LINEBACKER SHAMBLES AND GAMBLES: Bruce Carter expected to return; Rookie may start at MLB | Cowboys Cross-Training
IRVING, Texas – There isn’t a spot on the team more in shambles than at linebacker.
Earlier in the season, it was the defensive line, a position that has seen nearly 20 different players take the field at some point.
But it’s never been as bad as it was, or is right now, at linebacker.
What the Dallas Cowboys finished with Sunday against the Packers should be worse than what they will play with this week in Washington. The main reason for that is the availability of Bruce Carter, who all but guaranteed he will play this Sunday, despite missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury.
Not only playing, but Carter is expected to wear the defensive headset in his helmet, something the Cowboys played most of the second half without last week against the Packers. Carter will make the defensive line calls despite staying at weak-side linebacker.
That means DeVonte Holloman, a rookie who had missed five straight games until last week with a neck injury, and a player who played both outside linebacker and safety in college, will be the Dallas Cowboys starting middle linebacker this week.
Holloman has played other positions before in his collegiate and high school days, but never in the middle. He’ll get that shot Sunday with perhaps the season on the line for the Cowboys.
So what’s the hardest thing for Holloman?
“Knowing what to look for before it happens. Guys have been in the fire before, they can see things coming a lot faster than guys that are just thrown out there or their first time out there,” he said. “Just seeing a couple things before they come at you.”
Holloman was thrown into action last week after both Justin Durant and Ernie Sims left the game against the Packers. And because both players had the headsets, it left Holloman having to get relayed signals from the coaches on the sideline.
“Hopefully we’ll have a guy with a microphone this time and we won’t have to do too many signals,” Holloman said. “Bruce will have the mic to start, and I’ll be the backup with it.”
Durant has been placed on IR with a hamstring injury and it’s unlikely Sims (hip/groin) will play. The Cowboys signed Orie Lemon to the roster and will get rookie Cameron Lawrence ready as well. Lawrence had to play most of the second half on the outside.
They certainly can’t afford any more injuries at linebacker. The team is preparing to play again without Sean Lee, who is dealing with a neck injury that likely keeps him out the rest of the regular season.
As for Carter, who missed one game already due to his hamstring, he knows both time and linebackers are running out.
“We understand we don’t have really any depth right now at linebacker, so if we can get guys back healthy like me, try to get Ernie there, he’s been banged up,” Carter said. “We just need to get anybody, really.”
And while Carter’s season hasn’t lived up to the high expectations set for him in the offseason, he knows he has a job to do, especially if he’s the only experienced starter out there, with Kyle Wilber on the strong side.
“My job is to try to lead the defense to a victory and just play as good as we can. When things get out of hand, try to get everybody to calm down and just try to get back to our game plan and play sound,” Carter said. “I’m up for the challenge. I know what’s ahead of me. We’ve just got to go out there and execute.”
And facing the Redskins won’t be easy, simply because of the way they run the football. Washington ranks third in the league at 140.9 rushing yards per game. Even with Kirk Cousins now in for Robert Griffin III, the Redskins will still rely on Alfred Morris, who ranks fifth in the league at 1,125 rushing yards.
RELATED: Cross-Training allows the Cowboys to shift linebackers during roster crisis
IRVING, Texas – To the Cowboys, the term “cross-training” means learning multiple positions to be ready at a moment’s notice.
They’ve put that term to full use this year. Head coach Jason Garrett said it was essential particularly in training camp to cross-train the linebackers, and that could pay off now with all the mixing and matching to adjust for injuries.
“Sometimes you do it out of necessity in training camp to get through a practice or get through a preseason game,” Garrett said. “But you always want to cross-train your guys because it’s a long season. We understand that injuries happen.”
DeVonte Holloman’s getting set to start at middle linebacker for the first time in his career. Next to him on one side will be Bruce Carter, who many thought would shift to the middle after Sean Lee’s injury, considering he’s gotten experience there before.
Next to Holloman on the other side at strong side linebacker is Kyle Wilber, who began the year as a defensive end. Justin Durant, who played middle linebacker last week, had started the year as a strong side linebacker.
“Sometimes you can’t just simply put the next guy in,” Garrett said. “You have to find the next best guy from somewhere else. So we have done that in the past and it’s benefiting us now.”
That goes to show just how much versatility has been necessary for a defense searching for any possible answers at the tail end of the season.
Holloman said he’s been learning middle linebacker all season, but he never played the position before coming to the Cowboys. He was used to playing more of a hybrid safety/linebacker role in college.
“Coming from a safety to a hybrid guy and then finally playing linebacker, I’ve been learning since I got here, so it’s not much different,” Holloman said.
Holloman was forced into action last week after injuries to Durant and Ernie Sims. That was a tough circumstance for Holloman, but the brief experience he had earlier in the year helped out some.
“We all cross-train each others’ positions, so I was familiar with it, but I hadn’t done it,” Holloman said. “It was going out there and just learning on the fly.”
Garrett hopes Holloman can take what he learns from this experience moving forward.
