ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys
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.
PLAYER PUZZLE PIECES: How the Dallas Cowboys current personnel fit Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense
A lot has been made about the Cowboys’ switch from the 3-4 defense to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, and rightfully so. Although a great defense ultimately comes down to talented players executing a well-crafted scheme, it’s not as if elite players can simply line up at any position and succeed. If the chances of success at a particular position are optimized at a certain height, weight and speed, it follows that getting farther from those ideal traits will lower the probability of succeeding.
Kiffin’s defenses have typically emphasized speed over size at most positions, and that’s certainly a plus for a Cowboys defense that seems as if it hasn’t kept up with the NFL’s pass-happy evolution. Still, the truth is that the best defensive coordinators tailor their scheme around their personnel.
Kiffin’s version of the 4-3 in particular, known as a 4-3 Under, could potentially accommodate the Cowboys’ personnel better than most other 4-3 schemes. One reason is the presence of the 1-technique defensive tackle. A 1-technique tackle shades the offensive center, nearly playing heads-up over the top of him like a 3-4 nose tackle. The other defensive tackle, the 3-technique, is typically a smaller player that almost acts as a large defensive end in the interior.
There are certainly areas where the Cowboys might have holes to fill, of course. To figure out just how far away Dallas might be from Kiffin’s “dream” defense, we’ve researched the height and weight of each defensive player for Tampa Bay from 2003 to 2008. Kiffin was the defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers during that stretch, emphasizing specific traits at each position. Below are the averages of each player on the roster at every position.
1-DT: 6’3’’ 304 pounds
As mentioned, the 1-technique tackle is a strong presence in the inside, but he also has to be nimble enough to shoot up field.
Cowboys’ fit: Jay Ratliff (6’4’’ 303 pounds) matches Kiffin’s prototypical player at this position to a tee. The issue is whether or not the Cowboys can afford to continue to pay Ratliff the big bucks. Sean Lissemore (6’3’’ 303 pounds) also fits the bill.
3-DT: 6’2’’ 285 pounds
The 3-technique defensive tackle is much smaller than the 1-technique. Also note that, at an average of just 6’2’’, the 3-technique is shorter than the defensive ends.
Cowboys’ fit: This position in particular is difficult to project for the Cowboys. Jason Hatcher could potentially play any position along the defensive line, although at 6’6’’ 305 pounds, he’s much taller and heavier than the typically short, light tackles Kiffin has used in the past. Tyrone Crawford (6’4’’ 285 pounds) will probably play defensive end, but he also could have some versatility.
DE (Strong): 6’3’’ 279 pounds
Kiffin has typically used a very large, bulky player to man his strong-side defensive end position.
Cowboys’ fit: If there’s evidence that the Cowboys could let Anthony Spencer walk, this might be it. At 250 pounds, Spencer doesn’t come anywhere near matching the profile of Kiffin’s past ends. As mentioned above, Crawford checks in around this size, but his pass-rushing ability is a question.
DE (Weak): 6’3’’ 267 pounds
On the weak side, Kiffin’s defensive ends have been relatively close to the same size as the typical 3-4 outside linebacker.
Cowboys’ fit: DeMarcus Ware will play this position, although even he is listed at only 254 pounds. Ware shouldn’t have much of a problem adjusting, however. Alex Albright might need to transition to this position as well at 6’5’’ 260 pounds.
MLB: 6’1’’ 232 pounds
The “Mike” linebacker in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense has to have the ability to turn and run, so it’s no surprise that they’ve averaged only 232 pounds.
Cowboys’ fit: At 6’2’’, 245 pounds, Sean Lee is a bit oversized compared to the average 4-3 middle linebacker. He’ll often be asked to run downfield when tight ends run vertically, but Lee should be up for the challenge.
WLB: 6’1’’ 224 pounds
At only 224 pounds, the average “Will” linebacker in Kiffin’s defense must have the speed to run sideline-to-sideline.
Cowboys’ fit: Like Lee, Carter is “oversized” for the 4-3 at 240 pounds, but it really shouldn’t matter. As one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, Carter won’t have a problem transitioning to the 4-3. He could potentially play any of the three linebacker spots, giving the Cowboys plenty of flexibility heading into the draft.
SLB: 6’1’’ 235 pounds
As the biggest of Kiffin’s linebackers, the “Sam” is still smaller than all but one linebacker the Cowboys had on the roster in 2012, Ernie Sims.
Cowboys’ fit: Assuming Carter plays the “Will,” the Cowboys may have a hole to fill here (and vice versa if Kiffin uses Carter as the “Sam.” If Dan Connor (6’2’’ 242 pounds) ends up starting for Kiffin, he’ll almost assuredly play this position and Carter will play the weak side.
CB: 6’0’’ 193 pounds
Due to Kiffin’s emphasis on Cover 2, his cornerbacks don’t turn and run in man coverage as much as in other defenses. Playing near the line, they need to be able to press and play the run, meaning they’re typically tall, although perhaps not as heavy as many believe.
Cowboys’ fit: Although there are questions about how Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can transition to Kiffin’s scheme, I think they’ll be just fine. Carr has great size at 6’0’’ 210 pounds, and it isn’t as if they’ll be in Cover 2 every play. Even at 5’11’’ 185 pounds, Claiborne isn’t that far off from Kiffin’s prototypical cornerbacks over the years.
S: 6’0’’ 207 pounds
Since Kiffin generally plays with two-deep alignments and dares offenses to run, his safeties don’t need to be excessively big, but rangy.
