Daily Archives: August 5th, 2013

COUNTDOWN TO THE CUT: Projecting the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster

The post-Hall of Fame Game outlook, with players who weren’t on last week’s projection marked by an asterisk:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Tony Romo
Kyle Orton
One of the young quarterbacks would have to have a phenomenal preseason to get the Cowboys to even consider using a third roster spot at this position. Nick Stephens and Alex Tanney were just OK in the Hall of Fame Game.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
DeMarco Murray
Lance Dunbar
Phillip Tanner
Joseph Randle
The Cowboys should feel good about their depth here. Randle, the fifth-round pick, can’t climb up the depth chart despite performing well.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
Jason Witten
Gavin Escobar
James Hanna
Dante Rosario
*Andre Smith
Smith, the best blocker of the bunch by far, can help more than a 10th offensive lineman. Essentially, he would be the 10th offensive lineman.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
Dez Bryant
Miles Austin
Terrance Williams
Dwayne Harris
Cole Beasley
One veteran said he believed Williams would be the best third receiver of the Romo era. That’s high praise, considering Laurent Robinson’s production during his lone Dallas season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Tyron Smith
Ronald Leary
Travis Frederick
Mackenzy Bernadeau
Doug Free
Jermey Parnell
Phil Costa
Nate Livings
David Arkin
Why not keep a fourth tackle? None of the candidates have looked NFL-caliber in camp. Why not cut Livings if Leary takes his starting job? It would cost the Cowboys cap space.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
DeMarcus Ware
Jay Ratliff
Jason Hatcher
Anthony Spencer
Sean Lissemore
Kyle Wilber
Ben Bass
Nick Hayden
*George Selvie
Selvie, who was signed after injuries sidelined Spencer and Tyrone Crawford, is clearly better than a camp body. He dominated the Hall of Fame Game after consistently making plays during practices in Oxnard.

LINEBACKERS (6)
Bruce Carter
Sean Lee
Justin Durant
Alex Albright
DeVonte Holloman
Brandon Magee
It’d be nice to keep versatile veteran Ernie Sims, who has had a good camp. It’s a matter of where that roster spot would come from. Don’t keep a fifth tight end? A fifth safety?

CORNERBACKS (5)
Brandon Carr
Morris Claiborne
Orlando Scandrick
B.W. Webb
Sterling Moore
These spots seem pretty locked in at this point. Moore has actually been more impressive in camp than fourth-round pick Webb.

SAFETIES (5)
Barry Church
Will Allen
Matt Johnson
J.J. Wilcox
Danny McCray
McCray is really just a special teams player, but he’s a good one, probably the best on the roster. Jakar Hamilton hasn’t done nearly enough to push McCray off the roster.

SPECIALISTS (3)
Dan Bailey
Chris Jones
L.P. Ladouceur
No real competition for these roles.

TEXAS 2 DEFENSE: Insistence on turnovers pays off in HOF Game

CANTON, Ohio – DeVonte Holloman dreamed about the moment all the way to the Hall of Fame Game. When it actually happened, he was too overwhelmed to perform the celebration he’d planned on. 

The sixth-round draft selection returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of a 24-20 Cowboys victory against the Dolphins, providing one of Sunday’s many game-changing defensive plays for a group led by two new minds in Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli who preach the importance of turnovers and sacks.  

 “They scream it during the play, before the play, before we go out there for a series,” Holloman said. “When you get one, it’s a big deal.”

It’s an even bigger deal to take it back to the house the way Holloman was able to in his first professional game, which featured the backups as the Cowboys elected to hold out the majority of their starters. Holloman never recorded an interception return for a touchdown in college, yet he still had a vision of a pick-six and a specific celebration before his Cowboys debut.   

“I decided to celebrate with my teammates instead,” Holloman said. “I might save it for later, so I won’t spoil it here.”

Holloman’s pick on a tipped pass gave the Cowboys a 17-0 lead they would never relinquish.  He broke on the route, secured the pick just inches off the ground and sprinted down the sideline. Only one Dolphins player was in position to take down the sixth-round pick, and Holloman wasn’t going to let the quarterback stop him from reaching the end zone.

