Ross fumbled two returns vs. Miami

Updated: December 2, 2003, 7:45 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

IRVING, Texas -- In a move coach Bill Parcells might have used to send a message to his young team, the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday afternoon released second-year cornerback and kick return man Derek Ross.

Derek Ross
Ross

Parcells cut Ross a day after talking about accountability and the maturity of some players. Ross, 23, was a 2002 third-round pick from Ohio State, fumbled twice on kick returns in a loss Thursday to Miami.

Although the former Ohio State standout was not a regular (after starting in nine games as a rookie), he has been the Cowboys' top "nickel" defender this season. Ross missed four games with a knee injury, but has played in eight contests, and has registered six tackles, one interception and one pass defensed.

He has also returned 18 kickoffs for 434 yards, a 24.1-yard average. His long of 37 set up the winning touchdown in a 24-20 victory over Carolina.

The consensus was that Ross, the No. 3 cornerback behind starters Terence Newman and Mario Edwards, had played well in his "nickel" role. But he missed a running session last Friday, the day after the club's Thanksgiving Day loss to the Miami Dolphins, and then skipped a Monday charity-related event at a local hospital.

However, Parcells and Ross had clashed since training camp. Parcells criticized Ross for relying on raw ability instead of technique when covering receivers and carrying the ball loosely on kickoff returns. Parcells wasn't pleased either with how Ross handled the knee injury that kept him out of those first four games.

"It's cut-and-dry with him," tight end Dan Campbell said of Parcells's move. "You do the right things, you'll be fine. If not, you'll be out of here. That goes for anyone in this place."

Ross' nameplate was removed and his locker cleaned out, with clothes and sneakers filling a trash can, when reporters were allowed into the locker room Tuesday. Also gone was the newspaper clipping Ross kept that included Parcells calling him "a street player," comparing Ross' playing style to a dog chasing cars.

"He's sending a message," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "Regardless of who you are, if you're making mistakes or you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, you're not going to be a part of this team. It's as simple as that."

Players learned of the move from Parcells during their usual morning meeting. He also announced the promotion of running back Erik Bickerstaff from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and the addition of running back ReShard Lee to the practice squad. Lee was released in training camp with an injury settlement.

With four games left, Dallas is still in great shape to make the playoffs for the first time in four years. The Cowboys are a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East and can move ahead with a victory Sunday because they also won the season's first meeting. Dallas also has a two-game edge over Green Bay and New Orleans in the race for a wild-card spot.

"This is crunch time for us," Glover said. "(Parcells) is not going to let one or two guys mess that opportunity up, whoever those guys may be."

Parcells said Monday that one of his concerns was that some players don't understand what's at stake right now.

"They're just playing games. 'Oh, OK, this week we're playing Philadelphia.' They don't understand that there's a greater sense of urgency this time of year if you want to accomplish something," Parcells said.

Ross' stock began dropping when he violated curfew before a preseason game. His punishment was not starting, then he tore cartilage in his right knee once he got in.

Ross chose rehabilitation over season-ending surgery, then took eight weeks to return, two-to-four more than doctors had estimated.

Ross is subject to the league waiver system and, even at this late juncture of the season, it will not be surprising if multiple claims are submitted for him. He is still regarded as a very good pass defender and a player with starting-caliber skills. Plus he plays a position that is difficult to fill.

Ross was rated one of the top cornerback prospects in the 2002 draft, but a series of off-field problems at Ohio State dropped his stock. He was the 75th prospect taken overall and most teams felt the Cowboys got a steal at that spot in the draft.

He appeared in 14 games as a rookie, started nine times, and led all the 2002 rookies in interceptions with five. That represented the most thefts by a Cowboys rookie since Everson Walls recorded 11 interceptions in 1981.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.