NFL Nation: Ryan Cook

IRVING, Texas -- When quarterback Tony Romo underwent season-ending back surgery Friday morning, he became the ninth Cowboys player lost for the season due to injury.

You could say it's 10 players lost if you want to throw in defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who said he hadn't recovered from a groin injury which prompted the Cowboys to release him. He subsequently signed with the Bears.

Of the other nine, Romo's departure is the biggest. A review of the injured:

Ben Bass: The defensive end was a projected backup to a unit beset by injuries. His shoulder is nearly healed and he should be ready in time for the 2014 season.

Ryan Cook: He was a longshot to make the roster, and when his back didn't heal enough for him to make the roster it was time to move on. It's doubtful that the veteran offensive lineman returns.

Tyrone Crawford: A torn Achilles in the first week of training camp ended the defensive end's season quickly and put the Cowboys in a bind at defensive line. Crawford is now doing on-the-field rehab work, so he should be good for offseason workouts.

Lance Dunbar: Injuries hampered his season. He was just starting to make an impact when he injured his knee in the fourth quarter of the Thanksgiving Day win over Oakland. The Cowboys like the running back's change-of-pace ability, and he should be given a chance to regain that role in 2014.

Justin Durant: The veteran just couldn't recover in enough time from a hamstring injury to help the linebacker corps. Durant was signed to play the strong side and he had good moments, but his health got in the way of making more of an impact.

Matt Johnson: Johnson hasn't played a down in his first two seasons. A hamstring issue his rookie season and an ankle injury late in training camp put him on the shelf. The Cowboys have to make a decision on whether it's worth keeping the safety around.

Tony Romo: The starting quarterback was knocked around at times this season but he showed an amazing level of toughness to finish the game at Washington last week while his back was throbbing. Romo is projected to return in time for the OTAs.

Anthony Spencer: Spencer's knee bothered him during training camp and the projected starter at defensive end underwent microfracture surgery after playing in just one game. He becomes a free agent after the season, so it will be interesting if the Cowboys offer him a deal.

Brian Waters: The veteran guard was a solid contributor in the five games he started before a torn triceps ended his season. Waters is unsure about whether he wants to play again. He turns 37 on Feb. 18, and the Cowboys might pass on giving him another contract.

W2W4: Five things for Texans-Cowboys

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys meet the Houston Texans in the preseason for the first time since 2010 at AT&T Stadium. Intrastate pride might be on the line for the fans of both teams, but little else.

With 75 players on the roster, some jobs remain but most are filled. Here’s what we’ll be looking at tonight:

Job fair: With 18 roster moves to make by Saturday’s cut-down date, most of the decisions have likely been made. There are perhaps two open spots with as many as eight guys looking to fit the square peg. Would the Cowboys carry five tight ends? How about six receivers? Nine defensive linemen?

Defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, tight end Andre Smith, wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, cornerback Micah Pellerin, tackle DeMetress Bell, guard David Arkin and guard Kevin Kowalski can make their cases tonight. Linebacker Brandon Magee (concussion), safeties Eric Frampton (calf), Danny McCray (hamstring) and Matt Johnson (foot) will have to watch and sweat out the final decisions.

Tanney time: Maybe Kyle Orton opens the game, but the Cowboys will give Alex Tanney most of the work.

With needs at other positions and injury questions going into the opener, Tanney is looking more like a practice-squad fit than a 53-man roster fit. If he plays lights out, he could change the equation or at the very least get another team to keep him on the 53-man roster the way Matt Moore did a few years ago.

Check out the Texans: Last year the Cowboys closed the preseason against Miami and traded for veteran offensive lineman Ryan Cook a few days later based on what they saw in that game.

With the Cowboys moving to a pure zone blocking scheme this year, check out the Texans’ offensive linemen. Assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack spent five years with the Texans (2007-11) and will have a good idea of what would be a good fit with the Cowboys.

As unsettled as the Cowboys are with their starting offensive line they’re more unsettled with the backups. A case could be made they don’t have a ninth or 10th guy (if they choose to reach double digits) on their current roster to fill out the line.

