THE NFL’S GURU OF COACHES: Jason Witten appreciates the honesty of tight ends coach Mike Pope | 2014 Dallas Cowboys coaching staff
“He’s been honest with me in trying to really push me to ‘Let’s even take this to another level,’ ” Witten said of his new coach, a 32-year veteran NFL assistant who started with the Giants under Bill Parcells in 1983 and was on the staff of all four of the franchise’s Super Bowl championship teams.
“I appreciate that challenge and the way he’s gone about it,” Witten said. “I know he’s kind of the guru of tight end coaches.”
BOYS BYE-WEEK BREAKDOWN: All tight ends, including James Hanna should be more involved in the offense
Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Jason Witten
It’s no surprise that Jason Witten continues to play at the level that he has. Despite all the battles that this veteran has seen, there still is that skill when it comes to route running and securing the ball when it is thrown in his direction. What all these seasons in the league has done for Witten, it has allowed him to become crafty of a player. When it comes to the ins and outs of offensive football, Jason Witten would be that guy to ask. He has such an outstanding working knowledge of what teams are trying to do to him and how he needs to combat them.
Jason Garrett has told us many times, there is nothing new of Witten having to fight through these defensive schemes that are trying to take him out of the game. Where Witten has been at his best, is when he does get those opportunities to work against single coverage and find that space. These offensive coaches, are working the ball to Witten in the red zone. It’s never a bad situation to put your best player in when it comes to catching the ball in tight spaces. Jason Witten has proven, he can consistently deliver in that role, which he has all season.
Need More From: James Hanna
Offensive coaches need to get James Hanna more involved in the offense but doesn’t appear that will be the case. Like Lance Dunbar, there are things that Hanna can do to help this offense in the passing game. For example, more routes up the field, instead of those chances that he just gets in the flat. If Hanna is not going to be used in the passing game, then expect more from him at the point of attack in the running game.
On DeMarco Murray’s 35-yard run against the Saints, Hanna had an outstanding kick-out block on Kenny Vacarro that allowed Murray to sneak inside of him. Jason Witten sealed the edge that got Murray to the 2nd level and off to the races. Where Hanna has had his struggles is when he hasn’t been as powerful as he needed to be and he gets compressed into the backfield causing the ball to be stopped for no gain or even for a loss. Where this offense needs to take advantage of Hanna is allowing him to block on the move like he did in the Saints game. He is a much better player when he can attack a defense this way because of his athletic ability to stay on his feet and run with his man. Regardless, this offense needs more from James Hanna on the edge.
Six-Game Forecast: Tight ends are a safe, high percentage tool for extending drives
These games down the stretch are going to be tough and tight which requires your players to be at their absolute best when it comes to executing plays. The safest route when trying to control or finish games is how you use your tight ends in certain situations.
Despite the fact that we have really only seen Jason Witten as that go to guy. James Hanna and even Gavin Escobar are going to have to make some tough plays down the stretch. All three of these tight ends have the ability to get down the field and secure the ball when it is thrown in their direction. You use your tight ends, when you want to make simple, easy throws. We understand that their “11” and “01” personnel groups might be their best packages when it comes to moving the ball, but there will be a game or two where this “12” personnel group will be the difference in the outcome in the game.
There is just too much talent with these tight ends not to fully take advantage of their ability. These final six games will prove that to be the case.
OXNARD, Calif. – There’s vanilla.
And then there is Dallas Cowboys double-secret ultra-vanilla.
That’s exactly what we saw Friday night from that Cowboys offense in a 19-17 preseason game No. 2 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Not surprising to say the least.
Generally, teams do not like to show much of anything they are planning new for the upcoming season in a mere preseason game, especially just the second of what will be five for the Cowboys this summer. And that’s doubly true when playing an opponent they will be facing at some time during the regular season.
So no way was head coach Jason Garrett going to give the Oakland Raiders any hint of what might be coming down the pipe during the 2013 season from this Cowboys offense, even if the two teams won’t meet until Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium, Game 12 of the regular season. Not an entirely new offense, granted, but one with two tight ends becoming the base set and now Bill Callahan calling the plays.
And, of course, with quarterback Tony Romo having a little more say in game-planning and the implementation of some new plays he’s partial, too. Instead of the 11th-year veteran having to “draw those plays up in the dirt,” which he could have Friday night quite easily (since a good portion of the O’s field is consumed by the A’s infield).
There likely was some great anticipation on everyone’s part to see just how all this would work with the first-team offense making its 2013 preseason debut. The first-team offensive line was allowed to work during last Sunday’s Hall of Fame game. You know, Romo and Jason Witten and Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray and them finally out there playing together.
There would be Witten and James Hanna, maybe some Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, too, showcasing these two-tight sets we’ve been witnessing here during training camp practices. Then, too, some of these new pass plays that have become a staple of camp workouts. Oh boy.
Nothing. As vanilla as you can get.
Oh, the Cowboys ran some two-tight sets, but for the majority of the first-team offense’s two series (and even when Kyle Orton was in there running things behind the first offensive line with backups galore at running back and wide receiver). The Cowboys, of all things for everyone anticipating a hard-charging running attack, seemed to be in three-receiver sets more than anything.
They weren’t about to expose much of anything, and from my understanding only did so with a couple of plays just to help keep a couple of drives alive to create more reps for some of the younger guys. Secrets are secrets, and no sense putting too much on tape for the Giants to start going to school on at this early date.
In fact, for all those readily jumping to conclusions about this perceived “new” Cowboys offensive philosophy following that first preseason game in which they ran the ball 34 times and threw it only 21 – you know, see there that Bill Callahan, he’ll emphasize the run more – well, surprise, surprise, in this game against the Raiders the Cowboys ran the ball only 20 times and threw it around 32 times – the very reason no one should draw undeniable conclusions from these practice games.
Talk about holding the play-call sheet over your mouth to prevent lip reading.
But having said all this, the Cowboys still piled up 171 yards of total offense in the first half with Romo and Orton totaling three series, scoring on two of them and likely would have scored on all three if not for a blocked 26-yard field-goal attempt Mr. Automatic, Dan Bailey, surely would have made.
