NFC East: Pat McQuistan
New York Giants
Giants tackle David Diehl could be facing a suspension in the wake of his arrest Sunday for suspicion of drunken driving in Queens. This is an unfortunate story, as all of the drunk-driving stories are, and the one good thing here is that it appears no one got hurt. I can support all of the stuff in the story about Diehl as a person. He's a good guy. But even good guys make mistakes, and drunk driving is a selfish and inexcusable mistake, especially for NFL players, who have easy alternatives. If Diehl is guilty, his punishment will be warranted. And from a football standpoint, a suspension of Diehl for a game or two or three would be an unwelcome challenge for the already-thin-on-the-line Giants.
Earlier Sunday, Geoff Mosher wrote of his belief that the Giants are entering this 2012 season as a confident bunch for whom distractions shouldn't be a problem as they defend their Super Bowl title. Geoff's point stands, though the first media-availability day for which Diehl is back in the locker room won't be the least awkward in Giants history, either.
How will the Eagles be different with Joe Banner out as team president? Jonathan Tamari examines GM Howie Roseman's negotiating style and offers a look at the potential change in the atmosphere throughout the organization under the new management structure.
The pressure being applied by the Eagles' aggressive defensive line during OTA practices so far has been a good test for quarterback Michael Vick as he works to learn when and in what situations he needs to slow down his feet.
How is Niles Paul's transition from wide receiver to tight end going? He feels it's going very well. He's drawing inspiration from a conversation he had with Shannon Sharpe, and he's of the belief that he will have a spot on the roster as one of the Redskins' tight ends by the time this season begins.
The safety position will be one of the most closely watched for the Redskins this offseason, and Rich Campbell recently took a look at the new pieces and how they may fit into Jim Haslett's scheme.
This came out late Friday, after I'd already checked out for the week, but it looks as though the Cowboys are bringing in veteran offensive lineman Pat McQuistan. My guess is he'd be a camp body or insurance in case Mackenzy Bernadeau's injury lingers longer than expected.
I guess I don't watch all the channels or read all of the sites where people are always ripping on DeMarcus Ware. But apparently Ware has himself run into some of that criticism, and he claims it's fueling him. My first thought was: How much Anthony Spencer criticism did Ware have to get through before he found any of himself?
Here are some observations from the Cowboys' 27-25 win.
- Apparently the Cowboys wanted to get left guard Montrae Holland a little more work in the preseason. From what I'm told, he has a 50 percent chance of starting against the Redskins with starter Kyle Kosier trying to return from a right MCL sprain. On an early third-and-1, the Cowboys' offensive line didn't get any push and Tashard Choice was tackled at the line of scrimmage. Holland was called for two false starts on the second drive of the game. The Cowboys need Kosier to return in a hurry.
- I liked how outside linebacker Victor Butler pursued the running game from the backside. He came racing from the backside to knock down Ronnie Brown after a short gain. Butler also made some nice plays in coverage. Of the young backup linebackers, Butler's playing with the most confidence. On the Dolphins' first scoring drive, it was Butler who forced the field goal attempt by batting down a Chad Henne pass. Perhaps he's fired up about his alma mater Oregon State playing at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday.
- Rookie safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah appeared to bust coverage against Davone Bess in the first quarter. It was an easy throw for Chad Henne on third-and-long. Owusu-Ansah was fortunate to hop to his feet following a clothesline from Tim Dobbins on a punt return early in the game.
- Tashard Choice was the Cowboys' best offensive player Thursday. Watching him take a short pass and turn it into a 34-yard play was pretty remarkable. Choice couldn't find any holes in the running game. It's time for the Pat McQuistan era to end. The reserve guard doesn't play with any power and he doesn't move his feet very well in pass protection.
- It's obvious that Stephen McGee and Martellus Bennett have some nice chemistry. Bennett does a really nice job of getting separation downfield. If his head is in the game, he could help this team in a big way. I was really impressed with a play that McGee made late in the first quarter to find Manuel Johnson. He extended the play with his legs and did a nice job of throwing on the run. On the next play, McQuistan was beaten badly off the snap. He has really awful balance. And on the next play, Alex Barron was beaten on a speed rush by linebacker Cameron Wake.
- Rookie linebacker Sean Lee is having trouble shedding blockers. On the long run by Ricky Williams at the end of the first quarter, Lee got sealed by wide receiver Marlon Moore. It looked like defensive end Jason Hatcher was trying to come up the middle on a stunt and he got stoned by the center. Beautiful play by the Dolphins, but Lee has to be more physical than that. But he fought back and had a fumble recovery to end the same drive. Butler took over the game in the first half against the Dolphins' starters. Nice strip-sack of Henne early in the second quarter.
