NFC East: Nate Newton
We can all recite the stories about him bench-pressing 700 pounds and chasing New Orleans linebacker Darion Connor 50 yards to prevent a touchdown as a rookie.
And we’ve all seen video of him destroying linebackers and defensive backs when he pulled, creating running lanes for Emmitt Smith.
“Across the board, he was the best football player I ever played with -- and I played with them all,” former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson said. “Troy [Aikman], Emmitt, Michael [Irvin], Deion [Sanders] ... Larry Allen was the best.
“He was also the smartest.”
That’s right. Talk to any player or coach who played with Allen during his 12 seasons in Dallas and they’ll tell you he was among the game’s most intelligent players.
Former offensive line coach Hudson Houck used to joke that Allen was the best offensive linemen on the field and in the classroom.
“He wanted to know everyone’s assignment,” six-time Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton said. “If the quarterback was rolling out, he wanted to know exactly where he was supposed to end up so he could adjust his block properly.
“He always asked a lot of questions, but he asked a lot of smart questions. He always wanted to know what we were supposed to do if the defensive player didn’t do what we thought he would do.”
Allen was a second-round pick from tiny Division II Sonoma State in the 1994 draft. Six games into the season, he was starting. The six-time All-Pro played every position except center on the offensive line.
“Do you know how smart you have to be to go from playing at Sonoma State to starting for a two-time Super Bowl champion?” Woodson said. “Think about how big that jump is. Think about the kind of offense we had in Dallas and what he ran at Sonoma State.
“I don’t know how Larry did in math or what kind of grades he made, but he understood everything about football and concepts and that’s what helped make him a great player. He anticipated things because he knew where everyone was on the field and he could adjust.”
He looked OK in team. He looked even better in pass-rush drills. That’s combination single-blocking and games, when the defensive line is stunting. He did a tremendous job. He punched well. He moved his feet well. He didn’t let people get into his zone.
I think out of six or seven pass rushes, he got beat one time on a spin move. That’s where he let a guy get into his body and didn’t punch, but after that, he handled his business. He had great knee bend for a first day back. He did a great job.
Now this kid has to put back-to-back practices together. He has to be more consistent, get into his playbook.
Yes, surely Leary will have to have a second strong practice before he can truly be considered for one of the starting guard spots. But as Newton points out, Nate Livings isn't exactly going to be impossible to beat out. The Cowboys liked Leary enough last year to guarantee a significant portion of his rookie salary even though he was an undrafted free agent. And while it's not as though the Cowboys have never overvalued an offensive lineman before, that at least tells you they think highly of him and are willing to give him a shot to win one of these jobs.
Johnson came from the college ranks, and he brought a college coach's fire and intensity to the NFL. Tabbed by his college buddy Jerry Jones to succeed legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry, Johnson presided over a run of Super Bowl success that burnished the Cowboys' legacy as one of the sport's signature franchises and set a standard to which the team has struggled for nearly two decades now to live up. Former Cowboy Nate Newton offered this as part of his analysis of Johnson's coaching style:
"Jimmy was a master manipulator. He didn't have to cuss you out or dog you to get you to do what he wanted you to do. He took what you feared most and used it to motivate you.
"Stuff like Michael Irvin's fear of not being able to feed his family. Or Troy Aikman's fear of not being the best quarterback in the league. or Emmitt Smith's fear of not being on the field.
"He used my fear of letting the coach down. You could say anything and it wouldn't faze me, but you cornered me off and got me in a one-on-one situation and made me commit I would do whatever I said I was going to do because you showed faith and trust in me. Jimmy knew that. And he used it."
