IRVING, Texas – If the phrase “perception is reality” holds true to form, the Dallas Cowboys are certainly hoping for that in regards to their new-look offensive line.
Recently, the perception of the offensive line hasn’t been that good. In reality, they weren’t, especially in the running game.
Now, with the addition of veteran Brian Waters, who practiced for the first time today, teamed with a first-round pick at center and an emerging young guard in Ron Leary, the perception of the entire offensive line is one that is vastly improved.
The Cowboys can only hope that becomes a reality.
Vice president Stephen Jones, who is the Cowboys’ director of player personnel, said he is hopeful the offensive line will go from one of the team’s weaknesses, to possibly a strength with the added experience and depth.
“Getting Waters obviously takes it from being a big, big question mark, but from not only being a question mark on the front end, but now we’ve got good depth,” Jones said. “You take a starter in Mackenzy Bernadeau and he may ultimately be a backup here. I’m sure he’s not going to give the job away. He’s been competing well. You know what we think about Phil Costa and Jermey Parnell gives you a solid eight there. We’re pleased.”
And that’s not something the Cowboys have been able to say about the line in the last few years – even the last few weeks. There have been several questions, ones that still haven’t been fully answered.
While Travis Frederick looks the part and has played well in the preseason, Sunday night will be his NFL debut. The same goes for Ronald Leary, who has been battling to get back from a knee scope he had in mid-August. Leary practiced in full Wednesday and said he’s “definitely” playing Sunday against the Giants. However, it’ll also be his NFL debut.
Tyron Smith has been solid at left tackle and Doug Free has played well on the right side this preseason. But he certainly benefitted from Anthony Spencer’s camp-long knee injury that often had him battling the likes of Kyle Wilber and George Selvie, instead of a 2012 Pro Bowler who had 11 sacks.
So the question marks remain along the line. And they likely won’t go away with one game – regardless if Waters plays or not. From the sound of things, the 11-year veteran is not expected to suit up against the Giants. While he practiced some early with the second-team offense, the bulk of his afternoon was spent with trainers working on his conditioning.
It appears the goal with Waters is to have him ready for Week 2, which just so happens to be in Kansas City, a place he spent the first 10 seasons of his career, earning five Pro Bowls. Waters picked up a sixth Pro Bowl trip in 2011 when he signed a one-year deal with the Patriots. Similar to this situation, Waters joined New England on Sept. 3, 2011, eight days before the opener in Miami, where he played 85 percent of the offensive snaps. Waters was able to get five practices in before that first game, compared to just three this week. So getting him ready for the Chiefs makes more sense, although the savvy veteran in Waters wouldn’t let him look that far ahead.
“I’m just going to think about the Giants right now, take it one game at a time,” Waters said (video | audio). “Obviously, I have a great amount of affection for the Kansas City program and organization, but right now our focus is on the Giants.”
Despite his experience, Waters said he can learn a lot from Frederick, who was eight years old when Waters completed his first training camp.
“I have a lot of experience, a lot of game-time experience,” Waters said. “If those guys need me, in any way, form or fashion, I think I can offer some insight on different ways to do things and different players that I’ve played against. But this center is young and smart. He’s not going to need much help from me. I’m probably going to need more help from him than he’s going to need from me.”
“I don’t think I’m teaching him anything. Really all I’m doing is helping facilitate the switching of terminology and things like that, and even at that, it’s not a whole lot,” Frederick said. “He obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s got the playbook and will have probably by (Thursday), have it all done. The things you learn from playing in the NFL for 10 years, I have no idea. But those are the things that I can learn from him, and I think those are harder to learn and they take more time and they take somebody that’s been through it all to help you if you want to get it faster than they got it or faster than it takes you 10 years down the road. I think the things that he’s teaching me are more important.”
Whether Frederick is helping Waters learn the system, or Waters is helping Frederick learn the ropes of being an NFL lineman, they’re going to lean on each other.
More importantly, they’re likely going to give this offensive line a possible edge that we haven’t seen around here in a while.
Now that would be quite a reality check.
Newly-acquired defensive end Caesar Rayford said he feels confident he could be ready to play the Giants if asked to this weekend. “I got a lot of snaps this preseason, and I pretty much feel like I’m in game shape,” he said.
The makeshift sign above Rayford’s locker might have been spelled wrong, but Rayford’s presence at Valley Ranch is no mistake. Rayford has only been with the Cowboys for about 18 hours after being traded from Indianapolis, so it’s understandable a member of the training staff would spell his name “Ceasar” on the masking tape sign above his new locker. But with Spencer’s status still questionable for Sunday, Rayford’s proficiency as a pass rusher – five sacks in the preseason – could come in handy. “There’s definitely a different transition from 3-4 to 4-3 – I guess I don’t really have to worry about coverage as much as I used to,” Rayford said. “I’m definitely going to study that playbook and make sure I pick up everything.”
