Tag Archives: Nate Livings

DALLAS COWBOYS ROSTER MOVES: Sean Lissemore traded to San Diego; Kyle Bosworth claimed off waivers

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IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys stayed active after the weekend cuts by trading former seventh-round pick Sean Lissemore to the Chargers on Sunday and claiming linebacker Kyle Bosworth off waivers.

Lissemore signed a three-year extension worth $7.17 million in September 2012 when the Cowboys’ defense ran the 3-4 scheme. He was traded for a 2015 seventh-round pick.

All six of Lissemore’s starts since joining the Cowboys in 2010 came last season. He’s admitted the switch to the new 4-3 has been a tough transition.

“I can definitely play in this defense, it’s just taking a little bit to transition,” Lissemore said after training camp. “It’s a little bit different than last year, playing the 3-4 defense, kind of two-gapping it. It’s kind of forgetting everything I’ve learned for the past three years and training myself to do something different.”

Lissemore, who suffered a concussion in the preseason finale, will be going back to the 3-4 scheme in San Diego. He was slated as a backup in Dallas after a strong offseason from Nick Hayden, who’s played on the interior next to Jason Hatcher.

The Cowboys used their open spot on the roster after trading Lissemore to claim Bosworth off waivers from the Giants. Bosworth, a local product who played high school football at Plano West, played 25 games the last two seasons with the Jaguars after going undrafted in 2010 out of UCLA.

The team will rely on Ben Bass, Kyle Wilber, George Selvie, and Landon Cohen for depth behind starters Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, Nick Hayden and DeMarcus Ware, unless they make another move on the waiver wire.

Lissemore’s trade is the second the Cowboys have made since Saturday’s cuts. They placed guard Nate Livings on injured reserve as well, which opened up a spot on the roster for Dallas to trade for Kansas City linebacker Edgar Jones. The Cowboys sent over next year’s sixth-round pick and also got a seventh-round pick in that deal.

RELATED: Veteran guard Nate Livings placed on Injured Reserve

dallas cowboys offensive guard mackenzy bernadeau (73) listens to offensive guard nate livings - the boys are back blog

The Dallas Cowboys have decided to place veteran guard Nate Livings on injured reserve with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery last month.

Livings’ roster spot was immediately filled by former Chiefs linebacker Edgar Jones, a six-year veteran who should provide depth on special teams.

Jones played just one year in Kansas City after five seasons in Baltimore. He played all 16 games for the Chiefs last year but has just 57 total games played since 2007.

The Cowboys initially kept just five linebackers when they trimmed the roster to 53 late Saturday afternoon. The club decided to waive Caleb McSurdy, Brandon Magee, and Cam Lawrence on the final cuts.

Jones will join a linebacker group consisting of Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Ernie Sims, and rookie DeVonte Holloman.

Although Livings’ base salary of $2.4 million is guaranteed for this season, the Cowboys were preparing for 2013 without the veteran who joined the Cowboys last year in free agency.

Heading into the Sept. 8 game with the Giants, the Cowboys will likely go with Mackenzy Bernadeau and David Arkin as the starting guard, unless Ron Leary can return from a knee scope in time. Leary did some light running before Thursday’s preseason finale with the Texans.

2013 PRESEASON INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys Lance Dunbar out; Kowalski and Dominguez return

2013 PRESEASON INJURY UPDATE - Dallas Cowboys Lance Dunbar out; Kowalski and Dominguez return

IRVING, Texas – None of the defensive players who were inactive for Saturday’s preseason game returned to practice Monday at Valley Ranch, while the offense received a mixed bag of news.

Guards Kevin Kowalski and Ray Dominguez returned from knee and shoulder injuries, respectively, but running back Lance Dunbar missed practice for the first time with a foot sprain.

Five offensive players were out Monday, including Dunbar, wide receiver Cole Beasley (foot) and offensive linemen Ryan Cook (back), Ron Leary (knee) and Nate Livings (knee). Leary and Livings are both on the mend from knee scopes.

Safety Matt Johnson (foot) thought he’d be able to return in some capacity Monday, but he wasn’t on the field during the early portion of practice available to the media. Morris Claiborne, whose day-to-day knee injury has now become week-to-week, was also out.

Some good news for the defense was the return of safety Will Allen, who left Saturday’s game after injuring his ribs. Head coach Jason Garrett said after the game the injury wasn’t serious and he could have returned.

The usual suspects were still out on defense, including Anthony Spencer (knee) and Jay Ratliff(hamstring), while Ernie Sims, Sean Lissemore and Eric Frampton are all still recovering from injuries suffered toward the end of camp.

J.J. Wilcox hasn’t returned yet for personal reasons, but has been given as much time as he needs following the death of his mother and is expected back around the middle of this week.

Travis Chappelear and Toby Jackson weren’t at practice for the beginning portion, either. Chappelear wore a boot as he left the field Saturday. 

2013 PRESEASON INJURY UPDATE: Ronald Leary to undergo arthroscopic surgery on right knee tomorrow

2013 PRESEASON INJURY UPDATE - Ronald Leary to undergo arthroscopic surgery on right knee tomorrow - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

OXNARD, Calif. – The Dallas Cowboys’ problems at the guard position have taken another hit.

Second-year pro Ron Leary is expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday, a procedure that will put his chances of playing the Sept. 8 opener against the Giants at AT&T Stadium in jeopardy.

Leary sat out of Wednesday’s walk-through practice in Oxnard, which put David Arkin running with the first-team again at left guard.

Leary had been working with the starters since he returned from a hamstring injury two weeks ago. Leary took every snap of the Aug. 5 game with the Dolphins in Canton, and also played into the second half against Oakland last week.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, the injury is to his right knee and not the left knee that scared off many teams from drafting Leary in 2012.

This injury further raises the question about the Cowboys’ interest in veteran Brian Waters. The club has reached out to the 36-year old veteran who hasn’t played since 2011. Waters, a five-time Pro Bowler apparently has interest in playing again, but doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to join a training camp.

The Cowboys tried to sign veteran Brandon Moore last week but the former New York Jet standout decided not to reunite with coach Bill Callahan and chose to stay retired.

Don’t forget about veteran Nate Livings, who also had a knee scope two weeks ago and has a shot to be ready by the start of the season.

For Saturday’s game in Arizona, the Cowboys are expected to start Arkin at left guard and Mackenzy Bernadeau on the right side.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: Veteran OG Brandon Moore’s agent stating a one-year deal has been reached

dallas cowboys offensive guard mackenzy bernadeau (73) listens to offensive guard nate livings - the boys are back blog

OXNARD, Calif. – The Dallas Cowboys are expected to add another veteran guard to the equation, possibly even reaching a deal within the next 24 hours.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked the question following Tuesday’s practice and didn’t deny getting some interior line help.

“We’re working, doing some things on the offensive line that I think will help our depth,” Jones said. “The main thing is just stay tuned. We’re trying to do some things there.”

The leading candidate could be veteran Brandon Moore, whom the team has been in discussions with on Tuesday. In fact, multiple reports have cited his agent, stating a one-year deal has been reached. However, as of Tuesday evening, Dallas Cowboys officials said a deal has not been finalized.

Moore played four seasons for Bill Callahan with the Jets from 2008-11 and made the Pro Bowl in Callahan’s last season in New York.

Moore was picked up by the Jets after going undrafted in 2002 and played with them for 10 years through the 2012 season. He’s played in 144 games and started all but two of them during that time.

There were reports Moore would retire after the 2012 season, but that’s apparently not the case. Moore, who hasn’t missed a game since the 2004 season, will provide depth to an interior line that’s struggled to remain healthy.

Other possible additions could be Brian Waters and Geoff Hangartner.

This news comes on the same day Mackenzy Bernadeau returned to full  practice for the first time. He worked at right guard while Ron Leary continued to run with the first-team at the left side. Veteran starter Nate Livings had minor knee surgery last week and is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks.

Jones said adding some experience to the line would be the ultimate reason for the move.

“That’s sure part of it. I think you have to recognize that you’ve got a younger, with Smith as well as potentially Parnell if he does get back, it’s younger. Bernadeau brings us some experience and so does Livings, but still, it does have to do with we’ve got a younger group there. But it will have more to do with the availability of the player that we bring in. If we bring in a veteran, it will be about him.”

