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An early look at the Cowboys 2012 defense

When it came to the Cowboys defense in 2011 not much could be counted on except for allowing fourth quarter leads to disappear.  There are big changes coming for the defense in 2012 as the Cowboys focused on rebuilding the secondary this off season.

The Cowboys were very aggressive in free agency this off season. Their first signing was cornerback Brandon Carr from Kansas City who will replace Terence Newman who was released. They then signed linebacker Dan Connor from Carolina and safety Brodney Pool from the Jets. Connor looks to do battle with Bruce Carter for other inside linebacker position next to Sean Lee. The Cowboys also decided to franchise Anthony Spencer, who will play the 2012 season without being offered a long term deal. In the draft they went heavy on the defensive side of the ball. In a move that surprised everyone the Cowboys traded up eight spots and grabbed cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU. They also drafted defensive end Tyrone Crawford, linebackers Kyle Wilber and Caleb McSurly to go along with safety Matt Johnson. Time will tell if any of these draft picks will work out, but excitement is high and fans can’t wait to find out.

Looking at the new Cowboys secondary, Brandon Carr and Morris Caliborne take over at the corners. Adding to the depth at cornerback is Mike Jenkins who is trying to come back after off season shoulder surgery. Word out of Cowboys camp is that Jenkins would like to be traded, but Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have made it clear that it’s not an option, at least not right now. Orlando Scandrick returns as the slot corner, but may face some competition from Jenkins once training camp starts if Jenkins is cleared by doctors to practice. The Cowboys were 23rd in passing defense in 2011 and opposing receivers seemed to have their way with the Cowboys on a weekly basis. Hopefully with all the changes to the secondary it will mean better coverage and more success. 

At safety Gerard Sensabaugh comes back after signing a contract extension. At the other safety spot it looks to be a battle with Brodney Pool and Barry Church. The Cowboys are also hoping that fourth round draft pick Matt Johnson from Eastern Washington can add some excitement to the safety position and hopefully develop into a starter.

As with any defense that plays the 3-4 alignment the Cowboys are stocked with linebackers. First and foremost they have DeMarcus Ware who seems to get better and better every season. On the other side is Anthony Spencer, with Victor Butler and Alex Albright as the backups right now. Add in the newest linebacker Kyle Wilber who the Cowboys selected in the fourth round from Wake Forest and looks to contribute this season. Inside will be Sean Lee who had a breakout season in 2011 and has become the team leader. Next to him is anyone’s guess at this point. Bradie James and Keith Brookings are gone and the Cowboys are looking to see who will step up to replace them. Bruce Carter is now fully recovered from knee surgery, but can he get back to where he was in college before the injury? Dan Connor was brought in and would like nothing more than to start alongside Lee who he played with in college at Penn St. Orie Lemon adds depth as well as rookies Caleb McSurdy from Montana and Adrian Hamilton from Prairie View A&M.

Up front is where it should be interesting since there doesn’t look to be many changes compared to 2011. Jay Ratliff will be the man in the middle once again with Josh Brent backing him up. Jason Hatcher will most likely start on one end and as far as the other end it looks to be up in the air right now. Marcus Spears is still in the mix along with Sean Lissemore, Kenyon Coleman and Clifton Geathers. Add in rookie Tyrone Crawford from Boise State and the Cowboys have a lot of competition when it comes to the defensive end position.  

What it comes down to is that the Cowboys secondary has been rebuilt with youth and speed as Carr and Claiborne take over. With an improved secondary hopefully that will also create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the front seven and more turnovers. The defense should benefit from a full training camp learning Rob Ryan’s defense which was not possible last year due to the lockout. The Cowboys believe they have improved the defense and have corrected the issues that hurt them in 2011. Now it’s time to move forward and see if they are right.

Who Will Be the Cowboys Mystery Youngster?

Each year all thirty two NFL teams begin on the same footing. No wins, no losses and no ties. Usually they all have their minor bumps and bruises as they progress through mini and training camps. Every owner, general manager, coach and player have the same goal in mind. Super Bowl Champion. That’s right all three words have a capital letter because it is that important. Each one of those four positions have some of their own duties that are different from each of the other four or at least not the same as the other four. One duty that they all share is how to make all the pieces come together so they can achieve that one goal that they start every year with.

