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.”
HONOLULU — The NFL wanted Pro Bowl drama. The NFL got Pro Bowl drama.
Alex Smith, the final pick in last Wednesday’s Pro Bowl Draft, led Team Rice on the final touchdown drive on a rain-soaked field. Then Jerry Rice and Riverboat Ron Rivera went for two and clinched a 22-21 win over Team Sanders in the first unconferenced Pro Bowl.
This was the best Pro Bowl in a long, long time.
Here’s what else we learned from Sunday’s game (Watch highlight video):
1. Even if the banter was manufactured by the 2014 Pro Bowl Draft, players after the game said they enjoyed the process and the opportunity to play with guys they never had a chance to team with before. It was a theme all week.
2. Teammates hitting each other didn’t seem like a big deal. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson laid the wood on teammate Jamaal Charles early. Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward later flipped Josh Gordon to the ground. We never did get that teammate-on-quarterback sack, though.
3. Speaking of quarterback sacks, the defensive lines dominated. The two teams ended up with nine sacks. Early in the contest, we wondered if Sean Payton would call Team Rice’s coach (and division rival) Ron Rivera and ask him to sit Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback was sacked twice and battered often. The QB pressures were a big reason for all the turnovers.
4. J.J. Watt was a beast. Playing next to Ndamukong Suh and later Greg Hardy, Watt was unblockable. With Team Rice double-teaming Watt, Hardy picked up a sack. Don’t think management in Houston didn’t see that and ponder what Jadeveon Clowney would look like next to Watt.
5. The playful teammate trash talk was constant and likely will linger in texts and tweets the next couple days. Mike Tolbert’s SuperCam mock-celebration after his two-point conversion was emblematic. “I told Cam I was going to mess with him if I got in the end zone, so I had to,” Tolbert said laughing.
6. The lack of continuity on offense clearly hurt the product. Not only were there fewer teammate combinations due to the draft, the new format also lessened the practice time by one day. There were a multitude of miscommunications between quarterback and receiver.
7. Speaking of teammates, Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham for an early touchdown pass. On the play, Brent Grimes (all 5-foot-10 of him) ended up on the 6-foot-7 tight end. That, friends, is a mismatch.
8. What was going through Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe’s mind as he rumbled toward the end zone after his second-quarter interception? “I was thinking of a touchdown celebration dance,” Poe said after the game. “I didn’t get there, but next time I will though.”
The NFL wanted a better Pro Bowl. And it got it.
Criticized in recent years for players not giving full effort and for the games getting too high-scoring and too different from the regular product we see each Sunday, this year’s Pro Bowl was a different story.
Whether it was the unconferenced format, which pitted regular-season teammates against each other for the first time, or the competitive draft from alumni captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, or maybe just the threat from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last year that the players needed to pick it up or the game could be discontinued, the 2014 Pro Bowl was a lot more entertaining.
In the end, Team Rice defeated Team Sanders 22-21 with a late touchdown from DeMarco Murray with just 41 seconds to play. A two-point conversion run Carolina’s Mike Tolbert gave Team Rice the lead. A 67-yard field goal attempt by Baltimore’s Justin Tucker fell short, giving Rice the win.
Eagles QB Nick Foles was named Offensive MVP and Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson took home the Defensive MVP honors.
The Dallas Cowboys originally had only two players – Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant – voted into the game. But in the last two weeks, three players were added as alternates. The Cowboys had a total five on the field tonight.
Here’s a quick look how each player fared in the game.
Dez Bryant – Playing in his first Pro Bowl, the receiver wasn’t a huge factor for Team Sanders. He had two catches for 12 yards but did have a chance to score in the third quarter but dropped a fourth-down pass right at the goal line.
Jason Witten – For most of the game, Witten was a non-factor but he did have two catches – his only two – in the final minute of the game as Team Sanders drove for the win. Although he did start, he gave way to Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron, who ultimately caught the game-winning score late in the fourth. Witten has now played in nine Pro Bowls in his 11-year career.
Tyron Smith – The first-time Pro Bowler started for Team Rice but played the entire game at right tackle after playing the season on the left side. Smith had a false start penalty early in the game but clearly had some issues blocking Houston’s J.J. Watt and a stiff pass-rush by Team Sanders, which had four sacks and four turnovers. Smith played most of the game without much substitution.
Jason Hatcher – Also a starter for Team Rice, Hatcher had a fourth-quarter sack on Eagles QB Nick Foles on third down. Hatcher also had an offside penalty but played fairly well, coming up with a huge QB pressure in the final seconds in what could be his final game with a Cowboys helmet.
DeMarco Murray – The third tailback for Team Rice, Murray wasn’t much of a factor until the final drive. Murray caught a dump-off pass from Alex Smith and scurried in for 20-yard touchdown to pull his team within one point. A two-point conversion by Tolbert on the next play gave Team Rice the win. Murray had four carries for 25 yards and four catches for 37 yards.
DeMarco Murray scores game winning TD in 2014 NFL Pro Bowl (WATCH)
Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray scores for Team Rice with less than a minute to play, and alumni captain Jerry Rice makes the bold decision to go for the game winning 2-point conversion.
