OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys have had three full practices since arriving in Oxnard, Calif.
In that span, two defensive ends have gone down.
One for the entire season. One for about three weeks but it's unlikely he will be rushed back into action.
Obviously the Cowboys need that trend to stop as soon as possible before other defensive ends join Tyrone Crawford and Anthony Spencer on the injury list.
Crawford is certainly the biggest blow, lost for the season with a torn Achilles. Anthony Spencer is expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, a procedure that will keep him out at least three weeks, possibly four.
"I don't want to speculate too much," head coach Jason Garrett said of Spencer's return timetable. "But it was something we thought was serious enough to get something done, but again we don't think he's going to be out too, too long. We don't think it's a very severe thing. We just wanted to make sure we got it cleaned up. We thought getting it cleaned up sooner rather than later was better for him and for our team."
As for Crawford, Garrett said his versatility will be missed more than anything.
"He was a guy who was really developing in so many different ways," Garrett said of Crawford. "We also felt like he could play both inside and outside. He's that kind of athlete and seemed to be picking that up quickly. We'll see if some of the other guys are capable of doing that and we'll keep evaluating the position as a whole."
The problem – other than being without two of their top three defensive ends in practice – is the timing of the setbacks. The Cowboys won't be able to replace either player on the roster. Obviously, Spencer will be out for a shorter period of time, but Crawford will eventually go to injured reserve. But NFL rules prohibit teams from placing injured players on IR until Aug. 25, after the fourth preseason games.
The Cowboys do have an open roster spot and will likely fill the void with a defensive end. Although Cowboys VP and director of player personnel Stephen Jones said earlier this week Crawford's replacement "is already on the roster."
Garrett has used the phrase "injuries create opportunities" as his mantra this week. He reiterated that stance Tuesday in his regular press conference.
"There are some young guys we have who we want to see. We want to see a lot more of those guys play," Garrett said. "We saw some of them play in the spring and we'll get a chance to see more of them now that we have the pads on starting (Tuesday). Really, it's just an opportunity for them to show us what they can do. If they do that, they earn more of our trust and we give them more opportunities. You know the names of the guys who have been mixing in there. When you have a couple of different injuries in the defensive line and you play this scheme, you start talking about position flex."
The Cowboys have other defensive ends on the roster such as Ben Bass, Monte Taylor and Cameron Scheffield.
Bass has stood out here in recent days, but the most likely candidate to fill in for Crawford is Kyle Wilber, a second-year pro picked in the fourth round last year. Wilber was an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme but made the switch to end.
He's moved up to 253 pounds this year, adding a lot of muscle to his upper body. But Wilber said he is confident he is still big enough to handle the opposing 300-plus-pound tackles.
"D-Ware always tells me, we're small players, we've got to use our strengths to our side," Wilber said. "We can't just overpower, we've got to use our speed, we've got to use our leverage. (253 pounds) is big enough."
Wilber said he Ware has been rather beneficial with his actions as well. [embedded_ad]
"There was one time at practice he shook Tyron (Smith), did a spin move on the fullback then did an arm over on the running back and still made the sack. I was like, 'How are you doing this?'" Wilber said. "Coach (Rod Marinelli) paused and said this is what Pro Bowlers do. You've got to become like that."
Getting Wilber to play like Ware would be the greatest treat imaginable.
For now, the Cowboys will just settle for him staying healthy.