IRVING, Texas — Dallas Cowboys punter Chris Jones has signed his exclusive rights tender of $645,000.
The move chews up $150,000 of the roughly $2 million worth of salary-cap space.
Jones averaged 45 yards per punt in his first full season with the Cowboys. He appeared in two games in 2011 as an injury replacement for Mat McBriar and four games in 2012 before a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his season.
Jones had a 39.1-yard net average and had 30 of his 77 punts end up inside the opponents’ 20. Teams averaged only 9.2 yards per punt return against the Cowboys in 2013.
Earlier in the offseason the Cowboys signed kicker Dan Bailey to a seven-year extension worth $22.5 million.
If you break down the last five seasons of league leaders when it comes to special teams tackles, the Cowboys had only one player that finished in the top five and that was Sam Hurd in 2010 with 19 tackles. The other seasons, the club has not had a player finish better than 28th.
New special teams coach, Rich Bisaccia brings an aggressive, attacking style that should translate well for a player like Danny McCray. What will be different for McCray this season as opposed to last is that his responsibility as a safety will not be as demanding. His special teams play may have suffered because he was called upon to fill that role as a starter. McCray made this team because of his role on special teams and to his credit he was even named it’s captain.
With the safeties that this club has added to the roster in the off season plus Matt Johnson also coming back from injury, McCray can focus solely on being one of the top special teams players in the league. It was just too much to ask for him to handle both the safety responsibilities and be the main contributor of the special teams.
In 2011, McCray finished 26th in the league with 13 special teams tackles. Last season, Eric Frampton managed 12 to lead the team. McCray should flourish in this new scheme and will finish with 20 or more special teams tackles which will place him in the top five for the league and put him back in his natural role on this team.
Nothing against McCray getting an opportunity to play in the defensive scheme this season but there are some players in this league that provide more than just being ok at what they do. Danny McCray is an ok safety but he is much more valuable as a special teams ace and difference maker for a team that needs him just to focus on that task alone.
With training camp right around the corner, let’s take a look at special teams.
Top of the chart: Dan Bailey
It’s been a while since the Cowboys have had a reliable kicker for three straight years. Chris Boniol, who is ironically enough the kicking coach for Dan Bailey these days, was really the last guy to be this steady. But if Bailey has another year like his first two, he’ll likely be considered one of the best kickers in the NFL, if he’s not there already. Bailey hasn’t just made his share of game-winners – seven in the last two years to be exact with two more clutch kicks to force overtime – but he’s been money inside of 50 yards. Last year, Bailey made all 26 attempts of 49 yards or less. He was 3 of 5 from 50 and beyond. If there is one area of his game that needs more work, Bailey admits it has to be on kickoffs. But he did improve with that last year and said he’s spending more hours this offseason working on his kickoffs.
Need to see more: Chris Jones
When he punts – in games – he’s pretty good. He had a 45.2-yard average early last year before he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. At one point, former special teams coach Joe DeCamillis called him the early-season MVP because he was placing the ball at perfect locations and doing so with the necessary hang time. Now, in practice, Jones doesn’t always strike the ball with perfection and will have a shank or two that often raises a few eyebrows. But let’s not forget that he’s still a 23-year-old punter who is learning his way in the NFL. He probably won’t have much competition in training camp but when the games start, the Cowboys need him to rise to the occasion like he’s done before. Jones will likely get another yard and a half away from the line this year, moving back to a full 15 yards from the line of scrimmage in Rich Bisaccia’s scheme.
Still need to know … who takes over on kickoff returns
Three different players had at least 11 kickoff returns last year, including Lance Dunbar, who led the team with 12. Dwayne Harris and Felix Jones each had 11 and, of course, we know Jones has since signed with the Eagles. Dunbar could be the guy with the first crack at this. He is developing a role in the offense, but if he can solidify kickoff returns, it would only help his cause as a mainstay on the roster. Rookies B.W. Webb and Terrance Williams might get a shot in there as well.
Don’t forget about … Dwayne Harris
Had it not been for Bailey’s excellence the last two years, Harris likely could’ve gone in the “Top of the Chart” category. Harris’ ability to return punts won’t be forgotten. He came on strong at the end of 2012, ranking second in the NFL with his 16.1-yard average. His 78-yard punt return against the Eagles turned the tide in that game and he also had a field-position-altering return against the Steelers in an overtime win. Even if he doesn’t win the No. 3 receiver spot from Williams, Harris has a defined role as a shifty, crafty return specialist who seemed to elevate his play on offense with every stellar return he had on special teams.
Nine year veteran long snapper L.P. Ladouceur will be the lone long-snapper on the Dallas Cowboys camp roster
Dwayne Harris tallied 354 yards and 1 touchdown on 22 attempts with the Dallas Cowboys in 2012
Bryan Broaddus takes a closer look at Dallas Cowboys punter Chris Jones and how he fits into the team’s 2013 plans.
Name: Chris Jones
Height/Weight: 6-0 / 208
Experience: 2 seasons
College: Carson Newman
Key stat: Chris Jones had just 12 punts last season, averaging 45.2 yards per punt with a 40.0 yard net average.
Contract status: Signed through 2013.
How he played in 2012: Chris Jones was one of those question marks in training camp that no one really wanted to talk about. Jones burst onto the scene replacing the injured Mat McBriar in 2011 and punted well enough to allow the front office to not extend McBriar in 2012 thus making him a free agent. To be honest there were days in Oxnard where it looked like that decision was a poor one because of what a weapon that McBriar had become over his years in Dallas and Jones just wasn’t punting consistent enough but he managed to make it to the start of the 2012 and really did a nice job opening night against the Giants. The next week against the Seahawks, Jones had a punt blocked when Dan Connor missed an assignment and the following week against the Buccaneers somehow managed to get a punt off that should have been blocked but it resulted in an injury to his left knee. In his final game of the 2012 season Jones was able to gut out the game against the Ravens after not practicing all week. Fortunately for Jones, he was only called on one time that day but the knee was too damaged to continue the rest of the season and Brian Moorman took over the punting and holding duties for the club. In four games Jones averaged 45 yards on 12 punts and was on his way to the type of season that the front office and coaches believed he was capable of having.
Where he fits in 2013: Gone is special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and Rich Bisaccia now takes over in that role. Jones had a big supporter in DeCamillis but there is no reason to believe that Bisaccia will feel different about Jones and what talent he has. What will also help Jones is that Chris Boniol is still on the staff and will be able to paint a pretty accurate picture of what Jones is to Bisaccia. I fully expect Jones to be the punter for this club in 2013 but the scouts might have seen someone in their travels this Fall that could compete for the job so we will see after the 2013 NFL Draft when we get into mini camps.
Nick Eatman: He’s one of the injured players people forget about but he was missed. Sure, Brian Moorman has more experience but Jones was better at angling his punts with height and direction. He’s also a good holder for kicks so I would expect Jones should be the punter for this team next year.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
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:
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.
