NFC East: Dallas Cowboys
IRVING, Texas -- The high-pitch whistle is out of place on a football field. Is it coming from a television camera? Is old age creeping in, and you are just hearing things?
Then you look over to the Dallas Cowboys' running back drills. The whistle is coming from the footballs as the running backs go through rope drills with the balls pinned to their chests.
"Yeah, it's a good technique," coach Jason Garrett said. "It's a good technology. The idea is that you want to hold the ball high and tight, and you want to have the point of the ball be up. We talk about five points of contact. Oftentimes, the ball gets down, and it gets loose.
"You don't want it low and loose. You want it high and tight. It's a good mechanism to have. [Running back coach Gary Brown] says, 'I want that ball singing.' So if he has the ball up, it's going to sing. That's a different way to reinforce the importance of ball security."
In February at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tom Creguer, the inventor of High and Tight and an assistant coach at Northwood University, sought out NFL running back coaches to pitch his product.
He first met Ollie Wilson of the San Diego Chargers to talk fumble statistics and the importance of holding onto the ball. Then he met with Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown. The two exchanged cards, and the Cowboys were among the four teams to purchase the HnTv1 training football.
The footballs debuted at the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp. The veterans finally got their hands on them during the on-field teaching sessions. The Cowboys have ordered more.
“They love it,” Brown said of his backs. “The first time they did it, it was kind of hard on them because they had to keep it nice and tight. Their arms got a little sore. That’s OK. They’ll get over it.”
In 2010, Creguer decided he had enough of his team fumbling. He was coaching at Shepherd [Michigan] High School at the time. The team lost seven games because of second-half fumbles and finished 1-8.
“I’m not a gambling man,” Creguer said, “but I would’ve bet we’d at worst be opposite of that.”
After that season, he went about designing a football to help prevent fumbling. He went to a sensors convention, “listening to all these engineers and brainiacs. You ever think a coach stepped into these rooms?”
He was a coach, not a scientist, but he learned about surface area compression. He also learned the proper way to hold a football.
“You cannot compress a regulation football on the seams,” Creguer said. “The seams rotate, and the ball moves within your grip because you’re squeezing down.”
After seven prototypes in five years, Creguer went to market in January. The High and Tight ball has a sensor on the panels. As long as it maintains contact to the body and the ball is angled properly, tight to the chest, it whistles. If it loses contact, the ball is quiet.
In 2014, Northwood running backs had 11 of the team’s 14 fumbles. When using High and Tight’s HnTv1 training football, the running backs had four of the team’s seven fumbles.
Creguer said his players could tell when the ball wasn’t set right in their arms, and they began to instinctively cover up before defenders would hit them.
“It created awareness,” Creguer said.
Inside the Cowboys’ meeting room is a sign that reads "The Ball, The Ball, The Ball." Garrett often tells his team that the most important statistic in football is turnovers. Teams that hold onto the ball win more games.
On a wall outside the locker room, coaches post weekly pictures of players using proper ball security techniques. They also show pictures of opponents using improper technique.
“It’s not about brute strength,” Creguer said. “It’s constant pressure and closing the gap. ... You’ve got to have muscle memory.”
Fumbling has not been a big problem for the Cowboys’ running backs. In 2015, Darren McFadden lost three, and Joseph Randle lost one. In 2014, DeMarco Murray lost five, and Randle lost two. Alfred Morris has lost seven fumbles in four seasons but did not have a fumble in 2015.
Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ first-round pick, lost four fumbles in his college career.
“We want to make sure our No. 1 goal is ball security this year," Brown said. "We don’t want to fumble the ball, not one time."
At the combine, Creguer ran into Elliott and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and showed them High and Tight.
“He lit up when he saw it,” Creguer said.
A little more than two months later, the Cowboys drafted Elliott in the first round.
“When you have the football in the perfect position with all the points covered and tight to your body, it sings to you,” Elliott said. “When it stops singing, you know you’re doing something wrong. So you want to make sure it’s singing the whole time. Those balls just came out this year, so it’s a new ball that I’ve never worked with. At Ohio State, they had bats instead. They used to hit us with bats, so I like this better.”
"The overwhelming response and the overwhelming mentality is for him, if we're involved in any way, to help and encourage him to get it together, to get his issue improved because those issues, in my mind, not talent, are why he is free today," Jones said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. "It's those issues, and those issues are the overriding consideration here, and how and what basis that those can be dealt with and addressed."
After a troubling rookie season, Manziel spent 10 weeks in rehab. In 2015, he spent the final week of the season in Vegas and missed a medical test for a concussion. A Dallas grand jury is now deciding whether Manziel should be charged for allegedly abusing his ex-girlfriend.
Jones said he has not spoken to Manziel since the Cleveland Browns released the QB. Jones also has not spoken to Manziel's new agent, Drew Rosenhaus. According to sources, at a personnel meeting at the end of the 2015 season, Manziel's name was mentioned as a possible quarterback candidate, and the thought was rejected.
