OXNARD, Calif. – There’s vanilla.
And then there is Dallas Cowboys double-secret ultra-vanilla.
That’s exactly what we saw Friday night from that Cowboys offense in a 19-17 preseason game No. 2 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Not surprising to say the least.
Generally, teams do not like to show much of anything they are planning new for the upcoming season in a mere preseason game, especially just the second of what will be five for the Cowboys this summer. And that’s doubly true when playing an opponent they will be facing at some time during the regular season.
So no way was head coach Jason Garrett going to give the Oakland Raiders any hint of what might be coming down the pipe during the 2013 season from this Cowboys offense, even if the two teams won’t meet until Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium, Game 12 of the regular season. Not an entirely new offense, granted, but one with two tight ends becoming the base set and now Bill Callahan calling the plays.
And, of course, with quarterback Tony Romo having a little more say in game-planning and the implementation of some new plays he’s partial, too. Instead of the 11th-year veteran having to “draw those plays up in the dirt,” which he could have Friday night quite easily (since a good portion of the O’s field is consumed by the A’s infield).
There likely was some great anticipation on everyone’s part to see just how all this would work with the first-team offense making its 2013 preseason debut. The first-team offensive line was allowed to work during last Sunday’s Hall of Fame game. You know, Romo and Jason Witten and Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray and them finally out there playing together.
There would be Witten and James Hanna, maybe some Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, too, showcasing these two-tight sets we’ve been witnessing here during training camp practices. Then, too, some of these new pass plays that have become a staple of camp workouts. Oh boy.
Nothing. As vanilla as you can get.
Oh, the Cowboys ran some two-tight sets, but for the majority of the first-team offense’s two series (and even when Kyle Orton was in there running things behind the first offensive line with backups galore at running back and wide receiver). The Cowboys, of all things for everyone anticipating a hard-charging running attack, seemed to be in three-receiver sets more than anything.
They weren’t about to expose much of anything, and from my understanding only did so with a couple of plays just to help keep a couple of drives alive to create more reps for some of the younger guys. Secrets are secrets, and no sense putting too much on tape for the Giants to start going to school on at this early date.
In fact, for all those readily jumping to conclusions about this perceived “new” Cowboys offensive philosophy following that first preseason game in which they ran the ball 34 times and threw it only 21 – you know, see there that Bill Callahan, he’ll emphasize the run more – well, surprise, surprise, in this game against the Raiders the Cowboys ran the ball only 20 times and threw it around 32 times – the very reason no one should draw undeniable conclusions from these practice games.
Talk about holding the play-call sheet over your mouth to prevent lip reading.
But having said all this, the Cowboys still piled up 171 yards of total offense in the first half with Romo and Orton totaling three series, scoring on two of them and likely would have scored on all three if not for a blocked 26-yard field-goal attempt Mr. Automatic, Dan Bailey, surely would have made.
OK, can hear the grumbling in the background already. While that all might be true, you’re screaming, same ol’, same ol’ with the Cowboys offense, three penalties inside the Oakland 30 turned potential touchdown drives into field-goal attempts. The nerve of that Witten to get caught holding, or for potentially first-time starter Ronald Leary to false start and Hanna to do so also.
And as Garrett said afterward, bemoaning the penalties, the blocked field goal and the game-turning fumbled punt by rookie B.W. Webb, “We’ll continue to harp on that.”
But did you see, or you should have seen, the ease in which Romo hooked up with Bryant three times for 55 yards; with Austin on slants twice for 22 yards; Orton with Cole Beasley twice, the second for a 15-yard touchdown.
And guess what? Of the 32 attempts, only three times were tight ends targeted, and only one of those Witten. That ain’t going to happen, Witten targeted just once in a game. Please.
Just look at the first-half stats alone, a half the Cowboys had a 10-6 lead, for what that matters. Romo and Orton were a combined 12 of 14 for 140 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one sack, finishing with a QB rating of 132.1. Bryant, Austin and Beasley finished the game combining for eight catches on eight targets, totaling 126 yards and the Beasley touchdown.
And for the most part Romo and Orton had the time of day in the pocket behind what most perceive as a worrisome offensive line. Hmmm, while the Cowboys are keeping their eyes open for fortuitous opportunities to enhance that crew, particularly at guard, maybe what you saw Friday night isn’t all that bad, from left to right Tyron Smith, Leary, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free. Especially since, unlike the other four, Bernadeau was playing for the first time after returning from injury.
