Cornerback Brandon Carr was in pads for the first time all summer. Cornerback Morris Claiborne was in pads, but was kept out of competitive drills because of a shoulder injury. Defensive tackle Henry Melton did resistance training off to the side as he comes back from a groin strain.
All three reported progress.
Carr missed most of the team’s time in Oxnard, California, due to the death of his mother. He returned for the final week of practice, but the coaches kept him out of drills so he could work on his conditioning. Carr went through the whole practice Tuesday and has designs on playing Saturday against the Miami Dolphins.
“I’ll play as much in the game as they want me to and I’ll take reps in practice next week and just get ready for the home opener,” Carr said. “I feel like I’m in pretty good shape. I’m going tax my body this week as far as putting it on myself to get myself in condition for those four quarters and those long drives, but just whatever the coaching staff and trainers is suitable for me to go out there and do I’m all in. So whatever it takes for me to get myself going and whatever they believe it takes for me to get going, I’m going to do it.”
Claiborne also wants to play against the Dolphins but the team might opt to keep him out of his third straight preseason game. He didn’t play against the San Diego Chargers because of a sore knee and did not play last week against the Baltimore Ravens because of the shoulder injury.
“At this point, I feel like I’m in a good place, the coaches are in a good place with how things are going,” Claiborne said. “I know we both wish things will speed up with the recovery and I can get back on the field faster, but where we’re at right now, I have to say I haven’t had no bad talks or nothing with none of the coaches or none of the people around here. Everyone seems to be on the same page with where we’re at with the rehab going forward.”
Melton could return to practice by the end of the week but is doubtful to play against Miami. Coach Jason Garrett mentioned Melton could play in the preseason finale on Aug. 28 against the Denver Broncos.
Like Claiborne, Melton has no doubts he will be ready for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
“I would like to [play in the preseason] but I’m not going to push it to where I can have any setbacks or something,” Melton said. “It’s pretty much just what they want me to do and I’d like to go out there for a preseason game even if it’s just a couple of plays or a series or something. Just knock some of the rust off for a regular game.”
Melton’s rust is a little different because he played in only three games last year before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Melton said the knee has not given him any trouble this summer.
“If I played a whole season it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I just played in the regular season,” Melton said, “but since I haven’t played in pretty much almost a year, going back out there would be beneficial to me if I’m ready.”
“It was a weird feeling, but it was good to do that,” said Okoye, who has not played in a game since 2012 and was getting out of a medically-induced coma 13 month ago.
Okoye is attempting to return to football after battling anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a potentially deadly brain illness. He is on the Cowboys’ non-football illness list and would need to be activated to the 53-man roster in order to practice.
“The plan now is to get him in football condition,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We can’t work with him as coaches. He needs to get himself in shape as best he can. He has been cleared, but you don’t want to just simply take him out there. He hasn’t played in a long, long time. You just want to make sure his wind is right, his feet are underneath him.”
Okoye said there is no timetable for his return to full practice, but all of the feedback so far has been positive. He has picked up his conditioning work over the last two weeks in hopes of getting back on the field soon, something that was a dream not too long ago.
“You’ve got to be cautious with things, because obviously you’re dealing with the brain,” Okoye said. “We’ll take things slowly and progressively get better. … It’s really nothing like a sprained ankle or a knee or whatever. Just dealing with the brain, so it’s very new. It’s just one of those things we’ve got to assess.”
The Cowboys have been patient with Okoye since signing him in the offseason. The hope was he could get some work in training camp. There is an outside shot he could play Aug. 28 against the Denver Broncos.
The Cowboys have a need along the defensive line. He signed with the Cowboys to reunite with Rod Marinelli, his coordinator with the Chicago Bears.
How much can he help?
“I guess we’re going to find out when that happens,” he said.
However, head coach Jason Garrett beat Marinelli to the punch with Zach Minter, the fresh-off-the-street defensive tackle who surprisingly starred during Saturday night’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.
“You remember Flounder from ‘Animal House’?” Garrett said, referring to the 1978 comedy hit. “He’s got a little bit of that Flounder look to him. He didn’t have a Flounder look to him when the ball was snapped, though. He really showed up.”
Minter, a defensive tackle from Montana State who played two games for the Chicago Bears as a rookie last season, racked up four tackles, two sacks, a hurry and a forced fumble while playing against third-stringers in Saturday’s loss. It was an impressive enough performance for the coaches to give him some work with the starters during Tuesday’s practice.