- That was a gorgeous throw from McGee on the 43-yard touchdown pass to Sam Hurd. Hurd did a really nice job of accelerating when the ball was in the air. Cornerback Sean Smith had good coverage until just before the ball arrived. Going to be tough to cut Hurd after watching that play.
- Second-year linebacker Jason Williams tried to cover a running back on a wheel route late in the first half and he never attempted to play the ball. Williams was called for pass interference.
- Big confidence booster for David Buehler to nail the 51-yard field goal at the end of the half. Wade Phillips gave special teams coach Joe DeCamillis a fist bump and appeared to shout, "Yeah baby!" Really good night for Buehler. He also made a 45-yard field goal. I still want to see what he does in the regular season, but this was an excellent tuneup for him.
- After tonight's game, I feel like Butler can give the Cowboys between seven to 10 plays per game and he could fill in nicely if someone gets injured. It looked like DeMarcus Ware loved watching Butler fly around Thursday evening.
- Sean Lee showed some excellent closing speed to sack Tyler Thigpen in the third quarter.
- I liked the way Manuel Johnson fought for the football tonight. The former Oklahoma receiver probably doesn't have a spot on this team but he gave some other teams something to think about. Speaking of other teams, I know a couple of scouts from around the league who are very interested in Cowboys rookie cornerback Bryan McCann. He'll get scooped up if the Cowboys try to sneak him through to the practice squad. Early in the fourth quarter, McCann didn't take away the inside against Marlon Moore and was burned for the touchdown. Terence Newman met McCann on the sideline to explain what he should've done.
- Quite a battle between Hurd and Jesse Holley on Thursday. Hurd had the big touchdown catch, but it was Holley who made play after play in the second half.
- Herb Donaldson might be a good practice squad candidate. He had some nice runs in the second half.
- I thought reserve cornerback Cletis Gordon had a rough night. He was beaten for a long pass by Roberto Wallace late in the third quarter and he just seemed a step slow in this game. And late in the game, Wallace reached up and caught one over Gordon's head. He just didn't make plays on the ball at all. And this is after he had a ton of interceptions in training camp. Really nice second half for Wallace. He beat rookie cornerback Jamar Wall on a back-shoulder route on the goal line.
The defense certainly had its moments, but the story of the game (from my vantage point) is that Tony Romo was sacked three times and the running game was non-existent. Other than that, it was a wonderful night of football. The Cowboys have nine days before playing a preseason game in San Diego. Maybe we'll get a better feel for where this team is at that point. But in the interest of producing a blog entry before most of you arrive at work, here are a few observations from Thursday's contest:
- The Cowboys were 0-for-4 in red zone efficiency, including a quick trip inside the 20 before Romo was sacked for a 9-yard loss. Dallas gave up six sacks in the game, three on Romo. The most disturbing to me was seeing Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy beat Doug Free on a speed rush and then drag down Romo with one arm. Free was with Shaughnessy the whole time on the play, but he never delivered a solid punch. Shaughnessy's a nice second-year player out of Wisconsin, but he's not Trent Cole, Justin Tuck and Brian Orakpo. Free needs to clean things up before he meets any of those players. At least two of the three sacks on Romo were coverage sacks. He needs to do a better job of unloading the ball in those situations.
- Linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking were both excellent in coverage in the first quarter. James was throwing his body all over the place and Brooking was superb in not letting anyone get separation from him. Brooking still moves really well. I hope Sean Lee is watching Brooking's every move right now. The rookie needs to get past this quadriceps injury and return to the practice field. Otherwise, he's not going to have a chance to earn time in sub packages. Bobby Carpenter was replacing Brooking in the nickel last season, but right now I wouldn't replace him with anyone.
- Raiders safety Tyvon Branch was a mismatch for Jason Witten. The Pro Bowl tight end got plenty of separation and Romo hit him in stride for a big play on the first drive.
- Miles Austin made a beautiful adjustment to a ball thrown slightly behind him in the first quarter for a 24-yard catch. Austin brought a lot of energy to the field Thursday and ran some excellent routes. On the twisting grab, he beat cornerback Chris Johnson. The Raiders are vulnerable on that side of the field.
- Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston had one of the sacks on Romo. He was able to sneak in the backside and crunch the quarterback. Romo didn't feel the pressure coming on the play. He just seemed content to stay in the pocket, and that wasn't helping matters. Of course, everyone in the stadium gasped when he took off running up the middle of the field on one play.
- It was a good night for kicker David Buehler. He nailed a 42-yard field goal and then connected on two short ones. He also recorded three touchbacks. The 42-yarder was a good sign because that's a distance that plagued the team during a miserable stretch in '09. Buehler has all the confidence in the world. If he'll trust his leg, the distance will be there.
- Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick might be the best tackler of all the defensive backs. He does a really nice job of wrapping up and you don't see guys bounce off him. Scandrick decked wide receiver Louis Murphy early in the game. Then he absorbed a blow from James. The Cowboys were flying to the ball early.
- The running game was awful, but I did see Marion Barber put a nice little move on cornerback Stanford Routt in the first quarter. He froze Routt with a little stutter-step. Barber stumbled after that and only gained 2 yards.
- Romo and Austin have tremendous chemistry on the slant. On a third-down play, Austin got Johnson on his hip and then made a nice grab across the middle. Even when cornerbacks see it coming, they have an awful time getting inside position.
- All the goodwill that Kevin Ogletree earned in the offseason is being wasted early in the preseason. He's not making contested catches and it just seems like there's a lack of concentration. I still think he'll make the roster as the fifth receiver, but he hasn't seized some of these extra repetitions that were created by Dez Bryant's absence.
- Linebacker Victor Butler picked up a personal foul on a punt return. The officials will not have any tolerance this season for those blindside hits on defenseless players. There's just too much of a risk for head and neck injuries. Butler must have better awareness on that play.
- In the first quarter, cornerback Terence Newman closed quickly to break up a Jason Campbell throw in the flat. Newman was in position to make the interception, but he opted for knocking down the ball with one arm. It was a very instinctive play and it caught Campbell by surprise.
- Free-agent rookie Bryan McCann out of SMU had one really nice punt return (28 yards) late in the second quarter when he allowed Ogletree to set him up with a good block. McCann's also getting a lot of opportunities with the second-team defense. He was late on a Campbell throw to Murphy, but you can tell that he's not far away from making those plays. I get the sense that Wade Phillips is really pulling for McCann.
- I was eager to see how former third-round draft pick Robert Brewster performed at left tackle against the Raiders. And once again, he turned in a dud. Not even the optimistic Phillips will be able to praise Brewster after Thursday's showing. His feet are stuck in neutral and there's absolutely no anchor. When you watch him, he's getting pushed directly toward the quarterback. He's most susceptible to an outside speed rush right now, and that's not a good sign. Brewster will keep getting chances, but I thought that was a poor showing. Brewster was also penalized for grabbing a defensive end as he raced past.
- Butler does an excellent job getting pressure on the quarterback. He's so much more consistent this season in causing problems for the offensive line. And the other linebacker who caught my eye Thursday was Leon Williams. He's just a really tough player who brings some attitude to the field. Inside linebacker Jason Williams is still a work in progress, but he did race through and make a nice play against running back Michael Bush.
- Safety Mike Hamlin suffered a neck strain and a concussion in the third quarter, according to ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon. Some folks in the organization thought Hamlin might challenge Alan Ball for the starting role, but that hasn't happened so far in camp. The good news for the Cowboys is that Hamlin was the only player injured. That's a lot different situation than what took place against the Bengals.
- Roy Williams and Romo weren't on the same page in the first quarter. On one play, Romo rolled right and wanted Williams to come back to him. Williams sort of posted up the cornerback along the sideline and hoped for the best. There wasn't any rhythm to his routes against the Raiders. By the way, Bryant gave Williams and the rest of the receivers some new shoes.
- In one of the Cowboys' four trips inside the red zone, Jon Kitna rolled right and threw to Deon Anderson in the flat. It was a poorly conceived play on fourth-and-1. Linebacker Thomas Howard applied the pressure to Kitna.
- I thought safety Danny McCray did a really nice job hustling over to break up a deep ball to Johnnie Lee Higgins. McCray's been a camp phenom, and I'm eager to see if he can keep it up in Oxnard, Calif., next week. The Beast will be on the ground in Oxnard beginning Sunday evening.
- The Cowboys were 3-for-16 on third down. The lack of a running game put the Cowboys in third-and-long situations far too often. Losing in the preseason isn't a big issue, but this red zone issue is something that goes back to last season. The Cowboys need a touchdown from the first-team offense against the Chargers next Saturday.