Team Jerry Rice
Team Deion Sanders
Team Jerry Rice | Team Deion Sanders
|Total First Downs||24||Total First Downs||14|
|By Rushing||7||By Rushing||4|
|By Passing||16||By Passing||10|
|By Penalty||By Penalty|
|Third Down Efficiency||6/16 – 37%||Third Down Efficiency||2/11 – 18%|
|Fourth Down Efficiency||2/4 – 50%||Fourth Down Efficiency||1/2 – 50%|
|Total Net Yards||384||Total Net Yards||285|
|Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks)||78||Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks)||56|
|Average Gain per Offensive Play||4.9||Average Gain per Offensive Play||5.1|
|Net Yards Rushing||114||Net Yards Rushing||62|
|Total Rushing Plays||20||Total Rushing Plays||17|
|Average Gain per Rushing Play||5.7||Average Gain per Rushing Play||3.6|
|Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards)||1–1||Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards)||1–3|
|Net Yards Passing||270||Net Yards Passing||223|
|Times Sacked (Number-Yards)||4 – 21||Times Sacked (Number-Yards)||5 – 41|
|Gross Yards Passing||291||Gross Yards Passing||264|
|Pass Comp-Att-Int||26 – 54 – 4||Pass Comp-Att-Int||20 – 34 – 2|
|Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks)||4.7||Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks)||5.7|
|Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks)||0 – 0 – 0||Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks)||0 – 0 – 0|
|Punts (Number-Average)||4 – 49.0||Punts (Number-Average)||5 – 49.2|
|Net Punting Average||47.0||Net Punting Average||38.0|
|FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked||0 – 0||FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked||0 – 0|
|Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs)||56||Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs)||109|
|Punt Returns (Number-Yards)||5 – 56||Punt Returns (Number-Yards)||3 – 8|
|Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards)||0 – 0||Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards)||0 – 0|
|Interception Returns (Number-Yards)||2 – 0||Interception Returns (Number-Yards)||4 – 101|
|Penalties (Number-Yards)||4 – 20||Penalties (Number-Yards)||2 – 10|
|Fumbles (Number-Lost)||2 – 1||Fumbles (Number-Lost)||3 – 1|
|Kickoff Returns||0||Kickoff Returns||0|
|Fumble Returns||0||Fumble Returns||0|
|Punt Returns||0||Punt Returns||0|
|Extra Points (Made-Attempted)||3 – 3||Extra Points (Made-Attempted)||3 – 3|
|Kicking (Made-Attempted)||2 – 2||Kicking (Made-Attempted)||3 – 3|
|Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted)||1 – 1||Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted)||0 – 0|
|Field Goals (Made-Attempted)||0 – 1||Field Goals (Made-Attempted)||0 – 2|
|Red Zone Efficiency||2/4 – 50%||Red Zone Efficiency||2/3 – 66%|
|Goal To Go Efficiency||2/3 – 66%||Goal To Go Efficiency||1/2 – 50%|
|Final Score||22||Final Score||21|
|Time of Possession||32:47||Time of Possession||27:13|
NFL Pro Bowl 2014
COWBOYS HEADED TO HAWAII: DeMarco Murray becomes fifth Dallas Cowboy added to 2014 NFL Pro Bowl roster
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys initially had just two Pro Bowlers heading to Hawaii. Now they have five.
The latest addition is yet another first-timer as running back DeMarco Murray has been added, replacing San Francisco’s Frank Gore, who was injured in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Seahawks.
Murray makes his first Pro Bowl trip of his three-year career after enjoying his first 1,000-yard season. He rushed for 1,124 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns during the 2013 season. He also scored six of his nine touchdowns in the second half of the season.
Murray becomes the first Cowboys running back since Marion Barber in 2007 to make the Pro Bowl and just the second since Emmitt Smith’s eighth and final selection in 1999.
Murray joins a running back group of Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, and LeSean McCoy, who were all initially selected. Adrian Peterson was also picked but won’t play because of injury and Marshawn Lynch is out because of the Super Bowl. Eddie Lacy and Alfred Morris have been added as replacements for those two but Murray now replaces Gore.
Originally, the Cowboys only had two Pro Bowl selections – Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith, a pair of first-round picks who are going for the first time. Last week, Jason Hatcher was added to the roster as a replaced for Baltimore’s injured nose tackle Haloti Ngata. And on Sunday, Jason Witten made it to the Pro Bowl after Denver’s Julius Thomas had to be replaced after the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl.
The first ever “Unconferenced” Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, airing on NBC at 6 p.m. (CST). The first-ever NFL Pro Bowl draft will be nationally-televised on NFL Network Wednesday, Jan. 22 (7 p.m. CST) as alumni captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will pick the teams.
RELATED: TE Jason Witten fourth Dallas Cowboy added to 2014 NFL Pro Bowl
MOBILE, Ala. – Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten will now be heading to his ninth career Pro Bowl.
Witten was added to the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl on Sunday to replace Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who’s now Super Bowl bound.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith were initially the only two players selected to the Pro Bowl from the Dallas Cowboys, but Jason Hatcher (and now Witten) were additions this week. Witten’s ninth Pro Bowl appearance ties him with Randy White for the fourth-most in team history, behind only Bob Lilly, Larry Allen and Mel Renfro.
Jason Witten started all 16 games this year for the Cowboys and played in all 16 games for the 10th straight season. He finished with 73 catches for 851 yards and eight touchdowns, which marked his second-highest touchdown total of his career behind only the nine he scored in 2010.
He finished the 2013 season placing fifth in catches and yards and tied for fourth in touchdowns among all tight ends around the league.
Witten made the Pro Bowl every year from 2004-2010 and made the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season, in which he recorded a career-high 110 catches. All the other three Cowboys will be going to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Three days after back surgery, Tony Romo made it to Valley Ranch for the final team meeting.
“I think that just speaks to what he is,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Going to find a way to come in, see the guys. It was obviously an emotional time. No team stays the same. It’s just what he’s all about. I thought it was great of him to come and be here and just share this time. It’s tough, and he’s a big part of this team. That was very stand-up of him to be here in the midst of the pain I’m sure he’s in.”
