Category Archives: San Antonio Express-News

SOPHOMORE SLUMP: Dallas Cowboys insist on patients regarding Morris Claiborne

IRVING – Citing the difficulty of playing cornerback in the NFL, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, owner Jerry Jones and others in the organization continue to preach patience when it comes to struggling second-year pro Morris Claiborne.

San Diego’s Philip Rivers picked on the sixth overall pick of the 2012 draft repeatedly in Sunday’s 30-21 win over the Cowboys. Rivers finished with 401 yards and three touchdowns on 35-of-42 accuracy, including a 31-yard strike to rookie Keenan Allen on third-and-long early in the game that victimized Claiborne and set the tone for the day.

Allen finished with five catches for 80 yards, most of which came against Claiborne, who termed his day “frustrating.”

“They hit a couple of plays all over the field,” said Claiborne, who also gave up a 28-yard catch, “but obviously they found more over there on the right side.”

Orlando Scandrick has started the last three games after Claiborne dislocated a shoulder in the opener. Team vice president Stephen Jones suggested the injury has nothing to do with Claiborne’s poor play.

“It’s time for the injury thing to leave the scene, Jones told Dallas’ KRLD-FM on Monday. “He needs to step up and make plays. I think he will.”

On Tuesday, Jerry Jones was asked about Claiborne during his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM.

“He’s just got to get his confidence up,” the owner said. “We know what kind of player he is, what kind of athlete he is.”

Like the Joneses, Garrett believes a dip in confidence plagues Claiborne, who Pro Football Focus ranks 99th out of 101 corners who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps.

But the coach pointed out that poor technique is also a factor in the former LSU standout’s decline.

“It’s a challenging position,” Garrett said. “You’re out there on an island and your best friend is your technique. Your best friend is the system, and oftentimes a young player like him is inconsistent in how he’s using his technique and his belief in the system.”

Garrett said young pro corners are often surprised to learn they can’t rely solely on the athleticism that served them so well in college.

“Guys at the college level don’t face the expertise or just the level of play, the level of skill that (NFL quarterbacks and receivers) have,” Garrett said.

“(In college), if you are a more talented player, you can get away with being a little late to the ball because you can (recover quickly). The ball’s not really where it’s supposed to be. But guys in this league throw the ball on time. They throw it where they want to throw it. The route running is good. So, technically, you just have to be really sound to give yourself a chance to succeed out there.”

Cornerback Brandon Carr said it’s clear on film teams are targeting Claiborne. But unlike others, Carr believes Claiborne remains confident. Still, Carr said he’s pulled Claiborne aside to offer him guidance and encouragement.

“He is going to take some bumps and bruises,” Carr said. “He hasn’t seen it all yet. I told him it took me four years to get it all out of my system and get my confidence level where it should be.

“The only thing you can tell him is keep battling, keep being positive.”

With that said, Carr supports the decision to start Scandrick.

“It’s not time for feelings or anything political,” Carr said of Claiborne’s demotion. “It’s all just business. We are trying to put the best 11 out there to win ball games.”

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COWBOYS 2013 ROSTER UPDATE: Dallas expected to add three players

Demetress Bell trying to stop Dallas Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Ware as a Philadelphia Eagle - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys current roster will likely expand by three shortly after landing in Oxnard, Calif.

The team is expected to sign quarterback Alex Tanney, wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei and offensive tackle Demetress Bell, pending physicals in Oxnard. That would leave one more open spot on the 90-man roster, which will be filled at a later date after the team gathers.

Bell is the player among that group with the most NFL experience, having started five games last year for the Eagles. He’s played in 40 games during his career, including 35 starts, spending four years in Buffalo before joining Philadelphia.

The tackle was released by the Eagles shortly after the season in February and will quickly provide depth for the Cowboys, who still have a right tackle spot up for grabs.

Tanney and Tuinei both worked out for the Cowboys earlier this week, along with six other players. Tanney originally signed with the Chiefs after going undrafted last year but spent the year on injured reserve before being released. The former Division-III quarterback set the NCAA record for all-time career touchdown passes at Monmouth, finishing with 157.

Tuinei played three seasons at Oregon, scoring 10 touchdowns on 48 catches his final season in 2011. He’s spent time with the Bengals and Seahawks since then and demonstrated enough during his workout this week for the Cowboys to give him a look at camp.

RELATED: Cowboys reportedly set to sign former NBA star’s son

Eagles Danny Watkins, Michael Vick, Demetress Bell, and LeSean McCoy celebrate - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

OXNARD, Calif. – The Dallas Cowboys reportedly will fill one of their vacant roster spots with a veteran offensive tackle.

Dallas will sign former Philadelphia Eagle Demetress Bell to bolster depth along the offensive line.

Bell, who started five games last season for the Eagles, must pass a physical before signing. Philadelphia released him in February in a salary-cap move.

The 6-foot-5, 311-pound Bell is a sixth-year player from Northwestern State-La. He started 35 of the 40 games he’s played for Buffalo and Philadelphia after the Bills drafted him in the seventh round in 2008.

Bell is the son of former NBA star Karl Malone. The two do not have a relationship.

“I treat it as if my mother went to the sperm bank,” Bell said in 2008. “I don’t hate him for (not being in my life). It made me a better person.”

The Cowboys plan to sign quarterback Alex Tanney rather than former Alamo Heights and Rice standout Chase Clement and wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei.

The signings of Bell, Tanney and Tuinei would leave the club one player shy of the 90-man NFL training camp roster.

COWBOYS OTA INJURY UPDATE: Jason Garrett to err on the side of caution this time of year

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett during stretches at OTA practices at Valley Ranch - The Boys Are Back blog 2012

DeMarco Murray’s injured hamstring continues to keep him sidelined at the Dallas Cowboys’ offseason practices, but the absence of the team’s top running back isn’t keeping coach Jason Garrett up at night.

Speaking at a news conference in Irving, Garrett dismissed the notion that injuries to Murray and several other players are a pressing issue at Valley Ranch. Murray has missed nine games due to injuries over his first two NFL seasons.

“I just think with all the guys with any kind of hint of injury this time of year, we’re very cautious,” Garrett said. “We don’t want to take any backward steps. They’re all progressing well in their rehab. They’re all working hard. So, we just want to keep them moving forward, and (Murray) falls into that category as well as a number of other guys.”

Other players limited by injuries include:

  • safety Will Allen,
  • wide receiver Tim Benford,
  • linebacker Justin Durant,
  • rookie safety Jakar Hamilton,
  • defensive end Anthony Hargrove,
  • quarterback Tony Romo,
  • running back Joseph Randle and
  • fullback Lawrence Vickers.

Injuries decimated the Cowboys’ defense last season, but Garrett said it’s way too early to think the team won’t be healthy this season.

“You want to keep injuries to a minimum, obviously – and kind of injuries,” he said. “If you look around the league, there are probably a lot of teams that are going through the same kind of things we’re going through, and you’ve just got to manage the right way.

“If we were playing on Sunday, we might handle these things a little bit differently. But, again, you want to err on the side of caution this time of year, and we have to do everything we can as an organization to keep these guys healthy.”

RELATED: DeMarco Murray determined to play all 16 games this season

Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray says he wants to play in all 16 games in 2013 season - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray knows he can’t win the battle of perception.

He joined the Cowboys as a third-round pick in 2011 with a reputation of being injury prone in college at Oklahoma, despite owning the school records for points, touchdowns and all-purpose yards.

Murray then missed nine games his two seasons combined, prompting the Cowboys to draft Oklahoma State star Joseph Randle in the fifth round this year to help shoulder the load going forward.

Dallas Cowboys OTA - DeMarco Murray - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Now Murray is sidelined for the start of OTAs with a tweaked hamstring. He missed all of last week and Tuesday.

While he said he doesn’t worry about the injury-prone label, he does plan on changing the perception in 2013 by doing something he has never done before: play all 16 games.

“That’s something I can’t control,” Murray said of the critics. “I can’t control if anything happens. All I can do is go out there, play hard, play fast, play physical. Once I’m out there, I don’t think there’s any question about anything. “…I am going to play all 16 (games) this year, and I’m excited. It’s going to be a great year for us.”

If Murray plays all 16 games, it should be a great year for the Cowboys.

One thing he has proved over his first two years is that the Cowboys are better when Murray is in the lineup and running well. He has 218 carries for 1,100 yards in Cowboys’ wins in 2011 and 2012 compared to 107 carries for 466 yards in losses.

His importance is not lost on the Cowboys, who support the decision by Murray and the trainers to take it slow during OTA workouts so he can be ready to live up to his promise of a full season on the field.

“DeMarco, he’s going to be good,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “The thing about it is, we’re in OTAs and we don’t want to get him out there when he’s not ready and something comes up. We need him throughout the whole year. Not only for DeMarco but for every player, we don’t want to rush anybody. He’s a great player and he’s probably one of the biggest pieces to this puzzle. He’s doing fine.”

Said tight end Jason Witten: “I think it’ll be huge for us. He’s a guy that plays hard and runs hard. I think we’ll do a better job offensively running the ball. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on that. He’s a dynamic back who can create a lot of things for you. He’s got to be healthy and out there. He’s worked hard to get there, and hopefully we’ll get to see him here in these OTAs. A lot of that has been tightened up. We can’t be in those situations that we were last year. It’s just too hard to overcome.”

