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Jason Garrett’s future as Cowboys head coach on the line – Dallas Cowboys Blog


FRISCO, Texas — A day later, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett still would have punted from the Houston Texans’ 42 on the first possession of overtime instead of going for it on fourth-and-1.

“It just made sense to us, to me at that time, to go ahead and play field position,” Garrett said Monday.

The Cowboys never got the ball back and fell to 2-3 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who made it to the AFC Championship Game last season and have a punishing defense, coming to AT&T Stadium on Sunday.

Questions about Garrett’s job security haven’t stopped since the end of the 2017 season. Before the first padded practice of training camp in Oxnard, California, this year, one fan yelled, “Coach Garrett, I love you, but this is your last year.”

The calls on social media grew louder after the 19-16 loss to the Texans and will grow louder still if the Cowboys are unable to put together any kind of winning streak.

Garrett is 70-58, including 1-2 in the playoffs, as Cowboys head coach. In 2016, he was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year. He has won two NFC East titles. He has the second-most wins in franchise history to Tom Landry, but the decision to punt is viewed by some as the last straw.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has been steadfast in his support for Garrett, even though he critiqued the decision to punt. He has long viewed Garrett as his Landry.

Jones opened camp by succinctly stating Garrett was not on the hot seat, but even he has a breaking point.

Here are factors to consider:

Why is this season different from others for Garrett?

Start with the financial ramifications. Owners don’t like to pay coaches not to coach.

Garrett is signed through 2019 at $6 million per season. Only wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal has a contract that goes past 2019.

After the Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015, there was some talk inside the organization that Garrett could be in trouble a year after a 12-4 record and the controversial loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the divisional round of the 2014 playoffs.

Garrett was in the first year of a five-year, $30 million contract then, meaning Jones would have had to have eaten more than $20 million. Plus, quarterback Tony Romo started and finished two games that season because of a twice-broken left collarbone, offering up a good reason/excuse for the poor season.

The decision to stick with Garrett looked like a wise one in 2016, when the Cowboys finished 13-3 with a fourth-round pick in Dak Prescott substituting for an injured Romo. At the time, it looked like Jones’ willingness to stick with Garrett through the three consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2011-13 was going to pay dividends with a young team on the rise.

The Cowboys still have a young team, with only one position player older than 30, but they appear destined for another playoff-less season without a quick turnaround.

Would Jerry make an in-season move?

He has made one in-season coaching change since becoming the owner and general manager in 1989, elevating Garrett from offensive coordinator to take over for Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start to the 2010 season.

Garrett was viewed as a head-coach-in-waiting before Jones even hired Phillips as head coach in 2007.

Secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard would be the most obvious candidate to take over if Jones made that kind of move. Richard has interviewed for head coaching vacancies in recent years while he was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, but how would that help the offense?

How would a coaching change affect Prescott’s development?

The Cowboys entered this season hoping Prescott would play the way he did in the first 24 games of his career, when he had 39 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In his past 13 games, he has 10 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

The Cowboys can look to sign Prescott to a contract extension after this season, but there has been nothing through the first five games of this season to suggest they should. At present, their priorities would be signing DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones to long-term deals before Prescott.

Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan are the only voices Prescott has had in his three years. A new coach can bring fresh ideas, perhaps incorporating more creativity that has allowed young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to excel early in their careers. Of course, that new coach might want to bring in his own quarterback, but in 2003 Jones convinced Bill Parcells to go with Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson to see what those young signal-callers could do. He could do the same with whomever he chooses as Garrett’s successor.

Is this all on the head coach?

Of course not. Contrary to popular opinion, Jones has always been heavily influenced in personnel by the coach. Always. He did not draft Randy Moss 20 years ago, in part, because then-coach Chan Gailey did not want Moss.

The perception Jones picks the players and tells the coach to make do is flawed. He will make decisions that might run counter to the coach’s wishes at times, but the majority of the organization’s decisions come from a group that includes Garrett, Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and vice president of player personnel Will McClay.

So far it looks as though the Cowboys went with a flawed approach at wide receiver and tight end in trying to replace Dez Bryant and Jason Witten by committee. Tight end Geoff Swaim has three of the Cowboys’ 10 pass plays of more than 20 yards on the season to lead the team. DeAndre Hopkins had nine catches for 151 yards for the Texans on Sunday, including the 49-yarder that set up the winning field goal. The Cowboys’ receivers combined for six catches for 80 yards.