OK, can hear the grumbling in the background already. While that all might be true, you’re screaming, same ol’, same ol’ with the Cowboys offense, three penalties inside the Oakland 30 turned potential touchdown drives into field-goal attempts. The nerve of that Witten to get caught holding, or for potentially first-time starter Ronald Leary to false start and Hanna to do so also.
And as Garrett said afterward, bemoaning the penalties, the blocked field goal and the game-turning fumbled punt by rookie B.W. Webb, “We’ll continue to harp on that.”
But did you see, or you should have seen, the ease in which Romo hooked up with Bryant three times for 55 yards; with Austin on slants twice for 22 yards; Orton with Cole Beasley twice, the second for a 15-yard touchdown.
And guess what? Of the 32 attempts, only three times were tight ends targeted, and only one of those Witten. That ain’t going to happen, Witten targeted just once in a game. Please.
Just look at the first-half stats alone, a half the Cowboys had a 10-6 lead, for what that matters. Romo and Orton were a combined 12 of 14 for 140 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one sack, finishing with a QB rating of 132.1. Bryant, Austin and Beasley finished the game combining for eight catches on eight targets, totaling 126 yards and the Beasley touchdown.
And for the most part Romo and Orton had the time of day in the pocket behind what most perceive as a worrisome offensive line. Hmmm, while the Cowboys are keeping their eyes open for fortuitous opportunities to enhance that crew, particularly at guard, maybe what you saw Friday night isn’t all that bad, from left to right Tyron Smith, Leary, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free. Especially since, unlike the other four, Bernadeau was playing for the first time after returning from injury.
Maybe their main problem up front is really who is playing behind these guys, especially at tackle since with Jermey Parnell injured (hamstring) and veteran Demetress Bell still trying to get in shape, there isn’t much to write home about. As Jones said after the game, making a move up front “would be determined by the opportunity” available, meaning he’s not necessarily desperate to sign just anybody at this moment.
Romo did get sacked once, but did you see how long he had in the pocket before everything collapsed? And he did have Austin wide open in the end zone, but explained later, on that particular play that Austin was his third read and by time he got there, Austin was covered and pocket time had expired.
“I don’t want to get away from here without talking about the offensive line,” Romo said. “There were a couple of times I had all day and we had a sack, an incompletion on those two plays, so that’s going to help us a lot if we’re able to do that.
“That’s different. I know what it’s like to play behind that, and having that ability like they did tonight would be a huge bonus for us.”
So with three more preseason games to play, another five training camp practices this week, resuming Sunday evening, there is time to clean things up while still playing peek-a-boo with play-calls and offensive intentions.
And oh, by the way, if now your concern is the ability to run the ball more efficiently, at the conclusion of the first half, when the first-team offensive line retired for the evening, the Cowboys had run the ball six times for 36 yards with Murray, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, a 6-yard average following last Sunday night’s 5-yard mark.
“It was good,” Romo said of what took place in the team’s first three offensive series. “We did what we’ve been doing in training camp and moved the ball real well. We were holding back on a lot of our stuff, red zone stuff and some other things. We would have liked to have scored a touchdown, but we got hurt by penalties more than anything, and that aspect of it is just going to hurt you no matter what.
“So we have to avoid that [and] stress that this week, and we’re going to make sure that stops.”
But probably not the double-scoops of vanilla approach.
Courtesy: Mickey Spagnola | Columnist
Editors comments: I don’t have a problem with being vanilla with the starters on their first few series this preseason. You come out and keep it simple … basic. The same philosophy deployed with this new 4-3 scheme, also applies to the offense this early in the year. The veterans might not need that as much, sure. But these new roster additions and young rookies do! The beauty of this offensive roster is that they can afford to come out and execute basic runs and passes. See if the opposing defenses can stop that first. With so many Cowboy players wielding star power, it’s a challenge for most defenses to handle them man-for-man. You sprinkle in wrinkles, after you get the basics down … ditch the butterflies, and execute these base plays with precision.
I believe the week-one emphasis (and success) of Dallas’ running attack (in the Hall of Fame game) showed coaches what they needed to see. However, if you think back, there was very little to see (or grade) in the passing game in week 1. The coaching staff needs to grade and develop these young offensive linemen in run and passing situations. I think that’s why we saw more pass (and consequently more pass blocking) in the second preseason game. Expect more balance going forward.
The Romo and Orton led drives were successful. The running game is still on pace. Kiffin’s starters have grasped his base defense … his rookies are coming along. Callahan’s starters are showing rust, but promise. Both of these games were more about weeding out the roster, than going for the kill. I do want to see Callahan/Garrett go for the throat once the regular season starts. They have the weapons to make a statement, and they should.
Friday night, Oakland played their starters longer, and did less with them. The Cowboys will host the Raiders later on … rest assured, we’ll see the full arsenal. Garrett is baking that vanilla cake first. He’ll add the icing later.
COWBOYS 2013 INJURY UPDATE: Anthony Spencer surgery a success, should be ready for start of the season
Defensive end Anthony Spencer had successful surgery on his left knee today (Thursday), according to his agent Jordan Woy.
Spencer will be be sidelined about a month while recovering, likely keep him out the majority of the preseason. He should be ready for the start of the season.
The surgery was necessary after Spencer experienced discomfort in the knee during pre-camp conditioning tests on Saturday. It’s the same knee he hyper-extended during organized team activities in June. A magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed a bone-bruise in Spencer’s left knee.
The Cowboys felt surgery was the best option and wanted to get this taken care of so it wouldn’t be a lingering issue during the season. Spencer will make $10.6 million after being designated as the team’s franchise player.
RELATED: Cowboys finally got some good news on the injury front
Starting left guard Nate Livings has been given the OK to practice and was removed Friday from the active non-football injury list. He’s expected to practice Friday afternoon after missing the start of camp with a foot problem.
Coach Jason Garrett said several other injured players could be back next week, including tight end James Hanna (hamstring), guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (hamstring) and guard Ron Leary (calf).
Backup right tackle Jermey Parnell (hamstring) probably need another week, Garrett said.
Garrett also said that defensive ends Anthony Spencer (knee) and Tyrone Crawford (Achilles tendon) had successful surgeries in Dallas. Spencer is expected back in camp sidelines this week, while Crawford will remain in Dallas.
OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys are now well underway in training camp here at the Oxnard River Ridge complex. The club wrapped up another light walk-through practice Monday, followed by a regular press conference from Jason Garrett.
