NFC East: Montrae Holland

Tony Romo with Larry Bird-like ability

October, 15, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Josh Wilson thought he had a clean shot on Tony Romo.

He was left with nothing.

The Dallas Cowboys quarterback shook free from the blitzing Washington Redskins cornerback, got settled and found wide receiver Terrance Williams in the corner of the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown pass in the 31-16 win.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Tony Romo
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTony Romo got away from Washington's Josh Wilson before finding Terrance Williams in the end zone.
Romo has escaped from trouble so many times that it almost seems routine. He has spun away from defensive ends coming from his blindside. He has eluded linebackers up the middle. He has even shook off his own offensive lineman (Montrae Holland). On Sunday he broke free from a cornerback right in his face.

“I think that the No. 1 trait for Tony Romo as a quarterback is instincts,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s got a great feel for the game. He sees a lot of different things. He’s got a great feel for people around him, and he’s got just kind of this funny way of getting away from people. And not only does he get away from them, but quickly to have your eyes down the field to make that kind of a throw under that kind of duress, was an exceptional play.”

It was that “funny way of getting away from people,” comment that drew attention. At 6-2, 236 pounds, Romo is not the flashy, elusive quarterbacks who flourishes in today’s game, like Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick.

His athleticism is an underappreciated part of his game. But quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have a subtle way of side-stepping defenders even if they are not blessed with the greatest physical talents (aside from their right arms, of course).

“I think you can be an elusive guy without being overly skilled, overly impressed from a motor skills standpoint -- guys who run fast and jump high and have this rare quickness,” Garrett said. “There have been some great athletes through the years who kind of get away from people. The great Larry Bird seemed to get away from people for a long time, right?”
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Cowboys have a gaggle of candidates for the interior of the offensive line to choose from.

The team was spurned by guard Brandon Moore on Wednesday morning after he agreed to a deal but then decided to retire.

Thursday morning before leaving for Oakland, the site of Friday's second preseason game, the Cowboys created a roster spot by releasing guard Jeff Olson, who recovered from a concussion.

Among some notable names available on the free-agent market are Deuce Lutui, Bobbie Williams, Cooper Carlisle, Leonard Davis, Reggie Wells, Derrick Dockery, Antoine Caldwell, Jamey Richard, Rex Hadnot and Montrae Holland.

Dockery, Holland and Davis are former Cowboys, but there are also players with ties to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan available for a potential deal. Moore played for Callahan with the New York Jets.

"The way Jason (Garrett) looks at this thing, we sign guys and they come in here and they compete," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "I don’t think anything is necessarily a given at those spots."

What also helps is finding an offensive linemen who is familiar to the zone blocking scheme Callahan uses.

"I don't think this scheme is anymore difficult than any other," Jones said. "The guys that are out there they will adjust and we'll play the guys accordingly."

When the Cowboys play the Raiders on Friday night the starting guards will be Ronald Leary on the left side and Mackenzy Bernadeau at right guard with Travis Frederick at center.

Money isn't an issue for the Cowboys because the team has nearly $10 million in salary-cap space. Jones, however, likes to have space available in case the Cowboys need to sign a free agent during the season.

"It's a work in progress. If we see opportunities, we'll look at them," Jones said. "We'll also be patient. We're not going to just push a panic button and say this has to be fixed tomorrow."

Of the Cowboys' offensive line

January, 12, 2012
All right. You want a break from Giants' stuff -- here you go. Let's talk about the Dallas Cowboys' plans for their offensive line. Let's use this well-detailed post from Blogging the Boys as our jumping-off point. I agree completely with their premise that the biggest problem area for the Cowboys on the line this year was center. I think they'll fix the Doug Free problem by moving him back to right tackle and Tyron Smith to the left side, and they were able to fix guard once they brought back Montrae Holland after Kyle Kosier got a bit more healthy.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCowbys center Phil Costa struggled in 2011, and the team may look to upgrade at the position.
But Phil Costa was a consistent problem at center, and it cost the Cowboys dearly. They need to fix it. BTB looks at the list of potential free-agent centers and concludes, correctly, that there isn't a long-term solution among that aged group. My feeling is that the Cowboys, if you go back four or five months, were hoping they had that long-term solution on their roster already. And I wonder if they still do hold out that hope.

The Cowboys drafted David Arkin and Bill Nagy last year. Nagy got hurt, and Arkin obviously didn't develop in time to be a help this year. They both play guard, but I remember a training camp conversation I had with then-offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who told me both were getting practice snaps at center and that both would have to be able to play it in a pinch if they were to stick around. Houck believed both players -- Nagy in particular -- had what it took to be an NFL center, and I wonder if the Cowboys will continue to think along those lines and try to find their solution internally from the Arkin/Nagy/Costa group. Costa is also still young, remember, and he does have a year's worth of experience, even if it was a disappointing one.

