IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys rookie safety J.J. Wilcox is arguably coming off the best game of his young career last week in Philadelphia. But it’s unlikely he’ll be able to follow head coach Jason Garrett’s motto and “stack good games together” when the team travels to Detroit.
Wilcox will likely have to miss Sunday’s matchup against the Lions after suffering a sprained right knee, which required an MRI Thursday afternoon. Wilcox said he had a sprained MCL, an injury he suffered on his left knee in college at Georgia Southern.
“It feel better this time than that injury,” Wilcox said. “I’m disappointed, but that’s football. That’s the way it goes.”
Wilcox suffered the injury late in today’s practice during red-zone drills when he came down awkwardly after competing for a pass with tight end Gavin Escobar.
Wilcox agreed he likely wouldn’t be able to play this week against the Detroit Lions and said it’s too early to tell if the Nov. 2 game with Minnesota Vikings is a possibility. But the rookie definitely perked up when asked about a possible return for the Saints game on Nov. 10.
“I don’t know just yet, but I don’t think it’ll be that bad,” Wilcox said. “I just have to work hard to get back soon.”
A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Wilcox has been improving each week, and made a key play in last Sunday’s game against the Eagles.
“I really felt like I was coming on,” Wilcox said. “I’ve always had a lot [of confidence] but I know I’ve gotten better and felt like I was starting to really help the team. So hopefully this won’t be a big setback.”
If Wilcox doesn’t play, the Cowboys will likely start rookie Jeff Heath, who is battling an injury sustained on his right forearm last week. He said the issue won’t keep him out of practice or the game.
“I might wear something on it but it won’t be anything major,” Heath said of possible brace. “It’ll be more like a tight wrap.”
The Cowboys also have Danny McCray, who is one of the team’s better special teams contributors. The club could add a fourth safety – possibly rookie Jakar Hamilton, who is currently on the practice squad.
Wilcox is currently seventh on the team with 28 tackles. He took over as a starter in Week 3 against the Rams and started five straight games, making a career-high nine tackles against Denver.
He won the starting job outright from Will Allen, who was eventually waived. Wilcox had a stellar training camp and preseason despite having to miss nearly a week in the middle of camp to be with his ailing mother, who passed away in August.
Wilcox still returned to play in the last two preseason games and got a few snaps in the first two regular-season games before the coaching staff made him a starter. Wilcox has had two interceptions nullified this year – one by penalty against the Rams and the other by the replay booth last week.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have filled the empty roster spot with rookie linebacker Cameron Lawrence, who was signed off the practice squad today (Friday).
Lawrence, an undrafted rookie from Mississippi State, nearly made the active roster coming out of training camp and the preseason. The Cowboys decided to sign veterans Edgar Jones and Kyle Bosworth for special teams purposes. But Lawrence has remained on the practice squad and will likely play Sunday in his NFL debut.
“Hard work has paid off,” a smiling Lawrence said today, just minutes after he called his agent to inform him the news. “I was glad to be on practice squad but this is just a whole another level.”
After the Cowboys waived veteran safety Will Allen, Lawrence said the practice squad players were told one of them would likely be added to the roster this week. Early speculation centered on Jakar Hamilton, a safety would seemingly would take Allen’s spot. And last week the Cowboys nearly signed defensive end Jason Vega from the squad.
But Lawrence said hearing of that possibility got his attention.
“Automatically my eyes lit up,” Lawrence said. “I had a good week of practice. I guess they liked what they saw. I fit the need that they needed. They told me today after practice.”
With Justin Durant (groin) questionable for Sunday’s game, adding Lawrence is a natural fit. But he also said he expects to be a full participant on special teams. In college, Lawrence contributed on defense for four years at Mississippi State, where he was a two-time All-SEC standout.
In the preseason games with the Cowboys, Lawrence finished second on the team with 16 tackles with one quarterback pressure and one pass deflection.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys released safety Will Allen this afternoon.