Here are some highlights from the morning and early afternoon occurrences today:
- Defensive end Anthony Spencer didn’t participate because of a bone bruise on his leg. Spencer told reporters after practice he is trying to be smart about all injuries. His goal is to be “ready for that first game against the Giants.” From the sound of things, Spencer will be limited in his practice participation.
- With Spencer out, and after the torn Achilles injury of Tyrone Crawford, it put second-year pro Kyle Wilber working with the first-team defense at end.
- Running back Joseph Randle, who has been limited for most of the summer with a broken thumb injury, said he is “pretty much” 100 percent healthy now. Randle said he is wearing a small splint that fits inside his glove.
- Tight end James Hanna suffered a slight hamstring strain towards the end of the walk-through.
- When asked after practice what keeps Jason Witten’s motor running after 10 seasons, the Pro Bowl tight end said, his drive to “win a Super Bowl” is the biggest motivator. However, Witten said having the goal isn’t good enough. Putting in the hard work and long hours of camp and the offseason is only half of the battle. But still, Witten doesn’t deny the ultimate prize is to be holding that Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year. “When that day happens around here, it’ll be very special.”
- Jason Garrett said in his press conference the Cowboys won’t be able to put Crawford on IR until the roster is trimmed to 75 players. While they won’t gain a spot on the roster because of his injury, they already had one open spot. In regard to the defensive end, Garrett said “we need to reload there. We just need to continue to look at available options there.”
- Garrett on Tyrone Crawford: “I thought he had an outstanding year last year. He was a different player at the end of the year than the start. You know he’ll do his rehab right and we know he’ll be better and stronger than ever.”
- The head coach said defensive tackle Ben Bass has “some position flex” and he’ll get the chance with Crawford out, to play both end and tackle in the next few days.
- Jason Garrett was asked a few questions about his team-meeting speech on Saturday that has become viral in the internet Monday. The coach said motivational speaking is the biggest part of his job. “I think you have to give them a path, a roadmap, some inspiration and motivation to get up each and day to accomplish that vision. It’s my job as the head coach to do that. If you’re a human being, you need motivation and inspiration. It’s something I believe I have to do.
- Injured defensive end Tyrone Crawford said he will try to remain upbeat after his disappointing Achilles injury that will put him on IR for the entire season. “I’m still a part of the team. But I’m just not going to be there on the field. I learned a lot from DeMarcus Ware this offseason. I learned a lot from Hatcher, Ratliff this offseason. Now, I’m going to learn a lot from (Barry) Church and Britt Brown and the rest of the medical staff. But I’m going to work hard. I’ll make it back.”
- Cowboys VP Stephen Jones, the team’s director of player personnel, said Tyrone Crawford’s replacement is already on the roster. “We certainly like the guys we’ve got better there anyone out there.”
It was very clear that the direction that this Cowboys offense was going in this off-season with the drafting of Gavin Escobar and the signing of Anthony Rosario. It was setting up to use more “12” personnel along with Jason Witten and James Hanna. So the releasing of fullback Lawrence Vickers today, was not a surprising move at all.
In watching OTA and mini-camp practices, Bill Callahan was taking plenty of reps to run plays where the offense went without a full back or when they needed one, it was Rosario lining up in an offset formation and filling in that role. It was more single back, zone runs. What I really like about this zone scheme, that Callahan is working with for this offense that it will play to the true strengths of DeMarco Murray.
Of the several impressive traits that Murray shows the one that folks do not give him enough credit for is his vision. Murray might not be the most explosive back to and through the hole but where he makes up for this is his ability to see the hole and make the cut. Good zone scheme runners have to have that ability. They have to be able to see where they need to take the ball and then adjust from there. Murray can do that. He uses a combination of vision and patience when he is carrying the ball.
I have always liked DeMarco Murray as a one back runner even when he had some success with Tony Fiammetta in 2011 but there were times last season when he did play with a full back in front of him and it led to hesitation because he wasn’t sure what that player was going to do. That was both Vickers and John Phillips. Murray was never on the same page with Vickers and in just watching the two play together it was like putting the round peg in the square hole. Murray spent more time waiting for Vickers or Phillips to do something in front of him than just attacking the line.
The releasing of Lawrence Vickers in my view is really not that big of a deal because of the direction in which the offense was going under Callahan, it doesn’t need a full back. Look for DeMarco Murray to be a much more productive runner without someone holding him up.
Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
THE ONE-TWO PUNCH: Young Gavin Escobar and James Hanna gives the Dallas Cowboys multiple two-tight end offensive packages
Gavin Escobar, one of the best receiving tight ends in college football the past two seasons, joins Jason Witten and James Hanna in the tight ends room. All Witten did was set the single-season record for receptions by a tight end in league history.
So are there enough balls to go around?
“I’m just ready to have them in the game if they call their number,” said Wes Phillips, in his first season as the team’s tight ends coach. “I would imagine taking a young guy who is as talented as Escobar and having James Hanna along to complement Witten, we can get into some different packages in 12 [one running back, two tight ends]. Each of those guys can play to their strengths.”
The Dallas Cowboys could use two tight ends more this season. Dallas didn’t use much last season with John Phillips as its second tight end, running only 195 plays with its 12 personnel. The Cowboys threw 74 times with two tight ends in the game, took one sack and rushed the ball 120 times.
In 2011, with Martellus Bennett as their second tight end, the Cowboys used two tight ends for 320 plays, rushing 225 times, taking six sacks and throwing 89 times.
The Cowboys believe Escobar is a better offensive weapon than Bennett or Phillips, who left for San Diego in March as a free agent. Escobar caught 122 passes for 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons at San Diego State.
“We used some resources to draft him,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We used a second-round pick, so we think a lot of him, and we want to give him every opportunity to acclimate him to our offensive system.
“What we have to do as coaches is decide who our best 11 guys are, what our best personnel groups are and try to shape our offense accordingly. You know we’ve used a lot of two tight end offense in the past. …So we want to keep attacking defenses a lot of different ways. We’ll do it with different personnel groups and with different guys within those personnel groups.”
Dallas drafted James Hanna in the sixth round last year, and Hanna played in 107 plays to 333 for Phillips. But in the final four games, Hanna’s playing time increased. He played 52 plays in the last four games, while Phillips played 55.