RELATED: Brandon Moore, Dallas Cowboys agree on contract

CHANGING OF THE GUARD - Veteran OG Brandon Moore’s agent stating a one-year deal has been reached with the Dallas Cowboys

NFL website reports …

The Dallas Cowboys made a big move in their search for guard help Tuesday, agreeing to a one-year contract with former New York Jet Brandon Moore, a source told NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Playing at close to a Pro Bowl level for the past half-decade, Moore was one of the few remaining free agents at any position capable of stepping in as an immediate upgrade. He drew interest from the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins early in free agency, but his reported $3 million to $4 million asking price apparently scared away those teams.

The 10-year veteran had made it clear he had no intention of retiring at age 33, and it’s understandable that he’d only come back and risk a serious injury if a team made it worth his while. Evidently, the Cowboys did.

With veteran guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau on the shelf with injuries, Dallas is the ideal fit for Moore.

TROUBLE IN THE TRENCHES: Dallas Cowboys guard Nate Livings scheduled for knee surgery

dallas cowboys guard nate livings (71) during organized team activities - the boys are back blog

OXNARD, Calif. – Dallas Cowboys guard Nate Livings (71) is scheduled to get his knee scoped, which could put him in jeopardy to miss the first regular season game against the Giants.

Livings has already had surgery on that knee, which gave him problems last year. A typical knee scope keeps a player out from two to four weeks. If he’s out any longer than that, he may not be ready for the Sept. 8 opener.

Injuries have held Livings and many of the guards back since last year. Each of last season’s starting guards, Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, haven’t practiced for the majority of camp. 

Livings hasn’t been healthy for much of this year, dealing with knee pain and a cut on his foot, which kept him out of the early portion of training camp. The knee pain evidently came back, as he missed Thursday’s practice because of the sore knee. Ronald Leary took snaps with the first team at left guard in his place. 

Bernadeau injured his hamstring during the initial conditioning test in Oxnard, Calif., and has been out since. The entire offensive line has been hampered by injuries this camp, but particularly the guards.

Guard Kevin Kowalski left practice earlier this week after injuring his leg. Guard Ray Dominguez has been working only on the side after hurting his shoulder. Center/guard Ryan Cook’s back injury has forced him to work out only off to the side at practice, as well.

The Dallas Cowboys brought in two offensive linemen reinforcements yesterday in guard Jeff Olson and tackle James Nelson, and Olson already left practice with concussion-like symptoms.  

Other absences on the offensive line include tackle Jermey Parnell, who’s out with a hamstring injury, and tackle Demetress Bell, who failed his conditioning test.

Livings signed a five-year, $18.7 million deal, with $6.2 million guaranteed when he joined the Cowboys before the start of the 2012 season. His base salary is at its lowest this season at $815,000, and his cap hit is $1.73 million.

COWBOYS 2013 INJURY UPDATE: Anthony Spencer surgery a success, should be ready for start of the season

dallas cowboys outside linebacker anthony spencer (93) sacks washington redskins quarterback robert griffin iii - the boys are back blog

Defensive end Anthony Spencer had successful surgery on his left knee today (Thursday), according to his agent Jordan Woy.

Spencer will be be sidelined about a month while recovering, likely keep him out the majority of the preseason. He should be ready for the start of the season.

The surgery was necessary after Spencer experienced discomfort in the knee during pre-camp conditioning tests on Saturday. It’s the same knee he hyper-extended during organized team activities in June.  A magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed a bone-bruise in Spencer’s left knee.

The Cowboys felt surgery was the best option and wanted to get this taken care of so it wouldn’t be a lingering issue during the season. Spencer will make $10.6 million after being designated as the team’s franchise player.

RELATED: Cowboys finally got some good news on the injury front

Starting left guard Nate Livings has been given the OK to practice and was removed Friday from the active non-football injury list. He’s expected to practice Friday afternoon after missing the start of camp with a foot problem.

Coach Jason Garrett said several other injured players could be back next week, including tight end James Hanna (hamstring), guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (hamstring) and guard Ron Leary (calf).

Backup right tackle Jermey Parnell (hamstring) probably need another week, Garrett said.

Garrett also said that defensive ends Anthony Spencer (knee) and Tyrone Crawford (Achilles tendon) had successful surgeries in Dallas. Spencer is expected back in camp sidelines this week, while Crawford will remain in Dallas.

ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys

america's team - dallas cowboys helmet 2012 - the boys are back blog

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:

QUARTERBACKS

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.

RUNNING BACKS

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.

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LOCKER ROOM ENDORSEMENT: Players voice support for Jason Garrett and optimism for next season under his leadership.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett - 2012-2013 season - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys emptied their lockers after another disappointing end to an 8-8 season, they also voiced their support for the head coach who got them there.

Speculation arose all season after a 3-5 start regarding head coach Jason Garrett’s future in Dallas. Despite fighting and failing in a Week 17 effort with a playoff berth on the line for the second consecutive year, his players stood by him and his message the same way they had all season.

“I think he did a great job,” said DeMarco Murray. “He’s a great coach, terrific guy, glad to be a part of this team and I’m 100 percent behind him, as well as everyone else in this locker room. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else, and I’m definitely happy he was our coach and he led us the right way this year.”

Murray said he and the rest of his teammates needed to do more to step up and make the plays necessary to get into the playoffs. He didn’t pin the loss on coaching, nor did the rest of his teammates.

Cowboys veterans and newcomers both voiced their strong opinions regarding Garrett’s future in Dallas. Livings said the team began to mesh on and off the field, and that feeling of camaraderie was encouraged and developed by Garrett, who always believed the right process would eventually reap the right results.

“Just the way he approaches things, it’s not like he’s blind to the fact of who we are, because he was a player,” Livings said. “He sees things differently from our perspective, and he makes the best of it. One hell of a coach, man, a real good coach. I played three years under Nick (Saban), and I played around some good coaches, and Coach Garrett’s up there.”

Rarely did the Cowboys make things easy, but rarely could question their resolve. The Cowboys still put themselves in position to win the NFC East the last week of the season, despite a losing first half of the season, the death of a teammate late in the year and injuries across the starting defense.

One of those injured defenders was Sean Lee, who voiced his adamant support of Garrett as the right person to lead the Cowboys.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else who could,” Lee said. “I think he’s an unbelievable coach. I think we’ve responded to him, and he’s made us better football players, better people. If you watch us, I think we play with a certain relentless spirit. But we need to find a way to cut mistakes and build on our mistakes so we never make those mistakes again and we can win those close ballgames.”

Bruce Carter, another injured starter who was forced to watch the end of the season slip away from the sidelines, said Garrett’s message to the team after the season was to get away from football and come back in the offseason ready to work again.

Carter said “we really wanted to win that game” when the Cowboys fell late to the Redskins in the finale. He still felt as much a part of the team as anyone else despite sitting out with an elbow injury.

He believes another year of Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and a healthier defense can reap different results next season.

“We went through a whole lot,” Carter said. “The only way we can go from here is up. Guys see that and see we’ve got to keep working and strive to push each other and I think things will go in our favor next season.”

When the season ended Sunday, Garrett didn’t change his tune. He was obviously disappointed with how the year ended again, but he remained proud of the team’s resolve and optimistic for what the future can hold.

He said the team’s identity is beginning to get established with its relentless style of play and ability to keep fighting when trailing late in games. The Cowboys played from behind all season, yet they never lost by more than a touchdown from Week 5 to Week 16, a span that included a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball. 

Garrett realizes, though, that his message and his beliefs need to get established immediately and eventually translate into the results he’s looking for so the Cowboys don’t have the empty feeling they endured after Sunday’s loss.

“I’m proud to be part of this team,” Garrett said. “It’s not proud of, it’s proud to be part of, and I told them that again today because of the commitment they’ve made. You talk a lot about mental toughness, and oftentimes mental toughness is really dealing with adversity. We’ve had a lot of different adversities this year. We’ve had injuries, we’ve lost close games, we’ve had tragedy, tragedy unlike any other I’ve been around in the National Football League, and at every point our guys responded the right way, they became closer, they became stronger and they kept playing with that relentless spirit that we think is really, really important. We think it’s line one in football, and we have to get lines two, three, four and the rest of them right and we’ll keep working hard to do that. But there was a spirit, there was an undeniable will that our team played with.”

