Cowboys kick off their back-to-basics approach
Miles Austin practiced without his sticky gloves Wednesday, forcing him to watch every pass into his hands more than usual.
During film sessions, offensive linemen studied not only whether they blocked their man, but how. Defensive linemen went through similar analysis.
Coach Wade Phillips hopes that kind of attention to details will salvage the 1-6 Dallas Cowboys.
A back-to-basics approach is the latest plan the Cowboys are trying to turn around their season. It can't hurt. Dallas has lost four straight and already has more losses than last season with nine games still to play.
''You keep trying the same things and getting the same results, so we'll try a new thing,'' quarterback Jon Kitna said. ''A little more individual-type work. Working with the receivers and tight ends and backs a little more than we have been. Refreshing, during-the-season type stuff.''
Phillips said Monday that after watching every game this season, and several from last season, he concluded that sloppy fundamentals are the root of this team's problems. Wednesday was the first day to try doing something about it.
The majority of the workout was closed to reporters. However, based on what everyone said, including Phillips, the only difference was a few more individual and group drills.
The biggest change might've been the location - Cowboys Stadium. But that was only because the fields at team headquarters were drenched by rain.
Players didn't even fully dress out, going with only helmets and shoulder pads.
''I'm the one that's responsible and I'm going to get this team going better,'' he said. ''It's important for everyone to know we're working hard at what we're doing. We're trying to do the best we can do and I think we're going to improve. We're committed to doing that.''
Phillips continues to believe his team isn't as bad as the record shows. Their first five losses were all by a touchdown or less, but they're coming off a home loss that was never even close against a Jacksonville club that came in 3-4 and had lost its two previous games by at least 22 points.
''It's a guy here, a guy there, or a play here, a play there,'' Phillips said. ''It hasn't been consistent enough. I think part of our inconsistency is us (not) being fundamentally sound with all our guys.''
Phillips initially said the emphasis on fundamentals would trump game-planning for Green Bay on Sunday night. His description Wednesday sounded more like a 50-50 balance - clean up what they can, when they can, in the course of running the plays they need to work on to face the Packers.
The message may have come across best in position meetings, when players review films of practices and games.
''Rather than 'You got your guy blocked,' in this case it's, 'How did you get him blocked? Did you step with a 45-degree angle? Did you put your hand in his breastplate?''' Phillips said. ''These kinds of things we are emphasizing more and more. Same thing defensively. 'He played his gap.' Well, no, we want to know if he played his gap, that he got this guy off him, was he able to shed his guy and go to the football.''
As Phillips likes to say, it's not just about doing it right, it's about doing it exactly right.
''There's things you have to be able to do and do well to be able to play and play well,'' Phillips said. ''That's what we're trying to correct.''
Left tackle Marc Colombo, linebacker Bradie James, running back Felix Jones, cornerback Terence Newman did not practice Wednesday, but are likely to play against Green Bay. Colombo (back), James (knee), Jones (ankle) and Newman (ribs) could practice Thursday.
Left guard Kyle Kosier, who missed the last game with an ankle injury, went through a full practice and is expected to start.
Kick returner Akwasi Owusu-Ansah has a high ankle sprain and will miss several games. Brian McCann likely will be promoted from the practice squad to take over that role and add depth at cornerback with Newman playing in pain.
The Cowboys have a roster spot open because Tuesday they released linebacker Jason Williams, a third-round pick in 2009. He also was their first pick that draft. Of the 12 guys in that draft class, kicker David Buehler and backup linebacker Victor Butler are the only contributors. Stephen McGee is the backup quarterback (he was third string when Tony Romo was healthy) and tight end John Phillips is on injured reserve.
''You keep the best players, whether they're first-round picks or last-round picks or free agents,'' Phillips said. ''You're not going to be perfect on all draft choices.''