NFC East: sterling moore

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Since he remains on the active roster, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is officially listed as inactive for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Romo had back surgery on Friday but the team did not make the formal move of placing him on injured reserve. If the Cowboys win tonight, then they will place Romo on IR and add a player to the active roster for the playoffs. If they had made the move already and gone with just 52 players on the active roster, they would have lost some practice squad players.

Joining Romo on the inactive list are: B.W. Webb, Jakar Hamilton, Sean Lee, Ernie Sims and Darrion Weems.

This is the first game Webb has been inactive all season, but he lost his playing time to Sterling Moore and the return of Morris Claiborne means the Cowboys do not need to carry five cornerbacks.

Pondering the 46: Down to the corners

December, 28, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have yet to place Tony Romo on injured reserve. They really don't have the need to make the formal move just yet, so as we Ponder the 46, Romo will be one of the inactives.

Sean Lee is out with a neck strain. Ernie Sims is doubtful but he has not practiced the last two weeks because of a groin injury. Darrion Weems and Jakar Hamilton will also be inactive. Martez Wilson has been inactive the last two games, so he is likely to be down for his third straight game.

That leaves one spot and with Morris Claiborne coming back from a hamstring injury, rookie cornerback B.W. Webb is in the crosshairs.

Webb has been active for every game, but he lost his playing time to Sterling Moore the last few games. Maybe the Cowboys cover themselves by bringing a fifth cornerback to the game in case Claiborne aggravates his hamstring again, but they have had only four active for the season.

Perhaps they could go lighter on the defensive line, but with LeSean McCoy running and DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jarius Wynn and George Selvie all nicked to some degree, that doesn't seem to be the wise choice.

So the inactives will be: Romo, Lee, Sims, Weems, Hamilton, Wilson and Webb.

Monte Kiffin believes in his defense

December, 19, 2013
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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."

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeBoyd_Murray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray and the Cowboys are focusing on winning out and attempting to make the playoffs.
Recuperative powers: If the Cowboys win their final two games, they will make the playoffs. If there is a message Jason Garrett is looking to sell as the team looks to rebound, that's it. The Cowboys' final two games are against the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, teams they outscored 48-19 in meetings earlier this season. It's not the message a lot of fans want to hear, but it is what matters most as the Cowboys look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

"I feel good that we have a chance to beat the Redskins, and if we do that, we'll get a chance to play Philadelphia with an opportunity to get in the playoffs," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "I know when I see us lose a game after having a lead like we had at halftime, anything can happen one way or the other."

Pathetic work: On a day in which the offense gained 466 yards and 27 first downs, you would think everything worked well. It didn't. The third-down offense continued its season-long struggles as the Cowboys converting on just 2 of 9 chances. It was the third time this season the Cowboys converted on less than 30 percent of their third-down tries in a game. They are 56-of-159 on the season. Tony Romo said he has to be better on third downs, the receivers have to win in man-to-man situations and the blocking has to be better.

"We haven't done that well," Romo said of the third-down woes. "We have to do a better job."

No chance on D: At one point, the Cowboys fielded a defense that had three players who were not with the team when training camp started (George Selvie, Everette Brown, Corvey Irvin), two undrafted free agents (Jeff Heath, Cameron Lawrence), a sixth-round pick (DeVonte Holloman) and a cornerback (Sterling Moore) who was out of football until Nov. 25. Matt Flynn became the fifth quarterback to throw four touchdown passes against Monte Kiffin's defense, joining Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Josh McCown. Flynn and McCown are backup quarterbacks, and the Cowboys will see another backup next week at Washington with Kirk Cousins quarterbacking the Redskins.

Still producing: Jason Witten caught 110 passes last year, an NFL record for tight ends in a season, but he had only three touchdowns. He has 59 catches this year and eight touchdowns. Witten needs one TD in the final two games to equal his career high. His eight from Romo this season are the most the duo has combined for in a season together. With 59 catches for 703 yards, Witten is averaging 11.9 yards per reception, which equals his career best so far. He might not have the starry numbers of the past, but at 31, Witten is not slowing down yet, either.