Maybe their main problem up front is really who is playing behind these guys, especially at tackle since with Jermey Parnell injured (hamstring) and veteran Demetress Bell still trying to get in shape, there isn’t much to write home about. As Jones said after the game, making a move up front “would be determined by the opportunity” available, meaning he’s not necessarily desperate to sign just anybody at this moment.
Romo did get sacked once, but did you see how long he had in the pocket before everything collapsed? And he did have Austin wide open in the end zone, but explained later, on that particular play that Austin was his third read and by time he got there, Austin was covered and pocket time had expired.
“I don’t want to get away from here without talking about the offensive line,” Romo said. “There were a couple of times I had all day and we had a sack, an incompletion on those two plays, so that’s going to help us a lot if we’re able to do that.
“That’s different. I know what it’s like to play behind that, and having that ability like they did tonight would be a huge bonus for us.”
So with three more preseason games to play, another five training camp practices this week, resuming Sunday evening, there is time to clean things up while still playing peek-a-boo with play-calls and offensive intentions.
And oh, by the way, if now your concern is the ability to run the ball more efficiently, at the conclusion of the first half, when the first-team offensive line retired for the evening, the Cowboys had run the ball six times for 36 yards with Murray, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, a 6-yard average following last Sunday night’s 5-yard mark.
“It was good,” Romo said of what took place in the team’s first three offensive series. “We did what we’ve been doing in training camp and moved the ball real well. We were holding back on a lot of our stuff, red zone stuff and some other things. We would have liked to have scored a touchdown, but we got hurt by penalties more than anything, and that aspect of it is just going to hurt you no matter what.
“So we have to avoid that [and] stress that this week, and we’re going to make sure that stops.”
But probably not the double-scoops of vanilla approach.
Courtesy: Mickey Spagnola | Columnist
Editors comments: I don’t have a problem with being vanilla with the starters on their first few series this preseason. You come out and keep it simple … basic. The same philosophy deployed with this new 4-3 scheme, also applies to the offense this early in the year. The veterans might not need that as much, sure. But these new roster additions and young rookies do! The beauty of this offensive roster is that they can afford to come out and execute basic runs and passes. See if the opposing defenses can stop that first. With so many Cowboy players wielding star power, it’s a challenge for most defenses to handle them man-for-man. You sprinkle in wrinkles, after you get the basics down … ditch the butterflies, and execute these base plays with precision.
I believe the week-one emphasis (and success) of Dallas’ running attack (in the Hall of Fame game) showed coaches what they needed to see. However, if you think back, there was very little to see (or grade) in the passing game in week 1. The coaching staff needs to grade and develop these young offensive linemen in run and passing situations. I think that’s why we saw more pass (and consequently more pass blocking) in the second preseason game. Expect more balance going forward.
The Romo and Orton led drives were successful. The running game is still on pace. Kiffin’s starters have grasped his base defense … his rookies are coming along. Callahan’s starters are showing rust, but promise. Both of these games were more about weeding out the roster, than going for the kill. I do want to see Callahan/Garrett go for the throat once the regular season starts. They have the weapons to make a statement, and they should.
Friday night, Oakland played their starters longer, and did less with them. The Cowboys will host the Raiders later on … rest assured, we’ll see the full arsenal. Garrett is baking that vanilla cake first. He’ll add the icing later.
THE ONE-TWO PUNCH: Young Gavin Escobar and James Hanna gives the Dallas Cowboys multiple two-tight end offensive packages
Gavin Escobar, one of the best receiving tight ends in college football the past two seasons, joins Jason Witten and James Hanna in the tight ends room. All Witten did was set the single-season record for receptions by a tight end in league history.
So are there enough balls to go around?
“I’m just ready to have them in the game if they call their number,” said Wes Phillips, in his first season as the team’s tight ends coach. “I would imagine taking a young guy who is as talented as Escobar and having James Hanna along to complement Witten, we can get into some different packages in 12 [one running back, two tight ends]. Each of those guys can play to their strengths.”
The Dallas Cowboys could use two tight ends more this season. Dallas didn’t use much last season with John Phillips as its second tight end, running only 195 plays with its 12 personnel. The Cowboys threw 74 times with two tight ends in the game, took one sack and rushed the ball 120 times.
In 2011, with Martellus Bennett as their second tight end, the Cowboys used two tight ends for 320 plays, rushing 225 times, taking six sacks and throwing 89 times.
The Cowboys believe Escobar is a better offensive weapon than Bennett or Phillips, who left for San Diego in March as a free agent. Escobar caught 122 passes for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons at San Diego State.
