IRVING, Texas – Through four preseason games there are a number of words Dallas Cowboys fans might use to describe the team’s revamped defense: improved, playmaking, physical, aggressive, etc.
But during a conference call with reporters over the weekend, Eli Manning had a different word to describe what he saw when he watched the Cowboys, and in particular the secondary, which has three new starters.
Considering the results, calling the defense “vanilla” has to be seen as a compliment.
When asked about the new-look secondary that he would be facing this Wednesday, Manning’s emphasis on the simplicity of the scheme in the exhibitions was a testament to the improvement of the talent, as the starting unit didn’t give up a touchdown in its five quarters of action.
“I saw (Brandon) Carr make a couple of interceptions,” Manning said. “They’ll probably feel good about playing man-to-man and those type of things. They probably have a little more confidence in their DBs to play a little more man and be more aggressive, I would think. But I thought they were pretty vanilla in the preseason.”
The Cowboys’ first-team defense collected three interceptions in their exhibition work, and allowed only six points total, on two field goals against the Rams, when they were forced to defend a short field.
Manning knows Rob Ryan won’t play so basic in his second season as Cowboys defensive coordinator.
“The scheme is complex,” Manning said. “They use a number of different personnel, a number of different fronts and looks to try to confuse the quarterback or make it tough on the offense to get in rhythm, so we’ve got to prepare for a whole lot of things to make sure we’re not confused and everybody’s aware of who they’re blocking.
“After that, we’ve just got to outperform.”
Manning and the Giants have done just that in recent matchups against the Cowboys, winning five of the last six meetings between the teams, including both last year.
The last time Manning faced the Cowboys was in the ‘make-or-break’ Week 17 matchup on New Year’s Day. In that game, he torched the NFC East rivals for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
IRVING, Texas — The first official injury report was released this afternoon, and the Dallas Cowboys have 14 players listed.
There was one surprise with running back DeMarco Murray listed with a wrist issue. He was a full practice participant, and it doesn’t seem serious.
Tight end Jason Witten (spleen), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) wide receiver Andre Holmes (knee), linebacker Dan Connor (hip) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder) were limited in practice.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) and safeties Matt Johnson (hamstring) and Danny McCray (neck) did not practice.
Running back Phillip Tanner (hamstring), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), wide receiver Dez Bryant (knee) and center Phil Costa (back) are also listed on the injury report but were full participants in practice.
New York Giants
- DNP = Did not participate in practice
- LP = Limited Participation in Practice – Less than 100% normal repetitions
- FP = Full Participation – 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
- Out = Player will not play
- (-) = Not Listed = No practice status available
- Out = Player will not play
- Doubtful = 25% chance a player will play
- Questionable = 50% chance a player will play
- Probable = 75% chance a player will play
- (-) = Not Listed – No game status available
DID YOU KNOW?: You can stay up to date on the Dallas Cowboys (and weekly opponents) Injury Update status right here on The Boys Are Back blog. Look in the pages at the top (and the right side) of this blog. The page is titled: INJURY UPDATES
IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have created $2.755 million in salary-cap room by restructuring DeMarcus Ware’s contract for the second straight season, according to multiple sources.
Ware was scheduled to count $10.301 million, but after lowering his base salary to $825,000 and turning the difference into signing bonus the All-Pro outside linebacker will count $7.546 million against the cap this year.
The Cowboys have a little more than $5.5 million in salary-cap room entering the season and would like to carry over as much room as possible to 2013 because of the remaining $5 million hit they will take from the NFL’s cap sanctions that were imposed in the offseason.
The Cowboys also re-worked the contract of center Ryan Cook, whom they acquired in a trade from Miami last week, the sources said. The Cowboys lowered Cook’s base salary from $1 million to $700,000 and gave him a $300,000 bonus and added a year to his deal with him scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent following the season. He will make $1.1 million in 2013.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ coaches never did seem to figure out how to light a motivational fire under Martellus Bennett’s butt during his four disappointing seasons in Dallas.
Jason Garrett certainly isn’t about to do it now that the tight end, known for his wild personality and wasted potential, plays for the New York Giants.
Garrett had nothing when asked about Bennett on Sunday, disagreeing with the premise of a question about why things didn’t work out for the Cowboys’ 2008 second-round pick in Dallas.
Garrett claimed that Bennett did what the Cowboys wanted him to do as the second tight end behind seven-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten. Garrett’s said Bennett performed “very well” in his primary roles as a run blocker and pass protector and did “a pretty good job” when he had opportunities in the passing game.