Asked if he is worried about Romo’s future, Witten said the quarterback will come back better than ever next season.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough eight months for him physically,” Witten said. “But I feel confident in him. I know what he’s made of. I know how he works, I know how he competes, I know how he trains. But he’ll bounce back and be even better next year. He’ll use this time to evaluate and get healthy and provide perspective and be a better quarterback because of it. I’m confident he’ll come back. I know what he’s made of. I’ve seen it for a long time, how he goes about it, and he’ll bounce back and be better than he’s ever been. I believe that to the bottom of my heart.”
Witten said it was also an emotional week for Romo.
“Obviously, it was difficult not having him out there,” he said. “You know, it was an emotional week for him. Fighting with him every week, you go into that last game, I know it was tough for him not to be in that moment with us, leading that charge. But yeah, he’ll be back. Better than ever.”
This article contains a portion of information contained in the following video:
Jason Witten: Talks about the Cowboys 2013 seasons end
NO CHANGE, FOR THE SAKE OF CHANGE: Veterans express faith in Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett
IRVING, Texas – A third straight 8-8 season hasn’t lost the core veterans’ faith in Jason Garrett.
“When you think about the thing that he brings to the team, him being a great leader to us, motivating us, each and every week no matter what the circumstance is, he’s had three seasons where he’s been 8-8 and not part of the NFC East championship, but that lets you know that he is there,” Ware said. “We do have opportunities and we can’t forget that. He’s a great coach and I’m behind him 100 percent.”
It appears their owner/general manager feels the same way, as Jerry Jones has stated his belief in Garrett and how he’s decided to move forward with Garrett regardless of the bitter ending.
Jones said records don’t always indicate the talent of a coach. He also pointed to the fact that the Dallas Cowboys have been in position to win the division three straight years, rather than the fact that they failed to cash in on that opportunity every time.
If frustration would build on any group of players, it’s the veterans who’ve been through the consistent disappointments for years upon years. That group would include Witten, but he’s also behind his head coach entirely.
He said it’s reassuring to hear Jones’ faith in Garrett and the likelihood of the head coach sticking around. Meanwhile, six other coaches were immediately canned after a failed season, including Mike Shanahan with the NFC East rival Redskins.
“I think the guys in this locker room would do anything for Coach Garrett,” Witten said. “We’re so fortunate to have him. You want to win for each other, but you also want to win for a guy that pours everything into your football team for a head coach and gives you every opportunity.”
Witten said he understands it’s a bottom-line business, and the bottom line is the Cowboys haven’t made the playoffs with three straight opportunities in Week 17 win-or-go-home games. But he’s glad to hear from Jones that Garrett will likely have another chance to change that fate.
“That was great for me to hear and I think for our team to hear, because he’s very well respected in this locker room and guys are all in for him as the head coach,” Witten said.
From 5-3 to 8-8 to 8-8 to 8-8, it’s difficult to point to or to justify significant progress made during Garrett’s tenure as a head coach when looking at wins and losses. But while the record wouldn’t show it, Witten said there has been progress in some areas.
“Last year, we didn’t run the ball very well,” he said. “This year, we proved that we could. There’s different things. We didn’t turn the ball over very much.”
Ultimately, though, he knows the Dallas Cowboys need to find ways to not just say things need to change. He said the Cowboys have to find ways to do it and come out the other end.
Rather than focus on yet another late season defeat, Cowboys players said Garrett’s final message centered more on how proud he was of the group and to be a part of their journey. But the tone from his head coach and his owner both weren’t cheery.
“There’s a tone of disappointment from everybody because of the way we ended the season,” Ware said. “But you can’t sort of look at it and be so negative about that, knowing that you had the guys in place to get the job done but you just didn’t pull it through. There were, I don’t know, five games where we lost within either a point or two.”
In total, the 2013 Dallas Cowboys finished 2-5 in games decided by three points or fewer and 1-4 in games decided by two points or fewer.
“You’ve got to be able to look and think about, ‘What could we have done to get over that hump and win those games?’ Ware said. “That’s what you’ve got to think about this offseason and let that be the motivating factor to keep pushing.”
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.
Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Dez Bryant
The ultimate compliment to a player is when opponents focus their entire game plan in an attempt to take you out of the game for that day. There is no question when you study these games that defensive coordinators are determined to not allow Dez Bryant to take over a game.
Kansas City has been the only club this season that tried to play Bryant with single coverage and that almost got them beaten. The numbers say that despite all this attention, Bryant is still finding ways to continue to make plays, but I will also say that it has come at a price. Bryant has had to fight his rear off every snap to try and find space.
It hasn’t been easy for him and at times it has been frustrating, but these are the situations that the top receivers around the league have to deal with every day. There has never been a question of Bryant’s ability to go get the ball, but where he needs to improve his game is his ability as a route runner to work those routes against the various schemes designed to take him out of the game.
There was a time early in his career where he had no shot — now at least he has an understanding of what he needs to do to give himself a chance to succeed. Bryant is also going to need the help of the coaching staff to put himself in a better position to make plays, as well.
Need More From: Miles Austin
The medical staff made the determination to shut Miles Austin down after the Philadelphia game and attempt to get him ready for these final six games. If ever a player needed to step up on this offense and make a difference, it is Austin.
With no disrespect to Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris, the reason that Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are seeing the type of coverage that they are is because there is no threat on the outside. In regards to Williams, teams are making the rookie to have to fight playing through press coverage all day, and he just doesn’t have the knowledge of how to beat that with any consistency.
At least with Austin in the lineup, Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan can pair Austin with Bryant on the same side of the field and that will draw coverage away from Bryant. They can also use him in those bunch formations along with Witten and make teams have to play man against it or take their chances in zone.