BREAKING DOWN THE WALL: Tackles, right side of line, Felix struggle protecting Tony Romo

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) looks up at Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) after getting sacked - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Browns took down quarterback Tony Romo seven times Sunday after averaging just 2.2 sacks per game entering Cowboys Stadium.  They would have finished with eight sacks had defensive back Sheldon Brown not been penalized for illegal contact in the first quarter.

Every sack that counted occurred after left tackle Tyron Smith left the game with an ankle injury, which could keep him out for an extended period of time. Unless Kevin Kowalski works in at center or one of the centers can return from injury to allow Mackenzy Bernadeau to shift back to guard, this is the likely starting group again Thursday against the Redskins.

Eight different Browns players recorded at least half a sack, and none of those players had more than two sacks on the season at the time. Romo still threw for 313 yards despite, not because of, the amount of time he had to throw.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo (9) scrambles away from the pressure of Cleveland's Jabaal Sheard - The Boys Are Back blog

With the Cowboys’ offensive line in a state of flux, it would be easy to simply blame the entire group for the constant pressure from the Browns’ defensive line and linebackers.

But that’s not the reality. Every play, only one or two players missed their assignments.

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker pulls down Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

There were a few trends in the sacks. Four of them occurred in the second half or overtime, when Romo threw the majority of his passes. Five of them occurred in shotgun formation. They weren’t always the fault of the backups, though rarely could guard Nate Livings be pinpointed as the problem.

Both tackles struggled and Doug Free was partially responsible for four of the seven sacks, but no one lineman can shoulder the entire blame. Sometimes, the sacks weren’t on the offensive line at all.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo sacked seven times vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Here’s a breakdown of the seven sacks on Romo:

First sack (9:53 left in second quarter):

On a third-and-12, Romo sets up in shotgun with Jason Witten and Lawrence Vickers to either side of him. Romo sends Kevin Ogletree in motion and the receivers all go deep. They’re all 30 yards downfield before any of them get open. Backup tackle Jermey Parnell gets burned inside by Juqua Parker and doesn’t get any help in the backfield, as Witten and Vickers both ran routes. Romo could have dumped it off to Vickers to avoid the four-man rush, but he didn’t have much time to think before Parker hits him.

Second Sack (5:07 left in second quarter)

It’s the first offensive play since allowing the sack on the previous drive, and again the only routes run fewer than 10 yards were by Vickers and Witten, who were both covered. Dez Bryant ran a deep in, Miles Austin ran a go route and neither of them were open. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard got outside of tackle Doug Free, forcing Romo to move up in the pocket. John Hughes worked around Bernadeau and right guard Derrick Dockery was too late to help. Even if the receivers did get open, Romo wouldn’t have had time to deliver a pass before Hughes got to him.

Third Sack (1:51 left in second quarter)

Later on the same drive, the Cowboys faced a crucial third-and-10 while trailing by 13 points at the Browns’ 41-yard line. In a three-receiver set, Romo took the shotgun snap with Witten and Lance Dunbar to either side of him. Everyone got their blocks except for Free, who Sheard went right around. No receiver got open and Romo was hit before he could even begin his escape attempt. The Cowboys had to punt after driving 32 yards.

Fourth Sack (6:08 left in third quarter)

The Cowboys put themselves in prime position for their first score with a second-and-6 on the Browns’ 19 yard-line. The play was busted from the get go as running back Felix Jones moved left and Romo faked right on what appeared to be a play action pass. Jones couldn’t get over to his right to help in blitz pick up against incoming linebacker Kaluka Maiava and safety Usama Young. Free was also slow to get to Maiava near the line of scrimmage. Romo had some choice words for Jones afterward, as the Cowboys were forced into a third-and-long. Parnell was called for holding on the next play, and the drive resulted in a field goal.

Fifth Sack (7:21 left in fourth quarter)

The sack occurred immediately before Bryant’s go-ahead touchdown reception, and again, it happened at the Browns’ 19-yard line. Romo looks to his left in the shotgun with three receivers on the outside. Had the throw been there, the protection was good enough initially to get a pass off. After his pump fake, he was toast. Free’s man got free inside, forcing Dockery to help. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, the lineman Dockery was blocking initially, went right around Free, who stayed on his man. Rubin then took down Romo on a wide open shot, though the Cowboys salvaged the drive shortly after.

Sixth sack (5:10 left in fourth quarter)

This was the sack most people will remember, causing the Cowboys’ lone turnover of the day on Romo’s fumble.

On a first-and-20 on the Browns’ 28-yard line, Austin got inside his defender down the middle of the field, while Bryant beat his man on a go route by about two or three yards. By the time any of those routes opened up, Romo was in the process of being sacked and stripped.

Seven Browns defenders stayed near the line of scrimmage, matched by seven Cowboys blockers. Parnell didn’t block anyone on the play.  Livings stayed with defensive tackle Billy Wynn, while Parnell let defensive end Frostee Rucker move inside untouched on a stunt. Bernadeau was ready for such a move, but he let Rucker go straight by him. Rucker forced the fumble on Romo, allowing linebacker Craig Robertson to corral the football.

Seventh sack (13:53 left in OT)

Nobody was within 10 yards of Witten down the middle of the field on a first-and-10 pass at the Dallas 40-yard line. Romo could have hit the tight end to get near field goal range had he had a split second longer, but the Browns beat Free on the blitz for the sack. Sheard, the defensive end on Free’s side, crashed inside on the play and was picked up by Dockery. The blitzing linebacker, Robertson, then blew past Free on the inside to get to Romo. 

These sacks don’t include Robertson’s takedown of Romo in the first quarter after Jones failed to pick up the blitz, as Brown was called for illegal contact on the play.

In addition to Free’s troubles, Dockery and Parnell each had their share of issues in their first extended look of the year and Jones was shaky on a couple blitz pickups. The same crew of linemen will most likely face Washington on Thursday.

The Redskins aren’t one of the best teams in the league at reaching the quarterback, but then again, neither were the Browns.  Offensive line coach Bill Callahan might be the busiest man in Dallas with a short week and limited time to figure out what to do to ensure Romo won’t be gobbled up on Thanksgiving Day. 

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker (95) pressures Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

2013 NFL DRAFT PRIMER: Three interior lineman prospects the Dallas Cowboys could target

At times this season, the Cowboys’ pass protection has been suspect and the run-blocking has been subpar. Most point to the interior of the Cowboys’ offensive line as the source of the problems. The center position has been destabilized with starter Phil Costa suffering multiple injuries and backup Ryan Cook getting hurt as well. The guard spots, occupied by free-agent acquisitions Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, are also viewed as weak areas.

Will the Cowboys be on the lookout for interior line prospects in the upcoming draft? That seems to be a certainty.

Here are three players they may target.

Chance Warmack at Alabama - 65 - The Boys Are Back blog

Chance Warmack, Alabama; Head coach Jason Garrett has close ties to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and the 6-3, 320-pound Warmack (jersey number 65 above photo) has distinguished himself on one of the country’s best offensive lines. This season, the left guard has been named SEC offensive lineman of the week twice. Alabama plays Western Carolina on Saturday at 11:21 a.m.

Cyril Richardson - Baylor - The Boys Are Back blog

Cyril Richardson; Baylor; In the preseason, the 6-5, 335-pound fourth-year junior from Fort Worth was named as one of the contenders for the Lombardi and Outland Trophies. Richardson, whom Kansas coach Charlie Weis described as “by far” Baylor’s best offensive lineman, has a bit of a nasty streak. The left guard got ejected from a game against Iowa State earlier this year. Baylor faces Kansas State at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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Barrett Jones; Alabama; The 2011 Outland Trophy winner, the 6-5, 302-pound senior is about as accomplished a lineman as there is in the college game. He’s also extremely versatile. After playing right guard and left tackle he is now Alabama’s center. That Jones has shown the ability to play all of these positions  is not surprising. He graduated in August with an accounting degree and a 4.0 grade point average. Based on his track record, this is the kind of player head coach Jason Garrett covets. Alabama plays Western Carolina on Saturday at 11:21 a.m.

KEYS TO THE LOSS: Plenty of problem spots, but it starts in the trenches

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog - Head to Head

ATLANTA – Yes, this team has all kinds of issues, and for the most part, they revolve around a lack of consistency. One week the receivers are making big plays, and the next they come up empty.

