IRVING, Texas – Barry Church is in the early parts of a comeback from Achilles’ tendon surgery, but the Dallas Cowboys safety has some peace of mind.
Last week the Cowboys signed Church to a four-year extension worth close to $9 million and an opportunity to add another $3 million through play-time escalators. He received a $2.5 million signing bonus.
“I’m glad they have a lot of faith in me,” Church said. “I was shocked a little bit. I thought I was going to have to come back from rehab and don’t have a deal or don’t have any security going into camp next year. They’re showing faith in me and I’m going to try to make it worth every penny for them.”
Church, who suffered the injury Sept. 23 vs. Tampa Bay on a non-contact play, said he will have the cast removed on Monday, “and then I can begin the real rehab.” He said he plans on being 100 percent by the time the offseason conditioning program begins next April.
He won the starting safety spot in the first week of training camp, allowing the team to cut veteran Brodney Pool, and had eight tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
“He played really well and again is the kind of guy we want on our team,” coach Jason Garrett said.
Church will use former Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith and current Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall as inspirations in his rehab.
“Leon Hall did his last November and he was back in training camp and starting with the Bengals now,” Church said. “It’s not the same position but there’s a lot more running, but if he can do it I can do it too.”
At the end of the last season, the Dallas Cowboys were looking for anyone to help and provide some depth on defense and special teams.
Mana Silva was able to do that last year, but despite spending the final month of the regular season with the Cowboys, he wasn’t exactly a favorite to claim another roster spot this year.
The Cowboys signed a veteran in Brodney Pool and drafted Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Barry Church was pegged to compete for a spot and Danny McCray’s roster spot seems rather solid as he continues to be the best special teams player on the team.
But as the Cowboys sit just nine days from the season opener, Silva’s chances of making the team seem better than ever.
The safety position shuffled around because of injuries to both Johnson and now McCray. And more importantly, Silva is taking advantage of those opportunities, with three solid performances in the first three preseason games.
But as the Cowboys enter Wednesday’s preseason finale against the Dolphins, Silva knows he will be playing a lot on both defense and special teams. He also knows it’s his final chance of the preseason to shine. But he promises his mindset won’t change.
“I’m just focused on what I’ve done from the first day,” Silva said. “I just go as hard as I can every play. I’ve done that and now I just let the chips fall as they may.”
While Church and Gerald Sensabaugh seem to have the starting spots locked up, Johnson figured to be a solid No. 3 safety with McCray also contributing on defense, along with his special teams “ace” role. But Johnson once again suffered a hamstring injury, an injury that kept him out for most of camp.
And McCray sustained a neck injury that might keep him out of action for a few days.
So once again, it opens the door for Silva, who made a game-clinching interception in the first preseason game against Oakland. The former University of Hawaii standout has also been praised by his coaches for his all-out effort on defense and special teams.
“Yeah I just try to go as fast as I can on every play and just try to make a play,” said Silva, who admits this year has been more comfortable as he finally has a full offseason. “Last year was tough with the lockout. But I’ve been able to pick up the system more this summer and it’s helped me be more comfortable in what I’m doing. Now I just want to keep playing and try to make this team.”
DALLAS COWBOYS SAFETY VALVE: Sensabaugh, Church show potential to make plays and stabilize secondary
The focus of the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive upgrade in the offseason was at cornerback.
They spent megabucks on free agent Brandon Carr and traded up six spots to take Morris Claiborne in the first round. The hope is that better coverage leads to more sacks, pressures and, ultimately, interceptions.
But what ailed the Cowboys in their December fade was not just seeing Terence Newman give up a big play or get used like a hurdle in the Summer Olympics. Safety play was more than just a bit player, and that came after the Cowboys sunk a new contract into Gerald Sensabaugh.
In the April draft, the Cowboys were extremely interested in Alabama’s Mark Barron, but they didn’t like the cost of having to move up to take a safety.
The Cowboys’ plan to improve the position was to sign free agent Brodney Pool and draft Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Pool, who received only a $100,000 signing bonus, was cut the first week of camp, and Johnson has yet to practice because of a hamstring injury.
But after Monday’s 3-0 preseason shutout of the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys have to like what they see from their safeties.
Sensabaugh had an interception on the Raiders’ first drive. Barry Church, who stole the starting spot with a strong start to camp and made Pool expendable, came up with two tackles on Oakland’s second drive, which ended in a punt. And Mana Silva clinched the shutout with an interception in the final minute.
