Cowboys preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
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The end of the season has not been kind to the Dallas Cowboys in recent years. It's not been just a Jason Garrett problem, but the Cowboys lost three of their last four in 2013, their final two in 2012 and four of their last five in 2011 to finish 8-8 all three years. This year's late-season schedule is difficult -- five of the last seven away from home -- but the pivotal stretch will be early in the year to make sure the end of the year is relevant. Six of the Cowboys' first nine games are at AT&T Stadium, which has not provided the greatest of home-field advantages since opening. The Cowboys have a three-game homestand from Oct. 19-Nov. 2 against three NFC teams that they almost have to sweep to stay in contention in the division or help in the wild-card standings.

Complete Cowboys season preview.

Cowboys claim CB Thomas on waivers

August, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Phillip Tanner wasn't the only emergency addition by the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys claimed cornerback Jemea Thomas on waivers Wednesday from the New England Patriots and will have him available for Thursday's game against the Denver Broncos.

In order to make room for Thomas, the Cowboys announced they cut wide receiver Tim Benford. They have to make another roster move before adding Tanner.

With DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle (oblique) not playing against the Broncos and Ryan Williams bothered by cramping last week, the Cowboys only have D.J. Adams healthy and available at running back.

Thomas, who was cut by the New England Patriots, will allow the Cowboys to cover for the absences of Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne (shoulder), Sterling Moore and B.W. Webb (hip flexor). Orlando Scandrick, who will be suspended the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, could play against the Broncos because he will no longer be allowed with the team starting Monday.

The Patriots drafted Thomas out of Georgia Tech in the sixth round last May. He can play corner and safety.

Claiborne likely out for preseason finale

August, 27, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne will "probably not" play in the team's Thursday preseason finale, executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said.

Claiborne
This would mark the second consecutive preseason that Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, did not play a down. The Cowboys coaches hoped to get him some action Thursday against the Denver Broncos after Claiborne missed one game with knee tendinitis and the last two due to a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder.

"Just not worth the risk to go backwards," Jones said after the team's kickoff luncheon. "You know those shoulder injuries; they get sore on you quickly. After really going over it with our trainers and doctors, probably the better decision here is to let him get fully healed and then put him out there."

Claiborne returned to practice this week, saying Tuesday that he's ready for game action despite still feeling soreness in the shoulder.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton, the team's other starter who has yet to play this preseason, is expected to get some snaps against the Broncos.

Melton, whose final season with the Chicago Bears ended early due to a torn ACL suffered in September, missed the last two weeks because of a strained groin. Jones said Melton indicated he wanted to play in the preseason finale to chip off some rust before the regular season begins.

"He's ready to go and I think he just wants the peace of mind that he's going to feel good when he starts against the 49ers," Jones said.

Jerry Jones acknowledges 'uphill battle'

August, 27, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the eternal optimist, was pragmatic when he addressed the crowd at the team’s kickoff luncheon at AT&T Stadium that benefits the Happy Hill Farm.

Instead of alluding to possible Super Bowl dreams, Jones told the players in his address to the crowd, that “our back's up against the wall.”

Coming off three straight 8-8 seasons and winless so far in the preseason, the Cowboys' expectations have not been this low since the team went through three straight 5-11 seasons in 2000-02. But Jones kept thinking a Super Bowl was just around the corner.

“You know that we have an uphill battle this year,” Jones said, “and we do have an uphill battle. But most of you had an uphill battle when you came to camp. Most of you did. And some of you have absolutely rose to the occasion.”

But will it be enough to change the fortunes and expectations?

At the luncheon, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray were named the 2013 offensive MVPs, while Barry Church and Dwayne Harris took home to defensive and special teams’ honors. Church was officially named as the Cowboys’ Ed Block Courage Award winner for his efforts last season after coming back from a torn Achilles.

Danny White was named the Legends Award winner.

With the preseason finale Thursday against the Denver Broncos, Wednesday’s luncheon was a reminder regular-season football is not far off.

“This is always a fun day but it symbolizes football is starting up for real,” tight end Jason Witten said. “There’s always a lot of excitement when you come to this luncheon.”

But this time Jones was more than willing to temper the expectations.
The reason Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks personally to every player he cuts from the roster is because he spent his entire NFL career as a fringe player.

He understands the power a few words of encouragement, instruction or hope can give a player who has just seen his NFL dream derailed.

