Dallas Cowboys: Andre Gurode

With OL retooled, Cowboys look to fix DL

June, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The look of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has changed dramatically over the last three seasons.

In 2011, the Cowboys started the process of tearing down the line, moving on from Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. In 2012, they replaced Kyle Kosier.

But in stripping down the line, the Cowboys didn’t have ready-made replacements, with the exception of Tyron Smith, who was their first-round pick in 2011. Bill Nagy was an undersized guard and seventh-round pick. He started four games before getting hurt. The Cowboys recalled Montrae Holland to the roster and started him for 10 games. They relied on Derrick Dockery as well. At center, they went with undersized Phil Costa, who was undrafted in 2010. Kevin Kowalski, another undrafted player in 2011, was a key reserve.

This spring the Cowboys have a line with three first-round picks in Smith, now at left tackle, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Doug Free is the only holdover, moving from left tackle to right tackle.

This offseason the Cowboys have stripped down the defensive line. A year ago at this time, Jerry Jones called it the strength of the team. DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos. Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins. Jay Ratliff is with the Chicago Bears. Anthony Spencer is coming back from microfracture knee surgery.

“There is an analogy there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “A lot of veteran players, who were really good, of the same generation, and you have to transition. You have to get younger.”

Like the offensive line, the Cowboys didn’t have any ready-made replacements on the defensive line. Instead of going with late-round or undrafted players, the Cowboys are going with low-cost veterans with questions about health, consistency or both.

They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency. They kept Spencer on a one-year deal for short money. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh round.

“Defensive line is one of those positions you can’t have enough of those guys,” Garrett said. “Some of the best teams I’ve been around, some of the best teams we’ve completed against seem to have a boatload of these defensive linemen constantly coming at you … We’ve just got to keep them coming.”

Rebuilding is not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, but it sure can be viewed that way at Valley Ranch. The preferred word is retooling. The Cowboys have retooled the offensive line. They are in the process of retooling the defensive line.

There might be a question of quality, but there is no question of quantity.

“The best defensive lines I’ve been around are the ones that have ‘wave’ players,” Garrett said. “If you think back to the 90s when this team was winning Super Bowls there were eight legit defensive linemen rotating through games. Jim Jeffcoat playing 12 plays in a game. It’s ridiculous.”

Garrett went on to mention Leon Lett, Chad Hennings, Jimmie Jones, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Tony Casillas and Russell Maryland.

“If you can have some of those guys play 30 snaps instead of 60 snaps or 15 snaps instead of 30 snaps, you’re going to be so much better,” Garrett said.

Nick Hayden played a defensive-line high 821 snaps in 2013 after being unemployed in 2012. Hatcher played 747 in 15 games. George Selvie, who was signed during training camp, played 744. Six of his seven sacks came in the first nine games.

“We played a lot of snaps last year,” Selvie said. “Where the rotation helps is everybody can stay fresh. The new guys coming in, it will help a lot. It was rough by the end of the year. We were hurting. A lot of snaps like that takes a toll on your body.”

To carry out the offensive line analogy, Lawrence can be viewed like Smith, a premium pick at a premium spot. And the job is hardly close to being over. Melton, Okoye, Spencer, Selvie and Hayden all could be on one-year deals. Mincey signed a two-year deal. McClain is on a three-year deal.

“The games are won and lost up front and always will be lost up front,” Garrett said. “If you don’t have good offensive and defensive linemen your skill guys can’t do what they need to do. So we’ve tried to do that. We’ve kind of tried to restructure our fronts over the last few years and build the team the right way.”

The retooling is in its infant stages, like the offensive line in 2011. The Cowboys have to replenish the defensive line in 2015 and beyond with more premium picks the way they have the offensive line.

Romo happy Dallas building through line

May, 22, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo never really sweated the possible selection of Johnny Manziel by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the draft.

He was more than happy to see the Cowboys select Zack Martin in the first round. That gives Romo three first-round picks up front in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and Martin. It also had him remembering what it was like early on in his time as the Cowboys’ starter.

“When I first started playing we had some pretty good players that did some really good things for the organization, and I think we’re building that back to that point,” Romo said.

In 2006, left tackle Flozell Adams and center Andre Gurode made the Pro Bowl. In 2007, the Cowboys signed Leonard Davis to a big contract and he made the Pro Bowl with Adams and Gurode. Right tackle Marc Colombo and left guard Kyle Kosier were solid players as well.