Minter’s performance was reminiscent of defensive end George Selvie’s starring role in last year’s Hall of Fame game the week he was signed by the Cowboys. Selvie not only earned a roster spot, but he started all 16 games for the Cowboys last season and ranked second on the team with seven sacks.
“That’s what we’re all about,” Garrett said. “Here’s the opportunity. Here are your plays in practice. Here are your plays in the game. Show us what you can do.”
The 6-foot-1, 307-pound Minter made a name for himself, sort of.
“Players were coming up to me and literally hit me, ‘Don’t take 79 out,’” Garrett said. “They didn’t even know who the hell he was.”
Minter will now forever be known as Flounder, at least at Valley Ranch. That’s fine by him, although he’s never seen “Animal House,” which was released a dozen years before Minter was born.
“No, but I looked him up,” Minter said with a laugh, noting the difference in skin tone. “I thought that was kind of funny.”
Minter’s bid for playing time is quite serious. With Dallas’ defensive line depleted by injury, the coaches are more than willing to give a good look to anyone who shows playmaking ability.
Minter earned a nickname and a shot against better competition with his dominant Dallas debut. It’s up to Flounder now to prove that he can do more than flash a few times.
Lawrence, who remains on crutches, will be re-examined on Sept. 4 and is looking at possibly missing three to six regular-season games.
“It feels great,” Lawrence said. “Surgery went well, I’m glad it happened now than later. Just going on a day-to-day basis with the treatment and getting that done so we can get back on the field.”
Lawrence was hurt in a one-on-one pass-rush drill against left tackle Tyron Smith. He said he knew immediately the injury was bad
“Trying to rush the edge, bend the corner and went on the side of my foot wrong and it popped,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence was starting to work in with the first-team defense when he was hurt. The Cowboys lack a true right defensive end without Lawrence. Jeremy Mincey is the starter and the Cowboys will use outside linebacker Kyle Wilber as a pass-rusher in the nickel defense.
“It set me back a little physically, not being out there with the team,” Lawrence said. “I know I’m going to have to be into my playbook and the weight room now. On the mental side, getting into the playbook and learning all the plays and making sure I’m up to date so when I come back I have no problems.”
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.
“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.”
“Well, I think you’ll probably see him here against Miami about like you did the other night,” Jones said during a Tuesday appearance on 105.3 The Fan. “I don’t know that we ought to do any more than that then really see not only [Brandon] Weeden but our young quarterback can get some snaps out there.”
Romo and the rest of the starters have typically played at least a half in the third preseason game, considered the dress-rehearsal game, and sits out the preseason finale.
The Cowboys planned for Romo to play about 12 snaps Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens, his first game action since undergoing back surgery to repair a herniated disk in December. He ended up playing 16 snaps, including two plays negated by penalty.
Romo, who sat out one-fourth of the practices during training camp as part of a preventative-maintenance program, completed 4 of 5 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens.
Jones, who declared Romo as “100 percent” during the first week of camp, said he is completely confident in the franchise quarterback’s health and ability to perform all the physical tasks required to play the position.
“He’s shown it throughout our training camp,” Jones said. “I thought he did a great job how he managed himself back in, if you will, his rhythm, if you want to use another word here. But he’s making all the throws and is really cherishing the options that he’s got in the offense.”
Okoye remains on the non-football injury list as he returns from anti-NMDA encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain illness that had him in a medically-induced coma for roughly three months last year. He will continue to increase his conditioning work before he gets on the field in full pads.
He will have to be activated off the NFI list in order to practice with the team.
Linebacker DeVonte Holloman (neck), cornerback Sterling Moore (groin), offensive tackle Darrion Weems (shoulder), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) and defensive tackle Terrell McClain (ankle) are not practicing.
Cornerback Brandon Carr is in pads for his first full practice of training camp. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is also in pads but it’s not clear how much he will work in practice as he returns from a shoulder injury. Tight end Gavin Escobar was forced out of Saturday’ preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens with a shoulder injury but he is in full pads.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones denied a report that his son Stephen, the team's director of personnel, took a draft card with Johnny Manziel's name on it out of his father's hand when he attempted to select the former Texas A&M quarterback.
Author Jim Dent wrote in "Manziel Mania" that Stephen Jones "snatched the draft card straight out of his dad's hand."
"That didn't happen," Jerry Jones, who has a feed of the Cowboys' Valley Ranch draft room broadcast live on the team's website, said Tuesday during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan. "We're well aware that there are a lot of people looking at us in that room. You'd think we could act a little more organized than that."
The cards to make the picks are turned in by a team employee attending the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, not at the Cowboys' facility.