The Cowboys also have brought in a new offensive line coach, replacing Houck with Bill Callahan. Does Callahan have a guy, or a type of guy, in mind for center? Will he have some say in who the team brings in for the position? Will he be able to coach something out of Costa or Arkin or Nagy that we haven't yet seen? Will the Cowboys pursue someone from BTB's list to hold down the position for a year or two until one of the younger solutions develops? Will they really draft an interior offensive lineman in the middle of the first round?

I think they're likely to find better offensive line value at that No. 15 pick than they are to find value at one of their other need positions -- say, defensive back or pass-rusher. So unless they move up or down to position themselves to take someone at one of those positions, I do think it's reasonable to speculate about a guy like David DeCastro, the Stanford guard who's got a first-round grade. If you believe a talented guard can turn into a solid NFL center, that would add a guy to the mix they already have and produce a great deal of young depth at these interior line positions that clearly need upgrading.

My guess is that the Cowboys continue to think young at these spots, especially with the well respected Callahan in to help develop them now. Does that mean they won't pursue someone from that deep list of veteran free-agent centers? Not necessarily. But I believe their free-agent priorities will lie elsewhere, and that they're more likely to use the draft to address the line.
Three days until the NFC East title game. Three days of anticipation and fretting. Four, really, if you count all day Sunday until the 8:30 pm kickoff time. But we'll be all right. We have our links.

New York Giants

Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka says that, if the Giants play the kind of complete defensive game they believe they can play, they will shut out the Cowboys on Sunday night. I don't get the Giants this week. If the Jets or another team that was getting set to play them was saying this same stuff, they'd hate it. And yet here they are, saying all of it. They must be feeling pretty good, is all I can think.

Victor Cruz says he was surprised he wasn't named to the Pro Bowl, probably because he ranks second in the NFC in receiving yards. I can see his point. Maybe if his team puts him on the fan ballot next year, he can make it next year.

Dallas Cowboys

With starting left guard Montrae Holland out with a biceps tear, Derrick Dockery is getting first-team reps at that position in practice. That doesn't mean for sure he's going to start at left guard Sunday ahead of Kevin Kowalski, but it's a pretty strong sign that he might.

Quarterback Tony Romo practiced Wednesday in spite of his bruised throwing hand, but the Cowboys are going to hold defensive stars Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware out of practice for much of this week so they can rest their nagging injuries. They did the same last week, and those guys were able to play. I imagine they'll see more action Sunday, which could mean they see a little bit less action in practice in the days leading up to it.

Philadelphia Eagles

Paul Domowitch runs down all of the ins and outs of the Eagles' looming decision on DeSean Jackson and concludes that it's time for the Eagles to let Jackson go. The idea is that the risk and headache outweigh the talent at the likely cost, and truthfully the sense I get is that Jackson will be playing his final game as an Eagle on Sunday.

And in what may be the biggest turnaround of the NFL season, with one week to go we have a Philadelphia columnist arguing that Andy Reid deserves one more chance. Rich Hofmann writes that the Eagles had a plan, that it didn't necessarily require a Super Bowl appearance this year and that Reid should be allowed to come back and continue to try and make the plan work in 2012. I believe this is what should and will happen.

Washington Redskins

Dan Daly thinks the reason London Fletcher can't get to the Pro Bowl is because the Redskins don't win enough games to be relevant in the minds of the people who cast the votes. It's a legitimate theory, because I don't know how much more one could ask from a player than that which Fletcher gives week in and week out.

Rex Grossman says his confidence is at an all-time high. Couple of things on this: First, can you imagine how high that confidence would be if he'd only thrown 18 interceptions in his 12 games this year instead of 19? Or if he'd only thrown 17? Second, this is a guy who predicted during the preseason that the Redskins would win the division. What's happened since to send his confidence higher than it was that day?

NFC East Stock Watch

December, 27, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Cowboys' offensive line. With the exception of brilliant rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, who handled the red-hot Jason Babin well most of the night, the Dallas Cowboys' line was dominated physically by the Eagles' defensive front. And now, with left guard Montrae Holland out with a torn biceps, they're shorthanded for their big division title game against the New York Giants and their fearsome D-linemen. Someone on the Cowboys' line is going to have to step up and play better than they've been playing. And no matter what happens Sunday night, interior offensive line is going to be a need position this offseason.

2. The Philadelphia Eagles' draft position. One more win gets the Eagles to .500 for the season and could slide them further back into the middle of the draft's first round than they already are. (Currently, they'd hold the No. 13 pick). That lessens their chances at an impact player that would hasten their planned 2012 turnaround, but the Eagles have several needs they can address on defense at that point in the draft. They might even be able to get a wide receiver there if they cut ties with DeSean Jackson.