ROSTER RESOLUTION: Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free agrees to pay cut (updated)

dallas cowboys right tackle doug free - the boys are back blog

Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free has agreed to a pay cut that will allow him to remain with the team.

Free’s new deal calls for him to receive $7 million over two years, but only his $3.5 million salary in 2013 is guaranteed.

Free was scheduled to make $7 million in 2013 as part of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2011.

Free struggled out of the gate last season, prompting the Cowboys to force him to split time with Jeremy Parnell.

RELATED: Tackle Doug Free agrees to pay cut to stay with Cowboys

dallas cowboys rt doug free 2012 - the boys are back blog

The impasse between the Dallas Cowboys and maligned left tackle Doug Free is over.

Free will remain with the Cowboys as he has agreed to a pay cut as part of a new two-year contract that will pay him $7 million in 2013 and 2014, per multiple sources.

Only his $3.5 million salary in 2013 is guaranteed making it essentially a one-year deal.

Free was scheduled to make $7 million in 2013 as part of a four-year, $32 million deal he signed in 2011.

He has started 48 games with the Cowboys  but struggled mightily last season _ so much so that he forced to share snaps with Jeremy Parnell.

The Cowboys have been clear that they wanted Free to return to the team in 2013 and continue to compete with Parnell at right tackle. But they were also clear that they weren’t going to pay him $7 million to do so.

If Free hadn’t agreed to a pay cut, he would have been released.

In the end both sides got something out of deal as it was unlikely Free would have gotten $3.5 million guaranteed for next season on the free agent market, especially at this late date.

The Cowboys were able to clear salary room to so they could possibly pursue other free agents or even give one of their players a contract extension.

RELATED: Doug Free reworks contract to stay with Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free agrees to a revised contact - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

The Doug Free saga is over.

The right tackle has agreed to a substantial pay decrease in his final two seasons to remain with the Dallas Cowboys.

Free was scheduled to make $15 million in base salary over the next two seasons — $7 million in 2013 and $8 million next season. That total has been reduced to a total of $7 million, meaning the offensive linemen will make $3.5 million in base salary in each of the next two seasons.

The $7 million figure this season made Free the league’s highest paid right tackle. This restructured contract falls in line with the current market.

Tyson Clabo, the former right tackle from Atlanta who graded out much higher than Free last season, signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Miami earlier this month.

The Cowboys had kicked the tires on Clabo along with right tackle Eric Winston in free agency in case a deal could not be reached with Free. The club held the threat of a post June 1 cut over Free’s head. But the longer this dragged on, the more clear it became that the Cowboys preferred to keep Free and avoid the salary cap hit that would have been forced to absorb in 2014 by releasing him.

Free gave up seven sacks and was hit with 13 penalties last season. His grades in the run game were poor and he finished the season splitting snaps with Jermey Parnell.

RELATED ROSTER NEWS:

Dallas Cowboys sign defensive end Anthony Hargrove

In other news, Dallas signed defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who missed last season because of an eight-game NFL-imposed suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

To make room for Hargrove on the 90-man roster, the Cowboys cut recently signed guard D.J. Hall, a Texas State product.

Editors comment: Click HERE for more information on this signing.

COWBOY CONTRACTS: Rookie cornerback B.W. Webb inks his four-year deal with Dallas

Dallas Cowboys CB B.W. Webb speaks with Dallas media for the first time after being selected in the 4th round of the NFL draft - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Rookie cornerback B.W. Webb signed a four-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday worth approximately $2.5 million.

A fourth-round pick from William & Mary, Webb is the third member of the team’s seven-play draft class to sign. Sixth-round linebacker DeVonte Holloman and fifth-round running back Joseph Randle signed last week.

Webb, who recorded 11 interceptions while starting a school-record 48 games for William & Mary, was one of the standout-performers at rookie minicamp, which ended Sunday. He’s expected to back up slot corner Orlando Scandrick.

“He has quickness and playmaking ability,” coach Jason Garrett said Webb. “He’s a guy we would describe as a football player who can come in and compete.”

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones joined Sirius XM’s Late Hits show this week to talk about the draft and the Cowboys’ rookie mini-camp. He said, “Certainly, one of the players that Gil [Brandt] noted to me when I was out at practice… B.W. Webb, the corner that we got in the fourth round, we basically really liked what we saw of him this weekend. He’s got such confidence… He really did show the skills and the quickness and really comes in as a real, legitimate candidate to come in and compete for a lot of playing time, especially in our money packages.”


More on Dallas Cowboys rookie cornerback B.W. Webb …

 

GRADUATION GOAL ACHIEVED: B. W. Webb excused from final day of mini camp

Rookie cornerback B.W. Webb has been one of the more impressive players in the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie minicamp so far. But the fourth-round pick, who is expected to compete with Orlando Scandrick for the starting spot at nickel cornerback, will miss the final day of camp on Sunday to return to William and Mary for graduation.

Webb counts his family as his biggest motivation for wanting to succeed in the NFL. They are also the reason why he had to go back to attend graduation.

“If it was up to my parents, it’s graduation before football,” Webb said. “They are more happy about that than [me] being in the NFL.”


Columnist Rick Gosselin answered questions in a chat on Monday. Here’s a highlight.

Can B.W. Webb take Orlando Scandrick’s spot despite Scandrick having a bigger contract?

If Webb proves to be the better player this summer, he will supplant Scandrick as the nickel corner. The Cowboys need to win games this season to save some jobs and you do that by putting the best players on the field — not necessarily the most expensive ones. Webb will wind up starting for this team at some point in the future. The Cowboys believed they stole him in the third round. This player probably had second-round skill but slid to the third because of his quality of college competition. He’s coming from a small school and the NFL will be a huge step up in competition. He’s not going to challenge either Carr or Claiborne any time soon, but Scandrick better bring his A-game to training camp.


FORMER NFL SCOUT: Dallas Cowboys rookie B.W. Webb ‘has playing traits like Asante Samuel’

After reading a story about Senior Bowl standouts in January I decided to save the article in case any of the players mentioned were drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Going through some old stories earlier today I came across that particular piece written by CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang — and B.W. Webb was on the list.

Webb, a William & Mary cornerback the Cowboys drafted in the fourth round, was one of five prospects who improved their stock according to NFL scouts who Rang interviewed.

“Scouts knew Webb could cover, as he had shown quick feet, speed and route recognition on tape,” Rang wrote. “Needless to say, however, the jump in competition from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Senior Bowl was significant. But Webb certainly proved up to the task. The 5-10, 183-pounder showed improved physicality in Mobile and stepped up his play against the bigger receivers he faced on the South squad, showing the feistiness necessary to make the significant jump to the NFL.”

Rang also linked to a CBSSports.com article where former NFL scout and coach Pat Kirwan wrote that Webb “has playing traits like Asante Samuel.”

“He looks like a solid cover two corner with 48 college starts,” Kirwan wrote. “He holds up well in the man-to-man drills and has good anticipation in his zone drops.”

Webb should enter the 2013 season as the No. 4 corner on the Cowboys’ roster, behind Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. Pretty good depth if Webb can be anything close to Samuel, a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion who has intercepted 50 passes in his 10-year NFL career.

THE TEXAS 2 ENFORCER: Dallas Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox’s aggressive play among rookie minicamp highlights

Dallas Cowboys draft Georgia Southern safety JJ Wilcox - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING – Dallas Cowboys rookie J.J. Wilcox relished contact long before his coaches moved him to safety his senior year at Georgia Southern.

“That’s why my touchdowns were limited,” said Wilcox, referring to his 18 scores as a running back and receiver for the Eagles.

“I wanted to be a bruiser, run guys over. I like being physical.”

That was evident the second day of rookie minicamp, which ended Sunday. In a pads-free, non-contact 11-on-11 session, the third-round pick collided with undrafted free agent Kendial Lawrence, sending the running back from Missouri to the ground and eliciting nods of approval from onlookers.

“We got no pads on and he’s a pretty big guy, so it was a good collision,” said Wilcox.

Typical of a hard hitter, Wilcox was unapologetic for his aggressive play.

“They tell you to fly around,” he said. “(The coaches) know it wasn’t on purpose. I’m a rookie, second day of camp. They figure, ‘Hey, he doesn’t know better.’ Next time (it happens), I’ll probably get in trouble for it.”

Perhaps. Or just maybe Wilcox will get a pat on the rump from a staff overseeing a team in dire need of defensive playmakers.

The Cowboys fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in January and replaced him with 4-3 scheme guru Monte Kiffin partly because Ryan’s 3-4 defense forced just 16 turnovers last season. The Chicago Bears registered an NFL-high 44.

“So that’s 28 more scoring opportunities,” Garrett said in February. “The thing we’ve probably done least well is take the football away. And (turnover differential) is probably the single most important statistic in football.”

Wilcox’s collision with Lawrence wasn’t his only highlight. He also had an interception while defending a tight end on a seam route.

Bottom line: Wilcox was one of the top performers at rookie minicamp, very much looking the part of a playmaking safety even if this is only his second year at the position.

“Initially, when you (hear) this guy used to play running back, this guy used to play receiver, now he’s going to play safety in the NFL, you say, ‘Wait a second here,’ ” coach Jason Garrett said. “But then you watch him play, he shows the traits and the demeanor.”

