NFC East: danny coale

Cowboys need more patience for '12 class

September, 2, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – Jason Garrett likes to say it doesn’t matter where you come from or when you were drafted to get a shot to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Good thing.

The Cowboys’ 2012 draft class will need more time to take root, but the 2012 undrafted players could make more of a mark this season with Ronald Leary projected as a starting guard, Lance Dunbar as the third-down back and Cole Beasley as a slot receiver.

The biggest contributors from that year's draft class will be cornerback Morris Claiborne (first round) and tight end James Hanna (sixth round).

Last season shaped up as a redshirt year for the bulk of the 2012 class, but now they might have to petition for a sixth year of eligibility, as it looks like the Cowboys will have to wait until 2014 -- if ever -- to get much contribution from them.

Defensive end Tyrone Crawford (third round) and safety Matt Johnson (fourth round) are on season-ending injured reserve with Achilles and foot injuries, respectively. Last year the Cowboys lost linebacker Caleb McSurdy (seventh round) to an Achilles tear in training camp and never saw him, and wide receiver Danny Coale (fifth round) was hardly healthy and ended up tearing his ACL late last season while on the practice squad.

On Saturday McSurdy and Coale were cut, but Coale was at least brought back to the practice squad.

Defensive end Kyle Wilber (fourth round) is not guaranteed to be active every week, although he could be a core special-teams player.

For all of the gnashing of teeth over the emptiness that was the 2009 draft class (12 picks, minimal production), the Cowboys' class of 2012 is not off to the best of starts either. And after the trade of Sean Lissemore, the only picks from the 2010 draft are Dez Bryant and Sean Lee, although those are two excellent selections.

Links: RGIII to start camp on PUP list?

July, 19, 2013
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Dallas Cowboys

When the Cowboys open training camp practices Sunday, several players could be slowed as they return from injuries, writes Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com. Quarterback Tony Romo (back) has been cleared to practice, but defensive end DeMarcus Ware (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (sports hernia), guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (shoulder), and receiver Danny Coale (knee) could be limited early in camp.

The Cowboys might go without a fullback on the roster, writes Watkins.

ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer analyzes running back Phillip Tanner's chances of making the 53-man roster.

The Dallas Morning News' training camp guide for the Cowboys.

New York Giants

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com continues his position-by-position look at the Giants with a breakdown of the tight ends entering training camp.

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a second-round pick from Ohio State, answers some questions from Michael J. Fensom of the Newark Star-Ledger.

Writers for the team's website offer their opinions on running back David Wilson's chances of making the Pro Bowl.

Philadelphia Eagles

Practice tickets are a hot item, writes Ed Kracz of phillyburbs.com.

The Philadelphia Daily News' training camp guide for the Eagles.

Chip Kelly downplays the importance of arm strength in quarterbacks, writes Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kelly sees his quarterbacking situation as a process. Where he starts out might not be where he ends up, writes Les Bowen of the Daily News.

Chris McPherson of the team's website continues his series analyzing the questions each position group must answer before the start of the regular season, with a look at the inside linebackers.

Does Kelly trust quarterback Michael Vick? Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News explores the question as part of a series examining key questions as training camps draw near.

Washington Redskins

No decision has been made about quarterback Robert Griffin III starting training camp on the Redskins' active roster, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Griffin could start camp on the active/PUP list, just like the Vikings' Adrian Peterson did last year. Minnesota kept Peterson on the PUP list for the first two weeks of camp in an effort to apply extra caution to his recovery.

Receiver Pierre Garcon received clearance to practice fully when the Redskins report to Richmond for training camp next week,writes Mike Jones of the Washington Post.

John Keim of the Washington Post continues his position-by-position look at the Redskins’ roster entering training camp with a breakdown of the quarterbacks.

The Redskins are excited about the return of young defensive linemen Chris Neild and Jarvis Jenkins, who have recovered from knee injuries, writes Brian Tinsman of the team's website.

Links: Cowboys' Spencer to play out tag

July, 15, 2013
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Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have once again been named the NFL’s most valuable franchise, according to Forbes Magazine.

According to an ESPNDallas.com source, the Cowboys won't get a new deal worked out with defensive end Anthony Spencer by the deadline.

The offensive and defensive lines could have some changes should Todd Archer's pre-camp roster predictions pan out.

Cowboys wide receiver Danny Coale must prove his knee is healthy and make a name for himself if he hopes to make the 53-man roster, writes Archer.

Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne, the former sixth overall draft pick, held his first youth camp in Dallas.

New York Giants

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz apologizes for his controversial tweet about the George Zimmerman trial.

"It’s hard in the NFL. It’s a high-performance business, a lot of young guys coming in the league coming for your spot," Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas says on "NFL Total Access."

"Why is coach Kevin Gilbride not on the hot seat?" asks one fan of Michael Eisen, with Giants.com.

Stevie Brown, who is constantly reminded of how fleeting success can be in the NFL, has not stopped working to keep his place as a starting safety secure.