In 2011, the Cowboys dismantled the line, cutting Gurode, Davis and Colombo and started the rebuilding process by drafting Smith with the ninth overall pick.

“As a quarterback, that half-second, that tenth of a second can make the difference in completing a pass or not,” Romo said. “A lot of that is dictated as to whether or not you have that extra time. I think it goes to show the organization is building through the lines and that’s the way you win in the National Football League late in the year.”

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”

A guess at the Cowboys' schedule

April, 22, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Last week the St. Louis Rams offered up at $100,000 prize if somebody can correctly predict their 2014 schedule, complete with day and time.

We will offer up no such prize if you can correctly predict the Dallas Cowboys’ schedule, but feel free to post yours in the comments section. I’m giving you my best guess as the NFL comes close to finalizing the schedule this week.

Sept. 7 at New York Giants -- I pondered them opening the year at the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night, but thought better of it.

Sept. 15 vs. Houston Texans -- The Rangers are home on Sept. 14, so to avoid congestion, let’s make this a "Monday Night Football" matchup for ESPN.

Sept. 21 at Seattle Seahawks -- With the trip to London later, the Cowboys are able to have their long travel games spread out.

Sept. 28 vs. Arizona -- Seems about the right time to bring in the Cardinals, but could they be a Thanksgiving Day possibility?

Oct. 5 at Tennessee Titans -- First trip to Nashville since Albert Haynesworth stomped on Andre Gurode’s head.

Oct. 12 vs. Philadelphia Eagles -- The Cowboys get their first crack at the Eagles to avenge last year’s Week 17 loss.

Oct. 19 vs. Washington Redskins -- Jason Hatcher’s return to AT&T Stadium, though I think this game will be more about Robert Griffin III.

Oct. 26 at Chicago Bears -- The Cowboys’ trip to Soldier Field last year would have been the most pathetic road game of year if not for their trip to New Orleans.

Nov. 2 vs. Indianapolis Colts -- It was supposed to be the return of Phil Costa, but he has retired, so instead Andrew Luck makes his first trip to Arlington.

Nov. 9 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars at London -- The one game I know I will get right as the Cowboys make their regular-season debut across the pond.

Nov. 16 – Bye -- I’m on a roll.

Nov. 23 at St. Louis Rams -- I’ve long felt the Cowboys need to play a road game the week before Thanksgiving. This gives them a short flight.

Nov. 27 vs. New Orleans Saints -- They played on Thanksgiving in 2010 and I don’t like putting a key game on a day everybody is watching anyway, but call it a hunch.

Dec. 7 at Philadelphia Eagles -- Here comes the final month grind. Will the Cowboys be in the chase?

Dec. 14 vs. San Francisco 49ers -- The Cowboys better be ready for their most physical game of the season.

Dec. 21 at Washington Redskins -- In Week 16 last year Tony Romo pulled off some late-game magic despite a back injury that required surgery five days later.

Dec. 28 vs. New York Giants -- Open with New York, close with New York. Will the NFC East title come down to Week 17 for the fourth year in a row?

With Tony Romo, Cowboys not rebuilding

March, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Earlier today my guy, Calvin Watkins, brought you a post that says the Dallas Cowboys are rebuilding.

I don’t want to say Calvin is wrong, but, well, um, well, I don’t agree with that premise.

Romo
It’s not a rebuild the Cowboys are going through. And if you want to call it a rebuilding job, what exactly are they rebuilding from? They have won one playoff game since 1996. Teams that rebuild at least go to conference title games or Super Bowls -- and win Super Bowls.

I just don’t think you rebuild when you have a franchise quarterback that will turn 34 in April and is only in the second year of a six-year extension.

What the Cowboys have done the last few years -- and I wrote about it -- is re-tool. The departures of DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin and Jason Hatcher are more evidence that the Cowboys are re-tooling. With Tony Romo, the Cowboys still need to win now. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said as much at the NFL scouting combine.

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He doesn’t have time to wait three or four years to rebuild with Romo as his quarterback.

What the Cowboys are doing is changing their core. While Romo and Jason Witten are still the focal points of the team because of their play, status and production, the core of the team has moved on from guys like Ware, Jeremiah Ratliff, Austin, Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo, Bradie James and Terence Newman in recent years to newer players.

The core now is Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams and Barry Church. They would love guys like Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford and Gavin Escobar to join this list but they have not proven they can play yet.