Jones looked to draft Manziel in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but he stuck with his scouting department, and the Cowboys took Zack Martin. Jones, however, has lamented missing out on Manziel on numerous occasions, even as the quarterback struggled in Cleveland.
Jones spoke deliberately when addressing Manziel. In the past, Jones has helped players who had off-the-field troubles. Josh Brent worked in a warehouse during his suspension from the NFL and last year worked in the team's scouting department after he retired from football.
"I would in any way offer to help him work to be where we all are rooting for him to be, which is having a successful life and football career," Jones said. "I would do that. You say, 'Well, is that because of football?' Well, I might not have been aware of this, had it not been for football. I'm aware of it.
"With that, with me, comes a motivation, if it's appropriate within the rules or within the guidelines of the NFL, if we can be of help in the promise of being a part of the NFL through the Cowboys, I certainly look to that. But … I don't even dare, right now, go into picturing him in a training camp or an OTA or him in a ballgame. You don't go there."
INDIANAPOLIS -- On a day in which the top quarterbacks available in the draft -- Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch -- worked out at the NFL scouting combine, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones reaffirmed his faith in Tony Romo.
"What is the one unequivocable fact that you can count on relative to the preparation of this draft and on draft day is that I'm planning on Romo being the quarterback for the next four or five years," Jones said during a more than one-hour long interview on the team's luxury bus from the scouting combine on Saturday. "That's a fact. You won't see a decision on draft day that will fly in the face of not believing, from our standpoint, that he'll be our quarterback for four or five years."
Romo said Saturday he will likely have a plate surgically-implanted to help fortify a left collarbone that was broken twice in 2015 and three times since 2010 pending the results of a CT scan in the upcoming week. Romo, who turns 36 in April, missed 12 games in 2015 because of the collarbone injuries and a game each in 2013 and '14 because of back injuries.
Jones said he believes Romo "will be doing the heavy lifting for us at quarterback and for the team for the next four or five years."
The timeframe would indicate the team would rather have more impactful help in 2016 from their early picks in the draft to help return them to the playoffs after a 4-12 finish in 2015. A first-round pick signs a fully guaranteed, four-year contract and the team holds a fifth-year option as well. By the time the team would need to make a decision on the option in 2019, it could cost as much as $20 million.
The Cowboys have needs all across their defense as well as at running back and wide receiver. When asked if he thought there was a quarterback worthy of the fourth overall pick, Jones said, "I don't know."
Wentz and Goff are considered by most to be top-10 picks, followed by Lynch. The Cowboys could look in the second and third round for help.
Since Troy Aikman's retirement in 2000, the Cowboys have drafted only two quarterbacks: Quincy Carter in the second round in 2001 and Stephen McGee in the fourth round in 2009. Since Jones took over the team in 1989, they have drafted only five quarterbacks: Aikman, Steve Walsh (1990 supplemental) and Billy Musgrave (1991). The Cowboys landed Romo as an undrafted free agent in 2003.
Jones admitted there is some temptation.
"When you've got this high a pick and you have the circumstances we're in right now with where we are as a team and with the quarterback, you've got to look at what's available to us for sure and knowing that with these qualities of picks you can get some contributions, immediate contributions and should be significant with where that is," Jones said. "I couldn't tell you today at all how we might make the decision. This is one of those that might not be made until we're down to the last 10 seconds on the clock."
As for the potential impending surgery, Jones said the communication between he, Romo and the medical staff has been great.
"There is no angst on my part," Jones said.
Draft plans are always fluid, but Jones continues to back Romo.
"There's no one breathing that has any idea at this time what we're going to do with that first pick because I don't," Jones said. "And there's nobody you could talk to that thinks they're leaning that way to do that because I'm giving you the lean right now. I think Romo is going to be our quarterback for four or five years and we'll make all decisions accordingly."
In 2014, he had a discectomy performed on his lower back that kept him out of the entire offseason. This offseason, Romo is planning to have a plate inserted to secure his left collarbone, sources told ESPN Insider Ed Werder. In addition, Romo is expected to have a portion of the collarbone shaved down.
Unlike 2014, however, Romo is expected to be healthy for the bulk of the offseason program.
Last Saturday Romo said he would be "ready to rock" for the organized team activities. By Romo's timeline, that puts him back on the field in May.
Romo turns 36 in April, which has many wondering how much longer he can play at a high level, although Romo and the team aren't too worried.
Romo seemed to trigger his inner Matthew McConaughey when he spoke Saturday at the re-opening of Bowlmor Dallas in Addison, Texas. Romo would have been the youngest quarterback in the conference championships behind Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer on Sunday had the Cowboys made it that far.
"The joke is -- and I've said it before -- as everyone else is getting older, I'm getting younger," said Romo, who turns 36 in April. "You just go out and do it and prove it and I think next year you'll see a little bit different Dallas Cowboys team."
Romo has viewed his collarbone injuries -- three times it has been fractured since 2010 -- as a nuisance rather than something career threatening.
"I'll be able to play for a while," Romo said. "It's really just about playing. If I play I'm going to play at a certain level. I know that. I just have to do the things to ensure that I'll be out on the field."
