THE BATTLING BACK ‘BOYS: The Journey from Injured Reserve to Redemption | Comeback Cowboys Sean Lee & Morris Claiborne fighting back
For some Cowboys, there has been no offseason.
For the few players that ended the 2014 campaign on the injured reserve list, the offseason consisted of about one week before returning to the Valley Ranch facility to continue their rehabilitation process. Continue reading →
DALLAS COWBOYS OTA UPDATE: McClain in Pain, Hitchens Hobbled | Press-Packed Presser | Green in the green | Cowboy Buzz–Live sideline OTA reactions & comments | Purple Proposition
There was a packed house for Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s OTA’s opening press conference. Listen (or download) the full MP3 from the new Dallas Cowboys Audio Archives page featured here on your The Boys Are Back website. Continue reading →
MUDDLED IN THE MIDDLE: Dallas Cowboys scrambling to set linebacker unit without star anchor Sean Lee | 2014-2015 linebacker position outlook | Eleven LBs Remaining | Analysis
What’s the Deal?
SHAKEUP AT VALLEY RANCH: Sean Lee’s injury leaves every LB spot in question | DeVonte Holloman is currently the best option at MLB | Dallas Cowboys roster 2014
IRVING, Texas – One practice into Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and the perceived weakness of the defense shifts entirely from one position group to another.
LOOKING FOR NEXT MAN UP: Dallas Cowboys exploring options to replace injured MLB Sean Lee | Watch Jason Garrett video
ARLINGTON, Texas – A community event held during the second day of Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) isn’t the typical setting to address seismic changes in the Dallas Cowboys upcoming season.
COWBOY STAR SEASON SIDELINED: Sean Lee suffers 2014 season-ending ACL tear in left knee | Dallas Cowboys locker room reaction | Watch Videos
IRVING, Texas – And we thought it couldn’t get more frustrating for Sean Lee.
THE 2014 LINEBACKER BATTLE: Dallas Cowboys linebackers competing for starting spots | 2014 Dallas Cowboys roster
IRVING, Texas – A year ago at this time, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker corps seemed set in stone. With OTAs a week away and training camp on the horizon, that’s anything but the case in 2014.
DALLAS COWBOYS NFL SALARY CAP: Tony Romo contract restructured | Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick help team move closer to 2014 budget
IRVING, Texas – When the Dallas Cowboys signed Tony Romo to a $108 million contract last March, they knew exactly what would happen about 11 months later.
That time is now, and so it’s no surprise the club has exercised a restructure clause that was placed in the deal that frees up about $10 million in cap space. It reverts his scheduled $21.7 million base salary down to $11.7 million, and more importantly for the club, helps the Cowboys get closer to the projected $134 million salary cap.
Romo becomes the third player in two days to have his contract restructured for salary-cap relief (see below). The Cowboys did the same with cornerback Orlando Scandrick and linebacker Sean Lee. Those moves saved about $7.5 million.
With free agency set to begin on March 11, which is the start of the new league calendar year, the Dallas Cowboys and all teams must be under the cap.
Last year, the Cowboys found a way to shave about $30 million in cap space to not only get under the cap, but also clear enough room to pay Anthony Spencer his $10.63 million franchise tag. The Cowboys did not issue the franchise tag this year and Spencer is one of nine unrestricted free agents, along with defensive tackle Jason Hatcher.
To try and sign either player, the Cowboys will need to get more room under the cap, but they can do that by cutting a few more veterans.
Wide receiver Miles Austin is expected to be one of them, but it likely won’t happen until March 11. If the Cowboys make Austin a post-June 1 cut, they cannot do that before the new league year. Cutting him now only saves the team about $450,000 in cap space but they can save $5.5 million by designating him a June 1 cut. However, while Austin would be released and free to sign with any team, that money won’t be off the Cowboys’ books until June 1.
Of course, DeMarcus Ware’s future has been cloudy as team owner and GM Jerry Jones said a decision needs to be made on the club’s all-time sack leader. If Ware is released, the Cowboys would save about $7.5 million, but it appears the two sides will first attempt to either restructure his deal or come to an agreement on a lower base salary, possibly one with incentives that can get Ware close to his scheduled $12 million base salary if he performs at a high level. Ware, who underwent elbow surgery last month, has battled through various injuries the last two years, but the three games he missed in 2013 with a quad injury are the only three he’s missed in his career.
Other veterans who could be waived for salary-cap reasons are linebacker Justin Durant, which would save $1.2 million, and center Phil Costa, which would free up about $1.5 million.
RELATED: Defenders Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick provide salary-cap relief
IRVING, Texas – As expected, the Dallas Cowboys have started the process to get themselves under the salary cap, which is now projected to be around $133 million.
The increased cap of nearly $10 million will help the Cowboys, but they’ve still get work to do. It has started with the scheduled restructures of both linebacker Sean Lee and cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Both players signed new deals and/or extensions last season. But the Cowboys put these scheduled restructures in the language of the contract, knowing they could and likely would, be utilized this offseason.