Understandably, there is not a great deal of confidence in how well Austin’s health may hold up these last six weeks and beyond, but right now, it is the best option this offense has in trying to help them move the ball with more consistency, convert third downs and finish drives.
Austin is back on the practice field at his normal spot at the “Z,” and from all reports he’s made it through without any issues.
Six-Game Forecast: More weapons mean more pressure on defenses
We have seen some games this season where these receivers have been clutch, but also some times where they have been completely shut down.
As this offense goes, so do the receivers. Getting Austin back for this group is a huge step in the right direction in terms how it will help take coverage away from Bryant and Witten.
The more potential weapons they have on the field, the more opportunity to see them put pressure on these defenses to have to defend the entire offense. Dez Bryant is still the best option here and should continue to be, but he needs help.
That means Austin, Williams, Beasley and Harris need to step up their games as well. When this group is on, it can be hard to deal with — like it was in the final drive of the Minnesota game. For these next six games, these receivers need to find a way to be a nasty, play making group, because their postseason lives are on the line.
COWBOYS WORKING ON WRINKLES: Jason Witten confident that opportunities are coming for Dallas’ offense
Jason Witten said it’s frustrating when he and Dez Bryant get coverage that limits them, but he said the Dallas Cowboys coaches are working on wrinkles to solve that.
“It’s been tough with the coverage we have seen,” he said. “When the opportunities are limited, it makes it tough. We will work through that. The bye comes at a good time to get guys healthy and review and try to get a couple wrinkles.”
But Witten said it’s not up to the system as much as the players.
“At times, the execution has been there. We have seen success,” Witten said. “But overall, it hasn’t been good enough. We have to do a better job of it. We feel confidence in the system and the players within the system. That’s what’s good about the system. It’s held up for a long time. We have to continue to work within it.”
Witten said Jason Garrett emphasized the opportunity the Dallas Cowboys have at the top of the NFC East.
“Obviously, we know we have to play a lot better football if we want to win this division,” Witten said. “We have a great opportunity to reflect on that and say, ‘We know we have to play better, here is how we are going to do it,’ and just execute. As an offense, our focus is to find ways to do those things. There are all kinds of wrinkles of putting guys in different situations and plays, but ultimately, us executing this system we have had success in and been a powerful offense.”
Editors comment: Listen to Jason Witten’s full interview with media for more details about the Dallas Cowboys plans during the bye-week. Same advice applies to any video posted here, including the one below. Enjoy!
Dallas Cowboys play caller Bill Callahan – 3rd down issues; consistency (4:28)
CHANNELING THE X-FACTOR: Jason Garrett has talk with Dez Bryant; team appreciates his passion and emotion (Special Feature)
Jason Garrett talked to Dez Bryant after Sunday’s game, encouraging the receiver to put his passion and emotion to better use than with sideline outbursts.
“You talk to him very direct, man-to-man and you just say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get locked in on what’s happening,’” Garrett said on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM 105.3. “We appreciate the passion, the enthusiasm. That’s what we want from all of our players. The great players have that, the great teams have that, but you just have to focus it and channel it. He understands that.”
Since Bryant received national headlines for his behavior on the sideline Sunday, including criticism from analyst Brian Billick during the telecast, the Cowboys repeatedly have defended Bryant, insisting his emotional outbursts are not a distraction.
TV cameras twice caught sideline rants by Bryant. In the third quarter, Bryant appeared to be expressing his displeasure at not getting the ball more. Tony Romo targeted Bryant six times in the game, with Bryant catching three passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
After the Lions scored with 12 seconds left, Bryant had a heated exchange with teammates Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, who said they were trying to calm down Bryant and get him focused for the final play.
“I know everybody wants to read into Dez’s emotion on the sidelines, but contrary to popular belief, he’s not as negative as you would think over there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on his radio show on KRLD-FM 105.3. “He’s not every time that happens, saying, ‘Give me the ball! Give me the ball! Give me the ball!’ He’s encouraging in his way. Obviously, everyone has their opinion, and they’ll have that. But Dez will be fine.
“…It’s not an issue. The only thing Jason Witten was telling him, ‘Get your mind right here. We may have to get back out and try a Hail Mary.’ …Dez is highly competitive. He really wants to win the game. Winning is important to him.”
Editors note: Bill Billick was selected in the 11th round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers but was cut by the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, and never played in the NFL. Billick coached for the Minnesota Vikings from 1992-1998, and was the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007.
RELATED: Dez Bryant explains his sideline emotions
Dez Bryant wants to make it perfectly clear: He is a team player who wants nothing except to win.
Bryant talked for some 15 minutes Monday, explaining his sideline behavior that drew national attention during the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-30 loss tot he Lions. He said he is misunderstood outside the locker room.
“I think for the most part, all of my teammates, they know,” Bryant said. “They know how much I love this game. They know we compete; we battle; we go hard. It’s all about wanting to win. But I honestly feel – me speaking for myself – that’s the kind of attitude you have to have to try to get where you want to go.”
The Cowboys have defended Bryant, whom TV cameras caught ranting on the sideline twice.
The first came in the third quarter after a Tony Romo incompletion on a pass intended for Dwayne Harris on third down, leading to a field goal and a 13-7 lead. Bryant yelled at Romo, receivers coach Derek Dooley and head coach Jason Garrett, none of whom seemed to pay him much attention.
Bryant said he was not demanding the ball, though he had only two catches for 22 yards to that point.
“It wasn’t directly to [Romo],” Bryant said. “It was like, ‘Our defense, they’re getting turnovers. We’ve got to help them out.’ I’m saying that to everybody, including myself. We’ve got to help them out.”