Two offseasons ago, Romo had real concerns about his future because of the back surgeries even if at the time he put a brave face on his return.
"When you go through the back troubles early on and have surgery you don't know how it's going to come out," Romo said. "But it's come out. I'm seeing a very strong side to it now where I'm able to do things I wasn't able to do even last year."
In 15 games in 2014, Romo completed 69.9 percent of his passes and had 34 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. The Cowboys went 12-4, won the NFC East and a playoff game.
Romo missed 12 games in 2015 because of the collarbone injuries. The impending surgery is expected to make the area more secure. He broke it first in 2010, missed 10 games and did not have surgery. He broke it in Weeks 2 and 12 in 2015 and did not have immediate surgery.
The recent delay has allowed the bone to heal more so that the plate will allow for more strength to the area. Is it foolproof? No, but it can't hurt.
"My back is not going to keep me out," Romo said. "That was a struggle a couple years ago where I thought that. That part is getting less and less every month that goes by. I think the collarbone was a freak thing and that happens. But I think we're going to do things that will probably allow us to make sure that doesn't happen again. The fact that I can work the way I'm working now is exciting."
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will have a CT scan on his left collarbone within the next week, and while surgery remains a possibility Romo said the bone is getting "stronger and stronger."
"I think we know which way we're siding and we've had exhaustive discussions about it," Romo said Saturday at the re-opening of Bowlmor Dallas in Addison, Texas, where he signed autographs for fans. "Really it's just about being there for your teammates. If I play, I know what I mean to our team. I just need to do everything in my power to make sure I'm on the football field."
The day after the 2015 season ended, Romo said he was looking at different options for his collarbone either through surgery or without an operation. If he had surgery, he would likely have a plate inserted into his collarbone to protect it from a re-break.
Since 2010, Romo has broken the collarbone three times, including twice last season. The initial break came Sept. 20 against the Philadelphia Eagles and then after missing seven games he suffered a hairline fracture after a hit in the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Romo said he is ahead on his offseason conditioning and football work than in past years at this time.
"That's about the only positive that comes from being out," Romo said.
The Cowboys went 3-1 in Romo's four starts. He finished the season with five touchdown passes and seven interceptions while completing 83-of-121 passes for 884 yards. The Cowboys kept him on the active roster until they were officially eliminated from the playoffs. He went on injured reserve on Dec. 25.
"With some of the workouts, I've been able to go harder in the last three weeks than I have in the previous six months," Romo said. "I'm getting excited about that. Kind of wish training camp was coming up. For me, I already had an offseason almost during the year, so I'll be ready to rock for the [organized team activities]."
ARLINGTON, Texas – Say this for the Dallas Cowboys: They follow Jason Garrett’s fight mantra.
So far, the change to Matt Cassel at quarterback has not brought the boost the Cowboys needed when he replaced Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys were held without a touchdown for the second time in three weeks.
The comedy of errors offensively came to a head on the final drive. Cassel had a first-down pass knocked out of his hands, his second-down pass to Darren McFadden was too high, and he was sacked for 6 yards on third down because he was unaware Bruce Irvin was tracking him down from behind. The Cowboys had two cracks at fourth-down success, but their hope evaporated when Cassel’s sideline throw fell incomplete.
Without that play, the Cowboys would be winless at home this year. As it stands, they have lost three in a row at home and welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to AT&T Stadium next week. At 2-5, the Cowboys are beyond desperate for a win.
Slow welcome back: Dez Bryant’s return brought energy to the crowd, but that didn’t translate to the stat column. Bryant finished with two catches for 12 yards, with Richard Sherman shadowing him regardless of which side Bryant lined up on. The only time Sherman wasn’t on Bryant was in the slot. Bryant’s first catch came on a rocket screen in the slot, but Sherman was able to stop Bryant for a 2-yard loss. Sherman drew offensive pass interference on a deep ball, but it was a smart play by Bryant to break up a sure interception. This was just the seventh time since Garrett took over as coach that Bryant had two or fewer catches.
What were they thinking? Like they did against the Atlanta Falcons in the first game without Romo, the Cowboys were unable to attack through the air down the field. They took only a couple shots against the Seahawks. Before the Cowboys’ final drive, Cassel had thrown for 97 yards. Bryant and Terrance Williams had a pair of 15-yard catches, but Cole Beasley was shut out for the second straight game.
One reason to get excited: The Cowboys had an honest-to-goodness takeaway Sunday. They had not had one since Week 2; that's a span of nearly 300 plays. Greg Hardy was able to tip a Russell Wilson pass to himself for a turnover. It was an extremely athletic play that Hardy seemed to time up a few plays earlier when reading Wilson’s eyes. It was the first interception of Hardy’s career and the first takeaway for the Cowboys in what felt like forever.
One reason to panic: For the second time in three games, the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown. They also did not reach the end zone in their 30-6 loss to the New England Patriots. After Hardy’s interception, the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal after taking over at the Seattle 16. Even the return of Bryant was unable to spark much change. The good news? Romo can practice this week for the first time since breaking his left collarbone.