However, Jerry Jones acknowledged that Stephen Jones played a significant role in talking him out of taking Manziel when the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner slid in the draft and was available when the Cowboys went on the clock with the 16th overall pick.
Jerry Jones was tempted to take Manziel, who was the highest-ranked available player on the Cowboys' board but would have entered the NFL as the backup to Tony Romo, who is one year into a six-year, $108 million contract with $55 million guaranteed.
Stephen Jones and others in the room argued for drafting Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin, who will start at right guard for the Cowboys this season.
- I wonder if we need to tap the brakes on the Cowboys' commitment to the run so far in the preseason. It's been nice to see Scott Linehan dedicated to the run in the first two preseason games. Against the Baltimore Ravens, the Cowboys' first-team offense had 14 official plays. Nine of them were runs. In the preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, six of the first eight plays were runs. It's all about establishing a mindset. The Cowboys want to be a physical team. But let me take you back to the first preseason game last year with Bill Callahan as the playcaller. The Cowboys ran it 34 times for 140 yards against the Miami Dolphins. In five preseason games, they averaged 26 runs per game. Then in the regular season the running backs and receivers had 315 carries. I'm not saying the Cowboys won't run the ball more than they did in 2013. I am saying what this team will do best will be putting three wide receivers on the field (or a tight end in that No. 3 spot) and spread opposing defense out. It's good to see the Cowboys focus on the run in the preseason, but don't look for it to be their identity when the games count.
- As we fall in love with guys like Zach Minter, Ryan Williams and Jamar Newsome, I wonder if we need to pay more attention to who their success came against. It was against backups to the backups on the Ravens. Minter played early in the game and was manhandled on a touchdown run. He was much better against the backups. I asked Jason Garrett if they evaluate a player based on the competition on Monday. "You got to make sure you recognize the competition," Garrett said. "But I also say that, that was the opportunity that that player had. He had the chance to go work against that opponent and this is what he did. That's a good thing. Now let's give him another chance to go against maybe someone more established. Go from working against the 3s to working against the 2s and maybe then the 1s. You never want to hold that against the player because that was the chance he got and he took advantage of it. But you do have to be mindful of who's he going against." In other words, don't get carried away just yet.
- Speaking of Williams, I wonder if the Cowboys could finagle something in a trade for him. And, yes, maybe I'm contradicting myself here based on the previous Wonder. He came to the Cowboys with a good pedigree after the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the second round. He just couldn't stay healthy in Arizona, playing in five games in three years. He's had a good summer. His performance against the Ravens was flashy. It was good to see. But as I wrote in Monday's 53-man roster projection, what he and Joseph Randle do are pretty much the same. Neither is a special teams' stalwart but Randle has been better. Randle has improved as a pass blocker too. On game day it would be difficult to keep both of them active. If Williams closes out the preseason with two quality games, the Cowboys might be able to get a late-round or conditional pick for him -- or Randle potentially -- to break the logjam at tailback and give them more options in the future.
- I wonder how active the Cowboys will be around the final cuts. They will look for help along the defensive line and potentially cornerback. I can see them looking for backup offensive line help a well. Last year the Cowboys traded for Edgar Jones from Kansas City and Caesar Rayford from Indianapolis. They dealt Sean Lissemore to San Diego and Dante Rosario to Chicago. They claimed Kyle Bosworth off waivers from the New York Giants. The Cowboy can like how their young players have developed this summer, but are they developing quickly enough to win games in 2014? Here's a mini-Wonder inside a Wonder: As we attempt to project the 53-man roster on a weekly basis, I wonder if the Cowboys cut their roster to 50 or so with the idea that they will add players after the final cuts.
- I wonder if the Cowboys try to hide guys in the final preseason games. Does Dustin Vaughan need to play again? If the Cowboys want to get him on the practice squad, maybe it would be wise to sit him so another team wouldn't be so intrigued. It was a little surprising to see Chris Boyd not play against the Baltimore Ravens. The undrafted receiver has done a nice job. Maybe it's not enough to make the 53-man roster but enough to move to the practice squad. Dartwan Bush could make the final roster considering the state of the defensive line, but he's showed some pop after earning an invite to camp following a rookie-camp tryout.
All signs point to incumbent starter Ronald Leary being that guy and winning the job over Mackenzy Bernadeau, who started 11 games at right guard last season and is also the backup center.
Leary started Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens and played every snap with the starting offensive line. He also took the vast majority of the first-team reps during the pair of joint practices against the Oakland Raiders last week.
It was a strong hint that Leary was the favorite to win the battle when he worked with the starters during his second full-contact practice during training camp after missing almost two weeks while recovering from a strained hamstring suffered during the player-organized, pre-camp conditioning run.