The moves save the Cowboys nearly $7.8 million in space, by turning the base salaries into signing bonuses and pushing back the bulk of the contract into later years. The same procedure will likely be done with Tony Romo, who also signed a new deal last March. The restructure will probably net another $10 million in cap room, which would put them close to the $133 million.
The Cowboys can still create more room by cutting veteran players such as Miles Austin ($5.5 million if he’s a post June 1 cut) and center Phil Costa, who will save them about $1.5 million. Justin Durant could get released and save the team another $1.2 million.
And it’s likely DeMarcus Ware won’t be playing for that $16 million cap charge. Either he agrees to a lower base or simply a new contract, or Ware could be outright released, in a move that saves the team about $7.5 million.
Restructuring Brandon Carr’s contact is another option but the team did the same last year and after a down season from the veteran cornerback, it’s not a procedure the Dallas Cowboys will be comfortable in making. Pushing back money only makes him tougher to release should he have another season in 2014 similar to last year, when he gave up too many big plays, including a 329-yard performance to Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
The Cowboys need to get under the cap by March 11 and will certainly get there in time, like they’ve done every year.
DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: Sean Lee won’t play Sunday | Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers | 2013-2014 NFL Game 14 of 16
IRVING, Texas – Green Bay’s starting quarterback will be out again, but so too will the Dallas Cowboys defensive quarterback and leader.
Sean Lee had been a limited practice participant all week since straining his neck against the Bears on Monday night, but he was off the field entirely for the first time this week on Friday and will not play in Sunday’s game. The news was discovered not long after the Packers ruled out Aaron Rodgers.
In an interview with 105.3 The Fan on Friday, Lee said he was feeling better earlier in the week. He also said there’s still a chance he could play against Washington on Dec. 22.
“The plan is to rest and hopefully reevaluate early next week,” Lee said. “Early in the week I was getting better and feeling healthier and healthier, so that’s why I was gung-ho on being ready to play this week. Hopefully that’s a good sign, meaning that I’m going to continue to improve this week and continue to improve next week and get reevaluated. Hopefully we’ll know pretty soon when I’ll be back. Obviously, it’s extremely frustrating.”
Lee said after Thursday’s no-pads practice he would try to fight through the injury. But after checking with doctors between Thursday’s practice and Friday morning’s practice, he was deemed incapable of going back on the field this week.
“He worked through yesterday’s practice on a fairly limited basis,” head coach Jason Garrett said before Friday’s practice. “He was in there a lot, but some of the other guys were getting some action as well. That happened the other night in the ballgame where it was a neck type issue. He’s as tough a guy as there is. We talked about (Jason) Witten, and Sean Lee’s cut from the same cloth.”
Garrett said Lee’s injury is similar to anyone’s in that they’ll try to predict how he can handle it with physical exams and scans and based off what the player’s saying and how he’s reacting. He said he’d see how Lee felt Friday, but evidently the news wasn’t positive.
Lee described the injury as more muscle related than nerve related and said there wasn’t necessarily a specific protocol he had to pass in order to play this weekend. But he also said he’d continue to get tested throughout the week and go through scans.
Clearly, the doctors saw something they weren’t comfortable with. The injury to the neck comes immediately after Lee missed two games with a hamstring injury.
Bruce Carter, Dwayne Harris and Morris Claiborne were also off the field at Friday’s practice.
2013 COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: Dallas linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant practicing on the Texas-2 Tundra
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys returned to practice Thursday for the first day of practice for the Chicago Bears.
The team practiced in freezing, rainy conditions at Valley Ranch, and they welcomed back a pair of long-looked-for faces to the fold.
Linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant both returned to practice in full pads as the Cowboys began their preparations for their Monday night tilt against Chicago. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he’s hopeful both players can go through a full practice regimen in his first week back from a hamstring strain.
It was near freezing and raining as the Cowboys took to the field Thursday morning – an effect of the winter storm system moving into the Dallas area this week. Garrett said the team embraces the chances to practice in the elements, as it should be good preparation for game time temperatures in Chicago – which are expected to be in single digits.
“We want to practice here, outside. The weather has been good to us, going off to play in some of these northern cities where the weather is bad. A couple of weeks ago against the Giants, we got some bad weather down here in the days leading up to that,” he said. “We thought that was a positive, just to get out and practice in it. And it sounds like the weather is not going to be great here the next couple of days, so we’ll certainly embrace that opportunity.”
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.
BOYS BYE WEEK BUZZ: Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett doesn’t plan on return to calling plays
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was emphatic this morning when asked if he could return to calling the team’s offense if he so chose.
“Absolutely,” he responded.
Despite that, Garrett echoed Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ message from earlier in the day that, struggles aside, the team isn’t considering a change of play caller.
“That’s not something we’re really talking about,” he said. “I just think the biggest thing we have to do is evaluate what we have done in all three phases and what’s been good, what hasn’t been good, build and emphasize the things that have been good and correct the other stuff.”