“We used some resources to draft him,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We used a second-round pick, so we think a lot of him, and we want to give him every opportunity to acclimate him to our offensive system.
“What we have to do as coaches is decide who our best 11 guys are, what our best personnel groups are and try to shape our offense accordingly. You know we’ve used a lot of two tight end offense in the past. …So we want to keep attacking defenses a lot of different ways. We’ll do it with different personnel groups and with different guys within those personnel groups.”
Dallas drafted James Hanna in the sixth round last year, and Hanna played in 107 plays to 333 for Phillips. But in the final four games, Hanna’s playing time increased. He played 52 plays in the last four games, while Phillips played 55.
Witten, who played 1,112 plays last season, caught a tight ends record 110 passes for 1,039 yards and three touchdowns. Hanna had eight catches for 86 yards, and Phillips caught eight passes for 55 yards and a score.
IRVING, Texas – Evaluating football players in live action can be difficult enough. But seeing how they perform in shorts, jerseys and helmets in their first professional practice is something left up to the coaching staff.
The Cowboys opened the rookie minicamp Friday at Valley Ranch, featuring about 45 players from rookie draft picks, undrafted free agents and selected veterans who were eligible to participate.
Here’s a few quick quotes from the coaches regarding their first impressions.
Bill Callahan talks about the first practice of mini camp, and his early impressions of first round pick Travis Frederick.
Offensive coordinator/line coach Bill Callahan on first round pick Travis Frederick:
“Just like we thought coming out of the draft, he’s real smart and intelligent. He can vocalize all the calls and communications and sequences. So that was a real positive note. As I watched him in all the team drills today – how he ID’s the Mike, how he finds the Mike linebacker. He makes the point, he makes all the calls, he puts everybody on the same page. So I’m impressed from that standpoint – day one, just to get out and start talking in front of all these new people and players, with all the coaches and pressure on you. I thought he did pretty good.”
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on returning to the practice field for the first time in three years:
“It’s exciting to be out here again. We’ve got some work to do. But I love the attitude of these young men. They’re here to work and they did a good job. We’ve got something to work with.”
Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson on third-round pick J.J. Wilcox having one year of experience at safety:
“You see the athleticism. For a big guy, he can really run. He has really good ball skills, and that probably comes from playing with the ball in his hands a lot those other three years in college. You see he’s a physical man, that he likes the physical part of the game. A lot of times when you see offensive guys make the jump, it takes them a little while to figure that part out. That came natural for him. When you watch him play, you’re like, ‘Oh God, he’s going to kill somebody,’ and that’s what I like about the young man.”
Henderson on much far Wilcox has to improve:
“Light years. You have that, coupled with the fact that the league he played in, jumping to this league…one year at the job. Just the adjustment that all rookies have, he’s got a lot to adjust to.”
Tight ends coach Wes Phillips on seeing second-rounder Gavin Escobar for the first time:
“He had some good things that stood out, but there’s a lot of things we need to clean up. Obviously I’m very encouraged by the things I know he can do, and some of those things he showed out there. He can catch the ball well. That’s the one thing you notice about him.”
Henderson on being comfortable with safety position:
“Absolutely. We’ve got a really good group. It’s going to be a really competitive camp, I think, with the guys we got back there. I think the exciting thing is there’s an opportunity for somebody to emerge. One of those guys I know is going to go grab that spot and make it his, and again, which guy that is at this point is anybody’s guess. That’s the exciting part about it. The thing I do like, again, is we’ve got some quality guys back there competing. Adding Wilcox to the mix makes it exciting.”
Callahan on the quick turnaround of practices Friday:
“It’s fun for a lot of these guys that come from good college programs. They understand the tempos that you want. They’ve really done an excellent job of banding together, learning all this terminology in one day and then trying to produce some type od execution within 24 hours. So my hat goes off to all these guys.”
Henderson on his early thoughts about fourth-round corner B.W. Webb:
“He’s so competitive. You see that on tape. He won’t back down from anybody. He’s got great ball skills and great knack for being around the ball and playing the ball and going to get the ball. Then when you meet the young man, you see his poise, his confidence, the way he carries himself, and you think this kid’s got a shot. He’s from a smaller school, but you get the sense from him that, ‘This isn’t too big for me. I belong here.”
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media before taking the field for the second practice of rookie mini camps at Valley Ranch.