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.
IRVING, Texas – We’re at the halfway point in the regular season and obviously the Dallas Cowboys aren’t happy with a 3-5 record. The talk of head coach Jason Garrett’s future has been a topic, albeit one that owner Jerry Jones has dismissed.
The Cowboys haven’t been able to close out games this season, but the schedule might turn in their favor for the final eight games, where only one team with a winning record exists.
The DallasCowboys.com staff of Bryan Broaddus, Rowan Kavner and Nick Eatman weigh in with their assessment of the season’s first half.
Bryan: The victory on the road against the Giants on opening night. It was a game that nobody had them winning. Might be the only time they have really played a complete game.
Rowan: Winning the opener in New York. The Cowboys felt a victory against the Super Bowl champion Giants might be a statement win and one that could propel them going forward. It turned out to be one of the few positive moments from the first half of the season.
Nick: There’s only been three wins and it’s not going to be beating Tampa Bay or Carolina. Has to be the opener against the Giants when they took it to the defending champs from start to finish. Kevin Ogletree had a career night and the Cowboys kept answering the bell.
Bryan: The last 5:21 of the game against the Falcons. If the defense gets a stop there, Tony Romo has a chance to once again try and score with a no-huddle offense that had previously moved the ball well for their only touchdown of the day. Instead, the offense gets the ball with 22 seconds left and no chance to win the game.
Rowan: When Dez Bryant was called out of bounds on a miraculous catch in the back of the end zone at home against the Giants. Not only would that have given the Cowboys a winning record at the time, and their biggest comeback in franchise history, but it would have also been one of the few breaks for both Romo and Bryant, who’ve had their struggles at times.
Nick: Without a doubt, hearing the referee say, “After review, the receiver’s hand landed out of bounds” following Bryant’s near catch against the Giants. That was a killer for this team. They could’ve had the biggest comeback in Cowboys history from two players, Dez and Romo, who needed a boost like that. While it was still a classic, it would’ve probably been the best game I’ve ever covered had it not been for a few inches.
What They Do Best:
Bryan: Cover punts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Chris Jones or Brian Moorman, Joe DeCamillis has this unit ranked among the best in the NFL. Rarely do you see their gunners out of position and when given an opportunity to make a tackle, they get the job done. It’s a sound group.
Rowan: Stop teams from driving the field. The defense has played significantly better than the offense this season, particularly in limiting teams from gaining chunks of yardage. The offense continually puts the defense in rough spots with turnovers, and for the most part, the defense has held its own.
Nick: Other than find creative ways to lose games? This team is pretty good at defending the pass. What’s really frustrating is if you would’ve heard two weeks ago that neither Eli Manning nor Matt Ryan would throw a touchdown against the Cowboys and their offenses would only get one each, you never would’ve thought the Cowboys would go 0-2 in those games. But, the Cowboys have had a good pass rush and played well in the secondary, ranking fifth overall on defense.
Where They Struggle The Most
Bryan: Finishing games. Look at the way this team has lost games and that will tell you all you need to know.
Rowan: In the red zone. Not a lot of teams will be able to score in there with a rushing attack as feeble as the Cowboys’, which ranks 30th in rushing average. Dallas scores a touchdown only 44 percent of the time it reaches the red zone and 50 percent of the time it gets inside the 10-yard line.
Nick: It’s the offensive line. That hasn’t changed really since last year, other than probably regressing some. Romo is always running for his life and they can’t run the ball in the red zone, a sure sign this offensive line can’t generate a good enough push when needed.
Best Offensive Player:
Bryan: Jason Witten. Nobody has played with more toughness and skill than him.
Rowan: Witten. The man who is now the team’s all-time leader in receptions has been one of the few reliable targets for Romo this year. After a slow start coming back from a spleen injury, Witten has recorded at least six catches in the last five games, including a 13-catch performance and a record 18-reception outing.
Nick: The wording of this category is tricky. The football player might be Dez. The most valuable is probably Romo because when he’s on they always have a chance, and when he’s not, they have none. But the best offensive player through eight games has to be Witten. Who would’ve said that after those first three games when he wasn’t 100 percent? But, he’s been fantastic of late. Then again, when your best player is a tight end, it’s hard to be successful on offense.
Best Defensive Player:
Bryan: Week in and week out, Brandon Carr has been asked to cover the opponent’s best receiver, plus line up at safety. Carr has been a stable, steady player, which is something you need when trying to match up against different schemes.
Rowan: No player on this defense would cause the kind of commotion and alterations needed after Sean Lee was lost for the year. He had about as productive a start to the season as anyone could ask for and will continue to be the leader of the defense for years to come.
Nick: Sure, I’d like to be cute here and find another worthy selection, but you really can’t. DeMarcus Ware has been the most productive and most durable defensive player on this team for a while. Ware has played in all 120 games of his career, missing just one start, and that was the Saints game in 2009 when he was heroic in a huge upset win. He’s been great again this year and gets my vote.
Editors Pick: Bruce Carter
Best Special Teams Player:
Bryan: It’s amazing that Danny McCray’s special teams play hasn’t suffered because of all the time he’s seeing with the defense as a starting safety. His ability to read schemes, beat blocks and finish plays gets him noticed a lot on tape.
Rowan: It’s Dan Bailey. The only area he’s not automatic is over 50 yards, which is understandable for any kicker. When the Cowboys get in legitimate field goal range, he’ll put it through almost every time.
Nick: It’s too easy to go with Bailey, but what about the snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who has been virtually perfect again this year. He’s the most consistent player on the team. With so many players shuffling in and out of the special teams units, they’ve had little consistency, but Ladouceur is the normal exception.
Don’t Forget About …
Bryan: As much as I wanted to get rid of Phil Costa, he does play on his feet in securing blocks and getting on the second level. Is he great? No, but he is able to do things that Ryan Cook can’t scheme-wise.
Rowan: All the injuries this team has endured. The Cowboys lost their two best young players at different points and for different durations in Lee and DeMarco Murray, not to mention their starting safety in Barry Church and nose tackle Jay Ratliff for the beginning of the year. Health going forward will be crucial.
Nick: The Cowboys have been a different team when DeMarco Murray is in the game, and if he can return soon, possibly even this week, the offense has a chance to turn things around in a hurry.
Bryan: The way this team loses games. It really has been a throw here, a catch there or a key stop not made that’s kept the Cowboys from having a much better record.
Rowan: There have been quite a few disappointments, from a meager rushing attack to a shaky offensive line to a hoard of penalties every other week. But turnovers, particularly interceptions, have kept this Cowboys team from being above .500.
Nick: Since I was preaching back in June how important the Seattle game would be, I’ll stick with that. After winning in New York, the Cowboys simply got manhandled against the Seahawks in Week 2, which gave us a preview of how they would lose the physical battle up front in other games, too.