“He’s a smart guy, he cares about football and he works very hard at it,” Garrett said. “Like some of the other young guys we’re talking about, he’ll learn from the experiences. When you get a chance to play Mike for the first time in the NFL, he’ll go back and reflect on those 60, 70 plays that he was in there and he’ll learn from them because he goes about it the right way. I think it was a good experience for him. He did a lot of good things, and hopefully he can build on that.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said earlier this week he can’t worry about what personnel is on the field for the Cowboys, because in the NFL it’s such a common occurrence for one player to go down and another to have to step up and that everyone’s in the league for a reason.
With his band of backups, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he still has confidence in his group with only two regular season games remaining to turn things around.
“You go in your defensive room and split up and away you go,” Kiffin said. “You ain’t walking, get your heads up, let’s go. That’s the way it works. There ain’t no pouting around. We’ll be ready to play.”
THE NEXT MAN UP: Jason Garrett’s 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys find a way to win, even without centerpiece Sean Lee on the field
The Dallas Cowboys are 2-0 without Sean Lee in the middle of the defense, but it’s not like his influence has not been felt.
DeMarcus Ware said Lee remains a big presence everywhere except the field, continuing to work with his replacement, Ernie Sims, like a coach.
“When you have guys like Lee still in there, in the meeting rooms, still teaching Ernie what to do – everybody in this league is athletic – but if you can instill what you do mentally first, especially like Sean Lee, he’s showing them so many things and what to key on, and they’ve gotten better,” Ware said after the Thanksgiving Day victory against Oakland. “He’s still there, but just in another person’s body, of Ernie’s or whatever.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Lee has been missed, but there have been benefits.
“It caused us to do some moving around a little bit,” he said. “It’s probably caused us to see Wilber, who was steady against the Giants and again tonight. That may be a blessing for us.”
Lee said the defense has played “fantastic” without him.
“I think it shows you have a lot of guys who have worked hard, who have stepped up – guys like Kyle Wilber and Ernie Sims, who put in a ton of work,” he said. “And you have to give them a ton of credit, because they’ve been a huge reason why we’ve been able to win these two football games.”
Sean Lee said he is on track to play in the next game, Dec. 9 at Chicago.
IRVING, Texas – Forget three or four weeks. DeMarcus Ware might still be playing this weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Dallas Cowboys’ all-time sack leader doesn’t know his status yet, but he’ll travel with the team on the flight to Philadelphia, and he thinks he’ll be a game-day decision. He said he doesn’t need to practice this week to remain a possibility to play.
“I’m not going to be out three or four weeks,” Ware said. “I don’t know where that came from, but somebody said it. My recovery’s pretty fast, and I’m feeling pretty good today.”
Ware has never missed a game in his career, despite suffering hamstring, shoulder and elbow injuries last year and dealing with stinger problems this season. The latest thigh injury had many thinking he’d be out multiple weeks, but he said he’s already started running and will continue to work off to the side at practice before the ultimate decision is made.
He admitted the leg is still sore, but he’s continuing to get treatment and believes he’ll be in proper shape if he’s able to go this weekend. Ware said he can’t worry too much about his remarkable games played streak, which sits at 134.
“I think when you look at it, the bigger picture is always important,” Ware said. “You don’t want to ever be defined as just a number. You want to be somebody that when you get out there, you’re wreaking havoc and playing. If I can do that this week, I’m going to get out there and play.”
In addition to running, Ware said he can also plant and cut. It wouldn’t really be a surprise to see him return to action and play, despite the initial prognosis.
Ware’s iron man streak of consecutive games played continued even after getting carted off the field with a neck injury in 2009 that left him temporarily motionless. He played six days later against the Saints after missing practice throughout that week.
“I know that I can get through injuries, but you never can (predict) what one injury’s worse than another,” Ware said. “Each week, just like I took it with that injury, you’ve got to take it that whole week and make a game-day decision.”
He said he needs to weigh the importance of being on the field this week against the potential for future harm. He said he needs to be able to run, pass-rush and change direction with ease, particularly considering the speed at which the Eagles play.
If Ware can’t go, Kyle Wilber will get the call at defensive end. Wilber went in after Ware’s injury last week, recorded a strip sack on Robert Griffin III and secured the fumble.
“Last week, when I went down, Wilber went in there and made a big play on a really great tackle,” Ware said. “I know that he can get out there and play, me just showing him a lot of things, his confidence level has boosted through the roof. You’ve got to let him keep playing that way, and I know he can get the job done.”
Wilber continues to talk to Ware as the second-year player prepares himself for a starting opportunity. Head coach Jason Garrett preaches the “next man up” philosophy, while Wilber hears from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin that everyone in the defensive room should consider himself a starter. For Wilber, it’s now time to play like one.
“It’s pressure and it’s a challenge, but it’s good pressure and a good challenge,” Wilber said. “You want to be a dependable guy, so the team looks at you like, ‘This person right here, we can count on him.’”
Wilber went from 240 pounds last year to 248 pounds this year, as he made the move from linebacker to defensive end. He said it’s difficult for him to put on weight, but eventually he’d like to be around the 255-pound mark. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik is pushing him to help reach that total.
It’s been tough for Wilber to serve as a backup since getting drafted in the fourth round in 2012. He’s accustomed to starting, and last year was particularly tough for him after getting injured because he felt like he didn’t help the team.
