NFC East: orie lemon

Monte Kiffin believes in his defense

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' defense is historically bad, and there doesn't appear to be any hope.

Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, said he's never had a defense this bad. He can remember only two occasions in his long career when his defense blew a big lead. The first person to beat him in such fashion was Peyton Manning when he played for Indianapolis and Kiffin was in Tampa Bay. The other time was last weekend, when Matt Flynn and Green Bay rallied from a 26-3 deficit to beat Dallas.

Kiffin is trying to forge ahead with a defense that won't have middle linebacker Sean Lee, nickel corner Morris Claiborne or strongside linebacker Justin Durant. The injuries to the unit, coupled with the ineffective play, have been unnerving to those inside Valley Ranch.

But Kiffin believes his defense can rebound in the final two games of the regular season.

"I walk in that room, whatever time we meet, 8:30 in the morning. It starts with coach Garrett," Kiffin said. "You go into your defensive room and you split up and away you go. You walk in, 'Get your heads up, let’s go.' That’s the way it works. We ain’t going to pout around. We’ll be ready to play."

Kiffin is still settling on his starting linebackers. Ernie Sims, battling groin and hip problems, is the middle linebacker. Bruce Carter is the weakside backer and Kyle Wilber is on the strong side. DeVonte Holloman are the nickel backers. The backups are Orie Lemon and Cameron Lawrence.

If Sims can't play, Holloman moves in as middle linebacker. Lemon said he can work on both outside linebacker spots if need be. Wilber remains the strongside linebacker regardless.

Got it?

The Cowboys are going to need healthy linebackers because the Washington Redskins come in with the third-best rushing offense in the NFL.

"A good offensive line," Kiffin said. "They run and throw it. We know we’ve got a little extra tutorship going on and things like that. We’ve just got to do the best we can. We’re going to show up and we’re going to play hard and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job."

One of the main themes of Kiffin's 4-3 scheme is turnovers, and fittingly the Cowboys are tied for third in turnover differential at plus-11. In the first six weeks of the season, the Cowboys forced 12 turnovers. On Sunday, newly signed cornerback Sterling Moore picked off a Flynn pass for the Cowboys' third interception in the last six games.

"You just have to keep doing it," Kiffin said. "Like I say sometimes, turnovers are like sacks. They come in bunches. Hopefully they’ll work the other way the next week."

Cowboys LBs a mixed, matched unit

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
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IRVING, Texas -- At the beginning of the season the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line was hit by injuries and they have been forced to add new players all season. On Sunday Frank Kearse could be the 19th different defensive lineman to play in a game for the Cowboys.

Now the Cowboys' linebacker corps is as thin as a piece of paper as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.

“You always have guys who are at certain points with their health over the course of the week and you've got to make your judgments,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The big thing we try to do is make sure we have all of the contingency plans in place. If this guy is not available, who is playing? What happens if he gets hurt, who goes in and all that stuff. We have a lot of discussions about that as coaches at all positions with all injuries. You deal with them the best you can and you go forward.”

Sean Lee is expected to miss his second straight game with a neck injury. Ernie Sims did not practice because of a groin injury and his availability for the Redskins' game is in doubt. Justin Durant's season ended on Tuesday because of a hamstring injury.

Bruce Carter said he will return after not playing last week against the Green Bay Packers. DeVonte Holloman could start his first game at middle linebacker. Kyle Wilber, who was a defensive end last month, will start at strongside linebacker. They have Cameron Lawrence and Orie Lemon as backups. Defensive end Edgar Jones has some linebacker experience from his 3-4 days.

“Right, we understood we don't have really any depth right now at linebacker so if we can get guys back healthy like me, try to get Ernie there, he's been banged up,” Carter said. “We just need to get anybody really.”

Before the loss to the Packers Holloman had never played middle linebacker in a game.

“Just knowing what to look for before it happens,” Holloman said. “Guys that have been in the fire before, they can see things coming a lot faster than guys just thrown out there or their first time out there. So just seeing a couple of things before they come at you.”

When the Cowboys lost Durant and Sims last week, they had to rely on hand signals from the coaches to the players since only two communication devices are allowed in players' helmets. Carter will be the signal-caller Sunday with Holloman serving as the backup.

It does not help that the Redskin feature the NFL's third-ranked rush offense, led by Alfred Morris.

“We know we've got a little extra tutorship going on and things like that,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “We've just got to do the best we can. We're going to show up and we're going to play hard and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job. When we walked into that meeting this morning, ‘Man, we're upbeat. Let's go. Let's go, man.' We've got a couple of games to go and hopefully another one after that. But you only play one at a time. You've got to play 60 plays, 65 plays, whatever it is, so don't worry about the second game. Don't worry about Philadelphia. Let's play 60, 65 plays at the very best of our ability and then play hard. That's what we've got to do.”

Sean Lee not spotted at practice

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee was not on the field during the portion of Friday’s practice that was open to the media.

Lee was limited in Wednesday and Thursday because of a neck injury that forced him out of Monday’s loss to the Chicago Bears. He said on Thursday he anticipated playing against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and was looking into different neck rolls that might offer more protection.

Coach Jason Garrett talked before the practice and did not say Lee would not take part in Friday’s practice. Justin Durant took Lee’s spot with the starters with Ernie Sims and Kyle Wilber at the outside linebacker spots.

“Whenever you’re talking about a head and neck, you’re particularly careful, no question about it, particularly a guy who has as much contact as he does,” Garrett said. “But having said that you try to evaluate the injury the best you can with the scans you do and all of that, then what the player is saying, his willingness, his demeanor and mindset and you put it all together and try to make the best decision.”

