Cowboys: Josh Brent
A look at a key player from each NFC East team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:
Dallas Cowboys: DT Jay Ratliff
He missed 10 games in 2012 due to injury. He cursed out the team's owner after a game. He got busted for driving under the influence mere weeks after friend and defensive linemate Jerry Brown was killed in an accident for which friend and defensive linemate Josh Brent is facing intoxication manslaughter charges. He costs $4.072 million against the salary cap for a team that struggled all offseason to find cap room. It's kind of a miracle Ratliff is still on the roster. One of the reasons the Cowboys decided to switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment was their belief that Ratliff would thrive as one of two defensive tackles in Monte Kiffin's defense, and in order to overcome all of the good reasons they have to get rid of him, Ratliff could stand to look as healthy and dominant as possible this offseason on that defensive line.
New York Giants: RB David Wilson
The Giants let Brandon Jacobs leave as a free agent last offseason and released Ahmad Bradshaw this offseason, which means their running game has been completely overhauled. Wilson, their 2012 first-round draft pick, needs to be a big part of what that running game becomes this year. He showed last season that he has a quick burst and big-play capability, and he became a force on kick returns. Wilson should get the opportunity this offseason to show that he can handle the responsibilities of a No. 1 feature running back. With the Giants, those responsibilities include blitz pickup and pass-protection duties. If Wilson shows advancement in those areas and the ability to handle regular carries, he could keep Andre Brown in a goal-line role and decrease the team's need to find a third-down back with Bradshaw-like blocking ability. If not, the Giants could be tinkering with their run game all year.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick
Vick is the clear favorite to win the Eagles' starting quarterback job. He has considerably more NFL experience and more 2013 upside than any of his challengers. He still has the arm strength, the speed and the athleticism to offer the Eagles something at the quarterback position that no other team in the league has -- the stuff that has made coach after coach dream of what's possible since he was lighting it up at Virginia Tech. However, Vick will turn 33 next month and also has a well-established reputation as an injury-prone, turnover-prone risk-taker who holds the ball way too long and doesn't read defenses effectively. New Eagles coach Chip Kelly has said he needs a quarterback who can make quick decisions and unload the ball in a hurry. Vick will surely get the chance to show he can do that, and it's possible a scaled-down offense that leans more on the run game than Andy Reid's did will help. But if Vick struggles in the preseason with his decision-making and timing, he could lose the job to Nick Foles or Matt Barkley or Dennis Dixon. And if that happens, he could lose his roster spot, too.
Washington Redskins: LB Brian Orakpo
After a second consecutive season ended early due to a pectoral muscle injury, the Redskins' 2009 first-round pick finds himself having to prove something that was never an issue in his first two seasons -- that he can stay healthy. By now, Orakpo was supposed to have established himself as a disruptive pass-rushing force on par with the best in the league. He hasn't been able to do that, in large part because of those injuries. He has one year left on his contract, and there has been talk that he could get an extension prior to the start of the season, which is an appealing idea to the Redskins since they likely could get him at something of a discount due to the injuries. But if he struggles with health or effectiveness in the preseason, that's liable to make the Redskins think twice about a preseason extension, and to turn 2013 into a make-or-break year for Orakpo.
Just ask Jerry Jones.
The Cowboys owner/general manager made that declaration after the first round of the draft, when Dallas decided to pass on Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, opting to give more weight to the opinions of two prized new assistant coaches than the scouting department.
Jones’ rationale, which was a regurgitation of what he heard from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, was that Floyd wasn’t “quick twitch” enough to play the 3-technique tackle in the Cowboys’ new scheme. The Cowboys didn’t believe it was in their best interests to use a first-round pick on a 4-3 nose tackle.
Kiffin and Marinelli certainly know what they’re looking for in a 3-technique defensive tackle. After all, they coached Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in Tampa. (They didn’t draft him, though. Sapp was coming off his rookie year when Kiffin and Marinelli were hired by the Buccaneers.)
The real head-scratcher here is why the Cowboys didn’t consider improving their defensive tackle depth a primary concern.