The question was bound to be asked after the Cowboys tallied just 193 yards of offense in Sunday night’s loss to the Saints. With offensive coordinator Bill Callahan serving as the unit’s play caller this season, the Cowboys are No. 19 in the NFL in yards per game.
“We don’t want to overanalyze and overreact to certain situations. We’ve done some good things on offense and we like the structure that we have in place,” he said. “We have to, as a coaching staff, simply do a better job – that’s everybody.”
Since exploding for 522 total yards in the Oct. 6 loss to Denver, the Cowboys have cracked 350 yards just twice in five games and have failed to reach 300 yards in the other three.
Jones said that the team’s struggles, both offensively and defensively, didn’t call for any major changes during the bye week.
“We’re 5-5, we’re tied for the lead in our division. We’ve got players coming back,” Jones said. “We’ve got one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League. We’re off a rough loss. That doesn’t call for major changes out here at all.”
Garrett said as much himself, although he faced more than one question about reclaiming play calling duties. With the league’s No. 4 scoring offense and No. 1 turnover differential, he said the offense needs to focus simply on execution.
“We just need to play better on offense,” he said. “The thing you got to remember is we’re among the better scoring teams in the league right now and that’s been a positive thing for our team.”
With Garrett calling plays from 2007 until 2012, the Cowboys’ offense never finished worse than No. 13 in the league, and it finished among the NFL’s 10 best offenses in four of six seasons.
He added that it’s on every member of the offensive coaching staff, from the top down, to improve whatever ails their production – particularly with a week off to closer evaluate the issues.
“Everyone’s a part of that – I’m a part of that, Coach Callahan is a part of that, every coach on the offensive staff, every player,” he said. “We just have to do a better job. We’re going to look at what we’re doing and try to do it better.”
Jason Garrett press conference: Preparing for the bye week (20:53)
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media as his team prepares to head into it’s bye week (Watch Video | Play Audio)
- Was Sunday’s game out of character or a schematic problem
- Thoughts on young players confidence levels after the Saints defeat
- Jeff Heath bounce back and confidence playing for J.J. Wilcox; Special Teams
- Other than injury recovery, what else can be done during the bye week
- After evaluation of first ten games, should he be involved more in play calling
- Offense struggle since Denver game, why he’s not taking over playcalling
- How much new emphasis is being put on getting Dez Bryant the football more
- Is he satisfied with the number of targets Dez Bryant is getting
- When going into the bye in such a shocking way, are major changes necessary
- Decision to go into more man-coverage for the remaining games
- Can players loose belief in coaches and system when it’s been this bad
- Did the defense unravel when Sean Lee went out; impact on team; his takeaways
- Who will be playing middle linebacker until Sean Lee can return
- Are drastic scheme changes needed to give team chance to win
- Other than takeaways, what has the defense done well
- Which key players are due back in time for road game with New York Giants
- DeMarcus Ware tweaking injury
- Impact of missing Miles Austin during significant number of games; mismatch
- How having Miles Austin the mix helps Dez Bryant and Jason Witten
- Team in position going into last six games to accomplish what they want
- Thoughts on leaving Romo (and other starters) in for last few minutes of Saints game
- Concerns about the mental health of the team after close losses and Saints blowout
- What lead to the final decision to let Romo and others starters finish game
- Assessment of Tony Romo’s first five games compared to last five games
- Is Tony Romo being too careful regarding deep balls and avoiding turnovers
- Defining why Tony Romo’s completion percentage has declined
- Sports Illustrated report that Sam Hurd distributed marijuana to 20-25 players
Enjoy this article? Please leave a COMMENT and use the SHARE buttons below!
POSTGAME INJURY UPDATE: Sean Lee and Justin Durant expected to miss 3-4 weeks with hamstring injuries | Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints
IRVING, Texas – As banged up as this Dallas Cowboys team is right now, the bye week can’t come at a better time.
Vice President Stephen Jones said Tuesday that he is expected a lot of players back from injury, but one guy who likely won’t be included in that mix is middle linebacker Sean Lee.
The Cowboys’ leading tackler and interception leader will likely miss next week’s game against the Giants, and possible the Thanksgiving Day game with the Raiders as well.
Lee sustained a hamstring in the second quarter against the Saints Sunday night in the 49-17 loss to New Orleans.
“He’s got a hamstring issue,” Jones said on his weekly radio show on the 105.3 “The Fan” in Dallas. “To what extent, it’ll bear out here between the MRIs and his rehab. We’ll see how he progresses. I don’t think it’s going to be anything that’s a long time, but it’s probably going to be more than a week or two, and we’ll go from there.”
The Dallas Cowboys will welcome the bye week with open arms, considering how many injuries they’ve suffered in the past few weeks.
But missing Lee, will certainly be a big blow to the defense.
“He’s a great player and he’s done a real nice job for us,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. “But we’ve just got to plug some other guys in there and keep going. That’s the only thing you can do.”