Earning practice squad jobs: Tanney has been talked about, but there will be seven other spots to fill. The Cowboys like to keep receivers and defensive backs on the practice squad because of the amount of running in practice, so guys like Danny Coale, Tim Benford and Pellerin bear watching.

And the line play will have candidates to, like defensive end Jerome Long and offensive tackle Darrion Weems. Linebacker could be another spot of interest with Cameron Lawrence and Taylor Reed.

The digital board: Chris Jones hit it last week with a punt against Cincinnati and the Bengals returned the re-kick 75 yards for a touchdown, continuing a preseason-long issue of special teams’ miscues. Jones is unlikely to hit it again, but watching it to see the clock tick down will be more important because it brings us closer to the start of the regular season.
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys released nine players, placed defensive tackle Jay Ratliff on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, making him ineligible for the first six weeks of the regular season, and moved defensive end Tyrone Crawford and guard/center Ryan Cook to injured reserve Tuesday afternoon to trim their roster to 75.

Quarterback Nick Stephens, wide receivers Anthony Amos, Eric Rogers and Jared Green, guard Dennis Godfrey, tight end Colin Cochart, linebacker Deon Lacey, kicker Brett Maher and cornerback Brandon Underwood were cut.

Releasing three wide receivers and Stephens were the biggest surprises prior to the final preseason game on Thursday against the Houston Texans. The Cowboys will go into Thursday's preseason finale with Alex Tanney as the only quarterback who will play against the Texans.

Traditionally, the starters don't play in the final preseason game, but with three quarterbacks on the roster, expect backup Kyle Orton to be available to play in case Tanney gets hurt during the game.

At the start of training camp, the Cowboys had 11 receivers on the roster. With the expectations that starters Miles Austin and Dez Bryant won't play on Thursday, the Cowboys will have at least six receivers active for the game and it's undetermined how much Cole Beasley will play. He just returned to the practice field this week after missing last week with a sore knee.

The next cut-down date for the Cowboys is Saturday where they have to trim the roster to 53.

 
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys had a hard time getting much of an advantage at Cowboys Stadium with a 17-15 regular-season record in the $1.2 billion home.

Playing under the AT&T Stadium name for the first time, the Cowboys were able to overcome a tepid start to beat Cincinnati 24-18.

What it means: The Cowboys got what they wanted in their final showing of the preseason from their regulars on offense and defense.

The Cowboys have not played their starters in the last preseason game since 2006, and Jason Garrett will not want to risk the likes of Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Brandon Carr on Thursday against Houston.

To avoid their first losing preseason since 2001, however, the Cowboys will have to beat the Texans.

First-team offense gets in end zone: In their first five drives of the preseason, the Romo-led offense failed to get in the end zone. They started 0-for-2 on Saturday before Bryant took matters into his own hands with five catches on a 12-play drive that ended with Romo hitting Bryant on a bullet fade over cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

The Cowboys closed the first half with an eight-play drive that covered 52 yards with Miles Austin being the featured target. Austin had a 23-yard gain on a third-and-6 and closed the drive with a 12-yard score going across the back of the end zone for a Romo throw.

Offensive line moves: For the fourth time in four preseason games, the Cowboys rolled out a different combination on the offensive line with Doug Free playing right guard, Jermey Parnell at right tackle and Mackenzy Bernadeau at left guard. Only left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick played in their original positions.

Romo was sacked on the first play of the game for an 8-yard loss and the running game averaged only 2.5 yards per carry in the first half. The first-team line played a series into the third quarter before calling it a night.

Will this be the combination the Cowboys roll out for the Sept. 8 opener against the New York Giants? Possibly, if Ronald Leary is unable to return from surgery to his right knee. The Cowboys are confident Leary, who has never played in a game, can return in time, but they might choose to go with this grouping.

Defense continues to take it away: The offseason emphasis continued with two first-half takeaways from a defense that might bend but has yet to break.

For the third time in four preseason games, the Cowboys came up with a takeaway on their first drive of the game. Safety Barry Church poked the ball free from wide receiver Marvin Jones and cornerback Brandon Carr came up with the loose ball at the Dallas 4.

