IRVING – Walking through the halls of the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch practice facility there’s always a realistic chance that you’ll run into Jerry Jones. And the Cowboys owner and general manager is usually open to stopping and chatting for a few minutes, as he did on Wednesday.
While the news of the day was the season-ending injury suffered by inside linebacker Sean Lee, Jones also spoke at length about his popular franchise and its starting quarterback.
The following summary followed after a reporter asked Jones about the high expectations placed on Tony Romo and the criticism he receives. The 70-year-old owner said his expectations for Romo are probably higher than anyone else’s.
But why do Cowboys players, like Romo, seem to be more scrutinized than others around the league?
“We push a lot out on the table with the Cowboys,” Jones said. “Picture going to Las Vegas and putting an inordinate amount on the table with every hand or with every throw. We do that and I am a part of that. When you do that and you don’t have the right hand or win, then you subject yourself to a lot more criticism.”
Does Jones ever feel like he needs to pull some of those chips back?
“No,” he responded. “That’s our style. I have won with that style. I feel we are not in the business … we are not managing a widow-woman’s retirement accounts here. In other words, to compete, I think we need to be aggressive. You play the game, you manage the game that way, you take some risks when they don’t pay off (and) they look bad. That has happened. I think that’s one of the luxuries of my position as owner as well as the ultimate decision-maker, general manager and president, I can do that and take the losses and come back for more.”
The Cowboys haven’t come close to duplicating the success the franchise had during Jones’ early years as owner, reaching the playoffs only once in the last four years. So what’s the problem? Does he need better cards on the table? Does Romo need more help around him?
Jones didn’t say if he did, but his response solidified his support for the 32-year-old quarterback.
“I felt for the last two years, certainly last year was a very disappointing year because he had a great season and we should have as a team been there and knocking on the door more than we were,” Jones said. “To some degree we were, but the Giants were better. I hope that we get the same opportunity this year, he’s very capable of doing it and I hope that he can maintain this level of play and use his experience.
“I hope that he can maintain it for several years in the future. I hope that. No one knows that but I think, relatively speaking in his career he hasn’t played as much football as his years in the NFL represent. I think that because of his intellect, because of his understanding of the game and, frankly, his skills that he’s going to be playing for a long time. I think we’ve got a quarterback in Tony Romo here for many years to come.”
Earlier this month, Cowboys offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan said the Cowboys were going to work on “simplifying” the play calls so there would be less confusion on offense. However, since Callahan made those comments on October 11, Romo appears to be doing even more at the line of scrimmage before each play.
“We’ve basically created a little less pre-snap action, pre-snap communication with the rest of the team,” Jones said. “That’s not taking the load off him, that’s the communication before the ball is snapped has been tightened up and probably crisper.”
After the ball is snapped, Jones simply wants Romo to be himself.
“We don’t want to take the Romo out of Romo because it’s going to get us where we’re going to get,” Jones said. “We’ve got to keep the Romo in Romo. He’s going to have to be the one that gets out there and decides whether or not he wants to try to make the play or not.
“From my perspective, I’ve always told him, ‘Go out there and make those fabulous plays, keep the drives moving, but don’t turn the ball over.’”
Jones then laughed.
“Please understand, I’m almost tongue-in-cheek when I say that,” he responded. “We all know that’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.”
Just another day at Valley Ranch.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor called his ascension into the team’s starting lineup a “bittersweet” experience because the opportunity came from a season-ending injury to Sean Lee, the team’s leading tackler and Conner’s longtime friend and former college teammate at Penn State.
“To step in and play for him, it’s bittersweet. It’s not a good feeling for me,” Connor said. “I talked to him on the phone last night and he’s putting on a brave face … My heart breaks for him. He’s a great friend of mine. He leads the defense. He knows it inside and out and he works the hardest. And he was having a spectacular season.”
Lee, who is facing season-ending surgery for ligament damage in his big toe, made 77 tackles in Dallas’ first six games. Connor joins Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims, a veteran signed today, as the primary bodies in the mix at inside linebacker for Sunday’s game. But he acknowledged a committee approach will be necessary to replace the versatile Lee.
“It’s going to be hard to replace a guy like that. He’s unreplaceable,” Connor said. “A lot of guys are going to have to step in at different positions and we’ve got to pick up the slack from what we’ve got.