The running backs have been hit, but mostly miss this year, and the quarterback, yeah, we all know how up and down Tony Romo has been.

But aside from one game in Baltimore, the one thing that has been rather consistent has been this offensive line. And that’s not really a compliment. The offensive line has consistently struggled, and it was never more evident than Sunday night against the Falcons.

And it was across the board like always. Nate Livings and Ryan Cook had all sorts of problems getting their blocks, while Tyron Smith struggled on the outside. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free weren’t exactly dominant, but at least held their own.

But none of them were without problems.

Pick your play. Pick your key moment in the game and I’m sure the offensive line had something to do with it.

This team had its moments to make plays, but like always, kept shooting themselves in the foot – or better yet, missing a block on the outside, grabbing a lineman for holding or simply not having enough push up the middle.

Sure, this team misses DeMarco Murray as the running back. He’s the best one they’ve got and he’s been hurt. But the Cowboys have now used four different backs this year at various times and nothing really seems to be working.

Against the Falcons, the Cowboys’ lack of a consistent running game ended up hurting them in the end.

Last week, we thought the Cowboys lost the game in the first half when they got down, 23-0. Yet, they found a way to claw back and take the lead before eventually losing by five points in the final minutes.

This week, although the game was tied in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys arguably lost this game in the first quarter once again. Two chances to score inside the Falcons’ 20 and both times they settled for field goals.

Again, there were plenty of problems to go around, but I think it all starts up front with the line.

Too many times in this game the Cowboys had moments in which they simply needed to run the ball and pick up necessary yards, and they couldn’t convert. It happened early in the game on those scoring drives and then again before halftime with a third-and-1 at midfield.

But honestly, I can’t understand why this team continues to try to go big-on-big in short-yardage situations after constantly failing at it.

It happened several times against the Giants last week and it occurred yet again Sunday night in Atlanta.

When it’s third-and-1, why in the world do they continue to go with a jumbo package of three tight ends and a fullback? It basically draws all 22 players into the center of the field. There’s really no trickery or misdirection here.

It’s basically my guy vs. your guy and let’s see who wins. Well, how many times do we need to see it? The Cowboys had five total rushing touchdowns last year. They’ve got four already this year, but that’s not exactly a high number.

It all starts with the line up front and they just don’t get the push.

On the first drive of the game, the Cowboys get down to a first-and-goal from the 10. Now that’s always a tough place to punch it in, but on second-and-goal from the 6, they need more than a 1-yard run from Felix Jones. He was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, setting up a passing situation on third down that resulted in a field goal.

The biggest rushing miscue was right before the half when they had third-and-1 at midfield with a 6-3 lead. That’s the only time in the game they went with Phillip Tanner, and he was stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

If you’re trying to be aggressive, it’s a spot on the field you at least consider going for it. You have a chance to go up 9-3, or even 13-3, and all you need is a yard. But other than letting Tony Romo go out and try to draw the defense offside, there was no real thought in going for it.

That’s how much the line is struggling. They don’t really trust them to get a yard.

And it’s not just in the running game. Romo didn’t have much time to throw all night. He was often rolling out, scrambling left and right and trying to make throws on the run.

Even in the final play from scrimmage, Romo couldn’t even get enough time to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone – instead having to dump it off to Felix Jones for a meaningless 39-yard pass in which he decided to get tackled and end the game. (Looking back on the coach’s film, Jones might have had something working if he had seen Jason Witten and Kevin Ogletree all alone on the right side of the field, although it would’ve taken quite a throw across the field from a running back).

But let’s not forget about the fact Romo didn’t even have time to set his feet and throw it to the end zone.

It’s not like the Falcons are a menacing, relentless defense that can’t be stopped. Yet the Cowboys simply couldn’t get them blocked Sunday night.

You can’t run it or throw it consistently when you can’t block them. And you can’t sustain much, especially when it gets tight in the red zone.

Add it all up and you can’t win. This team has all kinds of problem areas, but offensive line has been the No. 1 issue for this team, and it was on full display Sunday in Atlanta.

POSTGAME ANALYSIS: Dez Bryant has best game as a pro, but time management ‘out of control’

Dallas Cowboys RB Felix Jones scores vs Baltimore Ravens - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys had a chance to steal a victory in the final seconds but Dan Bailey’s 51-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide-left.

Here are my five thoughts on the Cowboys’ 31-29 loss in Baltimore on Sunday.

1.) The pre-snap penalties throughout the game and time management on the final drive was out of control. It wasn’t just the number of penalties but it’s when they occurred. In several red zone and third-down situations, false start calls stalled drives. That shouldn’t happen in Week 6. I’m not sure a team can win in a hostile environment when they’re making so many mistakes before the ball is snapped. Most of the blame goes on the players that committed the infractions but coaching and game-planning isn’t doing them any favors. Last week, Cowboys offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said there was talk of simplifying the offense so Tony Romo didn’t have to do as much adjusting at the line of scrimmage. Ha! That clearly didn’t happen, especially on Dallas’ final touchdown drive. Romo barely got two plays off because of confusion at the line of scrimmage. The way the Cowboys managed the clock on their final drive prevented Bailey from having a closer attempt to win the game.

These are four examples of costly pre-snap penalties the Cowboys committed in Baltimore.

1-Early second quarter: Third-and-4 on Baltimore’s 12. Illegal Shift, 5-yard penalty.

2-Early fourth quarter: First-and-10 on Baltimore’s 10. Illegal Shift, 5-yard penalty.

3-Late fourth quarter: Third-and-1 on Dallas’ 29. Jeremy Parnell, false start, 5-yard penalty.

4-Late fourth quarter: Third-and-22 on Baltimore’s 44. Kevin Ogletree, false start, 5-yard penalty.

2.) Yes, the running game looked outstanding, but don’t be fooled. The Ravens aren’t the defense they once were. Fresh off of allowing the Chiefs to run for 214 yards, the Cowboys amassed 227 yards on the ground. Having Phil Costa back at center obviously helped and running behind Tyron Smith and Nate Livings on the left side continued to be Dallas’ best option. DeMarco Murray was dominant early, Felix Jones looked like a first-round pick for the first time this season and Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar each filled in nicely. Sorry, I need to see this more often to believe it was all because of what the Cowboys were doing.

3.) Dez Bryant had a costly drop that would’ve tied the game on a two-point conversion, but he still played his best game as a Dallas Cowboy. Bryant caught all five passes thrown his way in the first half and finished with 13 catches on 15 targets. His two touchdown receptions showcased how his physical ability makes him one of the most difficult assignments for any defender. Bryant finished with 95 yards and a pair of scores after not recording a touchdown in the first four games of the year. There’s still a long way to go for Bryant to be a complete receiver, but dropping a two-point conversion pass with a defender draped on his back shouldn’t overshadow what he did before that play.

4.) This loss wasn’t only significant because there was an opportunity to steal a game in arguably the league’s toughest road venue but because of how difficult the schedule lines up over the next four weeks. The Cowboys will not be favored in three of their next four games as they host the Giants before traveling to Atlanta and Philadelphia. Losing three of their next four would put the Cowboys at 3-6, not exactly the recipe for a playoff berth. And Dallas’ current 2-3 mark is much worse historically than had they won and been 3-2. Teams that start 3-2 have a 51 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. Teams that start 2-3 have a 21 percent chance. Not good for a team with a closing window.

5.) My fifth thought is actually a combination of things. Hats off to Jason Witten. He has clearly put his dropped-passes issue in his rear-view mirror. Witten made two difficult grabs during the final touchdown-drive, including a diving catch on fourth-and-long. … How bad will the injury report look on Monday? Already without Anthony Spencer, Morris Claiborne exited with a left knee injury, DeMarco Murray barely played in the second half after sustaining a foot sprain and Sean Lissemore had his day ended with an ankle sprain in the first quarter. … Joe DeCamillis’ special teams unit isn’t the worst in the league but it’s also not very good. After the Cowboys cut Baltimore’s lead to 17-13, DeCamillis’ bunch allowed Jacoby Jones to return the ensuing kickoff untouched for 108-yard touchdown. The Cowboys get very little out of their own punt and kick returns, showcased by averages that rank among the NFL’s worst. They also allowed a punt to be blocked and returned for a touchdown in Seattle.