In the second quarter, rookie cornerback B.W. Webb came up with a pick of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on a seam throw to receiver Mohamed Sanu. Undrafted safety Jeff Heath forced a fumble in the third quarter.

The first-team defense did not allow a touchdown in three preseason appearances totaling roughly three quarters.

Digital board gets plunked: In the first football game at AT&T Stadium, on Aug. 21 2009, Tennessee’s A.J. Trapasso hit the center-hung digital board with a punt. It was not hit again by a punt until Saturday, when Cowboys punter Chris Jones hit it in the first quarter.

There have been 274 regular-season punts at AT&T Stadium since its opening that have not hit the board.

It might bear watching this year.

On Jones’ re-kick, Cincinnati’s Brandon Tate scored a 75-yard touchdown for the Bengals’ only first-half points.

Who didn’t play: Cornerback Morris Claiborne (knee) missed his fourth straight preseason game -- and third because of injury -- but the hope is that he can practice some next week and possibly play in Thursday’s finale against Houston. WR Cole Beasley (foot), RB Lance Dunbar (foot), S Matt Johnson (foot), S Eric Frampton (calf), LB Brandon Magee (concussion), LB Ernie Sims (groin), OL Ryan Cook (back), OG Ronald Leary (knee), OG Nate Livings (knee) and DE Anthony Spencer (knee) did not dress for the game.

What’s next?: The Cowboys will have to pare down their roster from 88 to 75 by Tuesday’s deadline, two days before they play their fifth and final preseason game of the summer. Former head coach Wade Phillips (2007-10) makes his return to AT&T Stadium on Thursday as Houston’s defensive coordinator. The final cut to 53 players is Aug. 31.
As you know by now, the Dallas Cowboys restructured quite a number of player contracts Thursday in a successful effort to get themselves under the salary cap. The reworking of deals for DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Brandon Carr, Jason Witten and Ryan Cook, combined with the news that this year's cap will rise to $123 million, has the Cowboys about $5 million under. So at the very least, if nothing else happens between now and March 12, they will not be in violation of the salary cap rules. This is good. The Cowboys know first-hand what can happen when you're in violation of made-up salary cap rules. They have no interest in finding out what happens if you violate the real ones.

Questions remain, though, as well as work to be done. According to Todd Archer, the Cowboys sit about $5 million under the cap right now, but that doesn't count the likely $2.646 million (and possible $3.969 million) in tenders to their restricted free agents. Getting under the cap is one thing, but it's not the extent of Dallas' ambition. They'd like to get under it far enough so that they can move around in free agency, address needs and improve the 2013 roster. So here are two of the big questions to which people seem to want answers this morning:

1. How will this impact the Tony Romo contract negotiations?

Romo
The Cowboys still want to sign Romo to an extension beyond 2013, both because they like having him as their quarterback and because it's the best way to reduce his massive 2013 cap number and give them room to maneuver this offseason. The fact that they managed to get under the cap without reworking Romo's deal helps swing the leverage back in the team's favor ever so slightly, but Romo's side can still operate under the belief that the Cowboys need the deal done soon to put themselves in the best possible position to win this year. Of course, Romo himself also would like to see the team in the best possible position to win this year, so he has some incentive to get this done as well. I continue to believe Romo will get a long-term contract signed that will cover the remainder of his career. I don't think Thursday's news has much impact on the chances of that happening, one way or the other.

Spencer
Spencer
2. Will all of this allow them to retain Anthony Spencer? As Todd points out, clearing about $6 million more in cap room by Monday would allow them to designate Spencer as their franchise player if they wanted to do that. But as nice as Spencer would look at defensive end in their new 4-3 alignment, I don't think that's what the Cowboys want to do. They'd like to have Spencer back, and would be happy to talk about a long-term deal with a 2013 base salary lower than the $10.6 million it would cost them to franchise him for the second year in a row, but franchising him would leave them too cap-strapped to address offensive line and other needs. And frankly, the size of the deal Spencer is looking to get after a career year playing on the franchise tag is likely more than the Cowboys want to spend to keep him. So while it remains possible, and Thursday's restructures likely made it moreso, I'd still expect Spencer to move on, and the Cowboys to go to whatever Plan B is for their four-man defensive line without him.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Dallas Cowboys ended their two-game losing streak, hanging on Sunday afternoon for an ugly 19-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

As Carolina tried to salvage the game with a last-second drive, quarterback Cam Newton fired a fourth-down pass to Louis Murphy. Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne hit Murphy before the ball arrived, but the referees didn't penalize him for pass interference. The crowd of 70,000 voiced its displeasure, but the Cowboys left with a much-needed victory.