Bryan: Need to focus and find a way to get on a little four-game winning streak, the game at Philadelphia and then three in a row at home. If this team is going to do anything productive this second half of the season, it starts against the Eagles on Sunday.
Rowan: While the lousy start wasn’t expected after a win in New York, it should get easier for the Cowboys the rest of the way. They only play one team with a winning record, so there’s no excuse to go 3-5 again in the second half of the season.
Nick: We knew all along the Cowboys might have an easier road in the second half of the season than in the first, and that should be the case. But the question was always the same: Will it be too late? The Cowboys are 3-5, and although just one of their last eight opponents currently has a winning record, it’s hard to think they will be consistent enough to make a serious playoff run. I still think 8-8 will be the final verdict.
Punter Brian Moorman knew the deal when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys: He wasn’t long for Dallas. His stay was expected to be only as long as it took Chris Jones to return from a knee injury. But the Cowboys placed Jones on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday, allowing Moorman to get out of a hotel and into a rental property.
"I came in to spell him and get him healthy," Moorman said. "I knew my place. I told him right from the start’ I’m not here to replace you and here to help you as much as I can.’ It’s been great. I think Chris is a great punter, and he’s got a long future in this league. Just look at what he’s done, and what he’s capable of doing. You don’t want it to come down to something like that – an injury to cost somebody to lose their season like that. You stay positive and just get him healthy and get him back for next year."
Jones is the team’s second punter to go on injured reserve in two seasons. Mat McBriar finished last season on IR with a cyst in his left leg.
Jones sprained his left (kicking) knee when he was roughed in the Tampa Bay game on Sept. 23. The Cowboys signed Moorman to take his place for the Oct. 1 game against the Bears. But Jones returned Oct. 14 against the Ravens when Moorman injured his groin in practice the week of that game.
Jones later was diagnosed with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament, though he won’t require surgery. He said his one punt in the game against the Ravens did not make the injury worse.
"I rehabbed it and rehabbed it and rehabbed it and strengthened it," Jones said. "I figured it would be something I could play with and just kind of manage it that way. But I guess it was a little too much. Now I’ve got some time to get it back."
Jones averaged 45.2 yards a punt with a 40.0 net and had six punts inside the 20. Moorman has averaged 44 yards a punt with a 42.3 net. He has had four of seven punts downed inside the 20.
"I’ve hit the ball better this year going back to training camp than I’ve ever hit it in my career," said Moorman, released by the Bills after 179 consecutive starts because of his 32.7 net average there this season. "I feel my confidence has never wavered, and I don’t think my ability has ever wavered. It’s been an unfortunate situation this year that I’ve come into. But sometimes you run into adversity. It’s just kind of how you rally and move on. I was lucky to be able to quickly come to a new team and be able to put the past behind me, and that’s just what it is. It’s the past, and I’m looking forward to the future, and I’m happy to be a Dallas Cowboy."
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.
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.
IRVING, Texas – Maybe there will come a time this season in which Jason Garrett will be able to roll out the same 46-man roster in back to back weeks.
But it won’t happen this week as we ponder the 46-man roster for Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Chris Jones was on the practice field Friday but did not punt during the portion of practice open to the media. Brian Moorman punted Thursday and was extremely effective in his practice work. So let’s say Moorman fills in this week for Jones.
You can rule out DeMarco Murray (foot) and Sean Lissemore (ankle) and all but rule out Ryan Cook (hamstring), as inactive players.
Where do the final two come from?
Well, if Matt Johnson suffered an injury in Friday’s practice that forced him to leave the session early, he would be another.
The other candidates to dress would be Kyle Wilber, Orie Lemon, Derrick Dockery, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley.
With Cook out, I can’t imagine Dockery is inactive as the Cowboys are going to great lengths to make sure David Arkin is needed only in an emergency. Mark it down that the Cowboys keep eight offensive linemen active vs. the Panthers.
The Beasley-Holmes debate comes down to special teams and since Beasley doesn’t cover kicks, Holmes gets the nod. Holmes, however, does not add much to the offense and Beasley seems to be giving guys fits in practice. But the Cowboys will go with five wides again and it looks like Beasley is down.
Lemon was inactive last week at Baltimore, but could he get the call over Wilber with Anthony Spencer set to return? The Cowboys would not need a fifth outside linebacker active and Lemon might be the better special teams player.
IRVING — Multiple Cowboys players who had been sidelined with injuries were seen in uniform at practice today at Valley Ranch.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who had been out since suffering a left high-ankle sprain Aug. 25, was stretching along with center Phil Costa, who hasn’t played since hurting his back on the first offensive series of the Cowboys’ victory over the New York Giants on Sept. 5. Also back was rookie safety Matt Johnson (hamstring/back), linebacker Alex Albright (neck) and Kenyon Coleman, who missed the previous two games with a right knee injury.
It’s uncertain how much activity all four players will be involved in Wednesday because an official practice report won’t be released by the club.
Among the players who were not present or weren’t in uniform were linebacker Anthony Spencer (strained pectoral muscle), center Ryan Cook (strained left hamstring), punter Chris Jones (left knee) and tight end John Phillips.
The Dallas Cowboys listed five players as out for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears, but they stopped short of that with punter Chris Jones, listing him as doubtful.
That still means the punter, who has a strained knee after being hit last week against Tampa, has a 25 percent or less chance of playing. But the Cowboys apparently are keeping open the possibility for him for now.
Linebacker Anthony Spencer, who led the team in tackles last week, is questionable with a shoulder injury.
Listed as out were defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) and linebacker Alex Albright (neck).
Fullback Lawrence Vickers, who missed practice Friday, was back with full participation Saturday and is listed as probable.
Others listed probable are Miles Austin (hamstring), Sean Lissemore (chest), Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), Marcus Spears (knee), DeMarcus Ware (hamstring) and Kyle Wilber (thumb).
|Jones, Chris||P||Left Knee||DNP||DNP||DNP||doubtful|
As the saying goes, sometimes you’ve just got to win ugly.
At least that’s one word to describe the Dallas offense as they were able to scrape out a 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay in front of 81,984 fans. Behind an offensive line that struggled to create running room and keep the pocket clean, nearly getting quarterback Tony Romo injured in the process, the Cowboys managed 297 total yards, including just 38 on the ground
Still, it was enough. Why? Because the defense, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty. Coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit dominated throughout the day, despite not having two starters up front in Jay Ratliff and Kenyon Coleman and starting safety Gerald Sensabaugh out as well, all due to injury. Fellow safety Barry Church was then lost for the game, and the season, in the third quarter. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon and will have surgery this week.
No matter, the defense held Tampa Bay to a paltry 166 total yards of offense. Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw for just 110 yards on 10 of 28 passing, while the visitors’ running game gained only 75 yards. Of those 110 yards by Freeman, 71 came on his team’s final drive when the Cowboys were sitting in a prevent defense.