Cowboys’ fit: The Cowboys could have an issue here since starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church are both at least 212 pounds and don’t necessarily excel in deep coverage. Kiffin has made it work with big safeties like John Lynch in the past, however, but the ’Boys still might need to look for a faster safety of the future in this upcoming draft.
We so often hear that teams need to find “their guys” that fit into their particular schemes, and that’s true; certain players are tailored to play in specific ways. However, the job of any coordinator is to mold their scheme to fit the skill sets of the current personnel. It’s certainly preferable to have a roster full of players built for a particular scheme, but creating that is a whole lot more challenging than slightly altering the scheme to fit the most talented players on the team.
When all is said and done, the success of Kiffin’s tenure in Dallas will be determined by how well he can manage this delicate balancing act, acquiring “his” guys while still being flexible with his scheme to accommodate what he already has.
PLAYER EVALUATIONS: Millionaire Miles, Felix Jones, stopping the run, and the Jenkins factor
The season is over and it’s time to think about a few things. For example, is Miles Austin earning his money? Is it time for Felix Jones, who’s now a free agent, to find a new team? What do the Cowboys need to stop the run in 2013? And finally, should Dallas keep cornerback Mike Jenkins?
1. In 2010, Miles Austin signed a seven-year $57.1 million contract. Austin’s deal meant a few things: He moved into an elite level in regards with his contract and was to become the No. 1 receiver on the Cowboys. After signing that deal, Dez Bryant surpassed him as a bigger threat, Austin has had just one 1,000 yard season, 2010, he fell 57 yards short of it in 2012 and his health continues to be a question. He failed to finish the game against Washington on Sunday night because of a high-ankle sprain. He’s endured hamstring issues the last two seasons. Austin is scheduled to earn $6.7 million in 2013 and it raises a question: Is Austin earning his money? I doubt if the Cowboys are going to release Austin because no matter how good Bryant is, there is still an unpredictability about him away from the field. Austin is a good player but the team needs more from him considering the money he’s making.
2. Felix Jones won’t return in 2013 but he did finish the final game of the season with 24 yards on five carries. Jones hit holes with a burst and seemed to run with little limitations. He’s battled injuries to both knees and he probably should have stayed on the bench. But he displayed a toughness that was necessary from the running back position. Jones was put in a bad situation by the Cowboys. He was drafted as a backup to then-starter Marion Barber. When Barber’s health started to betray him, the Cowboys asked Jones to become a starter but his own health failed him too. It’s time for Jones, who becomes a free agent, to find a new team and for the Cowboys to stop drafting players to become backups. If the Cowboys draft a running back this spring, it should be designed to give competition to DeMarco Murray. If Murray is better than the new back, fine, keep the job. Life for a NFL running back is dangerous. One week he’s healthy, the next he’s not and you need to have quality ones on the depth chart. Jones is an average running back, but not starters material and when it was time for him to take over for an injured Murray and Barber, he couldn’t do the job on a consistent basis.
3. Want to know why the Cowboys failed to stop the run in 2012? They lost of four players that clogged the middle of the field. Jay Ratliff (injury), Josh Brent (suspension), Sean Lee (injury) and Bruce Carter (injury) were the force up the gut for the Cowboys. When the Cowboys didn’t have Ratliff at the start of the season, the club still had Brent a solid run stopper. But when Brent was lost, Sean Lissemore was moved from defensive end to nose tackle. The Cowboys also moved Robert Callaway and signed Brian Schaefering to help inside. Lee and Carter replacements at inside linebacker were Dan Connor, Ernie Sims and at times Alex Albright. The backups failed to produce for the Cowboys as evident by the run defense allowing at least 100 yards in six of the last seven weeks of the season. Moving forward the Cowboys need to draft or sign another inside linebacker in free agency who can provide depth. The Cowboys allowed 274 rushing yards in the regular season finale and gave up at least 150 rushing yards twice and 125 or more yards five times. It’s hard to win games when that happens regularly.
4. The Cowboys have 16 unrestricted free agents and one of them is a former first-round pick, cornerback Mike Jenkins. It seems the Cowboys were never quite happy with Jenkins the entire offseason. He didn’t rehab his surgically repaired shoulder in Dallas, instead doing it in Florida. Jenkins didn’t attend the voluntary workouts, although he was there for the mandatory sessions. But as is always the case in the NFL, injuries dictate a lot of things. Jenkins saw playing time, especially when slot corner Orlando Scandrick went down with a hand injury. Jenkins even played some at safety and on special teams. It appears Jenkins may not return in 2013, leaving the Cowboys looking for a fourth corner in free agency or the draft. "Do I want to come back?" Jenkins asked. "I’ve grown attached, I’ve been here for five years, I’ve grown attached to everybody here. It’s hard to just get up and leave and not want to come back. At the same time ,you want to go somewhere and have a fair opportunity and I guess go on from there."
DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: Absence of Bruce Carter further exacerbates linebacker depth
Not long after inside linebacker Bruce Carter suffered a dislocated left elbow in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ 38-31 loss to Washington on Thursday, his teammates were left to assess the potential impact the injury could have on the defense. And judging by their reaction, it’s won’t be good.
“That’s tough,” said linebacker Dan Connor. “Bruce is a big-time playmaker and he’s got the helmet radio in it, and he’s in on all packages. That’s hard, throws a wrench in there…Hopefully he has a quick recovery and can come back.”
But there is fear that Carter could be lost for the rest of the season and that would be a damaging blow to the Cowboys, a team that is still being affected by the fallout from the season-ending toe injury inside linebacker Sean Lee had suffered Oct. 21. Eighty days after beginning the 2012 campaign with Lee and Carter as the starters, the Cowboys are dealing with the real possibility of closing it with Connor and Ernie Sims as the team’s primary inside linebackers.