Jason Garrett might give up play-calling duties to Bill Callahan. Then, again, maybe he won’t. Both Garrett and Callahan spoke to the media this week, but it remains a mystery about who will actually call the plays for the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas tight end Jason Witten said it’s not about who calls the plays, but how they are executed. The Cowboys were sixth in total offense last season, but they were only 15th in scoring.
“I think more’s been made of that than probably needs to be as far as a player’s perspective just because it’s all about execution for us,” Witten said Friday night in Fort Worth. “We’ve got to execute those plans better. We’ve got good plays, and we’ve got some good players, but we’ve got to do a good enough job of executing time and time again. That’s where I focus is on as players, I think, and that’s where it needs to be moving forward.”
The Cowboys offense is expected to look much the same as it has since Garrett became the offensive coordinator in 2007 regardless whether he or Callahan is calling the plays.
The Cowboys hope to run the ball better. They were 31st in rushing, with a franchise-low 1,265 yards for a 16-game season. They need to protect it better, too, having turned it over 29 times, and they want to score more points in the red zone (25 touchdowns in 49 red-zone trips, ranking 20th in the league).
“We just need to do a better job of scoring and taking care of the ball collectively and not putting ourselves in those situations where we’re having to come from behind,” Witten said.
Witten will have a new position coach after six seasons with John Garrett. Witten had 554 catches for 6,110 yards and 30 touchdowns the past six seasons, an average of 92 receptions for 1,018 yards and five touchdowns. He set an NFL record for a tight end with 110 catches in 2012.
But John Garrett departed for Tampa Bay to become the Bucs receivers coach, and Wes Phillips was promoted from assistant offensive line coach. Phillips is the son of former Dallas head coach Wade Phillips and was retained by the Cowboys after Wade Phillips was fired.
“I am excited for Wes,” Witten said. “I think Wes breaks that label of ‘I got in because of my dad.’ He’s proven he’s a good football coach. He’s a young, fiery guy. John was a guy was near and dear to me. I think what we were able to accomplish over the last six years is special. He pushed me every day, and as good as he was as a coach, he was a better man. But Wes has been in the receiving end. He’s also been on the line. I think he’ll be a perfect mix. I’ve enjoyed working with him. I think we share a lot of the same beliefs as far as how you prepare and attack a game plan. So I’m looking forward to that opportunity.”
James Hanna began to deliver on the Dallas Cowboys’ investment in him late last season, and one person they can thank is backup quarterback Kyle Orton.
He stayed on the rookie tight end’s case, and it paid off, said new tight ends coach Wes Phillips.
“People saw the end result where he started making plays, but we also saw when he was running scout team at the beginning of the year and Kyle Orton is on him every single day about how to practice, how to be a pro, how to work,” Phillips said Thursday in meeting reporters for the first time in his new job. “He really made some strides.”
Hanna, drafted in the sixth round out of Oklahoma last year, caught a pass in the season opener – his only catch for the first 12 games – but had seven catches in the last four games.
“He really impressed us as far as his work ethic and how he went about his job,” Phillips said. “Learning how to finish, learning how to go about meetings and study and prepare, all those sort of things. He’s a very intelligent guy, and we’re looking forward to continuing his development.”
While he was able to do that, the focus shifted quickly to the issue of play-calling and the possible change next season involving Bill Callahan’s role on the sidelines.
Whether or not Callahan’s situation will be different, many faces surrounding him certainly will be.
Garrett shared some stories about the new coaches, including his involvement with the former Buccaneers assistants Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Rich Bisaccia when Garrett played for Tampa Bay in 2004.
Here’s a short briefing from Garrett on each of his new assistants, including Wes Phillips who has been here for six seasons but is now the new tight ends coach.
Garrett on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin: Early on, I think he was on to me because every day
after practice I would walk up to him and ask him a football question. He’s a very generous and gracious guy. I learned not only from watching him and how he handled himself and meetings, but just being around him. He’s very gracious and generous. We developed a relationship back then. My respect level for him is really off the charts. We’re fortunate to have him here to coordinate this defense. He’s done it better than anyone else has.
Garrett on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli: He’s one of those guys who talks about the greatness of
the game of football. He talks about preparing the right way. There’s great honor about playing and coaching this game and doing it the right way. The way he conducted himself that year I was around him, was really, really impressive to me. As impressive as a football coach as I’ve ever been around.
Garrett on special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia: He’s been one of the premier teams guys in the league. He just has an infectious personality. It’s particularly important for a special teams coach.