Unlike last week when the defense eventually wore down against Seattle, this time they held strong in the second half, allowing Romo and Co. an opportunity to put the game away late. The quarterback finished with 283 yards on 25 of 39 passing with one interception, while Miles Austin had a big day with 107 receiving yards on five catches. Dez Bryant added 62 yards on six grabs, also giving the crowd a jolt with a 44-yard punt return.
Long before that, though, with less than five minutes having ticked off the clock, fans had to be wondering just what was wrong with their Cowboys. An already inept opening possession, only got worse when Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib stepped in front of Austin for an interception at the Dallas 29.
That was then followed by the Cowboys allowing Tampa Bay to pick up nine yards on their own, but handing over another 20 yards in penalties to give them first and goal at the Dallas 1-yard line. The Bucs got on the board with a Freeman loft to tight end Luke Stocker in the back corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay was in a giving mood as well. On their second drive of the quarter, Freeman tried to dump a pass underneath, only to see the ball tip off the fingers of running back D.J. Ware and into the arms of linebacker Sean Lee, giving Dallas field position at the Buccaneers’ 23-yard line.
The Cowboys then turned to DeMarco Murray, the back touching the ball on all four plays of the drive, the last a run around the left end that saw him dive for the pylon and the score, the Cowboys evening things up at 7-7.
With both defenses clamping down, the Cowboys caught another break with just over six minutes to play in the second quarter. Tampa Bay linebacker Dekoda Watson broke free on what should have probably been a blocked punt. Instead, he missed the ball and ran into punter Chris Jones for the penalty.
But on the other end of the field, Bucs return man Jordan Shipley muffed the catch, linebacker Orie Lemon, just called up from the practice squad yesterday, there to dig the ball out of the scrum. With the additional 15 yards tacked on for the roughing the kicker call, Dallas had great field position at the Tampa Bay 24-yard line.
A Romo scramble picked up a first down to the Buccaneers 12, but there the drive would stall. Dan Bailey then came out for a 32-yard field goal, splitting the uprights to give Dallas a 10-7 lead with 2:51 left in the half.
The Cowboys made the curious decision to go with an onside kick, the attempt failing and giving Tampa Bay a short field at their own 49. But four Buccaneers penalties on the possession effectively killed any opportunities for the visitors, Dallas taking over at their 20-yard line with 57 seconds remaining.
And, they made a go of it, Romo hitting Austin for 15 yards and Ogletree for 19 more to cross midfield to the Buccaneers’ 40-yard line. But, with 16 seconds on the clock, Romo was sacked, pushing them out of field goal range, the score unchanged going into the break.
Adjustments were made by Jason Garrett and his staff during halftime with the Cowboys’ offense coming out after the break and finding success on their first drive with short passes and quick slants. Romo found Ogletree for seven, Bryant for 18 and Austin for 21 yards to work their way down to the Tampa Bay 17.
But then on the ensuing play, Romo stepped up in the pocket to try and escape the pressure, only to have the ball knocked out of his hands, the Buccaneers recovering to take possession.
Soon thereafter, it happened all over again. However, this time the turnover occurred in Dallas territory. With Romo dropping back to pass, he was sacked by two Tampa Bay defenders, the ball coming loose and scooped up by cornerback Eric Wright at the Cowboys’ 31-yard line.
The Cowboys caught a bit of a break when the officials blew the play dead, thinking Romo was down before the ball came loose. A video challenge overturned the ruling, giving Tampa Bay the ball, but had they not blown the whistle initially, Wright would have waltzed into the end zone untouched.
That allowed the Dallas defense to do what it had been doing all day, stifling the Bucs, who were forced to punt when they were unable to move the chains.
With their defense keeping them in the game, the Cowboys offense got on the move again, this time the big blow coming on a 49-yard bomb to Austin that moved Dallas down to the Tampa Bay 30. Two snaps of the ball later, and Romo had a wide-open Jason Witten streaking down the middle, but the tight end was unable to haul in the catch, another tough afternoon for the former Pro Bowler.
Now in the fourth quarter, the offense was able to reach the Buccaneers’ 14-yard line before Romo took a vicious hit to push them back to the 21. Although Felix Jones brought a dump-off pass to the 8, the Cowboys would have to settle for a 26-yard field goal from Bailey, the advantage now 13-7 with 11:10 left in the game.
That would be all the Cowboys would need with the defense playing the way it was but just for good measure, a punt to the Tampa Bay 18 was pushed back 9 more yards due to unnecessary roughness. From there, the Buccaneers had no chance, the Dallas “D” moving them back to the 1-yard line, thanks to a sack and strip of the ball by DeMarcus Ware.
With Tampa Bay punting out of their own end zone, Bryant took the return from the 50-yard line, went to the right sideline, then cut back up into daylight before being taken down at the Buccaneers 6-yard line. His electric 44-yard return was easily the longest by the Cowboys this season.
Settling for a 22-yard field goal, Bailey’s effort, as it turned out, actually provided a little comforting insurance. With the score at 16-7 with just over two minutes left in the game, and the defense sitting back in a prevent, the Buccaneers were able to strike big on completions of 29 yards, 12, 23 and 7 to work their way down to the Dallas 10-yard line.
But on fourth and three, the Buccaneers elected to kick the field goal, narrowing the score to 16-10, and setting up an onside kick with 40 seconds on the clock. It didn’t work. The kick bounced high into the air and into the waiting arms of tight end James Hanna.
Tampa Bay did its best to prolong the celebration, calling two timeouts in the waning seconds, and aggressively charging the Cowboys kneel-down effort just as they had against the Giants the week before, but it was to no avail. The win improved the Cowboys’ record to 2-1 on the season with a showdown at home against the Bears coming up next Monday night.
The Cowboys had a grand total of four rushing attempts in the second half, so Jason Garrett is going to get criticized for abandoning the run. But that’s what happens when a team has to come back from a multi-score deficit, especially when there isn’t any room to run anyway. DeMarco Murray had to earn every one of his 44 yards on 12 carries. The Seattle front seven whipped the Cowboys on a consistent basis. Oh, Felix Jones got his first carry of the season. He gained a whopping 1 yard.
Did the Seahawks slip in the infamous K ball while the Cowboys’ offense was on the field? How else to explain the drop-fest from the usually sure-handed Jason Witten and Dez Bryant? Bryant was a total bust (three catches, 17 yards). Week 1 hero Kevin Ogletree had one catch for 26 yards. Tony Romo’s numbers (23 of 40 for 251 yards and one touchdown with one interception) weren’t awful, but the big, tough Seattle secondary won its matchup with Dallas’ receivers, with Miles Austin’s TD catch being the exception. And Romo’s interception came on a bad decision to kill a drive in the red zone. Unlike last week, Romo couldn’t overcome protection that was poor on a regular basis.
