By Matthew Postins
Dallas Cowboys insider
The Dallas Cowboys open the season Sunday night with the New York Giants. Wednesday marks the traditional start to the NFL work week. So here are the five stories you should follow leading up to the game:
More transactions: I started this article on Tuesday afternoon. At that point had signed Kyle Bosworth and traded for Edgar Jones, both linebackers, to shore up special teams coverage. They dealt defensive tackle Sean Lissemore and tight end Dante Rosario for draft picks. Between Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday evening, the Cowboys wheeled and dealed again, trading a late-round pick to acquire Indianapolis rookie defensive end Caesar Rayford and signing guard Brian Waters. The Cowboys released safety Eric Frampton to make room for Waters, who definitely won’t play this week but offers a veteran insurance policy at guard. Of course, who knows if he’s in shape, as he spent the whole offseason as a free agent and didn’t go through training camp. Do the Cowboys have any more moves in their future? We’ll see, but these last two transactions may close the door on that for now.
Speaking of injuries: Guard Robert Leary and defensive end Anthony Spencer will be the two most-watched players at Valley Ranch this week. Leary was a limited participant in practice on Monday, but the Cowboys sound hopeful they’ll have him back fully on Wednesday. If so, only a setback will stand in Leary’s way of starting in the season opener, which should negate the need for Doug Free to move to guard. Head coach Jason Garrett was a bit more cryptic about Spencer, however, saying that he hopes Spencer will start working out later this week. The big concern, Garrett said, was conditioning, since Spencer missed most of training camp and all of preseason. That could be why the Cowboys made the move to acquire Raymond on Tuesday.
The RB rotation: The Cowboys had not updated the depth chart on their Web site as of Tuesday afternoon, so all we know is that DeMarco Murray is the clear-cut starter. It also seems unlikely that Lance Dunbar, who at one time was the No. 2 back on the depth chart, will play Sunday night (though the Cowboys did reveal on Tuesday that Dunbar’s foot is out of its walking boot). So this week the media will try to get a feel for how new offensive play-caller Bill Callahan will use Murray, Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle on the field. Tanner and Randle both flashed talent during the final two weeks of the preseason. Theoretically Randle would take some reps on running plays and Tanner would take some reps on passing plays. But how many? Will Callahan feed Murray the ball more or less than Garrett did a year ago? And how much will the offense miss Dunbar on passing downs if he’s unable to play on Sunday? These are logical and important questions for a team that was No. 31 in team rushing last year.
The 12: We’ve heard about it but rarely seen it during the preseason, at least in its purest form. The 12 formation (or two tight ends) is what the Cowboys are pinning their hopes on this year. They’ve seen it work in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in previous seasons and, like several other teams, the Cowboys are copying the template. The plan appears to be running either rookie Gavin Escobar or second-year pro James Hanna out there with veteran Jason Witten, while Andre Smith serves primarily as a blocking tight end. This makes Escobar and Hanna pretty important players in the offensive playbook. Opponents know what Witten can do and they’re going to account for him every play. It should leave Escobar or Hanna with not only single coverage, but most likely not against the opponent’s best cover linebacker or safety. We’ll find out quickly if either is up for taking the pressure off.
Nick Hayden and George Selvie: Last year at this time Hayden was out of football and Selvie was hanging on as depth for the Jacksonville Jaguars. On Sunday night Hayden will likely start at the three-technique for Jay Ratliff, who is out for the first six weeks of the season. Selvie will either back-up Anthony Spencer on the left side or start in Spencer’s place if the veteran is unable to play. Two months ago Cowboys fans didn’t know who either of these players was. Now they’re vital parts of the new 4-3, Cover 2 defense under coordinator Monte Kiffin. Whether both start or one starts, they’re going to be important to the success of this defense.