“I thought he was going to get me,” Holloman said. “I was saying the whole time, ‘Don’t get me, don’t get me, don’t get me,’ and he laid out and I happened to throw a stiff arm and got away. Just blessed to make that play.”

It’s the type of play the Cowboys brought in Kiffin and Marinelli for. All the defensive changes this offseason were made to create more pressure on the quarterback and to subsequently create more turnovers for a team with just 16 takeaways in 2012.

It only took one defensive snap for those hopes to come to fruition.

With the majority of the Cowboys’ second-team defense on the field, Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill attempted to hand the ball off to starting running back Lamar Miller. The defensive pressure came on, the handoff was botched and Dallas defensive tackle Nick Hayden grabbed the loose ball to give the Cowboys possession inside the Dolphins’ 10-yard line.

It may have just been one play in one game, and a preseason one at that, but it was a welcomed change from last season. In addition, the defensive rookies and backups didn’t seem confused or befuddled playing for Kiffin, Marinelli and head coach Jason Garrett.

“Taking the ball away, it was critical,” Garrett said. “Those are the big plays in the ballgame. Obviously, we got the ball on the 9-yard line going in after their first play. Then Holloman returns the other one for the touchdown. Huge plays in the ballgame.”

The Dallas second-team defense thrived early in the game. The Dolphins, who fumbled three times but only lost one, didn’t score a touchdown until 9:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys finished with three sacks, an interception and forced two turnovers on downs.

Two of those sacks came courtesy of George Selvie, who didn’t even join the team until July 24. Garrett said he wasn’t surprised with Selvie’s effort, because he’s seen it every day in practice.

The first sack pushed the Dolphins back 14 yards after Miami got inside the Cowboys’ 10-yard line. Selvie brought down quarterback Matt Moore, and the Dolphins were forced to kick a field goal and head halftime trailing by 14. That play would be crucial in what would eventually be a four-point win for the Cowboys.

“He was rolling out, it was a boot, I stuck my foot in the ground and was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to go out there and get him,’” Selvie said. “I thought he was going to try to throw it away, but he didn’t.”

Selvie and linebacker Taylor Reed, who led the team in tackles with nine, both recorded sacks in the game. Selvie, who just two weeks ago was without a team and sitting at home in Pensacola, Fla., pushed the Dolphins back a combined 20 yards with his two sacks.

“I’m grateful to have the chance,” Selvie said. “A couple weeks ago, I was sitting at home. Being able to come out here and play at the Hall of Fame Game and have a good game, I’m blessed.”

Selvie, Holloman and the defense helped the Cowboys look like a completely different group from the 2012 team, which relied on comeback wins and miracle finishes. Conversely, the Cowboys were able to pound the rock and create turnovers early in the game, then continue to run and play sound defense the rest of the way to preserve the victory.

The Cowboys rushed for 170 yards and had three running backs record at least one carry of 10 yards of more. Joseph Randle, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar all averaged more than five yards per carry. The other running back on the roster, Kendial Lawrence, rushed for his first touchdown, which turned out to be the game-winner.

The quarterbacks didn’t need to be active in this one. With Tony Romo out, Alex Tanney, Nick Stephens and Kyle Orton all got playing time. None of them threw a touchdown or an interception. Tim Benford led all receivers with three catches, while Jared Green’s one 32-yard catch was enough to make him the team’s leading receiver.

They did enough on the ground to allow the Cowboys’ defense to play with a lead all game. With the majority of second-team defenders on the field, as well as starting linebacker Justin Durant, the first four Dolphins’ series of the game resulted in a fumble, two punts and an interception. Durant said he never wanted to leave the field, but the Cowboys remained cautious with their starters.

It wasn’t until the backups to the backups entered the contest that the Dolphins began mounting a comeback, but the third-team Cowboys defense was able to force a turnover on downs before the two-minute warning. A late Miami touchdown on a tipped fourth-down pass wasn’t enough, as the Cowboys recovered an onside kick to wrap it up.

“I’m just excited,” Durant said. “I see a lot of potential in the team. We were getting after the quarterback a lot, guys making plays all over the field. I’m excited.”

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