Sean Lee responded with strong words to criticism from former teammate Dez Bryant.
Tyrone Crawford felt compelled to tell the team these Dallas Cowboys won’t be in the business of dramas such as Bryant’s Twitter-fed rant early in training camp over who he felt was responsible for his offseason release.
With tight end Jason Witten’s sudden retirement after 15 years for a TV job Anthony Munoz Jersey , the Cowboys can’t defer to the franchise leader in games, starts and catches on any number of topics. Crawford, a defensive lineman, doesn’t think they can replace the 2012 NFL Man of the Year either.
”If you’re being real with yourself, Jason Witten’s one of the best ever to do it,” Crawford said. ”And if you knew him as a man, one of the best men you’ll ever get to meet. To me, there’s never going to be another Jason Witten that’s going to be around me.”
Still, the Cowboys have to figure out life without Witten’s leadership. Ask around, the answers will vary.
Quarterback Dak Prescott is a natural choice, both through leadership skills he demonstrated before replacing Tony Romo and the fact that the 25-year-old is already going into this third season as the starter.
Lee, now Dallas’ only offensive or defensive player in his 30s (he’s 31), always used to wait until the end of the week to address reporters in the locker room during the season. There’s talk of him moving that up to be more visible, and the 2016 All-Pro has left no doubt he knows things are different without Witten.
Center Travis Frederick and Zack Martin Jonathan Bullard Jersey , who just signed a contract making him the highest-paid guard in the NFL, come up as well. But Frederick stops short of the idea of leadership by committee.
”Committee makes it sound like it’s a huge group of guys,” said Frederick, who started all 80 games in his first five seasons. ”Traditionally in a team like this, you have a group of captains that are a strong group of leaders, maybe five, six guys. I think you’re going to find that here.
”But there’s been a lot of guys in training. I think that Dak is one of the guys that’s most naturally a leader that I’ve ever been around in my life.”
Bryant shockingly called Lee a “snake” on Twitter while suggesting the ninth-year linebacker had a hand in the club’s decision to move on from its career leader in touchdown receptions.
Equally shocking was Lee’s response, acknowledging that he and Bryant had been at odds over Lee’s feeling that Bryant wasn’t always accountable. Lee even suggested Bryant still wasn’t holding himself accountable. It was the first time Lee had been forced to defend himself on such terms, and he left no doubt how he felt.
”I’ve been in a leadership role for a long time now and I need to take it to that next level,” Lee said. ”But there’s also, we have a core group of guys. We have a lot of guys where it’s easy to be a leader on this football team because of how many great leaders we have, all the way through, from the top to bottom.”
Crawford, a seventh-year player who has been growing into a leadership role over several seasons Brian Allen Jersey , wasn’t happy that the team found itself in the middle of an unexpected tiff.
”When it comes to things like that and getting focused, I get angry and I say what I want to say and that’s what it is,” Crawford said. ”I feel like I need to say the right things at the right time and I do and that’s it.”
When Prescott became the starter because of a preseason back injury sustained by Romo two years ago, he spent half that season repeating that it was Romo’s team. Somewhere in the middle of an 11-game winning streak, though, the conversation changed. The qualities to lead were already there.
”It’s just about finding new ways to lead and it’s going to continue to evolve each and every year – every year that I get more experience and I get older,” Prescott said. ”New ways I can come in contact with my teammates, motivate them or do whatever I have to do to get the best out of them.”
Asked specifically about what Witten’s departure meant for Lee’s leadership role, coach Jason Garrett almost cut off the question.
”Witt was the guy who was out in front, the most veteran guy, incredibly well-respected guy,” Garrett said. ”But all these guys have been grasping that mantle for a long time. There’s no one guy that can lead as a player. It just doesn’t happen that way. You have to have it throughout your team.”
The Cowboys had some tangible proof during the first week of training camp.
NOTES: Dallas placed rookie WR Cedrick Wilson, a sixth-round pick, on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and signed rookie Ricky Jeune out of Georgia Tech.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera may have figured out the only way to avoid injuries to key players in training camp.
”Not practice Alfred Blue Jersey ,” Rivera said after Wednesday’s practice.
The Panthers are less than a week into training camp but have already lost two key players to potential season-ending injuries.
Right tackle Daryl Williams, a second-team All-Pro last season, dislocated his patella and tore his medial collateral ligament during blocking drills on Saturday. Two days later, cornerback Ross Cockrell broke two bones in his leg while trying to break up a pass in the end zone during 11-on-11 team drills.
The Panthers aren’t the only team hurting.
The Green Bay Packers have lost inside linebacker Jake Ryan and safety Kentrell Brice to severe leg injuries, while Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett also went down. Other teams have lost important players to injuries, too.
It’s nothing new, of course.
Injuries happen every year in training camp, a reminder of the fine line coaches must walk between preparing their team for the physicality of the regular season and avoiding injuries to key players that can derail a season.
”If you look at what happened (with our injuries) the truth of the matter is there is nothing you can do about it,” Rivera said. ”That was a freak injury for Ross where the receiver was falling to the ground and he happened to step into it and got rolled up. Daryl was kick-sliding and turned his ankle and came down on it.”
Rivera said injuries are the ”unfortunate nature of this game.”
Still, as a coach he is always looking for ways to prevent them, constantly telling players to ”be smart” on the field.
He did that prior to Wednesday morning’s practice on a slick field at Wofford College following overnight rain.
”I told the defensive backs and the linebackers, `Hey, let’s be smart about the receivers crossing because we don’t want to catch anybody in a bad spot,” Rivera said.
Some injuries can be prevented.
That’s why Rivera and his assistants were unhappy with rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden earlier this week he knocked wide receiver Jarius Wright to the ground in the back of the end zone with a vicious blow to the upper body – one that might have collected a fine from the league had it happened in a game situation. Wright remained on the ground for almost a minute before getting up.
He returned to practice a short while later.
Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess immediately yelled at Gaulden after the play Chidobe Awuzie Jersey , saying ”that’s what we talked about – you have to know better.”
Coaches later called Gaulden aside to reprimand him.
”Hey, that’s going to be very suspect because it falls right into the ram, butt and spear idea of using the helmet,” Rivera said. ”So we’ve got to make sure these young people understand it.”
Overall, Panthers left Matt Kalil said that ”sometimes you just can’t control” injuries.
”You want to play aggressive out here and you want to go full speed and get a game-time simulation,” Kalil said. ”We want to be smart. I think what we can do as veterans, and as players, is we have a guy who is about to fall we want to keep him up and keep him off the ground. But it’s hard because there are a lot of guys flying around out here.”
Panthers cornerback James Bradberry said there is a contact on every play.
”It’s very tough because one of the key components of making a Super Bowl run is having everybody healthy. And when you have prominent guys go down, it’s tough,” Bradberry said. ”You’ve just got to have that next-man-up mentality. And that’s what we have here.”
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