Witten, who played 1,112 plays last season, caught a tight ends record 110 passes for 1,039 yards and three touchdowns. Hanna had eight catches for 86 yards, and Phillips caught eight passes for 55 yards and a score.
After starting high school as a wide receiver playing six-man football, James Hanna has since faced a steady diet of adjusting and learning.
A Cowboys fan growing up in the Dallas suburbs, Hanna transferred from Coram Deo Academy to Flower Mound for his last two years of high school and thrived in the more intricate 11-man game. Despite outstanding success at the position, though, his large body seemed to make him a better fit at tight end, a position he converted to as a college freshman at Oklahoma.
Hanna gradually made the transition, and after a big senior year with the Sooners that saw him accumulate 27 receptions for 381 yards and two touchdowns, the Cowboys made him their sixth-round draft choice (186th overall) back in April.
Now the highly athletic 6-4, 249-pound Hanna wrapped up perhaps his most challenging task, adapting to the more complex duties required of an NFL tight end.
“I think I have a lot to learn. I think I haven’t reached my potential or even close to it,” says Hanna, who wowed scouts with his blazing speed at the 2012 Scouting Combine, topping all tight ends in five different categories. “The coaches told me it’s on me to develop as much as I can to be the best I can be, and I feel like, with hard enough work, I can be a contributor here.”
James Hanna began to deliver on the Dallas Cowboys’ investment in him late last season, and one person they can thank is backup quarterback Kyle Orton.
He stayed on the rookie tight end’s case, and it paid off, said new tight ends coach Wes Phillips.
“People saw the end result where he started making plays, but we also saw when he was running scout team at the beginning of the year and Kyle Orton is on him every single day about how to practice, how to be a pro, how to work,” Phillips said Thursday in meeting reporters for the first time in his new job. “He really made some strides.”
Hanna, drafted in the sixth round out of Oklahoma last year, caught a pass in the season opener – his only catch for the first 12 games – but had seven catches in the last four games.
“He really impressed us as far as his work ethic and how he went about his job,” Phillips said. “Learning how to finish, learning how to go about meetings and study and prepare, all those sort of things. He’s a very intelligent guy, and we’re looking forward to continuing his development.”
Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach John Garrett has accepted a job to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers new receivers coach. Garrett worked in Dallas for six seasons, arriving when his brother, Jason Garrett, became offensive coordinator. John Garrett added the title of passing game coordinator to his title in 2011.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity in Tampa,” Garrett said. “We had a had a great time interviewing down there, getting to know coach [Greg] Schiano more and more and the offensive coaches and the rest of the staff of the Buccaneers. It really went well, and I’m thrilled for the opportunity and just really excited to get started working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
Though Garrett still was under contract with the Cowboys, Dallas already had OK’d his leaving. He and other coaches had been allowed to look for other jobs, and Garrett had applied for the University of Delaware head coaching job. The opportunity with the Bucs came last week.
Garrett, 47, will leave his brothers Jason and Judd, the Cowboys’ director of pro scouting, but he said he will miss his tight ends room just as much. Garrett said he developed a special relationship with Jason Witten, John Phillips and James Hanna. Witten left for Hawaii and his eighth Pro Bowl on Sunday.
“My six years with the Cowboys have been fantastic,” Garrett said. “I want to thank the [Jerry] Jones family and the entire Cowboys organization. The opportunity to work with the coaches here on staff and everyone in the administration has been fantastic. I loved coming to work every day. But most importantly, working with the players in my position. The tight ends are just fabulous people, really good players and do it the right way. They love football. They prepare. They execute. They have just tremendous integrity and character. It was a great, great tight end room from Jason Witten to John Phillips to James Hanna. I just loved coming in and coaching them every day. They were like sponges, soaking everything in and being prepared for the games and the practices. I really appreciate that and the fact that they gave everything they had.”
Garrett has seen his career come back to where it started. He began his post-playing career as a pro personnel assistant for the Bucs, staying in that role from 1992-94. He worked with the Bucs receivers, too, during the week those two seasons and assisted the defensive staff on game days.
When he left the Bucs for Cincinnati in 1995, he was replaced in Tampa by Mark Dominik. Dominik now is the team’s general manager.
Garrett’s tie to Schiano is his father. Jim Garrett was a long-time NFL scout whose path crossed several times with Schiano while Schiano was in the college ranks.
“Greg Schiano is a fantastic person, and a great football coach, and he loves football and does everything the right way,” Garrett said. “I’m really excited to learn more from him and be part of his program.”
Garrett will replace Bucs receivers coach P.J. Fleck, who was hired as the head coach at Western Michigan. Garrett inherits Vincent Jackson, who, in his first season in Tampa, earned a Pro Bowl berth with 72 catches for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Vincent Jackson is a fantastic player and from what I hear and what I saw when I had the interview, he is arguably a better person,” Garrett said. “All the coaches there think he’s an outstanding leader, a fantastic worker. He loves to be coached and loves football. They had a lot of comparisons to this is our [Jason] Witten, how he just loves it and as a star player sets the tone and pace for how to work and prepare. I got a chance to visit with him in the course of the interview and that’s exactly the case. I developed a good rapport, and I’m looking forward to working with such a talented guy.”
Garrett is the fifth assistant to leave Dallas, continuing a restructuring of the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was let go, replaced by Monte Kiffin. Defensive line coach Brian Baker also was not retained, replaced by Rod Marinelli.
Running backs coach Skip Peete also was let go, and he landed in Chicago. The Cowboys have not replaced him yet. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis’ job also has not been filled. DeCamillis also joined the Bears staff.
Wes Phillips, who has been on the Cowboys staff for six years, could be considered for John Garrett’s vacated job. Phillips has spent the past two seasons as the assistant offensive line coach.
The Cowboys also are unsettled at play caller, though the job could go to offensive line coach Bill Callahan.
The Steelers came into this game with the top-ranked defense in the NFL. The Cowboys? Well, they had six of their original starters out of the lineup, plus their nickel cornerback, then lost yet another linebacker in the early stages of the game.
But as the old saying goes, the games aren’t played on paper. Instead, it was the Dallas defense that came up big, leading the team to a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory in front of 95,595 raucous fans.