“It’s probably the hardest thing that we have to do,” Garrett said of cutting players. “We really take a tremendous amount of pride in doing it the right way. I will talk to every player, have a personal meeting with them. The coordinators will talk to each player. The position coaches will talk to the player.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Donna McWilliamDallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was never a full-time starter in the NFL, which influences his perspective on having to make roster cuts.
“Typically, what we do is thank them for their effort and putting it all out there. We try to be instructive; ‘This is what we saw. This is how we think you can get better. It’s one person’s opinion or one organization’s opinion.’ And then encourage them.

“If we feel like they can continue to play, help them in any way that we can and just try to give any kind of guidance we can. That’s a hard meeting to have. Different players will handle it different ways, but we have to make sure we handle it the right way and are respectful of those guys because they have put it all out there.”

Garrett, who played in the NFL from 1993 to 2004, made just nine career starts. Only once did he start more than two games in an NFL season.

That’s why he also prides himself on making sure he gives every player an opportunity in practice and preseason games to prove he should make the team. It’s important, because he didn’t get many opportunities.

Garrett, like a few players on his team, looked forward to the final preseason game because he knew it meant he’d get to play.

Still, no matter how empathetic Garrett is or how much encouragement he provides, players don’t want to hear they’ve been released.

Some are gracious. A few cry. Others get angry.

"We have to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and say: Did we give this player an opportunity to make this team? We talk about that all along the way. ‘We have to see this guy. We haven’t seen this guy play. Let’s make sure we give him some chances in practice and in these preseason games to show us'." Garrett said. “We really try to do that, and its very rare that we’ll look at a player and say we haven’t done that. Ultimately we’ll make a decision that we think is best for our team and typically the player understands.”

Sources: Cowboys to sign RB Tanner

August, 27, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will sign running back Phillip Tanner on Wednesday, sources said.

Tanner
Tanner, a Dallas native who spent the past three seasons with the Cowboys, was recently released by the Indianapolis Colts.

The Cowboys need depth at running back for Thursday's preseason finale, in which starter DeMarco Murray and No. 2 back Lance Dunbar will rest as a precaution. Joseph Randle (oblique) and Ryan Williams (groin) are dealing with injuries.

The Cowboys will have to cut a player to make room for Tanner on the roster.
Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and owner Jerry Jones met Tuesday at the club’s Valley Ranch training complex to discuss the receiver’s contract situation, two sources said.

Bryant
Bryant
The two also spoke briefly in the locker room after Saturday’s preseason game about the prospect of getting a deal done before the start of the regular season on Sept. 7. Bryant has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to discuss a new contract once the season begins.

"Gotta respect it," said Cowboys vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones. "He’s half of the deal. You’ve got to have him to have the deal. Obviously, we respect [the deadline]. He wants to concentrate on the season. If we don’t get it done before the season starts, we’ll get it done after the season, if that’s when he wants to do it. We’re not going to be worried about it one way or the other."

Bryant and the Cowboys have been discussing a long-term deal for several months, but have been unable to reach an agreement.

Bryant, who caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns, considers himself a top-5 NFL receiver and wants to be paid like one. Those players earn about $12 million per season. The Cowboys view him more as a top-10 receiver and would like to pay him in the $8-10 million range.

They have often compared him to DeSean Jackson, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal with Washington in the offseason.

The sources said Bryant and Jones had an amicable meeting Tuesday in which Jones reiterated to Bryant how much he wants him to be with the Cowboys long-term.

"We’re working hard," Stephen Jones said. "Oh, I’m optimistic that eventually we get something done. Obviously, we think the world of Dez, and that’s what we want and he wants that, so just got to work hard at it."

After the Cowboys signed left tackle Tyron Smith to an eight-year, $98 million contract extension during training camp, the NFLPA reportedly looked into the negotiations because the Cowboys circumvented Smith’s agent and persuaded Smith to agree to a deal that would keep him tied to the Cowboys until the 2023 season.

Right now, one source said the biggest impediment to getting a deal done is the amount of guaranteed money.

If the sides don’t reach an agreement, the Cowboys could put the franchise tag on him and pay Bryant $12.3 million next season.

-- Tim MacMahon contributed to this report

Jason Witten at No. 25 in #NFLRank

August, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -– As ESPN continues its #NFLRank countdown, Jason Witten has made his appearance in the offense’s top 100.

The nine-time Pro Bowl tight end checked in at No. 25, down four spots from 2013 after he caught 110 passes, an NFL record for tight ends. Witten had 73 catches for 851 yards and eight touchdowns last season. There are three tight ends ranked higher than Witten: Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.