The good news: The Cowboys held Marshawn Lynch to 22 yards on 10 carries in the first half. The bad news: Lynch dominated the second half, gaining 100 yards on 16 carries as the Seahawks buried the Cowboys. Lynch busted a 36-yard run to set up Seattle’s touchdown in the third quarter, which made it a two-touchdown game. He had seven carries for 32 yards and a TD on the dagger drive, when the Seahawks marched 88 yards on 12 plays to go up by 20 points. The Dallas defense was simply dominated physically after halftime.
Rob Ryan and Co. made it easy for rookie QB Russell Wilson to play a poised, mistake-free game, completing 15 of 20 passes for 151 yards and a TD with no turnovers. The Cowboys rarely blitzed despite the undersized Wilson’s struggles against pressure in Seattle’s Week 1 loss. (According to ESPN Stats and Information, Wilson was 6-of-18 for 47 yards and was sacked three times when the Cardinals rushed five or more men.) Anthony Spencer got two sacks, but that was it for the Dallas pass rush despite the Seahawks playing with two backup offensive linemen. Perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware didn’t exploit his matchup against a second-string left tackle.
What is it with epic special teams disasters for the Cowboys in Seattle? It started off as poorly as possible with Felix Jones gift-wrapping a field goal for the Seahawks by losing a fumble on the opening kickoff. It got even worse soon, with backup linebacker Dan Connor getting beat to allow Seattle’s Malcolm Smith to block a punt. Jeron Johnson scooped and scored. Just like that, Joe DeCamillis’ guys handed the Seahawks a 10-point head start. Dez Bryant gained a grand total of two yards on two punt returns and was fortunate not to commit a turnover just before halftime. Punter Chris Jones had another strong performance, but special teams killed the Cowboys.
The head coach gets a big share of the blame when his team lays an egg like that after 11 days to prepare. It’s also fair to question whether Jason Garrett’s constant messages about mental toughness are really getting through after the Cowboys roll over like they did in the fourth quarter, when the Dallas offense had a couple of three-and-out series while the Seahawks ran 25 offensive plays. And defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s game plan was puzzling, to put it politely. Why play soft against a rookie quarterback who struggled badly when blitzed last week?
The Cowboys had a chance to reach 2-0 for the first time since 2008 but came out flat against the Seahawks on Sunday. Here are my thoughts on the game.
1.) Why was it so difficult for Jason Witten and Dez Bryant to hold onto the football? The two were targeted a combined 17 times but came away with only seven catches. While some opportunities were difficult, both players dropped multiple passes that they normally catch. Bryant went the entire first half without a reception and then opened the third quarter by fumbling after a short grab. Fortunately for Bryant, Doug Free recovered. Strangely, Witten not only dropped several passes but he and Tony Romo weren’t on the same page during a drive shortly before halftime. It’s extremely surprising to see the Cowboys make these mistakes after playing so well against the Giants and having 10 days to prepare for the Seahawks.
2.) Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis rarely seems to be in a good mood at practice. And if it’s possible, his anger will probably be at a higher level when the team returns to Valley Ranch this week. Known for his expletive-filled rants, DeCamillis can’t be pleased with how his group started Sunday’s contest. First Felix Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, which led to a Seahawks field goal. Then, a Chris Jones punt was deflected and returned for a score after Dan Connor missed a block. The Cowboys never seemed to recover from that 10-0 hole.
3.) When it was announced shortly before the game that Seattle starting left tackle Russell Okung – the sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft – was inactive it seemed like DeMarcus Ware was in line for a big day defensively. But the Cowboys’ top pass-rusher never put much pressure on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. After recording two sacks in the season opener, Ware was limited to only one quarterback hit in Seattle. Wilson’s mobility was a factor, but the Cowboys’ front seven rarely made him look uncomfortable. Anthony Spencer was one of the few bright spots, recording a sack and two hits on Wilson. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch also had success, especially in the second half, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
4.) Although 23-of-40 passing doesn’t suggest it, Romo played well against the Seahawks. Had it not been for the dropped passes, those numbers would’ve been much more impressive, and the Cowboys’ chances of winning would have greatly increased. The Seahawks dominated the clock in the second half, so Romo, who threw one interception, didn’t get a chance to mount a comeback. The offensive line didn’t give Romo much time to survey the secondary but his spin move created a few extra seconds on several occasions. An immobile quarterback would have no success behind the Cowboys’ offensive line at this time.
5.) Why is Felix Jones still returning kicks? His time in the backfield has been reduced severely because of DeMarco Murray’s effectiveness, but even when Jones is on the field he rarely makes a defender miss. I literally can’t remember the last time the Cowboys had a good kickoff return. And Jones, who failed the team’s conditioning test at the start of training camp, doesn’t appear to have the quickness to make that happen. It might be time to give Morris Claiborne a chance. The rookie first-round pick practiced returning kicks on Thursday so that may soon become reality.
The Dallas Cowboys return to Seattle for the first time since Tony Romo’s botched hold on a short field-goal attempt foiled their last real chance to win the 2006 NFC Wild Card game. A lot has changed since then. But Romo is still the Cowboys’ quarterback and he is leading a team that won its season opener and should be riding a wave of momentum into CenturyLink Field. Will Dallas be able to secure a victory and start the season with a 2-0 record for the first time since 2008? The Seahawks, with their rowdy home crowd behind them, stand in their way. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
At this point, DeMarco Murray’s value is unquestionable. The Cowboys’ second-year tailback offers an added dimension to an offense now capable of securing a lead by maintaining possession and running clock. Against the New York Giants in Week 1, Murray averaged 6.6 yards per carry. The Seahawks, who held Arizona’s Beanie Wells to 14 yards on seven rush attempts, will try to corral Murray. But a young corps of linebacker that includes rookie starter Bobby Wagner will have a tougher task this week.
When the Cowboys pass
In the season opener, Tony Romo demonstrated once again how good he can be. With his favorite target, Jason Witten, not in top form, Romo threw for 307 yards and posted a passer rating of 129.5 against the Giants. The performance probably brought back bad memories for a Seattle defense that Romo shredded last season in a 23-13 victory. Romo threw for 279 yards that day despite Miles Austin hurting his hamstring in the second quarter. Austin is healthy now. So is Dez Bryant. And Witten says he is feeling like his old self. Seattle’s secondary, which Arizona backup quarterback Kevin Kolb got the best of last week, better be on alert.
When the Seahawks run
The Cowboys’ run defense was strong last season. It was the seventh-best in the NFL last season. And only four running backs gained more than 100 yards in a single game against the Cowboys. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch was one of them. Lynch, who rushed for 135 yards and one touchdown in a loss last November, kept the Seahawks’ offense moving when quarterback Tarvaris Jackson couldn’t. The Cowboys, who yielded 82 yards on the ground against the Giants, hope they’ll fare better against Lynch this time.
