NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

Pondering Cowboys' 46: Down to McClain

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
IRVING, Texas -- In pondering the Dallas Cowboys' 46-man roster for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams, the final spot depends on Rolando McClain's health.

Let's get the known inactive players out of the way off the bat: linebacker Justin Durant (groin), defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), quarterback Dustin Vaughan and tackle Donald Hawkins.

The return of cornerback Orlando Scandrick from a suspension would seem to put Tyler Patmon on the bench. The need for a fifth cornerback just isn't there, but maybe the Cowboys want to cover themselves in case they don't want to over-tax Scandrick in his first game.

With Lavar Edwards released earlier Saturday, that puts Jack Crawford in the lineup for the second straight week.

Now let's get to linebacker. Officially, McClain is doubtful with a groin injury. He did not practice the entire week but the Cowboys will wait to see how he warms up Sunday morning. The Cowboys called up Keith Smith from the practice squad so that should give you an idea McClain is not playing.

McClain is not like other veterans because he has not played much the past two seasons. He does not have a track record with the Cowboys of not practicing and playing. But he might be too valuable to keep off the field.

So the guess at the inactives is: Durant, Coleman, Spencer, Vaughan, Hawkins, Patmon and McClain.

Jerry Jones: McClain 'doubtful' for Rams

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Rolando McClain missed his third straight day of practice and owner and general manager Jerry Jones said McClain would be doubtful to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

"You’ll miss him," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. "On the other hand, I think you could expect him probably not to play, but he won’t tell you that. We’re not for sure when he had this injury. He might have had it early in the game. You listen to him, he wants to play and thinks he might play. But we have him as doubtful, of course."

Rookie Anthony Hitchens would start at middle linebacker if McClain is out, with Kyle Wilber moving to strongside linebacker and Bruce Carter on the weak side. Justin Durant will miss his second straight game with a groin injury, but coach Jason Garrett said Durant has improved.

Running back Joseph Randle returned to practice for the first time this week after suffering a concussion last week against the Tennessee Titans.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer is not practicing after going through limited workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. Those were Spencer’s first practices since last season as he comes back from microfracture surgery on his left knee.

"He’s feeling good," Garrett said. "We just want to make sure we do the right amount of work with him as he’s coming back."

Defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) missed his third straight day of practice.
IRVING, Texas – Maybe there’s something about the St. Louis Rams helmet DeMarco Murray likes. Or the uniform. Or maybe it was the way the sun was shining through the doors at AT&T Stadium in the two games Murray has played against the Rams.

In those two games, the Dallas Cowboys’ running back has picked up 428 yards on 51 carries. On Oct. 23, 2011, he ran for a franchise-record 253 yards on 25 carries in a 34-7 win against the Rams, and he didn’t even start that game. Last year he picked up 175 yards on 26 carries in a 31-7 win.

Murray gets his third chance against the Rams on Sunday. How much will the previous games factor into this one?

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray has been hard for the Rams to handle in two prior meetings.
“Um, nothing,” Murray said.

The Rams have a new coordinator in Gregg Williams with a new scheme. They have new players but also will be missing one of their best players, defensive end Chris Long.

“I think you’ve got to be really careful of going back and saying, ‘Boy, he plays great against these guys,’” coach Jason Garrett said. “Well, these guys aren’t necessarily the same guys he’s played against in the past. But, he’s certainly playing well right now. We’ve run the ball well the first couple weeks, and he’s been a big part of it.”

St. Louis hasn’t exactly stopped the run, either. The Rams have the 30th-ranked run defense through two games, giving up 171 yards per game on the ground. Minnesota wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had 102 yards on three carries in Week 1. Tampa Bay’s Bobby Rainey had 144 yards on 22 carries in Week 2.

“I didn’t watch any film of the last two years that we played them at all,” Murray said. “I’ve watched them preseason and the first two games to get a feel for what they do and it’s totally different.”

St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn played in both contests, though he was not one of the NFL’s best defenders in 2011. Stopping the big run is at the top of Quinn’s to-do list this week. In the 2011 meeting, Murray had 172 of his 253 yards on four carries, including a 91-yarder. In 2013, 118 of his 175 yards came on five carries.