The Cowboys tried to sign Sammy Watkins in free agency, but he opted to join the Kansas City Chiefs. Given the construction of the passing game, would Watkins have made that big of a difference?

Garrett has coached a team that will follow one of his mantras and “fight,” but the Cowboys haven’t been able to follow another of his mantras and “finish.”



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Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line depth facing challenges in camp – Minnesota Vikings Blog


EAGAN, Minn. — One week into training camp, the Minnesota Vikings‘ offensive line is already looking to its reserves to fill the void for injured players.

Right tackle Rashod Hill has missed several practices with an illness, which thrust rookie Brian O’Neill in with the first team. On Tuesday, veteran guard Mike Remmers injured his left ankle during a goal-line rep and left practice early in a walking boot.

Underneath all the layers of optimism surrounding this season lies the team’s biggest concern: the strength of the offensive line — namely solidifying the right side — and its level of depth.

This group was struck with unbelievable tragedy days before the start of camp when veteran offensive line coach Tony Sparano died unexpectedly at age 56. In an effort to provide stability, coach Mike Zimmer made in-house promotions, naming Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko co-offensive line coaches. The blocking schemes, terminology and players’ footwork won’t change, and many of Sparano’s philosophies will carry over.

“Tony and I always talked about O-line play,” Barone said. “From the day that I got hired, we were always watching tape together and he was asking me that, with my background, ‘How did you handle this situation or this look?’ He and I were on the same page quite a bit no matter what, which makes it a lot more helpful.”

But the injuries have added further disruption. Multiple league sources confirmed to ESPN that Remmers is expected to miss a week or more while recovering from his injury. One source notes that the injury is “not anything serious” that could jeopardize Remmers starting in Week 1 and that the Vikings may choose to rest the right guard during the preseason and not rush him back. Hill’s illness isn’t expected to keep him out long.

In the meantime, Minnesota has shuffled its offensive line combinations around in a handful of ways. O’Neill is at right tackle in place of Hill. Nick Easton has taken over at center while Pat Elflein continues to recover from offseason ankle and shoulder surgery. Tom Compton and Danny Isidora have taken snaps at left guard with the first team, while Isidora moved over to right guard after Remmers went down.

The early absences from starters could help develop depth along the offensive line and also may help the Vikings figure out who they want to keep as they whittle down the roster four weeks from now. But at this point, should Minnesota feel the need to stabilize this unit further, it might have to come via a trade or after a lineman is cut from another team during camp. The free-agent market has been picked over, leaving veteran guard/tackle Luke Joeckel as one of the few options available.

The shuffling is something Minnesota had to do far too many times over the past two seasons. In 2016, injuries decimated the unit, forcing the Vikings to use eight different starting combinations. It wasn’t that much different last season, when Sparano mixed up his starting personnel seven times after injuries began in Week 5 and were a constant presence throughout the year.

The good news for Elflein is that the second-year standout can be activated off the physically unable to perform list at any time during the preseason. The center has spent part of camp lifting weights and taking isolated snaps during practice with head strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama. Zimmer said he knows the timeline for Elflein’s return but would not comment on its details. Sources indicate it isn’t too far off, though. But like Remmers, the level of concern in rushing Elflein back into action takes precedence and could keep him out as a precautionary measure.

In the meantime, Elflein has taken a different approach to building the much-needed chemistry with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“I’ve been out here standing next to him at practice and just going over the calls, the sequence of how a play operates with protections, different looks,” Elflein said. “We’ve been talking about it. I feel like that’s the best way to build that right now if you can’t actually get out there and get game reps or practice reps. Just doing what we can to build that chemistry and what his thought process is and what mine is and converging those together to make it a well-oiled machine.”



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Minnesota Vikings announce co-offensive line coaches to replace Tony Sparano


EAGAN, Minn. — Following the death of Tony Sparano, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer announced Saturday that Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko will be the Vikings‘ co-offensive line coaches for the 2018 season.

Barone, who worked with the Vikings’ tight ends last season, coached the offensive line in Denver when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. Janocko was Sparano’s “right-hand man,” having served as the team’s assistant offensive line coach since 2017.

Zimmer said protecting the continuity the O-line built under Sparano played a role in his decision to go with his in-house options.

