The VRR: Cowboys Make Adjustments at Tight End to Prepare for Raiders

Unfortunately, the positive performances in the Cowboys' near shutout of the Bengals on Sunday have taken a bit of a backseat to the injuries suffered in the contest. The tight end position, in particular, took the biggest hit with the loss of John Phillips (knee) for the season. Kevin Brock (ankle) was also injured in the game and has since been waived injured.

Martellus Bennett's (ankle) status for Thursday night's home game vs. the Raiders is still up in the air, as is Scott Sicko's who suffered a concussion in Canton. So that leaves the Cowboys with Jason Witten, who they obviously don't want playing after the first-team offense leaves the field.

"We've got to get some tight ends in here," coach Wade Phillips said. "We have several of them that can't play this week."

More VRR after the jump.

To help bolster the TE position, the Cowboys agreed to terms with DajLeon Farr. Farr, who wore #87 in practice yesterday at Cowboys Stadium, should be ready to play against the Raiders.

Farr replaced injured tight end Kevin Brock, who hurt his left ankle Sunday and was cut to make room on the roster. Farr expects to play Thursday. "Yeah, I'm gonna have to," he said. "That's what they brought me in for."

Farr joins Pro Bowl starter Jason Witten as the only healthy tight ends on the roster. Farr was signed in May by the Chargers as an undrafted rookie out of Memphis and cut last week.

Other than releasing Brock, the Cowboys also released WR Titus Ryan, who broke his thumb in Sunday's game. With the roster sitting at 79, the team may be looking into signing another TE after losing out on claiming Martin Rucker off waivers.

Also on Tuesday, the Cowboys placed a claim on 2008 fourth-round tight end Martin Rucker, recently released by Philadelphia, but he was plucked by Tampa Bay, which had a higher waiver priority. With Phillips, Brock and undrafted rookie Scott Sicko (concussion) all hurt, the team needed to bolster their tight end depth immediately, and may still bring in another new player just to make it through Thursday's 8 p.m. (CT) game against Oakland.

Undrafted rookie Chris Gronkowski, who has lined up as a fullback during training camp, can perform some of Phillips' duties, but is still learning.

"Right now we're just trying to get everyone on the same page," tight ends coach John Garrett said. "We need to make sure the mental side of the game is clear with everyone."

As you can see, the Garrett brothers are already expanding FB Chris Gronkowski's role in the offense, giving him some snaps at TE positions. His versatility will certainly be something to watch during the Oakland game.

"As of right now, they’ve got me working a little bit at the wing," Gronkowski said after Tuesday’s practice. "I’ve learned some of that stuff today. As of right now, I’m the backup Z right now. I think it’s a great opportunity. They’re just putting a little bit at a time, so they’re not overloading me."

The undrafted rookie from Arizona actually started his collegiate career in this role, so it’s far from foreign, especially considering his brother Rob was drafted in the second round as a tight end this past April.

"At Arizona, that’s pretty much all I did. I lined up a lot in the slot, in the wing. I was probably in the backfield half the time and the other half as a wing."

Some other quick injury updates:

Second-team left tackle Alex Barron is wearing a walking boot for his sprained ankle, but Phillips hasn't ruled him out for Thursday.

Phillips said he was hopeful rookie linebacker Sean Lee (strained quadriceps) and tight end Martellus Bennett (sprained ankle) would be ready for the Oakland game. Both have been practicing but were held out (of Tuesday's practice) as precautions. Rookie safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (shoulder rehab) also returned to practice last week but wasn't deemed ready to play against Cincinnati.

Sean Lee hopes to make his preseason debut on Thursday.

"I feel like there's a chance I'll be able to play," Lee said. "I'd like to play. I've spent a lot of time watching film so when I do come back I don't make a lot of mistakes."

If Bennett can't play Thursday, that's one more week we have to wait to see the ol' Aggie connection between him and Stephen McGee rekindled.

"I feel like I've come a long way. I feel more confident than I was a year ago at this time. Just playing a lot faster, feel like I have a lot better grasp of the offense and what's going on," said McGee. Right now McGee is the third string quarterback but the Cowboys do have bigger plans for the Aggie.

"We're trying to get him to come through as our quarterback of the future. I mean that's the reason we drafted him. We don't really want him to be number two, it's whether (or not) he can play in the league," said Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips.

Jason Garrett liked the progress he saw in McGee's game.

The Bengals sacked McGee four times and forced him out of the pocket repeatedly. Despite the pressure, McGee protected the ball well.

"He handled some different situations well," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "It wasn't always clean. I thought he used his feet well and got the ball out of his hand. He made some good, quick decisions. He threw to the right guy. He threw it accurately, played decisively."

Not bad for a player who missed the finial two preseason games last year after suffering a sprained knee.

Garrett was also pleased with the overall performance of his new starting left tackle, Doug Free.

Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said the game tape on Free, who protects Romo's all-important blind side, confirmed that Free had a good all-around game.

"He played well both as a run blocker and a pass protector," Garrett said."He played with the same aggressiveness and confidence that he's had in practice. It's a good start for him."

Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware are two veterans in the prime of their careers.

Paul Pasqualoni, now the Cowboys' defensive line coach, coached both players at different times during his first tenure with the Cowboys.

"No. 1, from a physical standpoint, they're both very talented," said Pasqualoni, who coached tight ends in 2005 and linebackers in 2006-07.

"They have the size for the position, prototype guys. Excellent approach to the game. Beyond the approach to the game, they're guys that really have a passion for it."

Both 28, Witten and Ware are at points in their careers where their physical and mental abilities are as aligned as they will ever be. They have played long enough, seen enough and worked enough to know how to handle every situation that will be thrown their way.

In Bryan Broaddus' breakdown of the HOF game, two players he was very much impressed with were DE Stephen Bowen and OLB Victor Butler.

Bowen was an up-the-field player and was a huge factor in the pass rush with his ability to work in the games that Phillips was using against the Bengals in passing situations. Bowen was relentless in his effort to get to Palmer and O’Sullivan. Bowen played with nice technique the running game as well. He can be difficult to handle when he is on the move. Bowen has a feel for how to free himself from blocks.

[snip]

Outside linebacker Victor Butler was all over the field on Sunday night. Run or pass, it didn’t matter. Butler plays with high effort, motor and intensity. Butler is always chasing the ball and he knows how to finish plays. He is a difficult player to block because he keeps coming at you. He doesn’t take plays off.

Butler was solid in coverage in showing the ability to adjust to the back in the flat and drive on the ball to make the play. As a pass rusher, he plays with a burst to and around the corner. He doesn’t give blockers much of a hitting surface as he rushes. Able to move and twist his body on the move without losing speed.

The area you that you have to like the most about this player is that he is always around the action.

On special teams, coach Joe D named safety Danny McCray and WR Jesse Holley as two players who performed well on his units.

"McCray really played well,'' special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said. "Jesse really played well.''

Holy preseason ratings!

NBC had the night's most-watched telecast, with the Red Sox-Yankees telecast on ESPN among its competition. The game drew a 7.6 overnight rating (percentage of TV homes) and a 13 share (percentage of TV set on tuned to game), the best performance for a preseason game since a Tennessee-Dallas contest on Aug. 30, 2004 drew 8.2/13.

For your viewing pleasure: Tony Romo highlights from Canton...


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