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Cowboys news: Travis Frederick may miss season-opener; dominant defense emerging; safety options; more

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Frederick seeing more neck specialists - Clarence E. Hill Jr., Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The Travis Frederick stinger situation results in more visits to the doctor.

It may be something or it may be just added due diligence.

But all is still not in the clear for Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick being ready for the season opener against the Carolina Panthers.

Less than a week after he saw noted Los Angeles spine specialist Dr. Robert Watkins for recurring stingers in his neck, and seemingly coming away with positive news that there were no long-term concerns, Frederick was slated to visit another specialist on Monday in Dallas and possibly another on Tuesday, per coach Jason Garrett.

And while owner Jerry Jones said Saturday that Frederick should be ready for the Panthers game, Garrett was less than definitive.

“Hopefully, he will be back real soon,” Garrett said. “We are just to continue to wait and see, try to get some more information on that.”

Cowboys center Travis Frederick seeking additional medical opinions stinger issues - RJ Ochoa, Blogging The Boys
Ochoa takes a glass-half-full approach.

The Cowboys travel to take on the Carolina Panthers in less than three weeks for the season opener. Frederick and Martin are cornerstones of what they do offensively, they need them healthy if there’s any hope of success in 2018.

The initial prognosis of Travis’ situation was that he simply needed to rest. Hopefully more opinions validate that and we can put this whole thing behind us.

Cowboys’ defense ready to make a name for itself - Todd Archer,
Taking stock of how the defense has performed in training camp and preseason.

A funny thing has happened this summer for the Cowboys.

While the Cowboys’ identity will continue to largely be Elliott’s running, the strength of the offensive line and Prescott’s growth in his third year, the defense has been the story of the summer.

There can be a tendency to exaggerate the performances in training camp and two preseason contests, but the defense did things in Oxnard, California, it did not do to the Cowboys’ offense in the past. And in two preseason games, what can be considered the “regulars,” have not given up a point while yielding just eight first downs.

“That’s, to me, the highlight of the first two games,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We’ve been against the other two teams’ firsts. I think we’ve done a heckuva job. I see depth. I see the ability on that defensive front to have a rotation ... We’re deep there and can play.”

Kris Richard brings fiery style, Seattle success to Cowboys - Shuyler Dixon, Associated Press
Some say Richard is already the defensive coordinator in everything but title, and while that may be reaching (but just a little), there's no doubt that he has already had a significant impact on how the defense will play this year.

The fiery Richard (pronounced ruh-SHARD) takes over a group that has one thing in common with the crew he had in his early days with the Seahawks: youth. For now, it's a stretch to say there's another Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor on the Dallas roster.

"There's really no need to even talk about that," said Richard, also given the title of passing game coordinator. "We're not trying to be them. We're trying to be us. If we want to have success, then this has been the formula that has been successful in the past. If we want to do right, if want to have a great impact, then this is the style of the play we need to use."

It's an aggressive style: cornerbacks close to the line of scrimmage as opposed to the softer zone looks often employed by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys say they wanted a new philosophy. They definitely added someone not afraid to be heard.

The biggest move for Richard since coming over was immediately returning 2015 first-rounder Byron Jones to cornerback after a year at safety and a career of going back and forth. Richard likes Jones' size on the outside — another part of the model in Seattle.

The Cowboys have three interceptions in the first two preseason games, including a highlight-reel grab when Awuzie made a leaping tip with one hand and caught the ball falling backward last week against Cincinnati.

Cowboys Lack of Receivers Could Cost Them Playoff Spot - Andy Benoit,
Benoit’s 10 thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys include a lot of questions about the passing game, but offer a lot of optimism about a rising defense.

Deep rotation of personnel packages. Coordinator Rod Marinelli’s defense has a crisp profile: various traditional zone coverages and a deep rotation of personnel packages to keep players energized enough to fulfill his relentless demands on rallying to the ball.

The D-line is full of talent and buts. 2015 second-round end Randy Gregory is talented, but he’s been suspended for 30 of the past 32 games (substance abuse). Third-year defensive tackle Maliek Collins has the superb short-area movement to be elite, but he missed most of the offseason recovering from multiple surgeries on his left foot. Dynamic fourth-year pro David Irving is quick and agile enough to slip and even elude blocks from a defensive tackle position, but he’ll begin the season on a four-game substance abuse suspension. At least there’s no longer a but with franchise-tagged defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. His once-troubling back problems have stayed away and his repertoire of moves has become highly refined against both the run and pass.

The Cowboys rarely blitz. Instead, their front four executes a litany of slants, stunts and twists. Most 4-3 teams employ these on third-down pass rushing. The Cowboys will use them on first- and second-down run-stopping. The idea is to attack a gap before a running back can, forcing him to redirect. For this to work, your linebackers must have the talent and awareness to consistently clean up. That’s why superstar Sean Lee is joined by 2016 second-rounder Jaylon Smith and 2018 first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a talented young defense playing opposite the league’s most imposing ground game. Fifteen years ago, that would have assured 12 victories. That’s still obtainable today, but it will require winning a lot of close contests. 8-8 feels likelier.