It's got to be exhausting to coach the way Johnson coached -- devoted to finding the right way to motivate each individual player on a daily basis. He did it to tremendous effect in Dallas, less so with the Dolphins. And while his résumé was strong enough that he likely could have stayed in coaching, he retired at the age of 56 to a comfortable life of TV broadcasting and fishing in the Florida Keys. His legacy as an all-time NFL coaching great rests on the Super Bowl titles he won in Dallas, coaching legends like Aikman, Smith and Irvin. The fact that he had to fight his way out of Landry's shadow to succeed and that the Cowboys really haven't been the same since he left only strengthen his case for the spot he occupies on this list.
Skip Bayless and Chris Broussard debated on "First Take" on Thursday whether this is a "make or break" season for Tony Romo in Dallas. Skip says it is. Chris says he's nuts. Chris is right. If Romo throws for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and the defense gives up the second-most points in the league again and they miss the playoffs, how exactly would that be Romo's fault? Said it before, say it again: Romo is the least of the Cowboys' problems.
Calvin Watkins' "Old School" series checks in with Nate Newton, who thinks, among other things, that the Cowboys should have designated Doug Free as their franchise player before the lockout began.
New York Giants
Mike Garafolo listened to Ahmad Bradshaw do an interview with a Miami radio station and couldn't figure out which way he was leaning -- Giants or Dolphins. On the heels of Drew Rosenhaus' comments about Bradshaw and the Dolphins earlier this week, Bradshaw sounds like a guy who wants and expects to be back with the Giants but is trying to use the Dolphins' potential interest as leverage for the best possible deal. Of course, the Dolphins really could use him and could make an offer to lure him away. It was Dolphins versus Giants last year for Antrel Rolle, and Miami was upset to lose out. Revenge?
Giants.com asks who was the Giants' best free-agent signing of the past 15 years -- Kerry Collins, Michael Barrow, Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce, Kareem McKenzie or Plaxico Burress? Honestly, given where they were at quarterback before he signed, I might go with Collins here.
The Eagles are ready to begin training camp next week if the players sign off on the deal, and they still expect to have it at Lehigh.
And we have this latest entry on why it would be better for the Eagles to sign a cornerback who's not as good as Nnamdi Asomugha than it would be for them to sign Asomugha himself. It's twisted logic every time I read it, and yet it's become something of a consensus. Fine. You guys want Ike Taylor, go get him. You just won't be as good as you could have been. I mean, jeez. If Asomugha doesn't fit into the defense you're planning to run, but you can afford him and he wants to sign with you ... maybe you should be running a different defense.
Jason Reid says the Redskins will be one of the teams most affected, in a negative way, by the lost offseason: "The accelerated schedule poses problems for ballclubs relying on inexperienced quarterbacks and those envisioning significant roster turnover, both of which describe the Washington Redskins' situation." I'll add that I also think they're hurt because this second year of Jim Haslett's 3-4 is a critical one in that transition, and they really didn't get to have the offseason I'm sure Haslett wanted to have with it.
Mike Jones lists Kevin Barnes, Keiland Williams, Graham Gano, Perry Riley, Anthony Armstrong and LaRon Landry as potential "breakout" players for the Redskins in 2011. Mike has written on Barnes a lot this offseason, wondering if the Redskins will indeed make him a starting cornerback and address other free-agent needs instead. Worth watching.
All right. More later. It's Friday, so you know we have plenty. But right now I have to go vote on a proposed bowl of cereal, pending the addition of a glass of orange juice.
- In an effort to reduce a staggering amount of penalties, Wade Phillips is hosting officials at practice -- for the rest of the season, according to ESPNDallas.com's excellent beat man Calvin Watkins.
- Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News delves into this topic as well.
- David Moore of the DMN says that more teams are going to pick on Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins after seeing all the penalties he's drawn.
- Here's what DeMarcus Ware said to reporters about Jerry Jones' speech this week.
- The Dallas Morning News now providing transcripts from Nate Newton's radio show on ESPN 103.3 FM in Dallas-Fort Worth. Nate said he'd start "getting rid of players."
- Brandon Williams has received a promotion on special teams, according to Watkins of ESPNDallas.com.
