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Underachieving Cowboys hope for 2nd-half change

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Underachieving Cowboys hope for 2nd-half change

IRVING, Texas (AP) The season that once looked so promising for the Dallas Cowboys is halfway done.

After losses in four of their last five games, the Cowboys (3-5) have plenty of work to do just to have another .500 season. As for any chance of making the playoffs, that already seems like a big stretch because only one NFC team has won fewer games than Dallas at this point.

No matter how the situation is described - coach Jason Garrett prefers ``urgency'' and despises the term ``desperation'' - the Cowboys have clearly faltered since kicking off the entire NFL season with a victory at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants two months ago.

``Obviously we didn't expect to be 3-5,'' tight end Jason Witten said Thursday. ``At this point where we're at, it's tough to swallow. You've got to change it.''

Stephen Jones, the team's executive vice president and the owner's son, said the Cowboys have ``absolutely'' underachieved.

``I just think it's urgent. We need to win a game,'' Jones said. ``We can do a lot for our season if we can get this one.''

Dallas starts the second half of its season Sunday at Philadelphia (3-5), which will be trying to avoid its first five-game losing streak in coach Andy Reid's 14 years.

After that, the Cowboys have three home games in a 15-day span, including their Thanksgiving Day game against Washington (3-6), the only team below them in the NFC East standings. They play five of six overall at home, including Pittsburgh - the only remaining opponent that currently has a winning record.

``We have played the hardest part of our schedule,'' said Jones, speaking to reporters during the open portion of practice. ``We had higher expectations than this. We are disappointed with our record. We have to play better, we have to finish. The bottom line at the end of the day, you are what you are. We are 3-5. We have to improve.''

Despite the disappointment with the season so far, Jones reiterated that the organization is pleased with foundation that Garrett is setting for long-term success.

Jones said he ``won't even comment'' on speculation about the future for Garrett, who is 16-16 since replacing Wade Garrett midway through the 2010 season.

``That's ridiculous,'' Jones added.

Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, during a radio interview on the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday, said he felt Garrett ``is probably coaching for his job for the rest of the year.''

Johnson won consecutive Super Bowl titles at the end of his five seasons in Dallas (1989-93). Garrett was a backup quarterback to Troy Aikman for the 1993 team coached by Johnson.

``First of all, I think Jason is incredibly smart. No one understands the game more,'' Jones said. ``He grew up at a breakfast table knowing about the NFL. His father was a coach. His father was a scout. He understands the league. He leads our team in a great way. ... The players respect him. He demands accountability.''

Quarterback Tony Romo said Garrett has done a phenomenal job with his even approach and calming influence. Garrett again Thursday was talking about focusing on the task at hand - playing Philadelphia - and not worrying about anything else.

``When you do that, I think there's a certain level of confidence,'' Garrett said.

In his same interview with Patrick, Johnson said only a handful of NFL players are self-motivated and that the best motivator is fear of letting down teammates, being embarrassed or losing their jobs. He said there's no fear in Dallas, which he went on to describe as a country club setting where ``everybody is buddies.''

Jones said he had no comment on what Johnson said in the interview.

``Obviously he's great for this franchise and won a lot of Super Bowls,'' Witten said. ``I haven't seen him around a whole lot. These guys are working hard.''

Like Jones, Garrett said he had no comment. But the coach then went on to say he believes that his team practices and meets the right way.

``We create the right atmosphere of urgency for our players,'' Garrett said. ``It's what I learned as a player and as a coach in this league, and that's what we're trying to create here with our football team.''

NOTES: RB DeMarco Murray (foot) didn't practice Thursday, making it more likely he will miss his fourth consecutive game. ... Also not practicing were cornerback Mike Jenkins (back), a new addition to the list, defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Sean Lissemore with ankle injuries, and center Phil Costa (ankle).

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10 changes that would make the NHL better

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USA TODAY Sports

10 changes that would make the NHL better

Hockey is one of the most incredible, compelling sports in the world. As fun as it is to watch on TV, it is even more compelling in person and fans in North America are treated to the best hockey in the world as played in the NHL.

But the NHL's not perfect.

SEE THE 10 CHANGES THAT WOULD MAKE THE NHL BETTER HERE

Just like every sports league, the NHL is always adjusting and making changes to the game in order to improve it through things like rule changes, expansion, playoff formats, etc.

No sport is perfect and hockey is not without its flaws, but there are a number of clear changes that could be made that would improve both the game and the league.

 SEE THE 10 CHANGES THAT WOULD MAKE THE NHL BETTER HERE

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Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

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Associated Press

Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 23, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Training camp preview—defense 

Here are some of the big topics surrounding the defense at Redskins training camp along with some of the things I’ll be observing closely when training camp gets underway on Thursday. I looked at the topics on offense yesterday

Lining up the line

Will Phil Taylor, who seems to be a long shot to make the team after they drafted two nose tackles, get some run with the first and second teams? Also, this is a young group and Jim Tomsula will have a lot of opportunities to teach. Watching him interacting with his line and going over the details of line play is fun to watch.

Spaight vs. Vigil

The two starting inside linebacker starters are safe and the team is intrigued enough by the potential of both Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaun Dion Hamilton to make them likely bets to make the 53-man roster. That leaves Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight competing for the last ILB roster spot. 

Spaight is a known quantity who has been a mainstay on special teams since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2015. They kept him over Vigil in the cut to 53 a year ago. But last year when injuries hit, Vigil started over Spaight. In a way, this is Round 3 between the two. 

Ryan Anderson

We know what outside linebacker starters Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith can do. Pernell McPhee will be good for four or five sacks and perhaps a forced fumble or two. Anderson, who was team’s second-round pick last year, is a big question mark. He played 193 snaps in 14 games, but he barely dented the stat sheet with no sacks and just 11 tackles. Anderson is a hard worker and they need his 

The pieces of the cornerback puzzle

This is discussed in some detail hereby JP Finlay and I’ll look at it later this week. To pick out one detail, I want to see what the rotation in the slot is. Right now the guess is that Orlando Scandrick is the starter but who will be behind him? That’s important because Scandrick has missed 25 games in the last three seasons due to injuries. 

Apke’s progress

Fourth-round safety Troy Apke displayed impressive makeup speed during offseason practices and that let him make some plays on the ball. But he needed that speed too often as he had issues in coverage. You need to be more than just fast to play in the NFL. If Apke is going to be an alternative if injury problems strike Montae Nicholson again he needs to start making some progress while he is in Richmond. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 3
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 17
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 40

The Redskins last played a game 204 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 48 days. 

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