When the Seahawks pass
Russell Wilson didn’t take the NFL world by storm like Washington’s Robert Griffin III did. The rookie quarterback’s debut was pretty unremarkable. He completed 53 percent of his pass attempts and threw for 153 yards. Together, his top targets, Braylon Edwards and Sidney Rice, made only nine receptions. The Cowboys should feel confident they can limit Wilson after they kept Eli Manning and the Giants’ air attack at bay for most of the game in the team’s season opener. In fact, after Week 1, the Cowboys have the fifth-ranked pass defense in the NFL.
The Seahawks’ Leon Washington is one of the most dynamic specialists in the NFL. Against Arizona last week he returned a punt 52 yards and a kick 83 yards. He’s a game-changer. The Cowboys recognize that and the coverage units have been put on notice. Yet punter Chris Jones and kicker Dan Bailey will also have roles in trying to keep Washington under wraps. Against the Giants, Jones’ two punts resulted in only five return yards – the second lowest figure in the NFL in Week 1.
CenturyLink Field is considered to be one of the most hostile environments for road teams in the NFL. Since it opened in 2002, only six NFL teams have posted a better winning percentage at home than the Seahawks have. The crowd there is loud. It’s intimidating. But the Cowboys should be able to handle it. After all, this is a team that went into MetLife Stadium and beat the defending Super Bowl champions earlier this month. The Cowboys should be brimming with confidence after that victory and feel good about their chances to beat a Seattle team that lost to NFL lightweight Arizona last week.
SPOTLIGHT ON SPECIAL TEAMS: Seattle Seahawks returner Leon Washington a test for Dan Bailey, Chris Jones
IRVING, Texas – With star collegiate players taking over special teams roles and a hodge-podge of talent taking the field, the beginning of the season is typically difficult on special teams coverage.
Sometimes, the best way to make up for the newly-formed coverage groups is with precision in the kicking game. Against a great returner like Seattle’s Leon Washington, who holds several franchise records, the placement and distance of kicks by Dan Bailey and Chris Jones will be crucial. Washington had an 83-yard kickoff return and a 52-yard punt return against Arizona on Sunday, proving he can still be a threat at the age of 30.
“You certainly want to limit his opportunities any way you can,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “The kickers and the punters play a big role in this game. There’s no question about that. But we have to go cover. There’s no expectation that we can just take him out of the game by kicking the ball through the end zone or whatever the case might be. We have to plan and practice really well in preparing for him, because again, he’s a difference-making player for their football team.”
For Bailey, the best way to stop Washington on kickoffs is to try to boot the ball deep into the end zone, when the wind allows, but direction is important as well, if the ball isn’t carrying. Bailey had 24 touchbacks on 67 kickoffs last year.
Jones, appearing in only his third game last week, did a nice job on his two punts, finishing with a net average of 51.5 yards. Coincidentally, he made his NFL debut against the Seahawks halfway through last year, filling in for an injured Mat McBriar, and forcing Washington into three fair catches.
“I think if I can just pinpoint just where the ball is going to be, and I put it there with 4.8, 4.9, 5.0 hang time, something like that, we’re going to get a fair catch,” Jones said. “Or, we’re going to get somebody to run down there and rock him, and possibly get a turnover or something like that. A lot of the stress on me is going to be directional – let’s get it outside the numbers – and the hang time. That’s my main focus this week.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – The Dallas Cowboys waited all year for another shot at the New York Giants. When they got it in the 2012 season opener, they were ready.
So were the replacement officials, who barely were a story with Dallas dominating the Super Bowl champions for much of a 24-17 victory Wednesday night that wasn’t nearly so close.
It won’t make up for the New Year’s Day loss that cost the Cowboys the NFC East title and sent the Giants on their way to the NFL championship. It sure could provide impetus for this season, though, particularly with the discovery of a new game-breaker, Kevin Ogletree.
While the officials were expected to be a big factor with the league’s lockout of the regulars, there were no controversies, no blatant mistakes or rampant confusion. The spotlight belonged squarely on the Cowboys, from Tony Romo’s three touchdown passes and 307 yards in the air to DeMarco Murray’s 129 yards rushing to Ogletree’s two scores.
"A huge emphasis for us was big plays," said Ogletree, who enjoyed his big night not far from where he grew up in the New York borough of Queens. "I don’t want the focus to be on me too much, but I am very, very humbled and appreciative of how we played today."
Dallas’ defense frustrated Eli Manning and his offense with three sacks and a half-dozen pressures, all before the largest crowd at MetLife Stadium for a Giants game. The 82,287 saw the defending league champs lose in the now-traditional midweek kickoff contest for the first time in nine such games.
"We let them know where we are as a defense, and that we’ll play that way every week," DeMarcus Ware said after getting two sacks to give him 101 1-2 for his career, now in its eighth season.
When the Cowboys were threatened late – a spot they often have folded in against the Giants – Romo hit Ogletree for 15 yards on third down to clinch it. That gave Ogletree 114 yards on eight catches; he had 25 receptions for 294 yards and no scores entering the game.
"I’m close to home, so it’s a good feeling," Ogletree said. "But Dallas is my home now."
The Cowboys’ big-time receivers – Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten – were eclipsed by Ogletree, who sure didn’t resemble a backup. In the first half, he had five catches for 47 yards and a TD, and broke free for a 40-yard reception early in the third quarter.
Ogletree thoroughly fooled New York’s top cornerback, Corey Webster on his long score to start the second half – the kind of big play the Cowboys couldn’t make enough of in that Jan. 1 showdown that ended their season. And they got another huge play from Murray, who broke two tackles in the backfield, scooted down the right sideline for 48 yards, and set up Dan Bailey’s 33-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead through three quarters.
After Manning connected with former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett for a 9-yard touchdown with 2:36 remaining, Dallas never gave the ball back.
"Take a bite out of humble pie, that’s basically what it is," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It brings you right back down to earth."
Murray’s counterpart with the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw, scored on a 10-yard run – New York’s first effective rush all game – for the hosts’ first touchdown. And Ogletree’s opposite number, Giants third wideout Domenik Hixon, made a spectacular leaping grab for 39 yards over two defenders to set up that score.
Dallas overcame its sloppiness late in the opening half basically on two big plays. Romo hit Bryant in stride over Webster down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain on third down. Two plays later, he sidestepped the pass rush and lobbed to a wide-open Ogletree for a 10-yard score.
America’s thirst for football hardly could have been quenched by the first half – unless you enjoy strong defensive line play. Each team had one solid drive that was stymied in scoring position, and the only players moving the ball with consistency were punters Steve Weatherford for New York and Chris Jones for Dallas.
Sean Lee, the Cowboys’ rising star inside linebacker, slammed into first-round draft pick David Wilson and the running back fumbled at the Dallas 29. Then the Cowboys moved 29 yards to fourth-and-inches at the Giants 37. Rather than try a quarterback sneak, Romo handed to fullback Lawrence Vickers, who never got close to converting.
