NFL Nation: Stephen McGee

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has already said he will not use an early draft pick on a quarterback to possibly begin the process of finding Tony Romo's successor.

Could Johnny Manziel sway Jones' mind?

Manziel will be the story of this year's draft. He drives attention with his style of play, with his brashness, with how he has handled the fame since winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M. Wherever he goes in May, Manziel will be a draw.

I've already mentioned Jones can't so easily dismiss the possibility of taking a quarterback. History suggests otherwise.

Since taking Troy Aikman with the No. 1 pick in 1989, Jones has selected just three -- Bill Musgrave (1991), Quincy Carter (2001) and Stephen McGee (2009) -- in the regular draft and used a first-round pick in the supplemental draft on Steve Walsh in 1989.

Before the change in the collective bargaining agreement, he did not want to make the huge financial investment in an unproven commodity early in the draft. Now that the rookie prices have come way down, Jones remains reluctant.

But we all know Jerry Jones loves a draw.

He didn't need to draft Dez Bryant in 2010 with the first round. He committed megabucks to Roy Williams in 2009. He had Miles Austin coming off a Pro Bowl season and would soon pay him megabucks. But Bryant kept slipping and the Cowboys moved up slightly to take Bryant with the 24th pick in the first round. Somehow he could not envision passing on Randy Moss and Bryant.

This year the Cowboys will pick either No. 16 or 17 in the draft, depending on a coin flip with the Baltimore Ravens.

Manziel figures to be gone by then, but what if teams are scared off by Manziel and he slips in the same way Bryant slipped? Does Jones make the move? Does he bring in the star of the draft?

There will be tons of work done on Manziel between now and the draft. The Cowboys will do their due diligence and know the player inside and out.

The general manager will have all of the reports and know if it would be a smart football move or not.

Would the owner be able to stay out of the way?

It sure it would set up an interesting dynamic on draft day.
IRVING, Texas -- A replacement plan for Tony Romo won’t be near the top of Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ priority list this offseason.

The Cowboys are committed to Romo as the franchise quarterback of the foreseeable future after signing him to a six-year, $108 million extension with $55 million in guaranteed money last offseason. Jones said he is not concerned about the 33-year-old Romo having chronic back issues despite two surgeries in the last eight months that the Cowboys consider unrelated.

Jones said the Cowboys want to add a developmental quarterback prospect this offseason, but they will not use a high draft pick on the position.

“You’d like to every spring pick up a quarterback,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “I think the real issue and maybe your question would be, would you seriously consider using a significant draft pick for a quarterback? That’s early. That’s way too early to do that with the way things are today with my expectation of Tony’s career, which I think will be for several years to come.

“It’s too early to be drafting a highly ranked or, if you will, costly quarterback.”

The Cowboys have drafted only one quarterback during the 11-year career of Romo, who was undrafted. They selected Stephen McGee out of Texas A&M in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.

The Cowboys have not used an early pick on a quarterback since selecting Quincy Carter with the 53rd overall pick in 2001.

Cowboys look to add a quarterback

December, 23, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Without Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys need another quarterback.

While the Cowboys are not ready to rule Romo out for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Jason Garrett acknowledged the team has to find a third quarterback not only in case Romo is unable to play but to get through practice.

Finding one ready to play could be problematic.

“Well, you just look at who's available and you go out and sign them,” Garrett said. “It's a position that I'm sure a lot of people would like to have. You can't sign people off of other team's rosters, but there are quarterbacks out there. Hopefully we can find one that can help us. I think that's one of the best things we've done as a team is we've handled injuries and we've gotten guys who can come in and play at a moment's notice.”

David Carr and John Skelton are scheduled to visit with the Cowboys on Tuesday. Carr was cut by the New York Giants on Aug. 31 and has thrown three passes since 2010. Skelton went 8-9 with the Arizona Cardinals from 2010-12. He was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals in training camp and spent time with the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans. He was released by the Titans on Dec. 17.