Each off season all players move on to another season whether it be with another team, another step in their life as they retire or maybe even stay with the same team and try to build on the blocks that have already been assembled. For those special few though that are drafted out of college to start their childhood dream of playing for an NFL team they become those mystery players that every fan wonders if they will be able to make it in the NFL. Granted some of them were so well known in college and they were drafted in the first round of the draft but there are those that fly under the radar and no one sees it coming. They end up playing a significant part on their new team. Some take a year to gather all the information before it starts to click but occasionally a team will get that difference maker. Where everything clicks the moment they put that NFL helmet on. Each team has these players but more importantly every Super Bowl Champion has these players. So I venture into the NFL statistics vault to find out who some of these players were over the last five years and who might possibly be candidates for the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 as they drive towards the six-pack of Lombardi Trophy’s.

Over the last five years each NFL champion has had one or two players that were either in their rookie season or in their second year that made a difference on their run to a Super Bowl title. They may not have even started but they may have filled a hole in the lineup due to injury or maybe they were the situational player that wasn’t on the field every down. Either way they made a difference for their team. Last year there was a player on the Saints that many may not have heard of because his name isn’t announced very often and the only time you hear his name spoken is if he makes a mistake. The Saints second year player out of Nebraska, Car Nicks, came into last season and ended up starting all sixteen games of the regular season for them. In fact he had started 29 out of thirty games for them he has given up only two sacks over his first two years and only had his name called six times over two years for penalties while he held down that left guard position and help establish a rushing game and keep Drew Brees upright. The year prior Lamarr Woodley in his second year played fifteen games for the Steelers and racked up 11.5 sacks on their way to their title. Barry Cofield was fourth round pick for the Giants and playe din 16 games for them in their drive for the trophy. The year before that the Colts had two second year corners that played in almost every game during the regular season. Marlin Jackson sealed their victory of the Patriots on their way to the Super Bowl. Kelvin Hayden took a pick back for the Colts against the Bears for a touchdown to seal the win in that game. The Steelers fifth title was highlighted by two players, Ben Roethlisberger and Max Starks, that started 14 and 10 games respectively. Roethlisberger even won the Rookie of the Year trophy the year before.

Now you may start thinking to yourself(at least I did) … Who could be that player for the Cowboys this year? Well lets just say there isnt a lack of players that has the opportunity to do it. Between last years draft and this years draft there are definitely some players with the talent and ability to step up and make the difference during this season. Kevin Ogletree is one of the fastest players on the team and he was really starting to come on at the end of last year. Dez Bryant is fresh out of college and if his production matches his hype the NFC East will be in a world of trouble for years to come. Receivers and those skill position players are easy to pick out by just the average fan. I am looking for that player that comes from no where and as the season starts to progress they start to question… Where did he come from? This is complicated by the fact that the player will need to also have an honest chance at possibly making it on to the field. So below I have listed my top five players based on those two categories mainly but with other factors added in as well.

(1) David Buehlergranted almost every Cowboys fan knows who he is but he is taking on the actually kicker position for field goals as well. They brought in Chris Boniol to help coach him up as he has never really had any formal training by a kicking coach. Boniol, who holds the record for field goals by a Cowboy, has already been with him and working through the off season. With the type of offense many are expecting the Cowboys to have he could have an outstanding year when it comes to points. They really haven’t brought in any competition for him but if he starts to stumble I am sure Jerry will have no problem finding a replacement. That is the main reason he is at the top of this list. The job is his. All he has to do know is … Aim, Plant..   and Swing!!

(2) Michael Hamlin – a fifth round pick out of Clemson a year ago. He was making some strides until he broke his arm. He didn’t do much the rest of the season as he found himself just struggling to get on the field. He makes number two because he the starter from last year is gone. This basically brings the fight for the position to come down to the winner between Alan Ball and him. He is a little bigger than Ball and if he can somehow get his hands on the starting position. He couldreally make a name for himself. Thought they did sign Barry Church out of Toledo after the draft and he could be dangerous as he is talented has nothing to lose.

(3) Sean Lee – Drafted this year in the second round there were a lot of teams that thought prior to the college season that this could have been a sure fire first round pick. He comes form Linebacker U after all. Thinking of all the linebackers that have come out of Penn State just makes me smile when I think of this kid. His only downfall is his injury history. He played like a first rounder through college but had a torn ACL his junior year. Has enough speed to play all three positions in 4-3 defense but in the 3-4 he will be able to roam as an inside backer and with Brooking getting a little long in the tooth it might not be long before we start hearing his name announced in the starting lineup.

(4) Akwasi Owusu-Ansah- though I was initially a big fan of Scandrick when we drafted him this kid has more than just the ability to step in on passing downs and display his coverage ability. He also is a pretty electrifying return man in college. Granted his dancing feet wont work well in the pros he will how ever be able to make people miss no matter how close they are to him. He could make his impact felt not only in the secondary as a nickel corner but also in the return game. If he can beat out Scandrick or even just make it as one of the defensive backs on the team they could also use him as a possible candidate at safety thought he is only 6 feet tall. I am looking forward to seeing what he can do on returns more than anything and I believe he will be an upgrade over what we have now.