“You have to kind of motivate yourself,” Wilber said. “It’s kind of hard being a backup, especially behind a Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer. You’re not seeing yourself getting a lot of playing time. You definitely have to prepare yourself mentally.”
He may now get his chance to stand out on a “no-name” defensive line. Well, almost a no-name defensive line. Wilber said Jason Hatcher has become more of a household name after his five-sack start to the season.
“As long as we’ve got ‘Hatch,’ I feel like we’re good,” Wilber said. “He’s one of the best three-techniques out there.”
Wilber, however, feels like a no-namer until he demonstrates what he can do consistently. Even after his performance last week against the Redskins, he knows teams aren’t going to strategize for him, but they will have to plan for his presence.
He feels more ready than ever for a starting role if Ware can’t go, and a lot of that has to do with the star pass-rusher getting him ready.
“Definitely,” he said. “D-Ware, he’s still on me, still coaching me up. He’s making sure I can do everything.”
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer will require surgery on his left knee later this week.
An MRI confirmed a bone bruise after Spencer aggravated the knee during the team’s conditioning test Saturday. Spencer has been pained by the knee since the team’s OTAs in May and sat out the minicamp last month in hopes rest would heal it. But after this latest setback, doctors have advised minor surgery.
He is expected to be back in a few weeks, well in time for the season-opening game against the Giants. Spencer will miss valuable practice time as the Cowboys shift from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense. Spencer and DeMarcus Ware are moving from outside linebacker to defensive end.
With DE Tyrone Crawford out for the season with a torn achilles, defensive tackle Jay Ratliff on the physically unable to perform list because a strained hamstring and defensive Anthony Spencer with a bone bruise, the Cowboys acknowledge a need for help and added numbers on the defensive line.
The Cowboys will scan the waiver wire for possible additions for depth purposes but they will look to the current players on the roster to step up and help fill the void. If they need to add a veteran like John Abraham or Richard Seymour, it will be at the end of the preseason, a source said.
“Injuries provide opportunity,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have a lot of young guys who we like. Guys we want to see more of. This gives them a chance to show us what they can do.”
The Cowboys will look to guys like Cameron Sheffield to step up at end behind Spencer, DeMarcus Ware and Kyle Wilber and former Texas A&M tackle Ben Bass to fill the void inside. There is a chance Bass could get a look at end but the Cowboys are holding off on that right now.
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.”
HANDS-ON APPROACH: Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware working with instinctive DE Kyle Wilber this spring
Anthony Spencer watched Kyle Wilber fill in for him at defensive end in the OTAs and mini-camp, and he said Wilber showed instinct for the position.
“He’s quick off the ball,” Spencer said of the second-year player, drafted in 2012 as an outside linebacker but moved to defensive end in the switch to the 4-3. “He’s just got to trust in himself to get off the ball and doing that every play. Just his get-off alone makes up for a lot of his type of size, playing in the trenches. That’s what he’s definitely working on right now.”
Wilber got a chance to get first-team snaps in the offseason practices while Spencer sat out with a knee injury. It gave the Cowboys an extended look at the 6-4, 252-pound Wilber. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli has said he believes Wilber can be a speed rusher.
Spencer, speaking at the mini-camp last week at Valley Ranch, said Wilber held his own against tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free in the practices. It reminded Spencer of his days as a young edge rusher going against former Cowboys tackle Flozell Adams.
“I got my butt whipped by Flo a lot when I was a rookie and my second year,” Spencer said. “It definitely helped me develop and get to where I am right now. I tell him all the time, it happens to everybody. So it’s good for you. It’s humbling, and it gets you on the right track, definitely.”
Spencer said he and DeMarcus Ware were literally hands-on in showing Wilber everything they could about the position, much as former defensive end Greg Ellis did for them.
“When Greg was here, he would always try to help us with our hand placement. Just talking it out, it helps us at the same time, to be able to explain what we’re doing to somebody else,” Spencer said. “And it helps us to realize what we’re doing. So it helps him, it helps me at the same time, especially with me being out right now. It’s kind of like living vicariously through him right now.”
Photo: Dallas Cowboys 2012 Draft pick – Defensive End Kyle Wilber
THE DELICATE BALANCE: Veteran Anthony Hargrove adds defensive line depth, but youth must eventually take over
Currently, three of the four projected starting linemen are at least 30, and defensive end Anthony Spencer is 29.
Hargrove turns 30 in July.
The Dallas Cowboys didn’t address the defensive line in the draft but did so in free agency with the signing of Hargrove.
Jason Hatcher is in the final year of his contract, and he turns 31 in July.
Spencer, who doesn’t turn 30 until next January, is playing on the franchise tag and talks have slowed down regarding a new deal. Hatcher and Spencer could play elsewhere in 2014.
As for Jay Ratliff, the defensive tackle who will battle centers and guards this season, he will turn 32 in August. Do you remember the man Ratliff replaced? Jason Ferguson was 32 when he suffered an arm injury early in the 2007 season, opening the door for Ratliff to become the full-time starter. Health and age dooms NFL players all the time.
Ratliff is coming off an injury-filled 2012 season and it’s assumed this could be his last season with the Cowboys given his age and how his health betrayed him last season.
DeMarcus Ware isn’t going anywhere. Ware, however, turns 31 in July and is coming back from shoulder surgery and a dislocated elbow.
