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Dallas Cowboys News and Notes: NFL Football Is Here! It's A National Holiday!

One of our most sacred national holidays is here! Happy NFL 2014 Opening Day, everyone...

Tom Pennington

Very little to report from today's practice, save this morsel of good news:

Practice update: Spencer, Weems only players out - Nick Eatman, The Mothership

As Eatman points out, things are getting better on the injury front. George Selvie and Terrell McClain were both in uniform, although their participation was limited. In addition, Henry Melton and Mo Claiborne were both able to practice and are expected to start.


Of course, the most covered aspect of Wednesday's practice was Michael Sam suiting up to join his new teammates:

Garrett talks Sam: this is about football - Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas

Despite repeated attempts to goad Jason Garrett into talking about Michael Sam's sexual orientation in Wednesday's well-attended press conference, Garrett successfully redirected their queries, focusing strictly on Sam the football player. Nice work on Garrett's part, BTW. If you want to see him in action, watch the opening minutes of the presser here.

Bryant, teammates show Sam respect; focus on football - Rowan Kavner, The Mothership

Taking a page from Jason Garrett's presser, the Cowboys players focused on Sam's contributions as a football player. Here's the team's undisputed leader, a certain Number Eighty-eight: "He deserves the same respect as anybody else, so that’s what we’re going to give him," Bryant said, "and play football." Indeed...

Film room: breakdown of DE Michael Sam - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

Using some new technology, Broaddus breaks down some of the Sam's best snaps while with the Rams, showing us Sam's ability to use speed, quickness and good pursuit to make plays. Although it was "only" preseason, Sam looks like a player on tape.

What changed with Sam since draft day? - Calvin Watkins, ESPN Dallas

Watkins asks and, at the end of the article, answers:

Lawrence (broken foot) was placed on the reserve/injured returnable list, and Gardner is out for the season after shoulder surgery. And the team has no significant depth to aid the pass rush.

Yep, that pretty much sums it up...


Speaking of making it all about football, here are a few pieces on the upcoming opponent:

2014 Cowboys opponent preview: San Fran 49ers - KD Drummond, Cowboys HQ

My man KD pens a comprehensive overview of the Cowboys' week one opponent, with a 2013 season review, a glance at the (tumultuous) offseason, and a thumbnail 2014 outlook. As we discussed when KKD joined me on our most recent podcast, both of us think the Niners present the best chance among the Cowboys early-season NFC Powerhous opponents for a Dallas upset. Fngers crossed...

Scout's eye: Davis poses big problem for Dallas defense - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

Broaddus takes a look at this week's opponent, and names a weapon (Vernon Davis) a nemesis (Patrick Willis) and an under-the-radar player (rookie safety Jimmie Ward). His analysis of Willis' game is a veritable encomium; here's a section:

When they draw up how an inside linebacker should play, Patrick Willis is that example. Whether it is playing at the point of attack or working to the sideline to bring a ball carrier down, Willis gets the job done. His lateral range and burst is one of the best that I have ever seen. He is just so natural in the way he flows to the ball. It is rare to see him out of position on the play. He plays with outstanding body control and agility. He can strike with power to shock the blocker and move to the ball.

Hmmm...haven't heard too many recent reviews of the Cowboys' linebackers strike such an admiring tone.

Goodell: NFL closely watching McDonald case - Tim Booth, Yahoo Sports

Speaking to reporters last night, NFL Commish Roger Goodell said the league is still waiting to get all the facts in Niners DE Ray McDonald's case - and that any discipline under the new policy would not be applied until the legal system had run its course. Looks like the Cowboys O-line will have to contend with the under-rated McDonald on Sunday.

Romo's 2011 Heroics was painful loss for Harbaugh - Nick Eatman, The Mothership

Eatman takes a short walk down memory lane, reminding us of Romo's most courageous performance. Here's the guy who wears dad pants:

"I knew he was great. I’ve always thought that of Tony Romo," Harbaugh admitted. "But he climbed another rung of my ladder of esteem. And I didn’t think he had any more rungs to go after what I’ve seen. But he definitely gained another one that day."