(5) Victor Butler- Many already know who he is the limited spot duty he was able to play last year. He came in as a pass rushing specialist to give Spencer and Ware a breather. He ended up tying for fifth in the league for in sacks by rookies and if he is able to improve on his coverage abilities which he has been working on during the off season with Reggie Herring(linebackers coach) and Anthony Spencer he could give Spencer a run for his money and maybe give the Cowboys a depth of riches at the position. Especially with fellow 2009 draftee Brandon Williams earning lots of praise already this year at the same position during off season workouts.

Dallas Cowboys Offseason Workout Report #1

Dallas hasn’t officially starting the training camp, but voluntary OTAs (Organized Team Activities) are going on, and mini-camp will be coming along.

For starters, we have a serious injury to second-string cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, who “shattered” his finger on the 26th of May. The injury is indefinite for now. Scandrick believes he isn’t going to be catching balls until training camp starts in late July.

He was breaking up a pass intended for wide receiver Manuel Johnson, a seventh round pick from last year, and his hand immediately went numb, but it was a while later before he truly realized how serious the injury was. He had surgery soon after and the pin that was inserted into finger isn’t going to be taken out for a while.

There has been no news about Keith Brooking’s knee surgery, which probably means that his rehab is going according to schedule. He’ll be needed this past season with his amazing leadership and hard tackles.

Roy Williams has stated that he and Tony Romo are now connecting very well, are on the same page, and even made a comparison that I felt wasn’t the most strategic move to Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.

That aside, the Cowboys are doing well at workouts. Marion Barber has actually lost ten pounds, bringing his weight down to the 212-215 range in order to gain some speed on the ground. He’s still strong as an ox, but Barber knows that speed is difference in the open field between a 15 yard gain and a 25 yard gain.

Barber is not going to be the starting running back, that privilege has been awarded to Felix Jones now, but Barber is a team player and will try his hardest whenever he gets his carries, so this news is very encouraging.

Dez Bryant has been on fire lately according to most viewer reports. Bryant, the controversial Oklahoma State receiver, was drafted by Dallas because in 1998, the Cowboys passed on another similar receiver named Randy Moss.

Those who don’t know who Randy Moss is just need to watch the highlight films of the 2007 Patriots. Moss accounted for 23 of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes that year.

In fact, Moss had the greatest rookie season a wide receiver has ever had. He had 17 touchdowns, 69 receptions, and 1313 yards; just an unstoppable player.

Dez Bryant is probably hoping to do the same for us. While that is asking a lot of the young man, I’d be thrilled if he did do it. That could be the finishing move for Dallas to win in the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl.

The team is taking a “best player” approach to every position, including quarterback. It doesn’t matter how long you have been the starter, if you are outplayed then you don’t start. It makes the players play better knowing that they have challenges for their jobs.

Linebacker Jason Williams, a third round pick from last year, is very psyched about the opportunity to be the nickel linebacker. The nickel linebacker is the guy who usually comes in on third down when it is an obvious passing down, and the linebacker from first and second down come out to stay fresh.

Since the Cowboys have traded Bobby Carpenter to the St. Louis Rams, they now have an opening at the nickel linebacker, and challenging Williams will be first and foremost, Sean Lee, the rookie linebacker drafted by Dallas in the second round this past draft.

I can’t say for sure who will win in these competitions. I wish I was in Dallas instead of my tiny town in Texas, but I’m sure that the Cowboys are going to take the right steps, and we can only hope that there isn’t a sudden outbreak of injuries on the team. That would be a real problem.

This post was originally posted at: http://www.mtrmedia.com/cowboys/2010/06/dallas-cowboys-offseason-workout-report-1.html

Analyzing Alex Barron Trade; Keith Brooking Surgery Update

In the past few weeks, there has been a good deal of activity involving the Dallas Cowboys.

The first item of business is that Dallas traded inside linebacker Bobby Carpenter to the St. Louis Rams for offensive tackle Alex Barron.

Now, Bobby Carpenter is the only high draft pick made in the Bill Parcells era that truly was disappointing. He was a highly admired linebacker out of Ohio State, which is one of the premier college football programs.

Yet, in the four years he was here, he never was good enough for the coaches to give him the starting job. Some fans might say that Dallas never gave him a chance, but I disagree. You don’t draft a guy in the first round and not give him a chance. He had plenty of chances in preseason, in training camp, or in games where he had playing time.