“It’s hard to say one guy’s going to go in there and do what Sean Lee does. I think he’s the top player in the game right now at that position. We’ll get a couple of different guys who are good at certain things and do it that way. And have Bruce in there with the (radio receiver in his) helmet, calling the defense. He did a great job with it last week. He got the helmet and he was making the checks and he really took control and did an unbelievable job.”
Ernie Sims has never played in a 3-4 defense. He hasn’t played much inside either. But that’s why the Dallas Cowboys signed him.
Sims, signed Wednesday after Dallas put starting inside linebacker Sean Lee on injured reserve, is getting a crash course in the team’s sub-packages.
"Do I think I can play? Yes," Sims said. "If you look at me earlier in my career, I’ve been probably smaller than I am right now. I’ve actually gained about 5-6 pounds of lean mass. I’m stronger, faster and obviously bigger than I was my first couple of years in the NFL. I’m pretty confident in my ability. Obviously only time will tell."
Sims was the ninth overall pick of the Lions in 2006 and became an immediate starter, starting 50 consecutive games before injuries forced him out of the lineup in 2009. The Lions traded him to Philadelphia in a three-way deal for tight end Tony Scheffler and a seventh-round pick. He had only 2.5 sacks and an interception in 56 career starts for the Lions.
Sims, who played one season for the Eagles and spent last season in Indianapolis, said he has grown up a lot since then.
"This is a brand-new beginning for me. It really is," Sims said. "I’ve been through a lot in the NFL. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown up as a young man. A lot of people when they see me, they say he looks familiar, but is that the same guy? I’m still the same guy. I just look different. I cut all my hair off. I don’t carry myself like I did. I’m married now. I’ve got a beautiful young son now. My motives and my mindset is totally different now. What I’ve been through in the NFL is really just completely changed my life. That’s why I say this is a totally new beginning for me. When I say I’ve got something to prove, I’ve got something to prove. It’s game time."
Sims said the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 isn’t a big deal.
"it’s really just X’s and O’s," Sims said. "It’s the same principles. It’s the same things going on in every defense that I’ve played in. The good thing about me is I’ve played in several different defenses with several different teams with several different defensive coordinators. …I’ve seen all the different defenses you can play in, all the different schemes and coverages. That kind of gives me an upper hand with me trying to adjust to this new defense."
Punter Brian Moorman knew the deal when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys: He wasn’t long for Dallas. His stay was expected to be only as long as it took Chris Jones to return from a knee injury. But the Cowboys placed Jones on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday, allowing Moorman to get out of a hotel and into a rental property.
"I came in to spell him and get him healthy," Moorman said. "I knew my place. I told him right from the start’ I’m not here to replace you and here to help you as much as I can.’ It’s been great. I think Chris is a great punter, and he’s got a long future in this league. Just look at what he’s done, and what he’s capable of doing. You don’t want it to come down to something like that – an injury to cost somebody to lose their season like that. You stay positive and just get him healthy and get him back for next year."
Jones is the team’s second punter to go on injured reserve in two seasons. Mat McBriar finished last season on IR with a cyst in his left leg.
Jones sprained his left (kicking) knee when he was roughed in the Tampa Bay game on Sept. 23. The Cowboys signed Moorman to take his place for the Oct. 1 game against the Bears. But Jones returned Oct. 14 against the Ravens when Moorman injured his groin in practice the week of that game.
Jones later was diagnosed with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament, though he won’t require surgery. He said his one punt in the game against the Ravens did not make the injury worse.
"I rehabbed it and rehabbed it and rehabbed it and strengthened it," Jones said. "I figured it would be something I could play with and just kind of manage it that way. But I guess it was a little too much. Now I’ve got some time to get it back."
Jones averaged 45.2 yards a punt with a 40.0 net and had six punts inside the 20. Moorman has averaged 44 yards a punt with a 42.3 net. He has had four of seven punts downed inside the 20.
"I’ve hit the ball better this year going back to training camp than I’ve ever hit it in my career," said Moorman, released by the Bills after 179 consecutive starts because of his 32.7 net average there this season. "I feel my confidence has never wavered, and I don’t think my ability has ever wavered. It’s been an unfortunate situation this year that I’ve come into. But sometimes you run into adversity. It’s just kind of how you rally and move on. I was lucky to be able to quickly come to a new team and be able to put the past behind me, and that’s just what it is. It’s the past, and I’m looking forward to the future, and I’m happy to be a Dallas Cowboy."