Linebacker Bruce Carter, cornerback Morris Claiborne and Dwayne Harris did not practice again and will likely miss Sunday’s game with hamstring injuries. Linebacker Orie Lemon, who is not on the injury report, was also not spotted at practice.
CHICAGO -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris is active, which could be a big boost to the special teams, but linebacker Justin Durant is inactive.

Harris
Harris missed the Thanksgiving Day game against the Oakland Raiders because of a hamstring strain and was only a limited participant in Saturday's practice. Durant will miss his third straight game. He was probable entering the game. He has been working his way back from a hamstring injury.

With Durant out, Kyle Wilber will start for the third straight game at strong-side linebacker.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne, safety Jakar Hamilton, linebacker DeVonte Holloman, defensive end Everette Brown, tackle Darrion Weems and linebacker Orie Lemon are inactive.

Harris is averaging 14 yards per punt return and 31.3 yards per kickoff return. Terrance Williams fumbled the opening kickoff against the Raiders and saw it returned for a touchdown. Cole Beasley served as the punt returner.

DeVonte Holloman misses practice

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
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IRVING, Texas -- A busy Thursday morning at Valley Ranch had Cowboys linebacker DeVonte Holloman, who was to start the first game of his career on Sunday against the New York Giants, miss practice with neck issues.

Holloman
Holloman has missed the past four games with a spinal contusion, but returned to participate in the lone practice last week during the bye. He was limited in practices Monday and Wednesday, but it appears he's not fully ready to return.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said Thursday that Holloman won't be moved to injured reserve, but instead the team will make a roster move. The team is scheduled to sign linebacker Orie Lemon off the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad and move him to the active roster at some point on Thursday.

Lemon arrived in Dallas on Thursday morning.

If Holloman isn't placed on season-ending injured reserve, the Cowboys will have to cut someone from the active roster. The team has depth issues at linebacker with starters Sean Lee and Justin Durant out at least three-to-four weeks with hamstring injuries. Defensive line and secondary have been shuffled around because of injuries.

Finding a player from the offensive side could be a wise decision. The Cowboys currently have four players each at tight end and running back.

As for the practice, the following injured players participated in some portions of the session open to the media: Wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring), safety J.J. Wilcox (knee), wide receiver Dez Bryant (back), defensive end DeMarcus Ware (thigh), defensive end George Selvie (shoulder), defensive tackle Nick Hayden (ribs), and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (neck).

Sean Lee is not replaceable

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
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Lee
The Dallas Cowboys are bracing for rotten news on inside linebacker Sean Lee, who as Todd Archer reports could need season-ending surgery on his right big toe. Lee injured the toe in the third quarter of Sunday's victory over the Panthers in Carolina and said after the game that he expected to be fine. But he had an MRI on Monday, and it sounds as though the results were quite discouraging.

As Todd points out, there are plenty of people on the Cowboys' roster who can play linebacker:
Dan Connor would replace Lee in the starting lineup, and he earned praise from coach Jason Garrett for his work against the Panthers, which included a third-down stop of Cam Newton and a pass deflection, after taking over for Lee. Second-year linebacker Bruce Carter would become the defensive signal caller. The Cowboys have Orie Lemon and Alex Albright as backup inside linebackers on the 53-man roster but could look to add another inside linebacker.

However, in spite of the depth the Cowboys have at the position, Lee is not a replaceable player for them. Not only is he their defensive captain and one of their most important leaders, he has played consistently better this year than has any other player on their defense, including superstar outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and either of their two new and very talented cornerbacks. Lee's instincts and playmaking ability cannot be replicated by players like Carter or Connor, no matter how capable they are.

When you've watched the Cowboys' defense this year, you've generally been impressed. And I believe they'll continue to cover receivers well with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, continue to rush the passer well with Ware and Jason Hatcher and continue to defend the run capably with the help of Anthony Spencer. They have more good players on defense at this point than they do on offense, and I think they will still play fairly good defense the rest of the way.

But Lee has been playing at a transcendent, superstar-type level -- one of the absolute best defensive playmakers at any position on any team in the league this year. The closest comparison of which I keep thinking is the Steelers' Troy Polamalu in his prime -- the way he was always able to be around the ball, whether it was due to speed, instincts, pre-snap positioning or a combination of everything. That's what Lee was delivering this year -- a player who at times made it look as though the Cowboys were playing with an extra man on defense. They simply don't have anyone else on the roster who can play football the way Lee has been playing it. Few teams, if any, do.

Observation deck: Dolphins-Cowboys

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
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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.

Cowboys inside linebacker questions

February, 15, 2012
2/15/12
5:10
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Yes, I'm leaning hard on ESPNDallas.com's position-by-position series. It's there every day. It's good. It's got Bryan Broaddus. What's not to like? Today's installment is on inside linebackers, which for the Dallas Cowboys in 2012 looks like it could be Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and... just about anybody who wants to try out. Per Bryan, in Calvin Watkins' story:
The problem for the Cowboys will not be Carter and Lee, but who is behind them? Orie Lemon is a college free agent who spent the year on the practice squad but other than him, that is it. This front office can not afford to miss on picks like it did with players like Jason Williams. Look for them to be aggressive not only in the draft but in college free agency, which is an area where they usually find a player or two because depth here is beyond thin.

The Cowboys have to believe Lee is a long-term answer in the middle. He was a terror in 2011 before he got hurt, and he played very well even after he returned from the hand injury. Carter is a guy from whom we didn't see enough in 2011 to make any real conclusions, but it looks as though the starting job along with Lee is his for the taking. No one expects the Cowboys to bring back Bradie James or Keith Brooking, and inside linebacker isn't a high-priority area for the draft or free agency with all of the needs they have in the secondary, the pass rush and on the offensive line. Carter's going to have to play well, or they're going to have trouble patching this unit together.

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