Rayford had perhaps the line of the week when asked about his journey to the Cowboys’ locker room. The first-year NFL player spent time in the CFL and the Arena Football League before he eventually received a call from the Colts. “Some people get in the front door, some people get in the back door. But guys like me have got to climb the house and jump through the chimney,” he said. That’s been my journey – long and hard, and I stayed the course, and now I’m here.”
- Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will be one of the happiest people to add Rayford to the rotation. Asked about Spencer’s availability for Sunday, he said “it depends on how he looks tomorrow and the next day – if it looks like he can play I think he’ll still be a game time decision.” If Spencer can’t go, it’ll be all hands on deck for the Cowboys’ reserves.
- Kiffin said anyone who lines up on Sunday night will have to play their best against the Giants, regardless of what his name is. He said it remains to be seen how the likes of defensive tackle Nick Hayden and defensive end George Selvie will perform, but he said they earned an opportunity with good training camps.
- Kiffin acknowledged that cornerback Morris Claiborne’s play is a big key for Sunday’s game. Claiborne didn’t play any preseason games after he jammed his knee during training camp. Kiffin said Claiborne looked good at Monday’s practice and had a good day of work Wednesday.
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Leary, who had knee surgery on Aug. 15, is on track to start at left guard in the season opener against the Giants on Sunday. But the others, notably Spencer, are unlikely to play. The Cowboys are holding out hope that Spencer, who had knee surgery in July at the start of training camp, can get in the game for spot duty on Sunday.
For the Giants, three players did not practice. Center David Baas (knee), tight end Adrein Robinson (foot) and tackle David Diehl (thumb) sat out. Limited in practice were receiver Victor Cruz (heel), fullback Henry Hynoski (knee), defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (back).
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett gave up play-calling duties this year, and Giants coach Tom Coughlin said there are benefits.
“There was a point in time for me, I just said, ‘You know what? I’ve got to be the head coach of the entire team.’ ” Coughlin said in a conference call with DFW reporters Wednesday, asked about the change in Garrett’s duties. “I thought I was spending so much time trying to be prepared for the play-calling duties, that I felt like it was maybe closing some doors of opportunity for me to be involved in motivation of our players, the management of our players, to a better extreme. So that was the reason for me.
“I do think that it does allow you to become very, very familiar with the opponent. It does allow you to be in position perhaps to be a situation or a play or a series ahead from where you might be if you were the play-caller. It also allows you, I think, to get more involved in special teams, which is so critical.”
Coughlin said he gave up play-calling when he came to the Giants from Jacksonville, and he said he had been “back and forth on it” when he was with the Jaguars.
“I think it’s an individual thing,” Coughlin said. “There’s no general statement about how it should be done. People have obviously done an excellent job of coaching their team and still being the defensive play-caller or the offensive play-caller. I do think it’s an individual- and situational- and knowledge-of-your-franchise-type of decision.”
On a picture-perfect Southern California afternoon, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo took a break from the daily grind of training camp to chase 16-month-old son Hawkins around the field.
A few days after Romo’s family left training camp, news broke that his wife, Candice, is expecting the couple’s second child after the season.
Five months ago, Romo signed a six-year, $108 million contract extension to make him the highest-paid Cowboys player in franchise history. In Jerry Jones’ office that day at Valley Ranch, a photographer captured Hawkins taking a pen out of the Cowboys owner’s hands, with Hawkins’ smiling parents holding him.
For Romo, it seems, life couldn’t get much better. He has it all: faith, family, football, fame and fortune.
But one dream has proved elusive for Romo: a Super Bowl.
He hasn’t even taken baby steps to approach the milestone. He has one playoff win in his 6 1/2 seasons as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback.
At 33, the oldest player in the Cowboys’ locker room, Romo knows he must strike quickly. He has never wanted it more, but not just for himself.
“When you’re young, you want to be the best, you want to be the starter, you want to do these things to get to that point to win a championship,” Romo said. “And when you’re older, you want all those same things, but you want it for a lot of other people as well, because you see all the people that have put so much into it and it really matters to them as well.
“That’s where I’m at. It’s not just for me. It’s about a lot of other people. I see it with the fans.”
Recent history says Romo isn’t likely to lead the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl win since the 1995 season.
Only one starting quarterback in the last 14 seasons has won the Super Bowl at 33 or older. That was 34-year-old Brad Johnson in 2003, but he was just a game manager for Tampa Bay’s defensively led team.
Romo isn’t paid to be a game manager.
Only 11 quarterbacks in NFL history have won a Super Bowl at 33 or older. One of those happens to be an unabashed Romo supporter: legendary Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach.
When he was 35, Staubach led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl win in 1978.
Thirty-five years later, Staubach believes Romo can do the same.
“If you’re in your 30s and you’re a quarterback, it’s not like other positions,” Staubach said. “He’s at the prime of his career right now.”
