Cowboys defense makes forced turnovers an early priority for 2013

Posted Sunday, Aug. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The Cowboys have been preaching turnovers since the day defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin arrived. “Get the ball!” and “Scoop and score!” are familiar refrains at practice.

The Cowboys’ lack of turnovers is a reason Jason Garrett cited in replacing Rob Ryan. Dallas forced only 16 last season. The Bears had a league-best 44, including five against the Cowboys.

The Cowboys hired Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli as their defensive line coach. Last year, Marinelli had a picture hung in his meeting room of Lance Briggs running 74 yards with an interception of Tony Romo. It was one of two defensive touchdowns the Bears had in the 34-18 victory over the Cowboys.

It didn’t take the Cowboys long to show it’s a new day on defense.

When Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller failed to connect on a handoff on the Dolphins’ first play from scrimmage, Cowboys defensive tackle Nick Hayden fell on it at the Miami 9. The Cowboys converted with a touchdown four plays later.

In the second quarter, rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman intercepted a Matt Moore pass that bounced off receiver Chad Bumphis’ hands. Holloman ran 75 yards for a touchdown, avoiding the attempted arm tackle of Moore.

“Turnovers were the name of the game in the first half,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We took the ball away from them on their first offensive play and went down and had a real short drive inside the 10. The interception by Holloman for a touchdown was a big play in the game.”

Tanner shines

Phillip Tanner had only 7 yards on his first three runs, though that included a 1-yard touchdown. He injured his left arm on a 17-yard run on the team’s next series and stayed in for one more run before leaving for X-rays.

Tanner returned to play the part of preseason hero, running for 59 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

“Just coming out here and making the best of every opportunity,” Tanner said. “Coach [Jason] Garrett preaches that to us all the time, whether it is one play or 100 plays, make the best of every snap.”

The Cowboys averaged 5.7 yards an attempt in the first half, with Lance Dunbar contributing 22 yards on four carries and rookie Joseph Randle going for 16 yards on three carries. Randle had another 48 yards on eight carries in the third quarter.

Dunbar, Randle and Tanner are competing for playing time behind starter DeMarco Murray, who didn’t play Sunday night. Tanner has only 47 career carries for 137 yards and a touchdown in two seasons — 26 more carries than Dunbar and 47 more than Randle.

Starters missing

The Cowboys played only three (or maybe four) projected starters on offense. Right tackle Doug Free and left tackle Tyron Smith played a series. First-round pick Travis Frederick played most of the first half at center before moving to right guard. Ron Leary, who is competing with Nate Livings for the starting job at left guard, played the entire first half there. Livings had knee surgery last week.

“I never mind playing, if they need me to play,” Smith said. “I am always going to play. I love the game and just want to play. Plus, we needed to have some people out there with experience in the offense, and me being one of the younger guys, I was out there.”

The Cowboys had only one projected starter in on defense with linebacker Justin Durant making a brief appearance.

“This is a great atmosphere out here, and the young guys are getting a great chance to come out here and play,” said Cowboys starting linebacker Sean Lee, who didn’t play Sunday. “It is a long season for us, and we will have plenty of preseason games ahead for us to get better. I think our camp has gone really well so far, but we have to continue to work hard and improve, and we will in the next preseason game.”

Injuries

Cornerback Sterling Moore had a cut below his eye. Defensive lineman Ben Bass left with a left knee injury. Safety Matt Johnson had X-rays on his left ankle and did not return. Running back Phillip Tanner returned after X-rays on his left arm.

Charean Williams, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean

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