Courtesy: Jon Machota | DMN

OFFENSIVE SNAPS: QB Kyle Orton, Beasley, Holmes, and Tanner impress late in the game

Dallas Cowboys offensive line vs Chicago Bears - Line of scrimmage - The Boys Are Back blog

A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ offense in the team’s 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears, while analyzing what it means:

RT Doug Free: 70 of 70

RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 70 of 70

LT Tyron Smith: 70 of 70

C Ryan Cook: 70 of 70

TE Jason Witten: 70 of 70

LG Nate Livings: 70 of 70

WR Dez Bryant: 68 of 70

QB Tony Romo: 59 of 70

WR Miles Austin: 49 of 70

WR Kevin Ogletree: 49 of 70

RB DeMarco Murray: 47 of 70

WR Cole Beasley: 13 of 70

FB Lawrence Vickers: 11 of 70

QB Kyle Orton: 11 of 70

RB Phillip Tanner: 11 of 70

TE John Phillips: 10 of 70

RB Felix Jones: 9 of 70

WR Andre Holmes: 8 of 70

WR Dwayne Harris: 6 of 70

You can tell the Chicago Bears blew out the Cowboys because Tony Romo missed 11 snaps and he wasn’t hurt. Down by three touchdowns and three two-point conversations in the fourth quarter, Jason Garrett gave backup Kyle Orton his first playing time. Orton, with Cole Beasley and and Andre Holmes receiving extensive playing time by their standards, led Dallas on a scoring drive. … Late in the fourth quarter, Phillip Tanner replaced DeMarco Murray. … Felix Jones played only nine snaps but showed some burst and quickness on his only carry, which could increase his playing time down the road.

‘BOYS BYE WEEK BREAKDOWN: Dallas Cowboys offensive grades for Top 11 players

Where's the Dallas Cowboys offense - The Boys Are Back blog

QB Tony Romo: B-

It would be easy to overreact to last night’s demolition, but Romo’s actual performance was nowhere near as poor as his stat line. Look, Romo isn’t playing his best ball, averaging only 7.6 yards-per-attempt. But he also isn’t getting any help from his receivers or offensive line.

Jason Garrett might want to think about rolling Romo out to his right a bit more. That could quell some of the pressure he’s facing, and Romo has historically been much better throwing to the right side of the field. In 2012 alone, Romo’s passer rating when throwing to the right is 104.2, compared to only 74.6 over the middle and to the left. Nonetheless, only 16.6 percent of his passes have been thrown to the right side of the field.

RB DeMarco Murray: B

It’s really difficult to grade Murray because, like Romo, his production is so dependent on the offensive line. One might argue that a running back averaging 3.9 yards-per-carry shouldn’t receive a “B” grade, but anyone who has watched the Cowboys knows that Murray must consistently make something out of nothing. Ask yourself this: do you think Felix Jones would have posted as many rushing yards as Murray if given the same type of blocking? Don’t forget that Murray is also on pace for 64 receptions.

FB Lawrence Vickers: D

I really liked the Vickers signing, but it hasn’t paid dividends for Dallas yet. With Vickers in the game, the Cowboys are averaging just over two yards-per-carry. Rushing efficiency will never be eye-popping with Vickers due to an abundance of inside runs, but the ‘Boys need their fullback to pave the way for Murray in short-yardage situations to allow them to extend drives.

LT Tyron Smith: C-

Smith’s transition to the left side has been a struggle thus far. I think he’s athletic and intelligent enough that he’ll get it cleaned up. Smith’s return to form may have started against the Bears, because he actually played quite well. Nonetheless, I’ve counted Smith as yielding 10 pressures on the season.

LG Nate Livings: B+

It’s sad that an interior lineman will receive my highest offensive grade through the season’s first quarter. Livings has played very well for the ‘Boys through four games, allowing just one sack and two pressures.

C Ryan Cook: C-

Due to a solid opening game shortly after being signed, many believe Cook is playing better than what’s actually the case. He’s been okay in pass protection, but absolutely awful in the running game. While Jason Garrett’s predictable strong side dives aren’t doing Cook any favors, the Cowboys are averaging just over one yard on each run with Cook at the point-of-attack.

RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: D-

Bernadeau has been the worst Cowboys interior lineman I’ve graded since I started reviewing film four years ago. Granted, he’s played in only four games, but I don’t think there are many signs that Bernadeau is going to improve. He has allowed twice as much pressure as Livings and Cook combined.

RT Doug Free: D

There have certainly problems on the left side of the ‘Boys offensive line, but it’s the Bernadeau-Free combination on the right side that’s killing them. Only two offensive tackles in the entire NFL have allowed more pressure than what I’ve attributed to Free. We all thought Free would rebound after the switch back to his more natural right tackle position, but Cowboys running backs are averaging a full yard less behind Free as compared to Smith.

WR Miles Austin: B+

Austin has been targeted 28 times in 2012, catching 18 of those throws for 300 yards. Currently on pace for a stat line of 72 receptions, 1200 yards, and 12 touchdowns, Austin has been the only consistent option for Romo in the passing game.

WR Dez Bryant: C-

Bryant’s issue right now, in my opinion, is mental. He isn’t a player like Terrell Owens or Brandon Marshall who will always suffer from drops; he has outstanding hands, but he appears to lack confidence right now. Bryant will get it turned around, so Romo needs to trust his third-year receiver and keep going back to him.

TE Jason Witten: D+

It was great to see Witten rebound against the Bears, but it wasn’t like he was incredibly efficient. His 112 yards came on 14 targets, and that 8.0 YPA is about where he should be all of the time. On the season, Witten has the most targets of any player on offense, but he’s averaging only 5.5 YPA. His catch rate of 61.8 percent will improve, but I’m not confident that his per-catch efficiency will do the same.

RUNNING ON EMPTY: With stout competition, little room to run for Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) is hit by Chicago Bears defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (91) after making a shovel pass to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – When DeMarco Murray rushed for 131 yards in the opening game against the Giants, it was a sign of the running game possibly coming back to form after some lackluster seasons that haven’t seen a 1,000-yard rusher since 2006.

But since that game, Murray has totaled just 106 yards in the three outings since, dipping the Cowboys to 30th in the NFL in rushing at just 67.8 yards per game.

Monday night against Chicago, the Cowboys’ running game offered little help to the offense, producing just 41 yards on 14 attempts. Murray had 24 on 11 carries.

While the bye week is often a time to make some adjustments, just what can the Cowboys do to fix the running woes? Change up the personnel on the offensive line? Use Felix Jones more as a rotational back? Run out of more wide-open sets, which means less running behind fullback Lawrence Vickers?

For now, head coach Jason Garrett is taking a different approach.

“Well, what you have to do is you just have to keep banging away,” Garrett said. “Right now, we’re not controlling the line of scrimmage. We have too many minus-plays. We had a lot in the game (Monday) night. When that happens, it puts way too much pressure on the quarterback to make plays. We need the running game to take the pressure off of him. And we’re not doing that.”

So what has changed so much from the first game of the season?

For starters, the competition has gotten much better. While the Giants are considered a top defense in terms of pass rush, they rank 21st against the run.

The next three opponents on the Cowboys’ schedule rank second, third, and fourth. Seattle has the NFL’s second-best run defense, allowing just 62.8 yards a game. The Cowboys had just 49 yards rushing in Week 2 against the Seahawks.

Next came the Bucs, who rank fourth in the NFL in run defense. The Cowboys were worse there with just 38 yards rushing on 23 attempts.

Chicago now has the NFL’s third-best defense against the run after shutting down Murray and the Dallas attack.

Obviously the Cowboys have some continuity issues on the offensive line, a group that didn’t get much work together in the offseason because of multiple injuries. The injuries didn’t stop when the regular season began either, as center Phil Costa re-aggravated his back three plays into the opener, forcing newly-acquired Ryan Cook into action.

Costa could return after the bye, and Garrett wouldn’t comment on the competition at center, stating it will be evaluated once Costa can get back to 100 percent.

He also didn’t sound like changes at other positions will be made, although there has been some speculation around Valley Ranch that veteran guard Derrick Dockery could be inserted into the rotation for either Mackenzy Bernadeau or Nate Livings.

Garrett instead offered his support of the current group.