“It was important,” Zimmer said. “For the last two years, we’ve worked really hard on the footwork, techniques and schemes that we were running, so I felt like it was important that we continued to do that regardless of whatever we decided to do. I didn’t want to change the players terminology or footwork or any of that stuff.”

Todd Downing, whose close relationship to offensive coordinator John DeFilippo led to him being hired as a senior offensive assistant, will be promoted to tight ends coach. Downing was the Raiders offensive coordinator in 2017 and previously worked with quarterbacks in Oakland.

“Guys who have been through the war, they’re not afraid to voice their opinion or come in here and they’ll give ideas and they’ll go to work,” Zimmer said. “Todd’s a great young coach. He’s very respectful. He understands where he’s at and what he’s trying to do and trying to help us win.”

Minnesota canceled practice Friday, when veteran players were slated to report, to allow the entire team to attend Sparano’s funeral. The team will have its first full squad practice Saturday afternoon as the entire 90-man roster begins to move forward in Sparano’s absence.

“Obviously they all feel bad for Tony. They all loved him,” Zimmer said. “But they understand that we have to move forward, we have to go on and really these guys are professionals. They understand that things happen. This isn’t the first time that something has happened to us here, so we’re used to overcoming adversity and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”



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Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano died of arteriosclerotic heart disease


MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano died Sunday from arteriosclerotic heart disease, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner. He was 56 years old.

According to reporting by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Sparano went to a hospital last Thursday after complaining about chest pains and was released Friday after undergoing tests. A source said Sparano’s wife, Jeanette, found him unconscious Sunday morning as the two were on their way to church and could not revive him.

The 19-year NFL veteran coach died at 8:54 a.m. at his home in Eden Prairie.

An assistant with Minnesota for the past two seasons, Sparano worked for nine NFL teams over 19 seasons, with head-coaching stints in Miami (2008-11) and on an interim basis with Oakland (2014). He held positions with Cleveland, Washington, Jacksonville, Dallas, San Francisco and the New York Jets.

Vikings rookies report to training camp on Tuesday.



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Danny Shelton will upgrade Patriots’ strength on defensive line – New England Patriots Blog


In the lead-up to New England Patriots training camp, with the first public practice scheduled for July 26, it is timely to review each position on the roster with our annual “roster locks” series. After previously highlighting the running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends and linebackers, let’s move on to the defensive tackles:

Locks: Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler

On the bubble: Vincent Valentine

Long shots: John Atkins, Frank Herron

Explaining the locks: The Patriots obviously didn’t trade a third-round pick in exchange for Shelton and a fifth-rounder if they didn’t intend on him being a significant part of their plans this year. The 6-foot-2, 335-pound Shelton is known for his playing strength and fits the more traditional two-gapping technique the Patriots generally ask their linemen to play. So he’ll be a big factor at the heart of the defense, joining Guy (6-4, 315), who made a solid first impression on the coaching staff last year with his playing strength, among other things. The 6-foot-2, 320-pound Brown is more of a tweener in the sense that he can two-gap and hold his ground at the point of attack, but can also generate some disruption as more than a power rusher when the opportunity presents itself. Butler, who made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt last year, is a versatile player who did some of his best work at nose tackle in pass-rushing situations as his long frame and discipline to play with good pad level showed up multiple times. He was closer to a 3-4 defensive end than a 4-3 defensive tackle last season, but is still developing and has some intriguing physical traits that bear watching in his second season.

Roster management: The Patriots usually have three big-bodied defensive tackles active on game-day, and will often rotate a third option into the game as part of not overtaxing a position that requires plenty of dirty work. That has usually meant keeping either three or four defensive tackles on the initial 53-man roster, with added depth also potentially coming on the practice squad. This was perhaps best illustrated in Super Bowl LII, when the top combination of Guy (56 snaps) and Brown (62 snaps) seemed to wear down a bit as the unit spent most of the game in its 4-2-5 nickel, and a third option was used sparingly. So developing/building defensive tackle depth that can help at any point of the 16-game season (and ideally the postseason) is generally part of the thought process when the team is constructing its roster/practice squad. Valentine, a 2016 third-round pick, spent all of last season on injured reserve (knee) and could once again be a factor. Atkins (Georgia) and Herron (LSU) are undrafted free agents who can look at the team’s history (four undrafted players made the initial roster last year) to illustrate that while they are long shots, the odds aren’t insurmountable.