Despite Wilcox’s inexperience at safety, he has a shot to start at a position of weakness.

“Unproven would be the overall assessment,” owner Jerry Jones said last week when asked to evaluate the team’s safeties, which include a veteran recovering from a torn Achilles (Barry Church), a second-year pro who did not play as a rookie because of hamstring injuries (Matt Johnson), a veteran more suited for special-teams duty (Danny McCray) and a free agent who signed a one-year deal (Will Allen).

But Jones is confident Kiffin will position the safeties to succeed.

“I think we will benefit from a scheme that emphasizes what these guys are: big, physical guys that like to hit,” Jones said. “With (hard-hitting safety John) Lynch in Monte’s background, you say, ‘Duh, that’s the picture you see,’ but these guys have all the same thing that comes up: tough.”

Judging by his performance at rookie minicamp, Wilcox fits the bill.


THE TEXAS 2 ENFORCER - Dallas Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox’s aggressive play among rookie minicamp highlights - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

TBAB’S MUST-SEE VIDEO: J.J. Wilcox stands out in Cowboys rookie minicamp

J.J. Wilcox talks about participating in his first NFL practice, and how his switch to safety in college came about. Excellent footage of his aggressive style and poise when talking with the Dallas media.

FIELD OF VISION DEBATE: Dallas Cowboys consider heads-up style adjustment for DeMarco Murray

Meet Dallas Cowboys running backs RB coach Gary Brown - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING – Dallas Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown likes the players he’s tutoring.

“They are mature guys,” Brown said of lead horse DeMarco Murray, backups Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar and fifth-round pick Joseph Randle, who signed a four-year deal worth more than $2 million Monday. “They are guys who want to win, work hard and be the best they can possibly be.’

But being a fan of his backs doesn’t necessarily mean Brown is on the same page with them when it comes to their running styles. For instance, he and Murray differ over the controversial crown-of-helmet rule the NFL Competition Committee passed in March.

The new rule, designed to make the game safer, penalizes players for lowering the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box.

Murray last week became the latest NFL tailback to express his disappointment with the rule, following the lead of such standouts as Adrian Peterson, Trent Richardson, Ray Rice and Matt Forte, who called it “absurd.”

Speaking to reporters at a charity event, Murray said he has no plans to tone down his aggressive style, which includes strong finishing kicks and, yes, an occasional lowered helmet. “I’m not changing my running style,” Murray said. “If I get fined, hopefully (Tony) Romo will take care of the first couple for me. I’m doing it for him.”

While Romo’s six-year, $108 million contract extension gives him the funds to cover his teammates’ fines for the rest of their careers, Brown is hopeful the quarterback won’t have to dig into his pockets to bail out Murray.

the cowboys' demarco murray rushed for 91 yards in the first half before leaving with an injury - the boys are back blog

Asked about Murray’s penchant for seeking contact, Brown said last week, “I noticed that. I’ve seen that. We’ve talked about it. We are going to have a plan to try to get better than that. He’s explosive enough that he can freeze people’s feet and get away from them and do the things he needs to do to gain more yards.

“With he and I working together to get him better, it should be a great thing.”

Brown, a former Houston Oilers running back who joined Dallas after it fired Skip Peete in January, actually likes the rule and thinks it will benefit Murray.

“What is going to happen is he’s going to be better because he will be able to see,” Brown said. “He will have to keep his eyes up, his head up.”

But it’s the safety aspect of the rule Brown likes best.

“We want them to be safe,” he said. “We want them after their careers are done to be able to play with their children and things like that. So it is a bigger picture. It’s for their future.”

Injuries have been an issue for the 6-foot, 215-pound Murray ever since Dallas drafted him in the third round in 2011. The Oklahoma-ex missed three games his rookie year and six in 2012 but still managed to lead the club in rushing both seasons (897 yards in 2011, 663 in 2012).

While Brown said he’s powerless to prevent the ankle and foot issues that have plagued Murray, he’s certain the new rule will help prevent catastrophic injuries.

“If you keep your head up, you can see what’s going on,” Brown said. “If you drop your head…you are going to break your neck eventually. “It’s a good thing. You can still stay low and keep your head up. That’s what the thing was when (the rule) first came out, ‘Oh, running backs aren’t going to be able to protect themselves.’ Well, that’s not true. We are always going to run low to the ground. We’re just going to keep our heads up.”

Dallas Cowboys running back RB DeMarco Murray is able to twist and bounce out of most situations for a long gain - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett suggested the club must walk a fine line when tinkering with Murray’s style.

“One of the things we like about him is he finishes runs,” Garrett said of Murray. “You think it might be blocked for three or four yards and he makes five or six because of how he finishes.

“You don’t want to lose that. At the same time, you want to make guys miss. You want to make longer runs and, at the end of runs, not be so susceptible to contact. But, again, you don’t want to lose that finish trait we like about him.”

RELATED: Coach Brown’s thoughts on drafted backs, new blocking scheme

IRVING – With 1,265 rushing yards last season, the Cowboys ranked next to last in the NFL and established a franchise low for a 16-game season. New running backs coach Gary Brown, though, is optimistic there will be improvement this season with a healthier DeMarco Murray, the addition of fifth-round pick Joseph Randle and some new blocking schemes.

Murray has missed nine games due to injuries the last two seasons, so Brown has his fingers crossed that the Oklahoma-ex in 2013 will finally put in a full season.

“There’s nothing a coach can do (to prevent injury),” Brown said. “You can just coach him hard and try to encourage him and try to just make sure he’s doing the right thing to take care of his body because of lot of those injuries are freak things. Nothing we can do about it. He just has to be blessed with a 16-game season and, hopefully, that will happen.”

Brown is a big fan of Randle, who was limited at rookie minicamp because of a cast to protect his injured thumb.

“I think he is a great player,” Brown said of Randle, an Oklahoma State-ex. “We are happy to have him. Just happy he was there for us, and he’s going to fit in real well.”

Asked why Randle slid to the fifth round, Brown said, “It’s a lottery. I don’t know why. (Former Denver running back) Terrell Davis slipped to the sixth and he had a 2,000 yard season. You don’t know why (Houston star) Arian Foster never got drafted. Things just happen. This whole draft thing, it ain’t a perfect science. We make mistakes, so that’s what it is.”

Speaking of Houston, the Cowboys plan to take a page out of the Texans’ playbook and run more zone blocking schemes. “We feel like we have players that can run it, blocking that can do it, so we are going to emphasize it and get better at it,” Brown said.

THIRD ROUND HIT: Dallas Cowboys draft Georgia Southern punisher J.J. Wilcox

Dallas Cowboys draft Georgia Southern safety JJ Wilcox - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

J.J. Wilcox, one of the Dallas Cowboys’ two third-round picks Friday night, is a project after starting only one season as a safety at Georgia Southern.

Previously a wide receiver and slot back, Wilcox needs plenty of work coverage-wise. But the 6-foot, 213-pound Georgia native has already earned a reputation as a powerful hitter known for exploding into ball carriers.

“Wilcox is an interesting guy,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He was a running back and a receiver for most of his career and became a safety this past year. If you watch him play, he leaps off the screen at you. He’s physical, he can run, he loves to hit. He just plays with great explosiveness.”

Garrett said the Cowboys were impressed with how quickly Wilcox adapted to playing safety.

“You could seem him grow through the course of the year,” Garrett said. “We liked his athletic ability, we liked his potential and we liked the demeanor with which he played. He’s a hard-playing guy, a physical guy, and that’s what you want from your safety. He can tackle, but we also feel he can grow into a back-end player.”

Growing up in Cairo, Ga., Wilcox said he was a fan of hard-hitting Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety John Lynch.

“When you talk about hard hitters and guys that play with enthusiasm, you have to mention John Lynch,” Wilcox said. “He just had a great style of play, he was dominant and he put fear in guys’ hearts.

“Every safety wants to have that type of spirit and that type of reputation around the league. I definitely don’t want to leave him off my list because he’s one of the ones I watched growing up in my backyard playing in the woods back there with the guys.”
So did Wilcox lay guys out while “playing in the woods?”

“I laid a couple of guys out,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I got laid out a couple of times, too. But I was one of the ones that was usually on top often.”

All that sounds great, but after a ho-hum effort in free agency due to salary cap issues, the Cowboys needed to draft walk-in starters in the third round. Wilcox seems more like a project than someone who can compete right away for a starting job with Barry Church, Matt Johnson and Will Allen.

Garrett, though, said that isn’t necessarily the case.

“We certainly feel he’s an outstanding special-teams player,” Garrett said of Wilcox, “but we’d like to think he can compete for one of those safety spots right off the bat.”

Said Jerry Jones, “Third-round pick, by definition, is a starter. Not necessarily the first year, but is a starter and you shouldn’t have drafted him if he is not capable of being a starter.”

RELATED:  J.J. Wilcox loves him some Jerry Jones

IRVING, Texas — On his pre-draft visit with the Dallas Cowboys, safety J.J. Wilcox came away enamored with owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

“Mr. Jerry Jones is one of the best general managers and best owners I’ve met,” Wilcox said. “He’s calm, collected and energetic. You don’t see that much from an owner. They’re mostly laid back.”