Carry the load: For the third time in his career, McFadden has had 20 carries in back-to-back games. Even so, he wasn’t as explosive Sunday as he was in last week’s loss to the Giants, in which he gained 152 yards on 29 carries. McFadden finished with 20 carries for 64 yards. The last time McFadden was called on this much was in the first two games of the 2011 season with the Oakland Raiders, when he had 22 and 20 carries to open the season.
“Yes,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys failed to score a touchdown in a game for the first time since Week 3 of the 2011 season, when they beat the Washington Redskins on six Dan Bailey field goals. The Cowboys also put up season lows in yards (264) and first downs (18) in Sunday's 30-6 loss to the New England Patriots.
Weeden completed 26 of 39 passes for 188 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked three times.
“Brandon didn’t play well enough,” Garrett said. “We didn’t play well enough. We’re going to watch the tape and evaluate each guy and each unit to see how we can play better. That’s just the process we go through each week. Ultimately, we didn’t score enough points. Brandon was a part of that, but everybody else was a part of it too.”
The Cowboys do not play again until Oct. 25. They will practice Wednesday and Thursday and then be off through the weekend.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he believed Cassel would be ready if the team turned to him but added, “I think we’re a long way from being able to decide to do that. I don’t in any way want to imply that we will consider that or do that.”
But Jones also acknowledged the Cowboys have time before they start preparing for the Giants.
The offensive issues are not Weeden’s alone, but the quarterback is forced to accept the bulk of the blame in a three-game losing streak, as much as he would get the bulk of the credit for a three-game win streak.
“It sucks, to be honest, but you can't control that,” Weeden said. “I can only control going out there and executing. I don’t know. It's frustrating. Like I said, I feel like I came in against Philly, I was prepared, I was ready. I thought I played well against Atlanta. We just couldn't get it down offensively in the second half. [Against] New Orleans, I made a drive at the end of the game to give us a chance to win. We never got the ball back."
Weeden continued and lamented his typical bad luck.
“Norv Turner [Weeden's offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns] told me a long time ago when we were sitting in the quarterback meeting, he said, ‘Brandon, I don't know what you have done to whoever, but you've got the worst luck of any player I have been around.’ I have, ever since I was a little kid. I don't know what I did. But it is what it is. I'm never going to lose confidence in my ability. I wouldn't be here and put in this position if I couldn't play this position.”
Not just offensively but everywhere. For years, he has carried the burden of the franchise. Even last year, when the Cowboys were running the ball so well, Romo made the crucial plays at the big moments.
For all that DeMarco Murray did, Romo was the most valuable. When there were cracks, Romo filled them. When there were shortcomings, Romo compensated.
Romo has the ability to mask the offensive shortcomings and maximize what the defense can be. He was able to fix things so well that people didn't know they needed fixing. Playing quarterback is not just about running the play called. It's about getting the offense into good plays and out of bad plays.
The Cowboys aren't paying for being too reliant on Romo, but they are seeing what life without Romo will be like in the next two, three or four years. Whoever replaces him in 2017, 2018 or 2019 cannot be expected to do all Romo does.
The Cowboys have put up a respectable 48 points in two games without Romo. Scoring 28 in the first half against Atlanta should have been enough for the Cowboys to win. Scoring 20 versus the Saints wasn't great but was good enough. Asking for more from Brandon Weeden would not be prudent. He has played about as well as can be expected, whether fans want to accept that or not.
But Weeden can only do so much.
What makes Romo elite -- yes, elite -- is how he can get the Cowboys into the right plays. His experience makes everybody else better, from the receivers -- regardless of whether Dez Bryant is playing -- to the offensive line. Remember the game-winning drive against the New York Giants in the opener? It came with Bryant hurt.
It's not about how magical Romo is when things break down. That is the easy stuff to see -- the highlight plays that make everybody's jaws drop. That’s offense almost by accident.
Romo likes to say his greatest gift is his ability to process information quickly and act. Early on in his career, he processed things so quickly that he would get himself into trouble. He would make the great play and also the poor play.
Now he can process things and almost always make the correct decision.
It's checking to the right run or right pass, depending on the defensive look. That helps the offensive line get angles on the front in the run game and helps them get an edge in pass protection. Although Romo does not predetermine where he goes with the ball before the snap, he can anticipate coverages and blitzes that allows him to get the ball out more quickly.
All of that makes the defense better because the offense can sustain drives. In the past two weeks, the Cowboys have converted just four of 18 third-down attempts. With Romo, the Cowboys converted 10 of 23 third-down tries.
Weeden does not have that ability, and that's not a knock on him. There are maybe 10 starting quarterbacks in the NFL who have that ability. Teams are paying kingly sums for just potentially princely quarterbacks.
Cam Newton has superhuman abilities but will make silly decisions. Is Ryan Tannehill "the guy" or just a guy for the Miami Dolphins? Colin Kaepernick appears to be more style than substance. Andy Dalton is off to a great start, but the true judgment for him will be in the playoffs.