Despite the glaring differences between their defensive units, Dallas’ patchwork side held their own throughout the contest, and when they needed it most, came up with three big sacks late in the fourth quarter. That was followed by a game-changing interception from Brandon Carr in the extra frame, which set up the winning field goal.
It was by no means easy. Twice the Steelers took the lead and three times the game was tied. But Dallas kept battling back.
Pittsburgh put up 388 total yards of offense and did not have a single penalty. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards on 24-of-40 passing with two touchdowns. His primary target was tight end Heath Miller, who totaled 92 yards on 7 catches, while wide receiver Mike Wallace had four catches for 95 yards.
But on the other side of the ball, the Cowboys were ready for the the mighty Steelers defense, racking up 415 total yards. Tony Romo was again outstanding, throwing for 341 yards on 30-of-42 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with nine different players, Miles Austin leading the way with seven catches for 79 yards while Dez Bryant and Jason Witten did what they do best, each scoring a touchdown.
Even DeMarco Murray got into the action, rushing for 81 yards on 14 carries with a score. By comparison, the Steelers only ran for 69 yards as a team.
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.
Jason Witten’s lacerated spleen is healing, but apparently, he still does not know when he will be cleared to play a game. Witten had a scan of his injured spleen Tuesday and learned that he can get some on-field work, with no contact, in the next few days, according to Stephen Jones.
Jones told 105.3 The Fan that Witten still hasn’t been ruled out of the Giants’ game. It seems more likely, though, that the Pro Bowl tight end will return for the Sept. 16 game at Seattle given that he has another doctor’s appointment next week.
"He had a good [doctor’s] appointment [Tuesday]," Jones, the team’s executive vice president, told the radio station. "Things are progressing. …It’s certainly starting to look [like surgery will not be needed]. He’ll go back for another appointment next week and see where it sits."
Witten, who has missed only one regular-season game in his career, lacerated his spleen in the exhibition opener against the Raiders on a hit by Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain. He worked on resistance cords during Monday’s practice as part of his rehab.
John Phillips, who has 22 career catches, or 674 fewer than Witten, for 163 yards and a touchdown in three seasons, has taken first-team reps in Witten’s absence. Rookies James Hanna and Andrew Szczerba both could make the roster initially, with Witten’s status for the opener in doubt.
"You’ve got to be ready to go," Phillips said. "Step in. Next-man-up mentality. Ready to get out there and go."
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.
Tony Romo looks ready. Same for DeMarco Murray. Rob Ryan’s defense? Definitely.
In the third game of the preseason, the “dress rehearsal” for what’s to come on Sept. 5, the Cowboys first-teamers appeared good to go in a 20-19 defeat of the Rams, a team that’s likely headed for a very long and frustrating 2012 campaign.
A crowd of 75,226 saw Murray on the field for only the first quarter, but he averaged 5.2 yards per carry (5 attempts, 26 yards) and added two catches for 16 more.
Likewise, Romo saw only one quarter of action, but had his way with the St. Louis secondary, spreading the ball around to six different receivers while racking up 198 yards on 9-of-13 passing, his rating a healthy 151.4. He led his team to points in each of their first three possessions of the game, the opening drive going 60 yards in 13 plays before Dan Bailey split the uprights on a 38-yard field goal.
Romo then struck twice through the air, both his scoring throws connecting with Dwayne Harris, one of several in the thick of the battle for the third wide receiver position. On the first, Harris beat his man down the middle for a nifty 61-yard bomb. Then on the Cowboys’ next possession, Harris appeared headed for the sideline on a routine pickup, but at the last minute, he turned it upfield, split two Rams defenders and scampered the remaining yards before diving into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown.
Harris likely solidified his place on the team, finishing with 118 receiving yards on three catches, but he wasn’t the only wideout to have a good showing with the first team offense. Kevin Ogletree picked up 75 yards on five catches with rookie Cole Beasley adding 40 yards on his three grabs. In the end, the Cowboys may not need a designated third receiver, instead taking the committee approach, one of the advantages of having a quarterback like Romo who can make any potential target look good.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the starting defense played the entire first half, limiting the visitors to lengthy field goals of 55 and 52 yards, the first points allowed by the starters this preseason.
The first of those field goals was set up by a 47-yard kick return that gave St. Louis possession on their own 40. That was followed by a 26-yard pass from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford to tight end Lance Kendricks to the Dallas 34, where the defense then held their ground.
Field goal No. 2 for St. Louis came in the second quarter after Kyle Orton was hit on a blitz up the middle, the Rams falling on the fumble to give them the ball at the Dallas 38. They couldn’t move the chains, but did add three points, the score now 17-6.
The Cowboys defense got their first real test of the preseason with their backs against the wall when the Rams marched all the way down to the Dallas 5-yard line, thanks in part to a successful fake punt when they originally faced fourth and 1 at their own 27-yard line. But on fourth and goal, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne dove and knocked away a Bradford attempt to receiver Steve Smith, keeping St. Louis out of the end zone.
Safety Danny McCray was injured on the play when he and Gerald Sensabaugh collided as the ball was in the air. He suffered a neck strain and did not return to the game.
Taking over with 2:42 remaining in the half, Orton then worked the two-minute offense to perfection. He hit Beasley on an 8-yard pass, then found Felix Jones for gains of 12 and 9 yards. Continuing to spread the ball around, Orton found tight end James Hanna for 11, Ogletree for 12, Harris for 9, and then back to Ogletree for 15, the Cowboys calling their last timeout with 10 seconds left at the St. Louis 13-yard line. Bailey came on for the chip shot, the score 20-6 at the break.
In the first half overall, the Dallas defense limited the Rams to just 114 yards of total offense, or four fewer than what Harris alone earned for receiving yards in the first 30 minutes.
With the third quarter getting underway, the starters put on their ball caps and called it a night, leaving it to those fighting for roster spots. And St. Louis won the battle of reserves, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the game a little more interesting.
For their first score, the Rams started on their own 30 with 2:42 left in the third quarter, and went the distance, reserve quarterback Kellen Clemens throwing a dart to receiver Austin Pettis from two yards out early in the fourth. But kicker Garrett Lindholm’s extra point was no good, the scoreboard reading 20-12.
Two possession later, St. Louis found the end zone again, this time starting at its own 21 and needing 10 plays on the drive to reach pay dirt. The extra point was good, the score now 20-19.
