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Cowboys news: Zack Martin okay for opener; Dallas on hunt for veteran safety help; more

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys’ Zack Martin (knee) avoids ligament damage - Adam Maya, NFL
The good news in the Cowboys’ preseason game against the Bengals was Dak throwing a touchdown, the starting offense (minus a few exceptions) put up 10 points, and Chidobe Awuzie’s acrobatic interception.

The bad news included injuries, most notably to All-Pro guard Zack Martin. Fortunately, Martin appears to be OK.

The Dallas Cowboys received good news Sunday when Martin’s MRI came back relatively clean. The All-Pro guard suffered no ligament damage but instead a hyperextended knee and bone bruise, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported, adding the team is optimistic Martin will play Week 1.

Martin went down in the second quarter of the Cowboys’ tilt with the Bengals on Saturday. Jerry Jones expressed optimism that Martin’s injury wasn’t serious. Still, as a vital cog in the Cowboys’ run game, his value transcends most of his peers who play his position. So this prognosis was considered a best-case scenario.

Source: Cowboys still trying to determine severity of Xavier Woods’ injury; status for season opener in question - David Moore, SportsDay
Xavier Woods, the second-year DB looking to start in the secondary, was also banged up on Saturday evening. The severity, however, has yet to be determined.

The status of starting free safety Xavier Woods appears to be in doubt for the Cowboys season opener.

Woods suffered the injury trying to make a diving interception. Jerry Jones said it is the same hamstring Woods injured last season. He will also undergo an MRI on Sunday.


Cowboys' Cole Beasley on why he thinks this will be his 'biggest year' - Staff, SportsDay
Multiplicity is the new buzzword in town, and Beasley explains what it means and what the impact will be for him.

What's the difference about his season's offense compared to last season?

CB: We have so many guys who can play multiple positions. So when you have that, you can literally move everybody everywhere. No guy will be just an X, just a Z, just a F, just a Y, we'll all be moving around. It might be play-specific, it might not be. We might just move a guy somewhere else just to put him somewhere else 'cause they can do it. Other than that, our offense isn't that much different. We'll have guys everywhere, so you won't be able to tell what we're running based off who's where.

On if this will be his best season as a pro

CB: No question. One-hundred percent. I've never been able to have this much opportunity opened up to me. Really, most years I come into it just hoping it will be more than the last. But this year, it's like, I know it's going to come. I've just got to be ready for those opportunities and I am. And make those plays. This year will be, I honestly think will be my biggest year.

Will Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott play this preseason? Team owner Jerry Jones isn’t so sure - Kate Hairopoulos, SportsDay
It should come as no shock that Zeke may not suit up before September 9th. That would be the smart decision.

Elliott had seven rushes in the 2016 preseason and six in 2017. He’s said he expects to follow a similar plan this year.

But team owner Jerry Jones might have other ideas.

”I’m going to have to think about that right there,” Jones said Saturday night after the Cowboys’ second preseason game. “I think we’re getting the work we need. Zeke has had such great work and been so workmanlike about his approach to camp, I don’t need to see any more of Zeke til Carolina, for me.”

The latest move in the Cowboys’ locker room that reinforces this is QB Dak Prescott’s team - Kate Hairopoulos, SportsDay
Dak Prescott has taken over the leadership role of America’s Team. The latest move has the third-year signal caller thanking those before him as he looks to set the standard in the locker room.

When the Cowboys played their first game of 2018 Saturday night at AT&T Stadium, the quarterback’s locker had been relocated.

It’s now to the left of the main entrance, the second stall from the end. There’s nothing outwardly remarkable about the spot, unless you know this: it’s where 15-year veteran tight end Jason Witten held court before he retired this offseason.

No matter how great the win or devastating the loss -- the playoff defeat to Green Bay after the 2016 season comes to mind -- Witten would stand and take questions after every game. The team looked to him first as an example for how to handle just about everything.

How Jason Witten’s footprints still remain in Cowboys’ offense - Rick Gosselin, SportsDay
Despite handling duties in the ESPN MNF booth, Jason Witten’s footprints are still felt in the Cowboys offense.

The retirement of Witten and the release of Dez Bryant this offseason cost Dak Prescott his two favorite targets. They combined to provide Prescott 50 percent of his touchdowns, 43 percent of his completions and 42 percent of his yards a year ago. Without them in 2018, the Cowboys lack a go-to guy.

Last season, the Cowboys threw an average of 5.4 passes per game to Witten. Prescott threw six passes to his tight ends in the opening 20 minutes alone Saturday night. He was replaced at that point by Cooper Rush, who threw three of his first six passes to his tight ends. That’s nine passes to tight ends in the first half alone.

That’s the type of action Witten saw in his prime when he was annually targeted more than 100 times per season and was a Pro Bowl regular.

