Cowboys In London: Final Preparations
The Dallas Cowboys engaged in a light practice on Friday at Allianz Park, and while it was billed by some as "only a walk-through,'' it was actually an important testing ground for the gameplan and for Tony Romo.
Against air, he was 15-of-18 passing in the open moments of the workout. Good? Yes, good, considering a week ago we all (including me) pretty much thought he'd be in a body cast by now.
Coach Jason Garrett has his on-the-record evaluation:
"He looked pretty comfortable to me," Garrett said. "Clearly he’s coming back of of this thing. He wants to get the blood going through his body and getting his movement back both in the pocket and also throwing the football. I feel like he had a pretty good day [Thursday]."
The Cowboys have their official eval, as Romo is listed as "probable.''
And I have my Eye Test, the whole purpose of me being here in London: Contrary to some reports, he didn't look "stiff'' and he didn't "struggle.'' He was as close to normal as could be expected given the circumstance. Carrying his own bag off the bus. Taking his normal turn in practice. Conducting a press conference with good cheer. Boarding the bus with a thumbs-up to a handful of media members.
I am under the impression there will be some gameplan concessions here; I've seen Dallas do lots of bubble-screen and middle-screen stuff this week; those are plays that can unfold quickly, slow a pass rush, and keep the QB upright. And then I simply believe this will be a max-protect week, with the Murrays and the Hannas and maybe the Wittens spending more time helping the front five against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Unfortunately, not everybody is as suddenly healthy as Romo. Tyrone Crawford (knee) isn't going to make it onto the field. Rolando McClain (knee) has missed three days before and played, but sources indicate to me that seems unlikely this week. Nick Hayden returned to practice Friday and Davon Coleman may be in the "active'' mix to help out.
I really don't know if London wants, needs, gets the NFL.
But London wants, needs, gets Jerry Jones.
I know what you're thinking if you're among the legion of fans who despise the Dallas Cowboys owner/president/general manager/showman/105.3 The Fan co-host:
"London wants Jerry? London can have him!"
But give the man this: as of Wednesday, this Sunday's NFL game at Wembley Stadium couldn't earn America's Game even one sentence in any of the local papers.
And then on Thursday here comes Jerry Poppins in all his charmingly blustering glory, engaging the locals with praise for London's "cachet" in someday having its own NFL team, with a proudly solemn tale about Princess Diana, with a flirty football backstory about Elizabeth Taylor.
Some of Jerry's yarns you've heard before on The Fan, like the one about European athletic talent featuring the giant 280-pound Russian who was scouted by the Cowboys in 1990 who, flat-footed, could jump up and kick a chandelier. (Yes, it sounds as ridiculous in London as it does when he tells it to G-Bag Nation. But you think the local Euros weren't flattered by tales of their fantastical athleticism?)
Lady Di? One of Jerry's prized possessions is a framed photo of Diana and her sons, the little ones wearing Cowboys gear.
Liz Taylor? Jerry told the backstory of her 1989 appearance at Texas Stadium for a coin flip against the Redskins.
An NFL team based in London?
“On a personal basis and speaking for the Dallas Cowboys,” Jerry said, “we would very much like to have a team in London. ... I’m a big proponent of having a team in London. ... It has cachet."
As I said Thursday on The Fan, Jerry likely thinks "cachet" is one of these here countries' way'a sayin' "cash." Really, logistically, the idea of the London Jaguars (the franchise I'm told by NFL higher-ups is a viable possibility to move) is a horrible one. To me, this league might want to fix the playing surface in Oakland before it worries about arranging for a pitch in London.
But Jerry on the London stage? He's a natural performer, almost fit for The Globe. In fact, a British reporter asked Jerry about his acting ability (they get those pizza TV ads over here?) and Jones turned the question into a sly comment on how Hollywood types get to surround themselves with "eye candy.”
The DFW media squirmed uncomfortably.
The British media? It longed for more sweets being handed out by Jerry.
Dez Bryant and Travis Frederick are the two players who've declined to wear sleeves during this week's chilly-weather practice. Mind-over-matter thinking, I guess.
Other players are struggling to adjust to the food. (See Bruce Carter below.) But the biggest change is surely the time change. We left DFW dealing with the dumb "Fall Back'' loss of an hour, the players then started to deal with the six-hour time difference and the jet lag, and even continuing to the weekend sleep patterns are all goofed up.
At least mine are.
Garrett tells me that players meetings have been done at 5:15 p.m. all week, giving the fellas ample time to do what they want, to get comfortable, to sightsee (on Friday, the team went as a group to the Tower of London for dinner and a tour). The coach also mentioned to the media at large that he had a curfew for the players, but I pulled him aside and asked him about it.