3. Washington Redskins' self-confidence: Flying high two weeks ago after a big victory over the Giants, the Redskins' defense melted down Saturday against Joe Webb, Toby Gerhart and the Minnesota Vikings' bench. The loss deprived the Redskins of a chance to improve on their 2010 record and, as their worst defensive performance of the season, left them scratching their heads a bit as they ponder the future. The thought around Washington has been that this offseason's focus would be on offense. But there may be some tinkering left to do on defense, particularly on the back end.


[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
AP Photo/Bill KostrounWith Justin Tuck healthy and on his game, the New York Giants can be a force on defense.
1. Justin Tuck, Giants defensive end. And, with him, the Giants' defensive line. After last week's pep talks by coach Tom Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese, Tuck was able to exert a little bit of mind over matter for the first time this season, sweep aside the aches and pains that have been bugging him and play his best game so far this year. Tuck admitted after the game he hasn't been mentally right this year, and he has let his injury problems bother him more than they should have. If he's back in the right frame of mind to stay, and the Giants can come after Tony Romo from his side and Jason Pierre-Paul's on Sunday night, you have to like their chances.

2. Cowboys fans' blood pressure. Because this should have been taken care of weeks ago. If the Cowboys lose to the Giants and miss the playoffs, the laments will be numerous and woeful. They should have held their late leads against the Jets, Lions, Patriots, Cardinals and Giants. Win two of those five games -- all of which they surely could have won — and they'd have rendered the season finale meaningless. But their inability to finish games has put them in a position to have to finish the season with a tough win on the road. And their fans will spend this entire week fretting over whether Romo, Jason Garrett and the crew have what it takes to do that.

3. Victor Cruz, Giants wide receiver. His 99-yard touchdown catch flipped the game in favor of the Giants right before halftime and may have been the play of the Giants' season. Cruz also set a new Giants team record for receiving yards in a single season, running his 2011 total to 1,358 and breaking Amani Toomer's team record. He's not likely to be announced as a Pro Bowler tonight, because he wasn't on the fan ballot and the fan vote counts for one-third of the total. But his breakout season is a big reason the Giants have a chance to make the playoffs.

Holland injury could cost Cowboys

December, 26, 2011
Todd Archer of is reporting that Dallas Cowboys guard Montrae Holland has a torn biceps and could be done for the season. If that's the case, the chances of the Cowboys' season lasting beyond Sunday night get a bit slimmer.

Holland isn't anything close to a big name or a superstar. He was actually one of the Cowboys' final roster cuts at the end of training camp and wasn't picked up by anyone else. But the Cowboys re-signed him in October after rookie Bill Nagy suffered a season-ending injury, and Holland's insertion into the lineup coincided with a revival of the Dallas running game. In the five games they played without him, the Cowboys averaged 84.8 rush yards per game. In the 10 games they've played with him as their starting left guard, the Cowboys are averaging 133.4 rush yards per game.

Of course there are a number of other factors there. Holland's first game was also rookie DeMarco Murray's first as the Cowboys' feature running game, and Dallas ran for 294 yards against the Rams in that game alone, skewing the numbers. That game also saw the emergence of Tony Fiammetta as a blocking force at fullback, and Dallas' rushing numbers did dip back down to 83 yards per game during the three-game stretch Fiammetta missed in Weeks 11-13.

But Holland was helpful in stabilizing the run game, and more importantly, he was clearly better than their other options. Derrick Dockery or Kevin Kowalski are likely to fill in Sunday in the game against the Giants that will decide the NFC East title. So while this is an injury the Cowboys likely can survive better than they could one to Tony Romo or DeMarcus Ware, it's one that has the potential to hurt them, because it strikes at something they've been able to do much better over the second half of this season -- run the ball and control the game.

NFC East Stock Watch

November, 22, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Giants' offensive line. It hasn't really been any good all year, but now it has begun to cost them games. The Giants were absolutely manhandled up front by the Eagles' defense Sunday night, unable to find anything at all in the run game or give Eli Manning enough time to throw. Brandon Jacobs is getting booed by the home fans, but he can't make the holes himself. The Giants look like a team that will continue to be in every game they play, including the tough ones, but it's going to be difficult for them to put together a winning streak against their schedule if they can't win those physical battles in the trenches.

2. Cowboys' secondary. They hung on to beat Washington, but Rex Grossman had a pretty good day against them. They miss cornerback Mike Jenkins, and if the injury to safety Gerald Sensabaugh is serious enough to linger, they'll have a tough time patching it together in time for Thursday's game. The good news for Dallas is that its offense is good enough to outscore teams, and its next two opponents aren't big-time passing teams. But the Cowboys' defense did show some cracks Sunday, especially on the back end.

3. Redskins' running game clarity. Actually, it seems kind of clear to all involved that rookie Roy Helu is the team's best back. But Mike Shanahan keeps giving Ryan Torain the starts and bringing in Helu later. Shanahan said this week that part of the reason for that is not wanting to give the rookie too much too soon -- a strategy that speaks to where Shanahan and the Redskins are right now as a franchise. They're thinking long-term, and they don't want to overload Helu mentally or beat him up physically if he's part of the long-term plans. So while it may feel frustrating right now, it's all designed to make things better in the long run.