Age isn’t on the Cowboys’ side when it comes to the defensive line. While it’s good to have Hargrove provide depth as someone who can play end and tackle in the 4-3, the future is uncertain for this position.
Based on the offseason moves by the Cowboys, the defensive line is geared for the here and now, not for the future. The Cowboys had a chance to address the defensive line in the draft but expressed support for what they currently have.
That’s fine, but at some point youth must take over.
IRVING, Texas – Kyle Wilber’s switch from outside linebacker to defensive end has resulted in a weight gain this offseason.
“Right now I’m 255,” Wilber said. “The coaches tell me ‘Keep your speed. You don’t need to get bigger. If you’re 260 and still have your speed, that’s fine with me,’ but I’m perfect where I’m at right now.”
Wilber weighed 243 pounds last year as a rookie. His season was slowed first by a broken finger suffered in the rookie minicamp that cut short his offseason work and then by a broken thumb suffered in a preseason game.
“It definitely set me back a lot not being out there, not being able to learn,” Wilber said. “I came back three weeks into the season and I missed a great opportunity to make strides to get better. This year hopefully will be a lot better.”
Wilber will be moving back to a position he played at Wake Forest and he will still be learning from DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
“My hand was on the ground at Wake,” he said. “I don’t feel like there’s much difference in comparing the 3-4 to the 4-3 because our outside linebackers we were basically defensive ends but I was standing up in a two-point. It’s less dropping for us now.”
The Dallas Cowboys had a first-round grade on Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. He was probably the top player on the Cowboys’ draft board when they were supposed to pick at No. 18 in the first round. But they chose to trade back and Floyd went to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23.
So why have him on the board?
Well, because they liked Floyd as a player but some in the organization weren’t sold on how he’d fit into their new 4-3 scheme.
Judging solely off the body language of Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and assistant director of player personnel Tom Ciskowski, trading back and missing out on a player like Floyd wasn’t the unanimous decision.
Ciskowski doesn’t have final say on the players the Cowboys draft. He presents information to the team and it’s up to Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and the coaching staff to ultimately make the decision.
“I think in a lot of cases, it’s kind of like a bridge,” Ciskowski told the G-Bag Nation show on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “We bring the players to the bridge and the coaches have to take them across. The main thing is just to communicate exactly what the coach wants. There was a defensive tackle from Georgia, John Jenkins, who as a matter of fact, was drafted by New Orleans. If we were still in the 3-4, we would’ve liked him as a nose [tackle]. But now that we’ve transitioned back to a 4-3, he really doesn’t fit what we’re looking for. So a lot of it is about the new coach educating us on what he wants at each position and it’s our job to go out and find it.”
What also factors in to the Cowboys not drafting Floyd at No. 18 is that the franchise feels good about the defensive linemen on the current roster. As of right now, the Cowboys have DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer starting on the ends with Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher on the inside. The top two reserves at tackle will likely be Sean Lissemore and Tyrone Crawford.
“I like our group, I really do,” Ciskowski said. “Between Spencer and Ware and then we got the guys inside in Ratliff and Hatcher and two young players who have shown great flash in Lissemore and Crawford. Then we have some other guys that have done some good things but they’re somewhat untested. A lot of teams go into the season with five players they feel good about, maybe six. And I think we’re at that level, and we might find another one in the group.”
Kyle Wilber, a fourth-round draft pick last year, has been moved to defensive end and could see time behind Spencer and Ware.
Editors note: To listen to the show, click HERE.
MOBILE, Ala. – The switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense will come into effect next season for the Cowboys.
Now the challenge becomes fitting the current personnel into that scheme, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and owner/GM Jerry Jones aren’t concerned about growing pains or the subsequent changes that alteration could cause for the Dallas defenders.
“I think the personnel, looking at it, we looked at some things that might fit a 4-3,” Kiffin said. “I don’t believe we were going to hire a 4-3 coach. I don’t think that was ever the plans for Coach (Jason) Garrett. He just wanted to get the coach he thought would fit.”
That coach would be Kiffin, and now the job of fitting people into place belongs in large part to the defensive coordinator. He must figure out which players are suited best for a move to the 4-3, the same way he did masterfully in his 13 seasons as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator. The head coach for the Bucs at that time was Tony Dungy, who said he thought it might take a couple years and drafts before Kiffin gets the right personnel for his scheme in Dallas.
Kiffin isn’t planning to wait that long for his defense to work.
“We were starting from scratch there at Tampa Bay,” Kiffin said. “It’s a process, but we want to hit it running. This isn’t a rebuilding four or five-year plan type deal. So hopefully we can get the process, speed it up a little bit.”
It’s possible Kiffin slightly tweaks his schemes to fit the Cowboys’ defense, which isn’t completely foreign to using four down linemen. As Jones mentioned, this defense has utilized more of a hybrid scheme in recent seasons than a straight 3-4.
“In training camp last year, I was asking some of the coaches, I said, ‘OK, let’s identify what we are,’ and they just wouldn’t go there,” Jones said. “They said, ‘We’re a combination of 4-3 and 3-4.”
Kiffin said it’s the coaches’ job to be able to fit his players into whatever defense he wants to call. He said a good coach should be able to lead any scheme.