The Giants benefit from the NFL’s rich national media deals that contributed $149 million per team during the 2011 season, reports Forbes Magazine.

Philadelphia Eagles

New Eagles coach Chip Kelly explains the logistics of staging training camp in Philadelphia and how he plans to conduct practices.

The Eagles' official website examines the three biggest questions facing each position group, and the focus shifts to the defensive tackle position.

Kelly won 46 of the 53 games he coached at Oregon, a percentage unseen in the NFL. But Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes Las Vegas odds suggest Kelly might lose seven games in just his first year in Philadelphia.

Washington Redskins

Comcast Washington's Tarik El-Bashir writes that he's going with Leonard Hankerson and Jarvis Jenkins as his breakout candidates for 2013.

The Redskins improved depth at cornerback, but questions remain, writes John Keim of the Washington Post.

"There are a lot of similarities between the power sweep that Vince Lombardi’s teams were so successful at running and the field-stretching zone-blocking plays that Mike Shanahan’s offenses have run for years," the Washington Post's Mike Jones writes in his mailbag of reader questions.

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver and what still needs to be done?

Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant broke out in a huge way in the second half of his third NFL season and finished the year with 92 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. If he can keep himself in one piece, he's one of the top wideouts in the league. Miles Austin is the perfect complement on the other side -- good enough that defenses have to pay attention to him but not the kind of guy who's going to complain if Bryant gets more catches. Austin has to keep his hamstrings healthy, and if he does the Cowboys have a top one-two wide receiver combo. Dwayne Harris came on strong last year as a No. 3 wide receiver, and guys such as Cole Beasley and Danny Coale could provide intriguing depth. Dallas could look to add a veteran wide receiver to its mix heading into training camp in case the young guys don't produce, but it's not a high-priority issue.

New York Giants: The Giants are at work on a long-term contract with restricted free-agent wide receiver Victor Cruz, who has 168 catches for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns the past two seasons (not counting playoffs). They'd like to keep Cruz, but he wants No. 1 wide receiver money, and the Giants to this point only seem willing to make him the highest-paid slot receiver in the league. That's mainly because they view Hakeem Nicks as their No. 1 wideout, and Nicks' contract is up at the end of 2013. The Giants would like to find a way to keep Cruz in the slot, which means they'll need to develop someone like 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle or recent free-agent signee Louis Murphy as the outside guy opposite Nicks. They'll also need to get Nicks through the season healthy. But their biggest need right now at wide receiver is new contracts for Cruz and Nicks.

Philadelphia Eagles: Starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have the top-level speed everyone thinks new coach Chip Kelly wants in his offense. Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson and newly signed Arrelious Benn provide depth. Benn and Cooper provide size. The Eagles are deep at wide receiver and probably won't be looking to add. But it's a prove-it year for Maclin, who hasn't been able to stay healthy or produce like the first-round pick that he is. Much also will be expected of Jackson, who was playing well before getting hurt last season, assuming Kelly can find ways to get the ball in his hands more consistently.

Washington Redskins: The big questions at receiver in Washington are whether No. 1 wideout Pierre Garcon will be all the way over the foot problems that cost him so much time last season and who will step up as the No. 2 on the opposite side. Garcon was a difference-maker when he was on the field, and if he can put in a full 16-game season, he should produce in accordance with his 2012 free-agent contract. Santana Moss returns, somewhat surprisingly, for another year as the veteran slot man. Aldrick Robinson is a useful deep threat. And the Redskins' coaches like a lot of things about Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan -- they'd just like at least one of them to show starter-caliber consistency on the side opposite Garcon. Wide receiver is a position of strength throughout the NFC East, and I wouldn't think you'd see the Redskins or any of the division's other teams pushing to add here.

Dallas Cowboys cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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Click here for the complete list of Dallas Cowboys roster moves.

Most significant move: When the Cowboys drafted wide receiver Danny Coale in the fifth round, some thought he might get himself into the No. 3 wide receiver mix. The fact that he could not says a lot about the wide receivers the Cowboys already had and that they kept at the cut deadline. Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley all performed admirably in training camp and in preseason games while competing for reps and jobs, and because of that, not only was Coale expendable, but the Cowboys feel a lot better about their wide receiver depth going into the season than they might have felt a few months ago.

Onward and upward: Adrian Hamilton, the undrafted pass-rusher who had the big numbers last year at Prairie View A&M, looked like a potentially helpful guy, and his ability to get to the quarterback is likely to make him interesting to some other team. The main reason he didn't make the Cowboys' roster was probably his inability to help on special teams. But he looked like a playmaker when on the field, and I wouldn't be surprised if he drew some interest. ... It's a surprise to some that third quarterback Stephen McGee was kept, but he could be the first one to go if the Cowboys add an offensive lineman off someone else's cut list.