Romo must feel helpless on the sideline with his left arm in a sling because of a broken collarbone. He is 35 and understands there are only so many realistic chances left to define his career with a Super Bowl.
The season is by no means over for the Cowboys. Romo could possibly be back for the final seven games of the regular season.
In the meantime, the Cowboys must somehow make sure those games will matter. If they can't, Romo might not be able to save them.
All involved should appreciate Romo even more than they already did. The past two games certainly demonstrated Romo's value.
IRVING, Texas -- If all that mattered were stats, then we would have been fawning all over quarterback Brandon Weeden’s performance Sunday against Atlanta.
Instead, we're scrutinizing it.
The problem with Weeden’s performance is that you can tell from his decision-making that he didn’t trust himself to put the ball into tight windows or not turn it over.
If Weeden doesn’t trust himself after more than a year in this offensive system, then he should bench himself. You can’t win playing scared.
He played tentatively, which is not the way to earn respect from opposing defensive coordinators who will study his performance against Atlanta. The reality is Weeden won’t earn respect from opposing defensive coordinators until he starts throwing downfield and threatening opposing secondaries with passes to Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, Jason Witten or Lance Dunbar.
Until that happens, defenses will continue to play a safety close to the line of scrimmage to shut down the Cowboys’ running game. They will continue to attack the line of scrimmage with no fear of reprisal.
Atlanta’s defense, like the Seattle Seahawks' defense the Cowboys will face in a few weeks, plays a scheme that gives the quarterback few opportunities to effectively throw the ball downfield. When those opportunities present themselves, the quarterback must recognize them and let the ball fly.
“We’ll evaluate the quarterback decision-making, but there were opportunities to throw the ball out there and he made some different decisions to throw the ball inside and was effective,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The guy threw four incompletions the whole game, so he did a good job helping us move the football."
Weeden played scared. We shouldn’t be surprised.
We’re talking about a player with 27 career touchdown passes and 29 interceptions who has lost 12 consecutive starts. Sports at any level is all about confidence. None of us should be surprised if Weeden lacks confidence.
The Cowboys have at least one deep route built into virtually every passing play. In the Cowboys’ system, the coverage dictates where the quarterback goes with the ball unless he decides it’s safer to take the underneath throw instead of forcing the ball downfield.
In the second half, the coaching staff asked Weeden to throw downfield, but he wouldn’t do it for whatever reason. What Weeden must understand is good things can happen when he throws the ball long, especially when virtually all of the rules are designed to help the offense.
Weeden threw deep to Terrance Williams on the game’s second play. The pass fell incomplete, but Williams drew a face-mask penalty; the drive ended with a 37-yard touchdown run by Joseph Randle.
Weeden didn’t throw another pass longer than 20 yards until 39 plays later, when he missed Witten on a seam route.
That’s way too long between deep shots. The more shots downfield the Cowboys take, the more safeties have to at least respect the threat of going deep, making all the underneath throws to Witten, Cole Beasley and the running backs more effective.
In the second quarter, Weeden threw an angle route to Williams, who didn’t run a great pattern, and the ball was tipped into the air. It fell incomplete, but seemingly made Weeden shy away from throwing those types of passes because he didn’t want to throw an interception.
History suggests Weeden can’t play much better than he did Sunday. In 22 starts, he has led an offense to 28 points or more just four times. His 8.92 yards per attempt Sunday was the third highest of his career and the 232 yards was the 11th best of his career.
Sure his interception before the end of the half was an egregious decision, but most quarterbacks make at least one dumb throw each week.
He positioned the Cowboys to win, and if the defense had played anything close to the way it did in the first two games, then that’s what would’ve happened. You have delusions of grandeur if you believe Matt Cassel can spend a week with the Cowboys’ playbook and play at a vastly superior level.
Cassel has been a better player than Weeden in their careers, but since 2011 he’s 10-17 as a starter with 30 touchdowns, 34 interceptions and a 74.0 passer rating.
This is life without Tony Romo for the next seven weeks. Unless Weeden begins trusting himself little will change for the Cowboys’ offense.
Witten suffered sprains to both ankles and sprained his left knee in last week’s victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, but managed to play in 82 of 85 snaps and lead the team with seven catches.
Coach Jason Garrett said Witten would be limited in practice and could be for the rest of the week as the team looks to get him his healthiest by Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. Witten has played in 189 straight games, the longest active streak among non-kickers and punters, and started 133 games.
While the Cowboys don’t want to think about life without Witten for even a week, the topic has to be discussed.
“It’s always day by day with everybody and as you get into the NFL season, there is a lot of different scenarios that come up with the guys who go to practice on Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or what you project for the week and his availability during the game,” Garrett said. “ … You’re always creating those hypothetical situations to be ready and you’re practicing that way. But the biggest thing is the communication throughout the week so that you can make the necessary adjustments as you go.”