“The business of the NFL is that you can’t keep everybody when their contracts run out,” Garrett said. “We feel good about what Martellus did here. He’s going to go up to New York and do a nice job for them. He’s going to play a long time in this league.”
Let’s cut through the bull: You don’t draft a blocking tight end in the second round.
Give the Cowboys’ front office credit for not being complete fools, although they did draft a complementary back (Felix Jones) in the first round that year. They know you can find grunt-work tight ends, such as John Phillips, in the draft’s later rounds. They believed Marty B, with his size and athleticism, would be much more than that.
Valley Ranch folks raved about Bennett’s explosiveness early in his Cowboys tenure. They gushed about the way that he came out of breaks like a wide receiver. They dreamed of the possibilities while watching him make acrobatic catch after acrobatic catch in the Alamodome during the 2009 training camp.
But Bennett’s four-year totals would be one so-so season for Witten: 85 catches, 846 yards and four touchdowns. After teasing with four touchdowns as a rookie, Bennett failed to reach the end zone in the last three seasons.
The blame game for Bennett’s poor production in the passing game can be a chicken-or-the-egg kind of deal. Was it because he didn’t get enough opportunities? Or did he not get opportunities because he failed to earn the trust of the coaches and the quarterback?
We’ll find out this season.
We already know that Bennett was a wasted second-round pick for the Cowboys, whether or not Garrett wants to admit it a few days before facing the Giants.
Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas
IN THE TRENCHES: New York Giants defense could expose and improve Dallas Cowboys OL continuity concerns
IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys signed veteran guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings just three days apart back in mid-March, there was an expectation of the offensive line would look this year.
From left to right, it was supposed to be Tyron Smith, Nate Livings, Phil Costa, Mackenzy Bernadeau and then Doug Free – after the Cowboys also decided to swap tackles Smith and Free for this year.
So that’s how it was supposed to look. But not until Saturday afternoon, a mere four days before Wednesday’s much-anticipated season opener against the defending champion Giants, has it actually looked that way.
Because of injuries throughout the middle of the line, the starting five hasn’t been able to work together at all in the OTAs, minicamps, training camp and four preseason games.
So they’re finally ready now, but will it be enough time to get on the same page, especially with the menacing Giants’ defense that features pass-rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, along with a wave of other veterans that have made that group one of the best in the NFL?
Outside of this locker room at Valley Ranch, there might be some heavy speculation. But on the inside, they seem to be ready.
“We’ve got things in sync,” said Bernadeau, who missed all of the offseason and two weeks into camp with a hip injury that required surgery. “There’s a lot of reps we’ve been having. It’s getting better every day. I’m just glad to have Phil (Costa) back and have everyone together so we can just get better.”
The continuity seems to be the biggest question. With Costa only returning from a back injury last week, it’s put a strain on those three working together. Livings missed some time with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two preseason games.
“They have practiced a lot recently and they have practiced together,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s a good thing. Costa has been practicing the last 2-3 days and we feel like he’s ready to play in this ballgame. Having those guys just working next to each other and communicating is really important. It’s important at every position, but certainly on the offensive line. We’ll continue to evaluate the status of those guys. It’s nice to see them practicing together and hopefully they’ll continue to grow as they progress.”
Livings, who signed in free agency after spending the last four seasons in Cincinnati, doesn’t seem too worried with trying to rush continuity. When asked about it, he focuses more on what he can control, which is preparing for the Giants and their pass-rush.
“When you’re on the field, you’re not looking at continuity,” Livings said. “The one objective is getting the play right. No mental mistakes. Continuity is something that comes in time. you just focus on the play and assignment.
“It’s time to go. It’s that time of year. It’s time to get it,” Livings added. “If we’re up there to play together, then let’s play together. Continuity is something that comes in time. It’s just about getting the job done.”
And it certainly won’t be an easy task, especially considering the atmosphere that is expected come Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. It’s the first game of the NFL’s regular season and it’s expected the Giants will unveil a Super Bowl banner before the game.
A crowd like that won’t make it easy on the line, especially one that hasn’t worked too much together and will need to figure out hand-signals and silent counts.
“It’s a factor. You’re not at home,” Livings said. “You have to have that aspect on the road. You know what it takes and you know it’s coming.”
Knowing it is the first part. Being ready for it, and then handling it will be completely different. We’ll find out rather quickly if the Cowboys are up for the challenge.