After the Lions scored to take the lead with 12 seconds remaining, Bryant and tight end Jason Witten were seen yelling at each other with defensive end DeMarcus Ware stepping in calm Bryant. Witten and Bryant both said the tight end was trying to get Bryant to focus on the task at hand, which was a final offensive play.
Bryant said his relationship with Romo and Witten remains solid.
“All Witt was doing was trying to get me focused and get me ready for the next play,” Bryant said. “I was just kind of heated, because they scored. As far as Romo, I know you all got sound bites and stuff on these cameras, I mean, or whatever, if you go back and look at it what I was saying to Romo, Terrance [Williams] just scored a touchdown and I was like, ‘They’re going to play him like that, keep throwing him the ball.’ From all the good stuff that was going on, go look at it. I had the same demeanor, the same demeanor. It was just one of those guys to where you know, we’ve got to win this game.”
Jason Garrett talked to his fourth-year receiver about Bryant better channeling his emotions.
“We love the passion,” Garrett said Monday. “We love the enthusiasm. Just got to keep the focus. We addressed it with him during the game. We addressed it with afterward. And he is going to be ready to go.”
Bryant said he has no regrets and will continue to wear his emotions on his jersey.
“No regrets,” he said. “It’s all love. Like I said, I know it looks crazy, but I promise you all it’s not.”
RELATED: Dez Bryant passionate about winning
Dez Bryant is not going to apologize for his antics on the sidelines. He’s a passionate and emotional player who is driven to win. Something, he said, that has been going on since he first stepped on a football field.
So, yes, he’s going to get into animated and sometimes heated conversations. He had a couple with quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten in the second half of the Cowboys’ 31-30 loss to the Lions on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
And there will be more throughout his career.
“I love this game. I love my teammates,” Bryant said. “That’s what it is. It’s going to forever remain the same. It started in Pop Warner, went to middle school, went to high school, went to college, and it’s here. It’s going to stay that way. It won’t change.”
Nobody in the Cowboys’ locker room has any issues with Bryant wearing his heart on his sleeve. Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and his teammates all approved of it in a positive light, saying passion is necessary to succeed in the NFL.
Here’s some reaction on Bryant’s sideline antics:
Jason Witten: “He has more passion than anyone I’ve ever played with. That’s a good thing to have. With 12 seconds left, we were all upset but there was still time left. I tried to communicate that. There was more football to play. We were going to get the ball back and the play we had drawn up, he was a big part of that play. We were trying to get him to calm down because we were going to try to get him the ball on that play.”
Tony Romo: “He’s a competitive guy. … He’s never complained to me about getting the ball. He knows the ball is going to where it’s supposed to. He knows that. I think more than anything it’s about him willing the team. When you guys see emotion sometimes from Dez, it’s just rah rah more than it is being a me guy. That’s not who Dez is. I think that would be completely out of character for him for it to be a me situation. He does a great job…sometimes, it’s come on guys, we’re better than this, really emotionally. But he’s never a selfish guy.”
Jason Garrett: “Dez is a very passionate player. He is a very competitive player. He gets a lot of attention from the opposing defenses. He wanted the football. We want guys who want the football. Dez has never been a distraction to our team. He is a really positive asset to our team on the field and off. The way he works. The passion for the game. That is good stuff.”
Jerry Jones: “That’s emotion and I don’t place any issue on his demeanor or his sideline activity. He’s a very emotional player and this was a tough game for him to compete in because he wanted to really contribute and do everything he could for the team and to win. I have no issue at all in terms of criticizing him for sideline demeanor or sideline behavior.”
Related: Dez Bryant sideline audio (1:53) – (Watch Video)
Want to find out what Dez Bryant says during his sideline appeals vs. the Detroit Lions? Watch and listen as he interacts with quarterback Tony Romo, players, and Dallas Cowboys coaches.
Dez Bryant spoke to the media on Monday for an extended period of time to try to clear up what happened on the sideline on Sunday.
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys players and coaches had plenty of time to organize their thoughts of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff in the hours between his release Wednesday and Thursday’s open locker room session.
Aside from the medical and financial implications surrounding Ratliff’s release, members throughout the Cowboys organization were quick to point out the defensive tackle’s value and impact within the playing field.
Ratliff appeared in 104 games and started 85 as a seventh round pick by the Cowboys in 2005. He notched 27 sacks and 317 total tackles in his eight seasons with the team. His efforts earned him four straight Pro Bowl trips from 2008-11 and established him as one of the league’s best 3-4 nose tackles in that time period.
“Heck of a player — I keep going back to that, because he played the right way for the Cowboys. He was always a guy who practiced hard, he played hard, the game was important to him. Anybody that was around him knows the demeanor that he played with,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “He was an intimidating figure. He was an incredibly productive player for us, a Pro Bowl player, and a great example to his teammates about how to play the game.”
Of any teammate that saw that example, DeMarcus Ware stands out. Following Ratliff’s release, Ware is the final member of the Cowboys’ 2005 draft class on the roster – Ware was taken 11th overall, in the first round, while Ratliff’s seventh round selection came all the way at No. 224.
Ware said it’s odd looking around the locker room and seeing only long snapper L.P. Ladouceur remaining from the team’s 2005 rookie class.
“When you talk about just the business of the game, things happen for certain reasons, reasons I don’t know. You’ve just got to keep playing,” Ware said. “He came in with me. I feel like now, me and L.P., we’re the last Mohicans here. You’ve just got to look at it as a business. I know Jay, he’s going to end up going to another team because he’s a great player like that.”
Having spent nine seasons on the defensive line with him, Ware is well qualified to talk about Ratliff, but several other Cowboys veterans had thoughts to offer.