Witten’s history plays a factor in what the Cowboys do. In 2012, he missed most of training camp with a lacerated spleen but was able to play in the season opener. There have been other times where he has needed to rest in practice because of ankle, knee and hamstring issues.
“You’re certainly more trusting of a guy like that because he’s shown you many times in the past that he’s going to be there,” Garrett said. “. He has a great credibility with us.”
Tight end James Hanna had knee surgery last Saturday, but hopes to be able to practice by the end of the week. With Witten banged up and Hanna less-than-certain to be available, how the Cowboys attack could change because they rely on so many multi-tight end snaps. Hanna was in full pads for rehab work Wednesday.
Left guard Ronald Leary was not on the practice field as he works back from a groin injury that kept him out of the Eagles’ game. The Cowboys hope he will be able to return this week. La’el Collins took the first-team snaps in the portion of practice open to the media.
Defensive end Randy Gregory (ankle) is not practicing.
IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant's return to the field has been a much debated topic since it was learned the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver broke his right foot in the season-opening win against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys have used a four-to-six week recovery time but have acknowledged it could be a little bit longer. Because of the $70 million investment they have made in Bryant in July, they will not rush him back to the field.
Others have wondered if Bryant is looking at a long absence, referencing the injury suffered by NBA star Kevin Durant.
Speaking on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio Tuesday, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White isn't sure Bryant will return at all in 2015. He cited the recovery needed for Julio Jones, who had a similar surgery in 2013. Jones played in only five games and missed the rest of the season.
"Me and Julio were talking about the whole situation and he was like, when he heard that he broke his foot he was like, 'He's got the same injury I got,'" White said. "And, you know, we had to shut him [Julio] down for the whole entire year. So I just don't see him making it back this year. Or if he does make it back it will probably be late in the playoffs, so it'll probably be around January. But it's still a risk. Anytime you are coming off a foot injury, you know, he's not going to be running or anything like that. It'll be weeks before he can actually apply any kind of pressure onto it or even start walking around. So he's got a long haul ahead of him, so he's got to be patient with this thing. Plus he just signed a new contract so he's got to be as patient as possible and just kind of take it easy."
Hakeem Nicks, who worked out for the Cowboys on Tuesday, has not been the same receiver since he had his fifth metatarsal repaired in 2012.
But Jones has recovered just fine. He caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns last season and caught nine passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.
IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant will be back in 2015. The question is when.
At best, Bryant can return Oct. 25 for the rematch against the New York Giants thanks in part to the Cowboys' bye week coming Oct. 18. Perhaps the more likely return will be Nov. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Without Bryant, the Cowboys' offense will change. It has to. He is too good. While no player is irreplaceable, this is not a case in which the Cowboys can simply go next-man-up and expect the offense to be the same.
As coach Jason Garrett likes to say, when No. 88 breaks the huddle, opposing defenses know exactly where he is. With No. 88 no longer in the huddle for at least five games, that puts more pressure on Tony Romo, more pressure on the offensive line, more pressure on the running backs, more pressure on Jason Witten, more pressure on Terrance Williams and more pressure on the defense.
The loss of Bryant ratchets up the pressure on everybody with the Cowboys.
But it's not an impossible task.
Romo has a history of winning without top receivers such as Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Roy Williams, Miles Austin and even Bryant.
In 2007, Patrick Crayton filled in for an injured Glenn, starting 13 games and catching 50 passes for 697 yards and seven touchdowns. Austin had 23 career catches before replacing an injured Williams on Oct. 11, 2009, at Kansas City before establishing a franchise record with 250 yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns in an overtime win against the Chiefs. In 2011, Laurent Robinson came out of nowhere to lead the Cowboys with 11 touchdown catches, finishing the season with 54 catches for 858 yards.
In Sunday's win against the Giants, Terrance Williams moved to Bryant's receiver spot and caught three of his five passes for 45 of his 60 yards. With Bryant missing the offseason program while waiting on a new contract, Williams became the Cowboys' de facto No. 1 receiver.
Devin Street moved into the No. 2 role and had a solid spring but an ankle injury suffered in training camp lingered and affected his work as the summer wore on. He has just two catches for 18 yards in his career, and on his lone target Sunday, the Giants came up with an interception.
Witten remains the standard of the passing game.
The Cowboys will miss Bryant in a ton of ways, but Romo has shown he can elevate the play of others.
He will need to do it again in 2015.
He's not just playing the game of hiding information from the other team before kickoff.
"It doesn't matter," Garrett said. "The only thing that matters is everybody getting ready to play and when their number is called upon, be ready to go out there and be their best."
Since the spring, Joseph Randle has taken almost all of the first-team snaps when he and Darren McFadden were healthy. During the brief open period of practice to the media on Wednesday, Randle took the first-team snaps again, but be careful reading too much into those instances.
What appears clear is the Cowboys will go with a committee approach at running back with Randle, McFadden and Lance Dunbar getting some work. The division of labor is something that could change game to game, half to half, quarter to quarter and series to series.
