New Starter At Linebacker
Sunday night after the game, I gave my game ball to Brandon Carr for the way that he played at cornerback. I could have also gave it to Anthony Spencer for his effort as well, but I wanted to take a few moments to make a case for Alex Albright.
When Ernie Sims walked off the field with the trainers and doctors after suffering a concussion covering a kickoff, I started to wonder how coordinator Rob Ryan was going to handle the loss. Sims has been a bit of a go-to guy for Ryan and now he was out of the mix. When I saw Albright take Sims' spot, it made perfect sense. Albright is a player that coaches love because he can line up at all of the linebacker spots and play effectively.
One defensive coach told me on a flight home to watch Albright, and even this morning running into Ryan, the first thing he wanted to talk about was the play of Albright, and after watching the film, with good reason. Albright had not played any inside linebacker until this past training camp when the coaches decided to try this tall, but athletic player at that spot. It was rare in my scouting days to remember a player with that height playing inside, but he looked pretty natural.
The first thing you notice about Albright is his ability to quickly read the scheme. I am not saying he is Sean Lee or Bruce Carter, but you see a smart player. There was only one time in all his snaps where it looked like he got trapped inside when the back released in the flat on him. What got my attention early in the game was his ability to adjust quickly to Chris Rainey in space to close and make a tackle, then later Rainey tried to run a wheel route up the sideline and Albright was there step for step with him.
Albright is one of those players that can adjust to whatever his role is in the game. The more he played, the better he got, whether it was filling on a play, using his hands getting off a block or sliding down the line to take a play on the outside. After watching Albright play on Sunday, I would not be one bit surprised if he is the starter at inside linebacker with Dan Connor, even if Sims is healthy enough to go. It was really a nice game for him against a physical team.
Glad To Meet You
When I worked for the Cowboys as a scout, I was with the group in Pro Personnel. Your job is to do the advanced scouting of the next week's opponent for the coaches, track players on current rosters and practice squads, and keep a group of players on an emergency list when you have an injury and you need to bring a player in to fill that spot.
This job is not as easy as one might expect but Judd Garrett, Will McClay and Henry Sroka have done it better than anyone in the NFL this season. To the coaches on this staff, they have embraced these players that the pro guys have brought in and made them workable pieces. Against the Steelers, it was another example of who will make plays in this game that wasn't on the team before the previous game? It hasn't mattered who these pro guys have brought in – players like Eric Frampton, Charlie Peprah, Sterling Moore, Ernie Sims, Brady Poppinga, Michael Coe, Brian Schaefering and Anthony Armstrong have found ways to make plays.
Last week during practice, with plenty of questions about the health at cornerback, Moore and Coe get extensive work, and the way they played on Sunday, it showed in their technique. Moore, playing in the nickel on the outside but also getting plenty work inside against the dangerous Heath Miller, held him to no catches in the second half when he was matched up against him. The one catch he made was in zone coverage.
Ryan opened the game in a 4-3 look with Poppinga starting, so who made the tackle to open the game? Poppinga. Schaefering is a wide-bodied end that played for Ryan at Cleveland. In his short time on the field, he played perfect two-gap technique, shed the blocker and made a tackle. Later in the game, on an inside rush, he won late and got some push and pressure. Since Frampton has been on the active roster before the Carolina game, all he has done is lead the Cowboys in special teams tackles.
Anthony Armstrong was active for the first time against the Steelers and gave the units some speed on their cover teams.
In all my years in the league, I have never seen a team that has had to replace more front-line starters and still survive to have a shot to get in the tournament, which is a credit to the coaches and the scouts for the jobs they do.