: rushing, receiving and kickoff returns. He is one of six players (Jim Brown, Lenny Moore, Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, and Thurman Thomas) to exceed 60 touchdowns rushing and 20 touchdowns receiving. Another NFL record is that he is the only player with a 90+ yard reception, 90+ yard run and a 90+ yard kickoff return all in the same season (1994). He is the only player to record an 84+ yard touchdown run and an 84+ yard touchdown reception, in the same game (December 14, 1986). That same day, he had 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving. Walker is currently ranked eighth all time in all-purpose yards with 18,168, despite spending his first three seasons in the USFL.

Walker is regarded as one of the top college running backs of all time. In 1999, he was selected to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA Football All-Century Team. On the Fox Sports Net show Sports List, Walker was named the best college football running back of all time and was selected as the third greatest player in college football history by ESPN. Walker had his jersey number “34” retired from his alma mater, The University of Georgia.

The move to Minnesota was the turning point in his NFL tenure. In 2008, the trade was selected by SI.com as the number one worst sports trade of all time. It was also the subject of an episode of ESPN Classic’s The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame. In 2003 Johnson County High School named its football field in his honor. Walker was a highly popular and visible personality, even in his college days, as evidenced by the fact that both a thoroughbred and a standardbred race horse were named after him, the former while he was still in college. He also made several appearances in the sports documentary (2004).

On January 29, 2011 Walker announced that he is considering an attempt at returning to the NFL. “I’ve told everyone that at 50 I might try football again to show people I can do that,” Walker said. “I want to be the George Foreman of football, come back and do that one more time. According to Walker, thanks to his MMA training, “I’m a much better-conditioned athlete now than when I was playing football. I’m 48 and in better shape now than I was when I was in my early 20s, playing football.”

Personal

Walker married his college sweetheart, Cindy DeAngelis Grossman in 1983. After 18 years they divorced in 2001. They have one son together, Christian. Walker has a fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do and nearly made the Olympic team in the sprint relay. He competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics in two-man bobsled, finishing seventh.

He ran the 100 meters in 10.22 seconds and the 100 yards in 9.3 seconds. He won back-to-back American Superstars competitions in 1987 and 1988. Walker stated in an in-studio interview during BaD Radio on August 23, 2010 that he still performs 3,500 sit-ups and 1,000 push ups every day. He has been going through this same routine since high school. Walker has said that he only eats once a day.

He was a contestant in the third season of the Donald Trump reality television show Celebrity Apprentice.  Throughout the season, each celebrity raised money for a charity of his or her choice; Walker selected “Alternative Community Development Services.”

Martial Arts career

In November 2007, Walker appeared on the HDNet show Inside MMA as a guest. He indicated that he would take part in a mixed martial arts show in the near future (along with José Canseco) and that he would have an official MMA fight at the conclusion of the show. In September 2009, it was announced that Herschel had been signed by MMA promotion Strikeforce to compete in their heavyweight division.

In his professional MMA debut on January 30, 2010, Walker defeated Greg Nagy via TKO. According to Scott Coker, the Strikeforce CEO, Walker pledged to donate his fight purse to charity.

Strikeforce confirmed that Walker would face WEC fighter Scott Carson when he made his second appearance in the Strikeforce cage. Walker defeated Carson via TKO at 3:13 of round 1. Walker looks to continue his MMA career following his second victory.

Career history
  • New Jersey Generals (1983–1985)
  • Dallas Cowboys (1986–1989)
  • Minnesota Vikings (1989–1991)
  • Philadelphia Eagles (1992–1994)
  • New York Giants (1995)
  • Dallas Cowboys (1996–1997)
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