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ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys

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No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.

The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.

Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:

QUARTERBACKS

Tony Romo – B

This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.

He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.

Kyle Orton – I

He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.

RUNNING BACKS

DeMarco Murray – C

A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.

Felix Jones – C

Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.

Lance Dunbar – B

Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.

Phillip Tanner – C

Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.

Lawrence Vickers – C

Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.

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CALMING THE WAVES: Gerald Sensabaugh has emerged as a steadying influence in the Dallas Cowboys secondary

August 13, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive back Gerald Sensabaugh (43) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter at O.Co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

During a season marked by personnel turnover on defense, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett cited free safety Gerald Sensabaugh as someone who has emerged as a calming influence in a patchwork secondary.

“He certainly has. I think he’s grasped that leadership role more and more as he’s been here,” Garrett said of Sensabaugh, who is the longest-tenured Cowboys’ defensive back (four seasons with the team) slated to start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. “When you’re playing with different combinations of guys, he’s the guy who’s been here. He’s the steadying influence. He communicates well before the snap. He plays well after the snap. The guys respond to him really well.”

Sensabaugh, who posted five tackles and a pass breakup in last week’s 27-24 victory over Pittsburgh, has been flanked by lots of fresh faces in recent weeks because of injuries to others. The list includes Sterling Moore, Michael Coe, Eric Frampton and Charlie Peprah _ all signed Sept. 25 or later as free agents, and all expected to contribute against the Saints.

Garrett said Sensabaugh’s most endearing trait is his durability. He has played the past 10 weeks despite a series of nagging injuries and has started 58 of his 60 games in Dallas.

“Sensabaugh is so impressive because he’s just there every week,” Garrett said. “He’s had a lot of different injuries over the past couple of years … but he gives you that look on Wednesday (that says), ‘I’ll be ready.’ He responds well to injuries. He’s a tough guy. He cares about his team and he loves to play football. Somehow, some way, you expect to see him out there on Sunday regardless of what’s going on with his body.”

Sensabaugh said he adjusts his on-field responsibilities based on whoever is lined up next to him in the Cowboys’ coverage package.

“I just try to get into position to put those other guys to where they’re more comfortable,” Sensabaugh said. “Everybody has their different style of play. Some guys like to play deep, middle more. Some guys like to play down in the box more. I just try to base my game off tying to be as versatile as possible to where I can just play wherever needed. We’re just trying to make it as easy as possible for the guys who are coming in new, so they can play fast. If that takes me doing more of the odder jobs, the more complicated roles, I’ll take pride in doing that.”

ROLLER COASTER ROSTER: Josh Brent placed on RNFI list; Veteran DT Brian Schaefering signs

ROLLER COASTER ROSTER - Josh Brent placed on RNFI list; Veteran DT Brian Schaefering signs - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, TexasJosh Brent is no longer on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster. After several discussions with the NFL this week, the Cowboys have now officially removed him from the roster, placing him on reserved/non-football illness list (RNFI).

That keeps him with the team and able to be at the complex. It’s unclear how restricted he will be in terms of meetings or other team functions. Not only is his legal status uncertain, but Brent also has physical injuries as well. He attended the memorial service for Jerry Brown on Tuesday with a small cast on his right wrist.

Garrett reiterated Wednesday how much support the Cowboys have and will continue to have for Brent.

“Josh is part of our family. We have unconditional love for him,” Garrett said. “And we’re going to make sure that we support him in every way we can. Players, coaches, our organization, and make him feel that support every way … having him be here, and knowing that people are around him to help him and he can call us, he can just be around us, he can cry, he can laugh – he can do whatever he needs to do – and we’ll be there to help him.”

The Cowboys have used Brent’s spot on the roster to sign defensive tackle Brian Schaefering, who has played in Rob Ryan’s scheme in Cleveland. In fact, Schaefering (6-4, 292) played all 16 games, including nine starts for the Browns in 2010, Ryan’s last season there as defensive coordinator.