The problem with that, however, is that Lee’s backup Justin Durant also suffered a hamstring injury in the second half, playing for Lee in the middle.
Durant starts at outside linebacker in the base 4-3 defense, but has been Lee’s backup in the middle. Once he went down, the Cowboys used Kyle Bosworth inside.
Look for the Cowboys to explore all options concerning the middle linebacker position, perhaps even using Ernie Sims or Bruce Carter inside. They could also try to find an available linebacker on the street, like they’ve done with the defensive end position.
Lee, who signed a six-year, $42 million extension back in late August, has had his share of injury issues in his career. In fact, Lee has a chance to earn as much as $51 million in this contract if he can stay relatively healthy and earn playing-time incentives.
He missed two games his rookie season in 2010 with a hamstring injury and most of a game later that year with a concussion. He also had a wrist injury in 2011 that forced him to wear a club on his hand for about a month.
Last year, Lee went on IR in late October with a toe injury that required surgery, forcing him to miss the last 10 games.
Other than Lee’s injury, the Cowboys are hopeful to get a few more starters and key players back for the Nov. 24 game with the Giants. Jason Hatcher (shoulder/neck), Morris Claiborne (hamstring), Miles Austin (hamstring) and J.J. Wilcox (knee) are expected to return after each missing some games here in the last month.
Also, DeMarcus Ware (quad), Nick Hayden (ribs), Dez Bryant (back), DeMarco Murray (knee) and various other players have been battling through injuries that have slowed them down considerably and forced them to miss practice time.
Obviously this is the time the Cowboys can get healthy again and get the majority of their players back. But unfortunately for them, Sean Lee is not expected to be one of them.
NO “I” IN TEXAS-2 DEFENSE: Sean Lee believes other teammates more deserving of Defensive Player of the Week Award
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee doesn’t think much of being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. He led the team with 11 tackles and recorded an interception.
Lee said it didn’t have a perfect game and that other teammates were more deserving. Mostly, his focus on helping the Cowboys continue to improve defensively rather than an individual award, while pointing out that they are just two games removed from giving up 51 points in a loss to the Broncos.
“I think there are guys on our defense who played better than I did who probably could have gotten that award instead of me,” Lee said. “It was a great team effort and great win. The key for us is to continue cause you look back two games ago and we gave up 51 points. We still have room to improve.”
DALLAS COWBOYS AWARDS: Sean Lee named NFC Defensive Player of the Week
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ top tackler of the season earned the team’s first NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors this year for his performance in last weekend’s 17-3 win against the Eagles.
Sean Lee was given the honor after recording one of three Cowboys interceptions in the win and leading the team with 11 combined tackles, including one for a loss, marking the fifth straight game he’s led the team in tackles.
The interception was Lee’s second of the year, and it’s also the second time in Lee’s career that he’s been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. He last was given the honor his rookie season for his performance against the Colts on Dec. 5, 2010, in an overtime win against Peyton Manning. Lee recorded two interceptions that game, including one for a touchdown.
That 2010 season included three NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for Cowboys players. DeMarcus Ware and Bryan McCann were both named defensive players of the week, in addition to Lee.
The last Cowboys player to take home NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors before Lee this week was Brandon Carr last season for his performance against the Steelers. No Cowboys player won the award in 2011.
Dwayne Harris is the only other player to be given player of the week honors this year. He’s been named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice this year, once for his returning skills and once for his coverage skills.
COWBOYS CONTRACT EXTENSION: Dallas linebacker Sean Lee signs six-year $51 million deal
IRVING, Texas – Sean Lee has been a lock at inside linebacker for three years with the Dallas Cowboys. Tonight, the team locked him up through the 2019 season.
The Cowboys inked Lee, who is set to begin his fourth NFL campaign next month, to a six-year contract extension worth roughly $42 million, but could escalate as high as $51 million depending on play-time incentives.
Lee reportedly will get more than $16 million guaranteed over the life of the contract.
Lee had one year remaining on the original four-year contract he signed as the No. 55 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. In three seasons, he has started 21 games, including just six last year when toe surgery cut his season short.
Injuries were taken into consideration in negotiating the deal, which has a few play-time incentives to protect the Cowboys in case Lee misses more time due to injury.
Lee is the Cowboys’ middle linebacker and centerpiece of the 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Monte Kiffin.
“When we look at things we need to do, short and long term, his agreement is on that list,” Jones said earlier this month. “Those things have to fit and we certainly, in terms of planning and management of our cap dollars and our future, we’re planning on having him on the team.
“He’d be at the top of the list. Yeah, I’d say he’d be at the top.”
The two sides had discussions this off-season. Lee was in the final year of a contract that pays him $630,000. He counts about $930,000 against the salary cap.
The club had about $10 million in cap room, meaning the extension with Lee will move more money into this season and ease the cap hit somewhat moving forward.
“Next year is going to be a tight year for us with the cap,” Jones said. “We’ve got to really be pretty resourceful.”
