NFC East Roundup: Cowboys’ Running Back Depth Comes Into Play
Let’s take a spin around the NFC East to see what’s going on with the rest of the division:
With Darren McFadden injuring his right elbow this week, running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris have a chance to win the starting job, writes David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.
Even though McFadden finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, the Cowboys went out in free agency and signed Alfred Morris. The team turned around a few weeks later and used the fourth pick in the draft on Elliott. That led some to question the wisdom of devoting so many resources to one position.
“We talk about it all the time,” [Jason] Garrett said. “It’s important to build your team the right way and be able to handle the injuries and the adversities over the course of a 16-game season.
“You want to be deep at all positions. It’s hard to do that in the NFL in this day and age with salary cap and the like, but it’s good to have quality football players in that spot with this injury.”
The injury will hasten Elliott’s development. He spent the majority of Tuesday’s practice working with the starters.
Morris will also get more reps than he would otherwise.
After seeing former teammate DeMarcus Ware win a Super Bowl with the Broncos last season, tight end Jason Witten is still ‘all in’ to win a title for his team, pens Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“Circumstances played out different for DeMarcus and I’m happy for him. He’s one of the great guys and great players and great teammates, but I couldn’t see myself doing it anywhere else besides here.”
Witten is going into Year 14 with the Cowboys, and has been to the postseason only five times in his career. Like quarterback Tony Romo, he has never played in the NFC Championship game, let alone Super Bowl.
But Witten is considered one of the best tight ends of his era. He joined the 1,000-catch club last season, and has 11,215 receiving yards with 60 touchdown catches in his career.
Witten, 34, has no plans of calling it quits anytime soon, either. He is still a productive player in the league and remains as motivated as ever to win a championship.
In New York, after last year’s dismal season on defense, Giants’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo says that the bad days are behind them, from Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.
Last year Spagnuolo spent most of his time plugging holes on his beleaguered unit. This year he can actually coach and be creative because there are far fewer holes to fill.
“Well, look, I’ve always said this league is about players and the more top-notch players you can have I think the better defense you’re going to be,” he said. “To me it doesn’t matter what scheme you’re going to put in, players make plays. We’re looking for guys that can produce.”
And unlike last year, the Giants have them – or at least they’re pretty sure they do. They went on an unprecedented (for them) $200 million spending spree to get the top defensive end (Olivier Vernon), top defensive tackle (Damon Harrison), and top cornerback (Janoris Jenkins) on the market, and they brought back a still-good pass rusher in Jason Pierre-Paul.
After missing the last 10 games in 2014 as well as the entire 2015 season, wide receiver Victor Cruz is happy to be finally back on the field with his teammates, as Paul Schwartz of the New York Post reports.
Cruz said he was so excited that he woke up at 5:55 a.m. He did not do anything against the defense, but this was a start.
“I think it’s just for my mindset and just for me to understand and know I can still do what I’m accustomed to doing,” he said. “That I can make a sharp cut and everything feels the same, nothing hurts. I think it was definitely a mental thing for me.”
This was a welcome sight for Odell Beckham Jr., who has been working alongside uber-impressive rookie Sterling Shepard. Beckham was asked how the presence of these two receivers will impact his performance.
Beckham smiled but did not immediately speak. Then he thrust his two arms into the air in a motion familiar to all who cross over into the end zone.
“Touchdown,” Beckham said matter-of-factly.
In Washington, Redskins running backs coach Randy Jordan is working on getting the most out of his trio of backs, especially starter Matt Jones, writes Joon Lee of the Washington Post.
For the working relationship between Jones and Jordan, this back and forth will be crucial as the first-year starter tries to make the leap in becoming the primary running back for the Redskins, a year after finishing with 490 rushing yards on 144 attempts with three touchdowns.
“[Jones]’s a guy who you can really grind on and you can really coach hard. Some guys, they get in a shell when you yell at him or you’re like, ‘Hey man, that ain’t good enough.’ You challenge their manhood because there are times where I will do that. I’ve learned through him that he takes that pretty good.”
With six weeks between minicamp and the official starts of the preseason with training camp, there’s still work to be done for Jones to make that leap. In Jones, Jordan sees a player “who’s really, really eager to show what he can do on a regular basis.” Whether or not Jones can overcome his issues with holding on to the football, bursting through holes and playing consistently, however, remains to be seen.
“[Jones]’s a guy, to inherit the position or to continue to do what he needs to do to be the number one guy, he’s got to hold on to the ball,” Jordan said. “Number two, he’s got to protect the quarterback and he’s shown through all the OTAs and minicamps that he’s willing to do that.”
Don’t be surprised if middle linebacker Will Compton is a Pro Bowler this year, from JP Finlay of CSN Mid-Atlantic.
Consider the team just spent $75 million to bring in cornerback Josh Norman, a former 5th-round pick, to anchor what should be a much improved secondary.
But go one step further, and it’s obvious the Redskins have high expectations for undrafted former practice squad player Will Compton. A college player from Nebraska, Compton signed with the Redskins in 2013 and only played one game that season. In 2014, Compton began to see the playing field regularly, accounting for 37 tackles in 16 games. 2015 signaled Compton’s breakout, as he took over the starting middle linebacker job midway through the year and produced immediately.
“They all had to work for every minute they’ve got,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of players like Norman and Compton. “If you are a fourth- or fifth-round pick or free agent, the opportunity is there for you. You have to just take advantage of it, and they obviously proved they can do that.”
This offseason, a strong showing from Compton has cemented his starting status. During minicamp, the linebacker grabbed an athletic interception on a Kirk Cousins pass, a play Gruden described as “excellent.” To a man, the Redskins seem impressed with their starting middle linebacker. Walk the practice fields in Ashburn, and Compton’s voice is clear, shouting instruction and encouragement for his teammates.
And in honor of Father’s Day , cornerback Bashaud Breeland pens a touching letter to his daughter, Jaelle, on the Players’ Tribune.
It’s crazy to think that you turned three years old this week. It all goes by so fast. It still feels like yesterday when Mama came to me and told me I was gonna be a daddy. We were back at Clemson and I was getting ready for my junior football season. I just remember being so…
Yeah. Scared. And nervous.