Thin at safety, the Cowboys are hoping Wilcox can contribute his first year with designs on him starting I the future if not immediately. The team’s other forays into small-school safeties in recent years include Akwaski Owusu-Ansah (Indiana, Pa., fourth round, 2010) and Matt Johnson (Eastern Washington, fourth round, 2012).

Wilcox has played one year of safety but caught attention from the Senior Bowl.

“There’s a lot of household names in the NFL from smaller schools,” Wilcox said.

2013 NFL DRAFT SPOTLIGHT: New Dallas running back Joseph Randle will play with chip on his shoulder

2013 Dallas Cowboys NFL Draft Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING – Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle made it clear he has a chip on his shoulder after going to the Cowboys in the fifth round.

Randle said in a conference call he is “extremely excited” that Dallas selected him, but he expected to go higher.

“I will use it as fuel to my fire,” the 6-foot, 200-pound underclassman said in a conference call Saturday afternoon. “I will work harder and remember this day, all the teams that passed me up…When I hit the weight room again, I will definitely be hungry and determined to show my worth, my value.”

Randle gives the Cowboys a valuable insurance policy in case DeMarco Murray is injured again.

“The NFL is a two-back system now,” Randle said. “Guys need other guys to come in and you don’t want to drop the tempo off much, so I think we will work well together. I am just going to come in and work hard and see where that gets me. I respect (Murray’s) game a lot.”

Randle led the Big 12 in rushing last season with 1,417 yards on 274 carries with a14 TDs. He also caught 28 catches for 224 yards.

Randle is also known as a strong, willing blocker and a good leader.

RELATED: Cowboys grab running back Joseph Randle from Oklahoma State

Dallas Cowboys draft Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

The Dallas Cowboys, in need of a backup running back, drafted Joseph Randle from Oklahoma State with the 18th pick of the fifth round.

Randle is the running back ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper targeted in the last couple of weeks as “the back late in the draft that could be this year’s Alfred Morris.” Morris was taken in the sixth round last year by the Washington Redskins and wound up second in the NFL in rushing with more than 1,600 yards.

Randle is the third recent Cowboys to Cowboys player acquired by Dallas, joining wide receiver Dez Bryant and kicker Dan Bailey as Oklahoma State alums on the roster.

He projects to compete as a backup to DeMarco Murray, and maybe more, given Murray’s injury history. Murray is a former Oklahoma Sooners standout, so he and Randle will have to talk their way through that rivalry.

The Star-Telegram’s Jimmy Burch, “Cowboys score real value with RB Joseph Randle as their 5th round pick. Great value at that point in draft. Versatile, talented RB”.

RELATED: RB Randle might be slowed by thumb injury in rookie minicamp

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said fifth-round pick Joseph Randle has a thumb problem that might limit him in rookie minicamp, mainly catching the ball.

Jones said Randle will wear a “club” to protect the thumb, but that it shouldn’t slow him down in anything except pass-catching.

Randle described himself as versatile and considered his pass-catching a strength.

“I do everything well: running, blocking. I take pride in my blocking. I take pride in being able to catch, and I take pride in being able to make tough yards and make people miss one-on-one,” he said. “That’s just my game in a nutshell right there.”

PRINT AND PREDICT: How many wins do YOU think the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys will have?

America's Team - The Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

The 2013-2014 NFL Schedule was released on Thursday. Naturally, we can’t resist the urge to run down the list and predict the seasons wins and losses. Below are two examples of Dallas Cowboy writers predictions to get you started. You’ll also see the predictions of The Boys Are Back (nearly famous) guru, The GREAT Robbini. Just for kicks, print this out, write down your predictions and put it away for safe keeping. Let’s meet back here on December 30th and grade ourselves.

 

Tom Orsborn

Jon Machota

Great Robbini

YOU

Sept. 8 vs. NYG

Loss. The Giants are 4-0 at Cowboys Stadium. Eli Manning and Co. continues their dominance in Arlington.

Win. The Cowboys are 2-6 in their last eight against the Giants, but like last year, Dallas opens the season with a victory over New York. Tony Romo proves for at least one week that he’s worth his new deal, tossing a pair of touchdowns to Dez Bryant and a third to James Hanna.

Win. Jason Garrett’s game planning wins again.

 

Sept.15 @ KC

Win. Andy Reid will make the Chiefs better, but the Cowboys have too much offensive firepower for a team that finished 20th in defense last season.

Win. Andy Reid is familiar with the Cowboys from his many years leading the Eagles, but Jason Garrett’s club has more talent and they win a nail-bitter. The victory allows Garrett to improve to 4-3 against Reid as a head coach.

Win. I have a definitive win @ KC. Boys get the jump on an uncertain Chiefs team

 

Sept. 22 vs. STL

Win. DeMarco Murray won’t run wild against Rams like he did as a rookie, but Cowboys will win this one going away.

Win. DeMarco Murray should be pumped for this one. Last time the Cowboys faced the Rams, Murray ran for 253 yards, setting a single-game franchise rushing record and leading Dallas to a 34-7 victory. This one’s closer and Murray doesn’t finish with half as many yards as the previous meeting.

Win. First interesting matchup. Fisher strong defense versus an offense typically slow to start. DAL new defense against hot/cold Bradford led team. Close game. STL and CHI are the two barometer teams this season. STL for the first half, CHI for the second.

 

Sept. 29 @ SD

Win. The pressure will mount on Philip Rivers after DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer take turns sacking him.

Loss. The three-game win streak is ended. This one comes down to which quarterback makes less mistakes. Philip Rivers wins out as Romo tosses a pair of costly interceptions while the Cowboys are attempting to rally.

Win. A solid win against SD. Boys roll over the Turnerless Chargers. Come off looking crisp against a team with too many holes to fill with one draft.

 

Oct. 6 vs. DEN

Loss. Peyton Manning will take advantage of the Cowboys’ inexperience playing Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 scheme and Von Miller will get at least three sacks of Tony Romo.

Loss. Peyton Manning is firing on all cylinders and not even abnormally loud Cowboys Stadium can mess with the chemistry between him and Wes Welker on this day.

Loss. Not so much Manning but the DEN D holds up against Cowboys. Leave Romo on the run.

 

Oct. 13 vs. WAS

Win. Cowboys finally beat RGIII.

Win. Robert Griffin III isn’t close to being 100 percent and Kirk Cousins gets the start. Without the dynamic RG3 working his magic, the Cowboys’ defense keys on Alfred Morris and prevents him from going off like he did in the 2012 regular season finale.

Win. I think Dez is gonna blow WAS up. Bryant eats up WAS secondary. DAL uses quick strike offense to exact revenge over the skins.

 

Oct. 20 @ PHI

Loss. Chip Kelly knows how to beat Monte Kiffin.

Loss. Monte Kiffin takes the blame for this one. The 73-year-old’s defense looks overwhelmed against Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense.

Win. I don’t have PHI gelling as a team until mid season, or later. I think PHI D will be solid. DAL wins on offensive turnovers. Cowboys head away with a division win.

 

Oct. 27 @ DET

Loss. Calvin Johnson catches at least three TDs against Cowboys’ young safeties.

Loss. This is different than the Oct. 2011 game when Dallas built a 27-3 lead early in the second half before Detroit rallied for the victory. This time, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley set the tone, embarrassing the Cowboys’ porous offensive line by sacking Romo six times.

Win. Cowboys’ defense starts to take hold. Shuts Johnson and company down. Win by 7 against a one note offense. 

 

Nov. 3 vs. MIN

Win. Adrian Peterson will make up for the poor game he had against Cowboys in rookie season of 2007, but Christian Ponder makes too many mistakes.

Win. Christian Ponder is picked three times, once each by Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Barry Church. DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and the guys up front don’t shut down Adrian Peterson but they also don’t let him single-handedly get the victory.

Win. I’ve got Ponder in the dirt. Cowboys will neutralize the run game of the Vikings. With a heavy effective emphasis on run stop and Ponder playing horizontally, Cowboys extend their winning record

 

Nov. 10 @ NO

Loss. Rob Ryan talks a good game and then backs it up with plenty of help from Drew Brees.

Loss. Sunday night football in the Superdome is not where any opponent wants to be in 2013. Sean Payton has the Saints’ offense firing on all cylinders and it’s too much for the Cowboys. It’s not a blowout, though. Romo does a good job of battling but the game unfolds similar to the 2012 loss in Atlanta.

Loss. Team beginning to feel beat up. Season taking a toll. DAL team winded and hungry for a break can’t bring it on against the surgical attack of the Saints.

 

WEEK 11

BYE WEEK

BYE WEEK

BYE WEEK

 

Nov. 24 @ NYG

Win. Jason Garrett is 2-1 at MetLife Stadium. Make it 3-1.

Loss. Coming off the bye week the Cowboys know they need a win to pull even with the Giants for the division lead. But they fail to get the job done. Jason Pierre-Paul and Co. wreck havoc like it’s 2011 all over again, sacking Romo six times.

Win. Rested Cowboys pull one over in New Jersey. Take another division win in a close game.

 

Nov. 28 vs. OAK

Win. Tony Romo recovers his Thanksgiving Day mojo against hapless Raiders.

Win. Just to toy with the emotions of their fans, the Cowboys win, pulling them back to .500 and keeping the door open for a possible Wild Card playoff berth.