Six weeks ago, no one would have imagined that scenario. Back then, Connor was a reserve player who signed last Match to provide depth. Sims, meanwhile, wasn’t even on the team. Now one of them could be responsible for relaying the defensive signals to their teammates if Carter is unavailable for the foreseeable future.
“I have some experience and I know Ernie definitely does,” Connor said. “So we’ll see how Bruce is and we’ll see where we’re at….We’ll get everything squared away next week.”
The Cowboys must.
“We’ve adjusted on the fly all season,” said nose tackle Josh Brent. “It’s something we have dealt with and know how to come back from.”
ROSTER MOVES: Jenkins Hurt; Agnew Signed, LB Guyton Waived
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys made some last-minute roster moves before heading to Philadelphia on Saturday.
With cornerback Mike Jenkins hurting with a back injury, the Cowboys called up Vincent Agnew from the practice squad. Agnew (5-10, 196) will travel to Philly and likely play Sunday against the Eagles, depending on Jenkins’ status, which was questionable on Friday’s injury report.
To make room on the roster, the Cowboys have waived newly-signed linebacker Gary Guyton, who joined the team Wednesday and practiced all week. The Cowboys were hoping Guyton’s experience – four years with the Patriots – and his background in the 3-4 defense would make him a valuable addition to a linebacker corps that has been decimated by injuries.
While Guyton’s release might suggest the Cowboys are confident Dan Connor (stinger) will be able to pay, he’s actually listed on the injury report as doubtful.
The Cowboys will likely start Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims at inside linebacker with Alex Albright, who is listed as an outside backer and former defensive end in college, will be the main backup inside.
As for Jenkins, he suffered the back injury on Wednesday and underwent an MRI after having spasms earlier in the day. Jenkins was on the practice field Friday but didn’t participate much.
Agnew spent training camp with the Dolphins before being released and signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad on Oct. 16.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING: New Dallas Cowboys LB Gary Guyton likely needed Sunday against Eagles
IRVING, Texas – Gary Guyton spent his first four seasons with the New England Patriots. He grew accustomed to a certain expectation of winning. He also grew accustomed to playing football for a living.
But when the Patriots chose not to bring Guyton back for the 2012-2013 season, he found himself looking for a job. But he knew that his experience, 229 tackles and 3 fumbles would come in handy for an NFL team eventually.
“I was just preparing myself,” Guyton said. “You never know what can happen.”
And sure enough, the Cowboys found themselves in need of a linebacker. After the season-ending injury to Sean Lee, the Cowboys also suffered injuries to Orie Lemon (placed on the IR) and Dan Connor. So this week they brought in Guyton.
“You just get the call and be ready to go,” Guyton said. “So I got the call saying ‘come in for a work out’ and I came and now I’m a Dallas Cowboy.”
Guyton has played in big games and understands the urgency. He wants to prove to the team that they went out and signed someone who was prepared for the opportunity.
“I’m just working out, running, doing the best I can. I (already) had my training in Atlanta. That’s where I stay.”
It’s not uncommon for a player who hasn’t been on an NFL team to struggle getting back into game shape when they are picked up. Even players that work out constantly learn that actual practices and games can be a whole different experience. Guyton claimed that there was one thing that he had to get used to, but it had nothing to do with being in shape.
“The helmet. My forehead is sore,” Guyton joked. “Just new people, new system. I’m just getting in here and working through it, working hard.”
Guyton was brought in not only because of his skills, but because he has four years of experience in a 3-4 defense. Since Guyton might be thrown into the fire early, it was important that there was not much of a leaning curve.
“It’s mostly similar so I’ve been through it,” Guyton said. “I’ve been looking through it. I understand the 3-4 defense and the basics of it.”
These few days of practice are very important for Guyton. The Cowboys would normally start Connor at linebacker in the absence of Lee, but Connor is still recovering from a neck strain and his limited participation in Thursday’s practice means that his status for Sunday’s game against the Eagles could be in jeopardy.
If Connor is to sit out, the Cowboys will be extremely thin at linebacker, meaning that they would need to give Guyton minutes as early as this Sunday.
Guyton understands that the he might play his first NFL game of the season in Philadelphia, but he knows not to get ahead of himself. A lot has to be done on his end before then just to be prepared.
“Just going through the basics right now and getting those down,” he said. “Just moving on through the playbook.”
FLASHBACK 2011: Dallas Cowboys can’t afford another repeat of McCoy’s historic performance
IRVING, Texas – It has been about 51 weeks, but the Cowboys haven’t forgotten.
Sure, so much has happened to this football since then and most of it hasn’t been memorable. And without a doubt, the Cowboys’ last visit to Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t a fun time, mainly because of one LeSean McCoy.
The Cowboys were trounced that night in Philly, 34-7, and McCoy was the biggest reason. He was also the fastest, the quickest, most elusive and most dominating.
While the Eagles aren’t exactly playing at a high level this season – entering the game with the same 3-5 record as the Cowboys – let’s not forget about 2011. The Eagles weren’t exactly setting the world on fire when these two teams met in Philly last year. In fact, they were a dismal 2-4 when the Cowboys showed up. But, the Eagles made it pretty clear they were going to get McCoy involved.
It turned out to be a good plan, considering McCoy totaled 200 all-purpose yards, including 185 on the ground, the sixth-highest single-game total in Eagles history.
In the rematch at Cowboys Stadium on Christmas Eve – a game that turned out to be one of the more meaningless regular-season matchups ever, McCoy rushed for just 30 yards on 13 carries as the Eagles won 20-7.