“We want to keep him within the box so our big guys and our ‘backers and sometimes safeties can get downhill and just keep him to as minimal yardage as possible,” Quinn said.

With as well as the Cowboys have started the season on the ground, play-caller Scott Linehan knows he will have to devise different ways to get Murray loose as defenses key on tendencies. But he doesn’t want to get away from what the Cowboys and Murray do best.

“He runs angry,” Linehan said. “It’s a great compliment to do that because a lot of guys are running to daylight. DeMarco has that ability but he plays the game like one of those big backs that run with that fierce, tenacious kind of style. You don’t realize it, but he’s not the biggest back in the league. I don’t know where you put him as far as where that is, but he plays that way. The physical nature, he brings a lot of identity to our team the way he plays because our guys are doing the same thing up front. The tight end, the receivers are playing with that same kind of physical nature. To be good at the run game, your back has to have that style to be the guy that’s packing it most of the time.”
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten received a game ball for Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, along with the rest of the offensive line that paved the way for the Dallas Cowboys to pound away for 220 rushing yards.

 Witten has only six catches for 46 yards in two games, but the franchise’s all-time leading receiver isn’t sweating his individual statistics.

“Our focus is trying to create that identity of a running football team,” Witten said.

At some point, the 32-year-old Witten will slow down, but it’d be silly to point to his lack of personal production in the first two games as the sign of a steep decline. He had only eight catches in the first three weeks of the 2012 season -- and some uncharacteristic drops after missing a month of practice after a big hit by then-Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain lacerated his spleen in the preseason opener. He ended up setting the NFL record for receptions by a tight end with 110 that season.

Witten, whose 885 career receptions are the second most by a tight end in NFL history, is willing to sacrifice catches as part of the Cowboys’ newfound commitment to the run. He also recognizes defenses will pay less attention to the nine-time Pro Bowl tight end if DeMarco Murray continues to rack up rushing yards, and play-action, in particular, should lead to some big-play opportunities.

“I think for all of us our numbers will come and opportunities will come,” Witten said. “You have less opportunities because of the way you run the football. I think all of us are committed to that and understand it and do whatever we have to do to help out.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has minimal concern about the sore right shoulder that caused him to be a limited participant in Thursday’s practice.

“It’s a little bit sore, but nothing that’s going to keep me out,” Bryant said. “I’m going to be ready to roll on Sunday.”

Bryant injured the shoulder during the first quarter of Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans. He missed the next series but had eight of his team-high 10 receptions after returning.

Bryant did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He took almost all of the first-team reps Thursday, but the Cowboys exercised caution in keeping him out of contact situations.

Asked if he had full range of motion, Bryant extended both arms above his head.

Bryant will get treatment throughout the week, but he said the shoulder will not impact his performance or his style of play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

“I’m not going to adjust the way that I play,” Bryant said, referring to his tendency to be physical with defensive backs and attempt to break tackles. “That’s how I play. I’m going to go out there and have fun.”

Linebacker Rolando McClain (groin), linebacker Justin Durant (groin), running back Joseph Randle (concussion) and defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) did not practice Thursday. Randle said Thursday afternoon that he has passed the league’s concussion protocol tests and expects to practice Friday.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) and tight end Gavin Escobar (knee) were limited Thursday. Spencer just did individual drills for a second consecutive day and will not be ready for game action until next week at the earliest.

Quarterback Tony Romo fully participated Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s practice due to tightness in his surgically repaired back.

Tight ends an issue for Cowboys' D

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas -- In the first two games of this season, St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook has eight catches for 102 yards.

He might like seeing the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

In the first two games, the Cowboys have seen tight ends Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers and Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans score three touchdowns total. Davis caught four passes for 44 yards, while Walker caught 10 passes for 142 yards.

Barry Church believes he has the reason why tight ends have hurt the Cowboys: zone coverage.

“In man-to-man coverage I feel like they’re not affecting us like that,” Church said. “In zone, they get lost in the zones and are able to find holes and make big plays.”