Win. With only 4 days preparation, it’s a Turkey Day win for the Boys. Raiders don’t have the talent to take advantage of hazy Cowboys. Dallas lucks out on this one, and finds enough home field excitement to win it.

 

BREAK

10 DAY BREAK

10 DAY BREAK

10 DAY BREAK

 

Dec. 9 @ CHI

Loss. Jay Cutler carves up Cowboys in the cold.

Loss. Romo doesn’t throw the five interceptions he did last season against the Bears on Monday night but Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall get the best of Dallas, again.

Loss. Even with 10 days rest, CHI seals the deal on defense. Even with the new coaching staff, Bears prove to be a team the Boys struggle against as of late. CHI is one of two barometer teams this season. STL for the first half.

 

Dec. 15 vs. GB

Loss. Aaron Rodgers carves up the Cowboys indoors.

Loss. These two teams have something in common: Both were hit hard by the injury bug in 2012. Both bounce back but Aaron Rodgers is the difference as he eventually wins MVP for the second time in three seasons.

Win. A probable loss on all prediction sheets. The Boys run stop wins another game. The Packers are in DAL that’s also key. GB once again bruised up at the end of the season. They’ll modify their game plan but fail against Garrett’s.

 

Dec. 22 @ WAS

Loss. In a game with playoff implications, the Cowboys come up short again at FedEx.

Loss. Griffin has been back for three games and appears to be recapturing his 2012 form. It becomes evident that the Cowboys will finish under .500 and miss the postseason for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

Win. With RG3 either out altogether or badly bruised, I see the Cowboys putting away another NFC East rival. Look for Shanahan to reveal a new shade of red on his face. Close, by a field goal.

 

Dec. 29 vs. PHI

Win. Cowboys win, but it’s too little too late.

Win. The Kiffin defense has adjusted and it helps that Vick has lost the starting quarterback job to Nick Foles. Kelly’s offense isn’t the same without a mobile quarterback.

Loss. PHI is playing as a unit by midseason and DAL is gearing up for the playoffs. Cowboys rest and take the loss

 

Prediction

8-8

7-9

12-4

 

.

Courtesy: Tom Orsborn | San Antonio Express News and Jon Machota | Dallas Morning News

Courtesy: The GREAT Robbini | The Boys Are Back blog’s (almost famous) prediction guru.

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COWBOY FOR LIFE: Tony Romo agrees to six-year, $108 million contract extension

dallas cowboys qb tony romo prepares to pass - the boys are back blog

Good Friday has turned into a great Friday for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

The Dallas Cowboys and QB Tony Romo have reached agreement on a six-year, $108 million deal that would make him the highest-paid player in club history. More than half, $55 million, is guaranteed.

Romo is scheduled to make $11.5 million in 2013.

The contract will likely make Romo a Cowboys player for life and provides Dallas with a franchise quarterback through 2019. Romo, 32, will turn 40 years old the April after he plays the last season of his new contract.

Romo becomes the highest-paid player in Cowboys’ history and receives the second-most guaranteed money in NFL history at $55 million. New England quarterback Tom Brady received $57 million guaranteed, and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees received $55 million guaranteed.

The contract extension will also significantly reduce Romo’s 2013 salary cap hit of $16.8 million, giving the Cowboys more money to possibly sign other free agents in an effort to upgrade their roster.

Romo’s new contract was negotiated by Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones and Romo’s agent, R.J. Gonser, at Creative Artists Agency.

COACHES ROSTER: Dallas Cowboys hire Gary Brown to coach running backs

Dallas Cowboys hire Gary Brown to coach running backs - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

The Dallas Cowboys filled their final coaching staff vacancy with the hiring of former Houston Oiler Gary Brown to oversee the running backs.

Brown spent the past four seasons in Cleveland, where his backs included Trent Richardson, who rushed for 950 yards and scored 11 touchdowns this past season.

A Penn State alum, Brown played eight seasons in the NFL after the Oilers drafted him in the eighth round in 1991, finishing his career with 4,300 yards and 21 TDs. He replaces Skip Peete, who was fired after six seasons with the Cowboys.

RELATED: Dallas Cowboys hire Gary Brown as RBs coach

The Cowboys have completed their coaching staff with the hiring of a running backs coach. Dallas has hired Gary Brown.

Brown has spent the past four seasons in Cleveland. Browns running back Trent Richardson was the league’s 18th-ranked rusher and third among rookies, with 950 yards. Richardson also scored 11 touchdowns. Peyton Hillis was Brown’s only 1,000-yard rusher in four seasons, as Hillis gained 1,177 yards in 2010.

Brown replaces Skip Peete, who was not retained after six seasons in Dallas. Peete now is the Bears running backs coach.

Brown played eight seasons in the NFL after being an eighth-round pick of the Houston Oilers in 1991. He rushed for 4,300 yards and 21 touchdowns on 1,023 carries. He started coaching immediately after his playing career ended, starting at Williamsport (Pa.) Area High School in 2000. His first college job was at Lycoming College. He also coached at Susquehanna University and Rutgers before joining the Browns.

COACHES ROSTER: Wes Phillips will coach tight ends; Pollack to assist with offensive line

The Dallas Cowboys announced today (Tuesday) that Wes Phillips will coach tight ends next season after spending the last two seasons as the offensive line assistant.

Wes Phillips will coach tight ends for the Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Phillips, son of Houston Texans defensive coordinator and former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, has been with the Cowboys since 2007.

The club also announced the hiring of Frank Pollack as the assistant offensive line coach. Before spending last season as the Oakland Raiders offensive line coach, Pollack spent five seasons with the Houston Texans as assistant offensive line coach.

The hiring of Pollack immediately sparked speculation that the Cowboys will soon assign play-calling duties to offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who coached Pollack at Northern Arizona in 1987-88.

RELATED: Cowboys lighten Bill Callahan’s load with new hires

The Dallas Cowboys announced two more additions to the coaching staff, naming Wes Phillips tight ends coach and former 49ers lineman Frank Pollack assistant offensive line coach.

Frank Pollack added to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff - The Boys Are Back blog

The hiring of Pollack is presumably part of an effort to free up offensive line coach Bill Callahan for more duties. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett have talked about Callahan’s role in play-calling next season.

Phillips’ addition is no surprise. He is the son of former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips and has been with the organization for six years, starting in 2007 as an offensive quality control coach.

Pollack, 45, joins the Cowboys after spending last year as the Raiders’ offensive line coach. He spent the previous five seasons as the Texans’ assistant offensive line coach, working with All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown and Pro Bowl center Chris Myers.

Pollack began coaching at his alma mater, Northern Arizona, in 2006 as the co-offensive line coach. He is a former sixth-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers (1990) and played for the team for two years and Denver for two years before returning to the 49ers for his final five seasons, including a Super Bowl championship.

DALLAS PLOWBOYS: Weather could force Dallas, Redskins to remain grounded

QBs Robert Griffin III (left) and Tony Romo may not be the featured matchup in Sunday’s Redskins-Cowboys game - The Boys Are Back blog

The spotlight will be squarely on the quarterbacks when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins square off Sunday night with the NFC East title on the line.

But with forecasts calling for temperatures at FedEx Field to dip into the 20s, the focus could shift quickly from the Cowboys’ Tony Romo and the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III to running backs DeMarco Murray and Alfred Morris.

Griffin was the catalyst for Washington’s 38-31 victory over Dallas on Thanksgiving, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns in one of the rookie of the year candidate’s top performances. But Morris, another rookie, did plenty of heavy lifting with a rugged 24-carry, 113-yard, one-TD showing.

“RG3, everybody’s enamored,” Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears told reporters in Irving. “But it’s not like he’s back there alone. He can hand the ball off to a guy that can make plays.”

Indeed, Morris is fourth in the league with 1,413 yards on 302 attempts, a major reason Washington leads the league in rush offense at 162.3 yards per game. His big game against Dallas was the first of three 100-yard games in a row during a six-game winning streak that propelled the Redskins (9-6) from cellar dwellers to division leaders.

Another big game could be in store for Morris, considering he’s going up against an injury-depleted defense that ranks 17th against the run (115.3 yards per game) and will be without five of its best run stuffers.

“RG3 is the phenom that everybody loves, but this running back has been killing people and may be the most dangerous guy on the field,” Spears said in an eyebrow-raising comment given Griffin’s otherworldly skills.

“That’s not to take anything away from RG3. But when you look at the film, (Morris) is averaging almost 120 yards rushing per game. Usually when teams do that, they win. So we got a lot on our hands.”

A sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic, Morris is the latest late-round or undrafted gem at running back to be unearthed by Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.

“Not too many rookies can handle the load he has,” Shanahan said of Morris, who has rushed for 10 TDs in the coach’s famed zone-blocking scheme.

“But he’s a special guy, a very humble, hard worker.”

The Cowboys (8-7) were without Murray in the first meeting with the Redskins and gained only 35 yards on 11 attempts. In his four games since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for six contests, the second-year pro from Oklahoma has rushed for 80-plus yards twice and has run for a TD in three of those outings.

“The game kind of dictated them not being able to run the football as much on Thanksgiving,” said Washington linebacker London Fletcher, noting the Redskins led 28-3 at halftime after Griffin and Morris combined for four scores in the second quarter.