The Five Most Undervalued Players in the NFL - Danny Heifetz, The Ringer
Here' what Heifetz writes about Sean Lee, one of five guys that are key to winning football games - but never get their due.

Cowboys fans know Lee is the key to their defense, and often their season. The Cowboys had the no. 1 rushing defense in 2016 in large part because of Lee, who can consistently beat offensive linemen to the point of attack, which in turn allows the defensive linemen to be aggressive in shooting their gaps. Like how Seattle’s defensive scheme long depended on Earl Thomas’s supernatural range at safety, Rod Marinelli’s aggressive defense depends on Lee avoiding blocks and filling gaps that most linebackers simply can’t reach on a consistent basis.

When Lee strained his hamstring in 2017, that defense stopped working. In the 10 games Lee played last season (excluding the Falcons game in which he left in the first quarter) the Cowboys gave up an average of 15.6 points per game, which across the whole season would have been the best in football last year. In the six games Lee missed, the Cowboys gave up more than 29 points per game, which would have been the worst in football in 2017. Unsurprisingly, Dallas was 1-5 without Lee and 8-2 with him in 2017. Some of that has to do with the schedule (Lee missed games against the Rams, the Aaron Rodgers–led Packers, and the Falcons) but it still illustrates how Lee is the fulcrum that allows the Dallas defense to operate. When he came back in 2017 (the first time), the difference was night and day.

Lee’s problem has long been his health—he played 17 out of 48 games games between 2012 and 2014—but when healthy, he’s one of the few players a team can build their entire defense around.

FMIA: The Cowboys, Remade – Peter King, ProFootballTalk
Great look back at the Cowboys 2016 draft from King and a line from Jerry Jones sticks out over missing out on Paxton Lynch: “I have always paid a premium for a premium.” Interesting considering a certain safety.

If Jones had his way on draft weekend 2016, the Cowboys would have exited the draft with Ezekiel Elliott and Paxton Lynch, the Memphis quarterback who has fallen down the Denver depth chart and may lose his roster spot there in the next month.

Quick refresher: The Cowboys spent 67 minutes late in the 2016 first round on the phone trying to find a trading partner to move up to draft Lynch. They offered their second and fourth-round picks (34 and 101 overall) to Seattle, at 26 overall in the first round. Denver offered 31 and 94. Seattle asked Dallas to make the offer its second and third-rounders, 34 and 67. Jones agonized. He wanted a quarterback of the future badly, with Tony Romo close to the end. Dallas said no. Seattle traded with Denver, and Lynch went to Denver. The next day, Jones said to me, “I’m second-guessing the hell out of myself for not giving the three. I have always paid a premium for a premium. So many times my bargains have let me down.” I will never forget the look on Jones’ face. This perpetual optimist, 18 hours after losing Lynch, was pissed off.

No Lynch. The next QB target, Connor Cook, was on the board at the start of round four. Dallas had the second pick in the fourth round and tried to move up with Cleveland, the pick ahead, to get Cook. The Cowboys made two offers. No dice. Oakland then jumped over Dallas, traded with Cleveland, and got Cook. So the Cowboys settled for Prescott with their other fourth-round pick, late in the round.

Instead, the Cowboys ended up with Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins (a solid rotational defensive lineman) and Dak Prescott. If you ask influential Cowboys, they’ll tell you that—if Smith’s health holds—he and Prescott will fill the two biggest leadership roles here for the next eight to 10 years.

Football Outsiders believes the Cowboys will contend with the Eagles in 2018 - Dave Halprin, Blogging The Boys
It won’t be a runaway in the NFC East according to Football Outsiders who have the Eagles and Cowboys both projected for 9.1 wins in 2018.

It is still surprising that they have the Cowboys as neck-and-neck with the Eagles for the NFC East. That is a prediction that goes against the grain as most publications/websites reflexively put the Eagles at the top.

We’re in agreement with this evaluation, not necessarily in terms of the prediction although Cowboys fans will like that, but more in terms of why Dallas should be an improved team. Obviously no suspension for Zeke is a big thing, and if Tyron Smith stays healthy that is surely going to improve the Cowboys offense. While FO also predicts the Dak Prescott will bounce back from his second-half slump of last year, we say if Zeke and Tyron wouldn’t have had their issues last season, there probably wouldn’t have been a second-half slump for Prescott.

On the Philadelphia side, props to them for what they accomplished in 2017, but they certainly had some statistical miracles that are likely to regress towards the mean. Their third-down efficiency, as described by FO, was historic and likely unsustainable. They will still be a formidable team, but they might not be as good record-wise as last season opening the door for Dallas is they can get back to their play of 2016.

Three free agent options at safety for the Dallas Cowboys, One.Cool.Customer - Blogging The Boys
Our own OCC breaks down the free-agent safety options available to the Cowboys and focuses on three names, including Eric Reid.

Reid is not a perfect safety, but he’s easily the best safety on this list and he’s a guy who can come in as a starter right away. In his five years in the league, Reid has started all but one game he’s been in, and he played all over the 49ers secondary, starting as a free safety, then moving to a strong safety role and a finally a hybrid safety/dime linebacker role in 2017.

