Loss of defensive QB Orlando Scandrick hurts Cowboys in NFC East

OXNARD, Calif. -- As the injuries kept piling up for the Dallas Cowboys during training camp, the team reminded itself that none were serious enough to any of the players they are truly counting on in 2015.

That changed Tuesday night.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee which will cost him the season and cost the Cowboys one of their most valuable defenders.

Scandrick was the Cowboys' best cornerback in 2014. In 14 games, he had 55 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, nine pass deflections, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. But his worth to the defense is more than just the statistics.

Scandrick's ability to cover the slot makes him different than most corners in the league. He understands route concepts, leverage and defensive schemes to make sure he knows what not to do perhaps more than what to do.

In a division with fast receivers, like DeSean Jackson, and big receivers, like Riley Cooper, and a combination of both, like Odell Beckham Jr., the Cowboys had an answer with Scandrick.

He is also a fighter. He arrived to the Cowboys as a fifth-round pick in 2008 with a chip on his shoulder. Despite having started 29 of the last 30 games he has played and the three restructured contracts he has received, that chip remains as big now as it did then.

The Cowboys love Scandrick's spirit.

Without Scandrick, they have to replace his ability and his spirit.

Morris Claiborne will get another chance to prove he was worthy of the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft. He started three games last year, two of them coming with Scandrick serving a suspension, and played in four before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

He has yet to play in a preseason game even though he has not missed a practice. Staying healthy has been Claiborne's biggest issue. He has missed 18 games the last two seasons (six with an injured hamstring in 2013, 12 last year with the knee injury).

The Cowboys elected not to pick up Claiborne's fifth-year option for 2016 but have expressed belief that he will be a major contributor this year.

If Scandrick is out, the job is Claiborne's. If he can't do it, then the Cowboys have first-round pick Byron Jones waiting. He returned to practice Tuesday after suffering a shoulder injury more than a week ago. The Cowboys like Jones' versatility and have used him at cornerback and safety so far in camp. Without Scandrick, those safety duties might start to disappear.

But where the Cowboys will miss Scandrick the most is in the slot.

Second-year cornerback Tyler Patmon will get the first chance there to replace Scandrick. He turned an invitation to the rookie minicamp last year into a spot on the 53-man roster. Secondary coach Jerome Henderson said Patmon possesses some of the same traits as Scandrick -- awareness, quickness, speed -- that make him a potential fill-in.

But he's not Scandrick. The Cowboys don't have another Scandrick.

One injury will not alter the course of the Cowboys' season, unless we're talking Tony Romo, but losing Scandrick is almost like the defensive equivalent of losing Romo offensively.

He does more than just about anybody knows.