The Cowboys have to maximize what they have left with Romo and Witten but not to the point where they are left in salary-cap shambles for when the “new guard” is in their prime.

Rebuilding, to me, is starting over. The Cowboys aren’t going to start over with Romo and Witten and they’re not exactly moving back to ground zero either.

What they are doing does not guarantee success or even something better than 8-8, but they are in the process of passing the torch, so to speak.

Cowboys are getting younger

March, 12, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- These are not your father's Dallas Cowboys, so to speak.

Once a team stocked with enough players to field a softball team in an over-30 league, the Cowboys are getting young.

With the releases of DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, the Cowboys have three starters over 30 years old in Tony Romo, who turns 34 next month, Jason Witten, who turns 32 in May and Doug Free, who turned 30 in January.

The only other thirty-somethings on the roster are backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who is 31, and long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who turns 33 on Thursday.

Not included on the list are free agents Anthony Spencer (30) and Jason Hatcher (31).

Ware turns 32 in July and Austin turns 30 in June.

The Cowboys have refused to use the word "rebuild" over the last three seasons but they have re-tooled their roster moving away from Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo on the offensive line and Ware, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman on the defensive line.

They have made the decision to not restructure the contracts of Witten and Brandon Carr, who turns 28 in May, unless absolutely necessary so they do not push more money into the salary cap in future years.

For years people have called the NFL a young man's game. The Cowboys are moving to a younger man's team.

Parsing personnel: When to cut loose

February, 24, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- As a businessman, Jerry Jones has been known to make difficult decisions, cutting his losses before they became too great.

As owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jones is viewed as too sentimental to make the difficult decisions because he is too close to the players.

But in recent years he has made decisions right on time, like cutting Terrell Owens, either of the Roy Williamses, Marion Barber or Andre Gurode even if the cap situation might not have been the best or the replacement player an improvement.

“It gets pretty subjective and, yes, you can make for our team this year a bad mistake, saying, ‘You know, it’s a lot of money,’” Jones said. “Can you make a mistake the other way as well?”

He did not answer the question, but left unsaid is that any decision can be the wrong one.

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And that brings us to DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys have yet to talk with Ware’s agents about how to deal with the seven-time Pro Bowler’s $16 million salary-cap figure.

“We have been counting on DeMarcus Ware to be the best player we got on defense,” Jones said. “It is tough for him to practice. He hasn't been able to practice. It's not that he doesn't want to practice. It's just that he hasn't been able to practice. DeMarcus is paid like the best player on defense. You got to look at a lot of things here. As we evaluate either or, it's a question of, if not DeMarcus, then who?”

Jones acknowledges the Cowboys have a decision to make, but one has yet to be made. He also gave a nod to Ware the person and player.

“No one, no one has been a better and is a better Dallas Cowboy than DeMarcus Ware,” Jones said. “He has been exemplary in every way.

“But the facts are in football, when you start not being able to practice and you start not being able to really get your reps, then you can be DeMarcus Ware, who is a Hall of Famer, and get compromised by not being able to do fundamental things to get ready. So I look at that. Those are things you have to look at.”

But then Jones also does not fathom a defense without Ware. In a down year Ware had six sacks in 13 games. The Cowboys gave Anthony Spencer the franchise tag twice, handing him nearly $20 million, and he had one season in which he had more than six sacks.

“What are we going to think when we line up against Green Bay?” Jones said. “How are we going to feel there?”

DeMarco Murray added to Pro Bowl

January, 20, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have their fifth Pro Bowler with running back DeMarco Murray named as an injury replacement for San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore.

Murray ran for 1,124 yards on 217 carries with nine touchdowns in 14 games. He missed two games because of a knee injury. He is the first Dallas running back to make the NFL’s all-star game since Marion Barber in 2007. He became the first Cowboys player with 1,000 yards since 2006 when Julius Jones gained 1,084 yards.

Murray will join wide receiver Dez Bryant and left tackle Tyron Smith, who were voted into the game, as well as tight end Jason Witten and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who were added as injury replacements, this week in Hawaii.

This the most Pro Bowl players the Cowboys have had since they had six in 2010: Miles Austin, Andre Gurode, Mat McBriar, Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware and Witten. They had just five Pro Bowl selections in the last two seasons combined.

Cowboys line could have continuity in 2014

January, 17, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Continuity is a buzzword every year when it comes to offensive line play. For the Dallas Cowboys it is no different.