The New York Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions but even then, you still make changes to your team. For the Giants the majority of their changes happened on the offensive side of the ball.
Tackle David Diehl switches from the left to right side. Will Beatty takes over there but has been battling injuries all summer so Sean Locklear has been manning that spot and doing a credible job. Mario Manningham is no longer the third receiver with Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon splitting time there. Gone too is running back Brandon Jacobs and taking over his spot is first round selection David Wilson. To me, Wilson is a more complete back than Jacobs and is really a nice fit in this Kevin Gilbride attack. Wilson shows the ability to run the ball with the same kind of power as Jacobs but he does it quicker. It took Jacobs time to get to the outside where Wilson is on the edge right now. Where Wilson can also hurt you is his ability to catch the ball on the swing pass or inside routes and get up the field.
Ahmad Bradshaw is still the starter but don’t be one bit surprised that when these two clubs meet again in late October that Wilson is not the starter, he has that much talent. The Giants also added former tight end Martellus Bennett to the roster. Where Bennett has looked good this preseason has been his ability to work the middle of the field but also having an understanding of what his role is on “hot” routes when Manning faces the blitz.
On defense, the Giants will still present problems with their four man line. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell does a really nice job of creating situations that puts your blocking scheme to the test. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is the most dangerous player along the front four. Pierre-Paul will usually line up on the defense’s right side, so that will be a match up with Tyron Smith. But there will also be times where Fewell will put Pierre-Paul inside at defensive tackle in the nickel next to Justin Tuck with Osi Umenyiora over the left tackle and Mathias Kiwanuka over the right tackle. You will also see Pierre-Paul line up as the left defensive end where in the game I watched against the Jets where he had a sack from that side. What Fewell is looking for is the opportunity to create mismatches and he does a good job of it with this front.
Where the Cowboys can take an advantage of a match-up is against these Giants linebackers in the passing game. We have seen this summer where DeMarco Murray has been a nice player out of the backfield on the edge in space. Chase Blackburn and Kiwanuka are not good coverage players and with Murray’s ability to run routes, then catch the ball, it could put a great deal of pressure on the Giants to have to match up. Of the Giants linebackers that can cover, Michael Boley is their best man but he might be called on for other responsibilities in the scheme.
The Giants have been scrambling in the secondary to get their lineup set. Gone from that Super Bowl team is cornerback Aaron Ross who signed with Jacksonville. Former first round selection Prince Amukamara is out with a high ankle sprain and Terrell Thomas has been put on injured reserve. So Michael Coe will make a start on the right side with Justin Tryon and rookie Jayron Hosley as the backups. Left corner Corey Webster played well during the playoff stretch of 2011 and looks like he has carried that over to the start of 2012. Safeties Kenny Phillips and former cornerback Antrel Rolle are a physical pair. Rolle is used more in coverage and will most likely be paired with Jason Witten during the game.
Overall, this is a talented team at several positions on both sides of the ball. You have to be able to handle players like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz on the outside. Pressure on Manning has proven the best way to handle the Giants but the Cowboys have struggled with that the last two meetings. Getting Manning to have to move his feet to throw with be key. Defensively the Cowboys had better be ready for four man pressure with some line stunts up front. Perry Fewell is not a big blitzer like Rob Ryan but with this defensive line he doesn’t have to be.
Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst – Scout
SMU grad and undrafted free agent Cole Beasley’s impressive preseason campaign was rewarded on Friday with a spot on the 53-man roster. The 5-foot-8 Beasley impressed the coaching staff with his quickness out of the slot and is considered along with Kevin Ogletree a strong candidate for the No. 3 receiver when the Cowboys take the field against the Giants on Wednesday night.
“I’m willing to accept any role that they’ll give me,” Beasley said Saturday at Valley Ranch. “I’m glad to be here, and I want to do anything I can to get on the field and help the team win.”
Beasley has been working with the first team during three-wide sets in most practice scenarios. Despite the early success, Beasley remains humble.
“I’m just trying to get better every day and trying to move up the ladder,” said Beasley. “Trying to make my teammates better while I’m out there, and hopefully they help me get better too.”
RELATED: Bryant’s knee tendinitis hasn’t changed plans on punt returns
Jason Garrett said the Dallas Cowboys have not settled on their kickoff and punt returners yet, and that Dez Bryant’s knee injury has not affected their thinking about him returning punts.