"We’re definitely looking to be more of a ball-hawking unit as a safety crew," said Church, who has one career start. "If we get that, then it makes for an easier job for the corners and our defense overall."
Sensabaugh’s interception was a sign of offseason progress. Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer went for the dagger early to Jacoby Ford deep down the field on a call that would have made late Raiders owner Al Davis happy.
Instead, the ball ended up in Sensabaugh’s arms for the game’s first turnover.
"I saw the quarterback staring at the outside receiver and I’ve been working on it all offseason, just getting a read to get to both sides," Sensabaugh said. "Orlando (Scandrick) had great coverage and was still on top of him, and that gave me a chance to get over the top. He overthrew the ball a little bit and I was able to make a positive play for us."
The Cowboys are going to need that range from Sensabaugh, who said he anticipates playing more of a center-field role in 2012.
"Whenever you have a guy like that that can help the corners on those deep balls is a real advantage for you," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterback, and he had great eye discipline to get to the ball."
They also need Church, who is the more traditional strong safety, to be more than just reliable. He showed early in camp he has improved in coverage and he showed against the Raiders that he will be aggressive in his reads.
He conceded that he was a little nervous before he made his first tackle.
"I definitely want to keep piling up good practices on top of good practices and eventually, when it comes to the regular season, good games on good games," Church said.
The Cowboys have struggled at the safety position since Darren Woodson’s retirement before the 2004 season and Roy Williams’ fall from Pro Bowl grace not long after. Church will be the fourth starter opposite Sensabaugh in four years, following Ken Hamlin, Alan Ball and Abram Elam.
But elite safeties are not necessary to have a stout defense. Take away Baltimore’s Ed Reed and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu, and there aren’t many playmakers at the position. Look at last year’s Super Bowl champs, whom the Cowboys play twice a year, as an example.
"Gerald’s a guy who’s stepped up not only on the field but off the field as a leader, communication-wise," linebacker Sean Lee said. "Barry Church is a guy who’s really a good football player who’s now been given a chance and he looks like he’s taking advantage of the opportunity."
There is a long way to go, but Monday was at least a good start after a not-so-good finish to the 2011 season.
Here’s what stood out from Day 11 of Cowboys’ training camp practices Saturday in Oxnard, Calif.:
- The Cowboys spent a lot of time working on their hurry-up offense Saturday and working more on situational plays. The defense had the upper hand most of the practice.
- Actor Ashton Kutcher was in attendance for the Saturday afternoon practice. He spent some time watching practice with owner Jerry Jones and talked with QB Tony Romo after the practice.
- Recently signed veteran OL Derrick Dockery took first-team left guard repetitions and Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary continued to rotate at first-team right guard.
- With starting C Phil Costa out with a back injury, David Arkin took first-team reps at center with Harland Gunn at second-team center and Pat McQuistan at third team. Over the last three days, McQuistan has seen work at offensive tackle, blocking tight end and now at center.
- During the morning walkthrough, QB Tony Romo and C David Arkin spent some extra time working on shotgun snaps, which have been one of the big issues of camp because of all the injuries at center.
- QB Tony Romo gave some fans high-fives along the fence line as he came out onto the field for the afternoon practice and stopped to sign a few autographs. That’s been rare for him this camp.
- WR Raymond Radway continues to fade. He struggled catching kickoff returns early and also had his problems during team drills. Radway appeared to run the wrong route – going long instead of breaking his route short – during team drills. QB Kyle Orton threw the pass underneath as Radway streaked down the field, allowing safety Danny McCray to make an easy interception. Later, Radway dropped a pass in team drills.
- WR Dez Bryant used a double move in 1-on-1 drills to beat CB Brandon Carr for a touchdown deep. Bryant then beat rookie CB Morris Claiborne for a catch along the left sideline. Bryant, however, missed the last half of the afternoon practice because of tightness in his hamstring.
- In 1-on-1 drills, WR Donovan Kemp dropped a pass on a slant route. WR Cole Beasley also had a drop along the right sideline. CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah intercepted a pass intended for WR David Little. WR Tim Benford had a drop after beating CB Mario Butler in coverage. WR Andre Holmes used three moves to finally get free from Owusu-Ansah and make a catch. CB C.J. Wilson dropped a pass intended for Beasley that he should have intercepted.
