The Dallas Cowboys starting lineup and rotation looked plenty different from it's previous versions in last night's season opening loss to the New York Jets. Second year receiver Dez Bryant took over the starters role, and make the Jets vaunted cornerback combo look overmatched. A early quad injury suffered on a punt return limited Bryant after the first quarter, even though he returned to finish the game after missing time and heading into the locker room for evaluation. Owner Jerry Jones voiced his concern over Bryant playing special teams after the game.
The offensive line boasted three new starters in rookies Tyron Smith (RT) and Bill Nagy (LG), as well as second year man Phil Costa (C). Both Costa and Smith were game time decisions due to back and knee injuries respectively, but were able to go. Tight end/F-Back John Phillips made the start after missing all of 2010 to a torn ACL. He started in place of Martellus Bennett, who was injured in preseason action and is expected to return before the early bye week.
Cornerback Terence Newman missed the contest, still nursing a groin injury, and was replaced by Orlando Scandrick in the lineup. Mike Jenkins, the team's other corner, had missed the entire preseason with a stinger but started the game. Scandrick got bit by the injury bug early in the second quarter. MRI results have yet to be released, but a high ankle sprain or bone fracture puts him out for a reported 3-4 weeks. Jenkins spent several moments hurt on the turf throughout the game, most notably after a blind side block from Plaxico Burress that included trash talk from the Jet. Burress would push off Jenk's replacement Bryan McCann for a touchdown.
"They have three big time receivers... to not have Terence here, then have Jenks out, and then have Scandrick go out. You know I thought Jenks did a great job battling back and continuing to play when he was banged up. You know we were playing with a safety out there our fourth corner, i think rob did a great job managing that situation for a lot of the game... i thought for the most part they hung in there and battled as best they could."
The youth movement on defense appeared in Sean Lee replacing veteran Keith Brooking at inside linebacker. All Lee did with the start is record 11 tackles, intercept a pass and almost score a TAINT, and recover a Mark Sanchez fumble. Expect him to become the poster boy for drafting injured players in the top rounds and waiting for their return to health (cough, Bruce Carter, cough).
Danny McCray, an undrafted 2010 free agent safety, was utilized by Rob Ryan in a variety of ways and crushed Mark Sanchez, forcing the fumble Lee snatched up. Once the secondary's injuries started mounting, McCray lined up at cornerback.
In the presser, Jason Garrett said despite the mistakes of the fourth quarter, "the guys played with tremendous passion, emotion and enthusiasm... and just kept competing." That is exactly what you want from a team full of youth and backups. As Garrett said, "There were a lot of good things that we can build on."
For more Cowboys-centric coverage, check out SB Nation's Blogging The Boys.