Allen, a 10-year veteran, signed a one-year contract with the Cowboys during free agency this past spring after a three-year stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He started for the team at safety through training camp and the first two games of the regular season, but he was eventually replaced by rookie J.J. Wilcox ahead of the Cowboys’ Week 3 game against St. Louis on Sept. 22.
The roster currently sits at 52, as the Cowboys didn’t make any immediate moves to fill Allen’s spot. The team might elevate a player from the practice squad later in the week depending on injury concerns.
The Cowboys’ practice squad currently features two safeties in Jakar Hamilton and Micah Pellerin, should they decide to bolster the depth in their defensive backfield.
Looking forward, the Cowboys also are still hopeful for the potential return of defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who is eligible to return from the Physically Unable to Perform list next week. If Ratliff is able to return, the team would need to free up a roster spot for him.
During his time with the Dallas Cowboys, Allen notched nine total tackles in five games with three passes defensed and an interception. His coverage came under fire in the season opening win against the New York Giants, which saw the Cowboys surrender 450 passing yards, though Allen did grab one of three interceptions of Eli Manning in that game.
He was also called for holding during a fourth quarter kick return in Sunday’s 51-48 loss to Denver.
Since he was on the Cowboys’ Week 1 roster, all of the money on Allen’s $905,000 contract is guaranteed.
Allen spent the first six seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who selected him 111th overall out of Ohio State in the 2004 NFL Draft. He spent five of his six seasons in Tampa with current Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who was the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator from 1996-2008.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys failed to create a single takeaway in Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs after forcing six turnovers a week prior.
Safety Will Allen and linebacker Bruce Carter both had opportunities for interceptions, and it still sticks with them a day later that they weren’t able to secure the picks.
“Not creating the turnovers, not getting the takeaways, that’s what’s painful about (the loss),” Allen said. “If we get one at a crucial moment, that’s the game for us.”
The safety, who had an opportunity early on while crashing on a route to secure a tough pick, said the lack of takeaways sticks in his mind more than the fact that the defense allowed the Chiefs to eat up time and pick up crucial first downs to secure their win.
“If we get takeaways, it doesn’t even matter at the end of the game,” Allen said.
Pressure on the quarterback wasn’t the problem for the Cowboys’ defense, as they brought Alex Smith down four times for sacks. They just couldn’t capitalize on the pressures, failing to intercept a pass and allowing the quarterback to scramble and run for 57 yards on eight attempts.
Carter had one of those sacks, but he also had an opportunity to potentially take an out-route back for six points. He read the pass, but he couldn’t secure the catch near the sideline at midfield.
“That was a key play that I have to make to put my team in position to win the game,” Carter said. “I just have to finish and catch and go to the house. I was already thinking about going to the end zone before I caught it.”
Carter said it’s difficult to go through a game without a takeaway, considering how hard the defense works in practice to rip the ball out.
The special teams unit also had a chance to secure a fumbled kickoff return by the Chiefs, but Knile Davis recovered the catch he muffed inside the Chiefs’ 20-yard line. B.W. Webb was one of the defenders close to the play.
“I was pretty close, but I was hesitating because that really wasn’t my job to be in that area,” Webb said. “I was like, ‘Should I go or stay in my job?’ I was the safety on that play and didn’t know if he was going to get it back. When I looked at it, I was closer than I thought.”
The Cowboys had a few opportunities to make the game-changing types of plays the Kansas City defense came up with. The Chiefs ended the night leading the turnover ratio, 2-0, after forcing two fumbles.
Allen said the defense can’t go entire games without forcing a takeaway and that keeps him up at night, but they have to forget about it now and move on.
“Me and Bruce Carter both had opportunities to turn the game around, to get the offense an extra possession or two,” he said. “We didn’t do that.”
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.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media for the final time from training camp in Oxnard, California.
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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.
• Hope you had a chance to catch the TRAINING CAMP ON-DEMAND segment from Tuesday where we featured the one-on-one drills with the wide receivers and cornerbacks. If you did, you saw a show from Dez Bryant. Through three days of camp, this is not unusual for Bryant, who has been nothing short of spectacular in the manner in which he has gone about his business. The route running along with the sheer physical strength that he has played with has made him difficult to defend. In our video, he was matched against Morris Claiborne on each one of his reps, and, to Mo’s credit, he didn’t take himself out or away from working against Bryant.