“With Murray, he’s a big back, breaks tackles, runs hard. Obviously, having him in the fold makes their run game better.”

Still, Murray managed only 40 yards on 11 carries and failed to score a TD in last week’s 34-31 overtime loss to New Orleans, a contest in which the Saints controlled possession for almost 65 percent of the game.

The Cowboys are 31st in rush offense, averaging 77.7 yards per game.

Washington is fifth in rush defense, yielding 95.5 yards per outing.

“They are a very good run defense and have been for a number of years,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said while heaping praise on Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

RIVAL RESPECTS ROMO: Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher wary of Romo’s talent

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) looks to pass the ball to running back DeMarco Murray - The Boys Are Back blog

Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher is at that age where post-career planning is essential.

One possibility for the 37-year-old, 15th-year pro: Tony Romo’s publicist.

In a conference call with the Dallas media Wednesday to discuss Sunday night’s NFC East title game, Fletcher praised the Cowboys’ quarterback in the same enthusiastic manner he goes about slamming ball carriers.

“You look at the way he’s been playing lately,” said Fletcher, who leads the Redskins in tackles and interceptions. “He’s been playing as good a football as any quarterback in the league these last four, five ballgames. You look at all the numbers he’s been doing, all the plays he’s made, and then Dez Bryant playing the way he’s playing, (Jason) Witten playing the way he’s playing.

“You got some guys playing some great football, but it starts definitely with Tony.”

In forging a 3-1 December record, Romo has completed 66 percent of his passes for an average of 332 yards a game, with 10 touchdowns and only one interception.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) runs from New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Tom Johnson - The Boys Are Back blog

But Romo got hot long before this month. Over his last eight games, he’s thrown 17 TD passes and three interceptions while totaling 2,612 yards for an average of 326.5 yards per game.

For the season, Romo has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,685 yards, with 26 TDs and 16 picks for a rating of 92.5 (10th in the NFL).

“His (December) touchdown-interception rate is off the charts,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said in another conference call. “I think everybody knows how good Tony plays. His supporting cast is really complementing his play as well.”

Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver Dez Bryant celebrates vs Pittsburgh Steelers - The Boys Are Back blog

Indeed, Bryant, Witten and DeMarco Murray provide Romo with plenty of options.

With 808 yards and 10 TDs in his past seven games, Bryant has emerged as the club’s No. 1 wide receiver. Witten last week set a season record for catches by a tight end with 103 and needs nine more to eclipse Michael Irvin’s club record. Murray has rushed for a TD in three of his last four games.

Still, it’s Romo who worries Fletcher the most. With the 32-year-old passer seemingly making all the right moves, the Cowboys are third in the league in passing offense (302.2 yards). The Redskins, meanwhile, rank 30th in passing defense (287.7 yards per game).

For the season, Romo is averaging 312.3 yards per game and needs 315 more to become only the fifth NFL quarterback to pass for more than 5,000 in a season.

And it’s not all because of his arm and legs, Fletcher said.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) hands off to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray - The Boys Are Back blog

“I don’t know that he gets as much credit for being as smart as he is,” said Fletcher, who missed practice Wednesday because of a lingering ankle injury. “A lot of people look at his athleticism and the plays he’s able to make outside of the pocket. But he does a great job knowing where he wants to go with the ball based on the coverage.”

With the Cowboys falling behind 28-3 in the second quarter, Romo passed for a career-high 441 yards against the Redskins in the first meeting, won 38-31 by Washington. He also threw three TDs and two interceptions, including one picked off by Fletcher, who has a career-high five picks.

“Really, it’s just the coaches making the calls and being in the right place at the right time,” Fletcher said of his interception total. “It’s a pass-first league now, so you have to be able to make adjustments.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) calls a play vs Bengals 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

With the way Romo is playing, the Redskins and Fletcher could be forced to make plenty of them Sunday night.

JERRY BROWN MEMORIAL: A time for healing, forgiveness

Dallas Cowboys Jerry Brown Jr. 1987-2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

DALLAS — Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent stands accused of killing teammate Jerry Brown in a fiery drunk-driving accident, but the mother of the deceased practice-squad linebacker refuses to view him as anything but her son’s best friend.

Jerry Brown Jr.'s mother, Stacey Jackson - The Boys Are Back blog

Stacey Jackson made that clear with her actions before, during and after the memorial service for her son Tuesday afternoon.

In a striking display of forgiveness, Brent and Jackson arrived together at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in South Dallas. They also sat in the same row during the hour-long service and left together.

Jackson spoke to the team, encouraging them to support Brent. The massive player was charged with intoxication manslaughter after Irving police say he lost control early Saturday morning of his speeding 2007 Mercedes with Brown as a passenger.

The private tribute on a sunny but chilly day was closed to the media.

“We won’t have any comment because of the sanctity of the service,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said afterward.

But during his radio show Tuesday morning, Jones said Jackson requested Brent meet her and her family at the airport so they could ride together to the memorial after they arrived from St. Louis on the owner’s private jet.

“What happened is so tragic,” Jones told KRLD-FM. “But (Jackson) wanted to be right with Josh and to express in every way she could how much they loved him and didn’t want to have him grieve for his friend without being included in their family.”

Brent, 24, and Brown, 25, were teammates and roommates at Illinois from 2007-09. When Dallas signed Brown, he began rooming again with Brent.

Brown played for the Arena Football League’s San Antonio Talons before being signed by Indianapolis in May. The Cowboys signed Brown after the Colts cut him in October.

“Josh was elated when Jerry came on the team,” Jones said.

In an appearance on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Monday, Jackson explained why she has embraced Brent. (click HERE to watch video)

“I was upset, but I realized our youth today are young and stupid, and we were all once that age, and we’ve all done things we’re not proud of,” Jackson said.

“I realized everyone thinks they’re invincible, and everyone thinks, ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ I know Josh Brent, and he’s been part of our family since Jerry went to Illinois. All I can do is to pray for him and his family. I know (Brent) is hurting just as much as we are, because (he) and Jerry were like brothers.”

Free on $500,000 bail and with his right hand wrapped in a white bandage, Brent wore a white long-sleeved shirt and gray pants to the memorial, where Brown’s framed No. 53 Cowboys jersey was displayed.

In what was surely an emotional moment, Jackson received the football (game ball) coach Jason Garrett posthumously awarded Brown after Dallas rallied to defeat Cincinnati on Sunday.

The program for the memorial had a picture of DeMarcus Ware carrying Brown’s jersey onto the field Sunday after Dan Bailey kicked the winning field goal as time expired.

Two buses transported some players, coaches and club staffers to the service. Others, including Tony Romo and his wife Candice, arrived in their own cars.

Jay Ratliff was visibly emotional, holding his hands to his face for several seconds.

Tony Evans, senior pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, delivered a sermon. Cowboys chaplain Jonathan Evans read scripture.

Even though he was with the Cowboys only a short time, Brown had an effect, Garrett said Monday.

“He had really bright eyes, a great smile,” Garrett said. “He was very passionate about football, and that’s one of the things we really liked about him. He poured it all out there every day. I wrote in my notes several times: Jerry Brown, exclamation point, give this guy a chance.”

A funeral service for Brown is set for Friday in St. Louis, followed with his burial on Saturday.

Related photographs featured on The Boys Are Back blog …

MEMORIAL SERVICE: Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown Jr.

NFC EAST NEMISIS NOTES: Redskins Brandon Meriweather out for season with torn ACL

Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys - NFC East Rivals - The Boys Are Back blog

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — He was all over the field making plays for the Washington Redskins, and his name isn’t Robert Griffin III. Now Brandon Meriweather’s season is done after one game with a torn ACL in his right knee — and right after his left knee had finally healed.

An MRI on Monday revealed the season-ending injury for the snake-bit safety who played just long enough to give a tantalizing taste of what he could do to help one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.

"I think he brought a spark to the whole team," defensive end Stephen Bowen said.

Meriweather went down without contact, his knee buckling as he was pursuing a running play early in the third quarter of Sunday’s 31-6 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. He had one interception, broke up two passes and had seven tackles despite playing a little more than half of the game.

"He played great," coach Mike Shanahan said. "You can’t ask a guy to play any better than he played."

A two-time Pro Bowl player signed as a free agent in March, Meriweather sprained two ligaments in his left knee in a preseason game against the Chicago Bears, then reinjured the knee during a practice in the week before the regular season opener. He was ready to return for the Week 4 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he reinjured the knee again when he collided with teammate Aldrick Robinson during pregame warm-ups.

Then, having watched the secondary struggle through the first nine games of the season, he finally suited up on Sunday. While the opponent wasn’t exactly top-of-the-line — the Eagles (3-7) dropped their sixth straight and had rookie quarterback Nick Foles making his first NFL start — Meriweather helped the Redskins (4-6) break a three-game losing streak while forcing three turnovers and allowing 257 yards, a season-low for a Washington opponent.

"He brought a lot of energy," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "He brought a lot of intensity, seeing things a little differently than somebody else might have. I loved it. … He was definitely a play-maker. You could tell he was out there on the field."

Shanahan noted that Meriweather didn’t have a significant injury history before arriving in Washington.

"This is just a couple of freak situations," Shanahan said, "so hopefully he can take care of that and be back next year ready to go."