As of Thursday afternoon, Ratliff’s locker had yet to be cleaned out. Jason Witten, whose locker sits our feet away, said he’ll remember the high level of play evidenced by the Pro Bowl sticker’s adorning Ratliff’s area.
“He’s a guy I’ve known for a long time. We played together a long time – a core group of us, and he’s a guy you wanted on your side on Sundays, that’s for sure,” Witten said.
In Ratliff’s official statement, delivered by his agent Mark Slough on Wednesday, he was sure to thank Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones for taking the chance of drafting him. In addressing the decision to release him Thursday, Jones repaid those thanks to the veteran.
“You know, I have a long history of having an appreciation for guys who give it up and work and play through pain, and I do with Jay. So it is disappointing that that great career of his has to end. As it turns out, all great players have to have a time,” Jones said. “Now, his career has maybe not ended, but I know he gave us great effort. He’s a tremendous competitor. I don’t look at anything but positives, I really don’t. We needed him when we had him, and we need him now that we don’t have him. But that’s just not the way it is – that’s the reality of it. We do, as I certainly would, wish him the very best and a speedy rehab and hope for him that he has more career.” (Watch video | Play audio)
RELATED: Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones discuss details of Jay Ratliff’s release
IRVING, Texas – One day after their decision to release Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys spoke about the implications and issues surrounding the move.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, as well as coach Jason Garrett spoke to the media about the past year of uncertainty around Ratliff. Jones said the decision to release the veteran involved a number of variables – most notably, consideration of the salary cap and the team’s prospects this season.
“This was a decision that certainly had salary cap implications – every decision does in this day and time,” Jones said. “But it also had immediate consideration for what it’s going to mean for this season, and we’re excited about what our opportunities are here. So both of those things were part of this decision.”
The decision to cut Ratliff will save the team the cost of paying him had he been moved to the injured reserve. That raises the question of why the Cowboys placed him on the Physically Unable to Perform List to start the season. But Garrett said he still had hope of using Ratliff after he strained his hamstring during his pre-training camp conditioning test.
“I think you’re always hopeful about the health of every player and you make designations accordingly,” he said. “I can give you 50 examples of decisions we’ve made as to when to put someone on IR and why, when to put someone on PUP and why, and when to keep someone on the active roster and why. That was the decision we made.”
The matter of Ratliff’s debilitating injury, not the hamstring strain but the one suffered against Cleveland in 2012, remains confusing. Mark Slough, Ratliff’s agent, said Wednesday that his client’s lower body injury had been mischaracterized as a sports hernia, when it in fact involved severe ligament and muscle damage.
Neither Jones nor Garrett would speak in specifics, as a matter of legal obligations. But both supported the reliability of the team’s medical staff in its evaluations.
“I can’t comment on the medical aspects of this thing. Without being trite, I don’t want to be because this is not a trite matter,” Jones said. “It’s a sad matter, because we do need him and he wants to be out competing and helping his teammates and helping us win. But I can’t operate in a world where I go back and take today’s information and apply it to decisions made one year ago.”
Garrett added: “We have a tremendous amount of confidence in our medical staff, and the only way that I can answer that is injuries are challenging and you don’t always know how a player’s
going to respond. The ability for him to come back in a timely manner – you make a lot of highly educated guesses about the status of a player based on the player, based on what the injury is, what particular position he may play. So you’re always doing that. We do that every day.”
That extends to the conditioning test, which both Garrett and Jones said is only ever performed at the discretion of the player involved. Again, though, few specifics were provided.
IRVING, Texas — A day apart in September of 2011, the Dallas Cowboys signed DT Jay Ratliff and TE Jason Witten to five-year contract extensions.
Each player had two years remaining on his deal at the time, but the Cowboys wanted to reward the Pro Bowl performers with new contracts in hopes that they would retire with the club. The Cowboys also received some salary-cap relief in the early part of the contracts even though it cost them up-front cash.
Yesterday, Ratliff was cut by the Dallas Cowboys amid acrimony stemming from a groin injury suffered last season that is still bothering him today. Witten, meanwhile, was on the practice field getting ready for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The adage that has been repeated by many lately is you don’t pay age in the NFL. Well, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.
Ratliff had just turned 30 when he signed and was entering his seventh season. Witten turned 29 a few months before signing but was entering his ninth season
The Cowboys did not get a return on Ratliff on the most recent extension. He played in only 22 games after signing on Sept. 9, 2011. He recorded only two sacks and seven tackles for loss.
And now he’s gone.
Witten, now 31, has not missed a game, playing through a lacerated spleen early last season, and has 220 catches for 2,321 yards and 11 touchdowns since the extension. Last year, he set an NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end with 110 and played in his eighth Pro Bowl.
And still he plays on.
CLIMBING THE CHARTS: Jason Witten passes Shannon Sharpe, moving into second among TEs in career catches
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten moved up on the league’s tight end charts, passing Shannon Sharp with his 815th career catch.
Witten considers it an “honor” to be in the same company as Tony Gonzalez, Sharpe and Ozzie Newsome.
“It’s special,” Witten said. “A lot of these that I’ve been able to achieve, it’s a lot of guys I have a lot of respect for. I really think for any tight end around my age, Shannon Sharpe was the guy you looked to in Denver. Him and Elway with what they were able to achieve. To pass him, that was pretty special and definitely humbling for sure. At this point, it’s not about that. You just hope that you can be some small piece of this puzzle that helps win games and compete for a championship.”
Witten has 817 catches. He trails only Gonzalez, who has 1,249. Witten ranks third among tight ends in career receiving yards with 9,030. He trails only Gonzalez (14,337) and Sharpe (10,060).