Finding a quarterback is different than finding a defensive lineman. The Cowboys have dressed 19 different defensive linemen this season. They have had only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster all season and lost Alex Tanney off the practice squad to the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 26.
Preferably the Cowboys would like a quarterback either familiar with Garrett's offense or one who has run a variation of it elsewhere.

In 2010 the Cowboys signed Chris Greisen the final week of the season when Jon Kitna suffered an oblique strain. Unable to start, Kitna served as the backup to Stephen McGee in the 14-13 win against the Eagles and Greisen was inactive.

The Cowboys could sign a player from another team's practice squad. Nick Stephens went to training camp with the Cowboys and was cut on Aug. 27. He has been on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. Stephens completed 11 of 19 passes for 102 yards and an interception in the preseason before he was cut.

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.


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the preseason with a 30-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday night. Unlike last season, when wide receiver Raymond Radway was injured in the closing seconds of the preseason at Miami, there were no such major health issues coming from this game. This was the last chance for several players to make an impact on the coaches and scouts, and join the 53-man roster.

What it means: The Cowboys finish the preseason 3-1 and have to make some hard decisions regarding the No. 3 quarterback spot, whether to keep a fourth running back or which running back to keep, whether Orie Lemon and Mario Butler make the team, and whether Danny Coale and Matt Johnson should earn paychecks in September.

McGee vs. Carpenter: There is this battle for the No. 3 quarterback position. Stephen McGee played the first half, led one touchdown drive and converted 13 first downs. He completed nine of 18 passes for 124 yards. The Cowboys led 20-6 at the break. Rudy Carpenter also led the Cowboys on a touchdown drive -- capped by a 58-yard run by Lance Dunbar -- and finished 4-of-10 for 48 yards. In addition, Carpenter had a 21-yard scramble. But it would appear neither quarterback did enough to secure a spot on the roster.

Only one starter plays: Between both units, only center Phil Costa played. Costa missed the first three preseason games with a strained lower back, and the Cowboys wanted to give him some snaps before putting him in a regular-season game. Costa didn't have any bad snaps, and it's unknown whether he had any blown assignments. David Arkin replaced Costa.

The running game is strong: There are no questions regarding the status of DeMarco Murray as the starter. Felix Jones has been guaranteed a roster spot by owner/general manager Jerry Jones. We thought the No. 3 running back gig was going to Phillip Tanner, but Dunbar came on strong Wednesday night. Dunbar ran with a burst, scoring on a 58-yard run. Let's not forget about Tanner, who burst up the middle for a 1-yard score. Dunbar rushed 15 times for 105 yards, and Tanner rushed for 48 yards on nine carries.

Lemon made his case: If linebacker Lemon was a bubble player, he should make the roster. He returned an interception 26 yards to give the Cowboys a 10-6 lead in the second quarter. Lemon was active on defense and, given what he does on special teams, should make the 53-man roster. Adrian Hamilton also was fighting for a roster spot, but he hasn't shown his pass-rush abilities on a consistent basis with the Cowboys.

Cowboys lose three players: Guard Derrick Dockery left the game for personal reasons, and fellow guard Daniel Loper suffered a hamstring injury. Cornerback Lionel Smith departed the game with a concussion. None of the three returned.

Who played well: Tyrone Crawford, Orie Lemon, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar and Dan Bailey.

Who didn't: Teddy Williams, David Arkin, Stephen McGee.

Bailey is perfect: Kicker Dan Bailey finished the preseason 8-for-8 on field goal attempts. Bailey made kicks of 25, 30 and 26 yards Wednesday night. The Cowboys didn't have any concerns about him heading into the preseason, but unlike last season when the team had a kicking competition, nothing was going on here. It was all Bailey. The longest kick of the preseason by Bailey was 49 yards.

Ryan Tannehill makes the start: The eighth pick of the NFL draft, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made the start for the Dolphins. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 35 yards. The former Aggie played with a presence and threw some strong passes, but he still has a ways to go to help the Dolphins.