Veteran DT Brian Schaefering signs with Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

Schaefering, as mentioned in a previous The Boys Are Back post, played all 16 games for the Browns last season, has been out of the league this year, but after a workout with the Dallas Cowboys this morning (Wednesday), was officially signed to the roster.

He becomes the fifth defensive player signed this season who was currently not on a roster or practice squad, along with Charlie Peprah, Eric Frampton, Ernie Sims and Brady Poppinga.

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Sep 5, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;  New York Giants defensive back Michael Coe (37) tackles Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree (85) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

WEEKLY ROSTER UPDATE: Cowboys claim CB Michael Coe

MILESTONES: Achieved during Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys game

Here are the historical notes compiled after todays game with the Washington Redskins:

The Dallas Cowboys had 458 yards of total offense today. It was the second-most total yardage output for the club this season behind its 481 yards at Baltimore (10/14). It was also the club’s fifth 400-yard game of the season – tied for the eighth-most in a season in franchise history. Six times the club had six games with 400-plus yards and the club record is eight, established in 2009.

Dan Bailey was true on all three of his field goal tries, including a career-long tying 51-yarder. Today was the third time he hit a 51-yard field goal. The first was against St. Louis (10/23/11) and the second was against the N.Y. Giants (10/28/12).

Bailey’s three field goal conversions today gave him his 10th career game making three-plus field goals. He is now tied with Chris Boniol for the third-most games with three-or-more field goals converted in team history. Richie Cunningham (11) is second and Rafael Septien (21) has the team-high.

Dez Bryant led the team with a career-high tying 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns on eight catches. He had an 85-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter today. It was the longest catch of his career, tied for the ninth-longest play in team history and was the longest pass reception by a Cowboy since Jason Tucker had a 90-yard touchdown catch against the N.Y. Giants (1/2/00).

Bryant’s 145 yards today gave him 2,369 for his career and allowed him to pass Daryl Johnston (2,227), Preston Pearson (2,274), Raghib Ismail (2,281), Joey Galloway (2,341) and Bill Howton (2,368) for 21st in franchise history.

Bryant’s touchdown catches gave him his third straight game with a scoring reception – tying the longest streak in his career.

Bryant’s multiple touchdown reception game today was his second multi-touchdown game of the season and fourth of his career. It also gave him 21 career touchdown catches to move past Butch Johnson (19) and Terry Glenn (20) for 14th in franchise history.

Bryant’s 145-yard outing tied the second-most yards by a Cowboys receiver on Thanksgiving Day. Michael Irvin has the high (157 – vs. Pittsburgh, 11/28/91) and both Lance Rentzel (vs. St. Louis, 11/23/67) and Miles Austin (vs. Oakland, 11/26/09) were also tied for second with 145 each.

Tyrone Crawford had his first career sack (for 0 yards) today. It occurred in the second quarter.

Felix Jones finished today’s game with six rushes for 14 yards and three catches for 47 yards with a touchdown. His touchdown catch gave him a score in his third consecutive game (two receiving and one rush). It is the second-longest touchdown streak in his career behind a four-game streak in weeks 1-4 of his rookie season in 2008 (three rush and one kickoff return).

Jones caught three passes today to give him 127 for his career and break a tie with Pettis Norman and Alvin Harper (124) and tie Eric Bjornson for 35th in team history.

Jones’ 47 receiving yards today upped his career receiving yards total to 1,062 and pass Mike Ditka for 42nd in club record books.

Brian Moorman netted 52.3 yards on his three punts today. His 52.3 net was second in his career. His career-high was 53.0 at Kansas City (12/13/09).

Jermey Parnell made his first career start today. He started at left tackle in place of Tyron Smith (ankle).

Charlie Peprah intercepted his first pass as a Dallas Cowboy in the fourth quarter of today’s game. It was the eighth pick of his career.

Tony Romo finished today’s game completing 37-of-62 passes for 441 yards with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Romo’s 62 attempts tied his club record while his 37 completions were a career-best and second in franchise history. His 441 yards were a career-high and good for third in franchise history.