He is the fourth Cowboy to check in on offense. DeMarco Murray was No. 91, Tony Romo was No. 61 and Tyron Smith was No. 40.

The only player left to find out? Dez Bryant. Last year, Bryant was No. 28.

If you’re waiting for a member of the defense to check in, don’t bother. The Cowboys are one of three teams without a defender in the top 100.

For the full list so far, click here.

McClain a risk to Garrett's credibility

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett truly cares about character.

Character is a critical element to Garrett's football philosophy and an integral part of the fabric of how he tries to build a team. It’s a subject he eagerly discusses in great detail, as he did during his Tuesday news conference.

McClain
“Are you the right kind of guy?” Garrett said. “Are you part of this team that we're trying to build? Can you play the way we want to play? That’s a really important consideration. So every time we talk about personnel, those are the things that come into my mind. Does this guy represent what we want?

“I can stand in front of the team and make great speeches and show them clips of movies and inspire them in a lot of different ways and tell them what we’re all about. And then if we take a player and have this guy on our team that doesn’t really represent any of that other stuff, the players look at you like, ‘Yeah, this is what he stands for. This isn’t what he stands for.’ We believe in building something that we’re all going to be proud of.”

Therein lies the real risk of the Cowboys’ trade for twice-retired middle linebacker Rolando McClain.

The deal with the Baltimore Ravens made perfect sense for the Cowboys on paper. At the most, it would cost the Cowboys a swap of their sixth-round pick for the Ravens’ seventh-round pick, so there is no real risk in terms of value. After Sean Lee’s season-ending knee injury, Dallas was desperate to add a playmaker at middle linebacker, and McClain has that potential as a 25-year-old former eighth overall pick.

But how does McClain represent all those intangible attributes that Garrett values so greatly?

“We’ll see,” Garrett said. “Rolando McClain was a great football player coming out of Alabama and if anybody watched him play in college, you’d be pretty impressed with everything that I was just talking about. I know someone really well down there who runs that program who really endorsed him for all the reasons that we’ve talked about, not just physical ability, just everything he was all about.

“Oftentimes players get to a certain place or have different things happen in their lives that maybe the best isn’t brought out in them, because of what they’ve done or because of an environment they might be in. We believe in second chances, and it really doesn’t matter where guys come from. We feel like giving him an opportunity to show that he is that guy that everybody thought he was when he was in college is a good bet.”

Selvie expects to be ready for Week 1

August, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Defensive end George Selvie's surgically repaired right shoulder is sore enough to cause him to sit out practice this week.

He's adamant, however, that it isn't sore enough to sideline him for next week's regular season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

"I'm just taking it easy," said Selvie, who banged up the shoulder in last week's preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins. "I had the surgery in the offseason, so it's a little sore right now. We're just taking it a little easy.

"Everything should be good. Everything's good. I'll be out there."

The Cowboys can ill afford to be without Selvie, who played all 16 games last season and ranked second on the team with seven sacks. They already have depth problems across the defensive line and especially at end.

Anthony Spencer is expected to come off the physically unable to perform list soon but will not be ready for Week 1. Rookie second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence will miss several games as he recovers from surgery to repair his broken right foot.

The Cowboys need Selvie to match his production from last season, when he was a pleasant surprise after signing with Dallas during the first week of camp. That's why it makes sense to be cautious with him this week.

Brandon Weeden looks forward to 'live reps'

August, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Brandon Weeden is looking at his second start of the Dallas Cowboys’ preseason Thursday against the Denver Broncos with Tony Romo sitting out.

Weeden started the preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 7 and completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

“One possession, five possessions or the first half, I’ve got to take advantage of the reps,” Weeden said. “These live reps, you can’t put a price tag on them. They’re too valuable. I’m looking forward to it.”

Kyle Orton, last year’s backup to Romo, started the preseason finale against the Houston Texans but threw just one pass in one series. He had more experience than Weeden, and the Cowboys have said Weeden needs to play, so he could play more against the Broncos.

In three preseason games, Weeden has completed 28 of 45 passes for 313 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

He said he felt much more comfortable against the Miami Dolphins last week than he did two weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens.

“There were some little things in the Baltimore game that looking back on it I was like, ‘That’s not me,’” Weeden said. “Certainly as far as using my eyes and stuff like that, I normally don’t do. I think I fixed the little things. As far as comfort level, I didn’t get as many snaps (against Miami) but the snaps I did get were more efficient is the best way to put it. I felt better after this one.”