“I totally believe that,” Kiffin said. “You could run a 4-4. As long as you’ve got 11 guys. Just make sure you don’t have 12. If you have 10, you’re not very smart.”
The Cowboys have utilized the 3-4 defense since Bill Parcells made the switch during his coaching tenure. Jones said he’s known “for some time” that he’s had the personnel to switch to the 4-3 defense, and the down linemen and linebackers have gone into a 4-3 defense “a reasonably good percentage of the time” in recent years.
He indicated there could be changes in technique and how the new defense is implemented, but he remains confident his current personnel can handle the switch.
“When we drafted (Tyrone) Crawford last year, we knew he could be an outstanding 4-3 lineman, not just handling the 3-4,” Jones said. “I look at who we drafted over the last several years, and we don’t have anyone that doesn’t fit in both schemes. (Kyle) Wilber, our linebacker, could easily be a Sam linebacker in the 4-3. We’ve always tried where we can to keep our options open there.”
The Cowboys hope a change in defensive philosophy might help stop division rivals in Washington and Philadelphia, both of which now have the personnel or coaching staff to implement fast-paced rushing schemes.
Kiffin said the read option is “making a name for itself,” but he’s more concerned with his own team’s staff and players than he is about his NFC East competitors at the moment. He said he’s in the process of figuring out where his front seven can play, and he emphasized the importance of finding the right fit for each player. But he doesn’t want to rush that decision.
If he doesn’t like a certain fit with his current personnel, he said the Senior Bowl offers a few prospects that could properly fit into the 4-3 scheme he wants to implement.
“To tell you the truth, we’re just trying to get our staff together and get the players in the right place,” Kiffin said. “We’ll run a 4-3, and we’re not going to make any quick decisions. We want to make sure we get the right people, the right place, and of course down there at the Senior Bowl, we’ve got some good players there. You’re always looking to upgrade, so we’re kind of busy with that right now.”
No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.
The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.
Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:
Tony Romo – B
This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.
Kyle Orton – I
He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.
DeMarco Murray – C
A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.
Felix Jones – C
Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.
Lance Dunbar – B
Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.
Phillip Tanner – C
Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.
Lawrence Vickers – C
Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.
IRVING, Texas – DE Jason Hatcher’s roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter of Dallas’ loss at Washington was costly on the field. The NFL chose not to impose a fine.
After the game, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the penalty was questionable, but replays showed Hatcher hitting Redskins QB Robert Griffin III in the helmet with 2:35 to play. The penalty negated a third-down stop by Dallas’ defense and allowed Washington to score a touchdown with 1:09 to play.
If there hadn’t been a penalty, the Cowboys would have forced the Redskins to kick a field goal for a six-point lead with more than two minutes to play. Hatcher did not speak after the game or on Monday.
Dallas LB Kyle Wilber was fined $21,000 for a blindside block on a punt return by Dwayne Harris, but Wilber was not called for a penalty in the game. With a $390,000 base salary, Wilber made roughly $22,941 per week.
DALLAS — Jason Witten shows up at the Salvation Army every year to serve an early Thanksgiving lunch. On Tuesday, he brought his buddy with him.
Quarterback Tony Romo was one of the 12 Cowboys veterans who worked the food line and brought plates out to the clients at the Salvation Army’s Collins Social Services Center in Dallas. It’s part of the kickoff to the team’s annual Thanksgiving holiday drive for the charity.
In Fort Worth, another group of players and cheerleaders served a Thanksgiving lunch to Salvation Army residents there.
Romo doesn’t make a lot of public appearances, so it was a treat for the lunchtime crowd and the hosts. The Salvation Army staffer who introduced him — a Cowboys fan since she was 10 years old despite growing up in Washington, D.C. — couldn’t resist calling him over and saying, to cheers, "This is the first time I’ve met Tony Romo. I’m standing by Tony Romo!"
Witten got a grin out of it.
"He does a good job of seeing those fans, and obviously, they have words of encouragement or, sometimes, advice — for all of us, and especially the quarterback," Witten said, drawing a laugh.
Parenthood, said Witten, has affected Romo’s outlook.
"Being a father himself and a family guy, it does provide a perspective," he said. "It’s unbelievable how good his motives are. He just wants to spend time with them and stay away from all the other stuff. That’s what it’s all about, to come here and get the impact, more than anything else."
Romo stayed in the kitchen for the most part, but he took charge there, too. He put Miles Austin on dressing, put himself on rolls.
"He was on the rolls, but you know what? It was a little hot back there," Witten said. "He did provide some entertainment for the staff. Those are stories those people will be able to tell for a long time, getting to work with Tony in the back. He didn’t quite have it mastered like they did."
Other players who participated included DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner, Kyle Orton, Robert Calloway, Derrick Dockery, Eric Frampton, Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr.
Murray, who has missed four games with a sprained foot, said it lifted his spirits to do his part.
"Getting away from everything that deals with football, enjoying life, giving back, being around people who really don’t see football, it was nice to come out here and give," he said.
Sherby Nixon shows rookie Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber, left, and running back Lance Dunbar how to prepare a thanksgiving lunch plate.
Related: Dallas Cowboys get, give good vibes at annual Salvation Army meal
DALLAS – The Cowboys have a couple of Thanksgiving traditions: Playing football on Turkey Day and serving meals to the less fortunate earlier in the month.