What's next? The Cowboys must cut their roster to 53 players by Friday night and then finalize their practice squad roster with as many as eight players. The team will practice over the weekend at Valley Ranch and prepare for the regular season opener at the New York Giants.
The Dallas Cowboys play their final preseason game Wednesday night at 8:30 ET against the Miami Dolphins. While the starters are likely to sit out in advance of next Wednesday's regular-season opener, here's what I'll be watching ...

Most closely: Phil Costa. The Cowboys' starting center is expected to play, since he's been out with an injury and needs the snaps. As I have accurately criticized the Cowboys' offensive line for a string of utterly pitiful performances this preseason, apologists have been pointing out that Costa has not been on the field, as though that would make everything better. For me, this point of view ignores the fact that Costa was the Cowboys' worst offensive player in 2011 and is unlikely to solve the problems. But I'll take a look, just in case he's turned into Dermontti Dawson somewhere along the way and you guys are all right and I'm wrong.

On the other side of the ball: Nose tackle. With Jay Ratliff looking like he'll miss the opener with a sprained ankle, eyes are on Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore as his replacements. My guess is Brent in the base defense and Lissemore on passing downs, while the latter also sees time at defensive end. But I'm interested to see how Rob Ryan mixes and matches to try to make up for the absence of Ratliff. More interested next Wednesday night, sure, but a little bit interested tonight, too.

If I think of it: I guess it'll be interesting to see if Stephen McGee shows something in an effort to make the team as the third quarterback over no one. (No one is currently the leader in this race.) ... Backup running backs Phillip Tanner and Jamize Olawale should get some carries, and either could impress enough to warrant watching as the running back depth chart shakes out. ... It'd be a good time for Danny Coale to do something.
Some teams ignore backup quarterback, often to their detriment. (See: 2011 Colts, Bears, et al) Other teams really, really really don't. The Dallas Cowboys fall into the latter group. They do not feel comfortable if they don't have a veteran backup who can step in and start an NFL game if Tony Romo goes down with an injury. That's why they put in a claim for Kyle Orton when he was waived by Denver during the 2011 season and that's why they have agreed to terms with Orton on a new three-year contract.

When Romo got hurt two years ago, the Cowboys were able to plug in Jon Kitna, a former NFL starter who retired this offseason, and operate their offense basically just as well as it operated under Romo. Kitna wasn't as good as Romo is, and neither is Orton, but given the number of weapons the Cowboys have on offense, they want their worst-case scenario to be a quarterback who won't get rattled by NFL pressure and can get the ball to the right people. Orton, who began each of the past two seasons as the Broncos' starting quarterback and lost his job in 2011 to the Tim Tebow phenomenon, fits the description. If he has to start a lot of games for the Cowboys, they're probably in trouble. But if he has to start one or two -- or finish a game in which Romo gets injured -- they won't have to worry whether he can handle the responsibility.

The other quarterback on the Cowboys' roster is Stephen McGee, who was their fourth-round draft pick three years ago and hasn't seen enough action to be counted on in the event that they need a starter.

Orton was also on the radar for the Washington Redskins, who are in the market for a backup to the rookie quarterback they plan to draft with the No. 2 overall pick in next month's draft. But the Cowboys got him instead. Now, they need to sign a defensive back. More on that later, I believe, as we continue to track what's going on with Brandon Carr.

Do Cowboys need to draft a QB?

January, 17, 2012
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Calvin Watkins is a guy I used to know back when I used to write about the Dallas Cowboys on this blog. Good guy. Knows his stuff. ESPNDallas.com is lucky to have him. And since you guys all seem to be harping on this whole "Hey, there are still three other teams in this division, you know" thing, I decided to wander over there to see what Calvin had to say about the Cowboys today. I found the second part of their "Fixing the Cowboys" series, in which Calvin ponders several things, including the idea that the Cowboys should think toward the future and maybe pick a quarterback somewhere up high in April's draft:
This is nothing against Tony Romo, but he has two-years left on his contract and Stephen McGee is the backup and doesn't appear ready to become a No. 1 quarterback in this league. The Cowboys' window to win a title with Romo is growing short, so drafting a quarterback in the second round not only raises the competition level at the position, it also sends a message to the rest of the team. Nobody is expendable.