[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Brad Mills/US PresswireTony Romo is playing consistent football through 11 weeks.
1. Tony Romo, Cowboys quarterback. This was a game in which a number of things that had been going right for the Cowboys did not. They didn't dominate physically in the run game as they have been lately. They didn't make the stops they needed to make on defense. And yet, rather than forcing things the way he was when he was making so many costly mistakes earlier in the season, Romo was smart and efficient and deliberate and made all of the throws he needed to make to deliver a division win. He's in the middle of an excellent season.

2. Vince Young, Eagles quarterback. Man, did he look shaky for the first three quarters. He even looked shaky at times on that game-winning drive. But he made the plays he needed to make to deliver a win. And even if Michael Vick comes back healthy this week and Young doesn't start another game all year, he showed teams he added a win to his record as an NFL quarterback, which now stands at 31-17. That's Young's biggest selling point -- not the relative prettiness of his passes -- and if he wants to go find a starting job somewhere next year, that win is one more thing he can try to sell.

3. Eagles' and Cowboys' offensive lines. Maligned for much of the season as a weak spot, the Eagles' line has actually consistently ranked among the best run-blocking lines in the league. On Sunday night, it also gave Young the time he needed to make plays. Their playoff chances are, at best, on life support, but their physicality up front on both sides of the ball is going to make them a tough team to play the rest of the way. As for Dallas, it is still shaky at center, and Doug Free isn't having a very good year. But the return of Montrae Holland to play left guard has really helped solidify things for them in the middle, and there's reason to think they'll continue to improve as the year progresses.

The DeMarco Murray effect in Dallas

November, 17, 2011
Our good friends over at have a nice little package put together on rookie running back DeMarco Murray and the team-wide effect his emergence has had on the Dallas Cowboys. Todd Archer, for instance, writes that Murray's made Tony Romo's life easier, since the threat of a legitimate and dangerous rushing attack has opened some things up in the passing game. Todd also says Murray has made Jason Garrett a better coach and the Cowboys' defense a better defense, but that his main impact has been on the performance of the offensive line:
He has shown he does not need a lot of space to make a positive play. A lineman does not need to have perfect hand placement, perfect footwork or perfect timing for Murray to break free. Murray is a living, breathing John Wooden-ism as he runs. He is quick, but he doesn't hurry.

"I think he makes our jobs a little easier," said reserve guard Derrick Dockery, who helped pave the way for 1,000-yard rushers Clinton Portis and LaDell Betts in Washington and Marshawn Lynch in Buffalo. "Sometimes as an offensive lineman you might get that hole for a split second and he's the type of back that sees it, hits it and he's gone. He turns three yards into 15, 20, 50, touchdown. He's very explosive. That's the type of back you want to have. Not only that, he's a physical runner. He's not trying to fall down. He's trying to get those extra yards. As an offensive lineman, you appreciate that."

The Dallas offensive line has been a patchwork unit this season, but the return of Montrae Holland at left guard has seemed to solidify some things, and the emergence of Tony Fiammetta at fullback has helped with the run blocking as well. It's a bit of a perfect storm that has coincided with Felix Jones' ankle injury and the insertion of Murray as the starting running back, and Jean-Jacques Taylor even thinks it'll help Jones once he comes back:
Jones is poised to have the same role with the Cowboys that he had at Arkansas. You know, when he used to carry the ball nine or 10 times a game after Darren McFadden had softened the defense.

Most times, defenses couldn't handle his combination of speed, acceleration and quickness, leading to big play after big play.

There's little doubt that the Cowboys' offense works better with Murray in this feature role than it did when he was on the bench. He's got 601 rushing yards in the four games since Jones got hurt, and he's muscling his way into an Offensive Rookie of the Year discussion that at one time began and ended with Carolina's Cam Newton. If you want to debate his place in that discussion, well, ESPNDallas has you covered there, too. Their Hot Button topic this week is on which player is the NFL's top offensive rookie -- Murray, Newton or Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. Have at it.

Breakfast links: Back to full strength

October, 25, 2011
No more byes in the NFC East this year, and all four teams are back in action this week. The Redskins head up to Canada to play the Bills in a stop-the-bleeding game. The Giants host Miami in the final game before their schedule turns into a meat grinder. And in the marquee matchup of the week, the Cowboys visit the Eagles in a game that could help determine the direction this division takes for the rest of the season. Lots going on, so you'd better make sure and get your links.

New York Giants

Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, Brandon Jacobs, Prince Amukamara... you name him, he practiced for the suddenly very healthy-looking Giants on Monday. The return of Tuck in particular would be very unsettling news for the winless Miami Dolphins team that's coming to the Meadowlands on Sunday to face a rested and refreshed bunch of Giants.