The Redskins began the season envisioning a starting safety tandem of Meriweather and Tanard Jackson, but Jackson was suspended for the season after failing a drug test. Madieu Williams has started every game, while DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty have tried to hold down the other spot. Washington was ranked 29th against the pass through Sunday’s games.

"I want to start off by saying I’m sorry to all the redskins fan. Y’all are the best," Meriweather posted on Twitter shortly after receiving the diagnosis. "But this was a bad season for me."

Other Injuries: LB London Fletcher, who has played in all 234 games of his NFL career, was wearing a walking boot Monday after spraining his ankle in Sunday’s game. He has to get well in a hurry if he’s to continue his streak. The Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys in a Thanksgiving game Thursday. "Knowing London, he’ll be back if possible," Shanahan said.

More injuries from Sunday’s game:

CB Josh Wilson (second degree rotator cuff sprain),

LT Trent Williams (sprained ankle),

TE Logan Paulsen (hip strain).

The Redskins will be able to better evaluate those players when they return for a full practice Tuesday.

Claiborne, Carter youngsters on the rise for Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) picks off a Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton - The Boys Are Back blog

ATLANTA — If you are young and a member of the Dallas Cowboys, chances are something bad happened to you recently.

That is, unless your name is Morris Claiborne or Bruce Carter.

While clouds hang over the heads of youngsters plagued by either injuries (DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee), legal/family issues (Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith) or mistake-riddled play (Bryant), life for Claiborne and Carter just keeps getting better.

Tonight, the Cowboys need the two sons of the South to shine in the Georgia Dome.

Claiborne, a first-round pick from LSU, and fellow cornerback Brandon Carr will be charged with slowing down Atlanta’s dynamic receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan agree Claiborne seems up to the tall task after watching him record five tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in last week’s loss to the Giants.

Claiborne is the only Dallas defender to record turnovers in back-to-back games this season. Two weeks ago, he intercepted a pass in the end zone in the win at Carolina.

“If you look at him over the course of the season, you’ve seen him grow physically and also in his demeanor and how aggressive he’s playing,” Garrett said. “There were a couple of plays against the Giants where he’s making tackles, and he’s really consciously trying to rip the ball out.

“The ball didn’t come out, but his mentality is that of a playmaker. And in relation to the football on the back end, that’s a real positive for us. He’s grown right before our eyes.”

Told Claiborne’s confidence level seems to increase each game, Ryan said, “Doesn’t it jump off the tape that way? The game is really starting to slow down for Mo. And he’s just going to get better and better.”

The same can be said of Carter, a second-year inside linebacker from North Carolina who also excelled against the Giants, notching seven tackles, a tackle for loss and one pass breakup. With Lee out, Carter also called the defensive signals.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter (54) tackles New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett - The Boys Are Back blog

It was a remarkable performance, considering that a year ago last week, Carter made his NFL debut after starting his rookie season in the trainer’s room rehabbing a knee injury left over from his senior year.

“It’s a whole lot different,” said Carter, who was limited to special-teams duty against Philadelphia on Oct. 30, 2011. “Last year, I was nervous playing in my first NFL game. This year, I’m really in the mix.”

Garrett said Carter played “particularly well” against the Giants.

“He handled his communication role and did a good job covering and running to the ball and making hits on the ball,” Garrett said.

New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter (54) and nose tackle Jay Ratliff - The Boys Are Back blog

Like Claiborne, Carter has a tough matchup tonight, facing future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.

“It’s going to be our biggest challenge of the season,” Carter said of facing the Falcons, who average nearly 30 points a game. “But we’ve got to go in there, stick together and fight our way through.”

Count on Claiborne and Carter swinging to the very end.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, left, rushes past Dallas Cowboys dedenders Bruce Carter, second from left, and Sean Lee - The Boys Are Back blog

MILESTONE: The Boys Are Back blog reaches 100,000 hits!

100000 miles - The Boys keep rolling - The Boys Are Back blog

This is a historic day! The Boys Are Back blog has reached the 100,000 hit milestone in the first year of existence!

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The Boys Are Back blog has been visited by Dallas Cowboy fans in 127 countries!

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ROAD TRIP: NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame going on the road

Pro Football Hall of Fame - Canton, Ohio - The Boys Are Back blog

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is taking some of its show on the road, sharing parts of its shrine in Canton, Ohio, with fans around the country.

Barry Sanders’ jersey from the 1997 game in which he reached the 2,000-yard rushing mark, the Vince Lombardi Trophy and an authentic interactive instant replay booth are among the hundreds of items that will be on display in Gridiron Glory.

The 5,000-square-foot traveling exhibition will make its debut Oct. 6 in Pittsburgh at the Heinz History Center.

"The coolest thing is the replay booth," Hall of Famer and Gridiron Glory ambassador Sanders said. "You step into it and can review a play and make the call to see if you can get it right."

Will the infamous ending of the Green Bay-Seattle game be a reviewable play for fans?

Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks game-ending call sparks outrage - The Boys Are Back blog

"That would be ideal for this," Sanders said. "You figure that play is going to make it into NFL history books."

Gridiron Glory will move to New Orleans — where the next Super Bowl will be — this winter before going on to St. Louis next summer, the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, Detroit and Minneapolis.

"It really gives people a good taste and feel for what they can see in Canton," Sanders said. "This will reach people who haven’t been to Canton and might give them even more motivation to make the trip. They’re going to tailor it to each city they’re in, so there will be things that will really appeal to fans in each city."

NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton - The Boys Are Back blog

Someone visiting the exhibit might even run into Sanders, who was inducted in 2004, and share a laugh about how he was an elusive player to interview and has become a spokesman in retirement.

"I think it’s pretty ironic," he acknowledged. "I wouldn’t figure I’d be at the top of their list."

Barry Sanders rushed for over 2,000 yards in 1997 - The Boys Are Back blog

PHOTO: Barry Sanders’ jersey from the 1997 game in which he reached the 2,000-yard rushing mark against the Chicago Bears.

TALE OF TWO QUARTERBACKS: Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo, Chicago Bears’ Jay Cutler share similarities

Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo vs Chicago Bears Jay Cutler - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jay Cutler and Tony Romo have been starting in the NFL since 2006.

There are other distinct similarities as well between the quarterbacks, from the number of games started — Cutler has 81 starts, and Romo 80 — to the number of playoff victories at one each. Both lead teams that are 2-1 this season despite their own somewhat underwhelming individual performances, though they might not be solely to blame for those.

Cutler has been sacked 11 times already. Things got so bad for the Chicago Bears in their second game, when he was sacked seven times and threw four interceptions, that Cutler visibly berated and bumped his left tackle on the sideline.

Romo found himself sandwiched between defenders on several occasions - The Boys Are Back blog

Romo found himself sandwiched between defenders on several occasions in the Dallas Cowboys’ last game, when he was sacked four times and had three turnovers — two of those fumbles after crushing hits.

"I’m not going to sugarcoat this. … We are not playing well right now," said Bill Callahan, the Cowboys’ new offensive line coach who also has the title of offensive coordinator. "We’ve got some things to fix. Believe me. We are not ducking that."

Like Romo, Cutler was bailed out in a victory last week by his own team’s suffocating defense.

Now they go head-to-head Monday night at Cowboys Stadium, and against those powerhouse defenses.

The Cowboys and Bears are both among the top six in the NFL total defense, and both allowed under 170 total yards a week ago.

If the Cowboys don’t get some things fixed, Romo might have to duck a lot against the Bears, who have an NFL-high 14 sacks. Three Chicago linemen already have multiple sacks.

"Obviously, he’s our starting quarterback, and we’d like to keep him in that position for the remainder of the year," said center Ryan Cook, who didn’t join the Cowboys until after the preseason.

Cutler has to worry about perennial Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware (four sacks, seven quarterback pressures).

"Make sure we’re taking care of 94 (Ware) because he can be a problem," Cutler said. "If you leave him alone too many times one on one, he’s going to make a play. So you’ve got to keep him guessing, throw a lot of stuff at him, and hopefully at the end of the day keep him off you."

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler against DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas Cowboys defense - The Boys Are Back blog

Cutler, now in fourth season in Chicago, got everything he wanted this offseason from the Bears.

They haven’t gotten a lot in return so far for reuniting the quarterback with Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback coach Jeremy Bates, who were part of his three seasons in Denver.

Miami rookie Ryan Tannehill has the only quarterback rating lower than Cutler, who is tied for the league interceptions lead with six. The Bears have managed 25 points a game while only gaining 290 yards per game, though they anticipate a boost with the expected return of Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, who missed last week’s 23-6 win over St. Louis because of a sprained right ankle.

"It’s the first year in the offense. It’s going to take time," Cutler said. "Very few offenses go out there first year offensively with a new offensive coordinator, new system, and put up 30-40 points a game. It’s a whole season. You’ve got build on each and every game and get better."

Cutler has re-connected with Marshall, the Bears’ top receiver with 16 catches for 214 yards.

"I’m excited, but now the honeymoon’s over. Now we’re focused on being Chicago Bears and leaving a legacy here," Marshall said. "We’re off to a good start and we need to get better definitely. We’re not even close to where we want to be."

As for Cutler handling continued criticism, Marshall can’t think of anyone who could handle the situation better than his quarterback.