ARLINGTON, Texas – The practice was very much the same, but the venue could not have been more different.
The Cowboys went through the Silver and Blue Debut on Thursday night – the final full practice before Saturday’s preseason home opener. But while the past month’s practices have taken place on humble practice fields in Oxnard, Calif., and Valley Ranch, Thursday’s show took place on the grand stage of AT&T Stadium.
“It’s fun, you know, it really is. This is a great building,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We all feel very fortunate to be able to play and coach in it. It’s probably as good a stadium as there is on the planet. To be able to come here to practice and play our games here is really special.”
It was a typical practice for a team that’s 48 hours away from the toughest action of the preseason – the second-to-last preseason game is typically referred to as the dress rehearsal. The Cowboys practices in shorts and shirts with no pads, working primarily on timing and fine-tuning.
But pregame, non-contact practices don’t typically take place in front of such a crowd. Over10,000 fans attended the event, not to mention a plethora of Cowboys alumni from Roger Staubach and Mel Renfro to Larry Brown and Jay Novacek.
The opportunity is one Garrett said the Cowboys need to be mindful of.
“A couple of years ago we had training camp here for a couple weeks, and I think the guys really, really enjoyed being here,” Garrett said. “It’s just a fantastic facility, and I think every time you go out there you just remind yourself how fortunate we are to be a part of it.”
Despite the routine nature of the workout, the atmosphere amped the anticipation up a bit. Even tight end Jason Witten, with 10 years and four seasons at AT&T Stadium under his belt, could feel it.
Witten said a practice in the home stadium lets him know the season is almost here.
“It always knows it’s just right around the corner when you’re here,” he said. “You see the excitement in the fans and the alumni, and you get that feeling. I think every year, as a player, there’s always that time when you know you’re getting close. This is kind of the kick off for that.”
It wouldn’t be the NFL if there weren’t some competitive advantage to something as routine as a practice. AT&T Stadium had a new turf field put down during July, and Garrett said it was nice to give the team some experience on the new carpet before game day.
“It’s good for us to be able to get out there, run around a little bit and have a real football practice instead of just walking around on it or jogging around on it before the game,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing for our team to be able to take advantage of.”
The full opulence of AT&T Stadium wasn’t even on display for the Silver and Blue Debut. The stadium staff was still working on game mechanics, and only the building’s lower level was filled.
That said, Garrett noted the value of an in-stadium practice before the Cowboys kick off against the Bengals – especially the team’s newcomers.
“One of the real positives of coming over here today is that they get a chance to see it, and some of the awe factor goes away a little bit,” Garrett said. “When they come back on Saturday, they’re ready to go to work and play a ball game – that’s an added benefit of practicing here tonight.”
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media for the final time from training camp in Oxnard, California.
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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.
CANTON, Ohio – Head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t going to let the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen miss the induction of Larry Allen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Garrett brought all of his team’s offensive linemen, as well as select veterans on the team to watch Allen’s speech as he was inducted a day before the Cowboys are set to play in the Hall of Fame Game.
Left tackle Tyron Smith was just five years old when Allen won his Super Bowl with the Cowboys in January 1996, so needless to say he only watched Allen sparingly growing up. But Smith quickly learned what Allen meant to the team.
“I didn’t learn much about him until I got with the Cowboys,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience to be here, and I definitely didn’t want to miss it.”
The experience was just as great for the young undrafted players and backup offensive linemen in attendance. First-year tackle Edawn Coughman, who’d never been to the Hall of Fame before, said words couldn’t express how he felt to walk through the Hall of Fame and watch Allen get inducted.
“It’s a great honor,” Coughman said. “I watched him a lot when I was younger. I’m excited to see this man in person. I’m elated.”
Jason Garrett wanted to make sure the majority of his veteran starters and the players on the team who knew Allen got to see the induction.
The list of veteran players at the ceremony included Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant,Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Jason Hatcher,DeMarcus Ware, Danny McCray, LP Ladouceur, Will Allen, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.
You can hear a lot of things at training camp.
You don’t often hear Jason Witten’s voice ringing out in anger from the huddle: “Shut the —- up!”
But anybody within 100 yards of the huddle on Thursday heard just that. Stunned, everyone wondered, “What was that about?”
“Aw, nothing personal. It’s just part of being in the huddle,” Witten said after practice. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Well, coach Jason Garrett did say he wanted vocal leaders. Witten is vocal. But the well-respected “Senator” isn’t often vocal like that.
Of course, 12 days of camp with three to go before a game can add stress to any practice.
“Hey, look. It’s time to compete, it’s time to go,” Witten said. “Wasn’t anything personal. Just excited to be out there playing.”
Sure was a lot of excitement for one practice.
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.
Jason Garrett might give up play-calling duties to Bill Callahan. Then, again, maybe he won’t. Both Garrett and Callahan spoke to the media this week, but it remains a mystery about who will actually call the plays for the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas tight end Jason Witten said it’s not about who calls the plays, but how they are executed. The Cowboys were sixth in total offense last season, but they were only 15th in scoring.
“I think more’s been made of that than probably needs to be as far as a player’s perspective just because it’s all about execution for us,” Witten said Friday night in Fort Worth. “We’ve got to execute those plans better. We’ve got good plays, and we’ve got some good players, but we’ve got to do a good enough job of executing time and time again. That’s where I focus is on as players, I think, and that’s where it needs to be moving forward.”
The Cowboys offense is expected to look much the same as it has since Garrett became the offensive coordinator in 2007 regardless whether he or Callahan is calling the plays.
The Cowboys hope to run the ball better. They were 31st in rushing, with a franchise-low 1,265 yards for a 16-game season. They need to protect it better, too, having turned it over 29 times, and they want to score more points in the red zone (25 touchdowns in 49 red-zone trips, ranking 20th in the league).