This year, McCoy ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing with 623 yards, but has only two touchdowns. He’s also dangerous out of the backfield with 30 catches for 148 yards and three scores.
“I think he’s outstanding,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “He has such great lateral quickness, such great elusiveness, speed, ability to get to the edge, ability to break tackles. He just makes so many great runs over and over again. It will be a challenge for us to corral him, get a lot of people around the ball and tackle him to the ground. That’s what we need to do.”
Seems to be harder than it sounds.
“You have to stop ‘Shady’ McCoy,” defensive end Jason Hatcher said. “He’s one of the top five backs in the league. He’s slippery. He cuts and plays like Barry Sanders. He’ll cut it all the way across the field to get yards.”
Linebacker Bruce Carter, who is coming off a 10-tackle game against the Falcons last week, said his experience on special teams might come in handy when facing a guy like McCoy, who is not afraid to change directions, especially in the open field.
“We just have to be disciplined, especially with our ends and outside linebackers,” Carter said. “You have to set the edge. He’s always got a counter move where he can cut it back. He can go the distance the other way. What (linebackers coach Matt Eberflus) told us, every play is like a kickoff return. You just never know.”
The Cowboys need Carter to be effective inside, especially with the injury situation at the other linebacker spot. Sean Lee is out for the season after undergoing toe surgery two weeks ago. His immediate replacement, Dan Connor, missed last week’s game with a stinger and hasn’t practiced in full this week. Second-year pro Orie Lemon suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on injured reserve.
The Cowboys have signed veterans Ernie Sims and Gary Guyton off the street the last two weeks.
INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant out; Felix Jones limited
The Dallas Cowboys had only two changes to their injury report from Wednesday. Receiver Dwayne Harris (neck) was added to the report as a limited participant, and Jason Hatcher (shin) had a full practice after being limited Wednesday.
But Dez Bryant (hip), DeMarco Murray (foot) and Dan Connor (neck) still are among those who did not practice. Murray is expected to miss a third consecutive game, and Bryant said he expects to play.
Running back Felix Jones again was limited with a bruised knee.
Center Phil Costa (ankle), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring), defensive lineman Sean Lissemore (ankle) and receiver Kevin Ogletree (hamstring) also missed Thursday’s practice. Ogletree said he is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his injured right hamstring later Thursday, but he is not concerned.
Costa still is wearing a walking boot.
Editors Note: Keep up with the Dallas Cowboys (and upcoming opponents) injury and practice status right here, on The Boys Are Back. Click HERE or use find the “Injury Update” page at the top or right side of this blog.
INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons
IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys were without two of their top three wide receivers, a starting defensive end and their starting running back for Sunday’s game at Atlanta was limited with a knee injury.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant did not practice because of a sore hip but he is expected to be ready for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. Bryant was hurt as he came crashing down on the turf on a near game-winning touchdown catch Sunday against the New York Giants.
Kevin Ogletree, the team’s No. 3 receiver, did not practice because of a hamstring strain. He was at practice in pads during the open portion of the session to the media.
Defensive end Jason Hatcher did not practice because of a bruised shin. While he is expected to be OK for Sunday’s game, Marcus Spears worked with the starters on Wednesday.
Felix Jones was limited with a bruised knee. He was limited in two of three practices last week but was able to play a full game against the Giants.
Linebacker Dan Connor did not practice because of a stinger that is likely to keep him out of the Falcons’ game. The Cowboys would turn to Orie Lemon and Ernie Sims to replace Connor, who was already subbing for an injured Sean Lee.
Running back DeMarco Murray (foot), center Phil Costa (ankle), defensive end Sean Lissemore (ankle) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) did not practice, as expected.
NEXT COWBOY UP: Orie Lemon ready to play if Dan Connor can’t
Orie Lemon had not played much on defense before Sunday against the Giants. Two plays is all, in fact.
But the Cowboys didn’t suffer when Lemon had to replace Dan Connor, who went out after 10 plays with a neck strain. Lemon played 23 plays and newly signed Ernie Sims 10.
"Orie did play some in the game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Ernie Sims did play some in the game. I think those guys handled themselves well going into that situation."
Lemon, who spent all of last season and two games this season on the practice squad, was activated to the 53-player roster the day before the Cowboys’ game against Tampa Bay. He has been a special teams contributor in three games but had played only two plays on defense this season until Sunday.
He made three tackles against the Giants.
"It was good for me to get it against a good team like the Giants, being able to go in and do what I did," Lemons said. "I have a lot to work on, but I know what I’ve got to work on."
With Sean Lee out for the year with a toe injury, and Connor’s status undetermined for Sunday’s game against the undefeated Falcons, Lemon is preparing as if he will start.
"I know at any moment anything can happen, so I’ve got to be mentally ready for anything," Lemon said. "I study like I’m a starter, so I make sure if I do go in there, there won’t be any drop-off."
FILLING THE VOID: Dan Connor calls it "bittersweet" to play in Sean Lee’s spot
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor called his ascension into the team’s starting lineup a “bittersweet” experience because the opportunity came from a season-ending injury to Sean Lee, the team’s leading tackler and Conner’s longtime friend and former college teammate at Penn State.
“To step in and play for him, it’s bittersweet. It’s not a good feeling for me,” Connor said. “I talked to him on the phone last night and he’s putting on a brave face … My heart breaks for him. He’s a great friend of mine. He leads the defense. He knows it inside and out and he works the hardest. And he was having a spectacular season.”