“We like the five guys who are playing up front,” Garrett said. “I think, collectively as a group, they blocked that front fairly very well, particularly in the passing game the other night against Chicago, and Mackenzy is a part of that. Like everybody on the football team, it can get better. It’s nice to have a guy like Dockery sitting right there where we feel like he’s a guy who has some experience and we’re certainly confident in his ability to go out there and play.”

Vickers, who was signed in free agency from Houston, hasn’t been too productive in his first four games with the Cowboys. He categorized his play as “just all right” when asked on Wednesday.

“We’re not getting the job done,” Vickers said. “We can be a good offense. We can be a good running team. We’re just not executing. And that’s on me, that’s on all of us.”

As for Murray, who called this bye week a “long two weeks,” he said his confidence won’t waver.

“You have to stay confident and that won’t change,” he said after the Chicago game. “I trust the guys up front and I know it’s a collective effort. I have to get better, they have to get better. We just have to get better as an offense. It’s everyone. So we have to use (the bye) to our advantage and turn it around.”

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As you know, it’s the bye week. Dallas Cowboys players and coaches are off until Monday. The players started a day early. With the time off to recoup, rest, relax, and heal … let’s hope they all come back with FULL TANKS! Enjoy the video!

ROMO ON THE RUN: Tony Romo showing patients during offensive slump

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) makes a call at the line of scrimmage - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has spent the past two games being used as a piñata by opposing defensive linemen and watching his favorite receiver, tight end Jason Witten, let a season’s worth of passes slip through his fingers.

Although there has been no public grumbling from Romo, teammates understand the frustration that is building within their offensive leader as the Cowboys (2-1) prepare to face Chicago (2-1), the team that leads the NFL in sacks (14), in Monday’s game at Cowboys Stadium.

“We’ve been around Tony long enough that we can tell, based on his facial expressions, how he’s feeling. He shows his emotions to us,” said offensive guard Nate Livings. “So he doesn’t have to say anything. We see what he’s going through.”

That included four sacks and multiple knockdowns, triggering two lost fumbles in pass-rush situations, in last week’s 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. It has included an NFL-high five dropped passes this season by Witten, a seven-time Pro Bowler whose season average for drops had been three per year over the past four seasons (2008-2011), based on data collected by STATS, Inc.

“I’m sure he’s wondering what’s wrong,” Witten said of his uncharacteristic drops of Romo passes. “At the end of the day, those are big plays for him, big plays for our offense. You don’t just get built in to get those throws … next time because of what number is on the back of the jersey. It’s a show-me game.”

And Romo, for now, is showing remarkable patience while maintaining a positive outlook about a Dallas offense that is tied for last among NFL teams in scoring average (15.6 per game). The Cowboys’ 47 points marks the fewest in a three-game stretch by a Romo-led offense since 2009.

Despite Romo’s 89.3 passer rating and 64.8 completion rate, the offense regularly plays from behind the chains because of 12 false-start penalties in three games. But Romo said Friday that his confidence level working behind the team’s rebuilt offensive line remains high — he gave it a “10” on a 1-10 scale — and that frustration, from his perspective, has yet to surface.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) warms up - The Boys Are Back blog

“No,” Romo said. “It’s about winning and losing. You want to execute to the highest level each week. But at the same time, [winning and losing] is what it comes down to. All the other stuff is just about getting better.”

From an offensive standpoint, Romo acknowledged the Cowboys “need to do the little things better” if they are to build on their 2-1 start. Toward that end, he has addressed the offense’s shortcomings, particularly the pre-snap penalties, in discussions with teammates.

“You’re always letting the team know what you need to do to be successful,” Romo said. “And me being in a leadership role, that obviously needs to be addressed.

“We need to do the little things better. That will help us a lot because we’re already doing enough good things. We just need to minimize the stuff that you can control. The stuff that should be stuff that we’re good at.”

At the top of the list, Romo cited penalties and negative-yardage runs. So did offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who said shortcomings in those areas against Tampa Bay put the offense in too many obvious passing situations that led to too many “hellacious hits” on Romo, who is 32.

“We have to do a better job keeping Tony clean,” Callahan said.

Romo, who was sacked a career-high 36 times last season, downplayed any concerns about residual hits taking a toll on his abilities or his escapability in the pocket. In fact, he cited making creative plays as part of his job description.

“If somebody gets beat, my job is to help them out once in a while and [make a play],” Romo said. “You don’t want to make a living at that. But, at the same time, part of my job is to do that. And they are going to make me look better on other plays.”

But those “other plays” have been few and far between the past two weeks, when Dallas managed just one offensive touchdown against Tampa Bay and during a 27-7 loss to Seattle. Romo figures to do his fair share of freelancing, once again, against the Bears’ stellar pass rush.

In those scramble situations, Romo said he’s “always judging and balancing” his next move based on the circumstances at hand: score, down-and-distance, time remaining.

“You just learn over time what you can do with certain things,” Romo said.

And when things go awry, as they have the past two weeks, Romo has learned to be patient and avoid letting frustrations become public. Even if teammates sense he is masking his emotions.

“It’s not always going to go perfect back there,” Romo said. “But … just keep grinding away and you can do some things. We’re going to continue to get better. I feel very confident.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) hands the ball of to Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray - The Boys Are Back blog

POSTGAME REACTION: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

The Dallas Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Texas — The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn’t matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.

Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush, but two key fourth-quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a late sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4, sealed the game.

Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they’re expected to compete at an elite level.

What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but I can’t believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams playing like this.

Witten’s bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He’s got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys’ tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn’t scored since Nov. 20, 2011, at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn’t cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he’s healthy.

Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury (ribs), but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn’t have any more issues. With Church out, the Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn’t play because of a calf injury.

False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with Romo or a lack of concentration.

Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.

What’s next? The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football." Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), Sensabaugh (calf) and Church (right leg).

RELATED: Safety Shuffle – Barry Church out with right leg injury

Barry Church left with 7:31 left in the third quarter after injuring his right leg on a play in which there was no contact. He went to the ground as he was accelerating toward the line of scrimmage and limped off the field after getting examined by the medical staff.

Gerald Sensabaugh, the other starter, didn’t play because of a right calf strain. Danny McCray started in his place.

Church did not finish last week’s game at Seattle because of a quadriceps bruise.

Mana Silva replaced Church and was called for a pass interference penalty on his second snap. The Cowboys don’t have any other active safeties after cutting Mario Butler to make room for linebacker Orie Lemon.

THE OTHER GARRETTS: Dallas Cowboys Pro Scouting Department delivers again

Last year, it seemed like whoever the Cowboys brought in during the regular season, it was smart move.

Laurent Robinson wasn’t just a steal, but one of the best pickups off the street you will ever see on any team. The guy had four touchdowns in four years and he gets 11 in 14 games. 

But he wasn’t the only one. Tony Fiammetta started games at fullback, while Frank Walker was a big addition in the secondary. Even tailback Sammy Morris helped out when DeMarco Murray went down.

The three Garrett brothers played football at Princeton in the late 80's. In 1987, the three played together for the Princeton Tigers. From left to right, Judd, Jason, and John - The Boys Are Back blog

PHOTO: The three Garrett brothers played football at Princeton in the late 80’s. In 1987, the three played together for the Princeton Tigers. From left to right, Judd, Jason, and John.

Now, the guys in the Pro Scouting Department – Judd Garrett and Will McClay are at it again. Trading for Ryan Cook seemed like a nice cushion to the interior line. That’s before Phil Costa played just three snaps against the Giants and now will be out a while.

Judd Garrett runs downfield after catching one of his league high 71 passes in 1991 with the London Monarchs - The Boys Are Back blog

Cook is THE guy at center and the Cowboys seemingly made a nice call with him, especially since he’s been mostly a guard and tackle during his seven years in the league. But they saw enough of him at center, and obviously trusted former Cowboys scouting director Jeff Ireland, who is the GM in Miami and traded him to Dallas for the seventh-round pick.

What they did last year on the fly to get Robinson, Fiammetta, Walker and company, coupled with this free agent period in March to get Brandon Carr, Kyle Orton, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings and Dan Connor, suggests those pro scouts have a good feel for what the coaching staff is looking for.

And that only makes sense considering Judd Garrett is running the pro scouting department and happens to be the brother of the head coach.

But already Cook looks to be a good pickup, and it makes me think the addition of cornerback LeQuan Lewis should be rather helpful, too.

RELATED: Everything you ever wanted to know about Judd Garrett, and more!