The confidence in the defensive ends is understandable. DeMarcus Ware is one of the most dominant pass-rushers in NFL history. Anthony Spencer is coming off a career year. They’re making the transition from 3-4 outside linebackers back to the position they both played in college, but the Cowboys have good reason to believe the ends will be a strength of the defense. (Next year isn’t so certain with Spencer playing for a franchise-tag deal for the second straight year, but 2012 third-round pick Tyrone Crawford has a lot of fans at Valley Ranch.)
There are a lot of question marks, however, at defensive tackle.
There’s a lot of buzz around Valley Ranch about how former Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff will thrive in Kiffin’s scheme. You hear no concern from the Cowboys about Ratliff, who turns 32 in August, having his sack totals decline in five straight seasons, including when injuries limited him to six games in a sackless 2012.
“He will flourish, I emphasize ‘flourish,’ in this defensive scheme,” Jones said. “He is a natural 3-technique. He is always highly respected because he could play nose as well as he could with his forte being quickness, high agility, high motor. He is an integral part of what we’re doing. And I think he’s going to have an outstanding year.”
If Ratliff plays the 3-technique, who is the Cowboys’ nose tackle? They decided they didn’t need Floyd and didn’t address the position later in the draft, either.
Will it be Jason Hatcher? That’s a heck of a transition for a seven-year veteran who has been a 3-4 defensive end his entire career.
Sean Lissemore? He might be a quality rotation player, but his performance when pressed into playing the majority of snaps at nose tackle in the final month of the season offered no indication he’s ready to be a full-time anchor of the run defense.
Brian Price? Tampa Bay’s 2012 second-round pick was out of football last season after being cut by the Bears. It’s tough to count on a guy who’s trying to get his career back on track after it was derailed by injuries and other issues.
Josh Brent? Unfortunately, he’s more likely to be in a jail cell than on a football field next season.
Maybe Floyd isn’t a great fit for the Cowboys’ defensive scheme. That doesn’t explain why they have completely ignored a glaring need at nose tackle.
Brent was placed on the Reserve/non-football illness list by team officials after he was charged with intoxication manslaughter the result of a car crash that led to the death of teammate and best friend Jerry Brown on Dec. 8.
The Cowboys have not banned Brent from the facility since the voluntary offseason workouts have started and he's allowed to workout if he wants.
Jones said he didn't have an answer regarding Brent's status with the NFL. The league hasn't determined if it will suspend Brent because of his arrest.
"I can't answer that out of fairness to what he's got ahead of him," Jones said.
The Cowboys are being sensitive to Brent's legal situation and want to support him away from the field, but are mindful of the seriousness of his crime.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Holloman said the Cowboys did not discuss his arrest with him during the pre-draft process. Owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the organization looked into the incident and determined it should not deter them from drafting Holloman.
“We looked at that,” Jones said. “It was a couple of years ago. When you see an incident, then you look at the whole picture and weigh it from there. It did not impact us obviously drafting him.
“We were well aware of that. I think our whole purpose of the way that we approach that challenge is, what happens when you do have an incident? Not that we have to eliminate everybody on the draft board that might have a sip of alcohol.”
The career of Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent is in limbo due to an intoxication manslaughter charge stemming from the car crash that killed practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown Jr. in December. Brent also had a drunken driving charge in college.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff was charged with driving while intoxicated in January after he crashed his truck into an 18-wheeler.
Cowboys officials met with Mothers Against Drunk Driving representatives in the wake of the two alcohol-related arrests.
Holloman believes his arrest caused him to slip into the sixth round of the draft.
"Knowing it might have been the thing to hurt me, I refuse to let it happen again," Holloman said. "It will not be a worry for them or me."
Holloman had 55 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions as a senior after spending his first three seasons at safety.
He is projected as a strong-side linebacker where he would compete with Justin Durant, Alex Albright and Ernie Sims. His time as a safety could help him as a special teams’ contributor as well as in covering tight ends.