Lee, who is facing season-ending surgery for ligament damage in his big toe, made 77 tackles in Dallas’ first six games. Connor joins Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims, a veteran signed today, as the primary bodies in the mix at inside linebacker for Sunday’s game. But he acknowledged a committee approach will be necessary to replace the versatile Lee.
“It’s going to be hard to replace a guy like that. He’s unreplaceable,” Connor said. “A lot of guys are going to have to step in at different positions and we’ve got to pick up the slack from what we’ve got.
“It’s hard to say one guy’s going to go in there and do what Sean Lee does. I think he’s the top player in the game right now at that position. We’ll get a couple of different guys who are good at certain things and do it that way. And have Bruce in there with the (radio receiver in his) helmet, calling the defense. He did a great job with it last week. He got the helmet and he was making the checks and he really took control and did an unbelievable job.”
INJURY UPDATE: Jason Garrett addresses six roster changes at todays press conference
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.
ROSTER MOVES: Dallas Cowboys sign Ernie Sims; move Sean Lee to IR
IRVING, Texas – Veteran linebacker Ernie Sims will visit with the Cowboys on Wednesday with the anticipation of signing with Sean Lee to miss the rest of the season with a severe case of turf toe.
UPDATE (10:05 a.m.): The Cowboys are signing Sims and moving Lee to IR.
Sims, 27, played in 13 games last year for Indianapolis with four starts and was credited with 32 tackles. In 2010 he started 15 games for Philadelphia and had 55 tackles and two sacks. He spent his first four seasons with Detroit.
Lee will have season-ending surgery on his right big toe after suffering the injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s win at Carolina. Lee had a second MRI on Tuesday which revealed the ligament damage.
Lee leads the Cowboys in tackles with 77 in the first six games, according to the coaches’ film. He has two tackles for loss, eight quarterback pressures, one interception, two pass deflections and a forced fumble.
Dan Connor will replace Lee in the starting lineup, and Bruce Carter will take over as the defensive signal caller.
The Cowboys feel the need for a more experienced linebacker with Orie Lemon as the only true backup inside linebacker on the 53-man roster. Outside linebacker Alex Albright has worked in practice and preseason games at inside linebacker.
COMMENTARY: Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is not replaceable; Dan Conner expected to start
The Dallas Cowboys are bracing for rotten news on inside linebacker Sean Lee, who could need season-ending surgery on his right big toe. Lee injured the toe in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Panthers in Carolina and said after the game that he expected to be fine. But he had an MRI on Monday, and it sounds as though the results were quite discouraging.
There are plenty of people on the Cowboys’ roster who can play linebacker:
Dan Connor would replace Lee in the starting lineup, and he earned praise from coach Jason Garrett for his work against the Panthers, which included a third-down stop of Cam Newton and a pass deflection, after taking over for Lee. Second-year linebacker Bruce Carter would become the defensive signal caller. The Cowboys have Orie Lemon and Alex Albright as backup inside linebackers on the 53-man roster but could look to add another inside linebacker.
However, in spite of the depth the Cowboys have at the position, Lee is not a replaceable player for them. Not only is he their defensive captain and one of their most important leaders, he has played consistently better this year than has any other player on their defense, including superstar outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and either of their two new and very talented cornerbacks. Lee’s instincts and playmaking ability cannot be replicated by players like Carter or Connor, no matter how capable they are.
When you’ve watched the Cowboys’ defense this year, you’ve generally been impressed. And I believe they’ll continue to cover receivers well with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, continue to rush the passer well with Ware and Jason Hatcher and continue to defend the run capably with the help of Anthony Spencer. They have more good players on defense at this point than they do on offense, and I think they will still play fairly good defense the rest of the way.
But Lee has been playing at a transcendent, superstar-type level — one of the absolute best defensive playmakers at any position on any team in the league this year. The closest comparison of which I keep thinking is the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu in his prime — the way he was always able to be around the ball, whether it was due to speed, instincts, pre-snap positioning or a combination of everything. That’s what Lee was delivering this year — a player who at times made it look as though the Cowboys were playing with an extra man on defense. They simply don’t have anyone else on the roster who can play football the way Lee has been playing it. Few teams, if any, do.
Courtesy: Dan Graziano | ESPN Dallas
RELATED: Free Agent signee Dan Connor will replace starting LB Sean Lee
IRVING — Now that we know the Cowboys could be without starting inside linebacker Sean Lee the rest of the season, the team’s free agent signing of Dan Connor this off-season looks more important than ever. Lee and Connor are both Penn State products.
First off, Lee isn’t replaceable. He’s perhaps the Cowboys’ best defensive player. He leads the team with 77 tackles. He’s a defensive captain, a team leader and he relays the play-calls on the field.
An MRI on Monday revealed ligament damage in his toe and he could be facing season-ending surgery. The Cowboys are still trying to decide whether they’ll go ahead and have Lee undergo the surgery that would end his season. Lee was on crutches Monday at Valley Ranch. When he left the locker room Sunday at Carolina, Lee was wearing tennis shoes with his suit instead of dress shoes and had a slight limp.
Connor replaced Lee in the third quarter Sunday against his former team, Carolina, and finished the game. Connor has struggled early in the season in his limited playing time, but he was solid Sunday against the Panthers.
Connor said Monday that he knows he has to be ready for more playing time. He’ll start Sunday against the Giants alongside Bruce Carter. Connor said “that’s how the NFL goes” when he was asked about getting more playing time because of another player’s injury.
“It’s a long season. It’s a grind and guys get nicked up,” Connor said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a team where everyone is able to stay healthy every play the whole year. So, it’s all about being ready and waiting on your opportunity pretty much and helping the team however you can, getting your role and taking advantage of your role but always being prepared to go in there and play.”