There were questions about him being aggressive enough when playing. I can’t explain why he didn’t turn out to be a great player, but things like that happen.

I knew he was on his way out when Dallas drafted Penn State linebacker Sean Lee in the second round of the 2010 draft this past April.

Carpenter will get a chance to revive his career in St. Louis, while Dallas gets key offensive line depth.

I have every confidence in our offensive line, but the fact remains that if you don’t have a backup plan in the NFL, you are risking your team’s future.

The Dallas starters from left to right are: Doug Free at left tackle, Kyle Kosier at left guard, Andre Gurode at center, Leonard Davis at right guard, and Marc Columbo at right tackle.

However, our backups in Cory Proctor, Pat McQuistan, and Robert Brewster are either weak replacements or in Brewster’s case, unproven.

Dallas cut Flozell Adams this offseason due to his age, and the impact his salary would have this year. They have given Doug Free the chance to start at left tackle, but Jerry Jones, while he is a gambler at times, isn’t stupid.

Jones drafted offensive tackle Sam Young in the sixth round this past draft from Notre Dame, and completed the Carpenter trade for Alex Barron.

Barron was a first round draft pick for the Rams in 2005, one spot before Dallas’ Marcus Spears as a matter of fact, and he’s been solid. He has started in 74 out of 76 games he’s played in, and hasn’t been injured.

He’s 6-7, around 320, and tough. The problem he had last year was he was worse than our own Flozell Adams at false start penalties. He’s had 43 false start penalties in the pros. That is 215 total yards lost because this guy is moving before the ball is snapped.

Now, there may be some instances where a defensive lineman actually encroaches and Barron is wrongfully flagged, but not 43 times.

Still, Dallas is giving him a chance, and Barron has promised to stop the false starts. I don’t know if he’ll start. I doubt it unless he really shows up to training camp and just dominates the line of scrimmage because Free has earned his shot really, and I think Jerry Jones just wants to address depth.

In the end, I think the trade is a win for Dallas because even with his mistakes, I’d rather have Barron than the depth we have now starting in case a lineman gets hurt, and Bobby Carpenter was just going to waste away here.

Jerry Jones made a good trade here for the team.

Brooking’s Surgery

To view the lstest update on Keith Brooking’s knee surgery, please go here.

New To The Silver & Blue: Sean Lee

Sean Lee, a Pittsburgh native, has gone from rooting against the Dallas Cowboys to wearing the Blue and Silver, and getting private tutoring in rookie mini-camp as he is the only linebacker in camp.

In a recent interview Lee admitted being from Pittsburgh there was no option but to root against them.

” I’m trying to recruit as many Cowboys fans as I can. As soon as I got the call from Mr. Jones, we went out and bought all the Cowboys gear we could find in  Pittsburgh-which wasn’t very much.” 

Sean Patrick Lee was born on July 22 1986. His older brother Conor, was the placekicker for the University of Pittsburgh from 2005-2008 and was the 2008 Big East Football Scholar-Athlete of the year. 

Sean began his High School career at Upper St. Clair High School. A school known for its renowned linebacker corps, playing for head coach Jim Render. Sean ‘s high school team had a terrific record of 31-4 during his three years as a starter. In Sean’s senior year they recorded a record of 11-1. He had 95 tackles and four interceptions his senior year.  In the tailback position he ran for 1,240 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also returned a punt for 75 yards for a touchdown. He was a first-team Associated Press Class AAAA All-State selection and was Male Athlete of the Year in 2005.

Sean graduated from Penn State in December 2009, with a degree in Finance, attaining a 3.09 grade point average. He is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten Conference choice and added Academic All-District honors from ESPN in 2007. Sean was the 23rd pick in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Sean was the most versatile of the team playing all three linebacker positions.

  • Freshman – left outside linebacker
  • Sophomore – middle line-backer
  • Junior – right linebacker
  • Senior – left outside linebacker.

He was one of the hardest hitters on the team and ranked in the top seven players for tackles per games in the Big Ten.

Sean seems to be an all around athlete that can become a play-maker for the Dallas Cowboys.

He is known to be a leader and one of the nicest players on the team. He lends his free time to the Make a Wish foundation, Habitat for Humanity and the Special Olympics.

It seems he is a good fit for the Cowboys, but of course only time will tell.

Sean, welcome to the Dallas Cowboys!

The First Three Rounds In Hindsight

The draft for our Dallas Cowboys started with a bang, as expected, when Jerry Jones traded up in the first round from their spot at 27 to slot 24, jumping ahead of Baltimore and snatching up arguably the best receiver in this year’s draft, Dez Bryant from Oklahoma State.