What it means: The Cowboys ended a two-game losing streak and saved their season by moving to 3-3. But the win comes at a cost. Inside linebacker Sean Lee and center Phil Costa left the game with injuries. Costa might miss significant time with a right leg injury, and Lee didn't return because of a right big toe injury.

Does Jason Garrett trust the team? It's a call Garrett will be questioned about after the game. Faced with a third-and-9 at the Carolina 15 in the fourth quarter, Garrett came out of a timeout and called for a running play to Phillip Tanner, resulting in a 5-yard gain. Garrett settled for a field goal, made good from 28 yards by Dan Bailey that gave Dallas a 16-14 lead. It was interesting that Garrett didn't try to push the ball toward the end zone. On the second-down play, quarterback Tony Romo fired a pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant that was dropped in the end zone. Bryant complained to referees about holding, and there was some, but it was his fifth dropped pass of the season.

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Claiborne makes a pick: The Cowboys' secondary got its first interception of the season when Claiborne intercepted a Newton pass in the end zone. The interception was Claiborne's first of his career. The Cowboys have two interceptions this season, with Lee having the other. It was the first pick by a secondary player in the last 333 passing attempts. Orlando Scandrick was the last cornerback to pick off a pass, occurring last year at Washington.

The loss of Costa: As the Panthers were returning a Miles Austin fumble, Costa suffered a nasty right ankle injury. Costa was on the ground for several moments and needed a cart to be taken off the field. Several players, including Jay Ratliff, Felix Jones and Orlando Scandrick offered support. Garrett came out and slapped Costa in the chest and shook his hand. Costa's season has been up and down due to injury. He lasted just three plays before reinjuring his back in the season opener, but he returned after missing three games. With this latest injury, it seems Costa will be out for a significant period of time. Ryan Cook took over for Costa. If Costa is out for the season, the Cowboys might sign another center/guard.

Injuries: The Cowboys lost Costa, and Lee left the game with a right big toe injury. Bryant also missed a few snaps after getting shaken up.

What's next? The Cowboys will host the New York Giants next week. The Giants are 3-0 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Dallas Cowboys' O-line is an alarm bell

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
10:00
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RomoTom Pennington/Getty ImagesDespite being under consistent pressure Sunday, Tony Romo threw for 283 yards against the Bucs.
There are no style points in the NFL, and the prevailing important fact to come out of the Dallas Cowboys' 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday is that the Cowboys are 2-1. When you don't play your best but you still win, that buys you leeway. You get time, without standings-based pressure, to fix your problems.

The Cowboys have the added bonus of not having to wonder what their biggest problem is. Their offensive line is, right now, a potentially season-crippling disaster. And with the Chicago Bears coming to town next Monday night, they'd do well to find whatever short-term fixes they can this week in practice.

When the Cowboys had the ball Sunday, they had no time to do anything. Quarterback Tony Romo spent the day looking and unloading. He has no time right now to go through progressions and find the most potentially productive play downfield. He has to spot someone -- anyone -- who's open and get him the ball, lest he be crushed. And half the time, he's getting crushed anyway, even when he's getting rid of the ball in time.

One of the ways to combat the protection problem is to run the ball. And in DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys are fortunate to have a running back who doesn't mind working in tight spaces and difficult circumstances. Like Romo, Murray is the type of player who can succeed in spite of a poor offensive line. He seems to like contact, and to run well after he finds it.