“If he’s the best guy, and he’s healthy, we’ll give him a chance to do it,” Garrett said Saturday at Valley Ranch, where the Cowboys started their practice week for Wednesday’s season opener against the New York Giants. “Those guys have to be reliable, first and foremost, in taking care of the ball. And then you obviously want to evaluate their playmaking ability after that. Dez has shown that he’s capable of doing both, and if he’s healthy, we’ll give him a chance to do it.”
Bryant was found to have patellar tendinitis after an MRI exam in San Diego two weeks ago, when he came off the practice field with a knee injury.
The Cowboys kept him out of action after that until Saturday’s practice.
Garrett said Bryant has learned to “manage his energy better” and understand what kind of physical condition he needs to be in.
“He’s more consistent with how he approaches practice, and that’s carried over to the competitive situations that we’ve been in,” Garrett said.
RELATED: How to work Miles Austin up to speed
IRVING, Texas – Miles Austin will practice for just the second time in about a month today because of a hamstring suffered in Oxnard, Calif., and he will have to get used to a pitch count so to speak.
Because of his history of hamstring injuries, the Dallas Cowboys have established the number of snaps Austin will get in practice to make sure he will be good to go for Wednesday’s game against the New York Giants.
“The other thing with receivers is you have to get them warmed up prior to practice to get ready for those team reps and you have to monitor those as well,” coach Jason Garrett said, “and make sure they get enough to get warmed up and ready to go but not too many to where they leave it over in the individual period.”
Without playing in a preseason game and not practicing for such a long spell, can Austin play a full game against the Giants with limited practice snaps?
“You want to get him over the course of the week where you feel like he can go play,” Garrett said. “You want to monitor those reps in practice and you want to monitor them in the games, but you want to get to the point where you give him a thumbs up, ‘Hey, go play like you’ve always played.’”
Garrett said Austin and Dez Bryant, who missed the final two preseason games with knee tendonitis, “worked their way back into practice (on Saturday) and we’re hopeful they’ll continue to progress as the week goes on.”
Todd Archer | ESPN Dallas
RELATED: Dallas Cowboy Kevin Ogletree 2.0 playing with confidence
One of the main job openings on the Cowboys roster this summer was the No. 3 receiver position. There were many applicants, and after a few releases it appears Kevin Ogletree has secured the position.
It’s the second consecutive season that Ogletree has emerged as the No. 3 receiver, but he lost the gig to veteran Laurent Robinson last season.
"I feel good about how I’m playing right now," Ogletree said. "I don’t have any idea of what I look like this first practice back at Valley Ranch. Two years ago, I’m sure it was similar, it’s definitely a good feeling I have."
The offseason was troubling for Ogletree given how his brother, Calvin Ogletree, was shot in the head and is still recovering. Ogletree also dealt with being on the free-agent market but was brought back by the Dallas Cowboys.
On top of everything else, Ogletree battled past draft pick Danny Coale — who was released Friday and brought back to the practice squad — the rising Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley and of course Dwayne Harris, a draft pick a year ago.
Ogletree has built a good chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo. The Cowboys want receivers who are ‘quarterback friendly’ because it allows the quarterback to play with more confidence and it gives coach Jason Garrett, the offensive play caller, another option to call plays for.
"I’m practicing confidently, going to meetings confidently, coming to work confidently, it’s my approach," Ogletree said. "With confidence comes a lot of other things, that’s definitely for sure."
Calvin Watkins | ESPN Dallas
IRVING — Even though he was limited, Jason Witten practiced in pads Saturday for the first time since suffering a lacerated spleen in the team’s Aug. 13 preseason opener.
“I’m doing everything I can to put myself in position to play, see if I can get cleared in time,’’ Witten, the seven-time Pro Bowler, said. “I’m doing more and more each day. It feels really good. I feel really good.’’
But Witten is still waiting to learn if the doctors and the team’s medical staff will allow him take the field Wednesday against the New York Giants.
He is holding out hope he will be permitted to play but added “obviously, it’s beyond me.’’
In the event he is cleared, he is expected to wear additional Kevlar padding to protect his mid-section. The Cowboys, though, have prepared themselves in case Witten can’t play. On Saturday, they acquired former Cincinnati tight end Colin Cochart off waivers. Cochart, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, played in 10 games last season and made five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.
But Giants tight end Martellus Bennett (Marty B), who played with Witten the previous four seasons, said Cochart may not be needed. Knowing Witten’s history of playing with injuries, Bennett told New York reporters, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked up his spleen, held it in his hand and tried to run routes.”