"Sometimes you have one guy who's a featured back and sometimes you have more than one guy doing it," Garrett said. "When you have a couple or three different guys involved running the football over the course of a game, I think the benefits are many. There's a freshness that each of those guys has. Maybe they have different styles. They can attack defenses in different ways and maybe over the course of three of them, they're just more versatile than one guy might be."
The Cowboys were a one-man running game show last season with DeMarco Murray. He carried 392 times for 1,845 yards, setting team marks in both statistical categories.
Randle has 105 carries in two years. McFadden has had more than 215 carries in a season just twice in his seven seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Dunbar has 80 carries in three seasons.
Entering last season, the Cowboys had no idea Murray could withstand the amount of work he received. He was slowed by injuries in his first three seasons.
"I think with any young player before they get an opportunity to be a strong contributor or a starter, you're always betting on what you've seen up to that point," Garrett said. "That happens with our team every year, playing a young guy, playing a rookie, maybe you're playing a second- or third-year guy who hasn't played before. When those roles change you're basing it on evaluation you've had up to that point. Joe's done a lot of good things to give us confidence to think he can do a good job for us."
IRVING, Texas -- The regular season is upon us so it's time for Five Wonders to go weekly instead of intermittently like in the offseason.
There are plenty of things to wonder about: What will be the Dallas Cowboys' final record? Will they make the playoffs? Can they get to a Super Bowl?
In this week's offering, however, we are taking slightly smaller view wonders.
Away we go:
- I thought there would have been more discussions about a long-term deal for defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford leading up to the first game of the regular season. The Cowboys have made it clear they view Crawford as a defensive cornerstone for years to come, and they have taken care of those types of things in training camp, like with Sean Lee and Tyron Smith. So that has me wondering about another defensive lineman: Greg Hardy. He's on a one-year deal and will miss the first four games due to a suspension. The Cowboys have lauded Hardy's work. His teammates like him. You don't get a chance for pass-rushers like Hardy often or at all in free agency. Does it make sense for the Cowboys to do a deal with Hardy sooner rather than later? It doesn't need to be out-of-this-world in terms of guaranteed money, but enough to make Hardy open to wanting to be a Cowboy for the long-term. Just a wonder.
- I wonder if Dez Bryant comes out with a nine-catch, 128-yard, two-touchdown performance Sunday against the New York Giants, if everybody will say, 'Who needs training camp?' Bryant was involved in just 12 practices during training camp (10 in Oxnard, California, two back in Texas) after suffering a hamstring strain. Does anybody wonder if he will be game ready even with lack of preseason work? Some players need the grind of training camp to get ready. Sean Lee is one of those guys. Bryant is so gifted that there's just a feeling he can wake up from a month off and be the best player on the field.
- We hear it every year from every team about how difficult the final cuts can be. Maybe it’s more the emotions involved because you ask the players to work so hard and sacrifice so much only to tell them they’re not good enough to make the team. But I wonder if there has to be at least a little double-taking going on that none of the 20 players cut Saturday by the Cowboys were claimed by another team over the weekend. Some were added to practice squads, but none were claimed off waivers and put on a 53-man roster. That surprised me and has me wondering if the depth of the roster isn't as good as many believe. On Monday, defensive end Lavar Edwards, who was waived Sunday by the Cowboys, was claimed by the Oakland Raiders.
- I wonder who is No. 53 on the Cowboys’ roster. No, not uniform No. 53, but the 53rd player on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys went heavy at defensive tackle and there probably isn’t a need for six defensive tackles. There’s no doubt Davon Coleman and Ken Bishop were among the Cowboys best 53 players but if the Cowboys need a roster spot for another position to can they justify having that many tackles? On Monday, No. 53 was linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who was let go when the Cowboys claimed tackle Jordan Mills. He will make $2 million from the Cowboys and not play a down for them. It’s hard to find quality defensive linemen, so I think Coleman and Bishop would be safe. Danny McCray? Tyler Clutts? Devin Street? Geoff Swaim? If the Cowboys do need a roster spot, it might come down to who they think they will have a better chance of getting back on the roster at a later point.
- Speaking of defensive tackles, I wonder if Ben Gardner wasn't included on the practice squad because it's too difficult to get 11 defensive linemen work during practice. Gardner is certainly practice-squad worthy. He might not have all the measurables to make him a top prospect, but he has skills that can be worked on and he can help a scout team. But if you have 11 defensive linemen on the active roster it's hard to justify keeping another one on the practice squad when you need to fill needs elsewhere.
Here's a player-by-player look at the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster:
Tony Romo: He is healthier than he has been in two years and looks primed to have another big season.
Brandon Weeden: He is in the second year in the same system for the first time in his career, but the hope is he doesn't have to take a meaningful snap all season.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Joseph Randle: He has been the leader of the committee since the offseason began and will get the chance to be that guy throughout the season.
Darren McFadden: After seven years in Oakland, the Cowboys are hoping his speed comes through.
Lance Dunbar: This season, the Cowboys swear, will be the season Dunbar gets the ball more on third-down chances, but will they follow through?