- Guard Pat McQuistan simply doesn't play with any power. Every time I watch him, he's getting thrown toward the quarterback. It's about time to move on without him. The Cowboys have invested a lot of time in him, but I don't think he'll ever be a starter. And he doesn't seem like a reliable backup. On the other hand, I like the backup center, Phil Costa. The guy will stand his ground and he seems to have a little attitude. Give me that guy over McQuistan any day. I also liked the way rookie Sam Young played.
Dallas Cowboys' offensive line: Obviously, there's a big question mark at left tackle with Doug Free taking over for Flozell Adams. Free did an excellent job at right tackle when Marc Colombo went down with a leg injury. But his only experience at left tackle came in an emergency situation against the Vikings in the playoffs. I actually think Free will be a solid left tackle, but it's not going to happen overnight. And no one's talking about the fact that Leonard Davis had a poor season at right guard by his standards. Throw in the fact that Colombo's returning from a serious injury and you have the makings of a shaky offensive line.
Now that Free's starting at left tackle, who's supposed to be the "swing" player who backs up both tackle spots? I posed that question to offensive line coach Hudson Houck recently and he sort of struggled for an answer. Pat McQuistan might be in the mix, but he's never really mastered any position. And Jerry Jones has been throwing out Montrae Holland's name. Good luck with that. There's also the scenario where Davis would move to one of the tackle spots if necessary.
The Cowboys have been incredibly fortunate with injuries the last few years, but they should not count on that trend to continue. Right now, the depth along the offensive line is a major issue.
Stewart Bradley, Eagles middle linebacker: I'm not sure we truly appreciated Bradley's immense talent until the Eagles were embarrassed in back-to-back games at Cowboys Stadium last season. He's the rare player who can take on enormous blockers and also match speedy tight ends and running backs in space. Bradley was on his way to becoming a perennial Pro Bowl player before his knee injury in last year's training camp. But by all accounts, he's not suffering any lingering affects from ACL surgery.
The late Jim Johnson loved Bradley because he was able to quickly diagnose what opposing teams were trying to accomplish. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott tried his best to patch together a defense last season, but without Bradley, the Eagles were in trouble from the start. There's a swagger that the former Nebraska player brings to the field. Everyone talks about the Eagles' youth movement, but Bradley's sort of an old soul.
His return should provide a huge boost and he'll make young players such as Moise Fokou feel a lot more comfortable. I know that safety Quintin Mikell felt all alone at times last season. With Bradley on the field, the Eagles' defense gets an automatic upgrade.
Potential unrestricted free agents: G Montrae Holland
Potential restricted free agents: NT Junior Siavii, WR Miles Austin, DE Stephen Bowen, CB Cletis Gordon, DE Jason Hatcher, WR Sam Hurd, T Pat McQuistan, C Duke Preston, G Cory Procter, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears, S Pat Watkins, K Shaun Suisham.
What to expect: Anything is possible with Jerry Jones in charge, and the Cowboys could make a big splash after an underwhelming offseason a year ago. But in terms of team needs and what is required to take the next step, Dallas really doesn’t need much. A big-time impact safety makes some sense and could make a very good defense great, but that might be a project for the draft in a trade-up scenario for someone like Earl Thomas. But Darren Sharper might pique their interest. They also need to get younger along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, but that seems like a draft-day project, too. Maybe Jones gets real aggressive in the wide receiver market, as Roy Williams certainly is not living up to his billing, but the Cowboys are still rather stacked with pass-catchers. All in all, this is a team that is sitting pretty and doesn’t have a prominent unrestricted free agent who is poised to leave.
New York Giants
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, P Jeff Feagles, DT Fred Robbins
Potential restricted free agents: WR Domenik Hixon, TE Darcy Johnson, DE Dave Tollefson, G Kevin Boothe, S C.C. Brown, DT Barry Cofield, CB Kevin Dockery, WR Derek Hagan, WR Sinorice Moss, T Guy Whimper, LB Gerris Wilkinson.