Single-Game Highs

Attempts No. Player Opp (Date)
  62 Tony Romo vs. N.Y. Giants (10/28/12)
  62 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  57 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
Completions No. Player Opp (Date)
  41 Tony Romo at N.Y. Giants (12/6/09)
  37 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  36 Tony Romo vs. N.Y. Giants (10/28/12)
Passing Yards No. Player Opp (Date)
  460 Don Meredith at San Francisco (11/10/69)
  455 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  441 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)

Romo’s 85-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant was the longest pass completion of his career. It also tied the ninth-longest completion in franchise history and was the longest since a 90-yard Troy Aikman-to-Jason Tucker scoring hookup against the N.Y.Giants (1/2/00).

Romo’s three scoring throws today gave him 92 touchdowns in home games to pass Danny White (91) for the most home touchdowns in franchise history. Romo accomplished the feat in his 47th home appearance while White did it in 84.

Romo’s three touchdown passes today gave him 52 career multiple-touchdown games to improve his club-high and allow him to tie for fifth in the NFL since becoming a starter in 2006:

Cowboys Career Multi-TD Games

Player Games
Tony Romo 52
Roger Staubach 48
Danny White 44
Troy Aikman 43
Don Meredith 41

NFL Multi-TD Games (since 2006)

Player Games
Drew Brees 70
Tom Brady 61
Philip Rivers 61
Peyton Manning 57
Tony Romo 52
Eli Manning 51

Romo’s three touchdown tosses today gave him 165 for his career and tied him with Troy Aikman for the all-time Dallas Cowboys club record.

Romo now has 27 career games with three-or-more touchdowns, upping his club record.

Romo now has 26 career three-touchdown games – the most in Cowboys history, fourth among all-time undrafted quarterbacks and the fourth-most in the NFL since 2006:

Cowboys Career Three-TD Games

Player Games
Tony Romo 26
Danny White 20
Roger Staubach 17
Don Meredith 14
Troy Aikman 10

All-Time Three-TD Games (Undrafted Free-Agents)

Player Games
Kurt Warner 34
Dave Krieg 31
Warren Moon 27
Tony Romo 26

NFL Three-TD Games (since 2006)

Player Games
Drew Brees 42
Tom Brady 34
Peyton Manning 33
Aaron Rodgers 29
Tony Romo 26
Philip Rivers 25

Romo’s 441 passing yards today was his fifth 300-yard game of the season and the 37th of his career. Dallas now holds a 23-14 (.622) record when Romo tops 300 yards.

Romo’s 441 yards was his second 400-yard game of the season and the third of his career. Romo’s three career 400-yard games sets a club record while his two this season also establish a single-season club record.

Romo threw for 441 yards today to give him 3,357 for the season. Romo now has five 3,000-yard seasons to tie Troy Aikman for the most in team history. Danny White is third with four.

Thanksgiving Day Single-Game Highs

Attempts No. Player Opp (Date)
  62 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  57 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  44 Drew Bledsoe vs. Denver (11/24/05)
Completions No. Player Opp (Date)
  37 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  34 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  30 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/23/00)
  30 Jon Kitna vs. New Orleans (11/25/10)
Passing Yards No. Player Opp (Date)
  455 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  441 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  356 Troy Aikman vs. Tennessee (11/27/97)

Romo’s 62 pass attempts today upped his Thanksgiving Day pass attempts total to 221 and pass Danny White (187) for second in team history. Troy Aikman has the high with 341.

In completing 37 passes today, Romo has completed 142 Thanksgiving Day passes to pass Danny White (112) for second in team history. Troy Aikman has the high with 211.

With 441 passing yards today, Romo has thrown for 1,808 Thanksgiving Day yards. He passed Danny White (1,545) for second in team history behind Troy Aikman’s 2,280.

Romo’s three touchdown tosses today gave him 17 for Thanksgiving. He broke a tie with Danny White for the most touchdown throws on Thanksgiving Day in Cowboys record books.

Anthony Spencer had 2.0 sacks today, his sixth career multiple sack game and second of the season.

Spencer’s 2.0 sacks today gave him three straight games with at least a half sack – the third time in his career he has had that streak. His first three-game streak came in 2009 (Weeks 15-17) and the second in 2011 (Weeks 1-3).