Eli Manning offered his post-bye thoughts on everything from the Dolphins to the Giants' upcoming schedule to pumpkin-picking to the way the Colts are playing without his brother in his latest weekly radio spot on ESPN-1050 in New York.

Dallas Cowboys

Jason Garrett said he's not ready to name DeMarco Murray the starter for Sunday's game against the Eagles, but come on. I'd be less surprised if Garrett asked me to start the game than I will if Tashard Choice got the assignment.

Re-signing Montrae Holland worked out Sunday, and he'll remain a starter for the time being, but the Cowboys still could use some additional offensive line depth, and to that end they will take a look at former Eagle Nick Cole.

Washington Redskins

As the Redskins' season begins to leak oil, Sally Jenkins writes that it's on the remaining healthy players to make a stand and stop things from slipping away. They can surely beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday if they get back to playing defense the way they did in their first four games. And if they do, they're 4-3 and still in the mix. The key for Washington may be to remember the basic building-block stuff at which they were so good before their bye week.

Winning Sunday would also help the Redskins combat this growing "Same Old Skins" buzz that seems to be building around them. A win would avoid what Dan Daly says would be Washington's 17th losing streak of three games or longer in the past 11 seasons.

Philadelphia Eagles

John Smallwood writes that the Cowboys-Eagles rivalry has lost some luster, at least in Philadelphia. I guess I'll take his word for it, since he lives there and I don't. But sheesh, this week's game feels pretty huge, doesn't it?

The Eagles may get some reinforcements for the Cowboys game, as Trent Cole, Jason Peters and (get this) Brandon Graham were back at practice Monday. Could be a nice boost to both lines, though think fans would be happier to see a couple of healthy linebackers who haven't been around before show up and practice.

It's Tuesday, so we'll have our weekly chat at noon. We'll have Stock Watch. We'll have Power Rankings. We'll have ourselves a time, I promise.
How about some links to get you over that Wednesday hump? Yeah? Sound good. All right then.

New York Giants

How will the Giants rotate their pass-rushers once Justin Tuck returns from his injury and they can play him along with Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul? They have a plan, and it includes cutting the workload of Pierre-Paul, the second-year star who, according to defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, wears down a bit toward the end of games.

Ian Begley has the lowdown on the bye-week vacation plans of several Giants players, including Jim Cordle's trip home to Circlesville, Ohio, for the legendary Circlesville Pumpkin Show. I was all set to say my pick would be to go to Miami with Rolle and Phillips, but the idea of a pumkpin show that's achieved "legendary" status has me intrigued.

Washington Redskins

Should Redskins fans trust that Mike Shanahan knows what he's doing? Deron Snyder says you have no choice. Shanahan's in the second year of a five-year deal and is working and planning accordingly. If this has to be a slow build, then that's what it will be. And if they don't have a quarterback on their roster good enough to get them where they need to go, you can bet they'll do what they can to find one next spring.

Meanwhile, as of this morning, more than 6,000 votes had been cast in this Washington Post poll, and 86 percent of the respondents want John Beck to start at quarterback over Rex Grossman. Guess Grossman didn't fare very well in the most recent televised debate.

Dallas Cowboys

In retrospect, Jerry Jones wishes he'd said "no comment" when asked Sunday about Jason Garrett's play calling in the fourth quarter of the loss at New England. I've always felt it weird that Jones is such a regular presence in the Cowboys' locker room immediately after games, and as great as that is for those of us who cover the games, I've wondered if it would be better for Garrett and the players if he were a little less visible and vocal in the raw, emotional moments after games. I do not expect it to change, though.

As they continue to tinker (out of necessity) with the offensive line, the Cowboys have released kick returner Dwayne Harris. Earlier on Tuesday, they put rookie guard Bill Nagy on injured reserve. The replacements are guards Montrae Holland (yeah, he's back) and Daniel Loper, who the Cowboys hope can help plug holes in the struggling middle of their offensive line. Kevin Ogletree could get a look on kick returns with Harris gone.

Philadelphia Eagles

Les Bowen writes that the Eagles did a much better job Sunday of protecting Michael Vick, but that the last piece of that puzzle is Vick learning to be more careful and making sure to protect himself. Like the Jerry Jones thing, this is something I don't expect to change.

For all of the issues the Eagles have had this year, especially on the offensive line, it's worth asking where they'd be without the versatility and overall excellence of Todd Herremans, who's played three different positions on the line since the start of training camp and been a rock.

All right. That's it for now. Off to compile this week's All-Division Team. I know you don't want to wait any longer for that than you have to.
Tuesday is a big day on the NFL page. To make sure you have the energy to power your way through it, let's make sure you get your links.