What's next: Other than potentially adding to their offensive line depth or looking for upgrades there, there's not much for the Cowboys to do at this point. And the acquisition of Ryan Cook from Miami in exchange for a seventh-round pick early Friday addressed the offensive line depth by adding a versatile backup who can play center, which David Arkin can't yet do. I think they might take a look at a veteran center such as Dan Koppen, who was cut by the Patriots and probably would be an upgrade over starter Phil Costa. But they like Costa and believe he can improve, and they don't appear to be ready to give up on him at this point. Which is fine. I think the Cowboys are focused more on the long term anyway.

Breakfast links: Busy day under way

August, 31, 2012
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Yes, it's roster cut day -- the day on which teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players by 9 p.m. ET. It's a day of cuts and trades and lots of activity, and we'll keep you posted on all of it as best we can here on the NFC East blog. Heck, it's already started with a trade in Dallas. See? Links:

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have acquired offensive lineman Ryan Cook from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Cook can play center, which is key. He's played tackle and guard as well (he started at left tackle for the Vikings in 2008), but center is the position at which the Cowboys consider themselves the thinnest. My guess is he's being brought in to be a backup, but you never know. If Bill Callahan saw something he really liked, it's not as though there aren't starting Cowboys linemen who could be replaced if they struggle early. Cook was slated to be a backup in Miami and is scheduled to make $1 million this year, so that's why they traded him.

Fifth-round wide receiver Danny Coale and linebacker Adrian Hamilton were among the Cowboys cuts. When the Cowboys picked Coale, some had hoped he'd work his way into that No. 3 wide receiver mix. But he got hurt, and the other guys played well, and it didn't work out for him.

New York Giants

The Giants think left tackle Will Beatty could be ready to start the season opener Wednesday against the Cowboys. I guess that would be good, but are we sure? Beatty wasn't exactly Jonathan Ogden over there last year to begin with, and he's barely practiced because of a back problem he's had since May. So even if he does play, it's hard to say how good the Giants should feel about his chances to perform the way they need him to and get through the whole game.

The NFL changed its injured reserve rule Thursday, which means teams can now designate one player as a short-term IR guy and bring him back after eight weeks if he's healthy. It seems likely that cornerback Terrell Thomas would be that guy for the Giants as they pare down their roster tonight.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said another 8-8 record would not be good enough for Andy Reid to return as coach in 2013. People are going to hold Lurie to that, though obviously his hope and that of Eagles fans is that they will not have to. Reid has finished better than 8-8 in nine of his 13 seasons as Eagles head coach.

Trent Edwards will learn today whether he's done enough in preseason to beat out Mike Kafka for the lone backup quarterback spot in question. If it's to be based on preseason performance, there's little question he has. But how much of a break do they give Kafka for the injury that kept him from participating in a competition no one even expected to happen?

Washington Redskins

Wide receiver is one of the places at which the Redskins have some tough decisions to make tonight. Guys like Anthony Armstrong, Dezmon Briscoe and Brandon Banks are very much on the bubble.

I do expect the Redskins to keep all four of the running backs who are candidates to start the Sept. 9 season opener in New Orleans because... well, they're all candidates to start the season opener in New Orleans. The Redskins like all four backs, and each comes with question marks, and right now the best plan is to keep all four for depth and see what shakes out.

Observation deck: Dolphins-Cowboys

August, 30, 2012
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Yeah, because I like to space these out. And no one reads them if I put them up in the middle of the night. And they put the ESPNDallas.com one up on the blog anyway. This is why you're just reading this now. Because I know some of you were asking.

I'm not sure how much there is to say about the Dallas Cowboys' 30-13 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday night anyway. Center Phil Costa was the only starter who played, and he only played because he'd been out for weeks with an injury and needed to see some game action, and he only played 11 snaps anyway. I didn't see anything egregious, and if you've been following my thoughts on the Cowboys' offensive line you know I was watching closely. He didn't have any problem getting the ball from the ground into the quarterback's hands, which sounds silly unless you've been paying attention to the Cowboys' backup center issues for the past few weeks. They tell me Costa's added bulk. We have yet to see whether or not he's added the strength he needs to make him a better player than he was last season. Could happen. We just haven't seen it.