- Twice during 1-on-1 drills, speedy CB Teddy Williams ran step-for-step down the sideline with WR Kevin Ogletree and WR Raymond Radway. Tony Romo didn’t even attempt a pass with Williams blanketing Ogletree, and the pass to Radway was incomplete. Both times, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan yelled, “Nice coverage, Teddy.”
- In individual receiving drills and during team drills, RB Javarris Williams dropped passes in the flat.
- LT Tyron Smith had a false start during a hurry-up situation inside the red zone. The offensive line scrambled to get to the line of scrimmage in a hurry and before Tony Romo snapped the ball to spike it, Smith moved.
- CB Brandon Carr had a pass breakup in the end zone against WR Kevin Ogletree on a pass from Tony Romo.
- Safety Barry Church continued his strong play by breaking up a pass from Tony Romo intended for TE Jason Witten near the goal line. Church nearly intercepted the pass.
- Safety Gerald Sensabaugh broke up a pass in the end zone from Tony Romo and almost intercepted the ball.
- RB DeMarco Murray dropped a quick pass out to the left flat from Tony Romo.
- CB Orlando Scandrick had good coverage on WR Andrew Holmes on a deep past down the left sideline from Tony Romo. The ball was overthrown and Scandrick almost intercepted the pass, getting one hand on it.
- LB DeMarcus Ware would have sacked Tony Romo during team drills, flying past him before he threw the ball.
- WR Dwayne Harris dropped a pass to the left side from QB Kyle Orton. Safety Danny McCray was there with tight coverage.
- LB Bruce Carter broke up a pass over the middle from Tony Romo, but the ball hit both of his hands and he should have made the interception.
- On back-to-back plays during team drills, the secondary maintained tight coverage and QB Kyle Orton would have been sacked both times.
- CB Brandon Carr knocked down a quick pass out to the right side intended for WR Kevin Ogletree from QB Tony Romo in a hurry-up situation.
- The Cowboys’ first-team offense was finally able to score late in practice in a hurry-up situation, with QB Tony Romo connecting with TE Jason Witten for a short touchdown pass.
- WR Andre Holmes used his 6-4 height to pull down a Hail Mary pass to end team drills with a touchdown catch from QB Kyle Orton. Holmes jumped over a pack of players in the middle of the end zone to pull down the ball.
ROSTER UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys cut safety Brodney Pool, CB Isaac Madison | Sign WR David Little, RB Javarris Williams
The Dallas Cowboys cut safety Brodney Pool and cornerback Isaac Madison and signed wide receiver David Little and running back Javarris Williams.
Pool made this an easy decision for the Cowboys after failing his conditioning test the day before practices began a week ago. Pool, who was signed in the off-season via free agency, is guaranteed only $100,000 on his one-year, $1.2 million deal. So, cutting Pool — the ex-New York Jets player – only costs the Cowboys $100,000.
With Pool gone, it’s all but certain that Barry Church will start at safety alongside Gerald Sensabaugh. Church has been superb the first week of training camp practices and showed the Cowboys enough to win the job. Church gives the Cowboys some flexibility in their defense as well because he excels closer to the line of scrimmage in a hybrid linebacker role.
The Cowboys needed to add another wide receiver and running back for depth after a rash of injuries to players at those positions, including starting wide receiver Miles Austin expected to miss about a week with another hamstring injury. Also, third-string running back Phillip Tanner from Kimball is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on a broken bone in his right hand.
Little is from Midwestern State and played his high school ball at Garland.
Williams was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. He played college football at Tennessee State after playing in high school at Richmond (Texas) Foster. He spent the 2009 preseason with the Chiefs before being released. Last year, Williams was signed by the Houston Texans.
Courtesy: Brandon George | DMN
OXNARD, Calif. — The good thing about coach Jason Garrett is he wants competition at various positions.
One main position that will it is safety.
Gerald Sensabaugh is one of the starters, but who starts next to him is uncertain. Brodney Pool signed a one-year free agent deal in the offseason, and the Cowboys drafted Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Those players join Barry Church and Danny McCray, who enter their third NFL seasons.
There are no guarantees Pool makes the roster, given his $100,000 signing bonus. The Cowboys like the playmaking ability of Johnson, who had 17 career interceptions in four seasons at Eastern Washington.
Church played well in a limited role on defense, and McCray has led the team in special teams tackles the last two seasons.
"We want to give those guys a chance," Garrett said. "We drafted Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Barry Church has been with us, he’s improved, a very good special teams player, right from the start. But he’s improving as a defensive safety. We want to give those guys a chance. We like Brodney a lot, he’s played a lot of games in this league, a very athletic safety. He’s got a good feel for playing. There’s a reason we went and signed him. But at the same time, again, we want to create competition and we want to give these other guys a chance to show us what they can do."