What to expect: Big things could be in the works here, as there are already rumors swirling that New York could be a prime suitor for linebacker Karlos Dansby. An impact linebacker is certainly near the top of their wish list and Dansby fits the bill. Plus, he is extremely versatile. Getting faster on defense is a huge priority with new coordinator Perry Fewell stressing the ability to cover a lot of ground. However, Dansby isn’t really the thumper they need in the middle and is more of an outside linebacker for this system, although he would be great on passing downs. This is a group of decision-makers who might be starting to feel some heat, so do not rule out a big move or two.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Jason Babin, S Sean Jones, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Tracy White
Potential restricted free agents: LB Akeem Jordan, P Saverio Rocca, WR Jason Avant, C Nick Cole, LB Omar Gaither, LB Chris Gocong, CB Ellis Hobbs, G Max Jean-Gilles, TE Alex Smith, FB Leonard Weaver.
What to expect: There are questions on the offensive line, but overall, the Eagles are in a prime situation to improve their defense, particularly up front and at safety. Remember, they have quarterbacks to dangle as trade bait and really do not have any unrestricted guys that they need to bring back. This is a possible landing spot for Julius Peppers and he would be terrific on the opposite side of Trent Cole, who is among the most underrated players in the game and could blow up with someone taking pass protection attention away from his side. Count on the Eagles being aggressive in the free-agent and/or trade market. It might just be enough to get them that ever elusive Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened.
Potential unrestricted free agents: LS Ethan Albright, DE Phillip Daniels, T Levi Jones, C Casey Rabach,
P Hunter Smith, T Mike Williams, DE Renaldo Wynn, TE Todd Yoder.
Potential restricted free agents: DE Lorenzo Alexander, T Stephon Heyer, LB Chris Wilson, QB Jason Campbell, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, C Will Montgomery, CB Carlos Rogers.
What to expect: This is a difficult team to get a grasp on in terms of what they might do in free agency, but I think it is safe to say that ownership will not hold Mike Shanahan and company back from opening up the check book and signing (and even overpaying) players whom they desire. It would be wise for Washington to have an excellent idea of what they are going to do with the fourth overall draft pick in terms of going quarterback or offensive tackle before really devising a free-agency plan. Rebuilding the offensive line is a must and Shanahan needs lighter, quicker (and younger) linemen than are on the roster. A running back they can trust wouldn’t hurt either, although it looks as though Clinton Portis will return, which they may regret. But don’t forget, this is a team that -- unwisely in my opinion -- is switching to a 3-4 scheme, so inside linebacker help is required, as are defensive linemen who fit the new scheme. The Redskins have a long wish list, but also have the ownership to endorse big spending when free agency opens.
Now let's look at today's inactives list. No surprises here. For the Cowboys, special teams ace Pat Watkins has returned from a sprained knee and he replaces rookie safety Michael Hamlin on the active list.
Cowboys: Emergency QB Stephen McGee, CB Cletis Gordon, S Michael Hamlin, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, LB Curtis Johnson
Vikings: Emergency QB Sage Rosenfels, WR Jaymar Johnson, CB Karl Paymah, TE Garrett Mills, LB J Leman, C Jon Cooper, DE Jayme Mitchell, DT Letroy Guion
Cowboys: QB Stephen McGee, S Pat Watkins, CB Cletis Gordon, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C/G Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, LB Curtis Johnson
Eagles: QB Kevin Kolb, CB Geoffrey Pope, FS Quintin Demps, T King Dunlap, C Dallas Reynolds, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Martin Rucker, DT Trevor Laws
He also has a fracture in his fibula that will not require surgery. The Cowboys are holding out hope that Colombo could return in time for the playoffs. The Cowboys have said recovery time for the broken fibula is six weeks. Now the Cowboys have to figure out who will replace Colombo on the right side.
It looks like '07 fourth-round pick Doug Free will get the first crack at the job, although coach Wade Phillips would not commit to that scenario Monday. Free was considered a candidate to eventually replace Flozell Adams when he was drafted, but he's not exactly breathing down Adams' neck. Anther possibility would be '06 seventh-round pick Pat McQuistan, who hasn't made much progress in his four years with the team. The Cowboys brought in McQuistan's twin brother, Paul, for a workout recently but they didn't sign him. Paul wasn't able to stick with Tom Cable's outfit in Oakland.
And let me give you one last option. Leonard Davis could slide over to right tackle from his right guard spot. Davis played right tackle for at least a season with the Cardinals -- and hated every minute of it. The Cowboys have enjoyed a long stretch of good health along their offensive line. Now, they get to join the Eagles and Redskins in trying to fill a gaping hole.
Colombo's the toughest player on the team -- bar none. Former offensive line coach Tony Sparano used to tell me that Colombo would take every player on the team in a street fight. Alas, the new commissioner has continued to limit NFL streetfighting.
