The Dallas Cowboys overcame the loss of Sean Lee last year and hope to do the same following Orlando Scandrick’s season-ending knee injury.
They say they will miss Scandrick, who tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee during Tuesday’s practice, as a leader and a player. He was the team’s best cornerback and gave the defense edge with his fiery style.
But the Cowboys have traveled this road before — losing one of their best defenders and leaders in Lee during the 2014 off-season — and plan to use that experience as guide in overcoming the loss of Scandrick.
The Cowboys traded for linebacker Rolando McClain to replace the departed Lee last year. This year they believe they have capable in-house replacements and a deeper corps of cornerbacks in Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, rookie Byron Jones, Tyler Patmon and free agent signee Corey White.
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“The biggest thing with last year was that when Sean was out, we felt like there was somewhat a need to go outside the organization to get somebody,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We were fortunate to be able to get Rolando, and he really added a lot to our team last year and he’s going to be a big part of our team this year. With this position, we’re less likely to go outside and look for Orlando Scandrick’s replacement.
“We feel good about the guys we have on the team right now. That’s not to say we won’t go get a cornerback for depth or whatever to just fill out that number, but we like what Patmon does; we like what Corey White does. Obviously, we like Mo; we like Brandon Carr; we like Byron Jones. There’s a lot of guys who can vie for these snaps. Orlando has been a really good player for us; he brings a lot to our team; we’re certainly going to miss him. But we do have to move on as a team.”
The Cowboys have two more preseason games and more than two weeks of practices before they take the field against the New York Giants in the Sept. 13 season opener.
So they have time to put a plan in place.
“We’ve got good players here,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “We’ll miss the dog out of the guy. I mean he’s a special guy. Edgy. But everybody in the league goes through this, so it’s the ones who can put it aside and we got to go.
“We love our guy to death. We’re going to root for him. But now we got to go. Great player, probably best slot player in the league, so he will obviously be missed. Somebody’s got to step up now. We’ve got some men who can step up and we are counting on them.”
Gachkar at MLB
Injuries have tested the Cowboys’ linebacker depth and just about everyone has been shuffled through the middle linebacker spot.
Projected starter Rolando McClain continues to work his way back from offseason knee surgery, and won’t be available for the first four games due to a suspension. Top backup Anthony Hitchens has been slowed with an ankle injury.
That has left the Cowboys shuffling multiple players through the middle linebacker position, and the one who has stuck the most is free agent signee Andrew Gachkar.
Gachkar, known more for his special teams play, has been getting the majority of the first-team reps in the middle in recent days, and the Cowboys clearly like the versatility he has shown.
“A veteran guy who has played in games, both on teams and in our defense,” Garrett said of Gachkar. “We have a lot of confidence in him.”
The Cowboys have also looked at veterans Jasper Brinkley and Kyle Wilber in the middle, as well as rookie Damien Wilson. But Hitchens remains the top choice to play in the middle when the regular season starts with Sean Lee on the weakside and either Wilson or Wilber on the strong side.
“[Hitchens’ injury] gives other guys opportunities to show they belong, some young guys who had a lot of chances to play,” Garrett said. “Different guys played at different linebackers spots [in the preseason game at San Francisco] and got extended work at maybe some spots they hadn’t played in very much in games. We thought that was good for them and good for our team.
“We will continue our evaluation there. And you got to have a good complement of players at every position. It’s not just about the starters. It’s about the guys who can fill if the starters aren’t available. It’s a great time to evaluate those guys.”
For Wilson, he is focused on making a favorable impression so far and has done so to an extent. He’s moved ahead of Wilber, and reminds some of what Hitchens gave the team last season.
Both are versatile linebackers who were mid-round picks from a Big Ten school.
“Hitch had a heck of a season last season, I hope I can even have half of that,” Wilson said. “I’m just trying to help the team wherever I can, just pitch in however I can to make this team better.”
Weems remains a question
Reserve tackle Darrion Weems remains a huge question mark and concern for the Cowboys as they prepare to break camp Friday.
He is being targeted as the third tackle behind starters Tyron Smith and Doug Free, replacing the departed Jermey Parnell, who signed a five-year, $32 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Weems sat out all of last season with a shoulder injury and has never played a down in the NFL in three years in the league.
Considering Free’s injury history, the Cowboys undoubtedly will use a third tackle at some point during the season. Weems has received a full dose in camp, because the team has been cautious with Free and because Smith has been sidelined the first two preseason games with strained biceps.
There has been some good and some bad. But thus far, Weems remains a work in progress.
The Cowboys need to decide if he can be trusted as the third tackle or whether they must sign someone off the waiver wire after final cuts.
This is Garrett’s take on Weems after 19 practices in training camp: “Getting better. He played a lot in the San Diego game. He played a lot in the San Francisco game. He’s out here. He takes a lot of snaps in practice. Every chance we get, we put him in one on one situations in front of the team, see how he responds. He’s getting better. He’s fighting through it. He’s improved technically. I think his demeanor has improved.”