July 31, 2011

Commentary: Newman all business despite 'slight'

Terence Newman's plan is to play better.

SAN ANTONIO -- Dallas Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman tried to delay the inevitable as long as he could.

For some reason, he figured the Nnamdi Asomugha furor would die down and he wouldn't have to deal with the questions surrounding the Cowboys' pursuit of the top cornerback prize in free agency.

And more importantly, what it said about Newman.

So after declining interview requests on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Newman finally stepped up to the proverbial mic on Sunday.

"This is a business," Newman said. "Like I said, I'm just focused on trying to get better and trying to make this team better. That's why I waited until today [to talk]. I figured this would've died down a little, but obviously it didn't. All I can do is control what I can control. I'm here, he's in Philly. That's what I'm focused on right now, moving forward."

Newman said all the right things. He said his feelings weren't hurt. He said he's just trying to get better.

Really, what else could he say after all the mixed messages from the Cowboys?

One day the Cowboys say they love him and fellow cornerback Mike Jenkins.

The next day they are prepared to wreck their salary cap and potentially threaten any chance of improving other, more needed, areas of the team such as defensive end and safety with a Deion Sanders-like pursuit of Asomugha.

But after last year's dreadful play in the secondary -- where Newman and Jenkins went from being Pro Bowl teammates in 2009 to being heavy contributors on the worst pass defense in team history -- it's hard to blame Jerry Jones for swinging for the fences.

The matter hits home for Newman because of his age and his money. Had the Cowboys signed Asomugha, Newman would have been the likely target for deletion.

He turns 33 before the season and has salaries of $8 million, $6 million and $7.5 million over the next three seasons.

Newman is also coming off one of his worst seasons, in which he allowed 58 receptions for 871 yards and three touchdowns. The yards were sixth-most in the league, as he was frequently targeted for the big play.

In no game was it more evident than the Thanksgiving Day loss to the New Orleans Saints. Most fans blame the devastating setback on Roy Williams' fumble when the Cowboys had a chance to ice the game in the fourth quarter.

But also remember that the Cowboys still had the lead with the Saints 89 yards from the end zone.

Newman gave up a 22-yard reception to Marques Colston on first down and three plays later was burned for a 55-yard pass to Robert Meachem, setting up the game-winning score.

What's also true is that Newman labored through a painful rib cartilage injury for much of the season, forcing him to take cortisone injections just to get on the field. There is no doubt it affected his performance. How else do you really explain his play going from the Pro Bowl to the toilet so quickly?

However, Newman is making no excuses.

"I don't make excuses for anything," Newman said. "If you go out and play, if you are well enough to play, then you should compete. I took injections to play, but I was out there. That was not an excuse for me. I'm not going to make an excuse and say I was hurt. That is not me."

In his defense, the Cowboys' pass rush didn't help Newman or Jenkins by putting consistent heat on the quarterback, getting only 35 sacks last season.

There is plenty of blame to go around for their dreadful play.

Newman needs to play better, but so does the Cowboys' defense, which grew stale and predictable under Wade Phillips.

That's why new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is here in the first place.

Getting a consistent pass rush and finding somebody who can play safety and actually act like a last line of defense would help as much as a shut-down corner.

And to Newman's credit, he is motivated and ready for a better season after what he called a very humbling experience last year for him and the entire team. He is healthy, as fast as ever and coming off back-to-back seasons in which he played every game for the first time since 2005-06.

"Last year was one of the true downs," Newman said. "That was the worst thing I have ever been through and it hurt. I'm not a prophet and I can't tell you what's going to happen in the future. All I know is what I can do and what I can control. I'm just out here trying to get better."

Of course, like he said, this is a business, and if he isn't better, he will be more than hurt.

He will be cut.

And there will be no need to delay the inevitable.

Clarence Hill, 817-390-7760

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