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys made a splash in the early stages of the free agency period. The eight signings (seven of which are new players) was the largest haul in more than half a decade. Want to learn more about the newest Cowboys? Get to know them and some fun facts about them in the following photographs.
Brandon Carr, CB: Though he was just a 5th-round pick out of Division II Grand Valley State, Carr started from day 1 and didn’t miss a game in his four seasons with the Chiefs. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed an opponent’s completion percentage of 49.4% in 2011, which tied him for 9th best in the NFL, while his 61.7 opponent’s QB rating ranked 8th (for comparison’s sake, Darrelle Revis led the league in both categories with a 41.2 completion % and a 45.6 QB rating). Since entering the NFL, Carr ranks second among all CBs in knocked-down passes with 28.
Carr wasn’t recruited by prestigious college football programs, but he still had a decorated collegiate career. He helped the Grand Valley State Lakers to back-to-back Division II national titles, and earned Defensive Back of the Year honors from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference during his senior year
Though he grew up in Flint, Michigan, Carr was a Cowboys fan as a kid. He said during a recent radio interview that his parents bought him a Cowboys uniform as a Christmas present, and he used to play football with his cousin, who was a Lions fan. Carr also admired Deion Sanders, saying, “I used to idolize him, just trying to do his dances and show some flash like him just on the playground.”
Photo: Getty Images
Jason Garrett said the Cowboys signed safety Brodney Pool late Wednesday night, and that he was a player the Cowboys were interested in last year.
“We have familiarity with him,” Garrett said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. “He played in Rob [Ryan]’s system. He played for [Cowboys secondary coach] Jerome Henderson in Cleveland.”
Pool, who signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with a $100,000 signing bonus, will be a physical player for the Cowboys, Garrett said.
“He’s a guy we think has very good ball skills, very good on the back end, and also can be a guy that can come down and do all the jobs that a safety in our defensive scheme has to do,” Garrett said. “His strengths are on the back end, using his athleticism, going and making plays on the ball down the field. We feel he can be a real asset for our team as well.”
Pool will be in his seventh year out of Oklahoma. He was drafted by the Browns in the second round in 2005, and he played one year for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Cleveland. In that year, 2009, he had a sack, four interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 38 tackles in 11 games.
Last year, the 27-year-old ranked as the 30th-best safety in the NFL, according to the rating website ProFootballFocus.com. He’ll replace Abe Elam, who ranked 55th. The Cowboys’ other safety, Gerald Sensabaugh, ranked 29th last year.
The big names are signing elsewhere as the Dallas Cowboys remain focused instead on needs, and on targeting specific players they like to fill those needs. While Mario Williams — the apple of many Cowboys fans’ eyes over the past few weeks in spite of no evidence at all that Dallas was really pursuing him — was busy looking for a home in Buffalo, the Cowboys on Thursday morning agreed to a deal with free-agent safety Brodney Pool. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett broke the news in a conference call with reporters, Calvin Watkins tells us:
Garrett said the team wanted to sign Pool last year, during the brief free agency period, but was unable to due to finances.
"He has some really good ball skills," Garrett said.
Pool has played with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with the Cleveland Browns in 2009. Under Ryan, Pool had a career-high four interceptions and also had 10 pass breakups.
Again, many fans had been asking whether they’d sign someone like LaRon Landry. But while he doesn’t have the name recognition or the raw ability of Landry, Pool is a guy who actually plays in games every week. Ryan likes him. He likes Ryan. They need someone to replace Abram Elam, who’s a free agent. Makes sense. A day after signing cornerback Brandon Carr, backup quarterback Kyle Orton, fullback Lawrence Vickers and guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, the Cowboys continue to fill the many holes on their roster with players who look like good fits. Former Bengals guard Nate Livings and former Panthers linebacker Dan Connor are in town today to talk contract as well, and each would add depth to positions where the Cowboys are lacking.
A smart, targeted approach to free agency by a team with a lot of different needs. Maybe not the most exciting offseason the Cowboys have ever had, but if I were a Cowboys fan, I’d be enjoying it very much.
RELATED: Brodney Pool brings some youth
A year later, the Cowboys got Pool.
But did they get better?
Well, they got younger.
Elam is 31 in October. Pool is 28 in May.