New York Giants

Injured defensive end Justin Tuck says he's "confident" he'll play in the Giants' next game, which is the week after next against the Dolphins. Tuck has endured a lot of frustration connected with his neck injury, including missed games and surprise criticism from former teammate Antonio Pierce. He desperately wants to play, and while the Giants are getting strong defensive end play from Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul in his absence, there's no denying they're a better defense when he's in there.

The Giants are hoping to get a lot of people back from injury when they return from their bye week. The list, according to Tom Canavan, includes right guard Chris Snee, running back Brandon Jacobs, receiver Ramses Barden and rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara. Now, the first two, sure. But Barden? We'll believe he's a factor once he's finally on the field and contributing. And while everybody's been excited about Amukamara since draft day, it's worth remembering that he's still a rookie who had one NFL practice before his injury and will be playing, I believe, with screws in his surgically repaired foot. His presence could help snap some people (Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant in particular) back into their more appropriate roles, but I think expectations for Amukamara should be a little more tempered than they seem to be at this point.

Washington Redskins

The play of the Redskins' offensive line has been a major reason for their success this year, and with left guard Kory Lichtensteiger out for the year and left tackle Trent Williams likely out a few weeks, they have some shuffling to do. As coach Mike Shanahan pointed out, the Lichtensteiger injury is especially tough, since he was playing "at a very high level," and I'm interested to see what impact this has on the Redskins' run game the rest of the way.

LaVar Arrington has some advice for Rex Grossman if he does get another shot at the Redskins' starting quarterback job. LaVar thinks Grossman should stop making predictions and let his play on the field do the talking for him. Of course, having watched him play Sunday, I wonder if maybe that's what Grossman was afraid of doing all along.

Dallas Cowboys

Todd Archer's got a source saying Felix Jones could miss 2-to-4 weeks with a high ankle sprain. This would be a tough to overcome for a Cowboys team struggling to find its offensive identity. Jones' preseason performance was a real reason for optimism as the Cowboys' season began last month, but he's been unable to build off of it, and for the time being the run game looks to be in the hands of Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray.

And Calvin Watkins engages in some speculation about players the Cowboys could potentially bring in to address their injury-wracked offensive line situation, including former Cowboy Montrae Holland and former Eagle Nick Cole. Again, speculation by Calvin, as he admits, but things do seem to be getting a bit thin up front. Again.

Philadelphia Eagles

Because Sheil Kapadia is Sheil Kapadia, he took a detailed look at each of the 12 run plays the Redskins ran against the Eagles on Sunday and identified what the Eagles did, play by play, to stop the run. The upshot is that they didn't use as much "Wide 9" on the defensive line as they'd been using all season. The Eagles' coaches have explained that they tightened their line formations because they believed that to be the best way to combat the Redskins' zone-blocking run scheme. If you're an Eagles fan, it's got to be nice to know the coaches are willing to be flexible and not too stubborn to tinker with their philosophy when the situation calls for it.

And Jeff McLane muses on whether the Eagles could make a move in advance of Tuesday's trade deadline. Jeff points out the Eagles' obvious depth at cornerback, and surely they could trade from that group to address an area of need such as linebacker. And he mentions the depth on the defensive line as well, especially considering the possibility that it could get Brandon Graham back at some point after the bye. So we'll see. The Eagles could deal from strength if they were so inclined.

You know the Tuesday drill. We'll do our chat at noon ET. We'll have Power Rankings. We'll have Stock Watch. We'll have various other goodies sprinkled throughout the day. So keep coming back. We'll make it worth your while. I promise.

Eagles, Cowboys still shuffling lines

September, 5, 2011
See, the thing about those Saturday roster cuts is that they aren't final and some things you think are settled get changed within the first 24 hours after the cuts. So it was that Sunday was a busy-work day for teams still churning the bottoms of their rosters, claiming guys off waivers, bringing just-released players back for the practice squad.

The moves the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles made Sunday sent clear signals that neither team is yet comfortable with its offensive line situation a week before the start of the regular season.

The Cowboys cut veteran guard Montrae Holland, who you might remember looked like he'd been elevated to starting right guard after the team let go of Leonard Davis on the first day of free agency. Holland showed up out of shape, hurt his back and didn't play until the final preseason game last Thursday. During that game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on the TV broadcast that Holland had impressed the team with surprisingly good conditioning and made them feel better about their line depth. And when the cuts came in Saturday, Holland was not among them.

A day later, though, Holland was out, and the Cowboys are bringing in former Redskins lineman Derrick Dockery as a backup offensive lineman instead. Cutting Holland knocked about $1.5 million off the Cowboys' salary cap figure for 2011 and Dockery will serve as one of the backups on an offensive line that will start two rookies (left guard Bill Nagy and right tackle Tyron Smith) and a second-year center in Phil Costa. This is not, however, the kind of move that makes you think they're done making moves. Since Dockery wasn't technically added until today, the Holland cut was to make room for newly signed fullback Tony Fiammetta. With Dockery being added today, the team released backup tackle Sam Young. And the wheel goes round.