The Cowboys won't have a shot at Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles and Brandon Weeden are projected as late first-round to middle second-round selections. The Cowboys do have plenty of holes on the roster, but they've done a poor job in taking care of their depth. Getting a young quarterback with potential adds to the roster.

An interesting idea, to be sure, and Calvin's logic is not unsound. My only rebuttal is that this was No. 4 on Calvin's list, behind the offensive line, the secondary and the Laurent Robinson situation as it pertains to their depth at wide receiver. The Cowboys have a great many concerns to address in this year's draft, and while it might make sense to draft a project quarterback you think can develop into something special and take over for Romo years down the line when he's done, I'm not sold on the wisdom of the Cowboys using a first-round or second-round pick on at quarterback at this particular time.

What does Cowboys' McBriar move mean?

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
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Bit of a last-minute roster surprise, as the Dallas Cowboys put their excellent punter, Mat McBriar, on injured reserve Saturday, the day before they will play the New York Giants in a game to decide the NFC East champion. McBriar has been dealing with left foot problems all season, but said this week he felt good enough to punt Sunday. Instead, Chris Jones will handle punting duties for Dallas on Sunday and, if they win, in the playoffs.

In another move, the Cowboys added quarterback Chris Greisen from the practice squad. That means they'll have three quarterbacks available Sunday night, and that's what raises the eyebrow a little bit.

Tony Romo, the Cowboys' starting quarterback, injured his right hand in last weekend's loss to the Eagles. Though he's practiced all week, and I'm 100 percent certain he'll start Sunday's game, you have to wonder if the move with Greisen means the Cowboys are at least a little bit concerned about Romo's ability to make it through the game all the way. Stephen McGee is the backup quarterback and played in Romo's place last weekend, but if Romo were unable to throw, they'd theoretically be left only with McGee, and would need someone to step in if he got hurt.

Of course, Greisen could also have been called up to serve as Dan Bailey's holder on field goals, since Romo did that the last time regular holder McBriar was unable to play. We will see, but the mystery surrounding Romo and his throwing hand appears as though it will linger at least a little bit into the most important game of the Cowboys' season.

Cowboys could regret not trying

December, 24, 2011
12/24/11
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I guess I'm the only one who still doesn't get it. All week, a whole bunch of people kept insisting that, if the New York Giants beat the New York Jets in the early game Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys' late game against the Philadelphia Eagles wouldn't matter. I don't know why it was so important to everyone that this be true. I only know that it wasn't. If the Cowboys had won, and if the Atlanta Falcons had lost their final two games, the Cowboys could still have been a wild-card team even if they'd lost to the Giants next week.

But added to the list of those who were determined to label this game as meaningless were apparently the Cowboys themselves, who lost starting quarterback Tony Romo in the first quarter and spent the rest of the day insisting that it didn't matter. The fact is, it did matter, and by not trying to win the game the Cowboys willingly closed off one potential avenue to the playoffs. They still have the best one -- if they beat the Giants next Sunday, they're division champs and will host a playoff game on Jan. 6 or 7. But I don't understand why everybody around the Cowboys was as nonchalant Saturday night as they were about a game that they mistakenly claimed had meant nothing.

That's their choice, I guess. But if the Falcons lose to the Saints on Monday and get upset by the Buccaneers (yeah, yeah, I know) next week, this is going to come up again. And the Cowboys, if they lose to the Giants, will have to answer for it.

As it stands, the matter is still in their hands. If they beat the Giants, they're in. And they certainly could do that. The game a couple of weeks ago was close until the end, with the Giants winning in a game in which neither defense could stop the opposing offense. The same thing could happen next Sunday. You don't know which Giants team is going to show up from one week to the next. They played defense on Saturday better than they'd played it in two months. I don't know where it came from or if it'll show up again next week. If it doesn't, the Cowboys have a fine chance to win the road game and get into the playoffs. But if it does, it's going to be tough.