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles running back Brian Westbrook (concussion) is officially inactive for tonight's game against the Cowboys. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Westbrook would not play earlier today.
Here are the rest of the Eagles inactives: CB Dimitri Patterson, RB P.J. Hill, RB Brian Westbrook, LB Chris Gocong, G Max Jean-Gilles, G Mike McGlynn, WR Kevin Curtis, DE Victor Abiamiri.
Cowboys inactives: Stephen McGee -- emergency QB, CB Allen Rossum, S Michael Hamlin, LB Steve Octavien, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan
One thing to note is that the Eagles are keeping all three quarterbacks active for tonight's game. For the past couple weeks, Kevin Kolb had been serving as the emergency quarterback. Might be a sign that the Eagles intend on using the Wildcat formation with Michael Vick more than usual. I'll keep you posted.
Update: Here’s a statement from Eagles athletic trainer Rick Burkholder regarding Westbrook’s injury: “On Friday afternoon, Brian began experiencing symptoms of a mild headache. From that point forward, we had Brian reevaluated by [team internist] Dr. Gary Dorshimer and we put him through extensive testing. Even though those tests were determined to be negative, we all thought it would be in the best interests of Brian and the team that he should be deactivated for tonight’s game. We will continue to evaluate Brian this week.”
On Friday, coach Andy Reid indicated that he simply wanted to get running back LeSean McCoy some extra reps. It’s not often we receive a statement from an athletic trainer only minutes before a game.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Hello and welcome to today's live blogging experience. I'll be bouncing back and forth between the Beast and NFL Nation Live. Fortunately, we'll have this game covered from every angle. NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas has you covered from the Falcons' standpoint and I'll try to take care of the Cowboys' angles.
We're also pleased to have ESPNDallas writers Calvin Watkins and Tim MacMahon in the house. No surprises on the inactives, but I'll give them to you anyway:
Cowboys: Emergency QB Stephen McGee, S Mike Hamlin, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C/G Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, WR Kevin Ogletree, LB Curtis Johnson
Falcons: Emergency QB John Parker Wilson, S William Moore, RB Jerious Norwood, FB Ovie Mughelli, S Antoine Harris, OT Garrett Reynolds, G Quinn Ojinnaka
I'll be paying close attention to Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams the first time he takes a shot. I think it's important for him to catch an early ball and take a hit. Once he does that, I think he'll be ready to go. The Falcons are under-staffed in the secondary today and I've always thought cornerback Chris Houston was a little soft.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
DENVER -- Cowboys coaches and athletic trainers were gathered around running back Marion Barber (left quad) as he worked out a couple hours before the game. The Beast reported last night that Tashard Choice would get the majority of the carries. And unless Barber made some incredible progress, I expect that to hold up.
Here are the inactives for both teams:
Cowboys: QB Stephen McGee (emer.), RB Felix Jones, S Mike Hamlin, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, WR Kevin Ogletree LB Curtis Johnson
Broncos: QB Tom Brandstater (emer.), CB Alphonso Smith, ILB/FB Spencer Larsen, G/C Ben Hamilton, DL Chris Baker, T Brandon Gorin, WR Brandon Lloyd, OLB/DE Jarvis Moss
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
ARLINGTON, Texas -- As we've been predicting all week, Cowboys running back Marion Barber will be inactive tonight against the Panthers. Owner Jerry Jones all but ruled him out this afternoon, and now it's clear that Felix Jones and Tashard Choice will get the majority of the carries.
Here are the rest of the Cowboys' inactives: QB Stephen McGee (emergency), S Mike Hamlin, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C/G Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, WR Kevin Ogletree
For the Panthers: QB A.J. Feeley (emergency), RB Tyrell Sutton, S Chris Harris, FB Brad Hoover, LB Na'il Diggs, T Garry Williams, G Duke Robinson, DE Everette Brown
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Cowboys closed out the preseason Friday with a heart-stopping 35-31 victory over the Vikings. OK, maybe no one's heart stopped, but there were some fairly interesting things to discuss following the game. Some players sealed roster spots. Others simply confirmed their tickets out of Dallas. Now let's take a look at my Cowboys-Vikings observations. And yes, I'm absolutely thrilled to be writing my final commentary on a preseason game.