Tuesday was the day for the latter tradition.
The Cowboys manned two Salvation Army locations, with the rookies serving meals in Fort Worth and a group of veterans serving meals in Dallas.
“Every time you do it, you’re in the middle of the season and the grind and coming here provides a little perspective,” said Jason Witten, who has been part of the event in each of his 10 seasons. “You’re on somewhat of a platform. You have to say, hey, I’m going to give back to some of the people that look up to you. That’s what being a role model is all about, providing perspective and hopefully encourage them in some way.”
It’s not just about serving meals. The Cowboys sign autographs and interact with people who generally need some good vibes.
“It’s good just to come out here and just give back,” running back DeMarco Murray said. “You always have a soft place in your heart for them. Growing up, you always tried to pray for them and do the right things by them, no matter if it’s bringing them over for a meal, just saying hi or talking to them. Doing anything you can possibly do to make them feel better is what counts.”
Added outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware: “You’ve got to count your blessings. Being a role model for the Dallas Cowboys and having some positivity come into the Salvation Army always feels good.”
IRVING, Texas – Maybe there will come a time this season in which Jason Garrett will be able to roll out the same 46-man roster in back to back weeks.
But it won’t happen this week as we ponder the 46-man roster for Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Chris Jones was on the practice field Friday but did not punt during the portion of practice open to the media. Brian Moorman punted Thursday and was extremely effective in his practice work. So let’s say Moorman fills in this week for Jones.
You can rule out DeMarco Murray (foot) and Sean Lissemore (ankle) and all but rule out Ryan Cook (hamstring), as inactive players.
Where do the final two come from?
Well, if Matt Johnson suffered an injury in Friday’s practice that forced him to leave the session early, he would be another.
The other candidates to dress would be Kyle Wilber, Orie Lemon, Derrick Dockery, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley.
With Cook out, I can’t imagine Dockery is inactive as the Cowboys are going to great lengths to make sure David Arkin is needed only in an emergency. Mark it down that the Cowboys keep eight offensive linemen active vs. the Panthers.
The Beasley-Holmes debate comes down to special teams and since Beasley doesn’t cover kicks, Holmes gets the nod. Holmes, however, does not add much to the offense and Beasley seems to be giving guys fits in practice. But the Cowboys will go with five wides again and it looks like Beasley is down.
Lemon was inactive last week at Baltimore, but could he get the call over Wilber with Anthony Spencer set to return? The Cowboys would not need a fifth outside linebacker active and Lemon might be the better special teams player.
- There are days where teams just come up with great game plans how to handle DeMarcus Ware. Give the Bears a lot of credit because on the Monday night, Lovie Smith and his offensive staff were not going to allow Ware to hurt them in this game. Ware did have three tackles and one sack but for the Bears that was a win, they knew that tackle J’Marcus Webb would have little chance or no chance one on one with Ware the entire night so they put tight ends to his side, they chipped backs out of the backfield on him, and they worked the guards his direction any chance they could.
Some thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch, particularly from the defensive side of the ball.
- Rob Ryan did the best he could moving Ware around but you could see that protection was geared to manage him. Victor Butler was able to get some rushes and even had a chance for a sack one on one on a third down play but he was unable to get Cutler to the ground which kept a drive going which resulted in a field goal for the Bears. I went into this game believing that Ware could have one of those monster nights but there was no chance of that in the way the Bears played him. It was fresh in their minds what happened to them the last time they played on Monday night this season against the Packers Clay Matthews and they did everything in their power not to allow it to happen again.
- Wasn’t surprised how well Danny McCray played in his first opportunity to start at safety for Barry Church. The one thing I will say about McCray’s game is that he is steady. There is not a lot of flash or flair but what you have is a football player that knows his assignments and plays his techniques. I was really impressed with how he manages to work himself around the field. I didn’t feel like there were many plays where McCray wasn’t where he needed to be. Had the one chance where he was in great shape on the tight end Kellen Davis for an interception and just needed to come up with the ball when it hit his hands. There are things about him in coverage that you are probably not going to like but if Rob Ryan can keep matching him up on tight ends, he will continue to have opportunities to make plays. Where McCray also helps you is his ability to make a sure tackle. It was a trait that we all had seen before during his work on special teams but he has managed to carry that side of his game into the regular defense. Danny McCray reinvented himself this summer as a player and you can tell by the way he played against the Bears, he had a good idea what he needed to do to help this team on defense.
- I have always believed that you draft players to play them. I never understood the teams that had all their draft picks on the weekly inactive list. You always need to find ways to get your rookies on the field. In the case for the Cowboys on Monday night, Garrett had Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber on the field taking meaningful snaps with the first team defense. We all know that Claiborne has been a day one starter and you can clearly see the talent that he plays with but also how much he has to learn about his craft and the tricks of the trade. There are going to be days where Claiborne is not going to be in great position on routes and it happened to him on a crossing route against fellow rookie Alshon Jeffery where he was trying to carry him across the field and there was too much separation which made him have to scramble to get in position to try and make the play.