The Cowboys have gone all-in on Romo. They’re not only paying him as an elite quarterback, they’ve given him more say-so than ever in the offensive game plan.
In training camp, Romo often held teaching sessions with receivers and running backs. During the season, he’ll be in coaching meetings early in the week to help formulate game plans.
Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, who spent 19 years as a quarterback in the NFL, said Romo has “always had input on things” but never to the point that he was side-by-side with coaches.
In fact, Wilson said he’s never been involved with a similar situation in his almost 35 years in the NFL as a player and coach.
Wilson said Romo always offered ideas, but now the process is streamlined.
“Any ideas that he’s had, they may show up later in the week,” Wilson said. “But now, with him in those meetings, he’s watching it with us and we’re talking about things. Maybe those ideas come earlier in the week and we get a chance to practice them.”
The Cowboys view Romo as a “young” 33 by NFL standards, because most starting quarterbacks his age have more mileage on their throwing arms. The Cowboys signed the undrafted Romo in 2003, but he didn’t attempt his first NFL pass until midway through the 2006 season.
“He started later and he takes real good care of himself,” Wilson said. “He plays the different sports in the off-season. He’s in great condition and he’s very instinctive, and those things will stay with you throughout your career.”
Sure, Romo’s arm is fine. But he’s withstood much abuse over the last six seasons — particularly the last three — because of the team’s poor offensive line play.
Romo didn’t participate in the Cowboys’ off-season workouts because he had back surgery to remove a cyst. Two years ago, he played a game with a broken rib and a punctured lung.
Soon to be 71, Jones has said he doesn’t have time to wait for the Cowboys to show improvement.
That also holds true for Romo. But for better or worse, Jones is committed to Romo, thanks to the quarterback’s new contract.
Romo is 1-6 in win-or-go-home games, and hasn’t been able to get it done in the regular-season finale the last two seasons in games that could have given the Cowboys the NFC East title.
For one of the league’s most talented quarterbacks, Romo is aware his legacy will ultimately be defined by his playoff success.
“It’s not fair, but that’s just the way it is,” Staubach said of how Romo will be judged. “I really feel it’s important to him. The most important thing for him is to win and to get to that playoff level where he can win some playoff games. But you can’t do it by yourself. It’s not a one-man game. It’s a team game. Dallas has a quarterback who can be a franchise quarterback. But you need other pieces, too.”
What will be Romo’s legacy? Will he be the next Staubach or Troy Aikman — who have combined for five Super Bowl wins — or will he fall woefully short?
Aikman has said Romo is a better quarterback than he was and believes Romo will lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl win one day.
Pro Football Hall of Famers Aikman and Staubach believe in him. But time is running out on Romo to make believers out of his critics.
“This team is going to win a Super Bowl at some point. It’s going to be exciting when that time comes,” Romo said. “And when we look back, we know who was on what side of the fence during the tough moments.”
A postgame brawl after a Friday night football game in Alabama left one coach bruised and bloodied while police were called into escort the teams away from the scene.
Cullman High School defeated the Walker High School Vikings on their home turf in Jasper, Ala. 13-10 on a last-minute drive and it appears harsh words and hurt feelings set off the losing team during Cullman’s celebration.
Although exact details of the melee are scarce, the fight was caught on cameras for our viewing pleasure (alternate link – http://vimeo.com/73548413):
There are a few theories as to what went down, but the exact cause of the fight still remains unknown. According to the Cullman Times, Walker head coach John Holladay and Cullman defensive coordinator Matt Hopper “appeared to be exchanging words as Holladay and the Vikings were walking to the locker room to avoid the customary midfield meeting” at the game’s conclusion.
The Cullman Times also reported today that representatives from both high schools were called in to meet with members of the Alabama High School Athletic Association to determine what, if any, additional punishment would come out of the incident but not before Holladay resigned from his head coaching position Tuesday evening.
In a statement to the paper, ASHAA executive director Steve Savarese commented on the incident, saying, “The AHSAA is always disappointed by any unsportsmanlike incident that involves players or coaches from our member schools. Our coaches are teachers first, and must demonstrate examples of good sportsmanship at all times. We truly understand the passions that are involved in competitive athletics, but we can never allow those passions to cross the line and become unsportsmanlike in nature.ÂÂ
Local law enforcement is currently deciding whether or not charges will be pressed.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media as his team continues their preparation for opening night with the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Garrett discussed:
- Brian Waters visits on Monday and Tuesday
- History with Brian Waters
- Vetting Waters with film and actual workout
- Impact of being off for a full NFL season
- Domino effect of linemen by bringing in Waters
- Evaluating Waters current condition at Valley Ranch
- Competitive nature of the team’s roster spots
- Track record of backups given playing time after earning it
- Scouts and support staffs impact on finding viable players
- Veteran presence will help younger players
- Missing training camp in New England,
- Ron Leary recovery and practice
- Route running importance in this system
- Spencer factors into recent defensive signings
- Romo’s game-planning role this week
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