The Cowboys' offensive line was completely overmatched by the Eagles' front Saturday. The Giants do a lot of things up front that are similar to what the Eagles do -- hold back on blitzes and work on getting pressure with the defensive line. They had success against the Jets and could have success against the Cowboys. Rookie right tackle Tyron Smith, who's played like a star all year, handled sack artist Jason Babin, but the rest of the Dallas line was manhandled.

Romo, assuming he plays, is better at improvising on the run when the play breaks down than is Stephen McGee. But the Cowboys now find themselves hoping that Romo, who was one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league coming into this game, is healthy for Sunday and, if he is, can turn it right back on after shutting it down for a week.

Yeah, the Cowboys have matters in their own hands. But if they decided they could shut down Romo and Felix Jones and anybody else today just because the Giants had won that game, I think they may have made a mistake they could end up regretting.

NFC East Stock Watch

December, 20, 2011
12/20/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Prince Amukamara, Giants cornerback. It may not be nice, or really even fair, to pick on the rookie. But opposing offenses are doing just that, and the New York Giants' first-round cornerback is struggling. Amukamara's problems are emblematic of the overall coverage issues with which the Giants have been struggling throughout the second half of the season. But while those problems were more easily explained when the Saints, Packers and Cowboys were throwing on them at will, the fact the Redskins' offense was able to operate so efficiently and with so much third-down success Sunday was extremely troubling for the Giants.

2. Reasons to criticize Tony Romo. The Cowboys are 5-2 in their past seven games, and during that stretch Romo has 18 touchdown passes and two interceptions -- both of which came in the Thanksgiving game against Miami. The Cowboys' issues in finishing off games against the Cardinals and Giants were on the defense, which continues to struggle on the back end and could cost them again this week against the Eagles. But there's no denying the efficient, responsible and extremely effective way Romo is leading an offense that hasn't missed a beat since its star running back went down with an ankle injury.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
AP Photo/Bill FeigTom Coughlin's seat is a warm one in the month of December as the Giant are 1-2.
3. Tom Coughlin's job security. I've said it before and I believe it: The Giants' head coach is not to blame for what's going on in New York. He was handed an insufficient roster that was ravaged by injuries, and the fact the Giants' 6-2 start was an act of overachievement. I think Giants management would be wise to take a long, serious look at the way its team's roster is constructed, the way certain positions are consistently and stubbornly overlooked and the extent to which needs have not been addressed over the past few offseasons, and Coughlin has nothing to do with that. But all of that said, fair or not, a third straight season without a playoff appearance is the kind of thing that puts coaches (especially New York ones) on the hot seat. And while the Giants' owners are not the type to do anything rash or reactionary, Coughlin has to be uneasy about the way his overall December record looks in the big picture.

RISING

1. Jason Babin, Eagles defensive end. When Babin found himself in Tennessee last year hooked up with defensive line coach Jim Washburn, his career was re-energized. Washburn stripped away everything except the thing Babin does best -- get after quarterbacks -- and told him to focus only on his strength. Babin was wise enough to move to Philadelphia this past offseason, and with six sacks in his past two games he's up to 18 on the season. Babin had 17.5 sacks in the first 66 games of his career. In his past 30, playing for Washburn, he has 30.5. He's currently tied for the league lead and has an outside chance at Michael Strahan's all-time single-season record of 22.5. And he's helping drive an Eagles defense that has turned it on in the past two weeks for the team's longshot playoff push.

2. Dallas Cowboys' playoff chances. Lots of people last week were telling me the game against the Buccaneers didn't mean anything, and with regard to tiebreakers it did not. But with the Redskins beating the Giants, the Cowboys' victory over Tampa Bay may turn out to have been important for keeping them out of any ties. If Dallas beats the Eagles this week and the Giants lose to the Jets, the Cowboys clinch the division and the Week 17 rematch against the Giants will be the Stephen McGee show as Romo and the Cowboys rest and get ready for a home playoff game the following week. Dallas took care of business against a team with a losing record and the Giants did not, and as a result Dallas is the team in the position of strength right now.