- Claiborne also didn’t play with good inside leverage on the Devin Hester touchdown where he allowed Hester to run the out and up on him and was never able to recover. Claiborne did do a good job of coming forward one time on a third down pass to Hester and cutting him down before he had a chance to get going. There is no doubt in my mind that Morris Claiborne will be tested more these next five weeks. I am honestly surprised that teams have not thrown at him more. Opponents are going to find out if he can handle the ball going at him down after down and he will need to be up to the challenge.
- Tyrone Crawford caught my eye last week when he went toe to toe with the Buccaneers Carl Nicks. This week it was much of the same for Crawford who plays with surprising power and strength to go along with his quickness. The area I have been impressed with Crawford has been with his ability to play with his hands. He is really a technique sound guy and you can see every week that the defensive coaches are giving Crawford more and more of an opportunity to be a part of the defensive line rotation but this is not a gift, he is actually earning his right to see the field more and more each week. With the bye week ahead, there is a chance to we can also see safety Matt Johnson and from what I had seen in college, he has a chance to help.
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Dallas Cowboys’ outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is not expected to play Monday night against the Bears with a shoulder injury that has forced him to miss all week of practice.
Spencer remains on the injury report as “questionable” to play but sources inside Valley Ranch suggest the sixth-year pro will not be able to face Chicago this week.
That means Victor Butler will likely get the start. And while he’s been a steady pass-rusher at times, the Cowboys have always wondered just how effective he would be as a full-time player having to stop the run.
Look for the Bears to test him early and often, especially if Matt Forte plays. Chicago head coach Lovie Smith called Forte a game-time decision to play, after missing last week with a high-ankle sprain. Michael Bush is a big, physical runner and will get some carries, whether or not Forte plays.
Spencer is off to a good start this year, with two sacks, and a team-high nine quarterback pressures. Spencer is second on the defense with 29 tackles.
In a limited role, Butler has two tackles this year and one quarterback pressure.
If Spencer is indeed out, the Cowboys will be very thin at outside linebacker, especially if Alex Albright misses another game with a stinger injury. Albright is also questionable to play and was limited all week in practice. Rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber will likely get a few more reps this week as well.
The Dallas Cowboys listed five players as out for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears, but they stopped short of that with punter Chris Jones, listing him as doubtful.
That still means the punter, who has a strained knee after being hit last week against Tampa, has a 25 percent or less chance of playing. But the Cowboys apparently are keeping open the possibility for him for now.
Linebacker Anthony Spencer, who led the team in tackles last week, is questionable with a shoulder injury.
Listed as out were defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) and linebacker Alex Albright (neck).
Fullback Lawrence Vickers, who missed practice Friday, was back with full participation Saturday and is listed as probable.
Others listed probable are Miles Austin (hamstring), Sean Lissemore (chest), Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), Marcus Spears (knee), DeMarcus Ware (hamstring) and Kyle Wilber (thumb).
|Jones, Chris||P||Left Knee||DNP||DNP||DNP||doubtful|
IRVING, Texas – In an attempt to bolster the special teams units for Sunday’s game with the Bucs, the Dallas Cowboys have signed first-year linebacker Orie Lemon from the practice squad.
Lemon will be active Sunday against Tampa Bay, making his NFL debut as he is expected to play on most special teams units. Lemon, who spent all of last year on the practice squad, led the Cowboys with three special teams tackles during the preseason. He also had an interception for a touchdown in the preseason finale against Miami.
Lemon will likely assume a lot of the special teams duties held by Alex Albright, who is out this week with a stinger injury.
To make room for Lemon, the Cowboys waived cornerback/safety Mario Butler, who like Lemon, was also on the practice squad in 2011. Butler was on the 53-man roster for the first two games this year, and active in the season opener against the Giants.
He was expected to play some this week with Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) doubtful for the Bucs game and Barry Church (quad) also banged up. But it appears the Cowboys will go an alternate route for some backup safety help. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick have all received some work at safety this week in a nickel package and could provide some depth if needed.
Butler is still practice-squad eligible and it’s likely the Cowboys will try to bring him back on the eight-man squad.
Like Lemon, another linebacker expected to make his NFL debut on Sunday is fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber, who has been inactive the first two weeks. Wilber had a broken thumb that required surgery and now a soft cast.
Five Dallas Cowboys players, including three starters, have been ruled out of Sunday’s game because of injuries: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), linebacker Alex Albright (neck) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring). Ratliff, Coleman and Costa are starters.
A fourth starter, safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), is doubtful and did not participate in Friday’s workout. Defensive tackle Marcus Spears took part in limited drills and is questionable.
Players listed as probable included receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), safety Barry Church (quad), receiver Andre Holmes (knee), cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder), linebacker Sean Lee (hip), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) and tight end Jason Witten (spleen). Lee was limited in Friday’s drills. The rest participated fully.
DID YOU KNOW? The Boys Are Back blog provides Dallas Cowboys AND opponent injury updates from the team practices and those officially reported to the NFL. See the Injury Updates page at the top of every page or look on the right side of any post.
IRVING, Texas — The first official injury report was released this afternoon, and the Dallas Cowboys have 14 players listed.
There was one surprise with running back DeMarco Murray listed with a wrist issue. He was a full practice participant, and it doesn’t seem serious.