Cowboys' finds running out of gas

December, 13, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive end George Selvie will make his 13th start of the season Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. He played more than nine games in a season just once in his career before 2013.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden will also start his 13th game Sunday. He started 13 games for his career before this year.

Selvie has one sack in his last six games. Hayden has not been credited with more than two tackles in a game in a month. He had just two of those games in the first nine games.

When the Cowboys signed Hayden in February, they hoped he would be part of a defensive line rotation. When Selvie signed in July the hope was initially he helps the Cowboys get through practice, nevermind make the roster.

Neither was expected to be a core defender. Are they starting to wear down?

“We feel like those guys are our starters and have been all year long,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You’re always trying to rotate the defensive linemen like we’ve talked about, particularly in this scheme, so you’re always trying to find what that balance is.”

Selvie is tied with DeMarcus Ware for second on the defense with six sacks.

“I think he’s a good consistent football player and has been all year long for us,” Garrett said. “He was around the quarterback a little bit the other night in the ballgame. He comes to work every day. He’s not a dynamic, dynamic, dynamic pass-rusher, but to me every game he shows up and somehow positively impacts the game.”

Linebacker Ernie Sims will play starter snaps for the sixth time this season. Starter Jeff Heath will make his fifth start after making the team as an undrafted free agent. Sterling Moore wasn’t with the team two weeks ago but he will be the team’s third corner Sunday.
The Cowboys found out last year that for as well as players off the street can play for a short time, over a longer time they can be exposed.

“I think the biggest challenge for guys is acclimating themselves initially,” Garrett said. “I think our guys have done a good job of that, to step in here and play on a moment’s notice. It’s always better when you have your starting players in there -- we recognize that -- and having our starting players healthy and ready to go. Having said that, every team in the league is dealing with injuries, so that’s not something we talk about a lot. We just have to get these guys ready to play as best they can play; a tough challenge as a coaching staff.”

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.

Newcomers active for Cowboys

November, 28, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Signed on Monday and Tuesday, cornerback Sterling Moore and defensive end Martez Wilson are active for the Dallas Cowboys today against the Oakland Raiders.

Moore was signed with Morris Claiborne out with a hamstring injury. Wilson, who played three games earlier in the season for the Raiders, took the roster spot of Everett Dawkins.

Tight end Gavin Escobar, who was added to the injury report on Wednesday with a hamstring injury, is active. He was listed as questionable.

Sean Lee, Justin Durant, Claiborne and Dwayne Harris, who have hamstring injuries, and DeVonte Holloman (neck) were ruled out Wednesday. Darrion Weems and Jakar Hamilton joined them on the inactive list.

Ernie Sims will start for Lee and Kyle Wilber will replace Durant.

The Cowboys are hopeful Lee will be able to return Dec. 9 against the Chicago Bears.

Former Cowboys receiver Andre Holmes will start for the Raiders.

Five Wonders: A wild-card possibility?

November, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It's a short week for the Dallas Cowboys with the Oakland Raiders visiting on Thanksgiving, but we're not shortening Five Wonders.

It's still five and we're still wondering.