Cowboys vs. Bengals: Rico Gathers was the leading receiver plus other statistical oddities - Dave Halprin, BTB
Witten’s retirement put the Cowboys in a tough spot at the tight end position. While far from a lock to make the 53, Rico Gathers showed us a little bit of what he has the potential to do against Cincinnati — although 32 yards is certainly not earth-shattering. Dave makes the point that Zeke, Tavon, and Bease should open the field up for everybody else.

Rico Gathers was the Cowboys leading receiver with only 32 yards. How did a guy who really didn’t see action until late in the game (18 snaps on the night) become the leading receiver for the game? One big pass play is how. Gathers had two catches on the night that totaled 32 yards, which led the Cowboys for the night. His 25-yard catch where he went up and over a Bengals defender for the catch was certainly a highlight of the night, and was also the Cowboys’ longest reception on the night. It certainly points to the Cowboys’ issues in the passing game against Cincinnati, especially after Dak Prescott left the game. But even when he was in there, the offense was reliant on the short passing game. Having Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin, and especially Ezekiel Elliott in the offensive flow should loosen things up and allow the Cowboys to go a little deeper down the field.

Still, though, Rico did give us this highlight:

PFF's Preseason Week 2 NFL Team of the Week - Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus
Two Cowboys make PFF's team of the week.

Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys – 84.8

In 16 snaps of pass protection, Smith allowed just a solitary hurry, but it was as a run-blocker that he was at his best, driving people off the ball and sealing his man out of the play to allow the Dallas run game to break through the line into open real estate.

Chidobe Awuzie, Dallas Cowboys – 93.3

The second-year man out of Colorado is another cornerback who can boast allowing a passer rating of 0.0 on throws into his coverage this week. He was targeted just once in the game against the Bengals, snagging it for an interception. A second-round draft pick a year ago, Awuzie will be hoping to impress coaches with more performance like that in the future.


No Longer a Luxury, Safety Now a Need - Nick Eatman, DallasCowboys.com
Eatman makes a case for why the Cowboys should go and get Earl Thomas. Or George Iloka. Or any safety for that matter.

Jason Garrett said there is a “numbers issue” at safety and added the team will see “who is available for us.”

But now, this isn’t just about getting an upgrade to the safety spot with a stud player like an Earl Thomas. This is about getting anyone in here who can help you tomorrow.

Obviously, the Cowboys will go get a safety or two this week for practice purposes. But again, they need to get someone they can trust – not just someone who has played an NFL game.

A few weeks ago at the start of training camp, Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said the team hadn’t had any discussions with Seattle about Thomas since the draft. Not sure that’s still the case at this point. Who knows if Saturday’s game will change any of that?

I just know the Cowboys now need bodies at safety. Why not try to get the best one out there?

With FS Xavier Woods status for opener in doubt, Cowboys on hunt for safety help - Clarence Hill, Star-Telegram
All options are now on the table, Hill writes.

While a trade for Seattle Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas remains the proverbial elephant in the room, the Dallas Cowboys are now looking at all options for help at safety following an injury to Xavier Woods in the second quarter of Saturday’s 21-13 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Per a source, the Cowboys will consider former Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka. He was surprisingly released on Sunday, one day after returning from the preseason game against the Cowboys

Iloka is considered a strong safety by the Cowboys. But the team is now looking at all options.

Does that also include revisiting a possible trade with Seattle for Thomas?

Safety Update: Xavier Woods ailing, Jameill Showers tore his ACL, George Iloka is in play, & more! - RJ Ochoa, Blogging The Boys
Ochoa explains why even with Xavier fully healthy, safety help is still needed.

Jeff Heath had an injury scare early on last week and that served as one of the latest reminders at how shallow the safety spot is overall. Xavier Woods’ injury only magnifies that idea. It would behoove the Cowboys to bring in someone else at the very least for depth’s sake, but Iloka could allow them to maximize the strengths of what they already have once Woods is fully healthy again.

Iloka’s bigger size would immediately make him the Cowboys starting strong safety and while that would still leave a hole at the free safety spot it would allow for both Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath to figure out some more centerfielder-like qualities. Perhaps what’s most important is Iloka would be a free agent addition on what would likely be a one-year deal.

Imagine a world where the Cowboys use Iloka as a bridge to Earl Thomas. George solves their short-term needs of a veteran with experience, not to mention that Iloka has only missed four starts since 2013. That’s the type of stability this team needs, especially in the wake of an injury to their starting free safety. Iloka obviously stands to benefit from having a great season in a contract year for one of the NFL’s most visible teams, and come March of next year guess which safety besides George Iloka would be a free agent? Earl Thomas.

The math here makes an overwhelming amount of sense. Let’s get it done.