As many of us sat watching the live war room cam, many of us expected a trade up to 12 with Miami. The player many of us expected them to target was Texas’ Earl Thomas, a playmaking safety with a skill set most of us would be thrilled to have start from day one in place of the recently released, Ken Hamlin. That didn’t happen as San Francisco traded up to 11 with Denver and took OT Anthony Davis. The next pick that Miami held was traded to San Diego for RB Ryan Matthews.

I’m not exactly sure of the timing of these two picks as compared to the reaction in the Cowboys war-room, but how I saw it, the jaws dropped as San Francisco jumped Miami by trading with Denver, one spot ahead of our proposed trade partner, taking a very coveted offensive tackle. To me, this doesn’t coincide with their recent comments supporting Doug Free as our starting left tackle in 2010. I truly believe Anthony Davis was their target all along and there’s no way they would admit that now, unless somehow this info is leaked, which would only hurt us in the long run.

In hindsight, what would have been given up for that pick at 12, compared to what was given up for Dez, wouldn’t have been worth it. Unless you fast forward to round two.

In round two, Philadelphia as expected, took their play making safety, Nate Allen from Mike Jenkins’ alma mater USF. That proved to be the end, of what the Cowboys brass viewed, the immediate starters from the safety class.
Other safeties projected in that range were Morgan Burnett, Chad Jones and Major Wright who all ended up going in the third round, proving us mock drafters only know relative position, not actual.

Getting closer to the Cowboys pick at 59, Jerry and co. saw New England sitting one spot ahead at 58 and licking their chops for the coveted linebacker, Sean Lee from Penn State. Not to be out-done, they made their move with Philadelphia, trading pick 59 and their late 4th round pick to jump to 55 and snatch their guy.

Nick Eatman was giving hints about them targeting Lee in recent weeks and believed if he was there for them at 59, that would be their pick. Again, the Cowboys moves were out in the open for everyone to see plenty ahead of time for others to strategize against. The Cowboys again had to give up a mid-round pick to take their guy.

Sean Lee, if he stay healthy, looks to be the future at one of the two inside linebacker spots. Weather that be the mic or the mo, it remains to be seen. Jason Williams, last year’s top pick will also be in the mix.

Each of these picks will be highly scrutinized in the future, should one or both prove to be the wrong decision. Both are high risk high reward in their own way. Dez with his character issues and Lee with his knee injury. Solid players were still available at both spots (27, 59 and 90, possibly 125 depending on how today goes)

Time will tell and the sceptic will be watching closely.

Cowboys Select Penn State Linebacker, Sean Lee

Penn State linebacker Sean Lee was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 55th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.

I don’t know too much about him, but here is what I could track down.

CBS Sportsline writes,

Sean Lee is one the most talented linebackers in the country. The only downside is Lee’s inability to stay healthy the past few seasons. Lee was a huge surprise for the Nittany Lions as a sophomore when he earned a starting job at outside linebacker. He finished that season with 89 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and an interception. He improved upon those numbers as a junior, when he recorded 138 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, broke up 9 passes, and forced 3 fumbles. Unfortunately, he missed all of last season with an ACL tear that kept him out until spring practice. Lee moved to inside linebacker for his senior year, and has played very well when he’s been on the field. He finished the season with 86 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks, in just 10 games.

Despite all his talents, teams will be scared by the fact that he missed three games this season with a sprained knee. Lee can play all three linebacker positions in the 4-3 defense, and still has the speed to cover sideline to sideline despite those injuries. Sean Lee’s draft status will depend heavily on what combine doctors have to say about his injuries. Depending on his post season performance, Lee could sneak into the bottom of round two, but is most likely a third round pick.

Never mind that Penn State’s Sean Lee has a history of knee injuries. Disregard the fact that he’s not as stout as some other linebacker prospects in this week’s NFL draft. Some believe the 6-foot-2 236-pounder still has a bright NFL future.

“Sean Lee, a little bit, reminds me of myself,” former New England Patriots Pro Bowl linebacker Tedy Bruschi said on ESPN’s NFL Live. “Not the biggest, strongest or fastest . . . but he’s got the instincts. He finds the ball. And he knows how to play football. I like that kid.”

I found a lot of concerns about his knees, and what I posted was about the most positive posts I could find.

I don’t know what to make of it…

I was certain that the Cowboys were looking at safety or offensive line…

Well, no matter what he’s in the fold, so lets give him a big Cowboys welcome and wish him the best.

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