On to the Wonders:
  • The easiest way for the Cowboys to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. With their 4-0 division record, the Cowboys appear to be in control there. But I wonder if they could sneak into a wild-card spot depending on how things play out. The Carolina Panthers (8-3) and San Francisco 49ers (7-4) hold the wild-card spots right now. The Panthers have two games left with the New Orleans Saints, whom they trail by a game in the NFC South race. San Francisco has an easier schedule the rest of the way and maybe Monday's win is a sign of things to come, but it is scuffling more than people expected. The Arizona Cardinals (7-4) play two teams with losing records the rest of the way and still have the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers. The Cowboys have head-to-head matchups against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in December that could aid their wild-card possibilities should the Philadelphia Eagles remain hot. Of course, it all could come down to Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles for a third straight win-or-go-home game.
  • Because the Cowboys did not employ a dime defense at the start of the season, they felt they were safe in carrying only four cornerbacks -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb -- on the 53-man roster. They kept Micah Pellerin on the practice squad as insurance and needed Pellerin for a game. Now I wonder if keeping only four is catching up to them. Pellerin was cut last week and claimed by the Tennessee Titans, which forced the Cowboys to sign Sterling Moore on Monday now that Claiborne is out with a hamstring injury. Webb is OK in small doses, but it sure seems as if quarterbacks know when he is in the game, doesn't it? The Cowboys viewed Moore mostly as a slot player and did not believe he was worth keeping over Webb, a fourth-round pick. Until Claiborne got hurt, they were right, but the Cowboys now find themselves hoping Moore is in good shape and can pick up the defense quickly after nearly three months out of the game. Claiborne could be looking at a two-game absence again, if not three depending on the severity of his new hamstring injury.
  • I wonder if we'll see more Gavin Escobar and Lance Dunbar down the stretch. Jerry Jones made it a point of emphasis during the bye week that he wanted to see Dunbar get some snap. Dunbar had eight against the Giants and had 20 yards on three carries. His 18-yard run was the longest by a Dallas runner this season not named DeMarco Murray. He offers up a change of pace for this offense. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. So of the eight snaps, he delivered 46 yards, which is not a bad ratio. Escobar played in 12 snaps as the Cowboys used their “13 personnel” more and also had him split some of the No. 2 tight end work with James Hanna. Escobar also had his first catch since Oct. 6. He needs time to develop but he can be a decent outlet in the passing game because of his ability to make plays on the ball.
  • Sean Lee has plenty of incentive to get back on the field. First and foremost in his mind is to help the Cowboys win games. Lee is the best defender the Cowboys have, but he has missed all but one snap in the last seven quarters with a hamstring injury. He would like to play Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, but given the short week of preparation and the need for him to be healthy for the rest of the season, the Cowboys will most likely play it conservative. There is also a financial incentive. I wonder if Lee hits on the 80 percent play-time escalator in his contract that would boost his 2015 base salary from $2.5 million to $4 million. If Lee plays in 80 percent of the snaps this season or next, he would get the extra $1.5 million. Before getting hurt, Lee played in at least 97 percent of the snaps in eight of the Cowboys' first nine games. He played in 78 percent of the snaps in the blowout win against the St. Louis Rams and just 15 snaps against New Orleans before getting hurt. He has missed 127 snaps in the past two games. If he doesn't play against the Raiders, that could be another 60 snaps. The Cowboys are on pace for 1,123 defensive snaps this season and Lee would have to play in 898 snaps to reach 80 percent. I believe he gets it but he can't have any setbacks.
  • I wonder if Tony Romo makes the Pro Bowl. The voting rules have changed. It is no longer the top three quarterbacks per conference. It is six for the league. It's safe to think Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will get in. Tom Brady might not be having the typical Tom Brady season but he's still Tom Brady, so he should get voted in as well. Aaron Rodgers will miss his fourth straight game on Thursday with a broken collarbone, so he's not a lock. Seattle's Russell Wilson has the NFL's best record and good numbers. So where does Romo start to fit in? He's fourth in touchdown passes with 23. He is seventh in passer rating. He has cut back on his interceptions. He has directed two final-minute drives to lead the Cowboys to their last two wins. Who else could be in the mix? San Diego's Philip Rivers will be in there. Philadelphia's Nick Foles has 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. He could be there too. Remember, the two quarterbacks from the Super Bowl teams won't play in the game, so that adds to the pool. If Romo does not make it, you'd have to wonder if there is a Cowboys' bias. I kid. I kid.

Cowboys sign CB Sterling Moore

November, 25, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- With Morris Claiborne likely out of Thursday’s game against the Oakland Raiders after he aggravated a hamstring strain Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys re-signed cornerback Sterling Moore on Monday.

Moore
Moore was among the Cowboys’ final cuts on Aug. 31 when they made the somewhat surprising decision to go with only four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. Moore is not a stranger to having to play on a quick turnaround for the Cowboys. Last year he officially had one day of practice before playing against the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 2 after he was signed off the New England Patriots' practice squad.