This is not a new problem. Last year tight ends caught 91 passes for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns against the Cowboys. Antonio Gates caught 10 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Julius Thomas caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Cook caught five passes for 44 yards against the Cowboys last season.

“Play with better eyes,” Church said of a solution. “When a play does break down, that guy next to you you’ve got to plaster. That means take him man to man. We’ve got to start playing things high to low. If there’s a seven route behind us and a little fullback in the flat, we can’t go jump the fullback. We call that taking the cheese because they want to throw the deep one. We’ve got to play things high to low and I think we’ll be able to get that problem solved.”

Rolando McClain misses practice again

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant returned to practice Thursday, but middle linebacker Rolando McClain missed his second straight practice with a groin injury and will have to improve quickly to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

“We certainly have confidence in his ability to play, but we believe in practice,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He has to practice this week in some way, shape or form for us to believe that he can play in the game, so hopefully as the week goes on, he’s able to do get out there and get some snaps.”

Later Garrett said the Cowboys do not have hard-and-fast rules about a player having to practice, but McClain has played two regular-season games since 2012. He leads the Cowboys in tackles (22) and tied for the team lead in sacks and interceptions.

If he can’t play, then rookie Anthony Hitchens would move to middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber would take one of the outside linebacker spots. Justin Durant is expected to miss two more games with a groin injury.

Romo (back) and Bryant (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. Romo had tightness in his back and spent time in the weight room during practice. Bryant ran sprints and caught passes on the side. Garrett said Bryant could be limited in Thursday’s practice in order to avoid contact.

Running back Joseph Randle (concussion) and defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) missed their second straight days of practice. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop, who was limited Wednesday because of an illness, was on the practice field Thursday.

Cowboys vs. Rams preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
The St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys put together two of the league's most dubious Week 1 performances, but both teams rebounded with road victories last week.

This week, the teams meet for the second consecutive season in search of their second win. The Cowboys thrashed the Rams 31-7 in Dallas in 2013.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner preview Sunday's matchup.

Wagoner: Todd, if DeMarco Murray ever goes into the Hall of Fame, he should probably say thank you to the Rams in his speech. He has shredded them in the past and it looks like he's off to a good start in 2014.

Does he look better now than he has in the past? And what is it that has made Dallas' running game so effective so far?

Archer: He really turned a corner late last season well after he ran for 175 yards on 26 carries against the Rams. He ran with more conviction and had a better feel for the scheme and what the linemen were doing in front of him. But it's more than that. It's understanding where the defensive fronts can give him some trouble before the snap. He has run with power but he's shown the ability to bounce plays and get more positive yards so far. The offensive line helps. The Cowboys have three first-rounders up front in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. After years of talking about wanting to be a physical team but not actually doing it, the Cowboys are actually doing it and it's because they believe more in the line than they have since making the playoffs in 2009.

Not to get too carried away here, but did Austin Davis work at a grocery store after toiling in the Arena Football League? I thought the Rams were in trouble when they had to go to Shaun Hill after Sam Bradford's injury, but how is Davis getting it done?

Wagoner: Does serving a few weeks as a quarterbacks coach at the Westminster Christian Academy here come close enough to stocking shelves at the grocery store? A year ago at this time, that's exactly what Davis was doing. Seriously, though, Davis took most of us by surprise with his performance last week against Tampa Bay. He didn't put up any jaw-dropping numbers, and a rash of injuries limited Tampa's defense, but the most impressive thing about his performance was how cool he was under pressure. Time and again he faced pressure, stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball.

For Davis, that has been the biggest change. When the Rams released him in 2013, it was in no small part because he struggled to recognize coverage and was too quick to take off running without keeping his eyes downfield. He was much improved in that area against the Bucs. Whether he starts remains to be seen because coach Jeff Fisher says Hill is the starter so long as he's healthy. But Hill hasn't proved he's back to 100 percent and the Rams have a bye next week, which would allow Davis another go.