PRESEASON GAME 2 WRAP-UP: Texas 2 linebacker Sean Lee already looks to be in midseason form
OXNARD, Calif. – Just a little clearing of the notebook following Friday’s 19-17 loss to the Raiders in the second preseason game.
— In the amount of snaps that DeMarcus Ware played the other night, he was very productive but the best player on the field for the Cowboys defense was Sean Lee. If there is concern of how he would bounce back from his injury he suffered last season, well put those thoughts to rest. Lee was in midseason form with his reads, adjustments and the manner in which he attacked the ball.
The Raiders offensive line does not touch him the entire opportunity he was in the game and his blitz that caused the first turnover of the game was textbook. His quickness and agility was outstanding but the physical way in which he finished the play was even better.
— Jason Hatcher continues to impress in the way he is going about his business in this camp and in the way he played in this game. Hatcher has been able to handle a steady diet of playing in this scheme.
He not only has played with tremendous quickness and agility but his power has shown to be better as well. I worried about him getting off blocks consistently but now that he doesn’t have to two gap blockers and he can attack the gap, it’s a much better fit for him. He has also shown the ability to understand what Rod Marinelli is asked him to do technique wise. He is better with his hands and you really see it when he rushes the passer.
— Some were expecting a big game from Dwayne Harris but instead, got it from Cole Beasley. Every time I want to doubt Beasley or question his roster spot on this club, he reminds me of the unique skill set in which he plays with.
The Raiders had no answer in how to deal with his quickness and his route running ability. He was money on third downs and his touchdown in the red zone was also a reminder that despite his height, he can still make plays down there. He is a confident and reliable receiver that when put in the right situations can make those catches when no one else will.
Instead of thinking about all the things he can’t do like play consistently on the outside and by the way, he is getting better at that, we need to concentrate on what he does well and that is the reason he will be in this wide receiver mix. If he can give you something in the return game its a plus but there has to be packages that Bill Callahan can do to get him the ball because he has proven he can make plays.
–As much as I want to have concerns about that breakdown in kickoff coverage against the Raiders on Friday night, I am aware that it’s about the opportunity to evaluate players and not for what the scheme looks like.
Still it was a great example of how important that these teams are when young guys like Jakar Hamilton, Kendial Lawrence, and Jared Green are trying to make the team or get noticed by the coaches. Special team are about effort and desire but also playing with smarts. The Greg Jenkins return came after the Joseph Randle had put the Cowboys ahead and though the defense held, the field position was in the favor of the Raiders who recovered the muffed punt from B.W. Webb and kicked the game winning field goal.
But focusing on the kickoff coverage, Green was knocked into Lawrence who both went to the ground. Hamilton was doubled at the point and couldn’t release off the blocks. As the ball came down the hash, two players were on the ground and Webb was widen, which caused a huge crease which Jenkins was able to take advantage of for the return. It really was nice execution by the Raiders on the return but for some young players on this team trying to get noticed, it was the wrong way to get noticed.
TEXAS 2 SHAKEDOWN: Dallas Cowboys defense showing potential to be better than good (Special Feature)
OAKLAND – When the 2013 team profiles and scouting reports are listed, it usually mentions key losses and additions. And on defense, the “players acquired” section will have guys like Will Allen and Justin Durant. A more updated list could include guys like George Selvie and Nick Hayden.
So it makes sense for people to have their hesitations about this defense and how good it can be.
After three weeks of training camp practice, two preseason games and really just two series from the first-team (Texas 2) defense, I’ve changed my tune about this squad. It’s early but I’ve raised my ceiling and expectations for this group.
This defense has the ability to be better than good. It could be a great defense.
And it’s not because of the additions like Durant and Allen and anyone else new to this unit. The real additions on this defense are Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli. And the impact they’ve already made is definitely noticeable.
The first-teamers didn’t play long in Friday’s 19-17 loss to the Raiders at O.co Stadium in Oakland.
It’s not just the turnovers. To me, it’s the pressure. They know how to generate a pass-rush and they’ve done it with players who don’t have the credentials like DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
If you’ve watched one practice in Oxnard, you’ve seen D-Ware do anything he wants. He’s been the best player at camp – on either side of the ball. He’s been so good that we’ve started to have our doubts about Tyron Smith, who has lost way more battles than he’s tied. I can’t ever remember Smith actually winning one of those with Ware.
And he comes out here in Oakland and makes a nice tackle in the running game, showing this 4-3 switch shouldn’t affect him at all in that department. Ware doesn’t need a great scheme to be an All-Pro. It does appear that he’s in one again and that will only enhance his performance.
TEXAS 2 HIGHLIGHTS: Lee causes fumble, Hatcher recovers
Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defense forces Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn to fumble the ball and giving the Dallas Cowboys great field position.