Connor said playing at inside linebacker isn’t old hat for him.
“I’ve mostly been the middle [linebacker[ wherever I’ve been, so it’s a little adjustment,” Connor said.
Remember this about Lee and the possibility of season-ending surgery before going to bed tonight.
Last year, Lee was facing season-ending surgery on his dislocated left wrist. Lee, however, ended up missing only one game and he played the remainder of the season with a cast. If there’s any chance Lee can play through the injury at some point, he’ll certainly want to give it a shot.
But the Cowboys also have to be smart and safe with Lee’s health. He’s still a young player and will be the centerpiece for the Cowboys’ defense for years to come.
PENDING ROSTER MOVES: Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee could need season-ending surgery
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.
REPORT CARD: Dallas Cowboys self-destruct in second half, fail to get in sync
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 TALE OF TWO HALVES: Five thoughts regarding todays loss to Seattle
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.
DRAFT DAY EVALUATION: Bruce Carter erasing any regrets about not landing Seattle LB Bobby Wagner
IRVING, Texas – After the Dallas Cowboys traded their first- and second-round picks in April to move into position to draft Morris Claiborne, owner Jerry Jones claimed he would walk to New York to get back his No. 2 selection.
The Cowboys ended up sitting out of the second round entirely, significantly frustrating for Jones because of the depth of the talent pool available when the team’s original pick, No. 45 overall, rolled around. After the round ended, Jones confessed the team would’ve taken Utah State’s Bobby Wagner in that spot. The inside linebacker was chosen by Seattle two picks later, at No. 47 overall, and is now starting for the Seahawks.
While the Cowboys will get a vision of what could’ve been when they face Seattle’s defense on Sunday, it’s doubtful there is any regret on Jones’ part right now.
Bruce Carter, the 2011 second-round linebacker, has done just as the club had hoped another year off the torn ACL that dropped him out of first-round contention, winning the starting job and playing effectively.
Carter beat out free agent addition Dan Connor in training camp for the opportunity to play next to Sean Lee, another first-round talent, according to the Cowboys’ evaluation. After starting his rookie season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, he became a special teams contributor down the stretch in 2011.
“Carter, that’s like having another first-round draft pick,” Jones told The Fan (105.3-FM) in Dallas on Friday. “I know that when we trade, we trade a two on draft day for somebody’s one, that’s the equivalent of somebody’s one. That’s just in draft pick evaluation. So, he comes in here, he’s certainly at the level that you’d be looking at, at a No. 1 pick, and he had a camp and (is) playing like it.”
THE OTHER GARRETTS: Dallas Cowboys Pro Scouting Department delivers again
Last year, it seemed like whoever the Cowboys brought in during the regular season, it was smart move.
Laurent Robinson wasn’t just a steal, but one of the best pickups off the street you will ever see on any team. The guy had four touchdowns in four years and he gets 11 in 14 games.
But he wasn’t the only one. Tony Fiammetta started games at fullback, while Frank Walker was a big addition in the secondary. Even tailback Sammy Morris helped out when DeMarco Murray went down.
PHOTO: The three Garrett brothers played football at Princeton in the late 80’s. In 1987, the three played together for the Princeton Tigers. From left to right, Judd, Jason, and John.
Now, the guys in the Pro Scouting Department – Judd Garrett and Will McClay are at it again. Trading for Ryan Cook seemed like a nice cushion to the interior line. That’s before Phil Costa played just three snaps against the Giants and now will be out a while.
Cook is THE guy at center and the Cowboys seemingly made a nice call with him, especially since he’s been mostly a guard and tackle during his seven years in the league. But they saw enough of him at center, and obviously trusted former Cowboys scouting director Jeff Ireland, who is the GM in Miami and traded him to Dallas for the seventh-round pick.
What they did last year on the fly to get Robinson, Fiammetta, Walker and company, coupled with this free agent period in March to get Brandon Carr, Kyle Orton, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings and Dan Connor, suggests those pro scouts have a good feel for what the coaching staff is looking for.
And that only makes sense considering Judd Garrett is running the pro scouting department and happens to be the brother of the head coach.
But already Cook looks to be a good pickup, and it makes me think the addition of cornerback LeQuan Lewis should be rather helpful, too.
RELATED: Everything you ever wanted to know about Judd Garrett, and more!
Judd Garrett (born June 25, 1967) is a former coach and running back. He is currently the director of pro scouting for the Dallas Cowboys.
Playing career: Early years
Judd Garrett went to high school at University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio, where he earned a varsity letter in football, basketball, and baseball. He was named Most Valuable Player in all three sports his senior year. In football, as a senior, Garrett gained a school record 2,011 yards rushing and scored 35 touchdowns. He was selected first team all-state and he won the Cleveland Touchdown Club’s Lou Groza Award which is given to the Most Valuable Player in Northeast Ohio. Garrett graduated from University School in 1985.
Prior to University School, Garrett attended grade school at Saint Ann’s Catholic School which is located in Cleveland Heights, Ohio from 1978-1981. His three years at Saint Ann’s, Garrett played in three consecutive City Championship Football Games and his team won the City Championship in 1979.
Garrett is a 1990 graduate of Princeton University where he was a three year starter at running back. In his three seasons, Garrett gained 3,109 yards rushing, caught 137 passes and scored 41 touchdowns. In his senior year, Garrett lead the Tigers to their first Ivy League championship in 20 years. Following his senior season, Garrett was awarded the Asa S. Bushnell Cup which is given to the Ivy League Player of the Year, and he was selected to the Division 1-AA All-American team. He played in the 1990 Hula Bowl where he scored the first touchdown of the game. He also represented the Ivy League with a group of 40 league All-Stars in the Epson Ivy Bowl in Tokyo Japan vs. a team of Japanese All-Stars.