“We just need to do a better job of scoring and taking care of the ball collectively and not putting ourselves in those situations where we’re having to come from behind,” Witten said.
Witten will have a new position coach after six seasons with John Garrett. Witten had 554 catches for 6,110 yards and 30 touchdowns the past six seasons, an average of 92 receptions for 1,018 yards and five touchdowns. He set an NFL record for a tight end with 110 catches in 2012.
But John Garrett departed for Tampa Bay to become the Bucs receivers coach, and Wes Phillips was promoted from assistant offensive line coach. Phillips is the son of former Dallas head coach Wade Phillips and was retained by the Cowboys after Wade Phillips was fired.
“I am excited for Wes,” Witten said. “I think Wes breaks that label of ‘I got in because of my dad.’ He’s proven he’s a good football coach. He’s a young, fiery guy. John was a guy was near and dear to me. I think what we were able to accomplish over the last six years is special. He pushed me every day, and as good as he was as a coach, he was a better man. But Wes has been in the receiving end. He’s also been on the line. I think he’ll be a perfect mix. I’ve enjoyed working with him. I think we share a lot of the same beliefs as far as how you prepare and attack a game plan. So I’m looking forward to that opportunity.”
NFL MAN OF THE YEAR: Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten wins prestigious Walter Payton and Bart Starr awards
Jason Witten’s offseason of recognition continues.
The veteran Dallas Cowboys tight end was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year on Saturday. The award recognizes community service and playing excellence.
The announcement was made during the NFL Honors presentation, which will air on CBS at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Also this week, Witten was presented the Bart Starr Award for outstanding character and leadership in the community, at home and on the field. Last weekend, he made his eighth Pro Bowl game appearance.
“I am extremely flattered to be chosen the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year from such an esteemed group of nominees,” Witten said in a statement released by the Cowboys. “I work hard every day not only to be a success on the football field and a credit to my team – but to be a good husband, father, son, grandson, teammate, to be the kind of man that is as respected as Walter Payton was.
“Like others before me, I have a great opportunity as an NFL player to make a difference in the lives of others. It is honestly humbling to be recognized in such a manner for simply doing what I feel is right and human. I am fortunate to have a great support system in my family, the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL which allows me to make an impact in the communities and with people who love our game.”
Jarrett and Brittney Payton, the son and daughter of the late Payton, will recognize Witten’s award on the field before the kickoff of Super Bowl XLVII.
Witten, who finished his 10th season last year with the Cowboys, set an NFL record for catches in a season by a tight end last year. Off the field, he has served as the Cowboys’ spokesman for NFL Play 60 and has his own charity, Jason Witten’s SCORE Foundation, which has started many programs and funded building projects in Texas and his native Tennessee.
The Witten SCORE Foundation’s SCOREkeepers program has placed full-time, trained male mentors in six battered women’s shelters throughout Texas in an attempt to stop a cycle of family violence. The foundation’s latest domestic violence prevention program, “Coaching Boys Into Men,” trains high school coaches to educate their players on the dangers of dating violence.
The Witten’s also involve their children in serving a Thanksgiving meal to the clients at the Salvation Army in Dallas, underwrite the Dallas Cowboys Women’s Association’s Christmas of Giving, and Witten’s free football camp in Tennessee draws some 1,200 campers each year.
Recent winners of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award include Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens, Madieu Williams of the Minnesota Vikings (2010) and Brian Waters of the Kansas City Chiefs (2009). Seventeen Hall of Fame players have won the award.
All 32 team nominees received a $1,000 donation from NFL Foundation to the charity of their choice. The three Man of the Year finalists received an additional $5,000 donation in their name. As the winner, Witten receives an additional $20,000 donation.
The selection panel was comprised of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Munoz, 2011 winner Matt Birk and Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King.
ETERNAL CONFIDENENCE: From Pro Bowl, Jason Witten displays optimism for the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys
Last year, it was Jason Witten who told reporters before the start of training camp that it “can’t be the same’ ol story” in 2012.
In reality, it was the sequel to 2011, about as similar as Hangover and Hangover 2. And now the Cowboys must figure out how to cure this hangover as well this year and not go down another 8-8 road where they miss the playoffs on the final week of the season.
At the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, a game that seemed to have better quality of play this year although it was still a scoring-fest, Witten wasn’t a big factor in the NFC’s 62-35 win. He had two catches for 12 yards as one of two Cowboys in the game. Anthony Spencer, playing most as a linebacker in a 4-3 scheme and wasn’t allowed to blitz, had a pair of tackles. Actually, Witten’s backup in the game, Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph, won MVP honors with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.
But after the game, Witten was asked about the Cowboys’ chances of turning things around this year. And like always, the eternal optimist sounded confident – not only that things can get better next year, but the right people are in place.
In one 30-second answer on the field, Witten referenced the three people who have been taken the most criticism in the last year and last few seasons as well.
“Well it’s any time you don’t make the playoffs, it’s challenging,” Witten said. “I think we have a great head coach in Jason Garrett, and obviously great ownership – the Jones family – you trust they’re going to get you back to the top. It’s a commitment. It’s a tough league. But we have the right people – great leader in Tony (Romo). Hopefully we’ll bounce back and be better in 2013.”
At least Witten shares the same sentiments as most fans and critics of this team. The simple reference “bounce back” after an 8-8 season suggests 2012 wasn’t just a year that had some good and some bad. It’s a year where the Cowboys simply failed to get to their destination – once again.
He calls Romo a “great leader” but it’s Witten, and that attitude, is something these Cowboys need to adopt and follow.