Click HERE to watch short video
“Lining up at defensive end is easier. You are down in the trenches,” Ware said in a halftime quote Friday night. “There is no difference than playing outside linebacker, you are out wide, but when you are in the six technique, there are a lot more techniques you have to work on. But I felt like I did really well for the first game.”
What I like about this defense is how aggressive they’ve been already – and there’s a combined five Pro Bowls that hasn’t even been out there. Anthony Spencer is better than Selvie. Jay Ratliff is better than Nick Hayden. If and when those guys return for the start of the regular season, the defense will be even more dynamic.
Spencer is such a tough matchup for opposing linemen because he plays with uncanny technique. That’s part of his game that has really improved over the last few years. In this scheme, he might be even better, especially with the amount of attention that must be placed on Ware’s side.
If Ratliff can come back soon and provide a 1-2 punch with Hatcher, this really can be an explosive front-four with a healthy rotation of guys like Kyle Wilber, Ben Bass, Selvie, Hayden and Sean Lissemore. I’m not sure all nine will make the team and/or be available on game days, but it’s a solid group from top to bottom. And it has the potential to be even better because of the scheme.
But what I really like about this defense isn’t just the front four. It’s the ability to get pass rush from the linebackers. If, and it’s the second-biggest “if-he-can-stay-healthy moniker on this team behind DeMarco Murray, but if Sean Lee can stay healthy, he’ll be an absolute star. He’s got everything going for him, except the fact he hasn’t played a season from start to finish.
If that can happen for him, Sean Lee will be considered one of the NFL’s best linebackers, possibly even in the same category with a guy like Patrick Willis in San Francisco. Yeah, I know what I just did – comparing Lee to a perennial Pro Bowler such as Willis. Again, the caveat is Lee must stay healthy – something he has never done. But that’s literally how good he can be.
I mean, we all can see that. His instincts are off the chart. And you put him a defense like this, he can be every bit as good as Hardy Nickerson was in Tampa Bay. Now can he be Urlacher-good? That’s a stretch but it’s a nice goal for a player like Lee.
Now, if you really go back and dissect that sack play he had against the Raiders Friday night, Lee still got some help from his good friend Ware. That’s why it’s so important to have a complete superstar like D-Ware in the lineup. We all saw Lee make the hit. But it was Ware’s rush inside that forced the line to adjust. If there’s anyone that can’t be unblocked on a play, it’s Ware. But his hard rush inside freed up Lee to make the hit.
You’ll see Lee in the backfield on play. And 25 yards down the field in pass coverage on the next. This middle linebacker position isn’t for everyone. You’ve got to be good enough at both to play the run and the pass like Lee has shown. He’s a special player and like Ware, has the chance to thrive in this scheme.
TEXAS 2 HIGHLIGHTS: J.J. Wilcox end zone INT
Dallas Cowboys Texas 2 defensive back J.J. Wilcox picks off Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a Dallas Cowboys touchback.
Click HERE to watch short video
It’s not just about the players, but takeaways, too.
The turnovers are evident. I guess they were always stressed in the past but not like this. The coaches talk about turnovers in the meeting rooms and then coming out of the meetings there is a football on display that defenders must grab. It’s just always on the mind and it’s starting to translate to the field.
On the second-quarter drive where the second-teamers were gashed for about eight straight players, leaving J.J. Wilcox to make every tackle, they still find a way to tighten it up. Wilcox finished off the drive with a pick in the end zone.
Last week, one of the rookie draft picks scored a touchdown on an interception. This week, they saved a touchdown by an interception.
All in all, I’m just getting these vibes the defense will be much better than people think.
And this is, in no way, a knee-jerk reaction from the game. In fact, I told some of my colleagues this idea and was just hoping the defense would hold its own in the one or two drives from the starters.
They did that perfectly.
It’s early for sure. The defense has played the Dolphins and the Raiders. I get that. Ryan Tanneyhill and Matt Flynn are not exactly the NFL’s elite. So it’ll get better of course.
But the potential of this defense, at least from this perspective, is a squad that can be much better than good.
Let’s spread the word about The Boys Are Back blog! Please use the SHARE buttons below!
MOTIVATING MOMENT: Current Dallas Cowboys linemen attend Larry Allen’s Hall of Fame induction
CANTON, Ohio – Head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t going to let the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen miss the induction of Larry Allen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Garrett brought all of his team’s offensive linemen, as well as select veterans on the team to watch Allen’s speech as he was inducted a day before the Cowboys are set to play in the Hall of Fame Game.
Left tackle Tyron Smith was just five years old when Allen won his Super Bowl with the Cowboys in January 1996, so needless to say he only watched Allen sparingly growing up. But Smith quickly learned what Allen meant to the team.
“I didn’t learn much about him until I got with the Cowboys,” Smith said. “It’s a great experience to be here, and I definitely didn’t want to miss it.”
The experience was just as great for the young undrafted players and backup offensive linemen in attendance. First-year tackle Edawn Coughman, who’d never been to the Hall of Fame before, said words couldn’t express how he felt to walk through the Hall of Fame and watch Allen get inducted.