But with 2:10 remaining in the game, that would be all the Rams could muster. Dallas able to run out the clock for their second preseason victory of the season.
The Cowboys will now have an extremely short week as they prepare for their final exhibition game on Wednesday against Miami, a last-ditch tryout of sorts for those fighting for roster spots, the starters content to remain on the sidelines and get ready for the Giants and the season opener a week later.
Kurt Daniels | Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine
Every week during the regular season, I will roll out a list of “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys. I’ve done this for the past few years, using a combination of film study and stat analysis to create a game plan of sorts.
Seeing as how the third week of the preseason tends to resemble a regular season game in most ways, I figured I’d give my “DOs and DON’Ts” an early start this year. I’ll approach this list as though the Dallas Cowboys’ Saturday night matchup with the St. Louis Rams were the real thing, showing how I’d attack St. Louis (and giving you a preview of my game plans for the regular season). Let’s dive right in. . .
DO run a lot of double-tight sets.
Through two preseason games, the Cowboys’ first-team offense has run just six double-tight end sets, representing only 29.0 percent of their plays. It will be interesting to see if the loss of Martellus Bennett equates to fewer two-tight end formations during the regular season.
On Saturday night, however, I’d place both John Phillips and rookie James Hanna on the field at the same time on numerous occasions. I know those guys aren’t Jason Witten, but the Cowboys’ offensive tackles are going to have their hands full with perhaps the league’s most underrated defensive end duo. That tandem is led by Chris Long, who pressured the quarterback more often than any player in the NFL last year.
Plus, double-tight sets with max protection could allow the ‘Boys to take some shots downfield—something they should be doing more often anyway.
DO run right outside.
As stellar as Chris Long has been while rushing the passer in recent years, he hasn’t held up against the run. He notched a tackle on just 2.1 percent of his snaps last season. The Rams’ other defensive end, Robert Quinn, wasn’t much better with a 2.2 percent tackle rate. In comparison, Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer recorded a tackle on 5.5 percent of snaps.
I watched three of the Rams’ games from 2011, and the pass-rushing ability of their ends is immediately apparent. The problem is that they rush up the field right after the snap of the ball, leaving gaping holes for opposing running backs.
In particular, the Cowboys might be able to make use of their patented draw play. By showing a pass look, Long and Quinn will likely get up the field after Tony Romo, providing DeMarco Murray with plenty of room to scamper outside.
DON’T blitz too often.
Look, the Rams aren’t a good football team, and quarterback Sam Bradford hasn’t progressed as St. Louis fans hoped. There are two schools of thought when playing a struggling quarterback: blitz him to force turnovers, or sit back in coverage so as to not allow a big play.
I find myself in the latter camp. When playing as a favorite, the best way to maximize win probability is to make the opponent beat you again and again. Can the Rams continually move the ball up the field against Dallas without beating themselves? I don’t think so.
DO give Bruce Carter the majority of defensive snaps inside.
Carter is emerging as the probable starter next to Sean Lee at inside linebacker. Many of his teammates describe Carter as the most athletic player on the team, and that’s exactly what the Cowboys need in order to halt the versatility of Steven Jackson. The Rams’ star running back is getting old, but he’s not totally over the hill just yet. Let’s see how two of the league’s premiere height-weight-speed combos match up.
DO run double-moves at Janoris Jenkins.
In a scouting report on Jenkins that I wrote prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, I had this to say about the young cornerback:
Jenkins’ willingness to jump routes makes him an all-or-nothing type of cornerback. He makes a ton of big plays, but he gets beat a lot as well. We frequently throw around comparisons between prospects and NFL players to make assessing them easier, but I have never seen a college player resemble a pro player more than Jenkins to Asante Samuel.
Jenkins is a play-maker, and you really need to be careful when throwing his way. If the ‘Boys’ can find a way to provide Romo with ample protection, though, they can beat Jenkins outside on a double-move.
Jonathan Bales is a special contributor. He’s the founder of The DC Times and writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times.
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.
John Phillips suddenly finds himself atop the Dallas Cowboys’ depth chart at tight end, based on the spleen injury suffered by Pro Bowler Jason Witten.
But Phillips, who returned to drills Wednesday and projects to start the remainder of the team’s pre-season games while Witten recuperates, said he realizes he is just holding a spot until the seven-time Pro Bowler’s return, hopefully for the Sept. 5 opener against the New York Giants.
“You can’t replace a guy like Jason Witten. He’s a leader of this team, a leader of this offense,” said Phillips, who was sidelined last week with an ankle injury. “I’m not trying to replace him. He’ll be a leader from the sidelines and help us out in the film room … I’m sure he’ll be ready when the season comes around.”
Witten has missed only regular-season game because of injury in his Cowboys’ career. Phillips vowed to join others in helping take up the slack for as long as necessary.
“You’ve just got to step in,” Phillips said. “Next man up. That’s how we’re going to deal with it. Receivers, tight ends, fullbacks, whatever we’re going to do to make up for it. Obviously, him and Tony (Romo) have a good feel for each other and do a lot of things that can’t be taught.”
James Hanna, a rookie sixth-round pick from Oklahoma, harkened back to his sophomore year with the Sooners when standout Jermaine Gresham suffered a season-ending knee injury late in camp.
“I was thinking I was going to get a minimal opportunity and it turned out to be different than that,” said Hanna, who caught two passes for 15 yards against the Raiders and drew praise from coach Jason Garrett.
Witten’s injury created a “whirlwind” of activity Tuesday for tight end Harry Flaherty, who joined the roster Wednesday. Flaherty, a former Princeton player who is the nephew of coach Jason Garrett, said he got the word to join the Cowboys while eating lunch at his home in New Jersey. He was told he had 90 minutes to catch a flight to Oxnard, Calif.
“It was crazy,” said Flaherty, who arrived around midnight and missed the morning walkthrough.
Did he pack anything?
“Very little,” Flaherty said. “It was a whirlwind.”
RELATED: Jerry Jones said Witten obviously stayed in one play too long
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t even want to consider possibility of injured tight end Jason Witten not being ready for the season opener.
Witten is out for the rest of the preseason with a lacerated spleen and could be sidelined for the Sept. 5 season opener against the Giants.