Stat of note: Guy led all defensive tackles last season, playing 54.8 percent of the defensive snaps, followed by Brown (50.7), Butler (43.7) and since-departed Alan Branch (23.7) and Ricky Jean Francois (8.3).

One thing to watch for in camp: Once the Patriots begin practicing in full pads for the first time (July 28), it usually isn’t long before the football is placed at the 2-yard line and there is a goal-line running drill, which is the first look at how the team has potentially bolstered its personnel at the heart of the line of scrimmage. That is where Shelton, who has been assigned No. 71, figures to show up most.



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Clay Matthews of Green Bay Packers hit in face by line drive during charity softball game


Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews took a line drive off his face Saturday during a charity softball game near Appleton, Wisconsin.

Video of the incident was captured by WBAY-TV.

Packers players have put on a softball game annually at the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The game has been hosted by Brett Favre, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson over the years. Matthews and Davante Adams took over as co-hosts this year after Nelson was cut.

Adams told spectators that Matthews “got a little boo-boo on his nose.” The game resumed without Matthews, who was pitching at the time.





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Clay Matthews of Green Bay Packers suffers broken nose after being hit in face by line drive during charity softball game


Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews took a line drive off his face Saturday during a charity softball game near Appleton, Wisconsin.

Matthews tweeted that he suffered a broken nose and will require surgery.

Video of the incident was captured by WBAY-TV.

Packers players have put on a softball game annually at the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The game has been hosted by Brett Favre, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson over the years. Matthews and Davante Adams took over as co-hosts this year after Nelson was cut.

Adams told spectators that Matthews “got a little boo-boo on his nose.” The game resumed without Matthews, who was pitching at the time.





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NFL Insiders predict – Does Ndamukong Suh give Rams the best defensive line?


Ndamukong Suh is headed to the Los Angeles Rams, and he’ll unite with Aaron Donald to form a powerhouse duo of interior linemen for the Rams.

How does the defensive line in L.A. measure up to the rest of the league, and which team is the favorite to win the NFC West in 2018? Our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders weigh in:


Which team has the league’s best defensive line?

Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Eagles. Adding Suh will generate hype in L.A. when the veteran pairs with All-Pro Donald on the interior of the Rams’ defensive line. However, the Vikings look pretty salty up front after landing Sheldon Richardson in free agency, and the Eagles have the NFL’s most complete defensive line. With multiple edge rushers, Fletcher Cox inside and proven depth, Philadelphia can throw fresh legs on the field to shut down the run game and hit the quarterback.

Mike Clay, NFL writer: Eagles. The Rams made up a ton of ground. The trio of Donald, Suh and Michael Brockers is as good as imaginable, but an Eagles group that includes Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan and Haloti Ngata inside and Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett and Chris Long on the edge gets, well, the edge. Only the Chargers and Patriots allowed more yards per carry than the Rams last season, so expect this unit to improve that mark drastically, especially if the Rams add an impact off-ball linebacker.

Mina Kimes, senior writer: Eagles. Philadelphia’s line depth was such a common talking point during Super Bowl week that it became a bit of a running joke — but it was a talking point for a reason. While the one-two punch of Suh and Donald is absurd, the Eagles’ army of top-flight pass-rushers puts them over the top.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Eagles. Suh is a luxury addition to the Rams and a questionable scheme fit until we hear specifics from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. A former general manager said it wouldn’t be a shock if Suh finished with four to five sacks playing 60 percent of the snaps.

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Vikings. This answer partly adds variety to these responses. But it also recognizes that in Sheldon Richardson, coach Mike Zimmer has added a major interior disruptor to a group that includes nose tackle Linval Joseph along with defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. Joseph and Griffen were Pro Bowlers in 2017, while Hunter has 19.5 sacks the past two seasons.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: Eagles. While the Rams project as a dominant force with the best interior defensive lineman in the game (Donald), the NFL remains a league of depth, an area in which Philly shines. Even with the departures of Beau Allen and Vinny Curry this offseason, the Eagles are stocked with talent that runs two layers deep at essentially each defensive line spot. When facing offenses that run high-octane, up-tempo attacks, that depth pays off in the fourth quarter or decisive moments, as we saw in the Super Bowl.

Are the Rams the clear favorites to win the NFC West in 2018? Who is their biggest challenger?