Garrett was drafted in the 12th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. After being released by the Eagles, Garrett spent part of the 1990 season on the Dallas Cowboy’s injured reserve list. Garrett then played the next two seasons (1991–1992) with the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football. His first season in London, he led the league in receptions with 71 while helping the team amass an 11-1 record and the first ever World Bowl Championship. In that championship game, Garrett set a World Bowl record of 13 receptions and caught the game sealing touchdown with less than a minute left in the first half. After the 1991 season, Garrett was selected to the All-World League team. Following his two seasons in the World League, Garrett spent the 1993 season on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, earning a Super Bowl ring. He finished his playing career with two stints in the Canadian Football League with the Las Vegas Posse (1994) and the San Antonio Texans (1995).
Garrett started his NFL coaching career as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints under Mike Ditka from 1997-1999. After leaving the Saints, Garrett spent six seasons with Miami Dolphins from 2000–2005, as an assistant coach under Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban during which time the Dolphins had five winning seasons, won a Division Title and two playoff appearances. After the 2005 season, Garrett was hired by the St. Louis Rams to coach tight ends. He stayed with the Rams from 2006-2007. He was hired by the Dallas Cowboys as the director of pro scouting in May 2008.
Judd Garrett was married to the former Kathleen Kobler, an all-American soccer player at Princeton University, for 14 years, and together they had four children, Calvin, Frances, Campbell and Kassity. Kathy died unexpectedly on August 19, 2007 from a heart attack.
He has two brothers who currently coach in the NFL. Jason Garrett is the current head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and John Garrett is the tight ends coach of the Cowboys.
His father (Jim Garrett) was an assistant coach for the New York Giants (1970–1973), New Orleans Saints (1976–77), and Cleveland Browns (1978–84), head coach of the Houston Texans of the fledgling WFL (1974), and head football coach at Columbia University (1985). From 1987-2004, he served as a scout for the Dallas Cowboys
Career highlights and awards
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Dallas Cowboys LB Bruce Carter gives defense more speed
IRVING – Much has been made of the upgrades the Dallas Cowboys made to their secondary in the offseason.
But the addition of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne isn’t the only reason the Cowboys appear poised to improve on last season’s middle-of-the-pack defensive ranking.
With aging plodders Keith Brooking and Bradie James sent packing, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has turned to speedy second-year pro Bruce Carter to team with tenacious Sean Lee at inside linebacker. While not as publicized as the makeover of the secondary, the addition of Carter is a personnel boost owner Jerry Jones believes has changed the look of the entire unit.
“We are faster,” Jones said last week while discussing the team’s 24-17 win over the New York Giants on his radio show. “There’s no question when you look at No. 54, Carter, out there. He’s the fastest inside linebacker in the NFL, maybe the fastest linebacker, period.
“With him and Sean Lee out there, it’s a big difference …I’m very pleased with what we’ve done to the interior of our pass defense.”
Dallas drafted Carter in the second round even though he suffered a major knee injury his senior year at North Carolina. Before the setback, scouts touted Carter as a first-rounder after he reportedly clocked a 4.39 second 40-yard dash.
Limited to 10 games as a rookie because of rehab from the knee injury, Carter beat out free-agent pickup Dan Connor in training camp. In his first NFL start, he had five tackles against the Giants.
“You can see Bruce is somebody that can really run to the football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He makes a lot of plays sideline to sideline. I also thought he covered well.”
While speaking on Dallas’ KRLD-FM, Jones tossed a figurative game ball to Ryan. Dallas held New York to only 82 yards rushing and Eli Manning to 213 passing yards after he averaged 373 per game in sweeping the Cowboys last season.
“Hat’s off to him,” Jones said, referring to Ryan. “He’s had a year that was a come-to-Jesus year for him. He’s really had to get in and look at what he can do better, look at what we can do better in the context of his philosophy. He’s made adjustments. He’s done the things good coaches do.”
One adjustment was to place a greater emphasis on tackling.
“We had a lot of different drills we used in training camp to get better at it,” Garrett said. “Again, the question always is, can you take that practice work to the field? For the most part, we were able to do that.
“All the best defenses I’ve seen are made up of a lot of really good tacklers. So we keep making that emphasis, and there are no number of missed tackles that are acceptable. You don’t say, ‘Ah, we had three, that’s OK.’ Obviously, you want zero, in all phases of your team.”
Lee, who led the team in tackles last season, notched a team-high 12 Wednesday night. His best came when he blasted running back Dave Wilson in the first quarter, forcing the first-round rookie to fumble the ball away.
“It was just an outstanding play when you watch his instincts and his feel and his ability to be so decisive attacking the run,” Garrett said. “He plays with such passion and enthusiasm. We use the word ‘relentless’ around here a lot. He embodies that in everything he does and it showed up on that play.”
DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: 14 players make the list this week, including DeMarco Murray
IRVING, Texas — The first official injury report was released this afternoon, and the Dallas Cowboys have 14 players listed.
There was one surprise with running back DeMarco Murray listed with a wrist issue. He was a full practice participant, and it doesn’t seem serious.
Tight end Jason Witten (spleen), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) wide receiver Andre Holmes (knee), linebacker Dan Connor (hip) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder) were limited in practice.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) and safeties Matt Johnson (hamstring) and Danny McCray (neck) did not practice.
Running back Phillip Tanner (hamstring), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), wide receiver Dez Bryant (knee) and center Phil Costa (back) are also listed on the injury report but were full participants in practice.