He finished with six tackles and two pass breakups in six games with the Cowboys.

To make room for Moore, tight end Andre Smith was released. He could return to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

The Cowboys had hoped cornerback Micah Pellerin would clear waivers last week, but he was claimed by the Tennessee Titans. If Pellerin had returned to the practice squad, the Cowboys would have called him up to the active roster for the second time this season.

Without Claiborne, the Cowboys could use rookie B.W. Webb outside and keep Orlando Scandrick in the slot when they play their nickel defense.

Dallas Cowboys cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: After cutting Sterling Moore, the Cowboys have only four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster with Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and rookie B.W. Webb.

Moore was a late-season pickup off New England’s practice squad last year and offered versatility with his ability to play in the slot. Webb struggled in two of the five preseason games, giving up two touchdowns in Thursday’s loss to Houston.

Claiborne did not play in any of the preseason games because of a sore knee, but he must be ready to play in the season opener against the New York Giants.

The roster is hardly settled and the Cowboys will likely have their eye on cornerbacks by other teams.

While there are a few surprise players on the 53-man roster, the biggest might be Nate Livings, last year’s starting left guard. He did not play in the preseason because of a second surgery on his right knee in six months and does not appear to be close to returning anytime soon.

The Cowboys faced a financial question on Livings because his $1.7 million base salary is fully guaranteed. Whether he is on the roster or not, he would count $2.4 million against the cap this year.

Even if he were healthy, Livings would not have been a lock to start again. The Cowboys are ready to go with Ronald Leary, who is also recovering from knee surgery and missed three preseason games.

Wait til next year: Safety Matt Johnson did not play in a game last year because of recurring hamstring injuries and was eventually placed on injured reserve in November. He was placed on injured reserve Saturday, ending his season because of a foot injury suffered in the Aug. 4 Hall of Fame Game against Miami.

The hope in the offseason was that Johnson could compete for a starting spot but he was felled again by injury.

While the Cowboys could not hold a roster spot for him for a second straight year, they did not want to give up on eventually getting something out of their 2012 fourth-round pick, so the injured reserve made the most sense.

Why didn’t the Cowboys put him on the returnable injured reserve list? He would have had to have spent one day on the active roster and then made the switch to IR. The roster spot was too valuable.

What’s next: Do not expect this to be the 53-man roster for the season opener against the Giants. The Cowboys will look at the waiver wire for upgrades to the bottom end of the roster.

Possible additions could come at the offensive and defensive lines, linebacker and cornerback. They have few experienced backups at defensive line and linebacker.

There are several players the Cowboys would like to get to the practice squad provided they clear waivers, like Alex Tanney, Jason Vega, Micah Pellerin and Brandon Magee.

Cowboys moves: QB: Alex Tanney; WR: Tim Benford, Danny Coale, Anthony Armstrong; RB: Kendial Lawrence; DB: Micah Pellerin, Xavier Brewer, Jakar Hamilton, Sterling Moore; LB: Brandon Magee, Caleb McSurdy, Cameron Lawwrence, Taylor Reed; DE: Thaddeus Gibson, Jabari Fletcher, Jerome Long, Jason Vega; OL: Ray Dominguez, Demetress Bell, Edawn Coughman, Kevin Kowalski; IR: S Matt Johnson

Cowboys' leaders taking control

August, 15, 2013
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OXNARD, Calif. -- You wouldn’t think a Sour Patch Kids commercial would have much to do with professional football, but Anthony Spencer went with it anyway.

Speaking in front of his Dallas Cowboys teammates earlier in training camp, Spencer showed the commercial in which a paintball-gun-wielding Sour Patch Kid repeatedly shot his friend, only to see their likeness appear on the wall at the end.

PODCAST
ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly segment to discuss the latest on Tom Brady's injury and Cowboys training camp in Oxnard.

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“First they’re sour,” announced the voice-over. “Then they’re sweet.”

Sitting in the darkened room at the Cowboys’ River Ridge Residence Inn complex, cornerback Sterling Moore got Spencer’s message.