Every rep that the two went at each other was intense, where technique went out the window and it came down to the sheer will of who was going to make the play. When you are battling Bryant, you might be in position in the route like Mo was several times but just his ability to adjust while in route makes him so dangerous.
It wasn’t that Claiborne was struggling to fight Bryant, but more like Bryant can physically beat you up as he is going down the field, then find the ball no matter where it is in the air and this is something that NFL cornerbacks are going to have to deal with when they line up across from Bryant the entire season.
• Continuing my thoughts on Morris Claiborne, I was very interested to see how he would respond to playing against the run in this new scheme off the edge, especially with pads on. I have addressed this situation plenty with both he and Brandon Carr on what is expected of them on the outside. From my observations, there were several plays where the ball was spilled to the outside and Claiborne had to step up and make the play.
Like his battles with Bryant, he could shy away and hide but instead he stepped up and forced DeMarco Murray to the sidelines and out of bounds when Murray tried to plant a stiff arm in his face. Later in the Team Run period, he again stepped up off the edge playing close in a tight formation and handled Lance Dunbar for a short gain in the open field. For Claiborne, this has now become his responsibility full-time because soft corners don’t win in this scheme.
The physical matchups against Bryant and having to successfully play the run are part of the gig. His first day in the pads showed that he understands the task ahead.
• Another player who is off to a nice start in camp is Doug Free. In the first day of pads, I thought he did a nice job of showing up and handling the position with some nice technique. In just watching him play, you can see that his confidence level is much better as well. With each rep, he has been on point with how his hands and feet have to work together. His sets have put him in positions where he looks stable and solid.
I have yet to see the problems he has struggled with when a defender goes from speed to power on him. He is playing stronger at the point and when he has to sit down on a rusher, he has been able to do so without giving much ground.
In the running game, he has shown the ability to adjust in this zone scheme with the front side reach and backside cut off. When the ball has been run to his side, he is not late or struggling with his technique.
He has played with good quickness and has been able to finish his blocks or tie up his man. Still plenty of practices to go for Free, but so far he is heading in the right direction.
• It was a good learning experience for Barry Church on Tuesday on how to play safety as the single high guy in this scheme. In the 7-on-7 drill, Church was in the middle of the field when Dez Bryant went on a “9” route against Brandon Carr up the field. Church reacted well to the route to help Carr but the angle he took to the ball was too deep and behind Bryant who once again went straight up for the ball at its highest point.
Bryant was able to make the catch but Church would have had a shot at the play if his angle was more to or in front of Bryant, instead he goes sweeping by him with no chance at the ball. On Monday, we observed Will Allen playing the same route to Miles Austin correctly and in position for the interception.
Later in the period, Church was able to show a nice drive and reaction to a ball that was thrown in front of him to Gavin Escobar up the field to deliver a big hit on the rookie tight end. For Barry Church, every day is a new experience when it comes to techniques that he is going to have to learn coverage-wise. He has the physical ability to handle the job but he just needs the experience of reading and positioning himself in routes to make those necessary plays.
As we sit just a few short days from the opening of training camp in Oxnard, on top of the depth chart for the safety position are the names of Barry Church and the veteran Will Allen. The names that are below those of Danny McCray, Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jakar Hamilton.
It’s not a group at this point that would make you forget the names of the greats that have played here before but it’s a group that has a great deal of potential.
This coaching staff has the upmost respect for Allen and his body of work through the years which is why you see him a top this depth chart. I studied Allen myself in games last season for the Steelers when he made some injury starts against Cowboys’ division foes, New York, Philadelphia and Washington and he was more than solid. His play was steady and sure. Where Allen has an advantage over the others is in his experience which is a nice trait to have.
Over the past season, despite the fact that he was dealing with an injury, I still had a great deal of faith in Matt Johnson and what he could bring to this squad and I still believe that but the player that has drawn my most interest, is J.J. Wilcox.
When I first observed him on tape at Georgia Southern, I was shocked that he had only played the position for one season. He didn’t play like a small college player. You could see in his awareness and passion for the position and that he was a natural. When you watched him play, you saw a player that loves the game. A player that was not afraid or scared to mix it up when called on.
Where there were some concerns in my view was how much coverage that he actually played and would his movement skills translate in order to function in this scheme. There are times where the safety is asked to take the middle of the field and react to the sideline to help the corner.
In OTA’s and minicamp practices, you could see that he understood his responsibilities. He was capable of playing with range. One of the first things you notice about his game, is that he is always around the football run or pass. There were times in the practices where he was playing in the short middle of the field and he was able to read and adjust to the routes not only to knock balls down but secure interceptions as well.
Wilcox doesn’t play like a guy that lacks experience for the position. I can only recall one time in the several practices where Jerome Henderson had to correct him on the angle that he took to the ball. With Wilcox, you didn’t see the mental busts and mistakes or confusion that goes with a rookie safety. The mental side of the game is where I thought he might struggle the most because when they put on the pads that will not be an issue at all. He is more than willing to light up a ball carrier when given the opportunity.
I thought it was an outstanding move by this front office to go out and try to protect itself by signing Will Allen but there are some talented players behind him which is a good thing depth wise but the one that might be the most talented is J.J. Wilcox. I do not see J.J. Wilcox waiting around to play in this defense. He has already picked up things very easily that I thought he would have struggled with and that is a positive sign.
It is right that the coaches have put Allen in the spot that he is on the depth chart because of his experience but the more that we see Wilcox practice and the more opportunities that he gets, it will be harder for these coaches not to line him up next to Barry Church much more sooner than later.
SPRINTS, NOT SQUATS: Dallas Cowboys safety Matt Johnson adjusts fitness program to reduce hamstring issues
IRVING — In examining why he had reoccurring hamstring injuries last year, Dallas Cowboys second-year safety Matt Johnson said he realized it could have had something to do with his weight room routine. Johnson said he cut back this off-season on the amount of weight he was squatting.
“We’ve done more hamstring work instead of putting on 400 pounds and squatting,” Johnson said Tuesday after the Cowboys’ first organized team activity practice. “When I was in college, I did that some. When you get to the pros, and playing at safety, I don’t need to squat 500 pounds. We did more position specific and more dynamic work. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to play football. I was big enough.”
Johnson said he’s lost three or four pounds and weighs about 212 now.
“I feel better at that weight. This league is all about running,” Johnson said. “Obviously you have to be big, too, but on the back end, you have to run a lot.”
Johnson – a 2012 fourth-round pick out of Eastern Washington – is competing this off-season for a starting safety spot against veteran Will Allen, who joined the Cowboys as a free agent addition after starting seven games for Pittsburgh last year, and rookie third-round pick J.J. Wilcox from Georgia Southern.
Johnson injured his left hamstring in June last year and missed most of training camp. He did get in a few padded camp practices and was in for about a dozen plays in the Cowboys’ third preseason game against St. Louis.
However, on his first play against the Rams, Johnson felt pain in his right hamstring.
Johnson’s right hamstring injury kept him out until mid-October. He returned to practice and was set to appear in his first NFL regular-season game Oct. 21 at Carolina when – two days before the game – he again injured his right hamstring in practice.
Last year at this time, Johnson wasn’t allowed to participate in the Cowboys’ OTAs because he was still finishing school at Eastern Washington.
In mid-March, Cowboys radio announcer Brad Sham called Johnson “the greatest safety to ever play” in an interview on KRLD-FM.
“The reason I know that is I’ve been doing this 35 years,” Sham said, “and he’s the only guy I’ve ever seen make the team practicing once, so he must be the greatest safety to every play.”
Through all the hamstring injuries, the Cowboys stuck with Johnson last season. They carried him on the active roster most of the year before finally putting him on injured reserve in mid-November.
Johnson, however, wouldn’t have survived on the Cowboys’ roster if they didn’t believe in his potential.
“His ball skills are incredible,” Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “When the ball is in the air, he knows how to go up and play it.”
Jerry Jones discussed his confidence in the safeties on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster during last week’s conference call with season-ticket holders.
“I think we’re in good shape at safety,” Jones said.
Yes, Jones is well aware that the projected starting safeties have a combined four NFL starts. Those are all by Barry Church, who was thought highly enough of at Valley Ranch to receive a four-year, $9 million deal (plus $3.4 million in incentives).
The team also has Matt Johnson, who missed all of his rookie season due to hamstring problems and other injuries.
“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a player impress our staff without having played in a ballgame any more than Matt Johnson,” Jones stated.
The Cowboys’ other alternatives at safety: third-round pick J.J. Wilcox; nine-year veteran Will Allen; and three-year vet Danny McCray.
“I think we’ve really given ourselves a lot of potential,” Jones said. “The coaches told me (with) the scheme, ‘Don’t worry as much about range.’ I said, ‘What? Don’t worry as much about range?’
“(Kiffin) said, ‘No, our scheme gives them the angles. It gives them the angles. Get us somebody that is young. Don’t worry as much about experience as you have in the past. Get us some young players with instincts and let us go from there with them.’”
Believe it or not, that actually passes the smell test, given Kiffin’s Tampa Bay track record.
When Kiffin arrived in Tampa in 1996, the Bucs had precious little experience at safety. Their strong safety had six starts in the previous three seasons of his NFL career. Their free safety started three games as a rookie the previous year.
John Lynch, a third-round pick in 1993, ended up establishing himself as one of the elite strong safeties in NFL history, playing in nine Pro Bowls. The Bucs filled free safety with a handful of mid-round picks and low-priced free agents during Lynch’s Tampa Bay tenure, finishing top 10 in both major defensive categories every year but Lynch’s first full season as a starter, when they were 11th in yards allowed.
Kiffin’s history of making the most out of medium-level investments at safety offers no guarantees, of course. It does, however, provide legitimate proof for those inside Valley Ranch who insist that there’s no need to panic about the Cowboys’ safety situation.
The Cowboys finally jumped into the NFL free-agent market with the signings of linebacker Justin Durant and safety Will Allen on Wednesday.
Both players visited the team on Monday and took physicals. Both agreed to deals on Tuesday, but they couldn’t be made official until the Cowboys cleared room under the salary cap.
The Cowboys had just $102,000 in space under the 2013 cap of $123 million heading into Wednesday. But that was before they restructured the contract of backup quarterback Kyle Orton and released wide receiver Anthony Armstrong to free up roughly $1 million.
The Cowboys have less than $25,000 in cap space now. But they accomplished their goal of getting Durant and Allen in the fold to give them some insurance at linebacker and safety, where the unproven likes of Kyle Wilber and Matt Johnson are at the top of the depth chart.
Durant will compete with Wilber, a 2012 fourth-round pick, for the starting job at strongside linebacker. The six-year veteran has 68 career starts with Jacksonville and Detroit. He had 14 starts last year in Detroit, recording 103 tackles.
Allen has largely been a backup in a nine-year career with the Buccaneers and Steelers with just 33 career starts. He has had seven starts the past three years in Pittsburgh, all coming as a injury replacement in 2012.
But Allen is an excellent special teams player who has a history with Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin dating back to their days together in Tampa Bay.
He knows the new scheme and will give the Cowboys a veteran option if Johnson doesn’t develop at free safety. The signing also doesn’t preclude the Cowboys from still targeting a safety in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Johnson was picked in the fourth round last year but didn’t play and rarely practiced because of a litany of injuries. The Cowboys, however, believe in his upside.
Kyle Orton is the latest Cowboys player to restructure his contract to help the team clear cap room, joining receiver Miles Austin, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, tight end Jason Witten, center Ryan Cook, guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, nose tackle Jay Ratliff and cornerback Orlando Scandrick.