“It’s a great honor,” Coughman said. “I watched him a lot when I was younger. I’m excited to see this man in person. I’m elated.”
Jason Garrett wanted to make sure the majority of his veteran starters and the players on the team who knew Allen got to see the induction.
The list of veteran players at the ceremony included Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant,Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Jason Hatcher,DeMarcus Ware, Danny McCray, LP Ladouceur, Will Allen, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.
TEXAS 2 DEFENSIVE PREP: Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter studying vintage Derrick Brooks film
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter has been studying tape of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Derrick Brooks ever since Monte Kiffin came over to coordinate the new Texas 2 Defense.
Brooks was the prototypical Tampa 2 weak-side linebacker, with the range to cover like a defensive back and the closing speed to stuff the running game. The coaching staff has high expectations for Carter as he takes on Brooks’ old role.
“Everybody’s just been hitting me with it — Derrick Brooks, Derrick Brooks. That’s a good thing,” Carter said. “He was always around the ball. He was always flying around. He was a playmaker. He was always in the right position at the right time. That’s something I want to do.”
Carter was emerging as a defensive star before a dislocated elbow ended his 2012 season in November. He has a long way to go before he can match Brooks’ 11 Pro Bowl appearances, but it helps that Kiffin’s Texas 2 scheme is a natural fit for his talents.
There may be no faster linebacker in the NFL. Carter reportedly clocked a 4.39 40-yard dash before a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his North Carolina career. Perhaps even more impressively, he ran down from behind Atlanta Falcons speedster Julio Jones last season.
Don’t be surprised if Carter and middle linebacker Sean Lee both earn their first Pro Bowl nods this season.
BONUS: Click HERE to watch the NFL AM interview video on NFL website
RELATED: Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee talks about new Texas 2 defense
One-on-One: Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (Click HERE to watch)
Sean Lee took some time to speak with Mickey Spagnola during the Dallas Cowboys annual Home Run Derby.
PLAY HARD OR GO HOME: Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee not going to sellout on the field
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee has yet to play a full 16-game schedule in his NFL career.
Entering the final season of his rookie contract, Lee, who missed the final 10 games of the 2012 season with torn ligaments in his right big toe, said he isn’t going to change the way he plays.
“I’m going to try to play a certain way, play hard,” Lee told KTCK-AM Tuesday, via the Dallas Morning News (see below). “I don’t think I would be successful if I didn’t play that way. I’d rather cut a few years off my career and play the right way than go soft and not play right. If injuries come, they come. But I’m going to sellout on the field and try to sellout every game. I think that’s the only way we really can win, if everybody does that.”
Lee said last week he is “pretty much 100 percent” and plans to be healthy enough to participate in organized team activities next week.
He will play a key role in the middle of new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Texas-Two scheme. He told the radio station he has been studying Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs and former Bear Brian Urlacher to learn how to play the scheme.
RELATED: Sean Lee – ‘I’d rather cut a few years off my career and play the right way than go soft’
Torn ligaments in Sean Lee’s right big toe caused the Dallas Cowboys linebacker to miss the final 10 games of the 2012 season. Lee said last week that he’s “pretty much 100 percent” and that’s obviously good news for a defense that’s transitioning into a 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin.
But will Lee be able to turn in the first 16-game season of his career in 2013?
Since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while at Penn State in 2008, Lee has battled wrist and other leg injuries. Some players might try to change the way they play because of frequent injury setbacks, but the former second-round draft pick doesn’t plan on changing anything about his game.
“I’m going to try to play a certain way, play hard,” Lee said (<—listen to MP3 by clicking on word) Tuesday during the BaD Radio show on 1310 The Ticket [KTCK-AM]. “I don’t think I would be successful if I didn’t play that way. I’d rather cut a few years off my career and play the right way than go soft and not play right. If injuries come, they come. But I’m going to sellout on the field and try to sellout every game. I think that’s the only way we really can win, if everybody does that.”
Lee, who said he’s been studying film of how Chicago Bears linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs played in the Tampa-Two scheme, is in the final year of his rookie contract. It’s likely that the Cowboys will try to sign him to a long-term deal.
But if that doesn’t happen before the season starts, don’t expect to see the 26-year-old publicly demanding a new contract.
“I’m just happy to be playing football,” Lee said. “I really don’t think about that stuff. I just want to be on the field, staying healthy. The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl. For me, that’s all I think about non-stop, ‘How can I get better as a football player? How can I help my team win? What can I do to make my teammates better so we hopefully can compete for a Super Bowl every year?’ That’s my main concern.”
FLASHBACK 2010 NFL DRAFT: Take a look at a REAL Dallas Cowboys draft board
Shortly after the 2010 NFL Draft, a couple photos of the Dallas Cowboys’ big board were published (by Jonathan Bales) . The photos have been leaked for quite some time now, but I thought it would be cool to take a look back at the board to judge the Cowboys’ accuracy.