Jones, who said he held his breath when Witten took the blindside hit in the game, said his focus is on getting him healthy, not how long he will be out.
“I haven’t thought about it at all. We’re basically more interested in him resting this week and getting that thing healed back.I really don’t have any timeline. All I know is he’s going to be out here for a few days while that thing actually heals and we don’t know how fast that will be. We don’t know at all. I’ve heard timeframes all over the map. All I can go is by what I’m told. We’ll see how it heals."
Jones also refused to second guess the decision to have Witten go three series in a meaningless preseason opener against the Raiders when the offense was already challenged to play behind a patch work offensive line.
"That’s second guessing," Jones said. "He certainly went one play too long, from that standpoint, if you looked at it that way. But I don’t at all second guess that."
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.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ed Wesley, a rookie from TCU, seeks to make the team as a free-agent signee. Wesley grew up as a huge Cowboys fan and, at one point in high school, lived in apartments across the street from the team’s Valley Ranch training facility. He shared his five favorite Cowboys memories thus far:
1Emmitt Smith sets NFL career rushing record… "It was awesome. Emmitt was my favorite."
2Smith inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame… "My first time playing football, when I could choose my own number, I chose No. 22 because of him."
3Cowboys beat Pittsburgh 27-17 to win Super Bowl XXX… "I was in the first grade. I was 7 years old and I watched every bit of it."
4Cowboys beat Philadelphia in 2009 playoffs, the team’s first postseason triumph in 13 years… "The guys were giving me crap at TCU… because I was like, ‘We’re going to the Super Bowl.’ And they lost in the next round."
5Getting the call to join the team… "It was a dream come true."
Cowboys cornerback C.J. Wilson, a former Baylor standout, missed most of the morning walkthrough while having a root canal but took part in the padded practice during the afternoon. It made for a memorable day. "The pain medicine wore off as soon as we got out here, so I’ve been spitting out blood. But I’m fine," Wilson said after the afternoon session. "You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, man. If you don’t, somebody else will."
Because of injuries to Lance Dunbar (hamstring) and Phillip Tanner (broken hand), free-agent running backs Ed Wesley and Tavarris Williams figure to log significant snaps Monday at Oakland. Running backs coach Skip Peete said both are "a little behind the 8-ball" in learning the offense because neither went through off-season drills. Asked about Wesley, a TCU product, Peete said: "He’s an exciting young kid. He has some good run skills and has ability to run routes out of the backfield. He’s still behind, but that’s not his fault. If you’re three or four months behind everybody else, you’ve got to catch up quickly."
Actor Ashton Kutcher watched Saturday’s practice. He strolled the sideline like an assistant coach but wore a Boston Red Sox cap.
They said it
"I can’t accept … that we will be as disappointing as we were last year. I can’t accept that. Because I know that it was my most disappointing year as a Cowboy. We can’t have, individually, players play at the level they played at last year and not do better." — Jerry Jones
With the preseason opener looming, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett reflected on his first snap as a rookie quarterback in the NFL. Playing for the New Orleans Saints, Garrett handed off on a reverse against Buffalo. Then, he turned to block defensive end Bruce Smith, a future Hall of Famer. "He looked like he was 48 feet tall," Garrett said. "So you dive at his knees, he throws you to the ground and he makes the tackle."
History lesson, reality check
Cowboys tight end James Hanna, a rookie sixth-round pick from Oklahoma, wears No. 84. But his knowledge of predecessors who donned that digit is limited to Jay Novacek, a standout tight end from the 1990s. Asked about Pettis Norman, who made the number notable in the 1960s, Hanna said: "I don’t know about that. Not familiar with him." He is familiar with outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Asked to cite the moment he realized the NFL would be significantly different from college, Hanna said: "The first time I blocked DeMarcus Ware. Or tried to. It didn’t go well."
Dallas Cowboys Injury Report
WR Miles Austin, hamstring, 1 week
WR Dez Bryant, hamstring tightness, day-to-day
RB Phillip Tanner, hand, 1-2 weeks
G Kevin Kowalski, ankle, on PUP
G Bill Nagy, high ankle sprain, day-to-day (UPDATE: Waived)
G Nate Livings, hamstring, day-to-day
LB Anthony Spencer, hamstring, day-to-day
DE Jason Hatcher, hamstring, day-to-day
RB Lance Dunbar, hamstring, day-to-day
DB Matt Johnson, hamstring, day-to-day
TE John Phillips, ankle, day-to-day
WR Saalim Hakim, dislocated finger, 1 week
CB Mike Jenkins, shoulder, on PUP
Courtesy: Jimmy Burch
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones compared his decisions as general manager in deciding what he is going to do at third receiver to being a modern day Ben Franklin.
He is going to the let the preseason play out and then pick a guy or go after another guy on free agency based on his evaluation of what’s best for the team, which is why doesn’t feel pressure to make a decision on a veteran free agent like Plaxico Burress right now.
“It’s the Ben Franklin procedure,” Jones said. “He would take a sheet of paper and put why and why not. He would look at the plusses and minuses and he would fill in on each side and decide which ever shape he was in. That’s the long way of saying why or why not!
Courtesy: Clarence Hill | FWST
Photos Courtesy: Dallas Morning News
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree (85) is chased by linebacker Sean Lee (50)
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley (14)
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) runs after catch
Dallas Cowboys tight end James Hanna (84)
Dallas Cowboys tight end James Hanna, a rookie from Oklahoma, wears No. 84. But his knowledge of predecessors who also donned that digit is limited. Asked by a reporter if he knew of any other notable No. 84 in franchise history, he identified Jay Novacek, a standout tight end from the 1990s. Asked about Pettis Norman, a star tight end in the 1970s, Hanna said: “I don’t know about that. Not familiar with him.”
He is familiar with outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who has helped him with his technique during training camp. Asked to cite the moment he realized the NFL would be significantly different from college, Hanna said: “The first time I blocked DeMarcus Ware. Or tried to. It didn’t go well.”
Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis congratulates wide receiver Andre Holmes
Cowboys receiver Andre Holmes had a couple of notable catches on fades in the red zone, including one against cornerback C.J. Wilson. Holmes (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) is the team’s tallest receiver and his production in those situations figure to play a prominent role in whether he makes the 53-man roster.