Weeden pointed to his interception against the Ravens and his 27-yard touchdown pass to LaRon Byrd as the biggest differences.

“The interception I threw, my eyes stayed (on the receiver) the entire time,” Weeden said. “I never moved the defense. Whereas the touchdown throw the other night, I kept the safety in the middle of the field and came back and threw a ball to Byrd and he made a great catch. Just using my eyes to dictate. Tony’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at it. It’s nice to watch a guy like that.”

DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys to say hello again

August, 27, 2014
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DeMarcus WareJohn Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware returns to Dallas on Thursday as a member of the Broncos.

IRVING, Texas -- DeMarcus Ware never really got the chance to say goodbye when the Dallas Cowboys released their all-time leader in sacks last March.

On Thursday Ware will get the chance to once again say hello when the Denver Broncos visit AT&T Stadium for the preseason finale, and the Cowboys’ fans and organization will get a chance to say thank you.

"Being able to come back and have the opportunity to absorb some of the things I have done and seen down there," Ware said, "it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to it."

Ware will not be playing and neither will his long-time Cowboys teammates Tony Romo and Jason Witten as both teams will rest their starters for the regular season, but his daughter and son will be on hand to see him in Broncos’ colors.

"I thought I was always going to be a Dallas Cowboy," Ware said. "That was really, really big for me. I played well for nine years. So I never thought they would get rid of me."

From a business perspective, the Cowboys decision to release Ware was not difficult. He was set to count $16 million against the salary cap and was coming off a career-low six sacks after missing the first three games of his career with a quadriceps injury.

Ware, who turned 32 in July, had elbow surgery in the offseason and had been slowed by numerous injuries the last two seasons.

From a personal perspective, the Cowboys’ decision was difficult. Coach Jason Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones spoke about their admiration for Ware, the No. 11 pick of the 2005 draft, who made the Pro Bowl from 2006-12 and was one of the NFL’s most dominant pass-rushers.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsIn nine seasons with the Cowboys, DeMarcus Ware accumulated 117 sacks.
"Very strange and difficult to boot because of what we think about him," Jones said of Ware’s visit. "I mean he’s like family. He obviously, in our mind, he’s a shoe in to the Hall of Fame and he spilled his bucket here for us, and it’s difficult, but that’s part of the business. At the same time we’re happy for him because of what he was able to do in terms of his business with the Broncos and it sure is a good situation for him. I’ve said it from Day 1 he’s one of my all-time favorites and I wish him nothing but the best."

The Broncos signed Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal that guaranteed him $20 million the day after he was cut by Dallas. After losing in the Super Bowl last season, the Broncos view Ware as one of the final pieces to win a Super Bowl this season.

The Cowboys are not in that position and had to make some salary-cap decisions. They never made a firm offer to possibly keep Ware, in part because they did not want to spoil what had been a great relationship with a low-ball deal.

The Cowboys, however, do not have a replacement for Ware on their current roster. They selected DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round, but he suffered a broken foot in training camp and could miss the first 3-6 regular season games.

"It'll be difficult but at the same time I hope it all goes well for him," Jones said. "I hope he gets to the Super Bowl."

To get there the Broncos will need the Ware that racked up double-digit sacks every year from 2006-12. Ware had 20 sacks in 2008 and 19.5 sacks in 2011. His 117 career sacks are a team record.

Injuries, however, sapped Ware of a lot of his strength. He was unable to practice as much as he or the team would have liked.

"When I look at him the last couple of years, I look at him with admiration and say, ‘Wow! This is a tough guy,’" Garrett said. "He’s a mentally tough guy. He’s a physically tough guy. He’s doing everything that he can to put it on the line for our team and for his teammates. My association with him has been nothing but positive. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around and one of the best players. Statistically he wasn’t what he was throughout his career last year (because of the injuries). I anticipate a lot of great football ahead for him."

Playing with Peyton Manning, Ware should see a lot of double-digit leads, which means teams have to pass more, which means he will have more opportunities to rush the passer. Playing next to Von Miller will provide him with more one-on-one blocks than he had with the Cowboys even when Greg Ellis and Anthony Spencer enjoyed Pro Bowl seasons. Ware is also 10 pounds lighter (255) and has not missed a day of practice this summer.

"At the end of the day my goal is to always be very effective and get to the quarterback as much as I can and to get back to my old self," Ware said. "Pass-rushers want to get those double digit sacks. They want to make those big plays. How effective can I be this year? I think I can get back to my old self. I know I can."