Dallas showed similar strength after Michael Boley’s 51-yard interception, throwing Bradshaw for losses on consecutive runs on which New York’s line was overrun. Lawrence Tynes’ 22-yard field goal made it 3-0 moments after the first murmur of officiating controversy.
Manning threw to Victor Cruz in the middle of the end zone and Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick arrived along with the ball. Manning and Cruz motioned for a flag, but it did not come, perhaps because the ball was thrown a bit behind Cruz.
Otherwise, the feared flops by the replacement officials didn’t materialize, although Dallas couldn’t have been happy with 13 penalties for 86 yards.
The Cowboys could be happy with just about everything else, including Witten playing despite having lacerated his spleen last month.
IRVING, Texas — Go ahead and put most of these names in ink.
There are a handful of roster spots up for grabs entering Wednesday’s preseason finale, but the vast majority of the decisions will have already been made. The toughest calls come at the last spots for receiver, offensive line, defensive end and how to handle Matt Johnson’s situation (great potential, but can’t count on him this season).
Tony Romo Kyle Orton
If Stephen McGee wants to stick around for a fourth season, he needs to give the front office and coaches good reason to keep him with a strong performance in the preseason finale. At this point, it makes more sense to try to put Rudy Carpenter on the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
DeMarco Murray Felix Jones Phillip Tanner
Tanner didn’t help his cause with a blown assignment in pass protection that almost got Orton killed against the Rams, but he’s a solid No. 3 back and core special teams player. North Texas alums Lance Dunbar and Jamize Olawale are good practice squad candidates.
Lawrence Vickers Shaun Chapas
Chapas, a fixture on first-team special teams units Saturday, is likely to last only one week on the roster. An extra fullback can help mask the lack of depth at tight end in case Jason Witten misses the season opener.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Jason Witten John Phillips James Hanna
The Cowboys could opt to go with rookie Andrew Szczerba as temporary insurance instead of Chapas.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Miles Austin Dez Bryant
Kevin Ogletree Dwayne Harris Cole Beasley Danny Coale
It comes down to Coale vs. Andre Holmes, the Jerry Jones pet cat who reported to camp in poor shape and has shown no consistency. Holmes has more upside. Coale, who has hardly been on the field due to injuries, is more likely to contribute this season. The Cowboys envisioned Coale as a Sam Hurd-type No. 4 receiver/special teams stud (without the felonious side business, of course) when they invested a fifth-round pick in him.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Tyron Smith Doug Free Nate Livings Mackenzy Bernadeau Phil Costa
David Arkin Jermey Parnell Ronald Leary Pat McQuistan
Is being a third guard good enough reason to keep Derrick Dockery? He probably wouldn’t be active on game days due to his lack of position versatility. McQuistan has experience at tackle, guard, blocking tight end and has even worked some at center. Addressing the lack of depth at center would be a wise move after Week 1.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
Jay Ratliff Jason Hatcher Kenyon Coleman Sean Lissemore Marcus Spears
Tyrone Crawford Josh Brent
Clifton Geathers (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) looks the part, but he hasn’t done enough to push Coleman or Spears off the roster. The Cowboys can save a little money by cutting (or perhaps trading) one of the veterans, but keeping both gives them quality depth in the defensive end rotation.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
Sean Lee Bruce Carter Dan Connor Orie Lemon
Lemon is a guy you notice a lot in practices and preseason games. He has developmental potential and can contribute now on special teams.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
DeMarcus Ware Anthony Spencer
Victor Butler Kyle Wilber Alex Albright
Can the Cowboys get pass rusher Adrian Hamilton through waivers onto the practice squad? It appears that they will try. He’s not getting reps with the first-team special teams units, a strong sign that they don’t see him as a fit for the 53-man roster this season.
Brandon Carr Morris Claiborne
Orlando Scandrick Mike Jenkins Mario Butler
Jerry Jones has said there is a roster spot for Jenkins, meaning the Cowboys don’t plan for him to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready for the season opener.
Gerald Sensabaugh Barry Church Danny McCray Mana Silva
What to do with fourth-round pick Matt Johnson? He has hardly practiced because of a hamstring injury and he strained the other hamstring in his preseason debut Saturday night. The Cowboys could try to get him through waivers to the practice squad or put him on injured reserve, essentially making this a redshirt season. With such limited practice time, putting him on the 53 would be a waste of a roster spot.
Dan Bailey Chris Jones L.P. Ladouceur
No drama here after rookie deep snapper Charley Hughlett’s release Monday. The Cowboys were willing to pay more for the proven commodity.
Dan Bailey has had a perfect preseason – 3-for-3 on field goals, 2-for-2 on extra points – and he drilled a 49-yard field goal Saturday night against the Chargers.
So he’s ready for the regular season, right? Surely he doesn’t need to kick any more in preseason.
“I just enjoy playing,” he said. “So any opportunity I can get out there, it’s fun for me. It’s also good to get the game experience. I like it. … You can always get better, so I don’t know if there’s really a benchmark that I’m hoping to achieve, necessarily, to get myself ready for the season. My idea is to just improve each game throughout the whole year. It’s good to get some attempts now, early on, especially a long one like the kind I had tonight.”
Bailey said the long kick was into the part of the stadium where the wind was pushing the ball, and the kick drew back left on him. But he said he struck it well, and it felt good off his foot.
Bailey also credited the work of long snappers Charley Hughlett and L.P. Ladouceur and holder Chris Jones. Hughlett, a rookie, was the snapper for the field goals, and he and the veteran Ladouceur each had one of the PAT snaps.
“The operation’s been great,” Bailey said. “Everybody worked really hard in the offseason. I think it’s just really been a smooth process. Everybody’s locked in and focused. It’s been a pretty easy transition coming back into this year.”
Now it’s time to go back to turf. The next two games are at Cowboys Stadium, then the Cowboys go to MetLife Stadium (Giants) and CenturyLink Field (Seahawks) before coming home for two more home games.
“I don’t think about it too much,” Bailey said. “Especially Cowboys Stadium. That’s like a kicker’s paradise there. We’ve been fortunate enough. We’ve had pretty good grass in Oxnard, and the grass was good here tonight.”
The regular season starts for the Dallas Cowboys in just a few weeks. Here’s our first of weekly projections on how the 53-man roster will shake out.
Tony Romo Kyle Orton
Comment: Teams that keep three like the third to be a young quarterback that can one day develop into a starter. Does Stephen McGee still fit that profile? Cowboys could save a roster spot here and try to slip Rudy Carpenter by on the practice squad for protection.
Running backs (5)
DeMarco Murray Felix Jones
Phillip Tanner Lance Dunbar Lawrence Vickers
Comment: The Cowboys like Dunbar, but he picked a bad time to get injured. He needs to get on the field soon to earn a spot.