“I’ve been working on that. I felt like it kind of paid off today,” said Holmes, who has strung together a series of solid practices after falling behind others when he failed his pre-camp conditioning test. “I’m trying to show something to the coaches. It’s what I’ve got to do.”
Holmes showed significant emotion after one fade route and indicated he planned to keep the emotional edge front and center.
“It’s not a relief. I know I’m going to make those plays all the time,” Holmes said. “I was just a little more fired up today. That’s what I’m going to be doing every day.”
The Cowboys have begun the process of signing their rookie draft picks with wide receiver Danny Coale, tight end James Hanna and linebacker Caleb McSurdy coming to terms.
In the past, the Cowboys have waited until the week before training camp to begin talks with the agents but will take a more proactive approach this year, especially with most of the deals a mere formality because of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Coale, Hanna and McSurdy received four-year deals. They will receive base salaries of $390,000, $480,000, $570,000 and $660,000 from 2012-15.
Coale, the Cowboys’ fifth-round pick, was drafted with the idea that he would compete for the No. 3 wide receiver role, but a broken foot suffered on the first organized team activity will leave him on the sideline until training camp begins in July. The Cowboys like his feel for the game and his ability to play inside and outside. He left as Virginia Tech as the school’s second-leading receiver in catches and yards. He can also return punts.
Hanna, a Flower Mound, Texas, native, was the 186th overall pick and 16th pick in the sixth round. In four years at Oklahoma he caught 52 passes for 720 yards and nine touchdowns. He had a career-high 27 catches for 381 yards as a senior to go along with two touchdowns. He opened eyes at the NFL combine with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and brings the ability to stretch the field vertically at tight end.
McSurdy, 6-1, 245 pounds, was the Cowboys’ seventh-round pick, No. 222 overall. He was a two-year starter at Montana and had 131 tackles as a senior. He is competing for a backup inside linebacker spot with Orie Lemon and Isaiah Greenhouse.
The Cowboys have yet to sign first-rounder Morris Claiborne, defensive end Tyrone Crawford (third), linebacker Kyle Wilber (fourth) and safety Matt Johnson (fourth). None have been able to take part in the OTAs, but Johnson will be on hand for this week’s minicamp. Claiborne (wrist), Crawford (calf) and Wilber (finger) are injured.
Courtesy: Todd Archer | ESPN Dallas
RELATED: Cowboys sign Pat McQuistan
The Dallas Cowboys announced Friday that they have signed offensive tackle Pat McQuistan. McQuistan, 29, was Dallas’ seventh-round pick in 2006.
A Cowboy from the day he was drafted through 2009, McQuistan stands 6-foot-6, 319 and has experience at both guard and tackle. He’ll be primarily a tackle in Dallas, competing for a roster spot behind Tyron Smith and Doug Free.
McQuistan bounced from the Dolphins to Saints over the past two seasons.
In a corresponding move, the Cowboys waived undrafted rookie tackle Taylor Dever.
Courtesy: Evan Silva | NBC Sports
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett gave a recap of the seven players the team drafted.
Here is what he told reporters Saturday night at Valley Ranch:
“I’ll start with Morris Claiborne. We talked about him before. We felt like he was a player worth moving up the draft board for. He was our number one defensive player on our board and number two player on our board and we feel like he has a chance to be a great, great football player. He’s everything we want physically, and it’s a premium position, and he’s the right kind of guy.
“Tyrone Crawford is someone that we took with our third round pick, pick No. 81, defensive end from Boise State. We feel like he has some real position flexibility for us. He has a chance to be a third down rusher for us, as well as grow into a five-technique defensive end. He has an outstanding motor, that’s Line 1 when you talk about him. It jumps off the screen when you watch him play, and somebody we’re excited about.
“Kyle Wilber is the next player. He’s an outside linebacker from Wake Forest. We see him as a SAM linebacker, who does an outstanding job defending the run. We feel like he has a chance to be a pass rusher from the edge. He’s an outstanding special teams player and, again, the right kind of guy. You look at the list of the seven players we drafted. We really feel good about the kind of people they are, and Kyle Wilber certainly is one of those.
“Matt Johnson is a safety from Eastern Washington. He’s a guy that we feel can play on the back end and be a safety that drops down. He’s a good run defender as well. He made a number of plays on the ball. I think 15 career interceptions. The safety position is a little tricky. Sometimes, you have guys that are good pass defenders and sometimes you have guys that are good run defenders. We feel like he’s demonstrated he can do both. We had him in here for one of our 30 visits. We really like the person he is. He can be a special teams player, but is also going to be a position player for us.
“Danny Coale is the next player we took. He’s a receiver from Virginia Tech. He’s a guy that has all the measurables to play. He’s almost 6-feet tall, ran in the 4.3’s as a receiver. We feel like he has good traits to be an inside receiver and also the physical skills to be an outside receiver. We’re excited about him at the receiver position but also as a special teams contributor. Very good career there at Virginia Tech.
“James Hanna is a receiving tight end out of Oklahoma. He’s a local guy out of Flower Mound. He’s a guy that we would consider an ‘F,’ not an on-the-line ‘Y’ tight end, a guy who can block on the back side of things. That’s how we describe our ‘F’ position. And also has some receiving skill. He ran below 4.5 at the combine, so he’s a guy that can get down the field and threaten the defense that way. He really has the measurables to be a blocker, as well, and you see that. He obviously played at an outstanding program. We really like James Hanna.
“Lastly, we took Caleb McSurdy. He’s a linebacker from Montana. You hear a lot of people talk, ‘He’s just a football player.’ We feel like this guy is that. He played the Mike linebacker position at Montana and just made a lot of tackles. We think he has a chance to be an inside linebacker candidate for us and also a special teams contributor for us, and you can’t have enough football players on your roster. He’s one of those guys. We have a lot of competition at the linebacker position. We think that’s good. Those guys are natural special teams players and each of these guys we took we feel like they’re the right kind of guys.”
NOTE: You can listen to the entire press conference by clicking HERE! Enjoy!
SPECIAL FEATURE: Listen as each new draft pick is officially welcomed to the Dallas Cowboys organization
Listen as the Dallas Cowboys call their first round pick, LSU CB Morris Claiborne. The traditional congratulatory phone call from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, head coach Jason Garrett, and this time … defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
To listen to the other calls to each draft pick, click on the links below: