EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For all of the very legitimate concern over the condition of Odell Beckham Jr.'s hamstring, the more pressing matter for the New York Giants with the season coming up quickly now is the state of the offensive line. The regular season begins in less than three weeks, and the Giants are still searching for the right starting-five combination of offensive linemen.

What's worse, the preseason has given them some reason to question whether they really are deeper on the line than they were during last season's meltdown.

The first-team line for Saturday's preseason game in Indianapolis was Will Beatty at left tackle, Geoff Schwartz at left guard, J.D. Walton at center, Brandon Mosley at right guard and Justin Pugh at right tackle. That's what it's been in practice since training camp started, and I think the Giants' ideal plan would be to feel good enough about that line to run it out there Week 1 in Detroit.

Problem is, Mosley has been inconsistent, Schwartz struggled a bit Saturday and Beatty's still recovering from (A) a broken leg and (B) a poor season, so they can't know what they have with him yet. He still needs to take practice reps off, and he did again Tuesday.

Now, the fill-in for Beatty earlier in camp was veteran Charles Brown, but he's got a shoulder injury now and was playing poorly even when healthy. With backup tackle James Brewer also hurt, the Giants tried something interesting Tuesday when Beatty had to come off the field. They moved Pugh from right tackle to left tackle, kicked Mosley out to right tackle and put rookie second-round pick Weston Richburg at right guard.

"They're all playing pretty much everywhere," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You always attempt to be creative and flexible."

The goal is to find the best combination of five and let it play and jell together. But it seems clear at this point that the Giants don't feel they've done that yet. They could elevate Richburg, who's played both guard spots and center this camp, to starting guard in place of Mosley and put him and Schwartz on either side, really. If they ended up having to move Pugh to left tackle, they could play Schwartz at right tackle, where he has some experience, and keep Mosley and Richburg as the guards. Richburg could yet overtake Walton at center, which is the position he played in college.

What's disappointing, after a year in which they scrambled for depth on the line, is the backup situation. Brown was terrible at left tackle, and John Jerry has been a non-factor so far at guard. These were the veterans the Giants signed with the hope that they'd have more experience behind the starters this year than they did last year. Brewer hasn't developed and is on the roster bubble. Promising guard/center Eric Herman is suspended for the first four games of the season for a drug violation. Injuries to starters on the offensive line have a chance to put the Giants right back where they were when it all fell apart early last season. And in case you don't remember, that wasn't good.

Some other thoughts from Tuesday's practice:
  • This was a "cards" day, with time spent in preparation for Friday's preseason opponent, the Jets, specifically. So for much of practice, for example, the Giants' offense was running Jets plays. Eli Manning in the pistol, etc. And there were times when it was the defense's job to simulate Rex Ryan's exotic blitz schemes. This is the one preseason game for which the Giants devise a game plan, and it'll be interesting to see whether that helps the first-team offense look better.
  • Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard managed to tip and pick off a Manning pass in 7-on-7 drills while the defense was in a Jets-specific look. He's a fun player to watch in practice, though the special-teams coaches continue to work with him on technique on the coverage teams.
  • The Giants have tried the past couple of days to get Mario Manningham more looks on the outside at wide receiver to evaluate him and his balky knee. He does not seem to be performing at a high level. You wonder whether they will start using Victor Cruz outside more if they're not going to have Beckham to start the season, or whether they'll leave Cruz in the slot and use someone like Marcus Harris or Corey Washington on the outside.
PHILADELPHIA -- A day after LeSean McCoy revealed he has an injured left big toe, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly downplayed the seriousness of the injury and playfully mocked the media for making too big a deal about it.

McCoy
McCoy, 26, led the NFL in rushing yards last season, and news of his injury was a big deal given that he's the Eagles' biggest playmaker on offense. Plus, the depth behind McCoy at running back is shaky at best. Third-year running back Chris Polk should be the Eagles' No. 2 running back, but he has missed both preseason games with a nagging hamstring injury and has not practiced in weeks.

Darren Sproles is the more reliable option to spell McCoy, but he is 31 years old and the prevailing theory is that Kelly would prefer to use Sproles more as a receiver out of the backfield and give him just a handful of carries each game.

Speaking to the media on Sunday before practice, Kelly did not mention McCoy was not going to practice. Kelly did not talk to the media on Monday, so Tuesday morning was the first opportunity he had to address McCoy's injury publicly.

"I don't think he'll ever play again," Kelly said sarcastically when asked about McCoy. He added: "He's fine. He practiced full yesterday. He's fine. It's not as big an issue as anybody's made it out to be."

On Sunday, McCoy seemed irritated about something as he walked off the practice field. He would not answer questions about why he didn't practice.

"LeSean is a competitor and wants to be out there," Kelly said. "It was just one incident. There's a lot of questions about a toe for a practice in August."

Asked about McCoy's general practice demeanor, Kelly did not exactly give a ringing endorsement.

"It's OK," he said. "Some days he's great out there, and there are other days he's not so great."

McCoy was named a first-team All-Pro last season after leading the league with 1,607 rushing yards and 2,146 yards from scrimmage. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2010, he ranks second to Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson in rushing yards.

Later during his media availability, Kelly was asked if starting inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans is the most indispensable player on the team, given that Ryans makes all the defensive calls, including audibles. Kelly said no, mentioned center Jason Kelce and quarterback Nick Foles and then mentioned McCoy.

"I think everybody would be kind of sad here if LeSean McCoy's toe injury was so grievous that we never had him again," Kelly said. "So there's a lot of indispensable players."
IRVING, Texas -- Linebacker Bruce Carter doesn’t believe that the Dallas Cowboys want to demote him from the starting lineup.

There is certainly evidence that Cowboys are trying to push Carter, a major disappointment last season, to the bench. Justin Durant worked with the starters at Carter’s weakside linebacker spot during Tuesday’s practice with Rolando McClain at middle linebacker.

Carter
Carter
But Carter believes the Cowboys are just trying to give themselves insurance options in their linebacker corps by giving different combinations practice time together, particularly with versatile second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman potentially out for the season with a neck injury, pending a second medical opinion.

“No, I don’t think so,” Carter said when asked whether the team was trying to demote him. “I just think we need depth. Especially Ro, he needs to get his reps at Mike. … So they’re just trying, I guess, to see what the rotations are going to be. I don’t know.”

The rotation featuring McClain in the middle and Durant on the weak side certainly came as no surprise.

Head coach Jason Garrett strongly hinted about it during training camp, when he said that Durant’s most natural position was playing the weak side. The Cowboys clearly traded for the twice-retired McClain with the hope that the 25-year-old former eighth-overall pick would win the starting job at middle linebacker.

It’s also telling that owner and general manager Jerry Jones didn’t mention Carter’s name when discussing the linebacker corps during his Tuesday morning radio appearance.

“I do think that we’ve got a chance to pull one out of our hat with McClain,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “Are we looking for it? Yes. Do we wonder about him? Yes. By the same token, an old adage in this league is when somebody has once been a blue player, a blue, not just Cowboys blue, but blue in general, then look for him to be a good player again. Doesn’t mean he’s going to be, but he can be. … I’m pretty pleased with his progress.

“The way Durant’s playing, the way [strongside linebacker Kyle] Wilber is playing – Wilber could be one of the more pleasant surprises because of the level he’s playing at – our linebackers have a chance to I think be better than we expect.”

The coaches have said they will find the best combination of three linebackers for a starting unit. Carter said linebackers coach Matt Eberflus told him that all three spots are open, but the former second-round pick doesn’t seem concerned about losing a starting job despite being benched twice last season.

“For anybody, you’ve just got to go out there and work hard at it, prove to your coaches and especially your teammates that you’re going to be the best guy for that position,” Carter said. “Just keep going out there and battling.”
LANDOVER, Md. -- The growing pains continued, with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III floating a pass on an out route for an interception. But he also went through his progressions on other routes, moved the safety on another for a deep ball and at least led the offense on decent drives.

Griffin also reminded everyone that he still can’t slide, at least not consistently. But the real problem wasn’t the sliding as much as it was not throwing passes away.

Griffin completed 6 of 8 passes for 112 yards and an interception in Washington’s 24-23 win over Cleveland Monday night. He did not lead the Redskins on a scoring drive, but he did take them downfield on a couple of drives.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Evan VucciRobert Griffin III made some good reads against the Browns but he still needs to work on when to throw the ball away.
However, the first-team offense has yet to score a touchdown in two games.

A couple of things stood out after rewatching his night:

The good: Aside from one pass, Griffin had a good night throwing the ball. I liked how he went through his progressions a couple of times, including on his second pass of the game, working left to right -- and, just as important, getting his feet around -- on an out to receiver DeSean Jackson. It took 3.3 seconds and the line gave him enough protection.

I also liked the throw to fullback Darrel Young in the right flat with a linebacker in his face. Griffin was hit as he threw and had to do so as he fell back, but the ball was on target. He made a good throw to tight end Jordan Reed, who was open over the middle, but he gave Reed a chance to run after the catch.

The 49-yarder to Andre Roberts was a terrific throw as well. Griffin held the safety enough, with a look to the right and a slight pump. That’s all he needed because if he hadn’t done so, the safety would have broken up the play.

It also should be noted that there is no more talk about Griffin’s burst or speed. It’s been clear for a while and was so last night: Griffin moves like he used to.

I also liked on one pass in which Griffin dumped the ball to Roy Helu (he dropped it) that the quarterback started to abandon the pocket (unnecessarily) but instead re-planted and threw the ball.

The bad: The interception. Obviously Griffin should not have thrown the ball and he knows that. There were a couple of issues, which Griffin talked about last night for those wanting him to be accountable (he was). It started with how late he threw the ball. Jackson had broken on his route before the ball was thrown. Griffin needed to throw with anticipation, though Joe Haden was sitting hard on that route. The better decision, under duress, was to throw the ball away.

Griffin couldn’t put anything on the throw because of the pressure (Helu's missed block).

“I know I can’t throw it late and if I do it has to be a humdinger and it wasn’t a humdinger,” Griffin said. “I floated it out there. That’s what happens when you play good corners like Haden. I’ll learn from it .… I just threw it late and I can’t do that.”

Throw it away: This was an issue as a rookie and again last year. Griffin likes to keep plays alive, but when he does, it usually turns into a run. It’s great to use your legs, but the more these plays result in throws the better everyone will be -- and the safer it is for Griffin. The zone read was never the issue; Griffin’s scrambling and awkward slides are what must be fixed (not saying to run him a lot, but just pointing out that he must be smarter on the run). I like his desire, but he needs to channel it better.

On one bootleg to the right, Griffin took off and cut inside the linebacker and slid. Not bad. But the linebacker committed to him with Griffin five yards behind the line. Perhaps better: As the linebacker committed, it left Young more open. Dump to him and let him take whatever punishment comes. Griffin was not hit hard on this play, but it’s good to get in the mindset of letting those used to punishment get the work here.

On a third-and-17, Griffin extended the play to his right. Instead of keeping the play alive he started to slide to his right and took off, sliding after two yards. There was no chance of picking up a first down, so hang tight for a second then throw it away. Remove unnecessary risk.

Another time, Griffin took off to the left and thought a linebacker with tight end Jordan Reed was going out of bounds. Instead, the run ended with the linebacker hitting Griffin, who then was hit by two other defenders. Griffin is a tough kid; he’s also not the biggest kid.

“It’s something we need to talk about,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “When he gets out of the pocket he needs to protect himself. He has a habit in his career of being able to get himself out of predicaments with his speed and athleticism. But … he has to pick his shots and learn how to get down a little better.”
There's no shortage of poor personnel decisions that led the New York Giants to last year's 7-9 record and their subsequent roster rebuild, but signing safety Antrel Rolle to a five-year, $37 million contract in 2010 was among the better moves in recent franchise history.

We've ranked NFL players -- a top 100 on offense and another on defense -- and we're rolling out the results 20 at a time (10 on offense, 10 on defense) per day. Today brings us players No. 81-90 on either side of the ball, and Rolle checking in at No. 83 on defense offers a chance to reflect on just what he's turned out to be for the Giants.

Rolle is the No. 13-ranked safety and the No. 25-ranked defensive back on this list, but quibbling about whether he should be ranked ahead of Donte Whitner on the former list or Johnathan Joseph on the latter doesn't interest me too much. Rolle's value to the Giants has been diverse and significant, and it rises beyond stats and on-field performance.

Rolle arrived in New York at the age of 27 and chafed under coach Tom Coughlin's rigid, old-school structure. But he grew quickly, and he and Coughlin proved wise enough to realize they could be of great benefit to each other. Over the past three seasons Rolle has developed as a team leader, captain and spokesman, and he handles the role gracefully and naturally. Sure, he says crazy things on the radio sometimes. But these days they're almost always about how great he thinks his team is, and that's a perfectly acceptable method for a leader to try to keep his teammates in a productive frame of mind.

On the field, Rolle has played opposite three different starting safeties the past three years, and all three have flourished. He teamed with Kenny Phillips (who predated and helped mentor him as a Giant) in the Super Bowl season of 2011. Stevie Brown replaced an injured Phillips in 2012 and collected eight interceptions, roaming the post safety position while Rolle played up in the box because he knew how and Brown hadn't learned it yet. Will Hill replaced an injured Brown in 2013 and became one of the best playmaking safeties in the league by season's end before smoking himself out of a job this spring.

Rolle has been a constant in a Giants secondary that's seen its share of ups and downs over the past four years. And last year, largely freed from the nickel corner responsibilities he willingly assumed so often early in his Giants career, he flourished as a playmaker in his own right and earned a Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii. His coaches say he's just coming into his own as a safety, at age 31, because this is the first time since he signed with the Giants that he's been able to focus on the position exclusively. They believe he'll get the best out of his former Cardinals teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of their big free-agent cornerback signings, and Rolle has a track record that backs up that belief.

One of the best 100 defensive players in the NFL? Nobody in the Giants' building would disagree. Rolle's as solid an acquisition as any they've made over the past 10 years.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Alfred Morris looked strong a year ago, coming off a record-setting rookie season with the Washington Redskins. He was a little quicker, shiftier and understood defenses better. Morris always was a player who could set up defenders and read them. Now he could still do that -- and he was improved.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsAlfred Morris will get plenty of opportunity to run the ball in Jay Gruden's offense this season.
Then in his first game he fumbled. Then he lost a pitch. And, while Morris still had a good season, it wasn't the same as his rookie year. Nor was it the sort of season Washington needed. It clearly wasn't all on Morris: The passing game struggled, the team fell behind a lot and needed to throw more than desired.

That's a long-winded way of saying: If the Redskins are going to make noise this season, it will be because of Morris. And Morris did not take a step back as a runner in 2013 as much as the offense around him did.

Morris remains an excellent runner and the Redskins have kept the pieces in place to sustain whatever success he's already had. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has made it clear Morris will be the center of their attack. Gruden did not have a back such as Morris in Cincinnati -- nor does he now have a third-down back like Giovani Bernard. Therefore, Morris will have to handle the bulk of the run duties.

The Redskins' passing game is in transition. They have the pieces to be dangerous, but quarterback Robert Griffin III is still adjusting to life as a (mostly) pocket passer. It's hard to imagine they don't incorporate his legs some, but it won't be as much as in the past. Which means that the run game belongs mostly to Morris.

Morris, in a supposed off year, still averaged 4.6 yards per rush. He's still the Redskins' best offensive weapon -- or at least most consistent. His problem is the fumbles that stem from focus (dropping a pitch in the opener vs. Philadelphia last season and again in the second preseason game this month).

But Morris is still a good fit for this offense. He runs with power; Morris broke a tackle attempt vs. Cleveland when a linebacker tried to grab him up high from behind and gained 6 yards. That's routine for him. Morris is not one of the top three or four backs in the NFL, but he is a good one in a good run system. If teams are too concerned about the Redskins' weapons in the pass game, then Morris could face more seven-man boxes -- or even six -- and that's always good for a back. He understands how to press the hole and con defenders into overpursuing, leading to cutbacks and arm tackle attempts.

"For a while, we didn't have the pieces in place to run it [like this]," tight end Logan Paulsen said. "Now everything is here and we're established, and that's something we've taken a lot of pride in.

"As we get in the season the [passing game] will become a bigger part. We have outstanding playmakers. But it will be nice if this carries us forward."

The Redskins say they know their identity; it's the run game. That means Morris.

Observation Deck: Washington Redskins

August, 18, 2014
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LANDOVER, Md. -- The game received plenty of hype. The game won't receive plenty of praise. Washington and Cleveland combined for many mistakes, from penalties to drops to turnovers. It added up to a difficult game to watch. It ended up a 24-23 Redskins victory -- on a stopped two-point conversion with no time left -- and a second half with more action. The Redskins' first-team offense turned it over twice. The defense continued its impressive summer, though it must be pointed out: The Browns' offense is really bad.

Here are some other thoughts on the Redskins' second preseason game of the year:
  • The Redskins' defense hasn't been fully tested in the first two games. They've done what they should do in this circumstance and that's dominate. In their limited time against New England they fared well against the starting offensive line, but Tom Brady didn't play. Monday, the Browns just didn't show much offensively. And by much I mean nothing. Still, the Redskins' defense continues to build a little momentum, but it will be good for them to face an offense that will provide a stiffer test.
  • Turnovers were an issue last season for the Redskins and they were again Monday in the first half. And both were avoidable. Alfred Morris just took his eyes off a pitch in the first quarter and never caught the ball. On Robert Griffin's interception, he threw under duress to the outside where Joe Haden had DeSean Jackson covered. Griffin couldn't put anything on the throw. He needs to throw that one away.
  • Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are off to good starts this summer. Kerrigan had two sacks Monday, though one was the result of a snap that caught Cleveland by surprise (quarterback Brian Hoyer was not ready to receive the ball). But Kerrigan's next sack resulted from his beating right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Orakpo had a couple good rushes as well. On Kerrigan's sack, Orakpo did the Johnny Manziel money sign.
  • Washington's quarterbacks, Griffin and Kirk Cousins in particular, both could walk away feeling good about parts of their play -- and knowing they must correct other parts. Cousins also had an interception that stemmed from an overthrow. He delivered some nice passes as well, leading two touchdown drives. Griffin had a couple good throws, including a 49-yard deep ball to Andre Roberts.
  • The Redskins did not run the ball nearly as well as they did in the preseason opener -- Morris carried 11 times for 29 yards and the Redskins failed to score on three runs from the 1-yard line in the second quarter. Just not enough push and perhaps a missed hole. But overall it wasn't the best night for the Redskins' run game -- Cleveland's 3-4 front is a good antidote to the outside zone.

LeSean McCoy returns to practice

August, 18, 2014
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LeSean McCoy returned to practice Monday, one day after sitting out with a toe injury.

While Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly failed to mention McCoy’s injury on Sunday when he addressed other player injuries, McCoy on Monday said he injured his left big toe last week while practicing against the New England Patriots. McCoy had six carries in the Eagles' preseason game against the Patriots on Friday night, but he said on Monday his toe was hurting so badly on Sunday that he could not practice.

McCoy
McCoy said he had an MRI exam on the toe and that there was no significant damage. He likened the injury to a mild case of turf toe.

Nevertheless, McCoy said he likely would play Thursday night when the Eagles have their first home preseason game against Pittsburgh. That game will probably be it for McCoy in the preseason.

On Sunday, McCoy walked off the field and refused to answer reporters’ queries about why he didn’t practice. On Monday, he admitted to being upset he could not participate.