Holloman had a DUI arrest in 2011, which is a sensitive subject surrounding the Cowboys with the incidents involving Josh Brent and Jay Ratliff in December and January.
It is the ninth straight year the Cowboys have drafted at least one linebacker.
Brent played in 12 games during the 2012 season before being placed on the Reserve/non-football illness list following his arrest and being charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of his friend and teammate Jerry Brown Jr. Brent was involved in the accident in the early morning hours of Dec. 8, the day before the Cowboys were to play at the Cincinnati Bengals.
Brent's playing status with the league won't be determined until his legal case is finished. Brent, who faces a Sept. 23 trial on the charge, is free on $100,000 bond and is required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
It appears Brent is trying to solve his legal issues before attending any workouts at Valley Ranch.
Brent has been seen briefly in public since the tragic accident. He attended a Cowboys game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but left at halftime and wasn't seen again. He's maintained communication with several teammates and team officials. Brent also attended a rally against domestic violence in Dallas.
There's a football component, which seems small by comparison to the real-world aspects of the Brent case, and that is that Brent obviously isn't going to be playing for the Cowboys again any time soon, if ever. This robs the Cowboys of a promising young player who would have offered them depth and flexibility on the interior of their defensive line in their new 4-3 alignment. Had Brent been available, if would have been easier to release Jay Ratliff (who idiotically and inconceivably got busted for drunken driving just six weeks later) and clear some needed cap room. But Brent is not available to them and likely will not be.
Because the likelihood is that Brent will have to go to jail for this. His charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and even if that's just a worst-case scenario, he's still confronting a very serious penalty. This is not Brent's first drunken-driving offense, and there appear to have been witnesses. At the age of 25, Brent is confronting the premature end of his promising pro football career and the loss of a significant chunk of his prime to prison.
And that is sad, and infuriating, even if it's the kind of thing the casual fan forgets with time. And that's why you keep writing about it, even though you know your readers would rather read about the draft and free agency and which teams have how much salary-cap room left. You keep writing about it because it's an important thing not to forget. Because if any good were to come out of an all-around rotten situation like this one, it would come in the form of a lesson learned by those of us on the outside. It's not just the NFL or other professional sports leagues that fails to take this selfish, stupid, completely avoidable crime seriously enough. It's our society as a whole. And as sad as Josh Brent's case is, all you can hope is that the fact that it's so public helps the lesson sink in and convinces somebody, some night, somewhere to call a damn cab.
And not just his on-the-field work, but what he's done off the field.
"He's just a really, really good young man," Garrett said. "He's made great strides over the last three years. We feel good about the progress he's made, not only as a player but as a person. We all know from the background from where he came; he's really grown a lot. I think the consistency that he's shown in his personal life spills over and the consistency he's shown as a player and his production he's shown on Sundays. I feel great about his progress and try to stay in touch with him, with all our players."
On Saturday, Bryant made a surprise appearance at a rally against domestic violence in Dallas.
The event was also attended by Brandon Carr, Roger Staubach and Emmitt Smith.
Bryant was arrested for allegedly hitting his mother, Angela, last summer. The Dallas County District Attorney's office moved the Class A misdemeanor family violence charge to conditional dismissal in November. The charges will be dropped if Bryant attends counseling and is not charged with a crime for a year.
"I made a mistake," Bryant told a large crowd that attended the rally spearheaded by Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings. "I just want everybody to know, it's not good to hit women and I challenge every man out here to X all domestic violence of your life."
On Sunday afternoon, Bryant wrote this on Twitter: "The way I think and the way I've been going about my business lately.. I have no choice but to be successful #thatsallGOD"
It seems we're getting a mature Dez Bryant, the Dez Bryant the Cowboys hoped he would become when they moved up in the draft and selected him late in the first round.
Bryant's world on the field is fantastic. He's one of the more explosive players on the field, has become a trusted receiver for quarterback Tony Romo and his command of the offense isn't a worry anymore.