3. Rex Grossman, Redskins quarterback. Two early interceptions? Ten games in a row with at least one? Hey, Grossman is who he is. But there's no denying that the Redskins' offense is at its best when Grossman is playing quarterback. He has no tight ends, only two of his five starting offensive linemen, no real No. 1 receiver and a rookie running back. And yet, Washington has averaged 23.5 points over its past five games. That doesn't make them the Packers, but with their defense it makes them a team that's always in the game. The Redskins still need to find a franchise quarterback this offseason if they're to take the next step into a brighter future. But if they bring back Grossman, at the very least they'll know they have a veteran backup capable of putting points on the board if they need to use him.

Cowboys will pass on Donovan McNabb

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
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Because they claimed Kyle Orton on waivers last week and because Jon Kitna's injury has had them looking for a veteran backup quarterback, there was speculation Thursday that the Dallas Cowboys might claim Donovan McNabb following his release from the Vikings. But according to Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Friday that would not happen. Garrett also said the Cowboys would not claim recently waived Sage Rosenfels either, and were planning to roll with Stephen McGee as Tony Romo's backup the rest of the way:
"They've both been very good players in this league," Garrett said of McNabb and Rosenfels before Friday's practice at Valley Ranch. "Obviously we've competed against Donovan a lot when he was a quarterback for the Eagles and he's been a great player for a long, long time and the same thing with Sage, in a different role. He's been a veteran player who has played for 10-12 years now and really done a nice job with the role he has been in. But right now, we're going to just stand pat with where we are when we evaluate our quarterback situation."

The Cowboy are right to pass on McNabb, who has shown nothing over the past two seasons to indicate he's happy in a backup role or that he could even help if pressed into duty as a starter. I believe there's a chance he makes it all the way through waivers this afternoon, and I think it's possible that we might already have seen the end of his career.

Observation deck: Cowboys-Dolphins

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
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With the Dallas Cowboys' and New York Giants' games still to go, I picked the Cowboys to watch first because I wanted to see rookie running back DeMarco Murray. So it was nice of the kid to catch a 48-yard screen pass up the left side on the team's first play from scrimmage. We've seen the Cowboys use the screen game a lot this preseason, with Tony Romo throwing to starting running back Felix Jones, and it appears as though the Cowboys would like to use the weapons they have on offense to spread out the defense when possible and trade on their speed.

Murray looks like a guy who can help with that. He looked excellent when they got him on the outside, in space, around the edge, able to pick up big chunks of yardage in those spots. That speaks to his athletic ability, which surely showed up on pre-draft tape, and wasn't really a surprise. What the Cowboys and their fans wanted to see from Murray on Thursday night was how Murray looked running between the tackles. With a little more than a minute to go in the first quarter, after picking up 9 yards on first down on a run to the outside, Murray drove hard through the middle to pick up the first down on second-and-1.

A few plays later, on a first-and-15, he showed good patience and made a critical cut at the line to pick up 3 yards when it looked as if he wouldn't get any. So he showed speed, power and judgment. Maybe a little more of a straight-line guy than you'd like him to be, but he clearly brings a lot to the table and should be a more than adequate replacement for Marion Barber as a changeup guy who can give Jones a breather here and there. I was impressed, and if the Cowboys decide to commit to the run game this year, it looks as though they'll have good options.

Some other stuff I saw in the Cowboys' final preseason game, a meaningless 17-3 loss to the Dolphins in Miami:

1. Speaking of running backs ... Phillip Tanner! This guy has been one of my favorite breakout preseason studs, and it was nice to hear Jerry Jones say on the broadcast that Tanner had made the team. I don't know what it means for Tashard Choice, and it sounds as though the Cowboys have yet to sort all of that out, but Tanner has played well enough to earn his spot. I just really like the way he runs -- strong, determined, feet constantly moving. He already has down some technique aspects of the running back position that coaches have to work to teach more talented guys. Interesting deep bench option for them, and he's good enough to make Choice wonder where he stands in terms of playing time, if not roster spot.