"The curfew is midnight,'' Jason told me, which of course isn't much of a curfew at all.
Romo with a great point about his O-line and the other Cowboys with injuries: “Those (O-line) guys, they put immense amounts of pressure on themselves just to play well. They’re competitive, they’re tough, they’re great guys to have. I guarantee you they’re playing through stuff, too, just like everybody at this point in the season. You’ve just got to go out and get your best foot forward and go commit to it.'' ... As I write this, Bill Polian is in my London hotel bar. Should I tell him he's a rare ESPN shining light of intellect or does he already know it? ... Hey, Anthony Spencer, what's your No. 1 thought on the Cowboys In London? "I'm realizing how much I love America,' Spence said. ... Rod Marinelli is wearing Crocs at Cowboys practice. Why? Because he really doesn't care what any of us think.
Sean Lee didn't make the trip to London, something he was very much looking forward to, in part because his pal Paul Posluszny of the Jaguars -- with whom he shares a brotherly Penn State connection -- was going to be here, too.
“Oh, it was all mapped out,’’ Lee tells me in an exclusive interview for 105.3 The Fan. “We were going to go at it in the game, of course, but at some point we were also going to find some London pub and hang out a little bit.’'
But Lee is out. And Pos is out. No traveling ... though I asked Sean why not take the free vacation anyway?
“It would’ve turned into nothing but a vacation for me, and I don’t need a vacation,’’ Lee says. “I need to stay in the weight room. I need to be here (in Dallas) working.’'
One thing he's happy to work on: Shifting to WILL next year as part of Dallas' plan to re-up shift him from middle linebacker Rolando McClain.
“We haven’t talked about that officially, but I’m aware of it, and it sounds great,’’ Lee tells me. “You know, whatever needs to be done to help us win, I’ll do. Weakside linebacker is an important spot in the sense that all 11 positions on defense are important. I just want to be a part of it and will feel blessed to be a part of it.’'
In my one-on-one visit with Jack Crawford — a low-profile Cowboy in most circles but a Romo/Dez/DeMarco-level celebrity for this week, anyway — he reveals that a grade-school classmate of his was the actor who would gain international fame playing Harry Potter in a series of blockbuster movies.
"I was actually in the same class as Daniel Radcliffe when I was a kid," Crawford tells me. "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."
Crawford was a “normal kid,’’ too, until it because clear his combination of athleticism and size might allow him to stand out.
"I played a lot of other sports growing up in the UK," Crawford tells me. "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."
Crawford, now 6-5 and 275, landed at Penn State, where he became a teammate of injured Cowboys standout Sean Lee. Lee is out for the season, but Crawford is healthy and working to make a greater contribution to the defense. … and would love to do so Sunday against the Jaguars at a Wembley Stadium full of his countrymen.
"I definitely took note of (the London) game when I saw the schedule," Crawford says "but I tried my best not to think about that too early.’'
But now it’s time.
"I'm all in, 100 percent,’’ Crawford says. "I'm fully committed to the Dallas Cowboys and everything they're trying to do on defense. "I'm really proud to be part of Cowboys Nation.’'
And, for this week at least, to be a Daniel Radcliffe-type celebrity in his own nation.
I've had the opportunity to visit with lots of Cowboys, one-on-one, this week. To a man, they've been careful to be polite about the visit.
Except for Bruce Carter, who is probably in a bit of a foul mood because his job seems to be slipping away again ... and because he is starving.
"This food is disgusting!" Carter tells me, laughing, kinda. "I ordered a hamburger from room service, took one bite, and threw it out!"
Carter plans on leading a contingent of defensive players out on the town for dinner, especially because Justin Durant (on IR) made the trip, and the fellas want to show him a good time. But that's a sidebar to Carter trying to hang onto snaps, snaps that are on the verge of escaping him again.
"It's my job to play, so when I get out there, I play,'' Bruce says, well-aware that rookie Anthony Hitchens might start at the weakside and that he's suddenly being in a play-time split at strongside with Kyle Wilber.
"Kyle did some good things, Bruce did some good things," coach Jason Garrett said of the competitors' work last week in the loss to Arizona. "And so we’ll keep rotating those guys around and see who wants it more and see who deserves it more."
Carter wants the job. Somewhere in there, because he's on the final year of his deal, he would like a contract. And, most of all at this moment, Bruce Carter needs a meal.
So I'm hanging around with old pal Michael Irvin (pictured above with the Romo family) and I ask him, "We gonna go out and cause some trouble in London?''
"It's too cold here to cause any trouble,' laughs The Playmaker.
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