The Cowboys' defense took a lot of heat before the season started but seemed like it found some answers against the Titans last week. What do you make of that group so far? And what are some areas of weakness we should be watching for?

Archer: I still have my doubts. It has been better than I or many thought. But I need more visual evidence. Maybe it's just not wanting to be fooled so much. In Week 1, I believe San Francisco really shut it down in the second half and just wanted to avoid the big mistakes with a 28-3 lead. Last week at Tennessee, Jake Locker was terrible. Now some of that was the Cowboys' making. They got a good rush on him at times and the coverage was solid, but he also missed some throws. If they have another good game this week against Davis (or Hill), I'm still not sure I would get carried away. But it would give the Cowboys confidence and that's more important than anything I would say.

One of the matchups I want to see this weekend is Robert Quinn vs. Tyron Smith. Both guys received giant contracts recently. What kind of start is Quinn off to, and how is Chris Long's absence affecting him?

Wagoner: Quinn doesn't have any sacks yet but that single stat is really a disservice to the work he has done. Tampa Bay and Minnesota made it a point to get rid of the ball quick and both teams used screens, slants and other short routes as a way to help negate Quinn and the Rams' pass rush as a whole. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in the league in Week 1 and the Rams had no sacks.

But Quinn is still wrecking offensive lines and creating pressure despite the lack of sacks. Teams are throwing multiple blockers at him on every play and linemen are desperately clutching and grabbing him to keep him from getting to quarterbacks. He's not always getting the calls but the attention going to him should open things up for others. Of course, he also hasn't seen a tackle as good as Smith in the first two weeks, either.

Tony Romo has also had some big games against the Rams in the past. What have you seen from him, coming off his injury? And do you expect him to return to his usual levels of production?

Archer: Romo has not looked the same, despite what he, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett say. I think he's working his way back into game speed after being limited so much in the offseason and in four preseason games because of back surgery last December. He has not had the same zip on passes. He has not moved around as well as he has in the past. It's all intermittent right now. The back can be a tricky thing and it takes some time to heal. Romo has been sacked seven times and had only 73 pass attempts, so clearly the line isn't protecting him as well. He needs to play better. I think he will get there eventually this season -- maybe even this week -- but it's a good thing the Cowboys look to have a ground game they can rely on.

Michael Sam spent the summer with the Rams and had a productive preseason. Cowboys fans have asked me about how Sam has done since joining the practice squad, but it's hard to judge development there. You saw him in the preseason. What kind of player can he be?

Wagoner: Sam really just kind of is what he is -- a high-energy, all-out effort player who has a motor that constantly runs. He's never going to wow anyone with an array of pass-rush moves or overwhelming power to win with a bull rush. He has to win by getting to the edge with his speed and/or by chasing down quarterbacks or ball carriers, because he simply never quits on a play. Because of that, his upside is limited but it's also a quality that should eventually earn him a chance to play in the league.

Dallas once added a former highly touted college performer who was a seventh-round pick of the Rams in George Selvie, and he turned into a pretty decent NFL player. I see no reason Sam couldn't eventually follow a similar but slightly lessened trajectory.

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is missing his first practice of the regular season as he takes a day of rest for his surgically repaired back.

Coach Jason Garrett made no reference to Romo not practicing in his morning news conference but talked about Romo’s health.

“He is coming back from an injury,” Garrett said. “He is working his way back through and there has been some good things over the first couple of weeks. He, like everybody else on our team is trying to get better, learn from the things that weren’t good and try to build on the things that were, try to get himself physically right. He goes through a process to get himself right each and every day and over the course of a week.

“I think it’s an important thing for him try to continue to do. Hopefully he will get better and better as the year goes on.”

Romo was in the weight room working out during practice.

He was not the only big-name Cowboy to not participate in the portion of practice that's open to the media.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) was not in pads, but he was catching passes and running sprints off to the side. He hurt his shoulder in the first quarter of last week’s win against the Tennessee Titans but finished with 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. He had an extra pad placed under his shoulder pads after returning.

Linebacker Rolando McClain was not spotted at practice either. He has a groin injury that he suffered against the Titans. McClain leads the Cowboys with 15 tackles, a sack and an interception.