The problem is not that Romo and Murray can't succeed behind a poor line. The problem is that asking them to do so for 16 games is unreasonable. At some point, they will get frustrated, worn down, or in the worst-case scenario, injured. Poor offensive line play infects everyone and everything on the rest of the roster. You may be able to succeed in spite of it for a couple of weeks here and there. But over the course of a full season, it eats away at your offense from the inside, and eventually you can crumble without a strong, reliable core.

What's amazing about the Cowboys' line is how extensive the failures are. The worst player they have right now is Doug Free, who struggled so badly at left tackle last year after getting his contract extension that they moved him over to right tackle in the hope that it would relieve some pressure and help him play better. It has not. Free looks lost and overmatched on almost every play -- like a lineman who's guessing and always guessing wrong. You can beat him with outside moves and inside moves. You can outrun, out-fake or out-muscle him. And when you load up on his side and he has to try to block two players, it looks like a dam burst on that side of the line. The play never even gets to happen. Free was flagged for three false-start penalties and one holding penalty in this game alone. He looks like a guy who feels he has no other choice, since he can't win playing straight up.

But while Free is playing the worst, he's not the only culprit. Tyron Smith, the second-year tackle who was so consistently brilliant on the right side last year, is having a hard time with his transition to the left. Specifically, he seems to be struggling to keep up with defenders who try to get around him on the outside. Could still be a footwork or reaction issue as he transitions to that side, and it's likely he'll get it fixed. But right now it's a problem. And the guards and centers remain a real problem in terms of strength. Backup center Ryan Cook may be playing better than Phil Costa was, but that's a low bar. And the free-agent guards may be better than the guys they replaced, too, but they're still not holding their own.

What amazes me is that the Cowboys aren't asking their linemen to do very much. There's no complex zone-blocking scheme being installed here. The linemen -- especially the interior ones -- are simply being asked to hold their ground and block straight ahead. They can't do it against base defenses, and when a defensive coordinator throws a blitz or even a stunt at them, they are completely overwhelmed. New offensive line coach Bill Callahan was brought in to fix this, and it's reasonable to assume that the problems he inherited were severe enough that they couldn't be fixed by Week 3. But they're so far behind just a baseline level of acceptability right now that you wonder what Callahan will ultimately be able to accomplish. At this point, it'd be a victory if he could just get them to handle those stationary, straight-ahead responsibilities.

There's so much to like about what the Cowboys are doing right now. Romo is playing well, and showing toughness even as his choices are limited on just about every play. He has three wide receivers making tough catches when they need to make them, even while tight end Jason Witten struggles mightily. Murray is running hard. And on defense, it's bright spot after bright spot, from Brandon Carr starring in two different roles to Morris Claiborne playing better than a rookie cornerback should play to Sean Lee tearing everything up at the inside linebacker spot. There's a lot going on in Dallas that should encourage the Cowboys and their fans, not only about this season but about the seasons to come.

But over the course of 16 games, consistent failures on the offensive line can't help but exhaust the aspects of the team that are playing well in spite of it. At some point, Romo's going to play a bad game, Murray's going to wear down because he keeps running into flesh instead of holes. At some point, the defense isn't going to be able to cover every opposing receiver on every play. The season has highs and lows, for every player and every position group. But the Dallas offensive line right now is so low that it's hard to imagine a real, productive high anytime soon. If it can't get significantly better than it is right now, the unit could bring down a potentially fun season.

The Cowboys know what needs to be fixed, and they know how desperately it must be. The question is whether they can fix the offensive line before the weight of its repeated failures crushes the rest of the team.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn't matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.

Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush but two key fourth quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4 late in the fourth quarter, sealed the game.

Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they're expected to compete at an elite level.

What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but can't believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams by playing like this.

Witten's bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He's got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys' tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn't scored since Nov. 20 at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn't cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he's healthy.

Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury, to his ribs, but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn't have any more issues. With Church out, Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn't play because of a calf injury.

False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. Free also was penalized for a false start. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with quarterback Tony Romo or a lack of concentration.

Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.

What's next?: The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), safeties Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) and Barry Church (right leg).

Dallas Cowboys cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Click here for the complete list of Dallas Cowboys roster moves.