RELATED: SCOUTING REPORT – TE Cochart can give Cowboys blocking boost
On Saturday morning the Cowboys put in a claim for and were awarded tight end Colin Cochart from the Cincinnati Bengals. Here is a scouting report from what I was able to observe.
Games viewed: Preseason 2012, New York Jets, Atlanta, Green Bay
- Cochart has nice size and a thicker lower body. Plays as a true in line “Y” but can also give you something as a “U” or “M” guy as well.
- Not the most fluid moving athlete up the field on routes. Is more like Phillips than Witten or Hanna. Is not the type that is going to get open naturally. But you do see him do some athletic things when it comes to adjusting on the move.
- Showed really nice awareness on the goal line against the Jets to push his man to the tackle, then pick up the linebacker. Only saw one time and that was against the Falcons where he missed on his adjustment on the second level in getting the linebacker.
- Did a nice job of walling off his man on the down block. Stout enough to hold that position and allow the ball to get to him. Makes the effort to finish blocks, can get into his man and has some snap to his game. Good initial pop but his hands will get outside the frame work of defender and he becomes a push-shove blocker.
- Can get some push one on one against linebackers but didn’t see many opportunities against linemen. Used some in pass protection as well, got a little over extended against the Falcons but didn’t give up a sack or pressure.
- As mentioned, most routes were limited for him and only saw one chance to catch the ball and that was a pass to the flat that he can to turn back, adjust and grab against Green Bay.
- What he brings is a big body at the point of attack that is used to playing along the line. Not going to beat you with his hands but how he is able to block.
Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst – Scout
RELATED: Jason Garrett on former Dallas Cowboy TE Marty B
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said former backup tight end Martellus Bennett is going to do a nice job for the Giants and will play in the NFL for a long time.
He said Bennett did what he was asked to do with the Cowboys – run-block and pass-protect – while playing behind a seven-time Pro Bowl tight end in Jason Witten.
“We drafted Martellus, and Martellus had a role as our backup tight end, or our second tight end,” Garrett said. “We used him a lot. The personnel group that he played in most, what we called ‘12’ – two receivers, two tight ends and one back – we probably used that more than any other personnel group in our offense, and certainly we used that personnel group probably as much as anybody in our league. Martellus’ role for us was to be a run-blocker. He did that very well. And a pass protector. He did that very well. And when he had opportunities to catch the ball, for the most part he did a pretty good job.”
Bennett caught 85 passes for 846 yards and four touchdowns in four seasons with the Cowboys, who drafted him in the second round in 2008 out of Texas A&M. He never scored after his rookie year, however, and in his best receiving season, caught 33 passes with a 7.9 average. He played in 60 games.
“The business of the NFL is, you can’t keep everybody when their contracts run out,” Garrett said. “So we feel good about what Martellus did here. He’s going to go up to New York and do a nice job for them. He’s going to play a long time in this league.”
RELATED: Tom Coughlin – NY Giants preparing as if Witten will play in opener
IRVING, Texas – The NFL scheduled the defending champion New York Giants to kickoff the season in a marquee game against the Dallas Cowboys because they considered it to be a star-studded matchup.
With that in mind, Wednesday’s game just wouldn’t be the same without Witten on the field.
Despite the seriousness of his spleen injury, Witten’s status for the game remains up in the air, and he did participate, at least on a limited basis, in Saturday’s practice. Witten has been the image of durability and toughness during his eight-year career only missing one game.
For that reason, the New York Giants are preparing themselves for the game as if Witten will play. In a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin talked about their stance on Witten.
“We usually take the position that the player is going to play,” Coughlin said. “If it’s otherwise, it’s otherwise, but we’re not going to be surprised the other way. We’re not going to say that he’s not going to play and then he plays.”
Coughlin went on to explain the importance of Witten to the Cowboys. He explained the danger that he poses as a weapon if a team does not come in prepared to face him.
“All you’ve got to do is look at the tape,” Coughlin said. “He leads the team in receptions far and away. The quarterback is very comfortable in all circumstances getting him the ball. He does an outstanding job of maneuvering and getting open and finding a way to advance the ball once he catches it.”
Coughlin also recognized the difference Witten can make and what the Cowboys’ offense would truly be getting back with the return of their starting tight end.
“He’s very versatile and used in a lot of different ways,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin is justifying his preparation to face Witten based on the danger of being caught off guard if he does play, but like the rest of us he has no idea one way or the other if Witten will take the field Wednesday night.