Here are the images (click on images for a larger view):
Since Jerry Jones’ arm is blocking out some of the board, we can’t get a completely comprehensive list of the Cowboys’ 2010 rankings.
For the most part, though, it looked as though the Cowboys’ board was as follows:
- FIRST ROUND
1. Sam Bradford
2. Gerald McCoy
3. Ndamukong Suh
4. Russell Okung
5. Trent Williams
6. Eric Berry
7. Rolando McClain
8. Joe Haden
9. CJ Spiller
10. Mike Iupati
11. Blocked by Jerry’s arm, but likely Earl Thomas or Dez Bryant
12. Blocked by Jerry’s arm, but likely Earl Thomas or Dez Bryant
13. Bryan Bulaga
14. Sean Lee
15. Jared Odrick
16. Jason Pierre-Paul
17. Derrick Morgan
18. Kyle Wilson
19. Maurkice Pouncey
20. Navarro Bowman
21. Jahvid Best
22. Tyson Alualu
23. Jermaine Gresham
NO DESPARADOS: With this nucleus, the 2013 Dallas Cowboys may not need a free agency splash
The Dallas Cowboys have no cap room and aren’t signing anyone. Does it really matter? How desperate are the Dallas Cowboys, really?
Bryan Broaddus wrote about defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and the way he’ll fit into Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defensive alignment. Bryan’s excited because he thinks Ratliff is the kind of player who will flourish in the 4-3, and that he can play either of its defensive tackle positions well:
In this scheme, the defensive coaches want their guys to play with more speed and quickness, which is right down the alley for Ratliff. There is a reason that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett never wavered about Ratliff coming back for this 2013 [season] despite the legal problem he faces in the coming months. He was built to play in this scheme.
Jay Ratliff is part of a talented nucleus in Dallas that should contend for the NFC East title again this fall.
Think about it. Sure, Ratliff’s a knucklehead for blowing up at Jerry Jones in the locker room. Worse yet, he was arrested and charged with DUI a month and a half after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident for which teammate Josh Brent was charged. And sure, he had no more sacks last year than you or I did. But when healthy and on the field, Ratliff is still an excellent player, capable of disrupting an offense from an interior line position.
Ratliff isn’t exactly alone on the roster. On the defensive side of the ball, DeMarcus Ware is an excellent player. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are very good. Linebacker Sean Lee is outstanding, and fellow linebacker Bruce Carter sure looked headed that way last season before his injury. Jason Hatcher was excellent last season, and so was Anthony Spencer, whether he’s worth his $10.6 million franchise tender or not.
On offense, the Cowboys have excellent players at quarterback, tight end and both starting wide receiver spots. They have a very good running back and left tackle. Can you find fault with any or all of these players? Sure. But on balance, I just gave you 14 starting positions at which the Cowboys are at least above average, and in several cases much better.
The point? Well, as Cowboys fans bemoan the lack of cap space and resultant lack of activity in this first week of free agency, it might be worth remembering that there are some really good players on this team, and that it might not be the kind of team that needed to have a big first week of free agency.
Now, of course they need work. They’ve been 8-8 each of the past two seasons. The offensive line is a wreck, that they have question marks at safety, and that depth is an issue in spots. They need to find another starting linebacker to go with Lee and Carter. And yes, of course Tony Romo’s reputation for playing small in big spots. All of that stuff is true. It’s too easy too often for Cowboys fans to get negative about the way they perceive their team. It’s all doom and gloom in Dallas.
Each of the past two seasons, they made it to the final game with a chance to win the division. By definition, that’s a contending team, and as close to being a playoff team as one can get. They must improve in spots, most notably the offensive line, or it’s going to be hard to believe they can make any big leap forward. You don’t have to agree with the perception that they’re in big trouble because they were hamstrung this week in free agency. In part, because of last years splash, there are a lot of very good players on the Cowboys’ roster. If properly supported by a good draft and some smart free-agent bargain hunting, this a competitive team in 2013, just as it was in 2011 and 2012.
That’s worth keeping in mind.
Editors comments: The Dallas Cowboys have one of the highest payrolls in the NFL. There is a reason for this. They are loaded with talent. The team needs health on their side and a few pieces to break away from the 8-8 mold. Addressing the offensive line will allow the Cowboys to have an offense few can match, week-to-week. This Kiffin experiment has validity also, again … a few pieces are needed to execute on this side of the ball. This offseason, if the Jones’ focus on the trenches and a safety, this team has a chance. This is not a roster of desperation, it’s a core of players on the brink. Dallas doesn’t need another millionaire free agent. What they need can be accomplished on a modest budget (with a little more salary restructuring) … trusting the talent evaluators on staff, and a youth infusion through the draft.
ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys
No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.
The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.
Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:
Tony Romo – B
This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.
Kyle Orton – I
He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.
DeMarco Murray – C
A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.
Felix Jones – C
Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.
Lance Dunbar – B
Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.
Phillip Tanner – C
Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.
Lawrence Vickers – C
Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.