Running back Joseph Randle (concussion), defensive tackle Davon Coleman (calf) and linebacker Justin Durant (groin) are not practicing.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer is in full pads and went through individual drills for the first time as he works his way back from microfracture surgery on his left knee. Defensive end Lavar Edwards (knee) also returned to practice after sitting out last week’s game.

Orlando Scandrick back at Valley Ranch

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick has rejoined his teammates Wednesday and will be on the practice for the first time now that his suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy has been lifted.

Scandrick was set to rejoin the Cowboys on Sept. 29 and play Oct. 5 against the Houston Texans once his original four-game suspension was up, but with the new drug policy finally in place Scandrick is free to play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

That’s a good thing for a Cowboys defense that lost linebacker Sean Lee (knee) for the season in May, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) for the first eight games and linebacker Justin Durant (groin) for up to a month.

The Cowboys are slowly getting some pieces back. Scandrick’s return coincides this week with the first on-field football work for defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is working back from microfracture surgery on his left knee.


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Scandrick was the Cowboys’ best cornerback last year. He had a strong training camp over the summer. Though he took the starting job away from Morris Claiborne last season, his best asset is his ability to play in the slot. He is quick enough and strong enough to stay with receivers in the middle of the field and he has a good knack for timing his blitzes off the slot.

For a defense in need of all kinds of pass-rush help, having Scandrick will upgrade coverage and even the pass rush.

Given the way Sterling Moore has played in Scandrick’s absence, the Cowboys could have a decision to make as to which cornerback plays where. Morris Claiborne started the first two games opposite Brandon Carr with Moore working in the slot. It’s possible the Cowboys continue to give Moore playing time inside or outside as Scandrick works his way into form after a two-week absence or over Claiborne.

In order to make room for Scandrick on the 53-man roster, offensive tackle Darrion Weems was placed on injured reserve. He hurt his shoulder early in training camp and has not practiced since.
IRVING, Texas -- Rolando McClain really doesn't like to talk much.

McClain is intelligent and can be insightful when interviewed, but he'd rather not talk to reporters, and does so only to avoid being fined by the NFL. The twice-retired 25-year-old linebacker isn't a rah-rah guy on his field, where he "leads with his pads," as Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey put it.

[+] EnlargeRolando McClain
Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesRolando McClain, a first-round pick by the Raiders in 2010, is leading the Cowboys in total tackles through two games this season.
McClain definitely isn't the kind of guy who is going to make meaningless small talk. That's what made the brief conversation McClain initiated on the practice field one day so memorable to defensive captain Barry Church.

"He came up to me and was like, 'I love y'all. Y'all make this game fun for me again,'" Church recalled after McClain starred in Dallas' 26-10 win Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. "Once he said that, I knew he was back to his old ways, like how he was back at Alabama. Just a love for the game and love for winning. We need that type of guy around us. We just need him on our defense and I'm glad he's here."

Man, do the Cowboys ever need that kind of player, that type of talent on their defense. The no-risk deal to acquire McClain's rights from the Baltimore Ravens -- and recruit him out of retirement -- was rooted in desperation after a defense that ranked last in the league last season lost playmaking middle linebacker Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury in May.

McClain was a miserable failure for the Oakland Raiders, who made him the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft but released him less than three years and countless headaches later. He never stepped on the field in Baltimore, and many figured he was a lost cause if fellow Bama man Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager, couldn't get McClain on the right track.

"I was on a bad path," said McClain, who has been arrested three times since entering the NFL and is appealing an 18-day jail sentence stemming from a 2013 incident in his Alabama hometown. "I didn't deserve to play football, so to say. I wasn't all the way there in the game. You ain't going to be the best if you ain't focused on the job, so I needed to take time to do what was important, get myself right, and I got that right.

"Now I'm in a great organization, got some great teammates, and just happy to play football again."