Here's what else I saw in the Cowboys' final preseason game:
  • Kevin Ogletree didn't help himself much. He slipped on a route early and dropped a ball on third down on that same possession. Didn't catch any of the three balls thrown his way. I still think he showed enough in camp and in preseason to be the No. 3 wide receiver, but if that was still in doubt as of Wednesday, he didn't do anything to help himself. Of course, Dwayne Harris didn't catch a ball either, and Tim Benford was the only Cowboy who caught more than two. So it's possible Wednesday had no meaning whatsoever and I've wasted whatever time it took to type this paragraph.
  • Let's see, let's see, what else. ... Oh yeah, Josh Brent. I thought he looked real good a couple of times shoring up the middle against the run. I imagine he's the base-defense nose tackle assuming Jay Ratliff's ankle sprain keeps him out of Wednesday's regular-season opener against the Giants.
  • Victor Butler had a sack, which means it's still August. Seriously, we were saying this last year and it didn't happen, but don't the coaches have to find ways to use this guy more in the pass rush? He's got some skills. Rookie Tyrone Crawford had a sack, too. I know they plan to use him as a situational pass rusher this year in the hope that he adds size and can eventually be a starting defensive end for them down the road.
  • Orie Lemon had an interception and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown, which is good for Orie Lemon's effort to make the roster. He helps on special teams, too, so I'd think he's got a good chance. But they have some depth at linebacker and some choices to make there.
  • Choices at running back, too. I still think Phillip Tanner is the No. 3 behind DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones, but Lance Dunbar made a nifty cut to finish off his 58-yard touchdown run, and given his ability in the return game has to be making them at least think about keeping four running backs. I just like the way Tanner runs. If he can stay healthy, I'd have to think he's at least a threat to Jones' carries.
  • Teddy Williams fumbled a return and probably should have been flagged for pass interference in the end zone. Even the Cowboys' broadcasters were saying that was interference, so that kind of hurts Teddy Ballgame's case. On the fumble, one of the most alarming things was that Danny Coale couldn't come up with the ball at the bottom of the pile. Miami kicker Dan Carpenter outfought him for it. Coale and Matt Johnson have done pretty much nothing this preseason, and the team has decisions to make about their roster status. Which, if I were the kind of dude who liked to say I told you so. ... Nah, let's not go down that road.
  • Calvin Watkins tells me Dan Bailey was 8-for-8 on field goals in the preseason. That's good.

And that ought to just about do it. Next post is the one that's going nuclear anyway. See ya there!


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the preseason with a 30-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday night. Unlike last season, when wide receiver Raymond Radway was injured in the closing seconds of the preseason at Miami, there were no such major health issues coming from this game. This was the last chance for several players to make an impact on the coaches and scouts, and join the 53-man roster.

What it means: The Cowboys finish the preseason 3-1 and have to make some hard decisions regarding the No. 3 quarterback spot, whether to keep a fourth running back or which running back to keep, whether Orie Lemon and Mario Butler make the team, and whether Danny Coale and Matt Johnson should earn paychecks in September.

McGee vs. Carpenter: There is this battle for the No. 3 quarterback position. Stephen McGee played the first half, led one touchdown drive and converted 13 first downs. He completed nine of 18 passes for 124 yards. The Cowboys led 20-6 at the break. Rudy Carpenter also led the Cowboys on a touchdown drive -- capped by a 58-yard run by Lance Dunbar -- and finished 4-of-10 for 48 yards. In addition, Carpenter had a 21-yard scramble. But it would appear neither quarterback did enough to secure a spot on the roster.

Only one starter plays: Between both units, only center Phil Costa played. Costa missed the first three preseason games with a strained lower back, and the Cowboys wanted to give him some snaps before putting him in a regular-season game. Costa didn't have any bad snaps, and it's unknown whether he had any blown assignments. David Arkin replaced Costa.

The running game is strong: There are no questions regarding the status of DeMarco Murray as the starter. Felix Jones has been guaranteed a roster spot by owner/general manager Jerry Jones. We thought the No. 3 running back gig was going to Phillip Tanner, but Dunbar came on strong Wednesday night. Dunbar ran with a burst, scoring on a 58-yard run. Let's not forget about Tanner, who burst up the middle for a 1-yard score. Dunbar rushed 15 times for 105 yards, and Tanner rushed for 48 yards on nine carries.

Lemon made his case: If linebacker Lemon was a bubble player, he should make the roster. He returned an interception 26 yards to give the Cowboys a 10-6 lead in the second quarter. Lemon was active on defense and, given what he does on special teams, should make the 53-man roster. Adrian Hamilton also was fighting for a roster spot, but he hasn't shown his pass-rush abilities on a consistent basis with the Cowboys.

Cowboys lose three players: Guard Derrick Dockery left the game for personal reasons, and fellow guard Daniel Loper suffered a hamstring injury. Cornerback Lionel Smith departed the game with a concussion. None of the three returned.

Who played well: Tyrone Crawford, Orie Lemon, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar and Dan Bailey.

Who didn't: Teddy Williams, David Arkin, Stephen McGee.

Bailey is perfect: Kicker Dan Bailey finished the preseason 8-for-8 on field goal attempts. Bailey made kicks of 25, 30 and 26 yards Wednesday night. The Cowboys didn't have any concerns about him heading into the preseason, but unlike last season when the team had a kicking competition, nothing was going on here. It was all Bailey. The longest kick of the preseason by Bailey was 49 yards.

Ryan Tannehill makes the start: The eighth pick of the NFL draft, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made the start for the Dolphins. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 35 yards. The former Aggie played with a presence and threw some strong passes, but he still has a ways to go to help the Dolphins.

