Cowboys Huddle-Up: The British Invasion
THE BIG LEAD: Justin Durant's groin injury (maybe a month-long one) means, on paper, that rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens is the step-up guy. And in fact, this week against the Titans in Nashville he'll theoretically be listed as the starting weakside linebacker in the Dallas Cowboys’ base defense ...
Except team sources tell CowboysHQ that the "base defense'' in practice this week hasn't been a base defense at all. Because of Tennessee's three-WR tendencies, Dallas' almost sole focus in practice has been on Nickel defense, with Bruce Carter and Rolando McClain as the only two linebackers on the field, with Sterling Moore as the 11 defender playing slot corner. (And the hope that the NFL allows Orlando Scandrick back from a repealed drug suspension to help there, too.)
Really, we applaud Hitchens for being able to keep the secret and say all the right things.
“It’s fun to be out there with the ones, and being out there to compete with the best athletes in the world every day,” Hitchens said. “It’s definitely going to be a good experience. I’m looking forward to it.”
What Cowboys fans should actually look forward to: Middle linebacker Rolando McClain working toward a repeat performance from his double-figure tackle work against the 49ers, Carter as a playmaker and also as the play-caller (wearing the helmet with the transmitter) and Hitchens mostly watching and learning.
THE BRITISH INVASION: The Dallas Cowboys have certainly had a busy couple of weeks. They've churned the bottom of the roster in an attempt to create some stronger depth, specifically on the defensive line. The most high profile move was the signing of defensive end Michael Sam, however there are some other newcomers who have a chance to make an impact for this team.
One of those players is defensive lineman Jack Crawford, who was a fifth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2012. Crawford was born and raised in the United Kingdom and is just one of very few Englishmen in the NFL.
"I played a lot of other sports growing up in the UK," Crawford told us. "I played soccer, rugby, I boxed a little bit. My main sport was basketball, which is what brought me to the states. I went to St. Augustine High School in New Jersey to play basketball and try to go play college ball. I ended up playing football my junior year in and didn't have offers for basketball but had a lot of offers for football."
The fact that Jack is a British man playing American football is interesting enough, but we learned another interesting tidbit about the 6-5, 275-pound defensive lineman.
"I was actually in the same class as Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) when I was a kid," Crawford said. "At the time I think he had only done one of the Harry Potter movies but I hadn't watched it because I wasn't that into Harry Potter. He was just a normal kid. I didn't even realize it was him until later on."
Speaking of people that Crawford went to school with, one of his teammates as Penn State was none other than Sean Lee, who Jack has a tremendous amount of respect for.
"It's great playing with Sean Lee," Crawford said. "I don't even have to tell you that because everyone in Dallas and the NFL knows how good he is. In college he was such a huge leader for our team, not just on defense. Sean's the kind of player you want to go to war with. To have the chance to play on the same field as him again would be great. I couldn't ask for anything more. There's no one else I'd rather have behind me because I know I can trust him completely."
As you all know (unless you've been living under a rock) Sean Lee is out for the season, so if Crawford want a chance to play with Lee again, he'll have to wait until next season. That's a year away away and there's no guarantee that he'll still be with the team then. Right now, he is focused on the Titans, who the Cowboys play on Sunday. However, that doesn't mean he hasn't taken a peek at the rest of the schedule. One game that stood out to Jack was the week 11 matchup vs the Jacksonville Jaguars, which happens to take place in Crawford's old stomping grounds ... London, England.
"I definitely took note of that game when I saw the schedule," Crawford said, "but I try my best not to think about that too early. The Raiders are playing in London too but they cut me. I still have a lot of learning to do and developing into this system and helping the team get better. I'm just thinking about the next game, which is the 49ers."
Crawford arrived in Dallas just last Tuesday and was inactive for the 49ers game. But CowboysHQ is told that as of Thursday morning in practice, George Selvie (shoulder) is getting virtually no work. So the right ends is Mincey and the left end is Tyrone Crawford ... backed up by Jack Crawford. If anyone can get a defensive lineman ready to play that quickly, it's defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
"He's an intense coach," Crawford said of Marinelli. "He has a lot of similarities to my college coach, Larry Johnson. Larry used to go to coaching clinics that Rod Marinelli held, so I could definitely see similarities. Rod gets after it. He's the kind of coach you need to be successful. I think I'm going to enjoy playing for him and working with him."
Rod Marinelli isn't the only person who's made a good impression on Crawford. The rest of the team have been extremely hospitable to their new teammate as well.
"It's been great so far," Crawford said. "This is a really great group of people. It's hard to walk into a locker room of guys who have already been through training camp together. Everyone has chemistry and history. When you come in new it can be tough, but they've been extremely welcoming. They're making me feel more comfortable every day."
Two of Crawford's teammates that have stuck out to him in particular are Mincey and the other Crawford - Tyrone (no relation).
"There are some great athletes on the defensive line here,'' he said. "Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey are both really athletic. It'll be fun to play with them."
From preparing for the 49ers in less than a week, to being a second-teamer this week in Nashville, to learning to a new scheme and playbook, to creating chemistry with his new teammates, Crawford certainly seems to have his work cut out for him. However, he seems to have the skill set and right kind of attitude to 'tackle' the challenge.
"I'm proud to be part of Cowboys Nation," Crawford said. "I'm all in, 100 percent. I'm fully committed to the Dallas Cowboys and everything they're trying to do on defense. I want to be as productive as I can, both on and off the field. I want to become part of the Cowboys family. I'm just going to work, work, work, and leave it all out on the field. I'm going to be relentless. I feel like I can bring quickness and strength to the defensive line. I'll also bring some versatility as far as being able to play at multiple spots. When you need more speed inside, I can do that too. Whatever I can do to help this team win games, that's what I'll do."
When we asked if Crawford wanted to add anything else before ending the interview, he told us ...
"It's hot down here!"
ROMO CHECKLIST: We keep saying Tony Romo's dismal Week 1 performance -- three first-half picks, goalline gaffes and a 60.8 quarterback rating during the Cowboys’ 28-17 loss to San Francisco -- was the result of Romo's "intellectual rust.''
And now Romo himself is agreeing with us.''
"It was just good (reviewing fim) to see the 'subtleness' of just what I felt like I need to be a little better just through the mental progression before each snap, the subtleties of it that really gain you the advantages to ensure that you don’t make certain mistakes,'' Romo said. “The more I went over it, the more I started to realize it was just some small things that I need to do. The mental checklist before you get into that situation and I think going forward that will be much better.”
So, mental rust. Not physical rust. Right?
“I think that was part of the positive that came from the game,” Romo said. “Physically, I did a lot of things well. Mentally, I felt like I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be in the football game. That’s what stood out to me.”
THE NUMBERS GAME: Our Mark Lane notes that since 1999, when Walt Coleman is the head ref in a Titans game (as he is this weekend for Dallas at Tennessee) the Titans are 13-3. Oh-oh.
ONSIDE KICKS: Need a pep talk? Here's our 'Top Football Movie Motivational Speeches' ... The time is ripe and the slope is slippery. The Fish column on Jerry Jones' "Honey-Grab vs. Money-Grab'' is here. ... Mark Lane's weekly must-read - "Cowboys 100'' -- digs into every stat you'll need to know for Cowboys at Titans. ... We're a little surprised to learn that Kyle Wilber, despite his pass-rush skills, isn't working at end, instead staying at linebacker, where he is getting very few snaps. ...
THE FINAL WORD: Josh Brent, Orlando Scandrick and O.J. Simpson could sneak onto Cowboys roster right now and Roger Goodell wouldn't even notice.
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