Most significant move: When the Cowboys drafted wide receiver Danny Coale in the fifth round, some thought he might get himself into the No. 3 wide receiver mix. The fact that he could not says a lot about the wide receivers the Cowboys already had and that they kept at the cut deadline. Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley all performed admirably in training camp and in preseason games while competing for reps and jobs, and because of that, not only was Coale expendable, but the Cowboys feel a lot better about their wide receiver depth going into the season than they might have felt a few months ago.

Onward and upward: Adrian Hamilton, the undrafted pass-rusher who had the big numbers last year at Prairie View A&M, looked like a potentially helpful guy, and his ability to get to the quarterback is likely to make him interesting to some other team. The main reason he didn't make the Cowboys' roster was probably his inability to help on special teams. But he looked like a playmaker when on the field, and I wouldn't be surprised if he drew some interest. ... It's a surprise to some that third quarterback Stephen McGee was kept, but he could be the first one to go if the Cowboys add an offensive lineman off someone else's cut list.

What's next: Other than potentially adding to their offensive line depth or looking for upgrades there, there's not much for the Cowboys to do at this point. And the acquisition of Ryan Cook from Miami in exchange for a seventh-round pick early Friday addressed the offensive line depth by adding a versatile backup who can play center, which David Arkin can't yet do. I think they might take a look at a veteran center such as Dan Koppen, who was cut by the Patriots and probably would be an upgrade over starter Phil Costa. But they like Costa and believe he can improve, and they don't appear to be ready to give up on him at this point. Which is fine. I think the Cowboys are focused more on the long term anyway.

Minnesota Vikings cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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Check here for a complete list of the Minnesota Vikings' roster moves.

Surprise move: Either the Vikings have confidence in a number of unproven offensive linemen or they have their sights on some veteran acquisitions later this weekend. They released guard/tackles Chris DeGeare and Ryan Cook, both of whom saw substantial action at right guard during the injury rehabilitation of starter Anthony Herrera. This version of their 53-man roster features three centers and a total of 10 offensive linemen. The group includes two rookies (DeMarcus Love and Brandon Fusco) and one first-year player in Patrick Brown. The Vikings' arrangement here remains under construction, as far as I’m concerned.

No-brainers: Undrafted tight end Allen Reisner was one of the big surprises of camp. He not only pushed veteran Jeff Dugan off the roster but also forced the Vikings to keep four tight ends on their roster. I wondered whether the Vikings would release safety Tyrell Johnson, who has struggled to maintain his starting job in the face of a modest challenge from Jamarca Sanford. In the end, the Vikings didn’t have enough in-house experience to make that move. But watch out down the road for rookie Mistral Raymond, who forced his way onto the initial 53-man roster and is clearly respected by coaches.

What’s next: You would think the Vikings would be on the lookout for two areas in particular: Linebackers and running backs. The decision to release veteran Heath Farwell left them with five linebackers, only two of whom have starting experience. The current backups are special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu and undrafted rookie Larry Dean. With new starter Erin Henderson still establishing himself, you wonder if that is enough depth. Meanwhile, the Vikings kept only three tailbacks (and no fullbacks). Both of Adrian Peterson's backups, Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker, were dealing with injuries as recently as last week. Depth is definitely an issue and could be addressed in the next 24-48 hours.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft Philosophy.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo has emerged from what amounted to a two-year draft hiatus following the high-profile trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams. It will be interesting to see if any philosophical shifts are detectable in what will be the Bears' first draft since Angelo overhauled his front office. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel departed, his position was dissolved and Tim Ruskell was hired to oversee the college and pro scouting departments. To this point, there has been a general sense that Angelo -- a onetime scouting director himself -- has been drawn to individual players he likes more than he has been guided by a larger plan to build a balanced team. Case in point: He has drafted 18 defensive backs and 11 offensive linemen over his tenure. Six of those 11 offensive linemen were taken in the seventh round, part of the reason the Bears are short-handed at the position this offseason.