What's next? The Cowboys must cut their roster to 53 players by Friday night and then finalize their practice squad roster with as many as eight players. The team will practice over the weekend at Valley Ranch and prepare for the regular season opener at the New York Giants.

Breakfast links: Rookie QB showdown

August, 21, 2012
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Week two of the preseason is in the books, which mercifully means only two more weeks of meaningless games and breathless overreaction to go. Then we can get to the regular season, where the overreaction really gets worthwhile. Gonna have to load up on links.

Washington Redskins

I don't know if you've heard, but this weekend's Redskins game is against the Colts, who took Andrew Luck with the first pick of the draft in April right before the Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second. Obviously, for theater's sake, we're all hoping both guys play and we can make all kinds of wild conclusions about which one is going to have the better 18-year career.

One of the things Griffin is learning, John Keim writes, is how to balance his ability to extend plays with the need to make decisions very quickly at the NFL level.

Dallas Cowboys

The news on Dez Bryant's knee injury was positive. The Cowboys' third-year wide receiver has tendinitis, and no ligament or tendon damage, and needs rest. In the interim, backup wide receivers will continue to get more of an opportunity to show their stuff, and the Cowboys will hope that Bryant and Miles Austin will come back in time for the regular season.

One of those backup receivers is fifth-round pick Danny Coale, who's been slowed by his own injury issues since the spring but has seen his workload increase this week as coaches try to find out what he has to contribute to the mix.

New York Giants

Rookie running back David Wilson got his turn with the first-team offense Monday, which may or may not mean much about whether he's moving up the depth chart in the race to be Ahmad Bradshaw's backup. Bradshaw has a hand injury, remember, so someone had to get his reps. Wilson has been told he needs to improve his pass blocking if he wants more reps, and that's what he's working on. We all know he can run.

Fullback Henry Hynoski wouldn't mind getting more carries. I don't know what his chances are of getting his wish, but I will say I think they plan to feature him as a receiver out of the backfield a little bit this season. He's shown that ability, and they're still not sure what they'll get out of their tight ends as receivers this year.

Philadelphia Eagles

Les Bowen is correct that nothing mattered Monday night for the Eagles other than the Michael Vick injury. That won't be the case once the regular season starts and the standings are based on the team's performance and the results. But for now, in this preseason, Vick's health has become a paramount issue for the Eagles. Les also reports that guard Evan Mathis took the blame for missing the block that resulted in Vick getting hit.

Zac Berman broke down the Monday-night performance of Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who may have bolstered his chances of ascending to the role of Vick's backup.

Observation deck: Cowboys-Raiders

August, 14, 2012
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Of all the football games I've ever watched, the Dallas Cowboys' 3-0 preseason victory over the Oakland Raiders on Monday night was definitely ... well, it was one of them. It was a sluggish, poorly played game by two teams that obviously weren't at full strength or interested in showing a national TV audience very much of their playbooks. At the time it ended, nine Major League Baseball teams had outscored the two NFL teams' combined total.

But it was a game a defensive coordinator could love, and surely Dallas' Rob Ryan will use it as a rallying point for his defense in the days and weeks to come. As we say all the time here, there is little or no predictive value in any of these games. Some teams game-plan for them, many don't, and there's no way to really know what you're watching in terms of who's trying and who's not. But if you're a defensive coordinator, you'd better believe you can hold up a 3-0 victory and shout at your guys about what they're capable of if they play hard. Can't hurt, could help, you know.

The Cowboys' offense ... won't have as much fun watching film of this one. Let's get to what we saw from the Cowboys in Oakland on Monday night.

1. The interior of the offensive line is not good right now, and it affects everything the offense tries to do. Tony Romo had no time to throw, DeMarco Murray had no room to run and the No. 3 wide receiver candidates who were running with the first team had no opportunity to show what they could do. David Arkin started at center in place of the injured Phil Costa, and in the first half he got abused by Tommy Kelly for one sack and was also called for holding. The good news for Arkin is that he didn't botch any snaps, and he did look better as he continued to play into the third quarter (and the Raiders kept taking out first-team and second-team defensive players). Mackenzy Bernadeau, who started at right guard, is likely to get snaps at center in upcoming preseason games, but since he's coming off an injury the Cowboys are trying to work him in at guard to get him acclimated. Derrick Dockery started at left guard, and Ronald Leary struggled with the second and third teams. Now, the key things to remember are (a) this isn't news and (b) preseason games are about figuring out what you need to improve. There's no reason to think the Cowboys' offensive line will look worse at any point this year than it does right now, and they've known for a while that they have issues there. If they can get Costa and Nate Livings and Bernadeau healthy, they'll at least have the crew with which they planned to go into the season. I'm just not sure that's good enough -- or that they have anything behind the starters that can help in case of injury. And it's worth mentioning that right tackle Doug Free didn't look good either.