2. Rookie offensive linemen. Right tackle Tyron Smith didn't have his best game, getting beaten around the edge early in the game and picking up a false-start penalty later in the first half. But there are times -- more often than not, actually -- when he looks like an unstoppable mauler on that right side. I believe he'll be fine. Left guard Bill Nagy had a couple of tough moments as well (I believe the sack of Stephen McGee with 5:00 left in the half was on Nagy), but it says a lot to me that he seemed to be the one on the left side making the line calls with the starters (specifically Kyle Kosier) not in the game. The Cowboys consider Nagy a relatively seasoned rookie who knows a lot about how to play the position -- and a lot about the responsibilities of the other linemen as well. It wasn't surprising to see him with extra responsibility in a game full of backups, but I wonder if it affected his own play. Still looks like he could stand to get stronger. And finally, rookie center Kevin Kowalski, who I guess is now Phil Costa's backup at center, lost his helmet on a play early in the second quarter and kept mixing it up. Which isn't super-smart, but if you're looking for tough, crazy offensive linemen it's the kind of thing you like to see.

3. Montrae Holland surprised. He's been reduced to a backup role, but it's going to be an important one given the relative uncertainty with the starters on the offensive line. Holland came to camp overweight and had some injury issues that kept him out of action, so the Cowboys didn't know how much he'd be able to play Thursday night. But he played the whole first half and looked good, and that helps Dallas feel better about the depth it has on the line.

4. Defense? I don't know. Again, backups all over the field. Bryan McCann got beat by Brian Hartline when he tried to jump a route. Guys like Alan Ball and Barry Church missed tackles on Larry Johnson on Johnson's 22-yard touchdown run. Church made a couple of nice plays otherwise. I was a little more locked in on the offense in this one. Not sure there's much about the defense that bears serious analysis.

5. Receivers. Kevin Ogletree made a nifty after-catch move to pick up a first down near the goal line on a third-down play in the first quarter. Dwayne Harris showed some shiftiness on punt returns. And Michael Irvin, who was once a receiver, was pretty impressive in the broadcast booth! I thought he did a nice job of focusing on serious analysis even when the guys in the booth with him (including Jerry Jones) seemed more interested in trying to talk about Irvin and his career. Felt like he was trying to educate, which good color analysts who played the game at a high level should be doing.

Anyway, next game counts. See ya.

Observation deck: Cowboys-Broncos

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
12:40
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I'm not sure if there are fans out there who care whether or not their teams actually win preseason games. But if you're a Dallas Cowboys fan and you do, then the ending of Thursday night's preseason opener was fun. Stephen McGee's touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris in the final minute, and the two-point conversion play that followed to give the Cowboys a 24-23 exhibition victory over the Denver Broncos, provided decent (if meaningless) theater for fans happy to have football back after so long.

Of course, if you're enough of a fan to care about the final score, you almost certainly care even more about the stuff that was going on hours earlier, when the first-teamers were in the game. Here's what I saw from the Cowboys in their first preseason game:

1. The defense is a work in progress, and appears to know it. They've had just two weeks, since the lockout ended, to learn and adjust to Rob Ryan's new scheme. They are still learning. Especially in the secondary, there were lots of times early on where guys were looking around or at each other after the play as if they were trying to figure out what should have happened. The safeties got caught looking into the backfield at critical times. They did a fine job on the goal line in the first quarter, holding the Broncos to a field goal after Kyle Orton had marched down the field somewhat easily, and they got some nice pressure from defensive ends Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher. But overall, this looked like a defense that's still learning. And that's fine. No one would have expected them to know Ryan's scheme already. He's keeping things simple, withholding the kinds of complicated blitzes and fake-out looks we'll surely see from him as his players get more comfortable with their assignments. These preseason games will be part of the learning process for a defense that will surely look better one, two and three months hence than it does now, and the Cowboys should not be judged on their inability to stop Orton or Tim Tebow on this particular night.