"Is it dreaming to think that we can have a more effective Dez Bryant?" Jones said. "In the sense, Dez just gets better and has a better understanding of what he's doing when he's not getting the ball: How he's helping Miles (Austin) out. How he's helping (Dwayne) Harris out. How he's helping (James) Hanna and how he's helping (Jason) Witten. But he has a better understanding there. I'm looking forward to a more effective Dez Bryant, and everything I'm saying about his work is showing us that."
Bryant is also getting positive guidance from adviser David Wells. It was Wells who encouraged Bryant to attend the rally not for PR purposes, but because it was just the right thing to do.
Bryant agreed and he showed up with another Cowboys player who has faced legal trouble in nose tackle Josh Brent. Brent is awaiting a court date after being charged with intoxication manslaughter.
This offseason has been quiet for Bryant, and the Cowboys want to keep it that way for one of their most explosive talents.
The Cowboys can’t afford to be so short-sighted.
The projected starting defensive line is DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Spencer. By the time the season starts Ware will be 31, Ratliff will be 32, Hatcher will be 31 and Spencer will be 29.
Ware is coming back from shoulder surgery, but the feeling is he will continue his Pro Bowl run in the new scheme. Ratliff has had his sack total decrease every year for the last five years. Hatcher and Spencer (at least for now) are on one-year deals.
Of the backups, only Sean Lissemore, 26, and Tyrone Crawford, 23, should be viewed as potential starters. This does not include Marcus Spears, who turns 30 on Friday, and Josh Brent, whose status is unknown because of the December car accident.
The Cowboys can’t view the Spencer tag as a reason to avoid taking a defensive lineman in the top three rounds.
The draft is not only about 2013. It’s about 2013 and beyond.
When the Cowboys are on the clock for the 18th pick and their highest-rated player is a defensive lineman, take him and be happy.
Ben Bass, Josh Brent, Rob Callaway, Jason Hatcher, Ike Igbinosun, Brian Price, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Monte Taylor.
Analysis: Ratliff and Hatcher are the starters and there is a hope Ratliff will emerge as an impact player with the move from nose tackle to defensive tackle. There is some concern about Spears' role with the team. Is he a tackle in this scheme? What about Tyrone Crawford, who was drafted as a 3-4 defensive end. Does he move to tackle? Bass showed some signs in training camp he can play a little bit and will be given a chance to prove himself again. Callaway was called up late in the season and, like Bass, will get an opportunity to receive significant playing time.
NFL free agents of interest: Brian Schaefering, Chris Canty, Amobi Okoye.
Need meter: 4. Schaefering will return because he's a exclusive rights free agent. Canty is a former Cowboy who has played in a 4-3 scheme. Canty moved from end to tackle with the New York Giants. Okoye, 25, is a young talent who might be worth looking at. He could have an immediate impact. Of course, the draft will dictate what the Cowboys do in free agency. One thing new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he wants is speed, speed and more speed. His scheme wants solid pass rushers up front who push the pocket. If you can't do that, don't expect to play for him.
Head athletic trainer Jim Maurer presented Brown, who has been with the team for 17 years, the award at the NFL scouting combine. The award takes into account the athletic trainer’s work and his contributions to the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. Since 1995, Brown has coordinated the PFATS Ethnic Minority Scholarship.
“We have a great staff and so for me to win that, there’s so many guys that deserve the award that it easily could’ve done to (assistant athletic trainer Greg Gaither) too,” Brown said. “It’s a staff thing I feel like.”
Brown said the award did not have to do with the season. The Cowboys had a number of injuries in 2012 that led to 11 guys being placed on injured reserve, including five defensive starters. Jay Ratliff had late-season sports hernia surgery and was not placed on injured reserve. Nose tackle Josh Brent finished the year on the non-football injury list.
Brown serves as the Cowboys’ director of rehabilitation and the players often joke that a session with Brown is worse than practicing.