- Eagles left tackle King Dunlap is returning to his hometown Sunday, writes the Inquirer's Jeff McLane. He's trying to guard against being too excited.
- Ed Barkowitz of the Daily News says that Chris Johnson will pose quite a threat to the Eagles' D.
- Les Bowen of the Daily News says this should be a good measuring-stick game for the Eagles.
- Mathias Kiwanuka says there's no timetable on his return from a neck injury, according to Hank Gola and Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News.
- Chase Blackburn thinks the league's new emphasis on helmet-to-helmet hits will result in more ACL tears, writes Gola.
- The NFL said the Giants were in compliance with league rules when they placed Victor Cruz on injured reserve because of a hamstring issue, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com.
- Former Rutgers player Shaun O'Hara wants to help Eric LeGrand, the defensive tackle who suffered a spinal cord injury this past Saturday.
- Mike Garafolo has more on Kiwanuka's injury.
- Johnette Howard of ESPNNewYork.com has the latest from safety Deon Grant regarding the league's push for player safety.
- John Keim of the Washington Examiner has a report on Carlos Rogers' butterfingers.
- Rick Maese of the Post says that Mike Shanahan's trying to get Donovan McNabb to "widen his base" before he throws.
- Are the Skins on pace to have the worst-rated defense (yards allowed) in league history? Bary Svrluga of the Post has more on this story.
Dallas sent 11 players to the Pro Bowl after the season, and they could’ve had a few more on defense. If not for Smith’s holdout, this was the type of team that might have made a run at a perfect season. The Triplets were unstoppable, and the Cowboys had perhaps the best offensive line in the league. The Roger Staubach teams of the '70s were formidable, but I just don’t think they were as deep as Johnson’s teams of the early '90s.
The Doomsday defense from the late '70s trumps the defense from the early '90s, but the Triplets surpassed what Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Drew Pearson accomplished.
Most impressive win: It’s too easy to say the Super Bowl, so give me the overtime victory in the Meadowlands over the Giants to end the regular season. The win gave the Cowboys the division title and a wild-card bye week. In that 16-13 win, Smith had one of the best individual efforts in club history. Playing with a separated shoulder, he rushed for 168 yards and caught 10 passes.
Best player: How can you not go with the guy who won the NFL’s MVP award, the Super Bowl MVP and the rushing title in the same season? Let’s go with Emmitt.
1977: The Super Bowl champions were dominant on both sides of the ball. Dallas began the season 8-0. The Broncos didn’t belong on same field in the Super Bowl. Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Harvey Martin and Randy “Manster” White put the “Doom” in Doomsday.
1992: You almost forget how Jimmy Johnson could send waves of pass-rushers at quarterbacks. Tony Tolbert had more sacks than Haley in ’92. And Maryland and Leon Lett were just beginning to figure things out. The collection of talent was remarkable. The Triplets truly began to impose their will on opponents.
1971: Some of the great defensive players from the early days -- Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan -- finally got their championship. The offense scored 29 points per game and the Cowboys won by an average of 13.1 points per game.
- In case you missed it, Dez Bryant joined "Coop and Nate" on Dallas-Fort Worth's ESPN 103.3 FM on Friday. Asked about everything that was written and said about him leading up to the draft, Bryant said, "I always told myself that I’m just going to stay positive. I feel like I’ve been doing that and the things that have been said about me, I know it’s not true. Like I always say, the people who know Dez Bryant know that he’s a good person. And when they say stuff about me, I just look at it and read it as if they were talking about someone else. I got out and enjoy myself. I was drafted to the Dallas Cowboys and like I said, I’m going to do my best. This is my dream team and this is what I want to do. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do: play for the Dallas Cowboys. Through that whole process, I just stayed positive. No hard feelings at all."
- Ray Buck of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wishes Cowboys Stadium a happy birthday.
- Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News has the latest on Cowboys quarterback Stephen McGee.