It's a little bit easier to surmise the motivation behind the line move the Eagles made Sunday to bring in former Colts guard Kyle DeVan. Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd coached DeVan in Indianapolis, knows him and knows DeVan knows his system. The Eagles are planning to start first-round pick Danny Watkins at right guard, but the rookie has struggled in preseason, and it's got to be comforting for Mudd and Andy Reid to know they have another veteran option to use in case Watkins doesn't show the kind of improvement they expect and need from him over the first few weeks of the season. DeVan also offers another option at left guard in case newcomer Evan Mathis doesn't work out on that side.

We might get into the season and find the concerns about young offensive linemen in Dallas and Philadelphia were overblown. The Cowboys and Eagles certainly hope so. But watching them work to make sure and cover themselves just in case, you realize the concerns aren't just external ones -- that these two teams have the same questions fans do about their lines.

Observation deck: Cowboys-Dolphins

September, 2, 2011
With the Dallas Cowboys' and New York Giants' games still to go, I picked the Cowboys to watch first because I wanted to see rookie running back DeMarco Murray. So it was nice of the kid to catch a 48-yard screen pass up the left side on the team's first play from scrimmage. We've seen the Cowboys use the screen game a lot this preseason, with Tony Romo throwing to starting running back Felix Jones, and it appears as though the Cowboys would like to use the weapons they have on offense to spread out the defense when possible and trade on their speed.

Murray looks like a guy who can help with that. He looked excellent when they got him on the outside, in space, around the edge, able to pick up big chunks of yardage in those spots. That speaks to his athletic ability, which surely showed up on pre-draft tape, and wasn't really a surprise. What the Cowboys and their fans wanted to see from Murray on Thursday night was how Murray looked running between the tackles. With a little more than a minute to go in the first quarter, after picking up 9 yards on first down on a run to the outside, Murray drove hard through the middle to pick up the first down on second-and-1.

A few plays later, on a first-and-15, he showed good patience and made a critical cut at the line to pick up 3 yards when it looked as if he wouldn't get any. So he showed speed, power and judgment. Maybe a little more of a straight-line guy than you'd like him to be, but he clearly brings a lot to the table and should be a more than adequate replacement for Marion Barber as a changeup guy who can give Jones a breather here and there. I was impressed, and if the Cowboys decide to commit to the run game this year, it looks as though they'll have good options.

Some other stuff I saw in the Cowboys' final preseason game, a meaningless 17-3 loss to the Dolphins in Miami:

1. Speaking of running backs ... Phillip Tanner! This guy has been one of my favorite breakout preseason studs, and it was nice to hear Jerry Jones say on the broadcast that Tanner had made the team. I don't know what it means for Tashard Choice, and it sounds as though the Cowboys have yet to sort all of that out, but Tanner has played well enough to earn his spot. I just really like the way he runs -- strong, determined, feet constantly moving. He already has down some technique aspects of the running back position that coaches have to work to teach more talented guys. Interesting deep bench option for them, and he's good enough to make Choice wonder where he stands in terms of playing time, if not roster spot.

2. Rookie offensive linemen. Right tackle Tyron Smith didn't have his best game, getting beaten around the edge early in the game and picking up a false-start penalty later in the first half. But there are times -- more often than not, actually -- when he looks like an unstoppable mauler on that right side. I believe he'll be fine. Left guard Bill Nagy had a couple of tough moments as well (I believe the sack of Stephen McGee with 5:00 left in the half was on Nagy), but it says a lot to me that he seemed to be the one on the left side making the line calls with the starters (specifically Kyle Kosier) not in the game. The Cowboys consider Nagy a relatively seasoned rookie who knows a lot about how to play the position -- and a lot about the responsibilities of the other linemen as well. It wasn't surprising to see him with extra responsibility in a game full of backups, but I wonder if it affected his own play. Still looks like he could stand to get stronger. And finally, rookie center Kevin Kowalski, who I guess is now Phil Costa's backup at center, lost his helmet on a play early in the second quarter and kept mixing it up. Which isn't super-smart, but if you're looking for tough, crazy offensive linemen it's the kind of thing you like to see.

3. Montrae Holland surprised. He's been reduced to a backup role, but it's going to be an important one given the relative uncertainty with the starters on the offensive line. Holland came to camp overweight and had some injury issues that kept him out of action, so the Cowboys didn't know how much he'd be able to play Thursday night. But he played the whole first half and looked good, and that helps Dallas feel better about the depth it has on the line.

4. Defense? I don't know. Again, backups all over the field. Bryan McCann got beat by Brian Hartline when he tried to jump a route. Guys like Alan Ball and Barry Church missed tackles on Larry Johnson on Johnson's 22-yard touchdown run. Church made a couple of nice plays otherwise. I was a little more locked in on the offense in this one. Not sure there's much about the defense that bears serious analysis.