The Cowboys could have continuity on the line in 2014 for the first time in a long time.

The last time the Cowboys returned the same line from the previous year came in 2008 when they had left tackle Flozell Adams, left guard Kyle Kosier, center Andre Gurode, right guard Leonard Davis and right tackle Marc Colombo.

Kosier played in only three games in 2008 because of a foot injury, but those five guys were in place at the beginning of the 2009 season when the Cowboys went 11-5 and made their most recent playoff appearance. Colombo missed seven games with a broken leg and Doug Free saw the first action of his career.

In 2013 four of the Cowboys five starters at left tackle, left guard, center and right tackle played every game. Mackenzy Bernadeau started 11 games at right guard and Brian Waters started five before his season ended with a torn triceps.

The Cowboys can go into 2014 feeling good about Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Free. The Cowboys could look to make moves at left and/or right guard with Ronald Leary and Bernadeau through the draft or in free agency but know they know what they have if they can't.

"It's never set in stone until it's done," Bernadeau said.

The line helped produce the first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 in DeMarco Murray and protected well enough with the interior more stout than it had been in previous years.

"I want to say it sets the standard for us," Bernadeau said of the late-season success with the running game. "It's one of those deals where we know what we're capable of doing and we want to do better. We have the highest expectations of ourselves. It's a mix of us getting it done up front and holding those expectations high."

Rebuilding of line paying off for Cowboys

December, 20, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- When Jason Garrett was named the Dallas Cowboys head coach on Jan. 5, 2011 he set out to refurbish the offensive line.

The Cowboys purged Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo. They released Kyle Kosier the following year.

The Cowboys are seeing the fruits of the rebuilding now.

The Cowboys started the rebuild by taking Tyron Smith in the first round of the 2011 draft. Mackenzy Bernadeau was added as an undrafted free agent at right guard and left guard Ronald Leary was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012. This year, the Cowboys made center Travis Frederick a first-round pick.

The holdover has been Doug Free, who has rebounded with a solid season at right tackle.

“It’s a hard thing to do,” Garrett said. “It started with Tyron Smith, it continued with some other decisions that we’ve made. And then certainly Travis Frederick came into the mix this offseason and has helped us. You need to have young, cornerstone players on your offensive line, and we’ve gone through that process over the last couple of years. I think we’re getting where we need to be.”

As the Cowboys move down the stretch, the line is playing better than it ever has since Garrett took over. In the last five weeks, the Cowboys have rushed for more than 100 yards as a team. DeMarco Murray is 23 yards away from 1,000 on the season and he missed two games with a knee injury.

“It’s unfortunate that we haven’t won these games because I felt like our line is playing well,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Great camaraderie up front. We’ve really been able to run the ball and they create big holes. It’s good to see our line play that well. They work harder than anybody on our football team.”

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.

Double Coverage: Raiders at Cowboys

November, 27, 2013
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Romo-RoachAP PhotoTony Romo's Cowboys host Nick Roach and the Raiders in a Thanksgiving Day duel.
IRVING, Texas -- For the second time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders meet on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys won the 2009 matchup 24-7 with Tony Romo throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns and Miles Austin catching seven passes for 145 yards. Since that game Austin has had more yards in a game just twice.

ESPN.com's Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you this week's holiday version of Double Coverage.

Todd Archer: The Cowboys are bad in most areas defensively, but they have given up 200 yards rushing in three games this season. The Raiders' strength, from afar, seems to be their running game. What makes it so good and how has it differed with Terrelle Pryor out?

Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Todd, it's not just Pryor being out, but also Darren McFadden, who has missed three straight games and four overall with a strained right hamstring. He said Monday night he hopes to play after practicing (limited) for the first time since Nov. 1. The run game, though, has not missed a beat with underrated Rashad Jennings picking up the slack. In the past four games, he has run for 413 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In fact, the running game has been so surprisingly solid without McFadden and Pryor that the play-action pass game has picked up with undrafted rookie Matt McGloin under center.

Speaking of passing games ... no doubt Tony Romo can rack up stats, but has he decided to assume more of a leadership role yet as the QB of America's Team, or is that just not in his makeup?

