Just two weeks before the start of the 2015 NFL regular season, the Dallas Cowboys have lost their best player in the secondary for the entire year. Orlando Scandrick tore his ACL and MCL in practice on Tuesday, weakening the Cowboys' defense as they look to defend their NFC East title.
Even with a healthy Scandrick, there were questions regarding Dallas’ ability to defend the pass. They ranked just 26th in pass defense last season, and a few members of their secondary have underperformed over the past few years.
But Scandrick was the one stalwart of the unit, keeping opposing receivers in check. Now, the Cowboys will look to the other cornerbacks on their roster to step up.
Starting cornerback Brandon Carr was given a $50 million contract in 2012, but he hasn’t lived up to his contract. He ranked near the bottom of the league last season, allowing a 114 passer rating against opposing quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Morris Claiborne, who is in line to take over for Scandrick as the starter, has only played in 65 percent of the team’s games since being draft No.6 overall three years ago.
"I don't think we'll miss a beat,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said, via espn.com, when Scandrick went down with the injury. We hate to lose, if we do lose a player like that for the season, we hate to do that, but we won't miss a beat. We'll plug the next guy in. Again, we like our depth at that position. Again, our depth is going to be tested. So we'll see."
Despite Henderson’s confidence, Claiborne has yet to prove that he can get the job done as a starting cornerback. He missed the team’s first two preseason games, recovering from a torn patellar tendon that he suffered last year. Claiborne is expected to play against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, and he hopes to be more effective than he has been in previous seasons.
The rest of the Cowboys’ secondary hasn’t suffered injuries as severe as Scandrick’s, but the unit is banged up. Carr is back at practice, but he has yet to play an exhibition game after suffering a broken hand. Rookie cornerback Byron Jones returned to the field, as well, having missed the last game with a shoulder injury.
“We have good depth at corner, at least we thought on paper,” Henderson said, via the team's official website. “But we like those guys and I guess now we’re going to get a chance to see, possibly. We’re going to keep moving with our plans in what we want to do. But we lost a heck of a player, possibly. If we have lost him, we have to put another guy in there and keep moving.”
Carr, Claiborne, and Jones, who should get his share of playing time, will be tested in the NFC East. Dallas opens up the season against the New York Giants and Odell Beckham Jr., who is among the most promising wide receivers in the league. In addition to making the catch of the year against the Cowboys on “Sunday Night Football” last year, Beckham grabbed a total of 10 passes for 146 yards that night.
Scandrick is the 25th player to have his 2015 season ended by an ACL tear. The news of his injury comes just two days after Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson went down with a torn ACL.