5. Receivers. Kevin Ogletree made a nifty after-catch move to pick up a first down near the goal line on a third-down play in the first quarter. Dwayne Harris showed some shiftiness on punt returns. And Michael Irvin, who was once a receiver, was pretty impressive in the broadcast booth! I thought he did a nice job of focusing on serious analysis even when the guys in the booth with him (including Jerry Jones) seemed more interested in trying to talk about Irvin and his career. Felt like he was trying to educate, which good color analysts who played the game at a high level should be doing.

Anyway, next game counts. See ya.
Assuming my power stays on long enough here in Northern New Jersey Saturday night, I will be watching the Dallas Cowboys' preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. But even if the power does stay on, I won't be seeing center Andre Gurode, who is apparently healthy but won't be playing as the team ponders his future, his salary and his spot on the roster. Gurode has a $5.5 million base salary and a $7.2 million cap number this season, and it appears as though the team would like him to take a pay cut.

Seems like odd timing, but it apparently speaks to how impressed the Cowboys have been with the play of Phil Costa, who's been filling in at center this preseason while Gurode has been hurt. Costa won't play Saturday either, since he's out with a knee injury. But Jerry Jones told reporters in Minneapolis that they expect Costa to be back by the season opener. If Gurode is gone (or even if he stays and takes that pay cut), Costa looks like the likely starter at center to begin the season as long as he's healthy.

This likely also says a lot about what the team thinks of rookie Bill Nagy, the seventh-rounder who's been starting at left guard lately in place of the injured Montrae Holland. The starting left guard job is still probably Holland's if he gets back and healthy, but the team has been impressed with Nagy, who can play guard or center, and his strong showing thus far improves their position in these talks with Gurode.

With rookie Tyron Smith already set to start at right tackle, the Cowboys' offensive line is clearly in flux with a couple of weeks left before the season starts. Keep a close eye on Nagy Saturday night to see how he holds up. Kevin Kowalski's going to start at center Saturday, but he's not likely to be a factor during the regular season.
Two preseason games in the books from Thursday night, two more to come Saturday, so let's see where things stand in the NFC East with a little thing we like to call the breakfast links.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys' offensive line picture gets a little bit cloudier with an injury to Phil Costa, who'd been doing a good job filling in at center for the injured Andre Gurode. Costa's play this preseason had him in line to start either at center or potentially left guard, but now it appears as though Gurode is the center and Montrae Holland is the guard if both are healthy. Bill Nagy remains a threat at either position if he continues to impress Saturday night.

Lots of talk in this story about Dez Bryant and what he and the team see as his improved maturity and professionalism this offseason. This is going to be an issue throughout Bryant's career, I imagine, as reputations are nearly impossible to shake and he's got a tough one. He's saying all the right things and seems to be impressing the right people in his own locker room, at least. We know the kid had stunning talent, and if he can keep these extra issues from mattering, that'll be best for him and the team.

New York Giants

Newly signed cornerback Brian Williams is expected to play for the Giants on Saturday. Tom Coughlin said the main reason the team signed Williams was his experience, and their expectation that he could learn their defense quickly. With all of the injuries the Giants have suffered at the position, Williams is going to get a chance to play and show what he can do after a couple of years as a backup.

Matt Dodge didn't like being booed at the Giants' first home preseason game Monday, but he has shrugged it off. Here he talks about the competition between he and Steve Weatherford, the support he's received from Coughlin since he got to New York, and other things on the mind of a punter fighting for a roster spot.

Philadelphia Eagles

After getting knocked around due to their ineptitude in Thursday night's preseason game, Michael Vick defended his offensive line, especially rookie Jason Kelce, who was beating himself up. Shows good leadership from Vick, who was one of last week's goats and obviously doesn't see the benefit in engaging in blame-assignment after a meaningless preseason game.

If you thought LeSean McCoy caught an unusual number of passes in this game, you weren't alone. They noticed in the Eagles' locker room, as well, and the party line was that you take what the defense gives you. McCoy is clearly a weapon in the passing game -- this is not news. But on a night like this one, when Vick didn't get any time to find receivers downfield, it was encouraging for the Eagles to see him so in sync with his best running back.

Washington Redskins

It sounds as though the injury to rookie defensive end Jarvis Jenkins could be worse than initially thought, which would be a shame, since Jenkins has been one of the pleasant surprises of training camp and preseason. Jenkins will have an MRI on Friday and hope it comes back clean, but he was fearing for his ACL on Thursday night after the game.

Dan Daly tries to decipher Mike Shanahan's clues about his deliberations on the Redskins' quarterback situation. Shanahan isn't offering many in his news conferences, though I still think as long as John Beck doesn't fall flat on his face he's the guy. And we don't know how much, if at all, Beck or Rex Grossman will play in next week's preseason finale.