He’s a very good player who’s embroiled in a collusion case against the NFL, but what better way for the NFL to make that case go away than to sign Reid?

Reid has stated publicly that he is not planning to protest during the national anthem this upcoming season, but in this political climate, this signing would be unpopular in some circles, perhaps even in the Cowboys front office.

Bengals cut stalwart safety George Iloka, Jessie Bates steps in - Eric Eager, Pro Football Focus
Iloka had started every game for the Bengals since 2013 and was three years into a six-year contract extension. PFF looks at what he could possibly bring to another NFL franchise in need of safety help.

Iloka has been steady (if unspectacular) during his reign as a starter aftering being selected with a fifth-round pick out of Boise State. He has averaged roughly 0.34 wins above replacement the last five years, never generating fewer than 0.26 (2016) and never more than 0.53 (2014). He’s been reliable in terms of availability as well, playing more than 715 snaps each of those seasons, and eclipsing 988 snaps in four of those five years. While coverage grades paint a somewhat-incomplete picture for deep safeties, he’s surrendered fewer touchdowns (seven) into his coverage than he has interceptions (nine), and passers earned only a 68.4 rating throwing at him a season ago.

2018 was not exactly the best season for free-agent safeties, with Eric Reid and Tyvon Branch still looking for a job, and starting-caliber players like Tre Boston, Ron Parker, Kenny Vaccaro getting chances only after the offseason had grown old. Iloka is not as versatile as some of his contemporaries, playing almost 60 percent of his snaps a season ago at deep safety, but can no doubt help a team that has movable pieces at other parts of their secondary.

Cowboys Sign Safety, DT; Showers to IR - Nick Eatman,
The Cowboys made a couple roster moves in the wake of injuries coming out of the Saturday night tilt against the Bengals.

The safety position was hit hard as the Cowboys lost Xavier Woods for 2-4 weeks with a hamstring strain and Jameill Showers, suffered a knee injury that placed him on injured reserve.

The Cowboys are expected to sign safety Dominick Sanders, who had 16 career interceptions at Georgia. He signed as an undrafted rookie with the Eagles but was waived not long after joining the team this summer.

The team also signed defensive tackle Caraun Reid, a four-year veteran who has 34 games played. Reid (6-2, 304) will take the place of tackle Richard Ash, who suffered a knee injury in the game as well. Unlike Showers, Ash was placed on waived/injured. If he clears waivers, he will revert to the Cowboys’ IR.

After the Zack Martin scare, is it time for Cowboys to sit all starters in the preseason? - Tim Cowlishaw, SportsDay
Cowlishaw voices many fans’ thoughts when asking if the time has come to keep starters out of preseason games.

People get hurt playing football, and it really doesn’t have much of anything do with their toughness. At least I’d be reluctant to tell Sean Lee he was lacking in that category for missing 39 games the last six seasons.

Martin being helped to the sideline made you wonder how many key starters should really be playing at all in the preseason, given what’s at stake when the 16-game season begins. In his postgame remarks, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seemed to suggest that running back Ezekiel Elliott might not get a single carry in August. And if that’s true, I don’t know who can blame the Cowboys for this safety first approach, although you wonder how they decide which stars to sit and which need to roll the dice.

Given the quality of their backup running backs, and seeing how Alfred Morris ran here a year ago, is Elliott really that much more instrumental in the team’s success than Martin? Or is he just the bigger star?

FS Xavier Woods status for opener in doubt - Clarence E. Hill, Jr. - Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The latest on the Cowboys' possible pursuit of a starting safety to replace Xavier Woods.

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.

Woods was diagnosed with a strained hamstring and, following a magnetic imaging exam on Sunday, his availability for the Sept. 9 season opener against the Carolina Panthers is in doubt.

Woods could be sidelined anywhere from two to four weeks, per a source.

It’s a setback for a Cowboys team that was already thin at the position behind Woods and strong safeties Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier.

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

There was also a practice at the Frisco practice facility and that mean an opportunity for Jerry to take center stage.

The Twitterverse re-ignited with Rico Gathers debates when it was reported the big tight end took snaps with the first-team offense.

Welcome to the new NFL, where every tackle is going to have you fearing a flag – Jon Krawczynski, The Athletic
Stories are already starting to pour in regarding the NFL’s controversial new rule regarding using the helmet to initiate contact. Expect more once the regular season starts and the consequences become weightier.

One of the common themes throughout the preseason has been frustration from players and coaches geared toward the seemingly inconsistent definition of what is and isn’t a penalty. It’s this season’s version of the convoluted catch rule, only with seemingly even more widespread application.

“I don’t fear it — that’s going to happen,” safety Harrison Smith said on Monday when asked if the new applications of rules would cost a team a game. “Without a doubt, that’s going to happen. You get a big sack, that changes field position, that changes maybe get a guy out of field-goal range, get them in third-and-long or something like that or get off the field on third down and then it’s a whole new set of downs. That’s going to change games.”

Feel like the news is coming at you fast recently? RJ recaps the latest and keeps you up-to-date.

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