In case you'd care to re-live the glorious comeback, the highlight reel can be found here. Soak in Jesse Holley's lone moment in the sun...


Romo won't be satisfied with just returning to form - Nick Eatman, The Mothership

Romo has always used the offseason to try and improve his game, Eatman writes, whether it be with his mechanics or footwork or how he reads defenses. And while he never really reveals his focal point of improvement each year, it’s clear Romo is excited about some of the changes in his game. Hopefully, we'll be just as excited some time late Sunday evening...

Cowboys D dealing with low expectations - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Toddzilla offers a lengthy post on the state of the defense, comparing them to the 2003 group. That year, you might recall, a group comprised of some less-than-household names finished as the NFL's top-rated defensive unit. Archer's message? 2014's squad pales in (talent) comparison.

Cowboys 32nd-ranked defense must improve greatly for team to escape 8-8 rut - Tim Cowlishaw, DMN

Cowlishaw opens up the history books for some interesting perspective on the Cowboys defense:

Both the 1981 and 1985 Cowboys reached the postseason with the No. 20-ranked defense in the NFL. The Cowboys’ playoff teams were never close to that figure before and have never reached as low as that figure since...Those Cowboys defenses of 1981 and 1985 are memorable for something other than low rankings. They are the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked Cowboys teams of all time in interceptions. The 1981 team had 37. The ’85 club had 33.

When I talked to Rod Marinelli in training camp, he said there were only two sets of numbers he cared about for his defense: the Aikman ratings and turnovers. The Aikman ratings are a set of efficiency numbers (like a passer rating, but they encompass more things). The Cowboys ranked 32nd in that last year as well. As for turnovers, where are they likely to come from?

To become a playoff team, in other words, Dallas will either need to improve the defense, increase the turnovers - or both.


Decoding Linehan; where do we start - Bob Sturm, Live from Lewisville

The Sturminator starts his annual "decoding" series a bit early, as a way to wrap his mind around the Cowboys' new signal caller. After examining the Cowboys run/ pass splits and percentage of shotgun snaps for the past six years (the latter of these has risen sharply in the last two years), he offers an informative overview of each of the principle personnel groupings, replete with illustrating photos. It's a great introductory read that should prepare folks for his weekly "Decoding Linehan" posts.

Scouting report: new DE Crawford can play right end - Bryan Broaddus, The Mothership

In a bit of good news, The Broad One notes that Jack Crawford, one of the Cowboys' two recent D-line acquisitions has the skillset to play weakside end - even if he's built a bit like a defensive tackle. A couple of the bullet points from his positive report:

Shows the ability to explode off the ball and strike with some snap. Can easily control his man. Does a really nice job of playing with his hands. Very good contact balance. Wasn’t knocked off his feet when facing a double team. Plays with power at the point.

High effort and motor player. Relentless in the way he attacked his man. Plays with outstanding stamina and desire. Worked hard to fight blocks and get to the ball.

Looks like J. Crawford could conceivably play either side, as he also has the power to play strongside end.


Cowboys monitoring Josh Brent's work - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas

Per Archer, the team has been aware of what Brent has been doing since being released from a drug and alcohol treatment center in July: he's been working out at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney, and will be until he can begin attending meetings in Week 7 and practicing in Week 9.

Victim's mother: we all make mistakes - ESPN

Stacey Jackson, Jerry Brown's mother says she's "very happy" that the NFL has decided to conditionally reinstate Brent: "We all make mistakes, and we all have an entrance date and an exit day. Although I miss Jerry every day, I know he would be very happy that Josh has another chance to play football." If, as they say, forgiveness is strength (something I believe to be true), Ms. Jackson is one very strong woman.


Kickoff For BTB's Weekly Pick 256 Challenge


Pick 256 is a season-long contest in which BTB members and readers get to pick the straight-up winners for all games each week. If you haven't yet submitted your picks, now would be a good time, here's the link to the entry form.

Week 1 Pick 256 Entry Form

We currently have about 340 pick submissions, 79% of which have picked the Cowboys to win the season opener against the 49ers. There's still plenty of room for more pick submissions. If you haven't done so yet, you can still submit your picks until kickoff of the Packers @ Seahawks game tonight.

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