Detroit Lions

If the Lions have proved anything under general manager Martin Mayhew, it's that they value every last drop of the draft. In some instances, Mayhew has gone to great lengths to secure an extra pick, no matter what round it is in. On at least two occasions, he has traded a player recently signed as a street free agent or claimed on waivers for a seventh-round draft pick. In several cases, Mayhew has included those picks in trades for other players. This spring, he and the Lions appealed a relatively mild NFL tampering discipline, hired a prominent attorney and achieved the slightest reduction in the penalty: A seventh-round pick lost in 2012 rather than 2011. Some teams consider seventh-round picks to be throwaways or places to grab a player otherwise destined for college free agency to avoid a bidding war on signing bonuses. Under Mayhew, the Lions use them as a daily commodity.

Green Bay Packers

Generally speaking, more is better for the Packers. It's been well-chronicled that Packers general manager Ted Thompson built his championship team almost exclusively through the draft, and that approach requires volume to gather enough depth and maximize the chances for hitting big on players. Thompson famously traded back into the 2009 first round to select linebacker Clay Matthews, but a betting man realizes it's far more likely that he will trade back in any given year to accumulate more picks. Thompson rarely pursues the hot name or flashy personalities or even flashy players. Case in point: Choosing nose tackle B.J. Raji over receiver Michael Crabtree in 2009. But there is no arguing with the Packers' approach under Thompson, which has built layers of quality -- if not elite -- depth at multiple positions across the board.

Minnesota Vikings

Every team insists that talent trumps need in the draft, but under vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, the Vikings have drafted for need more often than you might think. Consider 2010. The Vikings entered the draft knowing their depth was thin behind injured cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They also had lost backup tailback Chester Taylor via free agency. Their first two picks? Cornerback Chris Cook and running back Toby Gerhart. In 2009, they wanted to replace right tackle Ryan Cook. The answer was Phil Loadholt, their second-round pick. In 2008, the Vikings traded up to draft safety Tyrell Johnson because they knew starter Darren Sharper was entering his final season. There's a difference between taking what the draft gives you and maneuvering to make sure it gives you what you want. The Vikings lean toward the latter under Spielman.
Two significant streaks could be in jeopardy this week for the Minnesota Vikings.

As we've discussed, tailback Adrian Peterson is dealing with a sprained right ankle. He did not practice Wednesday and has his work cut out for him to extend his streak of playing in 51 consecutive games. Interim coach Leslie Frazier told reporters that "we've all got our fingers crossed" that Peterson will play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Meanwhile, left guard Steve Hutchinson revealed that he fractured his right thumb during Sunday's 17-13 victory over the Washington Redskins. Hutchinson, who has started 123 consecutive games dating back to 2003, continued playing but endured significant swelling afterward. Like Peterson, he sat out practice Wednesday.

Rookie Chris DeGeare would start in Hutchinson's place if necessary, leaving the Vikings with backups starting at both guard positions. (Ryan Cook has already replaced right guard Anthony Herrera, who was lost for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.)

Hutchinson, however, said he would be fitted with a new cast on Wednesday and hoped to find a way to play with it Sunday.

"That's the plan," he told reporters. "Now the issue becomes casting it up enough to protect it. We can cast it up, pad it up enough where it doesn't hinder me from doing my job."

Sunday morning roster highlights

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
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ATLANTA -- Here are some highlights of the inactive lists in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.:

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

November, 23, 2010
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WilfAP Photo/Andy KingOwner Zygi Wilf missed an opportunity Monday to lay out a vision of the Vikings' future.
After the Minnesota Vikings' 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, and the subsequent firing of coach Brad Childress, here are three issues that merit further examination:

1. I'll be fascinated to see the extent to which the Vikings' offense changes with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell presumably in complete control. Bevell has been associated with Childress since his days as a college quarterback at Wisconsin, but I've always suspected he subordinated some of his own ideas to mesh with Childress' rigid version of the West Coast offense.

The scheme opened up a bit in 2007, when Bevell took over the play calling. But anyone who watched the sidelines carefully knew that Childress was still heavily involved in play selection.