Wide receiver (5)
Dez Bryant Miles Austin
Andre Holmes Danny Coale Cole Beasley
Comment: Even though Kevin Ogletree is starting now that Austin is injured, it’s not a lock he makes the team. If the team adds a veteran here as the season nears, a distinct possibility, he could lose his spot to a younger player with more upside. If the Cowboys decide to keep six here it will likely be at the expense of a running back.
Tight end (3)
Jason Witten John Phillips James Hanna
Comment: No intrigue here.
Offensive line (10)
Tyron Smith Doug Free Phil Costa Mackenzy Bernadeau Nate Livings
Ronald Leary David Arkin Jeremy Parnell Pat McQuistan Derrick Dockery
Comment: There remains a lot to sort through here but injuries to Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski have thinned the field.
Defensive line (7)
Jay Ratliff Kenyon Coleman Jason Hatcher Tyrone Crawford Sean Lissemore
Josh Brent Clifton Geathers
Comment: One veteran is likely to go as the Cowboys try to get younger in the line. Marcus Spears is odd lineman out at this stage but it could be Coleman.
DeMarcus Ware Anthony Spencer Sean Lee Bruce Carter Dan Connor
Victor Butler Kyle Wilber Alex Albright Orie Lemon
Comment: Who excels on special teams will have an edge on the final couple of spots.
Morris Claiborne Brandon Carr Mike Jenkins Orlando Scandrick
Mario Butler Barry Church Gerald Sensabaugh Matt Johnson Danny McCray
Comment: Mana Silva is still in the running for a spot. He makes plays.
Dan Bailey Chris Jones LP Ladouceur
Comment: Jones is no Mat McBriar as a punter, but he’s the best the team has in camp. It wouldn’t hurt to watch the waiver wire here.
Courtesy: David Moore
Editors Note: RED indicates an injury concern going into the season.
IRVING, Texas – Veteran punter Mat McBriar remains a free agent, and it’s uncertain whether the Dallas Cowboys will re-sign him after an injury-plagued 2011 season.
McBriar had successful surgery in early February to remove a cyst below his left knee – the apparent cause of the nerve condition in his plant foot that dramatically affected his punting in 2011 and ultimately landed him on injured reserve before the Cowboys’ season finale against the Giants.
“It’s a decision where health factors into it,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “McBriar has been a very good punter for us, been one of the best punters in the league. He did a really good job last year dealing with an injury, a little bit of a unique injury. He handled it really well and really fought his way through it for most of the year.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a player and as a person, even more so after last year. We’ll have to see how he recovers. It seems like the steps that he’s taken have been positive ones getting his health back to where it needs to be. We have to continue to evaluate that.”
The Cowboys like the potential of Chris Jones, who had a 42.6-yard net average on 10 punts in McBriar’s place next year. Signing McBriar would create a nice competition in training camp if he makes a full recovery, as expected. But the money would have to be right for both sides.
Since taking over as head coach, Jason Garrett has done as much as possible to make the Cowboys’ eight-man practice squad feel like part of the team.
While not counted on the official 53-man roster, the players serve scout team purposes in practice, and go to work every day just like everyone else. Garrett has emphasized their contributions by designating a scout team player of the week for each win, honoring them right alongside the guys who won offensive, defensive and special teams game balls, and speaking in terms of the 61 players under his control, not just 53.
This week, as an end-of-the-season reward, and for the experience of the biggest game of the year, Garrett has decided the entire practice squad will make the trip to New York with the rest of the players and coaches, a first within recent memory.
"It’s just a whole feeling of togetherness," says lineman Rob Calloway, who has been on the taxi squad most of the year. "We put our hearts and souls out there when we’re running down for the scout team, or when we’re giving the defense or offense a look. So (Garrett) feels like, why not bring us along? We’re just as much included in this as anybody else. We’re an unseen part of what goes on in here.
"We want to be there to support our team. We’re a family, a band of brothers, and we want to be there for our brothers."
Calloway, who says he’s been playing the part of former Cowboys defensive lineman Chris Canty in practice this week, is a first year pro from Saginaw Valley State.
The Cowboys practice squad also includes Georgia Tech cornerback Mario Butler, Carson-Newman punter Chris Jones, Oklahoma State linebacker Orie Lemon, UT-San Antonio wide receiver Teddy Williams, Baylor defensive back C.J. Wilson and quarterback Chris Griesen, a 35-year old signed when Jon Kitna was placed on the injured reserve.
Jerry Jones repeats: Jason Garrett’s the coach next year, ‘period, no matter the score’
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said again Friday that Jason Garrett’s job does not depend on the outcome of Sunday night’s game against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys and Giants play for the NFC East title amid speculation that the losing coach’s job is in jeopardy. But Jones, asked about it on his weekly radio show on KRLD 105.3 FM, said that speculation is “just ridiculous.”
He said, “As I’ve said earlier, and I think it expresses it very well, we’re just getting started with Jason, and it’s just not the case at all. We can go free-wheeling with anything we’re going to do to ultimately do one thing, and that is win one ballgame. Nobody’s worried about the coach’s job here.”
No matter the score? Jones was asked.
“We’re going to answer this thing as many ways as you want to answer, with as many circumstances,” Jones said. “His job has no bearing and is not a part of this ballgame. Yes, he’s going to be our coach next year, period. No matter what the score is.”
IRVING, Texas — The Cowboys could sign a receiver for depth this week with Miles Austin (right hamstring injury) possibly out through Thanksgiving, but team owner/GM Jerry Jones doesn’t expect to pursue a veteran. That means any move would come in-house.
“We’ve got (Dwayne) Harris on the practice squad,” Jones said on KRLD-FM. “That’ll be where we limit it to. It won’t be away from the roster.”
Harris, the team’s sixth-round pick, was active for the first five games as the primary punt returner, returning 11 for 73 yards (6.6 avg) along with three kickoff returns for 74 yards (24.7 avg). The Cowboys waived him Oct. 18 and placed him on the practice squad.
Elevating Harris would make sense if Austin’s injury forced the Cowboys to re-think using Diamond Dez Bryant on punt returns. With Austin likely out at least a couple of weeks, they can’t afford to lose another starting receiver.
Laurent Robinson is expected to start opposite Bryant. Behind them are Kevin Ogletree and Jesse Holley.
The Cowboys have four receivers on the practice squad: Harris, Andre Holmes, Teddy Williams and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
No move has to be made immediately. If a receiver is elevated, the logical swap would be rookie punter Chris Jones, who replaced injured Pro Bowler Mat McBriar (foot) against the Seahawks. But the Cowboys likely must see how McBriar’s injury responds this week before making a decision on his status for Buffalo this Sunday.
The Cowboys also cleared kicker Kai Forbath for practice after he opened training camp on the non-football injury list with a quadriceps injury. Forbath was signed Aug. 2 but has not kicked with the team. The Cowboys will have three weeks to activate him to the 53-man roster, release him or put him on injured reserve.