Bowen: Yes. The Rams are the early favorites to win the NFC West, given the matchups they can create in Sean McVay’s playbook and a defensive system under Wade Phillips that will feature a revamped, ball-hawking secondary. The Seahawks should still be in the mix to challenge the Rams, and we shouldn’t sleep on Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers. With Jimmy Garoppolo locked in to a new contract and the scheme-fit additions of veterans Richard Sherman and Jerick McKinnon, the 49ers could surprise out West.

Clay: Yes. Absolutely. Not only are the Rams the favorites to win the NFC West, but they’re also right there with the Eagles and Patriots as Super Bowl favorites. In addition to their league-best group of interior defenders, the additions of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib (along with Nickell Robey-Coleman) supply them with the league’s best cornerback trio. This defense is loaded with top-end talent. The Seahawks’ roster has taken a major step backward this offseason, the 49ers are on the upswing but still have plenty of holes to fill, and the Cardinals are in the running to pick first overall in the 2019 draft.

Kimes: Yes. The Rams addressed one of the few areas of concern on their roster this offseason by reloading their secondary. Now that they’ve added Talib and Peters while holding on to Lamarcus Joyner and Robey-Coleman, I fully expect L.A.’s defense to take another leap forward. As far as a challenger, I’m torn between picking the Seahawks and the 49ers. Although Garoppolo looked like a world-beater last season, I’m not fully sold on the offense San Francisco has built around him.

Sando: Yes. The Rams are the early favorites. Seattle can factor if the Seahawks can fix their running game, which should be the team’s No. 1 priority of the offseason. San Francisco will be a sexy pick as a team on the rise, but the team could need additional time to get its defense going.

Seifert: Yes. They won’t sneak up on anyone after their 2017 division title, but they did a nice job addressing their secondary this spring, and none of their NFC West opponents made a sizable enough leap to be projected above the Rams. The next-best team is the 49ers, who have busily tried to assemble a contender around Garoppolo.

Yates: Yes. The Rams have a year of synergy under their belt with McVay and Jared Goff as two primary pieces, but there is also balance on this roster that should not be overlooked. With a remade secondary, a scary-talented defensive line and the league’s best running back in 2017, the Rams are the favorites, with Seattle clinging to the second-best roster just ahead of San Francisco.



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Carolina Panthers add Dontari Poe to defensive line


Former Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Dontari Poe has agreed to a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers, sources confirmed to ESPN.

The news was first reported by the Washington Post.

Poe replaces Star Lotulelei, who left the team in free agency to sign with the Buffalo Bills.

Poe, 27, signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Falcons last year and quickly set the tone as a run-stuffer. He also showed flashes of pressuring the quarterback, although that was not his specialty.

He started all 16 games in 2017 and was credited with 39 tackles, 4 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 745 defensive snaps. The Falcons included weight-based incentives into his deal, adding bonuses if he weighed 330 pounds or less during the season, which he met.

The Falcons also installed their goal-line “Poe Package,” lining the burly veteran at fullback against the Dallas Cowboys. During his time with the Kansas City Chiefs, Poe had a pair of 1-yard rushing touchdowns and a 2-yard touchdown toss off a jump pass in eight offensive snaps.

Said the Falcons’ Ricardo Allen: “That’s the definition of brotherhood right there. No matter what they call on Poe to do, he’s going to go out there and give them his all.”

Poe, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, spent his first five seasons with the Chiefs. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, he has 15.5 career sacks, 240 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure contributed to this report.



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Carolina Panthers hire former Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke as defensive line coach


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Brady Hoke, who helped recruit quarterback Tom Brady to the University of Michigan, will become the defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers, according to a league source.

Hoke will replace Eric Washington, who was promoted to defensive coordinator to replace Steve Wilks, who last week was hired as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

This will be Hoke’s first NFL job. He spent the past year at the University of Tennessee, where he was the defensive line coach and later the interim head coach after Butch Jones was fired.

He was the defensive line coach at Michigan and recruited the West coast in 1995 when Brady, who on Sunday will be trying to win his sixth Super Bowl for the New England Patriots, committed to the Wolverines.

Brady was among the first to call Hoke and congratulate him when Hoke was named the head coach at Michigan in 2011.

The Sporting News was the first to report Carolina’s interest in Hoke.

The Panthers also are expected to name Travelle Wharton their assistant offensive line coach, per league source. Wharton had two stents with Carolina as a player. He will assist John Matsko.



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