It finally looks as if McClain has a legitimate chance of fulfilling the potential that prompted Alabama coach Nick Saban to tell NFL people that the 6-foot-4, 260-pound physical specimen with a nasty streak, natural instincts and an excellent X's and O's mind was one of the best players he'd ever coached.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett remembered Saban, Garrett's boss when he broke into coaching in Miami, raving about McClain during Garrett's trip to an Alabama pro day. He called Saban when the Cowboys first considered McClain as an option and was told it was worth taking a shot on a gifted player with a troubled past who was truly trying to get his life together.

McClain, the father of two young boys, refocused his life around faith and family. He weeded out the negative influences, giving him a chance to take advantage of his football gifts, which he's done to the tune of a team-high 22 tackles (per the coaches' film), a sack and a spectacular interception in two games for a defense that is exceeding basement-low expectations.

There have been bumps in the road for McClain during his brief time with the Cowboys. Training camp was especially tough for him after a 20-month layoff. He missed a handful of practices due to his Alabama court date and minor, conditioning-related health issues.

But McClain, who quit on two NFL teams, convinced the Cowboys that they could count on him.

"[We] tried to give him an opportunity to come in and show us he can be a football player," Garrett said. "Create the right kind of environment for him to do that, and really emphasize taking day by day, play by play. Just focus on this task right here, and I think over time, he's demonstrated he can be a trustworthy player for us."

With his actions speaking a lot louder than words, McClain has definitely demonstrated his talent.

Defense ready for Scandrick's return

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick is waiting for his formal reinstatement once the NFL and NFL Players Association come to an agreement on a new drug policy, but his teammates can’t wait for his return.

Scandrick has missed the first two games as part of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy after testing positive for amphetamines in the spring. Under the terms of a new policy, Scandrick, as well as other players, like Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, will be allowed to play immediately.

“In the secondary right now, guys are playing pretty well,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “With Scandrick, he's going to fit easily back into the puzzle as far as our chemistry on the back end. He's that guy that has a chip on his shoulder. I know he's going to come back ready to prove some things to us and to the rest of the world. I'm ready for him to come back, man, just get him back into the flow of things. We want all of our pieces up when it's time to go to war. We'll be happy to get that guy back.”

Morris Claiborne has started the first two games opposite Carr, and Sterling Moore has manned Scandrick’s role in the slot and earned the coaches’ praise.

“All I can do is go out there and make plays on the plays I have an opportunity to make,” Moore said. “I think I’ve done that so far, but it’s out of my hands whenever he comes back.”

Scandrick had two interceptions last season and was the Cowboys’ best cornerback. He had a solid preseason and training camp as well.

Linebacker Bruce Carter said Scandrick brings an attitude to the defense.

“Our spirit on defense right now is real high,” Carter said. “Everybody is flying around and just having fun, and a guy like Orlando, for me, I feel like he loves to talk. He’s always talking junk to somebody, so I think it’ll add more flavor to our defense. We’ll be happy to have him back.”

Cowboys banking on Murray's health

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
IRVING, Texas -- Through two games, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is on pace for 408 carries this season.

It's too early to say Murray will challenge Larry Johnson's NFL regular-season record of 416 carries for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. It's probably too early to say Murray will push for Emmitt Smith's franchise record of 377 in 1995.


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But Murray's 51 carries are the most he has had in a two-game span in his career, and he has never had more than 217 carries in a season.

As a rookie in 2011 he had 47 carries for 160 yards in a four-day span in Cowboys' wins against the Washington Redskins (Nov. 20) and Miami Dolphins (Nov. 24). He has not had more than two games in a row with at least 20 carries since his rookie seaason when he went a span of four straight games with at least 20 carries.

This is the first time Murray, who had a career-high 29 carries for 167 yards in Sunday's win against the Tennessee Titans, has had back-to-back games with at least 20 carries since Week 13-14 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals in 2012.

"We feel like DeMarco is a durable football player who can take the pounding of being the primary running back for the Cowboys, so we're going to give him opportunities to do that," coach Jason Garrett said. "We like the other guys. If we ever get to a point where we feel like we're wearing them down, we say, 'OK, let's play the other guys a little bit more.' But we don't feel like we're to that point by any means. He seems to handle the work. He seems to relish in getting the work, and that's a good thing. He seems to get better as the game goes on with more carries, and that's what all the good backs that I've ever been around have. That's part of their demeanor. So we'll certainly be mindful of running him into the ground, just like we would any player on our team, and be willing to use the other guys and trust the guys to carry the ball behind him."