He’s got a great demeanor. The players play as hard for him as I’ve ever seen players play for any coach. He’s a great teacher, loves the game. He’ll be a great resource for us. He’ll make this team better.
Garrett on wide receiver coach Derek Dooley: When I was a player here in the 90’s, he was coaching receivers at SMU. Our relationship goes back that far. We coached together on Nick Saban’s staff with the Dolphins in 2005-06. We’ve known each other well. He played receiver at Virginia and has a great receiver background. He and I know each other well. He knows our system and I think that transition will be really good for us.
Garrett on tight end coach Wes Phillips: He’s really someone who is my right-hand man. We spent some time together putting the offense in a number of years ago. He’s really been a great asset and resource for me. Wes was a quarterback himself and coached receivers earlier in his career.
Garrett on running back coach Gary Brown: He’s really a guy I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I’ve known him for afar and competed against him. This is really a football guy. I’m excited about him. Often times, guys that play in the NFL don’t have a willingness to do what’s necessary to coach at this level. He’s a really bright guy. He’s someone who is a really, really good teacher. I know him the least of the guys we hired but I might be as excited about him as anybody else.
Garrett on asst. offensive line coach Frank Pollack: Frank played for Bill Callahan at Northern Arizona in the late 80’s and they go way back. Some of the contributions he can make, along with his relationship with Bill, can make us a really good football team.
Editors comment: As you know, as Dallas Cowboys fans, we are in the offseason ‘dead zone’ period between the Super Bowl and the NFL Combine (and subsequent NFL Draft). This time of year is always a letdown for those of us with NFL (and particularly Dallas Cowboys) fever. Like you, I’m constantly in search of relevant news and information about America’s Team from leading sports authorities and trusted insiders. Today, Jason Garrett spent nearly an hour discussing a myriad of subjects regarding the evolution of the team going into the 2013-2014 season. I strongly advise you to listen to the video below. Over 50 articles (and speculation) have been published based on this press conference. As you would expect (and appreciate), there are a wide range of topics covered, including:
- Offseason coaching changes and insight
- Offensive delegation and evolution since 2010
- Advantages of returning to the 4-3 defense
- Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli defensive philosophy
- Upcoming play-calling changes and mechanics
- Anticipated turnovers and the game impact
- Fitting Dallas’ top-tier CBs into the new 4-3 scheme
- Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent legal issues
- Bill Callahan and Jimmy Robinson’s influence and role
- Ongoing collaborative relationship with Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones
Take the time to listen to the actual press conference and you’ll learn what changes are in store and what went into the decision-making process. Feed the fever!
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media after a flurry of offseason coaching moves.
Editors note: The new coaches will have a press conference with the Dallas media on Thursday, February 14th at 11:00 am. The Boys Are Back blog will provide a post and link to that event when it becomes available.
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Jason Garrett likes where the Cowboys are offensively, but he also thinks they can be even better.
The Dallas Cowboys coach said they have evaluated the offense over the past six seasons since he arrived in Dallas as offensive coordinator. The past six seasons combined, the Cowboys rank fourth in total offense (370.7 yards per game), seventh in scoring (24.1), fourth in passing (262.0) and 22nd in rushing (108.6).
“You look at those things, and you say, ‘Boy, a lot of that stuff is pretty good,'” Garrett said. “You say, ‘OK, we want to build on that stuff. We want to continue down that track with our offensive football team.'”
Garrett, however, will give up play-calling duties for 2013. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan likely will take over that role. The Cowboys made four changes to their offensive coaching staff, with Wes Phillips moving from assistant line coach to tight ends coach, newcomer Frank Pollack taking over as assistant offensive line coach, Derek Dooley being hired as receivers coach and Gary Brown coming in as running backs coach.
The Cowboys will see some changes in personnel, too, though maybe not many with Felix Jones, Kevin Ogletree and John Phillips as the only unrestricted free agents on offense. None of those three is a starter. Center Phil Costa is a restricted free agent. Dallas again might be looking to shore up its offensive line after adding a pair of free agent guards in Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau last off-season.
“This is an opportunity to add some people, add some influence to our offense,” Garrett said, “and hopefully it’s a tweak for us that can help us get a little bit better and help us break through as a football team. So that’s really the approach right now. We want to stay on the same track, but also we want to add coaches to our staff that can really help us break through.”
Despite being one of the league’s best offenses, the Cowboys are 55-41 over the past six years with only two playoff berths. They are 1-2 in postseason games in that stretch.
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.
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.
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.