Christine Michael: Another runner to add to the committee, but it will be hard for him to get a lot of work, at least early in the season.
Tyler Clutts: He is a dependable player whom the coaches trust in a lot of situations.
TIGHT END (4)
Jason Witten: Entering his 13th year, he is not showing any signs of slowing down as an overall player.
James Hanna: He was slowed the past two weeks of the preseason with a knee injury but is expected to be back to practice this week.
Gavin Escobar: The former second-round pick remains a niche player but will be a factor in the red zone and running the seams.
Geoff Swaim: The seventh-round pick caught attention in the spring and carried that over to training camp, but how does he get on the 46-man roster?
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Terrance Williams: He had a solid offseason and closed the preseason strong but will have to win one-on-one matchups all season with the attention paid to Bryant.
Cole Beasley: He was arguably the Cowboys' best offensive player in training camp and could have a career year as the slot receiver.
Devin Street: He had some moments in the summer but had trouble getting over a nagging ankle injury. He was active every game as a rookie, but that might not be the case this season.
Lucky Whitehead: He earned a spot with his work at a couple of different receiver spots as well as in the return game.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Tyron Smith: He is the best young tackle in the game, and he is only entering his fifth season.
Travis Frederick: Coming off a Pro Bowl season, he has developed into one of the NFL's best centers.
Zack Martin: He became the Cowboys' first rookie All Pro since 1969 last season and has the look of a star up front. He missed three preseason games with a stinger.
Doug Free: The right tackle's offseason was slowed because of foot surgery, but he played better as the summer wore on.
Mackenzy Bernadeau: His versatility helps him keep a roster spot with his ability to play all three interior spots.
La'el Collins: The most-heralded undrafted signing will have to earn his keep and has signs of a bright future, but people need patience.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
DeMarcus Lawrence: He came on strong in the playoffs last season, and that confidence has carried over to his second year in a move to left defensive end.
Tyrone Crawford: The Cowboys believe he is a star in the making and view him as a cornerstone piece of their defense as he enters the final year of his contract.
Nick Hayden: He is criticized by many, but the coaches love his work and leadership.
Jeremy Mincey: He led the Cowboys in sacks last season with six and brings some leadership and wisdom to the room.
Randy Gregory: He might be the steal of the draft if he produces in the regular season the way he produced in the preseason. He might be a better all-around player than many thought.
Jack Crawford: A broken thumb ended his season early last year, but he can produce from the tackle and end positions.
Terrell McClain: If he can stay healthy, he can be a disruptive player on the interior. But he has had a hard time staying healthy.
Davon Coleman: He has the talent to be a decent part of the rotation, but his focus waned last season after making the roster as an undrafted free agent. He can't let that happen again this year.
Ken Bishop: He might not possess the pass rush Rod Marinelli craves, but he is stout against the run and gives the Cowboys needed bulk.
Ryan Russell: The fifth-round pick was always hearing it from Marinelli in camp. The Cowboys see athleticism but want to see more consistency.
Sean Lee: His comeback from a torn ACL is almost complete. He played in one preseason game and has said the knee feels strong. Can he last a full season?
Andrew Gachkar: He was an unheralded free-agent signing but has showed the ability to play all three spots and could be the opening day middle linebacker.
Kyle Wilber: He should open the season at strong-side linebacker. He is dependable, if unspectacular, with his main role coming on special teams.
Anthony Hitchens: A foot sprain has kept him off the field for three weeks, but there is some hope for the opener. If he is healthy, he could start in the middle.
Damien Wilson: He started off strong in camp but slowed a little late, which can happen to rookies, but he has the athleticism to play all three spots.
Keith Smith: He re-joined the team early in camp and played his way on to the roster in part because of his special teams' ability.
Brandon Carr: His future was much talked about in the offseason, but he remains and the Cowboys need him to play the way he did the final six weeks of last season.
Morris Claiborne: With Orlando Scandrick out for the year with a knee injury, the former first-round pick in 2012 gets his last chance to show why he was picked so high. His comeback from a torn patellar has gone better than expected.
Barry Church: The leader of the secondary with actions perhaps more than words, the Cowboys need more big plays from him in 2015.
J.J. Wilcox: He is still growing into the position but has the tools to be solid.
Tyler Patmon: All eyes will be on him because he takes over for Scandrick in the slot. He is feisty.
Byron Jones: The first-round pick might be more of a safety than a corner, but his versatility helps Marinelli juggle different defensive packages.
Corey White: Like Jones, he can play safety and he can also play slot corner if needed. The Cowboys might have a nice find after New Orleans let him go.
Jeff Heath: He is a core special teamer, but his work over the summer was slowed because of a concussion.
Danny McCray: He returned to the Cowboys after a one-year run in Chicago and is in much the same role as when he left: special teamer.
L.P. Ladouceur: He has not had a bad snap since he joined the Cowboys in 2005. That's quite a long run.
Dan Bailey: He is one of the NFL's best kickers and never seems to let the pressure get to him.
Chris Jones: He had his best camp of his career and possesses a strong left leg.