“That’s what training camp is all about,” Moore said. “You’re coming out, grinding every day. The coaches are yelling and take shots [at you], but they’re building you up to do something great.”

Since camp began, Jason Garrett has put the leaders in front of the full team to offer up a quote, a personal story, or even a Sour Patch Kids commercial.

“As coaches you try to promote those guys in some way, shape or form so that everybody sees that this is the right way to do it,” Garrett said. “Sean Lee, Jason Witten, Miles Austin, they do it the right way, and we’re going to try to give them every opportunity to lead this team -- giving them a chance to be in front of the whole group and talk to the team and highlight them in a lot of different ways, whether it’s on tape, in a meeting room or on the field. Make sure that they have a voice and that we’re not an obstacle to that voice.

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Richard Durrett, Ian Fitzsimmons and Glenn "Stretch" Smith react to Dez Bryant sounding off yesterday after practice about Johnny Manziel and the shadiness of the NCAA.

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"Again, the best teams that I’ve been on, those guys grasp it. It’s their time. It’s their football team.”

Leadership issues have been more of an outside-the-locker-room issue than an inside-the-locker-room issue because of the lack of playoff success with the core of this team. Jason Hatcher wondered two years ago whether the Cowboys needed a Ray Lewis-type voice, as if that is the only leadership style that works.

Witten is a leader. Lee is a leader. Tony Romo is a leader. DeMarcus Ware is a leader. Hatcher has grown to become a leader.

Do they have to have the oration and dance skills of Lewis to be as effective? No.

But by putting these players in front of the full team, Garrett is establishing who they must follow.

“Witten had a heckuva story,” safety Barry Church said. “When he was young he was going through something where he wrecked his car and three horses pulled him out of a ditch. That one showed you need everybody.”

When Romo spoke to teammates, he mentioned that he has been every player sitting in that room.

“From just trying to make the team to the backup to the guy trying to become the starter to the starter, the whole process and the way that takes shape,” Romo said. “I was like, ‘The one thing we all have in common is that you’re just desperately trying to be that guy that can make the team, the guy that can get time to play, the guy that can be the starter.’ What you’re talking about is a feeling in your gut that you want so bad that you’ve got to attack it every day like that. If you do that, then you give yourself a great opportunity to be the player you want to be. That doesn’t change whether you’re a guy who’s been here 10 years or a guy in his first year. It’s all relative to your situation, but that thing in your stomach is still there.”

Brandon Carr is still waiting for his opportunity to speak. He has a couple of different stories in his mind and hopes one clicks as he walks to the front of the room.

“It allows us a chance to spread some of our knowledge to the younger players, and it allows us the players to get to know us a little bit,” Carr said. “It’s a little bit of an icebreaker.”

Or a Sour Patch Kid.

“I thought it was outstanding,” Garrett said. “That’s the great thing about it. I have a certain way of conveying something. Our coaches have a certain way of conveying something. Then you give all these different guys a chance to talk and what’s important to them, how they present and they present it differently, but oftentimes what you get is a reinforcement of the big message. Said a different way, whether it’s a story, a quote, a commercial or whatever, you’re always trying to kind of reinforce the same things. And I think that everything that every one of those guys has said to our team, I’m like, ‘Wow, that was really good. That’s something I really believe in. I’m glad he was able to stand up there and talk to the team like that.’ And the response of the rest of the team, teammates, coaches, everybody has been really positive.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Goal-line drills often are the closest thing to real football in training camp because of the intensity that is required.

There is no tapping of the offensive players by the defense in this drill.

The Cowboys’ No. 1 defense beat the No. 1 offense in their three plays Tuesday.

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Jean-Jacques Taylor joins Galloway and Company live from Oxnard, Calif., to discuss the latest news from Cowboys training camp.