But whatever happens with the Broncos, he will forever remain a Cowboy. He has a deal in place with Jerry Jones to retire as a member of the Cowboys and almost assuredly will one day will join the club’s hallowed Ring of Honor.

"I played for a great organization with the Dallas Cowboys," Ware said, "and that will always be home for me."

Jason GarrettAP Photo/LM OteroCowboys coach Jason Garrett is building his team the right way. Too bad he might lose his job before it all pays off.

IRVING -- Jerry Jones has tried every shortcut known to man to make his football team champion again.

None have worked the way he envisioned. And that's the reason the Cowboys have one playoff win since 1996.

There are no shortcuts to building a winner in the NFL. This isn't like the NBA, where you can tank games, draft LeBron James and go from 17 wins to 50 wins in three seasons.

Yes, Bill Parcells won 10 games in his first season -- a five-game improvement in the standings -- but that was a mirage. The Cowboys went 6-10 the next season and never again won 10 games under the Hall of Fame coach.

But Parcells' philosophical approach laid the foundation for the team that went 13-3 in 2007 and had the best record in the NFC.

Like Parcells, Garrett is trying to build a winner capable of sustained success. Like Parcells, Garrett might not reap the rewards of his work.

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs each of his three full seasons as head coach, and few expect to see them in the postseason this year. The Cowboys are on their third play-caller in three seasons, as well as their third defensive coordinator.

At some point, the guillotine will find Garrett, as it should. Ultimately, Garrett's going to be judged on wins and losses. Right now, though, he's still implementing his plan to make the Cowboys a winner.


(Read full post)


Jason Witten ribs DeMarcus Ware on call

August, 26, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten were teammates for nine years and developed a close friendship.

The business of the NFL separated them when the Dallas Cowboys decided to part ways with Ware, the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, but they were able to reconnect on a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

With Ware returning to AT&T Stadium on Thursday with the Denver Broncos, his new team, he took time on a conference call to discuss his tenure with the Cowboys, how it started and how it ended.

In between, he and Witten had a good back and forth.

With Ware in the middle of an answer, Witten said, "Nobody cares what you’re saying. D-Weezy."

Ware: “Who’s this?”

Witten: “It’s Witt. You’re lucky we’re not playing [Thursday] night.”

Ware: “Hey what’s up man? You don’t want to see me man. Come on now.”

Witten: “You’re lucky we’re not playing.”

Ware: “Hey, Witt, they got me dropping a little bit now so I sure enough don’t have to stick you.”

Witten: “I’d love to see you in coverage. I don’t want to see you off the edge. That’s all I don’t want to see.”

When informed Witten was gone, Ware said, “Y’all got me riled up. Got one of my boys on the phone now.”

Enough to ask Broncos coach John Fox if he could play Thursday?

“No, I’m good,” Ware laughed. “It’s the fourth preseason game. I’m good.”

Dallas Cowboys cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
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Most significant move: The Matt Johnson era has not officially ended, but the safety was waived by the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday as part of the roster moves to reach the NFL-mandated 75-player limited.

A fourth-round draft pick in 2012, Johnson never played in a game. He missed his rookie season with recurring hamstring injuries as well as a back injury. He suffered an ankle injury in the 2013 preseason and was placed on injured reserve after having surgery.

Despite his limited practices, the Cowboys liked Johnson’s potential and kept waiting for him to get healthy. He suffered a hamstring injury early in training camp this summer in Oxnard, California, and was unable to return to practice. He returned to Dallas early to see if back problems were causing the hamstring issues but no relation was found.

If Johnson clears waivers, he would revert to injured reserve and the Cowboys could eventually receive an injury settlement.

Cowboys remain patient: By placing Amobi Okoye on the reserve/non-football illness list, the Cowboys are buying more time on the veteran defensive tackle. He will be unable to play in the first six games of the regular season but he will be able to continue his conditioning work as he attempts to return from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain disease that left him in a coma for three months last year. Okoye was cleared for full football activities by his doctor on Aug. 14, but the team is choosing to be cautious in his return after such a long layoff with the hope he could return by midseason.

Cowboys' moves: QB Caleb Hanie, WR Chris Boyd, TE Jordan Najvar (waived/injured), G Wayne Tribue, DL Adewale Ojomo, DE Ben Gardner (injured reserve), DT Amobi Okoye (reserve/NFI), LB DeVonte Holloman (waived/injured), CB Justin Green (waived injured), S Johnny Thomas (waived injured), S Matt Johnson (waived injured), P Tom Hornsey, LS Casey Kreiter

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