In finishing today’s game with 74 receiving yards, Jason Witten now has 8,619 for his career to pass Paul Warfield 8,565 and Laveranues Coles (8,609) for 64th all-time in NFL history.

Witten led the team with nine catches today to give him 82 for the season, giving him his sixth season with at least 80receptions. Witten’s six 80-catch seasons ties Tony Gonzalez for the most all-time among league tight ends. Witten’s six also tie Gonzalez and six others for the sixth-most 80-catch seasons among all pass catchers in NFL history.Jerry Rice has the NFL record with 12.

INTEGRATING TALENT: Jason Garrett likes Cowboys’ success with free agent additions

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims gets after Eli Manning - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ernie Sims, who joined the team last week, made a positive impact in his 10 snaps against the New York Giants, said coach Jason Garrett, and could see more playing time Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Safety Charlie Peprah, also signed last week, could be active against Atlanta and Garrett said he has “done a nice job acclimating himself into the defense” during practices.

Taking players off the street and turning them into productive performers during the regular season has become a recurring theme with the Cowboys in recent seasons. Last year, Dallas watched receiver Laurent Robinson (11 TD catches) and offensive guard Montrae Holland (10 starts) step up as key contributors who were added to the roster after the start of the regular season.

Garrett is hoping Sims and Peprah could join that list.

“When an injury happens, you need to have a go-to guy at that spot,” Garrett said. “Our scouting department does a really good job, having those short lists and understanding not only where the guy was the last time he was playing but where he is now … Some times, it’s a go-to four or five guys to see who fits best for that given circumstance. But we have done a good job with that. It’s an important part of your team because, over the course of the season, you’re going to have injuries. To be able to absorb them with your current roster and then go out on the street to get guys who can be productive, it’s an important part of the course of the 16-game season.”

Garrett indicated Sims, signed in the wake of a season-ending injury to leading tackler Sean Lee, could have a bigger role this week but did not elaborate.

“I don’t want to go into specifics of that, but (Sims) did a nice job in last week’s game,” Garrett said. With more work, Garrett said Sims could “play even better” against the Falcons.

DREAM TEAM: Charlie Peprah finally plays for his favorite team

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IRVING, Texas — Growing up in Plano, Texas, Charlie Peprah was a Dallas Cowboys fan. Emmitt Smith is the reason he’s playing football now.

So when Peprah walked into the Cowboys locker room this week after signing a contract, the safety was living the dream.

"I love the Cowboys," Peprah said. "Once I was employed by the Packers, they became the enemy and I could care less about them, other than that, that was my squad. That’s the reason why I started playing football was Emmitt Smith. That’s why I wore 22 in high school. To be here is cool to become full circle. I would love to finish my career here, it would be great. Just something you thought wouldn’t actually happen, but I’m glad it did."

After graduating from Plano East High School, Peprah went to Alabama and played in 50 games. In 2005, he was a second-team All SEC selection at defensive back. He was a fifth-round pick of the New York Giants but didn’t make the roster and signed with the Green Bay Packers. He played with the Packers from 2006 to 2008 and then spent one season, 2009, with the Atlanta Falcons. But in 2010 and 2011 he returned to the Packers and earned a Super Bowl ring.

In the offseason, Peprah underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and his recovery took a while. He turned down opportunities to sign with several teams, including the New York Giants, and he took physicals for the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

But nearly two weeks ago, a healthy Peprah worked out with 14 other players at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys said of the defensive backs that worked out, he was the best.

This week, the Cowboys made the move official.

"I mean that’s the business and once (the surgery) happened, my main focus was to get healthy before I throw myself out there," he said. "That was the hardest thing for me is to not bite on some of the opportunities that were out there coming my way."

Peprah will see limited work on special teams and certain defensive packages to give Danny McCray a break.

"I’m trying to learn the defense and contribute in any way I can," he said. "The goal for me is obviously be a starter, but who knows what plans they have for me."