2. Tyron Smith is talented. The Cowboys' first-round draft pick failed to pick up a safety blitz, and that led to a sack. But overall, he held his own against the Broncos' line. What I liked best may have been the fact that, after almost every play, you could see Smith talking to Kyle Kosier as they walked back to the huddle. Moving the veteran Kosier to the right side to play next to the rookie Smith was a sharp idea, and as Smith also uses these games as learning opportunities, he'll benefit from proximity to the Cowboys' brainy guard.

3. More Victor Butler, please. If they don't think they can snap Anthony Spencer back into his late-2009 form, why not use Butler as a pass-rusher on the side opposite DeMarcus Ware? All reports indicate that he's looked good in practice and has a grasp of the scheme and the playbook. He was everywhere Thursday night when he was in the game. With a new coordinator in town, it makes sense to think guys will have chances to play their way into more playing time and larger roles, and Butler could be such a guy.

4. Felix Jones looks speedy. I mean, real nice bust through the line in his first-quarter action. We didn't see Tashard Choice or DeMarco Murray tonight, and Lonyae Miller failed to impress in what was thought to be his big chance. But Jones looked like a guy who wants to be a full-time starting running back in the league and has the tools to make it happen. Time will tell if this is the year, whether he'll have the opportunity to do so and how much he'll rotate with Choice and Murray. But Jones was fun to watch Thursday.

5. How about Dwayne Harris? There doesn't appear to be an immediate threat on the roster to Kevin Ogletree's hold on the No. 3 receiver spot. But if Ogletree struggles, there are some playmakers further down the depth chart. Harris caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and looked tough as he created space and outfought a defender or two for the ball in a couple of spots.

6. Of course David Buehler's field goal was good. Hey, look. As I watched it, I was sure it had missed, too. But the official is standing right there under the upright, and there's pretty much no way to miss that call. It was ugly, but it was good, and it was the only field goal either he or Dan Bailey, his competitor for the kicker job, attempted all night. Buehler made his one extra point attempt and Bailey didn't get a chance at his because of a bungled snap. Bailey handled all the kickoffs, presumably because the Cowboys have no concerns about Buehler's ability to kick the ball through the back of the end zone now that it appears almost everyone can. No blood drawn, it would seem, in the kicker competition Thursday.

7. Stephen McGee. No idea what to make of it, since he was playing with and against backups, but the young man played some very nice football in this game and deserves to be recognized for that. At the very least, he provides potential fodder for the nuts who think Tony Romo should be replaced if the Cowboys don't win the Super Bowl. And that's good. Got to keep the nuts happy.

PHILADELPHIA -- A season that started with Super Bowl talk for the Dallas Cowboys came to a thrilling end in wet Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. The Cowboys finished their season on a positive note with a 14-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Instead of thinking about what seed they will get in the postseason, the Cowboys were left to wonder how high their draft pick will be and who the new coach will be. The offseason will begin with a coaching search, the potential purge of several underachieving players and preparations for the draft.

What it means: The Eagles loss didn't mean anything in terms of their playoff seeding. Philadelphia was already locked in at the No. 3 slot. The Cowboys finished the season 6-10. The last time they lost 10 games was in 2004 when they finished in third place.

Jason Garrett is the leader: Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he will start the process to find a new coach quickly, and it could be as soon as Monday. He will interview wide receivers coach Ray Sherman and a few others. Multiple sources said Garrett is the leading candidate to get the job, but Jones said nothing has been decided.

As for the game: Stephen McGee finished the last offensive drive of the season with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with 55 seconds to play for the go-ahead score. Unlike last week when David Buehler missed a point after attempt, he made this one to break the tie. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware had a strong game with three sacks and a 17-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. McGee got the start over Jon Kitna (hip) and struggled until the last drive. He completed 11 of 27 passes for 127 yards with one touchdown.

What's next: The Eagles go to the playoffs, and the Cowboys get ready for the East-West Shrine games, Senior Bowl, National Scouting Combine and various other events where college players get to show their skills.

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