"And I’m talking about outwardly, I’m talking about inwardly. When you get criticized nationally for the world to watch, it’s really tough for some people to bounce back," the receiver said. "To be criticized the way he does, it’s really amazing to see him handle adversity and bounce back and really continue to lead us."

Sep 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) in the huddle with receiver Miles Austin (19) Dez Bryant (88) DeMarco Murray (29) in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Since an impressive 433 total yards in the season-opening victory at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Cowboys haven’t achieved any real balance on offense. They have been held to less than 50 yards rushing in consecutive games.

Along with the pressure Romo is getting from defenders, the Cowboys’ offense has already been flagged for 15 pre-snap penalties, including 12 false starts.

Romo has an interception in each game, including the fourth play last week that led to Tampa Bay’s only touchdown in the Cowboys’ 16-10 victory.

"He’s had to handle some different situations. We talked a lot about the bad down and distance situations we’ve been in the last couple of weeks," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He has to manage his way through that and make sure we don’t get in those situations as well."

NEW FACES IN FAMILIAR PLACES: McCray, Lissemore, and Orie Lemon will be starters tomorrow

Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch (24) rushes as Dallas Cowboys' Danny McCray - The Boys Are Back blog

A pair of third-year pros — Danny McCray and Sean Lissemore — are expected to get their first NFL starts in place of Gerald Sensabaugh and Kenyon Coleman, respectively.

Ryan Cook will get his second start in place of Phil Costa, who was injured in the opener. Josh Brent will replace Jay Ratliff, who has yet to play this season.

McCray, a member of Houston Westfield High’s 2004 Class 5A state title team, hasn’t started a game since his senior year at LSU.

“I’m excited,” he told reporters in Irving. “I’m trying to save it for Sunday.”

Lissemore played well against Seattle.

“I know he should have been starting forever — the kid made 10 tackles last week,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.

Ryan discusses scheme in Seattle: Many observers were puzzled why the Cowboys didn’t blitz Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson more Sunday.

On Friday, Ryan offered an explanation that centered on the Seahawks often using multiple tight end formations.

“I know everybody was wanting to kill their quarterback,” Ryan said. “Believe me, I was wanting to hit the kid, too. They had a plan that wouldn’t allow us to do it: max protect.”

Wilson was 15 of 20 for 151 yards and a touchdown, but he took a backseat to a running game that generated 182 yards, including 122 from Marshawn Lynch.

“Any time people are running the ball downhill on you, it’s hard to do anything else until you get that run stopped,” Ryan said.

Ryan said it would be a mistake to believe he’s become conservative.

“We will pressure the quarterback,” he said. “We do play more three-man front football to go along with it, so the quarterback doesn’t know we’re just a blitz-a-thon like every junior varsity high school football team. We’re not doing that. We’re going to play the efficient way. We prefer efficiency over stupidity.”

EDITOR COMMENT: As mentioned earlier today, the Dallas Cowboys have elevated Orie Lemon from the practice squad to help in the special teams effort. Link below. What do you think of the new faces in familiar places?

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Rob Ryan: “We all know DeMarcus Ware isn’t at full speed.” (Bonus Video)

ROSTER MOVES: LB Orie Lemon promoted from practice squad; Mario Butler waived

NO FLAG FOOTBALL: Vicious hit on Sean Lee part of rough game

Where’s the flag? If he’s looking for a flag on the Sean Lee hit … he won’t find one! - The Boys Are Back blog

PHOTO: Where’s the flag? If he’s looking for a flag on the Sean Lee hit … he won’t find one! 

SEATTLE — Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett spent a lot of time during training camp trying to make his team more physical.

The club seemed to be making strides in that area until it ran into a buzz saw in Seattle on Sunday.

From a bullying offensive line to a vicious crack-back block delivered by receiver Golden Tate against linebacker Sean Lee to a couple of big hits on tight end Jason Witten, the Seahawks punished the Cowboys in winning 27-7.

“It starts with our coach,” Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said of Pete Carroll. “Pete has a lot of energy, and he spreads the energy through us.”

Tate’s hit came with the Seahawks up 20-7 early in the fourth and was credited with helping to take the fight out of the Cowboys.

The blindside hit came on a 14-yard run by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson around the left end. Tate launched himself into Lee’s chest and came up through his chin, a blow that sent the third-year player flying.

“I was trying to hit him a little bit and get him on the ground, but I didn’t realize how hard I hit him,” said Tate, who flexed his muscles to the crowd afterward.

Lee left the field under his own power. After getting checked for a concussion, he returned a few players later.

Asked if it was a dirty play, Lee said, “It’s part of the game, not for me to judge. I’ll watch the film, but I know that can happen any time.”

Asked if he was OK, he added, “Yeah. Well, other than the loss. … I cleared everything from a concussion standpoint. My head didn’t hurt at all. It was more about losing breath.”

The play didn’t result in a penalty even though crack-back blocks against defenseless players are a rules violation. There was a flag on the play, though, but it was against Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter for unnecessary roughness.

Garrett suggested Tate’s blow should have drawn a flag.

“(Hits against defenseless players) is something the league is trying to guard against, and this was a pretty good example,” he said.

Owner Jerry Jones said he believes the NFL will look at the hit.

VIDEO COURTESY:

CPanther95 (Dallas Cowboys Fan Forum); All41oneforall (YouTube); YouTube

RELATED POST on THE BOYS ARE BACK blog:

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Sean Lee gets blindsided by Seattle’s Golden Tate

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Will Golden Tate’s hit on Sean Lee fuel debate on the replacement officials?

RELATED: Joe Flacco Calls Out Refs After Baltimore Ravens’ Loss

Flacco upset with replacement officials - The Boys Are Back blog

Joe Flacco had a chance to make some late-game magic against the Philadelphia Eagles. Unlike Michael Vick, Flacco couldn’t get it done.

After Sunday’s 24-23 loss, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback largely blamed the replacement officials, saying they are "affecting the integrity of the game."

Flacco’s biggest gripe is that replacement refs don’t know what holding is. He also mocked the offensive pass-interference call against Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones that wiped away a fourth-quarter touchdown. It’s worth noting a number of shaky calls were made in the game, which took 3½ hours because of delays in making decisions.

"He didn’t even throw a flag, he threw a blue beanie," Flacco said, via Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post.

Flacco even admitted that he sounded like a "big baby" after the game. That didn’t stop him from voicing his discontent.  Click HERE to watch game highlights.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Dallas Cowboys LB Bruce Carter gives defense more speed

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter (54) blocks a football during a drill at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp - (Star-Telegram Ron Jenkins) - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING – Much has been made of the upgrades the Dallas Cowboys made to their secondary in the offseason.

But the addition of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne isn’t the only reason the Cowboys appear poised to improve on last season’s middle-of-the-pack defensive ranking.

With aging plodders Keith Brooking and Bradie James sent packing, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has turned to speedy second-year pro Bruce Carter to team with tenacious Sean Lee at inside linebacker. While not as publicized as the makeover of the secondary, the addition of Carter is a personnel boost owner Jerry Jones believes has changed the look of the entire unit.

“We are faster,” Jones said last week while discussing the team’s 24-17 win over the New York Giants on his radio show. “There’s no question when you look at No. 54, Carter, out there. He’s the fastest inside linebacker in the NFL, maybe the fastest linebacker, period.

“With him and Sean Lee out there, it’s a big difference …I’m very pleased with what we’ve done to the interior of our pass defense.”

Dallas drafted Carter in the second round even though he suffered a major knee injury his senior year at North Carolina. Before the setback, scouts touted Carter as a first-rounder after he reportedly clocked a 4.39 second 40-yard dash.

Limited to 10 games as a rookie because of rehab from the knee injury, Carter beat out free-agent pickup Dan Connor in training camp. In his first NFL start, he had five tackles against the Giants.

“You can see Bruce is somebody that can really run to the football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He makes a lot of plays sideline to sideline. I also thought he covered well.”

While speaking on Dallas’ KRLD-FM, Jones tossed a figurative game ball to Ryan. Dallas held New York to only 82 yards rushing and Eli Manning to 213 passing yards after he averaged 373 per game in sweeping the Cowboys last season.

“Hat’s off to him,” Jones said, referring to Ryan. “He’s had a year that was a come-to-Jesus year for him. He’s really had to get in and look at what he can do better, look at what we can do better in the context of his philosophy. He’s made adjustments. He’s done the things good coaches do.”

One adjustment was to place a greater emphasis on tackling.

“We had a lot of different drills we used in training camp to get better at it,” Garrett said. “Again, the question always is, can you take that practice work to the field? For the most part, we were able to do that.

“All the best defenses I’ve seen are made up of a lot of really good tacklers. So we keep making that emphasis, and there are no number of missed tackles that are acceptable. You don’t say, ‘Ah, we had three, that’s OK.’ Obviously, you want zero, in all phases of your team.”

Lee, who led the team in tackles last season, notched a team-high 12 Wednesday night. His best came when he blasted running back Dave Wilson in the first quarter, forcing the first-round rookie to fumble the ball away.

“It was just an outstanding play when you watch his instincts and his feel and his ability to be so decisive attacking the run,” Garrett said. “He plays with such passion and enthusiasm. We use the word ‘relentless’ around here a lot. He embodies that in everything he does and it showed up on that play.”

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