Obviously, the next six games will be an opportunity for interim coach Leslie Frazier to prove he is a viable head-coaching candidate. But on a different level, Bevell now has an opportunity to separate himself from the pocks of Childress' scheme and establish his own voice as an NFL coordinator for the first time. Frazier figures to have some input, but his career-long devotion to defense suggests he'll give Bevell more latitude than ever.

I'm curious to see how, and if, Bevell uses it.

2. Frazier and new defensive coordinator Fred Pagac have their hands full with a secondary that played a significant role in Childress' firing. For reasons I can't explain, the Packers are really the only opponent this season to take full advantage of mismatches against cornerbacks Asher Allen and Chris Cook. The Packers completed four passes of more than 20 yards on sideline routes, leading to the sideline bickering that indicated Childress had lost control of the team. (The Dallas Cowboys, among other teams, should have done the same.)

There isn't much from a personnel standpoint the Vikings can do at this point. But schematically or otherwise, the Vikings need to do more to protect both players. "People are going to try to attack our young corners going forward and we know that," Frazier said. "We'll have to adjust some things based on that."

3. Lost in the coaching change is this nugget of news: Right guard Anthony Herrera will miss the rest of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Backup Ryan Cook struggled in Herrera's spot on Sunday, and you wonder if the team will turn to rookie Chris DeGeare this week against the Washington Redskins. Herrera is a hard-nosed bull who doesn't get much attention until he is replaced by an inferior player.

And here is one issue I don't get:

In a number of off-the-cuff conversations with owner Zygi Wilf over the years, I've found him to be articulate, passionate and smart. So I have no idea why he freezes up during press conferences. But after five years of owning the team, I think it's fair to expect a better articulation of his vision for the franchise -- and for him to provide at least a partial explanation for his actions and inactions.

Wilf's performance during Monday's announcement of Frazier's ascendance should be disappointing to anyone who wanted insight into the move or hoped to hear some accountability taken for the chaos of the past few months. Wilf spoke exclusively from prepared remarks, shuffling papers to find prewritten answers to anticipated questions. I think he literally skipped a line when addressing Childress' departure, because this is exactly what he said at one point: "It's often difficult to articulate one reason why change is needed. But obviously want to know is important to great a strong positive and successful rest of the season. We wish he and his family only the best."

Look, not everyone is a dynamic public speaker. We should remember that Wilf originally joined this ownership group intending to be a silent minority partner. He assumed the managing partner role only when lead investor Reggie Fowler encountered financial difficulty. And to be clear, I want no part of the snickering that went on during Monday's news conference. There will be no cheap shots here.

What I'll say is this: If I'm a Vikings employee, fan or sponsor on such a dramatic day, I want to hear more from the chief executive than a few minutes of clichés and garble. I want to hear something that tells me there is a plan for the near and long-term future, and for it to be articulated in a way that gives me confidence it can be executed.

I think Wilf and his partners have been the best owners this franchise has ever had. But I can't understand why he hasn't worked to get better at publicly representing it. Communicating a message is a learned skill, and this is a man with vast resources. If he wanted to, Wilf could hire presidential speechwriters and take private lessons from Tony Robbins.

I'm guessing Wilf doesn't consider it important enough to devote the time it would take to improve. If that's the case, he's mistaken. Whether he wants to or not, he ultimately sets the public perception of this franchise. If the owner doesn't communicate in public effectively, how can he expect a message to be heard?

Vikings take lead, lose two starters

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
1:37
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings have taken a 3-0 lead over the Green Bay Packers here at the Metrodome, but it has come at a price.

With the first quarter in the books, the Vikings have already lost right guard Anthony Herrera to a knee injury and linebacker Chad Greenway with what appears to have been a poke in the eye. Herrera has been replaced by Ryan Cook, and his return is doubtful.

Greenway, the Vikings' leading tackler, is standing on the sideline without a helmet. He's holding an ice pack on his right eye. We'll see if he returns. Heath Farwell has been playing in his spot, while Ben Leber is taking his spot in the nickel.

Meanwhile, Packers safety Anthony Smith has been carted into the locker room with an ankle injury.

UPDATE: Greenway has returned to the game after sitting out for part of the first quarter.

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