The Cowboys coaches have been mostly pleased with Leary's performance since then.
"He's getting better and better," Garrett said. "He's a little bit behind because he wasn't involved in the early part of training camp, but he's a good, strong player. His experience from last year has helped him and he's become more and more decisive as a player. He needs to continue to get his feet up underneath him and catch up on his reps a little bit and we'll give him plenty of chances to do that."
“We’ll be in pads all week long,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s training camp.”
The Cowboys have altered their practice times, flipping when they work from later in the afternoon to early in the morning as a concession to the Texas heat. Highs all week max out at close to 100 degrees. The temperatures in California barely cracked 80.
“It’s different, and we found out a long time ago that it gets hotter as the day goes on,” Garrett said. “People always think that 12-noon is the hottest part of the day. Here, it’s like 6 o’clock. It gets hotter and hotter and hotter, so the earlier you can get going, the better. We used to go to Austin and everybody would say it’s so hot in Austin, but you’d come back here and it felt like it was 10 degrees hotter. The biggest thing you want to do, is you want to be able to practice without everybody thinking about the Gatorade and the water jugs and you get 50 IVs after practice. We’ve all lived that deal, so get up early, practice from 8:15 to 10:15. It’ll be in the 80s or low 90s as opposed to 100 degrees. And we’ll flip it around and do our walk-through in the afternoon, so it will be the same kind of content that we had out in Oxnard, we just flip the days around.”
The third preseason game is the most regular-season game-like, and the Cowboys should get Brandon Carr on the field for the first time, but Morris Claiborne (shoulder), Henry Melton (groin) and Terrell McClain (ankle) are questionable at best. The Cowboys' starters have not played in a final preseason game since Bill Parcells was coach in 2006, although Jason Garrett said he anticipates Melton playing against the Denver Broncos if healthy. He should also want Claiborne, Terrell McClain and Rolando McClain to get action should the latter McClain become the first-team middle linebacker this week in practice.
The mixing and matching of the defense so far this summer has given more players chances to win jobs, but it has given the coaches less time to see which players work best as a unit.
The Dolphins' game will provide the best test for the defense just because of playing time.
"They are all tests. There is an opportunity every day, whether it's on the practice field or the preseason," Garrett said. "Your point is well-made though, that more of our guys are going to play and play together so we think that's a good thing. But every time you go out there it's a test. And hopefully you answer each and every day and you build and grow and get better and better. I thought our guys the other night who played did a good job. But it will be fun to see of those other guys who haven't been out there in a game setting go and play and see where they are as well, getting ready for San Francisco."
The Cowboys used nine of 11 starters from the preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers against the Baltimore Ravens last Saturday. Three of those starters were Tyrone Crawford, Davon Coleman and B.W. Webb. Coleman and Webb are not yet locks to make the final roster; Crawford took over at left defensive end for an injured George Selvie.
With Selvie getting healthier, Crawford might go back to a reserve role. Webb's case is helped by Scandrick's upcoming absence. Coleman will be pushed by the return of veteran Amobi Okoye to practice this week.
The Cowboys have been protective of their starters for fear of injury. Justin Durant has started both games at middle linebacker but played only 25 snaps. Slot corner Sterling Moore was held out against Baltimore because of a sore groin. Right defensive end Jeremy Mincey has played 26 snaps in two games.
Garrett was pleased with the incremental steps the defense made against the Ravens.
"I thought we simply made more stops than we did in the previous game against San Diego," Garrett said. "There were some good things. Obviously we've got to get better in a lot of different areas and we got to get some of these guys back to see them play but there's good competition for some of the starting spots and good competition down the line too."
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.”
The starters are expected to play more Saturday against the Miami Dolphins in what is essentially a regular-season dress rehearsal.
Coach Jason Garrett said Romo felt fine the day after the Ravens game. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 80 yards and a 31-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant.
“The one play for me that stood out is the one play where he climbed the pocket and threw to Dez,” Garrett said. “His eyes were up and you could tell he just felt what was going on. He just had a really good feel for it. He looked like himself on that particularly play and even on the other play where he extended a little bit but kind of worked his way here but came back to the left and eventually threw it back to (James) Hanna, those are things that we've seen from him, and again, his eyes are up, they’re down the field. His eyes were really good on the touchdown to Dez. He kind of looked over (to the left) and then his eyes came back to the middle and held the safety and threw the ball up the sidelines. It looked like he was comfortable out there seeing things, moving around and feeling things in the pocket.”