2. Andre Holmes had a good night. Of those No. 3 wide receiver candidates, Holmes stood out the most, with 40 yards on three catches. Holmes' asset is his size, and he looks like he's doing a good job of using his big body to shield the ball from defenders and make catches in traffic. Long way to go and a lot to see, but Holmes helped his case. Kevin Ogletree likely remains the favorite and got the first crack at it, starting in place of the injured Miles Austin. Ogletree caught the only ball thrown his way, for 12 yards, and had a goofy moment when he fell on his face trying to make a block and slipping on the infield dirt at the Oakland Coliseum. Expect to see more from Dwayne Harris, Tim Benford, Cole Beasley and Danny Coale in upcoming games. Beasley was the slot receiver with the first-team offense but didn't see any action. Interesting that Dez Bryant did start in spite of his hamstring injury and made one excellent 24-yard catch before taking a seat.

3. The defense did look fired-up and kind of deep in spots. Defensive end Marcus Spears played like a man who knows he needs to win a roster spot. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh came up with an early interception on a play on which cornerback Orlando Scandrick had his man well covered. Kyle Wilber showed some ability to generate pressure on Matt Leinart on a third-down play, though he did leave the game with a broken thumb. Tyrone Crawford pushed the pocket a little bit during his time in there. And I think that inside linebacker spot is going to be a real strength, as Sean Lee and Bruce Carter both looked good. Yes, the Raiders ran the ball effectively against the first-team defense, but that first-team defense was without starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff as well as defensive end Jason Hatcher and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. So I imagine they'll be better once those guys are on the field.

4. Not-so-special teams. The Cowboys were called for penalties on two punts and one field goal attempt, each time allowing the Raiders to keep the ball. That needs to be tightened up, clearly, and it's the kind of thing that just infuriates coaches in these preseason games.

5. Miscellany: Adrian Hamilton, the undrafted linebacker who had 20.5 sacks at Prairie View last year, looked active and quick. Remains to be seen whether he has the size and speed to play against NFL offenses. ... Rookie tight end James Hanna showed good hands as a receiver and looked good on kick coverage. ... Dwayne Harris was called for holding and, yeah, that can work against a guy who's trying to get a job as a No. 3 wide receiver. ... Yes, you like what you see from Victor Butler, as you always do in August. Still need to see whether and how the coaches find more ways to get him on the field once the real games begin. ... Seemed like punter Chris Jones was fine.

What to watch for: Cowboys-Raiders

August, 13, 2012
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The Dallas Cowboys open their preseason schedule against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Here are a couple of things to look for as the 2012 Cowboys take the field against a hostile opponent for the first time:

1. The offensive line: It looks as though David Arkin will start at center in place of injured Phil Costa. Center and guard are two positions of great concern for the Cowboys. Even healthy, Costa wasn't very good last year, and Arkin has no experience at the position outside of the practice reps he's been taking in Oxnard for the past two weeks. You'll see some of Harland Gunn (also learning the position), and if free-agent signee Mackenzy Bernadeau is healthy and active for the game, he could get some center snaps as well. The Cowboys also need to find answers at guard, where Bernadeau and Nate Livings were brought in to help, but Livings has been hurt and isn't likely to play. Keep an eye on undrafted Ronald Leary, who's been getting a lot of first-team snaps at guard and is someone the coaches like. Also watch left tackle Tyron Smith, a great talent who's making the switch from right tackle in his second NFL season. See if he's got that footwork down yet.

2. The wide receivers. With starters Miles Austin (out) and Dez Bryant (game-time decision) beset by hamstring injuries, Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes, Cole Beasley, Danny Coale and a host of others will get significant reps. The No. 3 receiver position is open, and the coaches will be watching to see who stands out as a route-runner, a blocker and a pass-catcher from that group. They'll probably have starting quarterback Tony Romo for only one or two series, but backup Kyle Orton is good enough that coaches will be able to evaluate receivers with him throwing them the ball as well.

3. The defensive line. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is also out with an injury, so all three line spots are offering auditions tonight. Jason Hatcher seems set as a starting end, but the other end spot could go to anyone from the group of Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore and Clifton Geathers. And with Ratliff out, Josh Brent has a chance to show what he can do with significant playing time inside. With third-round pick Tyrone Crawford a sure thing to stick as a pass-rush specialist and projected future starter, not everyone from this group is going to make the roster.

4. The rest of the defense. Sean Lee looks as though he's ready to pick up where he left off as an emerging star, but there's a good fight going on between Dan Connor and Bruce Carter for the other inside linebacker spot. Barry Church has won himself a job as a starting safety with a big camp, so this is a chance for him to show everyone he's taken a big step if indeed he has. And while Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins are out with injuries, this will be the first look for a lot of Cowboys fans at free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr, who's so far been everything the Cowboys expected.
OXNARD, Calif. -- I was going to start off writing about the Dallas Cowboys' center position, but it's such a beautiful night here I just feel too good to start off with a negative. So we'll get to center, but I'm going to start with the defensive line.