- Second-year tight end Martellus Bennett was the offensive star of this game. He led the team in receiving during the preseason and he added three more catches for 51 yards in the first quarter. At 6-6, he offers Tony Romo and Jon Kitna a big strike zone. And he's very graceful in making catches. On his 31-yard catch on the opening drive, he positioned his body perfectly to shield the ball from the safety. Witten and Bennett have to be considered the top tight end duo in the NFC (and maybe the entire league) heading into the season. I also liked how Bennett sold that he was blocking down on the Kitna waggle, and then he bolted out to the right to provide an easy target. Bennett's poised for a breakout season -- and one Dallas columnist flew all the way to Minneapolis to chart his progress.
- Kevin Ogletree, welcome to the 53-man roster. Not that I had any doubt heading into this game, but the free-agent rookie out of Virginia validated all the praise he's received in the preseason with a nice catch on third down and a 5-yard touchdown on the Cowboys' first drive. He's a smooth route runner who has a knack for getting wide open in the end zone. When the Vikings busted coverage, Ogletree came racing across the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
- Some people will say that Ogletree took Isaiah Stanback's spot on the roster. But even if Ogletree hadn't flashed, Stanback needed to go. He finished with one catch in the preseason -- and he fumbled that one. He started against the Vikings on Friday, but I don't think Jon Kitna ever looked his way. Stanback also muffed a couple of kickoff returns. He's obviously an excellent athlete, but it really doesn't translate to anything on the field. I'd be shocked if he's not one of the cuts Saturday.
- Why can't Jon Kitna take a snap from center? We've been over this before. Kitna and Cory Procter had problems, so the Cowboys tried another center (Duke Preston) Friday. This time, Kitna left the snap on the ground and the Vikings recovered. Kitna still has a live arm, but he has to figure out what's going on with the snaps. It's almost like a mental thing at this point. By my count, Kitna has been involved in at least four botched snaps. You don't want to overreact to anything that happens in the preseason, but it certainly has to be something the Cowboys are concerned about.
- Oops, someone forgot to tell Steve Octavien he wasn't supposed to make the team. The former Cornhusker looks small (6-0, 238) when he lines up at outside linebacker, but he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He and fellow rookie Victor Butler could be called upon to give DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer a rest at some point. If that happens, I really like Octavien's chances. He has really good instincts and his quickness was giving the Vikings' reserve left tackle fits.
- Patrick Watkins isn't going anywhere. I thought the former Florida State player was on his way out early in camp. But on Friday, he was Cowboys' best defensive player on the field. Wasn't even close. He finished with seven tackles, a blocked field goal and an interception return for a touchdown. He had the best first half of his career, and then he backed it up in the third quarter. At 6-5, you always thought Watkins could cause problems for wide receivers. But he's only started showing that recently. With Friday's performance, there's no way you can keep him off the 53-man roster.
- The reserve offensive linemen seem to be penalized at the worst-possible moments. A promising drive in the first quarter was interrupted by a Doug Free holding penalty. The play nullified a first-down run for Tashard Choice. On another play in the first half, Pat McQuistan tackled a defender right in front of the officials. Easiest call of the game. That wiped out a nifty run by Tashard Choice -- and it was so unnecessary. McQuistan was completely out of the play. It's maddening watching these two guys. The first time Kitna was stripped, it was because McQuistan hesitated for a moment to look inside and then let a Vikings defensive end beat him to the outside on a speed rush.
- Wade Phillips had to enjoy watching backup nose tackle Junior Siavii blow a third-and-short play for the Vikings late in the first quarter. Siavii held his own for most of the game. Nothing flashy, but he clogs up the middle. Completely different style than starter Jay Ratliff, who uses his speed and quickness.
- It's way too late, but we finally had a Manny Johnson sighting. The former Sooner was taken by the Cowboys in the seventh round, but Johnson never made much of an impression during training camp. He made a nice grab along the sideline for 11 yards. And he also showed his speed on special teams. He might be a good practice squad candidate.
- Is it just me or was Bobby Carpenter really unimpressive in the first half? I try to watch Carpenter on running plays and he's always getting pushed at least five yards backwards. He's still not aggressive enough in taking on blockers and I wouldn't trust him to play an entire game -- if something happens to one of the starting inside linebackers. He simply gets caught inside way too much. The Vikings had a long touchdown drive in the first half and I thought Carpenter was exposed in a big way. It was like the Cowboys wanted no part of Vikings reserve running back Ian Johnson.
- Still too early to panic about the special teams? Joe DeCamillis' unit allowed a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. But in DeCamillis' defense, Jesse Holley and Scott Chandler were in great position to make a tackle. Obviously things didn't work out. This is happening way too much. Sort of similar to last season's unit, but I think the Cowboys will get it turned around early in the regular season. It's not like the special teams had any continuity in a game like that.