New York Giants
- DNP = Did not participate in practice
- LP = Limited Participation in Practice – Less than 100% normal repetitions
- FP = Full Participation – 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
- Out = Player will not play
- (-) = Not Listed = No practice status available
- Out = Player will not play
- Doubtful = 25% chance a player will play
- Questionable = 50% chance a player will play
- Probable = 75% chance a player will play
- (-) = Not Listed – No game status available
DID YOU KNOW?: You can stay up to date on the Dallas Cowboys (and weekly opponents) Injury Update status right here on The Boys Are Back blog. Look in the pages at the top (and the right side) of this blog. The page is titled: INJURY UPDATES
PROJECTION: Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster
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.
GAMEPLAN: Jason Garrett plans to play Tony Romo more tonight
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said quarterback Tony Romo and the first-team offense will get more than the 11 snaps they received in Monday’s 3-0 win at Oakland when the starting offense struggled.
Garrett said he plans to "inch that up a little bit" in tonight’s game against San Diego to get Romo some more opportunities.
That probably translates to Romo playing until early in the second quarter.
But Garrett acknowledged that the absence of Miles Austin (hamstring) and Jason Witten (spleen) as primary targets, compounded by an injury-riddled offensive line, could impact how long he keeps Romo in the game.
"We certainly wouldn’t put him out there with people we weren’t comfortable blocking in front of him," Garrett said. "I think the issues with the skill guys, with [no] Witten and Miles, those are opportunities for other guys to play. So we’re excited to see how [young receivers] play up, so to speak.
"We would never put Tony or anybody out there where we felt like there was a situation where they could get hurt. We don’t think that’s the case right now."
Garrett said a similar usage plan is surfacing on defense, where there is a lack of depth at inside linebacker.
"Sean Lee and Bruce Carter and Dan Connor won’t be playing that long into this game. They’ll probably play into the second quarter," Garrett said, adding that the rest of the game will be handled by reserves whose ranks have depleted this week with injuries to Kyle Wilber (broken thumb) and Caleb McSurdy (torn Achilles).
Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said Friday he will not play in tonight’s game because of a hamstring ailment.
Ware described the injury as not serious and indicated he would play if this were a regular-season game.
Ware becomes the seventh, and most recent, player to miss time in training camp because of a hamstring-related injury.
Other starters impacted with hamstring ailments in camp include receiver Miles Austin, linebacker Anthony Spencer, guard Nate Livings and defensive end Jason Hatcher.
Felix Jones said with the exception of one thing, he has had a great training camp.
"You subtract the conditioning test, I think I did pretty good," the Cowboys running back said.
The reporters around him chuckled. Somebody said they had forgotten about the conditioning test, which he failed and had to retake three days into training camp.
"I hope a lot of people forget about the test!" Jones said with a smile.
Then he turned serious. "But you know, it happened. I’ve got to deal with it. People talk about it. But I’m past that now. It’s in the background," he said.
Jones said he is 100 percent healthy after off-season shoulder surgery.
Last year, he couldn’t raise his arm to catch passes, and he said the pain in his shoulder affected the way he ran.
"You try to baby it and try not get hit on it, but you know, with this game, you can’t do that," he said. "You can’t play your game and try to protect yourself at the same time. I’m glad I did what I did this off-season. Now I’m ready for 2012. I can’t wait to get going."
PRESEASON GAME 2: Five things to watch when Dallas Cowboys face San Diego Chargers | Eight Starters out
Dallas Cowboys fans could allow themselves to be depressed about all the players who won’t participate in tonight’s preseason game against San Diego or be excited about the debut of top pick Morris Claiborne in the secondary. Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware has a tight hamstring and is one of at least eight starters who won’t play tonight. Claiborne, picked sixth overall out of LSU, will get his first real test against the pass-happy Chargers.
1 Starting over again: Quarterback Tony Romo and the starters will play into the second quarter, prompting owner Jerry Jones to hold his breath again that no one gets hurt. The Cowboys are balancing the fine line between being cautious and getting Romo and company the needed work to get ready for the season.
2 Life without Witten: There will be an increased focus on the tight end position, which will be without Jason Witten for the rest of the preseason and possibly the season opener. John Phillips will get the start. It’s also a good opportunity for James Hanna, the rookie from Oklahoma, who could have a bigger role as a pass catcher
3 Who’s No. 3? The Cowboys will use more three-receiver sets with the shortage of tight ends, giving them a better chance to evaluate the receivers. Can underdog Cole Beasley of SMU outshine Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris, etc.?
4 No snap decision: David Arkin gets another long look at center. He starts again for Phil Costa, who is out with a back injury. Monday the goal was not to botch any snaps. Tonight the Cowboys hope he gets the blocking part down and doesn’t allow any free hits on the quarterbacks, namely Romo.
5 Linebacker minutes: Bruce Carter and Dan Connor continue their battle for the starting linebacker job opposite Sean Lee. Both will play a lot as the Cowboys will be in the 4-3 look as much as they are in the 3-4 this year. Carter has the potential to be special, and his continued development is key after missing much of last year with a knee injury.
RELATED: Ware to miss Chargers’ game with hamstring injury
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said today he will not play in Saturday’s pre-season game against the San Diego Chargers because of a hamstring ailment. Ware described the injury as not serious and indicated he would play if this were a regular-season contest.
Ware becomes the seventh, and most recent, player to miss time in training camp because of a hamstring-related injury. Other starters impacted with hamstring ailments in camp include receiver Miles Austin, linebacker Anthony Spencer, guard Nate Livings and defensive end Jason Hatcher.