Cowboys facing uncertainty with shaky defense

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Associated Press

Posted on August 18, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 18 at 6:02 PM

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Brandon Carr should make his preseason debut Saturday night in Miami after missing the first two weeks of training camp to be with his ailing mother before she died of breast cancer.

Fellow Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne's outlook is less certain because of a shoulder problem, and newcomers Henry Melton and Terrell McClain are unlikely to play at defensive tackle because of injuries.

The Dallas defense was significantly better against Baltimore after a weak preseason debut in San Diego. Uncertainty, though, is making it difficult for the Cowboys to see what they really have coming off a dismal 2013 season.

It doesn't help that cornerback Orlando Scandrick will miss the first four games of the regular season because of a drug suspension.

"So, OK, we get all that, but now what do we do?" coach Jason Garrett said Monday. "We anticipate Brandon practicing this week, anticipate Mo being back relatively quickly. And then we get a good look at those young corners. The other part of it is we have to evaluate from a scheme standpoint what we want to do based on who we have."

Garrett basically ripped the defense after a 27-7 loss to the Chargers in the preseason opener, even though most of the starters were missing. He was much more pleased after Saturday's 37-30 loss to the Ravens.

The Cowboys forced punts two of the first three times Joe Flacco had the ball, and the only touchdown drive led by the Baltimore starter was kept alive by a roughing-the-passer penalty that Dallas thought was questionable enough to send to the league for review.

On the flip side, that TD drive ended up going 96 yards — with rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell getting beat for the score — and the second-team defense offered little resistance on a touchdown drive to start the second half.

"I thought we simply made more stops than we did the previous game against San Diego," Garrett said. "Obviously we've got to get better in a lot of different areas and we've got to get some of these guys back to see them play."

Rolando McClain, a top 10 pick by Oakland four years ago, made his preseason debut for Dallas and was the leading tackler. Owner Jerry Jones keeps heaping praise on the player who twice quit on Baltimore before the Cowboys traded for him to give them another option to replace the injured Sean Lee going into training camp.

Garrett said McClain would continue to get looks in practice as the first-team middle linebacker, which would shift Justin Durant, the expected starter in place of Lee, to the weak side.

"At the end of the day, we need to find our three best linebackers and our best combination of those guys to start for us in base, and then there are some roles in nickel as well," Garrett said. "So we'll continue to work the different looks and the different combinations and see what looks best."

George Selvie will start at left defensive end, and free agent Jeremy Mincey is leading the mix on the right side with rookie second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence out until midseason after breaking his foot at camp in California. Martez Wilson is among those getting a look at right end.

The only position that appears somewhat stable is safety, where Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are expected to start. Church got his first preseason action against the Ravens.

With Melton unlikely to play against the Dolphins, Garrett said there was a strong chance he would see the field against Denver in the preseason finale, normally a game that starters skip as a precaution. Melton is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him most of last season in Chicago.

"We would love to have him play," Garrett said. "There's no question about that."

NOTES: LB DeVonte Holloman is still be evaluated for a neck injury. He missed seven games last season because of a spinal contusion. ... TE Gavin Escobar injured his shoulder against the Ravens, but Garrett said he didn't think it was a long-term issue.

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

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