- We saw good Mike Mickens and bad Mike Mickens on Friday. It's obvious the seventh-rounder out of Cincinnati is talented, but he's taking too many chances. What he has to learn is that going for an interception and missing can end up costing you about 50 yards. But on the next play after he allowed a big gain, he came back and broke up a pass. I think he'll be a good player eventually. Way too early to count on him at this point.
- I almost forgot Watkins' play near the goal line. He recovered nicely to tackle Sage Rosenfels for a loss when the Vikings went for it on fourth down. Watkins bit on the original play, but he quickly made up the ground and dragged Rosenfels down. Outstanding play.
- I think rookie tight end John Phillips has a little something. He did a great job of competing for the ball on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. That play didn't lead to anything, but it was nice to see that he had a little explosiveness.
- Who were you guys impressed with? Let me hear from you. And remember that we'll have full cut-down day coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Thanks for joining us.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
SAN ANTONIO -- The second day of Cowboys training camp was much more physical. Running back Marion Barber punished anyone who tried to take him on and a rookie linebacker by the name of Victor Butler was all over the field. I'm prepared to touch on some of the position battles and other things that are going on inside the Alamodome, home to the poorest lighting in sports.
- I've been as impressed with second-year running back Tashard Choice as anyone in camp. Running backs coach Skip Peete told me Wednesday that Choice was one of the most complete backs in the nation when he was at Georgia Tech, but there were questions about his speed. On Thursday, he used his acceleration to race away from linebackers and safeties. If I had to pick a player who's performed the best after three practices, I'd have to go with Choice. After talking to Peete for a while, I think Choice is a guy who could play three or four series per game -- especially if he gets hot.
|AP Photo/Eric Gay|
|Marion Barber and the other Cowboys running backs have looked dangerous early on in camp.|
- Marion Barber appears to be lighter, in part, because he actually dropped five pounds. He's still administering punishment to linebackers, but he appears to have a little more wiggle than I recall at this point in camp. If you're wanting to get excited about something, let me suggest this team's three running backs. Felix Jones is showing that he could have a big impact in the passing game. He didn't catch the ball a lot at Arkansas, but he has pretty good hands from what I've gathered. For those of you who keep asking, I haven't seen any Wildcat formation plays to this point in camp.
- I want to see more of Victor Butler, the fourth-round player out of Oregon State. He had 12 sacks his senior season at Oregon State, and he was all over the Cowboys' quarterbacks in Thursday's morning practice. He appears to be pretty quick off the edge and he actually showed some nice versatility in dropping back in coverage to make plays. In the morning practice, Butler was the guy constantly catching my eye.
- After observing three practices, I'm convinced the Cowboys could be in big trouble if any of their offensive linemen go down with injury. Pat McQuistan looked completely helpless through much of Thursday's practices. And the worst part is that he got worse with each rep. He freaked out when DeMarcus Ware lined up over him and had a false start. Doug Free, a former third-round pick, looked a little better in the one-on-one drills I watched, but he's not ready to step in for left tackle Flozell Adams if something happens. Cory Procter's a guy that can get you through a couple of games at center or guard, but he needs to stay in that role. This team has done a very poor job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. They took Andre Gurode out of Colorado in the second round in 2002. They've been striking out ever since.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Cowboys rookie right tackle Robert Brewster, a third-round pick, will miss the '09 season with a torn pectoral muscle, according to Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News. Brewster apparently suffered the injury during offseason workouts following the club's June minicamp.
It's bad news for a team that has done a poor job of developing depth along the offensive line. Brewster didn't miss a game in four years at Ball State, but an AFC scout told me after the draft that he was very worried about Brewster's durability leading up to the draft. Brewster's agent tried to put a positive spin on things by saying that rookie linemen don't normally play anyway, but the Cowboys definitely needed Brewster to be in camp improving his technique.
It's also a huge setback that Brewster won't be able to focus on his upper body strength for awhile. That's an area in which he desperately needed to make strides. The Cowboys didn't expect any of their draft picks to immediately become a starter, but Brewster had a chance to help on special teams and provide much-needed depth.
Now the Cowboys will continue to see if former draft picks Pat McQuistan and Doug Free can challenge for playing time. Yes, they're still on the roster. So is someone named Gibbons. If you need a unit to worry about for the Cowboys, I suggest you start at the offensive line. The Cowboys could be one injury away from having some serious issues.
OK, I'll keep you posted.