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Phillip Tanner was stopped short by DeMarcus Ware on a run to the strong side, and Ware got a little help from Jason Hatcher. On second down, the defense covered everybody on a Tony Romo pass, forcing the quarterback to scramble into linebacker Sean Lee. On the third, tight end Gavin Escobar was out of bounds on a sprint to the right by Romo.
  • While it was a good day for the No. 1 defense, the No. 2 defense gave up three straight touchdowns. RB Joseph Randle ran it in for the first two scores, and Kyle Orton hit Dante Rosario on a play-action pass across the back of the end zone.
  • The No. 1 offense rebounded in its situation work to close the practice. Needing a first down to kill the clock with a three-point lead, Romo connected with Miles Austin on a third-down rocket screen to end the game.
  • After missing two days with a quadriceps bruise, WR Cole Beasley returned to practice Tuesday and dropped two passes. He was so upset with himself that he spent extra time on the Jugs machine catching passes after practice.
  • Rosario had a solid practice. He lined up more at fullback and was able to make a handful of catches from Orton.
  • WR Anthony Armstrong broke off a route for a back-shoulder throw from Orton, reaching for the pass and getting his body between the ground and the ball for extra security. The play resulted in a first down.
  • At the start of the practice, the defensive coaches said they wanted turnovers. They didn’t get any interceptions, but they did get two fumbles. Safety Matt Johnson forced the ball loose on TE Andre Smith after a catch by the sideline, and safety J.J. Wilcox recovered. Later, safety Will Allen forced a fumble on Escobar.
  • Receiver Terrance Williams has earned praise for his play on offense, but he got more for his work as a gunner on the punt team. Williams split cornerbacks Devin Smith and Micah Pellerin with an inside jab and was able to help force a fair catch.
  • Cornerback Sterling Moore had back-to-back solid reps in one-on-one drills. On the first, he broke up a back-shoulder throw from Romo to Austin, jumping as Austin reached back for the ball. On the second, he came down with an Orton throw after snuffing out Beasley on an out route.
  • Kicker Dan Bailey had his first multiple-miss day of camp. Bailey went 3-of-6 with misses from 44 yards (right), 45 (left) and 47 (right). He closed his team work by drilling a 50-yarder.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Steelers

December, 16, 2012
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As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to host the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4:25 p.m. ET (3:25 p.m. CT) on Sunday, here's one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good about the game and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The Steelers don't scare you the way they used to. They've lost three of their past four games, including last week's clunker against San Diego, and while Ben Roethlisberger is back from injury and presumably getting healthier by the week, the Steelers have issues at running back and on defense, where cornerback Ike Taylor is injured and won't play. If Philip Rivers and Danario Alexander were able to light up the Pittsburgh secondary last Sunday, there's no reason to think that Tony Romo and Dez Bryant can't do the same -- assuming Bryant can catch with that broken left index finger.

Cause for concern: The Cowboys' defense is in tatters. It appears cornerback Morris Claiborne will miss the game due to his concussion. And while they can fill in with Mike Jenkins and the pleasantly surprising Sterling Moore, it just eats away further at their depth on that side of the ball. They're already playing without their two starting inside linebackers, a starting safety and two starting defensive linemen. Claiborne has been improving as the season's gone along, and without him covering receivers on the back end it'll be very important for the Cowboys' pass rush to get to Roethlisberger and sack him.

Defenses will decide the NFC East

December, 13, 2012
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Robert Griffin IIIBrad Penner/US PresswireNew York's title hopes may depend on Jason Pierre-Paul and a Giants pass rush that has been underwhelming this season.

Can the New York Giants' pass rush perk up and help a Big Blue defense that held the Falcons offense scoreless during the playoffs last season repeat that performance Sunday in Atlanta?

Can the two men the Dallas Cowboys brought in to be shutdown cornerbacks keep the Steelers receivers covered while Ben Roethlisberger scrambles to keep plays alive?

Can the Washington Redskins scheme, adjust and work around their defensive personnel shortages for another week, keeping Trent Richardson in check and daring Brandon Weeden to beat them in Cleveland?

These are the key storylines Sunday as the NFC East race spins into its final weeks. Amend them with different opponents, and they are likely to remain the key storylines in this division the rest of the way. Although the quarterbacks get all the attention in this division and statistically there's not a top-10 defense in the bunch, the team that plays the best defense in these final three games is the one most likely to emerge with the division title.