“I wouldn’t say (I was) frustrated,” McCoy said. “Any time I’m not capable of going out there and practicing, missing a day of work, that’s not something to be happy about, unless it’s a day off. Missing a day of work can be frustrating. Someone is out here getting better and I’m not.”

McCoy said he was able to participate in all facets of practice Monday, from individual drills to 11-on-11 team drills.

“I need the work anyway,” McCoy said.

McCoy led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,607 yards.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys believe linebacker Rolando McClain, the twice-retired 25-year-old former eighth overall pick, is ready to get some reps with the starters.

Justin Durant performed well while working with the starters at middle linebacker throughout training camp, but head coach Jason Garrett has said that his most natural position is weakside linebacker. The Cowboys plan to look at the combination of McClain in the middle and Durant on the weak side.

“We started to do that a couple of weeks ago and then Rolando was out of practice a couple of days, so we will do that in practice this week,” Garrett said. “At the end of the day, we need to find our three best linebackers and our best combination of those guys to start for us in base, and then there are some roles in nickel as well. If guys demonstrate that they’re a better cover guy than base linebacker, maybe they’ll get their opportunities there. So we’ll continue to work the different looks and the different combinations and see what looks best.”

If the Cowboys like what they see with the McClain-Durant combination, Bruce Carter would likely be on the bench in the base defense, although he could have a role in the nickel and dime packages.

Carter could move to the strongside spot, but the Cowboys have been pleased with Kyle Wilber’s performance at the position. Garrett has been tepid with his praise of Carter this summer.

“I thought Bruce did fine,” Garrett said, evaluating Carter’s performance against the Ravens. “Didn’t like the holding call that he had. Thought that was a legit call. But he showed up a little bit in the game both in the run game and defending the pass. Good cover guy.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He's a realist, so he knows he's not likely to get his wish. But New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason, who broke his foot in early June and has yet to practice with the team since, is still hoping he might get a chance to play in a preseason game before the regular season starts.

Beason
The Giants have two more preseason games -- Friday against the Jets and next Thursday against the Patriots -- before opening the regular season Sept. 8 in Detroit. Beason said he planned to be more aggressive with his running on the side Monday, trying some things that were more reaction-based than anticipation-based, and he believes he's making encouraging progress toward a return.

"Thinking back to where we were going into it, just to have the opportunity to play in the last couple of preseason games was the goal," Beason said Monday. "They may not let me, but to have the opportunity, or to be out there working on the practice field, that's a good sign for Week 1."

Beason has said since the injury happened that he believed he could return for the regular-season opener, and that still hasn't been ruled out. Jameel McClain has been handling middle linebacker responsibilities in Beason's place, but Beason has been on the field as an observer and quasi-coach for every training camp practice. He's also been experimenting with orthotics to help ease the pain in his toe.

"You don't realize how important your feet are, but it's really everything, right?" Beason said. "So we've been playing with it and trying to come up with the perfect equation for what works on the field, and we're getting close."
ASHBURN, Va. -- The old Jarvis Jenkins -- or, better yet, the younger one -- created noise early in his first camp. He lived in the backfield, it seemed, and coaches couldn’t wait to see what he’d do when he knew how to play. Then came the knee injury. Then came a few years searching for the 2011 Jenkins.

That’s the guy the Washington Redskins would like to see. After the past two years of making few impact plays, the Redskins could use more from Jenkins.

“My main focus is showing what I can do and getting back to that Jarvis Jenkins 2011 rookie year preseason that everyone is talking about,” Jenkins said.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Jenkins
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesJarvis Jenkins is running out of time to deliver on the promise that made him a second-round pick in 2011.
Jenkins started the past two seasons at left end, taking over when Adam Carriker was lost for the 2012 season. But he’s behind Chris Baker at left end this summer. And once Jason Hatcher is healthy, he’ll start on the right side (where the injured Stephen Bowen resided and where Jenkins can play).

It also happens to be a contract year for the former second-round pick, which he calls one motivator but not his main focus.

“If that’s why you’re motivated, that’s the wrong reason,” he said. “I have to be motivated to get my spot back. I have to be motivated to push those guys.”