I was critical of the Cowboys' draft in general, and my feelings on third-round pick Tyrone Crawford were that they'd picked a guy who couldn't help them this year -- a project defensive end for a 3-4 defense when they'd already traded their second-round pick and still had 2012 needs to address. But watching Crawford practice -- watching him in drills against the likes of Tyron Smith -- it's easy to see how the Cowboys could indeed find a role for him this year as a situational pass-rusher in nickel or dime packages. I asked Cowboys coach Jason Garrett about Crawford and this year, and this is what he told me:

[+] EnlargeTyrone Crawford
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThird-round pick Tyrone Crawford has impressed during training camp.
"The vision we had for him in Year 1 was, 'Come in here and be a contributor as a pass-rush guy, and then we feel like you can be big enough to play the five-technique in our base defense.' We loved his relentless nature. Passionate kid still learning the game of football. His body's going to get bigger. He's going to get stronger. He has position traits to be a starter in the future, and right now he can have a role for us because we potentially like how he can rush the passer in a third-down situation."

Crawford is listed at 285 pounds, and most of the rest of the defensive linemen on the Cowboys' roster exceed 300. So they will need to see him bulk up before he can be a starter for them. But rushing the passer is a lot about speed, instinct and determination, and Crawford doesn't need to bulk up in order to deliver in that aspect of the game. So keep an eye out for how they deploy him on third downs. Could be that I was (hope you're sitting down!) wrong about that one.

Some other things I saw/heard/noticed/surmised during my second and final day at Cowboys training camp:

  • As great as the Cowboys' skill-position players are, they're going to have a hard time being productive if the center can't get the ball to the quarterback. And the Cowboys' centers... well, they struggle with that. Starter Phil Costa had trouble with it last year. The guys they thought would push Costa for the job this camp -- Mackenzy Bernadeau, Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski -- are all hurt. David Arkin, a guard who's never played center before, has been getting snaps there, but he was so bad Tuesday that they had to take him out of his spot as the second-team center, replace him with Harland Gunn (another guard they're trying out at center) and use Costa, the starter, as the third-team center. It was, to use a highly technical football term, not good. Bernadeau did do some work early in position drills and could start practicing later in the week, but Kowalski and Nagy don't look as though they'll factor into this mix in the preseason. Cowboys player personnel director Stephen Jones acknowledged after the practice that it was ugly, but he said he has high hopes for Bernadeau as a real option and that they weren't yet in the market for a free-agent center.
  • Bernadeau and Gunn stayed after practice to work on snaps on the side.
  • Fifth-round pick Danny Coale did a lot of work in individual wide receiver drills as well as punt return drills, though he was still held out of 11-on-11s as he recovers from his injury. He also could return to practice later in the week. Garrett didn't list him among the No. 3 wide receiver candidates earlier in the day, but it's possible he could work his way into the mix as the year goes along.
  • The guys Garrett did list were Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes and Dwayne Harris. He was making a point that Miles Austin's ability to play an inside slot position as well as play on the outside gives the Cowboys leeway when picking their No. 3, as they don't need it to be one or the other. He said they look at Ogletree and Harris as guys who can play both inside and outside while Holmes profiles more as an outside guy.
  • Austin, incidentally, is still out with a hamstring injury, but this is not being deemed serious because it's not as though Austin has a history of missing time with hamstring injuries. Wait. What? Oh.
  • After briefly leaving camp and coming back at the team's request, Cole Beasley continued to look good as a wide receiver and catching punts. Not sure if he can push himself into the mix, but he's playing very well.
  • DeMarco Murray looks fantastic, running with vision and power and showing no signs of the ankle injury that ended his 2011 season early.
  • And yeah, I could gush some more about how good Dez Bryant looks, but I feel like I've done enough of that. Just... I mean... if you don't want to draft him for your fantasy team, I'll be happy to scoop him up one pick later, is all I'm saying.
  • I head home to New Jersey on Wednesday, but Cowboys Camp Confidential is scheduled to run Friday and I have a bunch more stuff from Cowboys camp to share with you over the coming days and probably into next week. If the posts are a little light tomorrow, you'll know my plane doesn't have WiFi.

Checking in on Cowboys camp

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
3:43
PM ET
The Dallas Cowboys opened training camp for rookies and selected veterans Wednesday, and there are a few newsy tidbits courtesy of my good friends over at ESPNDallas.com.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins is one of five players opening camp on the Cowboys' physically unable to perform list. He's in camp, continuing his recovery from shoulder surgery, but as Calvin Watkins wrote this morning, his situation is very much in flux. He's not happy about being the No. 3 corner behind Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne, and he's asked for a new contract or a trade, neither of which the team wants to give him. The Cowboys don't know when they'll see Jenkins on the field, in part because he doesn't seem in a hurry to get there. The rest of the PUP crew -- guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, wide receiver Danny Coale, guard/center Kevin Kowalski and safety Matt Johnson -- are all expected back in the coming weeks.