Tight end Jason Witten (spleen), linebacker Kyle Wilber (thumb) wide receiver Andre Holmes (knee), linebacker Dan Connor (hip) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder) were limited in practice.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) and safeties Matt Johnson (hamstring) and Danny McCray (neck) did not practice.
Running back Phillip Tanner (hamstring), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (hamstring), wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), wide receiver Dez Bryant (knee) and center Phil Costa (back) are also listed on the injury report but were full participants in practice.
New York Giants
- DNP = Did not participate in practice
- LP = Limited Participation in Practice – Less than 100% normal repetitions
- FP = Full Participation – 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
- Out = Player will not play
- (-) = Not Listed = No practice status available
- Out = Player will not play
- Doubtful = 25% chance a player will play
- Questionable = 50% chance a player will play
- Probable = 75% chance a player will play
- (-) = Not Listed – No game status available
DID YOU KNOW?: You can stay up to date on the Dallas Cowboys (and weekly opponents) Injury Update status right here on The Boys Are Back blog. Look in the pages at the top (and the right side) of this blog. The page is titled: INJURY UPDATES
IRVING, Texas — A busy day at Valley Ranch was highlighted by the release of Stephen McGee, but Jason Witten (spleen), Miles Austin (hamstring) and Dez Bryant (knee) also made news by returning to the practice fields Saturday.
The Dallas Cowboys are not required to release a practice report until Sunday so it’s not known how much work Witten, Austin and Bryant received.
Bryant, however, was wearing a sleeve on his right knee and all the players were in full pads.
Mike Jenkins (shoulder) was supposed to practice Saturday, but during the open media portion of practice, he wasn’t on the field. He could have gotten some work in the walkthrough session or was getting some rehab work done inside the facility.
Fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber (hand) was in full pads, but he was wearing a small cast during the special team drills.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), wide receiver Andre Holmes (undetermined), safety Danny McCray (stinger) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) didn’t practice.
Wide receiver Cole Beasley has changed numbers. He is now 11.
Newly signed guard Ryan Cook is No. 63.
One of the most intriguing developmental prospects of the Cowboys’ training camp has moved on to a new team after being cut on Friday.
Linebacker Adrian Hamilton, who had 20.5 sacks at Prairie View A&M in 2011, joined the Baltimore practice squad on Saturday, according to Ravens insider Aaron Wilson. The Cowboys did not attempt to sign Hamilton to their own eight-man practice roster, instead keeping only one linebacker, Orie Lemon. He had been on the Cowboys practice squad throughout 2011.
Hamilton had one sack for the Cowboys this preseason, also forcing a fumble against St. Louis.
He came up short in a battle for a 53-man roster spot. The Cowboys kept five outside linebackers, DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler, fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber and second-year pro Alex Albright, who can also play inside.
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.
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said quarterback Tony Romo and the first-team offense will get more than the 11 snaps they received in Monday’s 3-0 win at Oakland when the starting offense struggled.
Garrett said he plans to "inch that up a little bit" in tonight’s game against San Diego to get Romo some more opportunities.
That probably translates to Romo playing until early in the second quarter.
But Garrett acknowledged that the absence of Miles Austin (hamstring) and Jason Witten (spleen) as primary targets, compounded by an injury-riddled offensive line, could impact how long he keeps Romo in the game.
"We certainly wouldn’t put him out there with people we weren’t comfortable blocking in front of him," Garrett said. "I think the issues with the skill guys, with [no] Witten and Miles, those are opportunities for other guys to play. So we’re excited to see how [young receivers] play up, so to speak.
"We would never put Tony or anybody out there where we felt like there was a situation where they could get hurt. We don’t think that’s the case right now."
Garrett said a similar usage plan is surfacing on defense, where there is a lack of depth at inside linebacker.
"Sean Lee and Bruce Carter and Dan Connor won’t be playing that long into this game. They’ll probably play into the second quarter," Garrett said, adding that the rest of the game will be handled by reserves whose ranks have depleted this week with injuries to Kyle Wilber (broken thumb) and Caleb McSurdy (torn Achilles).
Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said Friday he will not play in tonight’s game because of a hamstring ailment.
Ware described the injury as not serious and indicated he would play if this were a regular-season game.
Ware becomes the seventh, and most recent, player to miss time in training camp because of a hamstring-related injury.
Other starters impacted with hamstring ailments in camp include receiver Miles Austin, linebacker Anthony Spencer, guard Nate Livings and defensive end Jason Hatcher.
Felix Jones said with the exception of one thing, he has had a great training camp.
"You subtract the conditioning test, I think I did pretty good," the Cowboys running back said.
The reporters around him chuckled. Somebody said they had forgotten about the conditioning test, which he failed and had to retake three days into training camp.
"I hope a lot of people forget about the test!" Jones said with a smile.
Then he turned serious. "But you know, it happened. I’ve got to deal with it. People talk about it. But I’m past that now. It’s in the background," he said.
Jones said he is 100 percent healthy after off-season shoulder surgery.
Last year, he couldn’t raise his arm to catch passes, and he said the pain in his shoulder affected the way he ran.
"You try to baby it and try not get hit on it, but you know, with this game, you can’t do that," he said. "You can’t play your game and try to protect yourself at the same time. I’m glad I did what I did this off-season. Now I’m ready for 2012. I can’t wait to get going."