Last year Jenkins entered camp optimistic after working on a stronger first step. That optimism was blunted in part by a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.

As a rusher, in the past he’d shuffled his feet too much and would take three steps to get to where another lineman would need two. But it only resulted in 1.5 sacks (his career high).

This summer, he has had a good camp -- though a bit inconsistent -- and has done more collapsing the pocket in practice. He even did so once against New England, helping Brian Orakpo record a sack.

Jenkins said it helps that he notices formations quicker and knows tendencies more than in the past. When former Redskins lineman Carriker had his best season in 2011, he said it stemmed from the same thing: understanding formations and anticipating plays.

“When you’re familiar with formations you can trust what you do and how you react when the ball is snapped,” Jenkins said. “The main thing is to trust yourself. If you go with a move you have to stick with it to the end of the snap.”

Also, Hatcher has worked with Jenkins on using his hands. Sometimes he’ll walk past Jenkins and put a hand on his shoulder.

“And I’ll smack it off,” Jenkins said. “It’s just a reaction and if I do it a lot and then when I get in a game I don’t have to think about it. I just do it.”

If it translates into success in a game, the Redskins would be happy. He has a lot to prove, having gone from rookie flash to a guy missing his first season and then getting suspended last season. He has been known for anything but his play.

He knows it’s time to show what he can do.

“I was at that point last year,” Jenkins said. “A lot of adversity. … It’s like a fresh start for me and I have to take advantage of it. When I came in as a rookie, I was playing with my head cut off and I wasn’t worried about nothing. I was just going. That’s what they’re trying to preach to me: Just go. That’s what I’m doing. I’m more comfortable with the defense. I know my assignments. It’s easier for me to go on the field without thinking about it.”

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Jenkins has looked good, but not all the time -- like in practice against New England when Jenkins struggled when the Patriots ran their hurry-up offense.

“He’s had his days where he’s really done well, he’s excited us and he’s had his days where he looked like he was a little lethargic or maybe out of shape like when New England came to town,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “I challenged him and he’s taken it personally and in the last four or five practices he’s done extremely well. He’s one of those guys we have to get production from. He’s got the ability, we just have got to try to consistently get him rolling and so far he’s on the right tack.”
IRVING, Texas -- Since 2007, the Dallas Cowboys could take some things for granted with their backup quarterbacks.

Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton were established starters before coming to the Cowboys to play behind Tony Romo.

Weeden
Brandon Weeden has only 20 career starts and 23 games overall in two seasons.

Some of that inexperience showed up in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens, according to coach Jason Garrett. Weeden completed 10 of 19 passes for 129 yards and an interception. He also could have had a second pass intercepted. He was sacked once and hit countless times.

It was a little different than Weeden’s start in the preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers.

“As much as anything else, it’s the mechanics of the game: handle himself at the line of scrimmage, making sure we’re in the right play,” Garrett said. “His decision-making at different times was only OK in this game, but he did some good things. Obviously we’ll highlight those and try to correct the other things. Like we talked about with him all along, he needs to play. He needs to play a lot of snaps, and I think he’ll get better and better the more chances we give him in game situations.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dez Bryant does not complain about play-calling, so you'll never hear this gripe from him, but the Dallas Cowboys did a poor job utilizing his big-play ability last season.

Bryant
Bryant
That should change with Scott Linehan calling the plays this season.

“We're more in attack mode,” Bryant said. “That's our mindset. We want to go out here and try to be the best. That's our mindset. We're going to keep living like that and try to be the best.”

Attack mode means making plays downfield or giving Bryant room to run when he gets the ball in his hands. He had only 14 receptions of 20-plus yards last season, far too few for a player with his physical gifts. That ranked tied for 22nd in the league and was only one more than tight end Jason Witten.

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By comparison, Bryant had one such play on each of the two series he played in Saturday's preseason opener. He broke a tackle on a 22-yard gain across the middle on the first series. He finished the next drive with a 31-yard touchdown on a jump ball in the end zone. There was also one more shot downfield to Bryant, but the officials ruled he didn't have complete control of the ball when he went out of bounds while making a leaping, juggling catch over a Ravens cornerback.