The NFC East race is a jumble. The defending champion Giants hold a one-game lead, but they have road games the next two weeks in Atlanta and Baltimore and are far from assured of winning out. The Falcons and Ravens are a combined 11-1 at home this season and 65-11 the past five. Sure, New York is a defending Super Bowl champion that has shown it can win anywhere, but there's not a team out there that could safely assume it would go 2-0 in those games. The Giants are going to have to play the way they played in January, not the way they've played for most of the past month and a half, if they're going to keep control of the division. To do that, they need to be more ferocious on defense.

The Giants have 31 sacks -- tied for 12th most in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul leads them with 6.5. Osi Umenyiora has six. Justin Tuck has only three.

The numbers are fine, but they're not Giants numbers. This is a pass rush that took out Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady en route to its second Super Bowl title in five years. Unless someone gets more than one sack a game the rest of the way, they're going to finish the regular season without anyone in double figures. That doesn't compute, and it has as much to do with why the Giants haven't already put away this division as anything.

It's possible that seeing Ryan and the Falcons will rekindle memories of how dominant they were up front 11 months ago, and if that's the case, the Giants could be the team that gets on the defensive run that gives them the division title.

The Cowboys sit one game back of the Giants, tied with the Redskins for second place. Statistically fine for much of the season, the defense has endured a brutal rash of injuries. Both starting inside linebackers, a starting safety, a starting defensive lineman and their nickel cornerback are on injured reserve. This week, star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware (elbow) and starting cornerback Morris Claiborne (concussion) have already missed practice. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff remains in doubt, and his backup, Josh Brent, is out because of his well-publicized issues. The Cowboys are running short of players on defense, which could take them right out of this picture if it continues.

But they've made it this far in spite of their deficiencies. They've won four of their past five games. Running back DeMarco Murray is back in the fold, red-hot wide receiver Dez Bryant apparently is determined to play in spite of a broken finger, and the offense is humming.

The defense has to hold it together, and the key is in that secondary. Ware and Anthony Spencer are playing well at outside linebacker, and the defensive line is average and going to stay that way. The defense is counting on Claiborne and fellow corner Brandon Carr to shut down receivers, especially in a game such as this Sunday's against Pittsburgh's receivers. If Claiborne can't go, the responsibility falls to Sterling Moore, who has looked good in his short time in Dallas.

Carr and Claiborne have been occasionally brilliant but generally inconsistent in coverage this season. The price the Cowboys paid for Carr in free-agent money and for Claiborne in draft picks says they're big-time talents who need to play that way. If they can shut down opposing receivers the next three weeks, the Cowboys' chances of coming from behind and stealing this division are a lot better.

In Washington, all eyes are on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has a knee injury and may not play Sunday in Cleveland.

But the Redskins aren't really worried about their offense. They can run the ball with Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon can get open down the field for backup Kirk Cousins, and they can score enough points.

Defense has been the Redskins' issue all season. They rank 28th in total defense and 31st against the pass. A secondary that didn't look all that great to begin with is now missing two starting safeties and a starting cornerback. The defense is also missing its best pass-rusher, Brian Orakpo, and starting defensive lineman Adam Carriker. It has been a struggle.

Yet the Redskins, which have managed to win their past four games to move within a game of the Giants, have a real chance. They have looked bad on defense for long stretches during the streak -- the second half against Dallas on Thanksgiving, the first half against Baltimore last week -- but they've managed to hold on. Coordinator Jim Haslett is doing an excellent job of changing up the game plan from week to week and half to half to maximize any advantage he can find. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson can be a disruptive pass-rusher for a half. DeAngelo Hall can be a decent cover corner for a couple of drives.

They mix, match and patch it together, and so far it's not falling apart. The key will be for the Redskins to keep walking that tightrope, and if they can do it for three more games, they absolutely have a chance.

So if you're trying to make sense of this NFC East race as it hits the home stretch, look not to the big-name quarterbacks and receivers but instead to the defenses. If one of these three teams can do something on defense it hasn't been able to do so far, that could make enough of a difference to decide the division.

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