But the players are similar.
This is a thumbnail sketch from an AFC personnel guy on Pool: offers some flexibility at strong and free safety, steady but doesn’t make many plays on the ball, situational player.
Sounds like Elam, doesn’t it?
Elam had 79 tackles, four tackles for loss, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery, according to the Cowboys’ coaches’ breakdown. For the Jets last year, Pool started six games, played in 14 and had 37 tackles, a half sack, four quarterback hurries, an interception, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
You can’t find stars in free agency at every spot in a salary-cap system. At one year and $1.2 million, Pool makes sense. He is more of a stop-gap guy right now and the Cowboys can look in the draft for a future starter. Alabama’s Mark Barron would make some sense if the Cowboys are looking for one in the first round to break into the lineup.
IRVING, Texas — When Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis just three or so weeks ago that the Dallas Cowboys had a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, the comment was met with near disgust, not just an eye roll.
Many assumed the Cowboys owner and general manager had hit the heights of delusion. After all, the Cowboys had just missed the playoffs for the third time in four years and saw their NFC East rival New York Giants win their second Super Bowl in five years.
Through the first three days of free agency, the Cowboys have been aggressive.
They have signed six free agents, with cornerback Brandon Carr being the big fish at five years, $50.1 million. The rest of the signings — Kyle Orton, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Lawrence Vickers, Brodney Pool and Dan Connor — are not sexy, but sexy doesn’t sell in free agency all the time.
The Cowboys systematically followed a plan they had before free agency began.
Coach Jason Garrett, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, secondary coach Jerome Henderson and assistant secondary coach Joe Baker boarded Jones’ private plane for Kansas City to pick up Carr.
By 6 p.m. Tuesday, they were at Cowboys Stadium, using the $1.2 billion stadium in their recruiting pitch.
Carr took a tour of the stadium. He dined in Jones’ suite and was joined by DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Sean Lee. A video of the team’s history, spliced with Carr’s highlights, played on the center-hung digital board. After that, a constant loop of 2011 highlights played.
By 2 a.m., an agreement was hammered out, which Carr signed Wednesday at Valley Ranch.
"We showed why we think Dallas is such a special place," Garrett said. "We showed him our facility, showed him our stadium, talked about the tradition of the Dallas Cowboys, talked about our current team. We showed Brandon, Mackenzy, Kyle, Lawrence and Brodney how we believed they fit in and why we think they’re important to our team. I think it all resonated with them. It came from the heart. It’s stuff we believe in. It was a very thoughtful process."
Let’s be honest. A guaranteed $26.5 million for Carr helped too, but this is something the Cowboys had to do.
If you jump into the free agency pool for the top players early in the process, you have to pay — and pay big. There is not any bargain shopping early. That starts next week.
The Cowboys determined Carr was their guy and got him. They determined Orton was the best fit as the backup quarterback and got him.
They could not or would not get into the deep end for an offensive lineman like Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs, so they targeted Bernadeau. In 2006, not many fans knew who Kyle Kosier was, but he turned into one of the best and most economical signings the team had. The Cowboys hope Bernadeau can do the same.
When the Cowboys didn’t tender an offer to Tony Fiammetta or reach a deal on a multi-year offer, they targeted Vickers and got him. They did the same with Pool, whom some at Valley Ranch wanted to sign a year ago before getting a deal with Abram Elam.
The Cowboys can profess their love for Bruce Carter all they want, but until they see him play more on defense, they don’t know what the second-year linebacker can do. To protect themselves, they targeted Connor and got him.
The only guy that got away was tight end Kellen Davis, who returned to Chicago on a two-year deal.
"It was important for us to make our message clear and communicate well as to why they would be good for us," Garrett said. "Each of them understood it well."
The last time the Cowboys signed this many free agents was in 2006 with a class that included Akin Ayodele, Rocky Boiman, Jason Fabini, Ryan Hannam, Kosier and Mike Vanderjagt.
Ayodele and Kosier were solid starters. Fabini was a backup tackle. Vanderjagt was a disaster before he was cut. Hannam was hurt and placed on injured reserve. Boiman didn’t make the team coming out of training camp.
Clearly free agency doesn’t solve all of the problems, as the aforementioned shows you, but being a spectator in free agency wasn’t an option for the Cowboys either.
Do the signings guarantee a playoff spot? Do they mean the Cowboys will compete for a Super Bowl? No. But it gives them a chance that some thought wasn’t going to come when Jones made his combine comments.