With Linehan calling plays, Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had 22 20-plus-yard gains last season, an NFL-leading 40 in 2012 and a league-high 32 in 2011.

Clearly, Johnson's remarkable size and athleticism were the primary factors in his big-play production. But Linehan has proven he can utilize a physical-freak receiver, and Bryant looks forward to benefiting from it.
IRVING, Texas -- Few things excite fans in training camp more than the play of an unsung quarterback fighting to make a team.

In 2003 and ‘04, Tony Romo was that guy for the Dallas Cowboys. He was the unknown guy from Eastern Illinois who blossomed into a Pro Bowler and one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL after three years as a backup and even a backup to the backup.

Matt Moore did it in 2007 for the Cowboys. Rudy Carpenter was that guy in 2009. Last year it was Alex Tanney.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Dustin Vaughan
AP Photo/Matt StrasenDustin Vaughan has completed 10 of 21 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in two preseason games.
This year it is Dustin Vaughan, who is more like Romo and Tanney, coming from West Texas A&M with a YouTube hit. Tanney’s video was that of a trick shot artist. Vaughan chose a Christmas sweater and less-than-stellar form in a spoof of his résumé.

In two preseason games, Vaughan has completed 10 of 21 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He has looked the part, but is he Romo or Moore, who went on to start games for the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, or is he Carpenter or Tanney?

“We’re going to see a lot of him these next two ballgames I’m sure, and we’ll see how that plays out,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said after Saturday’s game. “But he could very well [make the final roster as the No. 3 quarterback].”

Vaughan has a big arm, as his 24-yard completion down the sideline to Jamar Newsome attested. He also has an understanding of the game with his 5-yard TD to Newsome after the Ravens stacked the line for the run. In his first preseason work against the San Diego Chargers, he impressed with his ability to move around and buy time.

“I think the main thing, the way to kind of stay sane through this entire process is you’ve got to take it one day at a time,” Vaughan said.

He likely won’t see much or any action Saturday against the Miami Dolphins with the starters expected to play into the second half. He could see a ton of action in the preseason finale vs. the Denver Broncos on Aug. 28. The conundrum the Cowboys could face is if Vaughan plays too well and a team claims him should they try to sneak him through waivers.

The Cowboys have not kept three quarterbacks on the active roster since Stephen McGee in 2011 joined Romo and Jon Kitna. For as well as Vaughan has played, the Cowboys could have too many needs elsewhere on the roster, especially on defense, to keep a third quarterback this year behind Romo and Brandon Weeden.

In order for Vaughan to make it to the practice squad, he would have to clear waivers after the final cuts. Moore didn’t in 2007. Tanney did last year.

“I appreciate absolutely any opportunity that I can get,” Vaughan said. “Whether that’s coming in being the third quarterback or on the practice squad, it’s my dream to be in the NFL and right now I’m trying to make this team and however I can do it I just need to take every opportunity.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Sloppy is one way to describe the Dallas Cowboys' kickoff coverage during Saturday’s preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s the polite way, actually. Awful would be more accurate.

Special teams are often an adventure during the preseason because teams mix and match so many players and spend significantly less time practicing that facet of the game than offense and defense. However, the Cowboys had primarily core special-teams players on the field when Baltimore’s Deonte Thompson raced 108 yards untouched for a touchdown on a kickoff return in the first quarter.

Safety Jeff Heath, linebacker DeVonte Holloman and safety Barry Church got blocked to create Thompson’s path to pay dirt.

“It opened up like the Red Sea,” Thompson said.

“It was [a lack of lane integrity] as much as anything else,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “Sometimes guys get aggressive and want to go make a play on the ball, but you have to have lane integrity.”

That wasn’t the Cowboys’ only poor moment on kickoff coverage. Thompson took his next return 44 yards to midfield. He gained 30 yards returning the opening kickoff of the second half.

The wrath of Cowboys special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia should be felt in the meeting room and on the practice field this week. He has a lot of work to do.

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