Archer: He has developed over the years as a leader, but there's no question that this has been "his" team the past three seasons. He is the veteran. He is the guy the Cowboys look to. The guys on this team now don't know of the Romo who burst on the scene in 2006 or had to deal with the Terrell Owens stuff. He's the guy who led the lockout practices and has been the big voice in the room. This year he has been given the added responsibility of being more involved in the game plan. The Cowboys' past two wins have come on last-minute drives led by Romo to beat Minnesota and the New York Giants. I don't think there's anybody questioning his leadership anymore. And if they did, well, the $106 million extension Jerry Jones gave him in the offseason should be more than enough proof to those guys that this is Romo's team.

Let's stick with the quarterback theme. Before the Cowboys lucked into Romo, they ran through a ton of guys after Troy Aikman's departure. Is there any reason to believe McGloin or Pryor can be a solution or do the Raiders need to go after one of these guys in next April's draft?

Gutierrez: Well, the way I put it earlier in the season, before Pryor hit his purported ceiling and sprained his right knee, robbing him of his greatest strength (running) while accentuating his biggest weakness (passing), if Pryor was not the Raiders' Mr. Right, he was their Mr. Right Now. McGloin is a pure quarterback, a pocket passer whom Dennis Allen prefers for what he wants to accomplish offensively. It's hard to give Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie much credit for their evaluation of QBs, though, what with their misses on Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson, not caring much for Pryor early on and then, similar to the Cowboys with Romo, stumbling upon McGloin. But it's hard to see them going all in with the undrafted rookie from Penn State, too. At least hard at the moment. Unless McGloin continues to improve and wins a few games, it would behoove the Raiders to draft another QB if they see one as a can't-miss prospect. I know, I know, they really wanted USC's Matt Barkley but Philadelphia traded in front of them so they traded back and selected Wilson. Oops. There is no doubt, though, that this Raiders regime prefers McGloin as a prototypical QB over the more electric Pryor.

No matter who is under center for Oakland, though, the Raiders' QB is going to have to keep an eye on DeMarcus Ware. Is he rounding back into shape as a dominant pass-rusher, or is he more decoy as he rehabs from his quad strain?

Archer: I think he's still feeling his way through it. The fact that he made it through the Giants game healthy was a plus. He has been dinged up in just about every game with stinger and back strains earlier in the season before the quadriceps injury. We'll see how he fares on a short week, but the defense is a lot better with even the threat of Ware on the field. Jason Hatcher had two sacks against the Giants at least in part because of the attention Ware received. Ware has talked about wanting to make up for lost time. He has five sacks so far, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year in 2005. Thursday would be a good time to look like the DeMarcus Ware of old.

This game is a homecoming of sorts for guys like Mike Jenkins, Andre Gurode, Kevin Burnett and Tony Sparano, but it's a real homecoming for Dennis Allen. How is he perceived in Oakland and will McKenzie be more patient with him than, say, Al Davis would have been?

Gutierrez: The jury, so to speak, is still out on Allen in the streets of Silver and Blackdom. Of course, when the Raiders win a game, he's the man. When he loses, the fans turn on him and start pining for Jon Gruden ... again. But isn't that the nature of the beast? Even Allen himself said this was a results-oriented business. Of course, he was referring to the quarterback position at the time, but it still applies. Make no mistake about it, Allen is McKenzie's "guy" and he's going to roll with him and have patience with him. The plan coming in was to give Allen at least three years to right this ship and really, the only thing that could damage Allen's chances of lasting another year would be if the team quit on him, like it did last November before playing hard again at the end. Then again, it might not be McKenzie's choice. Owner Mark Davis is a more patient owner than his father and wants McKenzie to handle all football-related decisions. But a year after stating he was fine with just about anything but regression, Davis wants progress. Stagnancy won't cut it, either. So, stay tuned.

Sticking with the coaching theme, is Jason Garrett in Jerry World for the long haul, or was Jerry Jones' support merely the dreaded vote of confidence?

Archer: Jerry has publicly backed Garrett, but he's also been a guy who's said, "Just because I say something, doesn't mean it's true." I do know this: He wants Garrett to be the guy. He desperately wants it to work. I really believe that. He believes in Garrett's approach and how he builds a team. Garrett will provide some blow-back to Jerry but not as much as, say, a Bill Parcells. Garrett knows what makes Jerry work and knows how to work around it to a degree or push Jerry in a certain direction. Honestly, Cowboys fans should want the Garrett deal to work out because it might be the best combination to mitigate the bad parts of Jerry and keep the good parts of Jerry.

Rookie report: Travis Frederick

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
11:30
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With the Dallas Cowboys off this week at the bye week, we take a look at how the Cowboys draft picks have fared.