Judd Garrett (born June 25, 1967) is a former coach and running back. He is currently the director of pro scouting for the Dallas Cowboys.

Playing career: Early years

Judd Garrett went to high school at University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio, where he earned a varsity letter in football, basketball, and baseball. He was named Most Valuable Player in all three sports his senior year. In football, as a senior, Garrett gained a school record 2,011 yards rushing and scored 35 touchdowns. He was selected first team all-state and he won the Cleveland Touchdown Club’s Lou Groza Award which is given to the Most Valuable Player in Northeast Ohio. Garrett graduated from University School in 1985.

Prior to University School, Garrett attended grade school at Saint Ann’s Catholic School which is located in Cleveland Heights, Ohio from 1978-1981. His three years at Saint Ann’s, Garrett played in three consecutive City Championship Football Games and his team won the City Championship in 1979.

College

Garrett is a 1990 graduate of Princeton University where he was a three year starter at running back. In his three seasons, Garrett gained 3,109 yards rushing, caught 137 passes and scored 41 touchdowns. In his senior year, Garrett lead the Tigers to their first Ivy League championship in 20 years. Following his senior season, Garrett was awarded the Asa S. Bushnell Cup which is given to the Ivy League Player of the Year, and he was selected to the Division 1-AA All-American team. He played in the 1990 Hula Bowl where he scored the first touchdown of the game. He also represented the Ivy League with a group of 40 league All-Stars in the Epson Ivy Bowl in Tokyo Japan vs. a team of Japanese All-Stars.

Professional

Garrett was drafted in the 12th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. After being released by the Eagles, Garrett spent part of the 1990 season on the Dallas Cowboy’s injured reserve list. Garrett then played the next two seasons (1991–1992) with the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football. His first season in London, he led the league in receptions with 71 while helping the team amass an 11-1 record and the first ever World Bowl Championship. In that championship game, Garrett set a World Bowl record of 13 receptions and caught the game sealing touchdown with less than a minute left in the first half. After the 1991 season, Garrett was selected to the All-World League team. Following his two seasons in the World League, Garrett spent the 1993 season on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, earning a Super Bowl ring. He finished his playing career with two stints in the Canadian Football League with the Las Vegas Posse (1994) and the San Antonio Texans (1995).

Coaching career

Garrett started his NFL coaching career as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints under Mike Ditka from 1997-1999. After leaving the Saints, Garrett spent six seasons with Miami Dolphins from 2000–2005, as an assistant coach under Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban during which time the Dolphins had five winning seasons, won a Division Title and two playoff appearances. After the 2005 season, Garrett was hired by the St. Louis Rams to coach tight ends. He stayed with the Rams from 2006-2007. He was hired by the Dallas Cowboys as the director of pro scouting in May 2008.

Personal

Judd Garrett was married to the former Kathleen Kobler, an all-American soccer player at Princeton University, for 14 years, and together they had four children, Calvin, Frances, Campbell and Kassity. Kathy died unexpectedly on August 19, 2007 from a heart attack.

He has two brothers who currently coach in the NFL. Jason Garrett is the current head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and John Garrett is the tight ends coach of the Cowboys.

His father (Jim Garrett) was an assistant coach for the New York Giants (1970–1973), New Orleans Saints (1976–77), and Cleveland Browns (1978–84), head coach of the Houston Texans of the fledgling WFL (1974), and head football coach at Columbia University (1985). From 1987-2004, he served as a scout for the Dallas Cowboys

Career history
As player:

*Offseason and/or practice squad member only
As coach:

  • New Orleans Saints (19971999)
    (Offensive assistant)
  • Miami Dolphins (2000)
    (Offensive assistant)
  • Miami Dolphins (20012002)
    (Offensive quality control)
  • Miami Dolphins (2003)
    (Offensive quality control/Quarterbacks)
  • Miami Dolphins (2004)
    (Offensive quality control/Receivers)
  • Miami Dolphins (2005)
    (Offensive quality control)
  • St. Louis Rams (20062007)
    (Tight ends coach)
  • Dallas Cowboys (2008–present)
    (Director of pro scouting)
Career highlights and awards

IN THE TRENCHES: New York Giants defense could expose and improve Dallas Cowboys OL continuity concerns

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys signed veteran guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings just three days apart back in mid-March, there was an expectation of the offensive line would look this year.

From left to right, it was supposed to be Tyron Smith, Nate Livings, Phil Costa, Mackenzy Bernadeau and then Doug Free – after the Cowboys also decided to swap tackles Smith and Free for this year.

So that’s how it was supposed to look. But not until Saturday afternoon, a mere four days before Wednesday’s much-anticipated season opener against the defending champion Giants, has it actually looked that way.

Because of injuries throughout the middle of the line, the starting five hasn’t been able to work together at all in the OTAs, minicamps, training camp and four preseason games.

So they’re finally ready now, but will it be enough time to get on the same page, especially with the menacing Giants’ defense that features pass-rushers like Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, along with a wave of other veterans that have made that group one of the best in the NFL?

Outside of this locker room at Valley Ranch, there might be some heavy speculation. But on the inside, they seem to be ready.

“We’ve got things in sync,” said Bernadeau, who missed all of the offseason and two weeks into camp with a hip injury that required surgery. “There’s a lot of reps we’ve been having. It’s getting better every day. I’m just glad to have Phil (Costa) back and have everyone together so we can just get better.”

The continuity seems to be the biggest question. With Costa only returning from a back injury last week, it’s put a strain on those three working together. Livings missed some time with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two preseason games.

“They have practiced a lot recently and they have practiced together,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s a good thing. Costa has been practicing the last 2-3 days and we feel like he’s ready to play in this ballgame. Having those guys just working next to each other and communicating is really important. It’s important at every position, but certainly on the offensive line. We’ll continue to evaluate the status of those guys. It’s nice to see them practicing together and hopefully they’ll continue to grow as they progress.”

Livings, who signed in free agency after spending the last four seasons in Cincinnati, doesn’t seem too worried with trying to rush continuity. When asked about it, he focuses more on what he can control, which is preparing for the Giants and their pass-rush.

“When you’re on the field, you’re not looking at continuity,” Livings said. “The one objective is getting the play right. No mental mistakes. Continuity is something that comes in time. you just focus on the play and assignment.

“It’s time to go. It’s that time of year. It’s time to get it,” Livings added. “If we’re up there to play together, then let’s play together. Continuity is something that comes in time. It’s just about getting the job done.”

And it certainly won’t be an easy task, especially considering the atmosphere that is expected come Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. It’s the first game of the NFL’s regular season and it’s expected the Giants will unveil a Super Bowl banner before the game.

A crowd like that won’t make it easy on the line, especially one that hasn’t worked too much together and will need to figure out hand-signals and silent counts.

“It’s a factor. You’re not at home,” Livings said. “You have to have that aspect on the road. You know what it takes and you know it’s coming.”

Knowing it is the first part. Being ready for it, and then handling it will be completely different. We’ll find out rather quickly if the Cowboys are up for the challenge.

INTERIOR DEPTH INSURANCE: Why the Dallas Cowboys traded for Miami offensive lineman Ryan Cook

Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Ryan Cook - The Boys Are Back blog

On the day of final cuts in the NFL, the Cowboys continued to address a problem area from last season by bolstering the interior of their offensive line.

The Cowboys acquired veteran offensive lineman Ryan Cook from the Miami Dolphins for a 2013 seventh-round draft pick. Cook (6-6, 325) will be a backup center and guard for the Cowboys.

Cook, 29, has started 40 of the 77 games. A second-round pick out of New Mexico in 2006, has started games at center, right guard and right tackle.

The Cowboys were able to get an up-close look at Cook on Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium when he started at center against Dallas in the preseason finale.

“We knew that there was a possibility here, so we really evaluated him in the ballgame,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday on “The Fan” KRLD-FM (105.3). “This really was done for our depth, plus he’s very capable because he’s started several games in the NFL. He’s very capable of getting out there and competing. Hopefully you’ll see a lot of him this year.”

The Cowboys still plan to start Phil Costa at center. Costa started Wednesday and was in for 12 offensive plays. He had been out since Aug. 10 with a back injury but is expected to play in the season opener Wednesday at the Giants.

The Cowboys signed free-agent guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau this off-season with the expectation that they would start. Both battled injuries but are healthy now.