- Here's one more look at Tim MacMahon's feature story on Kevin Ogletree.
- Several protesters showed up at a party Michael Vick was supposed to host, but the quarterback wasn't around.
- The Eagles begin four days of OTAs on Monday without some key players.
- DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuel are not attending OTAs today.
- Paul Schwartz of the Post talks about Gerris Wilkinson's "fresh start."
- If you like play-by-play from Giants OTAs, you'll enjoy this post from Mike Garafolo.
Asked whether the left tackle position was overrated in today's game, here's what Newton had to say:
"Yeah, it's overrated, until your quarterback's left back third rib is cracked. Until your quarterback starts tapping his feet and can't go through his seven-step read when he knows he has two reads he has to make and he can only get through one of those reads and he has to get rid of the ball.
"It's all right to have a run-of-the-mill type quarterback and an average tackle. But you don't want an average left tackle with the way Tony is building his credibility up. You want a guy who used to tap his feet and run at the drop of [a] hat? Now that he's learned to drop back, move around the pocket, you want him to revert back to what he was? You don't want that."
I encourage you to check out the entire interview. Newton offers some keen insight.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Earlier today, I had a chance to visit with ESPN.com's Jeff Pearlman, whose book "Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty" was released nationwide Tuesday. Pearlman, who's also written books about the '86 Mets and Barry Bonds, said he talked to 140 former Cowboys players and employees.
I haven't read the entire book yet, but the first chapter is pretty explosive. It has details on a stabbing incident that many of us have been hearing about for years. Also some great (shocking) Charles Haley stories. It was a team of colorful personalities, and the coach and owner set the tone.
Also an interesting Q&A with Pearlman on the New York Times' Fifth Down blog. Michael Irvin and Nate Newton both play prominent roles in the book. I'll see both of them tomorrow, so I'll see what they think.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
If you're a Redskins fan, you have 11 days left until training camp. Cowboys fans have 16 days left. I'm currently putting together an elaborate plan that will allow me to see all four of the NFC East teams during training camp.
Quick question for my three-team East Coast trip: Would you guys start in Albany and work your way down via rental car or use Ashburn, Va., as a starting point? I need to finalize things pretty quickly so ESPN can book my middle seat.
Now, here are today's NFC East headlines:
- Jerry Jones is giving fans a special opportunity to help pay for his $1.2 billion stadium. Take that $375 you've been saving for your child's college fund and use it for an 8x8 paver that complete strangers will walk on someday.
- Jacques Taylor says this isn't a make or break season for Wade Phillips, but he does think it's his last one. HUH?
- It's time for T.O.'s football camp again. He's actually planning to attend this year.
- Jerry Jones tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that this is the best coaching staff he's ever had. Really?
- My friends at the Eagletarian are taking an extended vacation, so we have to keep linking to the government Web site. Enjoy the first of 500 McNabb training camp stories.
- Was the Eagles' 1991 defense the best of all time? At least one blogger thinks so. Make sure you watch the YouTube video of the late Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons completely overwhelming the Cowboys. Nate Newton has told me that Brown was the best defensive lineman he ever faced.
- Eagles fans will have a chance to give blood for V.I.P. field passes.
- Defensive end Osi Umenyiora has joined Commissioner Goodell and Drew Brees on a USO tour in Iraq.
- Another update on Plaxico Burress' book tour. By my count, at least 17 members of the Giants organization have written books since the Super Bowl. But even before The Catch II, you had to know that David Tyree would someday write a book. It just made too much sense.
- Shocking revelation: Plax broke curfew last summer.
- The New York Times' Fifth Down Blog was kind enough to share the first chapter of Plaxico's book.
- Dan Steinberg has the wildly entertaining story of how Redskins mascot Chief Zee lost a questionable contest to the Ravens' mascot, Poe.
- Dick Heller of the Washington Times says that the Redskins will make people in the Beltway forget about Obama and McCain.