INJURY UPDATE: Jason Garrett addresses six roster changes at todays press conference

Video - Jason Garrett Press Conference - The Boys Are Back - Press play

Jason Garrett Press Conference 10/24 Duration: 8:25 Click HERE to watch video

Jason Garrett speaks to the media LIVE from Valley Ranch as his team begins their preparations for the Giants. See what he has to say about the injury to Sean Lee and how it could affect the team going forward.

SECONDARY SAFETY NET: Dallas Cowboys to sign veteran Charlie Peprah

In two years, Danny McCray has become the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams ace - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys have agreed on a deal with veteran safety Charlie Peprah, who has 25 career starts, including one in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.

Dallas Cowboys sign veteran safety Charlie Peprah - The Boys Are Back blog

Now Peprah, who is from nearby Plano, Texas, returns to his hometown team of the Cowboys, who have had plenty of injuries at the safety position.

The deal has yet to be officially turned into the league office as the Cowboys are trying to figure out their 53-man roster and how to make room for their new safety.

Peprah, who has had knee issues the last year, was one of 16 players to work out for the Cowboys two weeks ago at Valley Ranch. He’s played six years in the league but his 25 starts have occurred in the last two seasons with the Packers, which included a Super Bowl run.

The Cowboys entered the season with Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church as the starters but Church is out for the year with a torn Achilles. Backup Danny McCray (pictured above) has been more than serviceable but rookie Matt Johnson was expected to contribute but has had three separate hamstring injuries, including another on Friday that prevented his NFL debut.

Along with Peprah in that workout two weeks ago was Eric Frampton, who signed right away and has played for the Cowboys the last two weeks.

PENDING ROSTER MOVES: Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee could need season-ending surgery

Sean Lee could be headed to IR - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ biggest fears could be a reality as the team’s leading tackler and one of the more productive players might be headed to injured reserve.

Sean Lee could need season-ending toe surgery after MRI results showed torn ligaments. If anything, Lee will at least miss two games – Sunday’s showdown with the Giants and the following Sunday night against undefeated Atlanta.

With today being the Cowboys’ day off, the team did not have any press conferences or an open locker room period. With Jerry Jones’ mother passing this morning, the Cowboys’ owner did not have his regular radio show as well. So there has been no official word from the Cowboys regarding Lee or any other injuries this week.

The team is expected to officially sign veteran safety Charlie Peprah on Wednesday. The Cowboys would have to clear a roster spot, but it’s not likely it would be an easy Peprah for Lee switch if he goes to injured reserve. The Cowboys would need more depth at linebacker and might have to sign a veteran.

The Cowboys still have two punters – both Chris Jones and Brian Moorman – on the 53-man roster. Also, safety Matt Johnson is injured again and there have been discussions that he could land on IR, although head coach Jason Garrett said Monday he doesn’t think the Cowboys are ready to make such a move.

Still, the Cowboys at least have to start figuring out contingency plans if Lee’s season is over or will miss considerable time.

The Cowboys will turn to backup Dan Connor, a free agent pickup this offseason after spending four years with the Panthers. Connor has played a limited role on defense this year, but filled in for Lee in Carolina against his former team.

Connor, a college teammate of Lee at Penn State, has 14 tackles this year but will likely take over as the starter next to Bruce Carter.

Lee suffered the injury in the second half in Carolina on Sunday. He tried to fight through the pain but eventually took himself out, later saying he was simply “hurting the team by being out there.”

Through six games, Lee leads the Cowboys with 77 tackles, considerably more than DeMarcus Ware, who is second on the team with 43 stops. Lee also has eight quarterback pressures, third behind only Anthony Spencer (12) and Ware (10).

Lee was on pace to record more than 204 tackles this season, averaging 12.8 per game. He already tied the Cowboys’ single-game record with 21 stops in the Seattle game back in Week 2.

Missing Lee for any time will be huge, but especially against the Giants. Last year, Lee had a clutch interception against Eli Manning in the game at Cowboys Stadium. This season, he forced a fumble in the season opener that took away a scoring opportunity for the Giants in the Cowboys’ 24-17 win over the defending champs.

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