Ankle injuries to reserve interior offensive linemen Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski hurt the Cowboys’ depth. Nagy was waived in mid-August, and Kowalski has been placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, keeping him out of the team’s first six games.

The Cowboys started working guard David Arkin at center in training camp, but he struggled with his shotgun snaps throughout the preseason. Arkin, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Missouri State, didn’t appear in any games last season.

“We all know that we’ve been struggling to some degree with Kowalski out the entire spring as well as during training camp,” Jones said. “We have counted on him for depth and don’t want to totally dismiss him, but he’s down the road with where we are and what we’ve seen.”

Brandon George | DMN

PROJECTION: Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster

The Boys - The Boys Are Back blog

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).

QUARTERBACKS (2)

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.

FULLBACKS (2)

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.

Danny Coale

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.

CORNERBACKS (5)

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.

SAFETIES (4)

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.

SPECIALISTS (3)

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.

COSTA ON THE ROSTA: Garrett hopeful Costa will practice Monday; Jerry Jones expects him in preseason final

Dallas Cowboys Phil Costa

While Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was a little more cautious in saying that he hopes injured center Phil Costa will practice on Monday and then determine whether he will make his preseason debut against preseason final against the Dolphins on Wednesday, owner Jerry Jones had no doubts about the center’s availability.

"I’m expecting him to play Wednesday," Jones said. "It would surprise me if he doesn’t play Wednesday."

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talks to the media - The Boys Are Back blog

Costa has missed the first three preseason games with a back injury. The Cowboys would like to get him some time on the field against the Dolphins with guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings to gain some chemistry before the season opener against the Giants Sept. 5

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: St. Louis Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys–Preseason game 3

St. Louis Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys – 2012 Preseason game 3 - Cowboys Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys are finally home after nearly a month on the road for training camp and two preseason games which saw them go 1-1. Dallas takes on the St. Louis Rams (1-1) tonight at Cowboys Stadium.

Here’s a preview.

Get there early: The Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers are playing in Arlington on the same day for the first time this season. Parking lots for the Cowboys game open at 2 p.m. East Plaza is open at 3 p.m. and stadium gates open at 5 p.m. The Rangers start at 3:05 p.m. Cowboys officials are asking fans to leave early to help prevent possible traffic delays.

Connections: St. Louis tackle Jason Smith attended W.T. White high school in Dallas. … Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola was on the Cowboys’ practice squad in 2007. … Wide receivers coach Ray Sherman was with the Cowboys for a few years.

$100 million corners: The Cowboys and Rams employ the two highest paid corners from this year’s free agency class. The Rams have Cortland Finnegan and the Cowboys have Brandon Carr. Combined, the two players’ total contracts hit a little over $100 million.

Dress rehearsal: The Cowboys will play their starters for nearly the first half. It will be a good test for the interior of the offensive line consisting of center David Arkin and guards Nate Livings (making his preseason debut) and Mackenzy Bernadeau. This trio could change again if starting center Phil Costa returns from a strained lower back. Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris will start at wide receiver with Dez Bryant (knee) and Miles Austin (hamstring) out with injuries. DeMarcus Ware (hamstring) won’t play. Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher are expected to play together for the first time this preseason after recovering from injuries. It’s another good test for rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne, who plays in his second preseason game. In his debut last week, the first-round pick had zero pass breakups but made two good tackles.

Who needs to play well: QB Stephen McGee, CB C.J. Wilson, LB Orie Lemon, WR Danny Coale, WR Andre Holmes, S Matt Johnson, DE Clifton Geathers and CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

Game Trackers: Click HERE for LIVE NFL GAMEDAY scoreboards and game trackers on The Boys Are Back blog. For the NFL on FOX Gametrax, click HERE

GAMETRAX - Dallas Cowboys vs. St. Louis Rams

Local TV and radio: The game kicks off at 7 p.m., on KTVT/Ch. 11 (CBS).

The Dallas Cowboys Radio Network - 105_3 The Fan KRLD

In many markets, you can listen to ‘The Voice of the Dallas Cowboys”, Brad Sham on The Dallas Cowboys Radio Network for pregame, play-by-play action, and post game interviews and analysis.

In the Dallas area, tune to 105.3 FM.  In all other cities, click HERE for more information.

STABILIZING THE TRENCHES: Guard Nate Livings’ return helps Dallas Cowboys to build OL continuity

Dallas Cowboys guard Nate Livings (71) during organized team activities - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON — Little by little, the Dallas Cowboys vision of what to expect from their retooled offensive line has come into focus throughout training camp. The operative word is "little," because the projected starters have yet to line up shoulder-to-shoulder in a preseason game.

That is not expected to change Saturday in Cowboys Stadium against the St. Louis Rams (7 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11), with center Phil Costa projected to miss his third consecutive game with a back ailment. But left guard Nate Livings, who has yet to take a preseason snap, plans to make his debut in a Dallas uniform after returning to practice this week from a hamstring injury.

That will give the Cowboys four projected starters in the trenches, plus reserve center David Arkin, to protect quarterback Tony Romo for the brunt of the team’s most extended dress rehearsal in preparation for a Sept. 5 regular-season opener at the New York Giants.

How is Romo’s comfort level with the guys protecting him?

"It’s comfortable," Romo said. "They’re fighting. They’re getting better and better, and they just keep working hard. We’re going to be all right."

Livings (6-foot-4, 320 pounds), a starter for Cincinnati the past two seasons, joined right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau as the team’s free-agent additions to shore up a suspect area from last season. For the first time, the two will play in tandem Saturday against the Rams.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said continuity among his three interior linemen "might be as important as at any position on your team" and that he is eager to gauge how the pieces are fitting together as the regular season approaches.

"They work together in combination blocks, identifying fronts … all of that stuff that centers and [guards] need to do," Garrett said. "It is really, really important to the success of the play, the success of your run game and your pass protection. The more experience you have spending time with these guys, taking snaps together, the better you’re going to be."

Livings cannot wait to turn it loose after being given a clean bill of health from Cowboys trainers.

"It’s all good, baby," Livings said of his physical condition. "In the game the other day [against San Diego], when we were coming out of the tunnel, I was getting chills myself. But I wasn’t playing. And that’s a feeling I don’t like. I’m here to play football. I’m looking forward to [Saturday]. I’m just getting my feet back under me and getting better one day at a time."

Bernadeau, who missed most of the off-season while recuperating from hip and knee surgeries, believes Livings — a former LSU player who started 41 of his last 46 games with the Bengals — can be a stabilizing force.

"It’s good to have ‘Big Nate’ back," Bernadeau said. "He’s a big force inside, a big influence. We’re excited to have him back and give him as many reps as we can."

Livings, Bernadeau and Arkin joined starting tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith for the majority of the first-team reps in Thursday’s Silver & Blue Debut at Cowboys Stadium. Garrett said he is eager to get his projected starters together for as much work as possible in the preseason and expressed disappointment that injuries to Costa, Livings and Bernadeau during various stages of training camp prevented that.

But he’ll at least see four of the five — including both newcomers at guard — operate together Saturday.

"You control what you can control in life," Garrett said. "We just had a rash of injuries … Ideally, you want that starting offensive line to be in place year after year. That’s not necessarily the nature of the NFL. We have some new guys. They have been banged up, and we’re going to try our best to get that continuity as well as we can, as fast as we can."

In terms of the Rams’ game, Livings will be under the microscope. The Cowboys’ offensive line struggled to protect Romo or create running lanes in its preseason opener, a 3-0 victory over Oakland, but fared much better in Saturday’s 28-20 loss to the Chargers.

Garrett envisions Livings’ return as another step toward stability in the trenches.

"He’s a pro. You can see that, the way he approaches it," Garrett said. "He needs to play in our offense more, [understand] the communication next to guys, the adjustments he needs to make. He’s got … a quiet intensity that we like."

Although he has yet to take the field in a Cowboys jersey, Livings went through the entire off-season with the team and pointed to training camp as a bonding experience for him and his line mates. He said the group is becoming cohesive despite minimal game snaps together in the preseason, and he is eager to showcase that.

"We’re around each other all day long in meetings and talking," Livings said. "We’re dealing with certain situations on the field [in practice]. That’s our job: to get better every day. To get closer every day. We know what it takes. We’ve just got to get ready to roll."

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