“A love-hate relationship? It is,” Brown joked. “But I think ultimately they feel like I’m taking care of them because I’ve got their best interests. Like it or not they have to go through me to get back to practice. If I’m not looking out for them and requiring them to prove to me they’re OK, they’ll just get thrown back out there. Guys know in order to get back to practice they have to show they can do it. I think they feel like there’s checks and balance there.”
The Cowboys lost Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Kenyon Coleman, Jay Ratliff and Orlando Scandrick, as well as Josh Brent to injured reserve or the non-football injury list, forcing the team to find street free agents like Ernie Sims, Brady Poppinga, Brian Schaefering and Charlie Peprah and poach Sterling Moore off New England’s practice squad.
It was taxing and difficult, considering the supposed complexities of Ryan’s schemes.
Part of the desire to add Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and move to the 4-3 was the supposed simplistic nature of the scheme.
“In this day and age in the NFL, with shortened offseasons, shortened training camps, injuries, all those kinds of things, it’s important to try and put offensive and defensive systems in place that allow you to deal with the schedule and absorb the injuries that very well could happen,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “That was one of the philosophical advantages of playing this 4-3 defense. We think it can be a simpler defense for us, for guys to come in here and learn in this day and age, and also if you have the injuries to absorb it allows you to maybe do that a little bit better.”
Ratliff was in an accident with an 18-wheeler on State Highway 114 in Grapevine, Texas, six weeks after teammate Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of Jerry Brown. Like Brent, Ratliff’s blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit.
“I’ve had conversations with Jay,” Garrett said. “We just want to let that process play out.”
Cowboys officials met with representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving after the Super Bowl. The Cowboys and NFL Players Association have services available to players to help deal with drunk driving, but neither Brent or Ratliff took advantage of the offers.
“Obviously having one situation like that is one too many," Garrett said, "and what we’re trying to do as an organization and what we’ve tried to do as a league is do everything we can to keep our players and everyone as well informed as possible to these kinds of issues to help them make the right decisions, and we’ll continue to do that going forward.”
In addition to legal troubles, Ratliff and Brent face possible discipline from the league for violating the personal conduct policy. Players are subject to fines and/or suspension.
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBrian Schaefering didn't have a huge impact, but a team can never have enough defensive tackles.
Position: Defensive tackle
Summary: A late-season addition, Schaefering picked up the techniques well and immersed himself into the Cowboys locker room pretty quickly. He had a minimal impact on the team.
Why keep him: You can never have enough defensive tackles, especially when you're moving to a 4-3 scheme that needs defenders to push the pocket. The uncertain futures of Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent due to their arrests means the Cowboys are thin at this position, so Schaefering gets to stay.
Why let him go: The Cowboys didn't seen enough of him and there's nothing wrong with looking at other players, specifically draft picks with more upside.
Best guess: He stays with the team. It can't hurt to have him around getting to know the scheme and maybe becoming a reliable backup.
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Brent was charged with one count of intoxication manslaughter in December after his car crashed in Irving on Dec. 8, resulting in the death of practice squad player Jerry Brown.
Last month, roughly six weeks after Brent's crash, Ratliff was arrested after he crashed his pickup truck into a tractor trailer in Grapevine. Ratliff was charged with driving while intoxicated.
The blood alcohol content of both players was twice the legal limit in Texas.
The Cowboys have plans to meet with MADD after the Super Bowl to discuss potential plans to educate their players on the dangers of drinking and driving. This is an issue that's gotten NFL commissioner Roger Goodell involved.
"The reality is we have to do a better job of educating people in the NFL that this is a priority," Goodell said at a Friday afternoon news conference from New Orleans. "This is for your safety, for the safety of the people in your car, and for innocent people that are out there. There are services designed to help them make better decisions before they leave their homes. We have to make sure that they understand those services, and most importantly, take advantage of them, use them. We did meet with MADD, and I met with MADD last week.
"We’re going to engage in a number of programs to help educate all of our clubs –- players, coaches (and) executives -– on what we can do. Victim impact programs have been very effectively used with several clubs over the past several months. We’re going to do that because this is a high priority, not only for the sake of safety, but it’s part of our responsibility in the communities that we live."
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