All five players matter. Bernadeau and Kowalski are in contention for starting spots on the interior of the offensive line, the team wants to see if Coale can be a real candidate for the No. 3 wide receiver spot as a rookie, Johnson has a chance to beat out Brodney Pool for a starting safety job but needs to be on the field to do it, and Jenkins is of course part of the Cowboys' plan to be as deep as possible at the position that devastated them last year.

Most eyes Wednesday were on top draft pick Claiborne, the rookie cornerback who missed OTAs and minicamp while recovering from wrist surgery but was on the field for the first training camp practice. Todd Archer thought he looked aggressive ("maybe too aggressive at times, but it's better to be that way and coach it out of a cornerback"), and I think everyone's eager to get to Oxnard next week and see how he looks against Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Claiborne also returned some punts, but the reviews on that don't indicate that you should expect to see it once games start.

And rookie Tyrone Crawford is a bit behind due to the calf injury that limited him this spring and summer, but he's working at it. Crawford's a long-term project anyway, and unlikely to play a major role early in 2012.

So there's your Cowboys update for the day. They'll be my final training camp stop, and I won't see them until Aug. 6, so I'll do my best to keep you posted in the meantime, even if that just means referring you to the exhaustive and perpetually excellent work of Calvin, Todd and Tim MacMahon.
We continue our position-by-position analysis of the teams in the NFC East with a look at the Dallas Cowboys' wide receivers.

Projected starters: Miles Austin, Dez Bryant

Reserves: Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes, Raymond Radway, Danny Coale

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDez Bryant has shown potential during his first two seasons but has yet to breakout.
Potential strength: As I wrote earlier Monday about the Eagles, the Cowboys' strength at wide receiver is that their starters have the potential to be among the very best in the league. Austin struggled with hamstring injuries last year, and Bryant is a third-year player whose first two years have seen plenty of understandable development issues. But if Austin can stay healthy, and if you buy into the old theory about third-year wide receivers taking big steps forward, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo could be picking between two of the best receivers in the NFL on any given play.

Potential weakness: There has been plenty of concern expressed about that No. 3 receiver spot, which was filled so surprisingly ably by Laurent Robinson last year. Unless they find a veteran in the bargain bin as they did last season with Robinson, the Cowboys are going to let the guys on their roster fight it out for that spot. It's a pretty uninspiring group, but Ogletree is probably the favorite as he's the most experienced of the bunch. Harris has earned good reviews for his work in the slot during organized team activities but has struggled on special teams, and that's going to be a factor as well in determining who gets the final wide receiver spots. Coale was an intriguing possibility as a late-round draft pick, but an injury is going to keep him out for most of the offseason program and he may need a year to develop at the NFL level before he can be a reliable No. 3 wide receiver.

Keep an eye on: Holmes. He seems to be a favorite of Jerry Jones' when Jones speaks publicly about the No. 3 wide receiver situation. He was a scout teamer last year and was an undrafted player out of college, but Jones has a soft spot for those and so, likely, does Romo, who was undrafted himself. Again, if a guy like Holmes can make an impression on special teams, he could put himself in position to get more of an opportunity to show what he can do in the offense. And opportunity may be the only thing one of these guys needs to break through and offer more than is expected of them. If no one does, the Cowboys likely just lean harder on tight end Jason Witten as a No. 3 receiver -- something that would be even easier to do if Austin and Bryant play to the top of their abilities.
You wouldn't expect Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to be playing favorites among the candidates for the team's No. 3 wide receiver spot, and he's not. According to Tim MacMahon, Romo has a very basic blueprint for anyone from that group of candidates wishing to assume the role of Laurent Robinson replacement:
"We want somebody to come in and grab that spot," Romo said during the first week of OTAs. "Guys have got to work their butt off. They've got to develop a rapport with me and they've got to know the offense. When they do that, they'll have a great chance, because we've got some guys who have some ability in this room."

Say whatever you want about Romo, but anyone who rises from the ranks of the undrafted to become the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys knows something about hard work. And he's right -- assuming they don't find a bargain-bin veteran the way they did last year with Robinson, the winner of the offseason competition between Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Raymond Radway, Dwayne Harris and Danny Coale is likely to be the one who works the hardest and performs the best on the field.

Romo will have a role here as well, and he understands it's part of his responsibility to help develop that next No. 3 wide receiver, whoever he may be. It's not as though there's no track record here. Wide receivers have developed and developed quickly with Romo. Robinson and Miles Austin stand as examples of this, and while fans may not be satisfied with the speed of Dez Bryant's development, he has been a very productive young player and he speaks about Romo with something like reverence. As is the case in New York, where young receivers spend time in the Friday meeting room watching Eli Manning watch film and listening to him break down plays, any Cowboys receiver who wants more catches would do well to stick close to Romo and soak up whatever he has to offer. The thing that made Robinson so productive last year was the confidence Romo had in him, and that's a direct result of practice-field and film-room chemistry.

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