Travis Frederick

Pick: Second round (No. 31 overall)

What he’s done: Since the day Frederick arrived at Valley Ranch, he has been the starting center. Much was made of the Cowboys trade down at the time and the over-drafting of Frederick with the 31st pick, but he has the looks of a building block on the line for many years to come.

Season outlook: There have been no regrets about the move to get Frederick from inside Valley Ranch. It has not gone perfectly for Frederick, who struggled badly in Week 2 versus Dontari Poe, but he has been a stabilizing force on the interior of the offensive line.

Shotgun snaps had been an issue for years with Andre Gurode or Phil Costa snapping to Tony Romo. Despite coming from a run-oriented offense at Wisconsin, Frederick has had few poor snaps. He has a good understanding of when to offer help to his guards in pass protection and he does a good job of sorting through the fronts pre-snap.

He might be a rookie, but Bill Callahan said Frederick is playing like a 10-year veteran.

Romo, Frederick getting used to exchange

July, 25, 2013
7/25/13
8:00
AM ET
OXNARD, Calif. – Since becoming the Cowboys’ starting quarterback, Tony Romo has had to take snaps from five centers: Andre Gurode, Phil Costa, Ryan Cook, Kevin Kowalski and Mackenzy Bernadeau.

PODCAST
Tim MacMahon joins Richard Durrett and Landry Locker from Oxnard, Calif., to discuss the latest news from Cowboys training camp.

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Travis Frederick is his sixth.

So far in camp, the quarterback-center exchange has not been an issue. Last year shotgun snaps were sailing here, there and everywhere. There has not been a poor exchange between Frederick and Romo yet, and just two snaps have ended on the ground.

“Just by reps alone you’re going to get a lot of work and then the 15 minutes that we’re going to spend just before practice during special teams,” Romo said. “It’s going to be snaps after snaps after snaps. You’ll get 50 snaps in just like that. That’s not including the other 50 you’re going to get at practice. In a day, who knows how many you’re getting, 200, 300, so that’ll get done pretty quick.”

As far as the shotgun snaps are concerned, Romo has had to adjust to something different from Frederick.

“Travis actually does some things very natural. He’s got a lot of heat on it,” Romo said. “He can almost throw it down, whereas a lot of those people you want it to get back there a little quicker. I tell him we’ve just got to get it to where it’s comfortable so it doesn’t come back too much, but that’s a better problem than the other way.”

Cowboys must stick to draft board

April, 23, 2013
4/23/13
1:31
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Let me start the post this way: I love Dan Graziano’s work. Somehow he keeps track of four teams in the NFC East and seems to be able upset fans of all four at the same time, so he’s doing something right.

PODCAST
Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys and the upcoming NFL draft.

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But I think Dan is over the top in the view that the Cowboys must take an offensive lineman with their first-round pick. In today’s #bloggermock, Dan picked Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker with the 18th pick.

Fluker may well be the Cowboys' pick Thursday, but the vibe is they don’t have Fluker that high on their board.

Here’s what the Cowboys should do: take the best player regardless of the position.

If at No. 18 the Cowboys’ draft board has an offensive lineman as the 29th-best player -- and that’s not how they configure their draft board, by the way, but just go with it for now -- don’t reach on that player.

When you reach, you’re taking a lesser player and end up with a lesser roster overall.

In a draft that does not have the “sexy” skill players, I don’t see one of the team’s top line targets making it to No. 18.

The Cowboys have taken one offensive lineman in the first round since 1981 and that was Tyron Smith two years ago. They have found players like Larry Allen, Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode in the second round.

But the Cowboys' problems along the offensive line are not because they haven’t taken enough first-round picks. The problem is they can’t identify offensive lineman in the early and middle rounds where other teams have.

Despite the last year-plus, Doug Free (fourth, 2007) had a decent enough run, but the Cowboys have received nothing or next to nothing from David Arkin (fourth, 2011), Robert Brewster (third, 2009), James Marten (third, 2007), Jacob Rogers (second, 2004) and Stephen Peterman (third, 2004).

For months the Cowboys agonize over their draft board. They try to fit everybody in where they believe they should go. If you just skip that process on draft day, then you have wasted energy, time and money.

There is no doubt that the Cowboys have a need along the offensive line. There’s no doubt they should take an offensive lineman at No. 18 -- if he's the best player.

But “should” and “must” are two different things.

Here’s my must: stick to the board.

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