But Murray has yet to play a full season. He missed three games as a rookie with a fractured ankle. He missed six games in 2012 with a foot injury. He missed two games last year with a knee injury.

Garrett clarified what he meant by durable when Murray's injury history was mentioned.

"It probably was more than we don't feel like he wears down, you know what I'm saying?" Garrett said. "We feel like at the end of that ballgame, he was strong. It wasn't like, ‘Boy, he's breaking down, he doesn't look like himself.' I thought he got stronger as the game wore on."
IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo insists he's throwing the ball better than ever.

"As far as down the field, I'm throwing the ball really well," the Dallas Cowboys quarterback said. "I'm excited about that."

[+] EnlargeDallas Cowboys, Tony Romo
William Purnell/Icon SMIThrough two games this season, Cowboys QB Tony Romo has 42 completions on 66 attempts.
The statistics, as well as your eyes, must be lying.

Romo, who attributed a couple of passes that fluttered to poor body positioning and not decreased arm strength after two back surgeries, hasn't taken many shots downfield this season. He attempted only five passes that traveled farther than 20 yards in the air during the Cowboys' first two games. He completed one -- a 56-yard gain by Dwayne Harris, who had to wait for a severely underthrown pass and outjump a defensive back to make the catch -- and was picked off once.

"We've been an explosive pass offense for a long time," coach Jason Garrett said. "That's not something that concerns us terribly."

The Cowboys have been an explosive pass offense for a long time. Is that in the past tense with Romo at quarterback?

Romo averaged 7.2 yards per attempt last season, by far a career low. That has dropped to 6.9 this season.

Romo, one of the league's premier vertical passers for most of his starting tenure, simply hasn't been as effective attacking downfield as he used to be. This isn't just a two-game sample size. It's a trend that dates to October 2013, after his 506-yard performance in the shootout loss to the Denver Broncos.


Will the Cowboys have more yards rushing or passing against the Rams?


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Since that game, Romo is 11-of-38 (28.9 percent) on passes that travel 20-plus yards in the air for 374 yards with only one touchdown and one interception. Compare that to his numbers on 20-plus-yard passes in 91 games from 2006 to 2012: 137-of-356 (38.5 percent) for 5,179 yards and 50 touchdowns with 23 interceptions.

Romo doesn't take as many risks as he did earlier in his career, which is an especially smart approach during games like Sunday's win against the Tennessee Titans, when the Cowboys needed their quarterback to be a bus driver to complement a dominant running game.

When the Cowboys need Romo to let it rip, can he still do it?

"He, like everybody else, is a work in progress, particularly when you're coming back off an injury," Garrett said. "Hopefully over the course of time, you just heal up more and more as you get going."

At some point, the Cowboys will need better from Romo, if not better than ever.
IRVING, Texas -- Anthony Spencer's journey back to a football field after microfracture surgery on his left knee last fall is getting closer.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Spencer will “in some form he’ll do some football,” this week practice. Spencer has not practiced in more than a year after playing in just one game with 34 snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2.

Spencer has steadily increased his rehab work from the spring through the summer and has not reported any added soreness or complications in his comeback.

“He’s really worked hard and he looks good but he have to be mindful about where he’s coming from and just take it day by day and see how he handles the work,” Garrett said.

The Cowboys kept Spencer on the 53-man roster instead of putting him on the reserve physically unable to perform list because they thought he could be back before the Oct. 12 meeting at the Seattle Seahawks. Had he been placed on PUP, Spencer would have missed the first six games.

Garrett said Spencer could get most of the work on the side with the athletic training staff or go through a limited portion of individual drills. When Spencer returns, Garrett said he would play right defensive end. The Cowboys would work him in slowly as a designated pass rusher in nickel situations as he builds his strength and conditioning.