Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer

Cowboys prepare for Eli Manning

November, 20, 2014
11/20/14
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Anthony Spencer had to make sure he was hearing it correctly: Eli Manning threw five interceptions last week in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Manning
It was the second time Manning had thrown five interceptions, yet Spencer and several other Dallas Cowboys said the New York Giants quarterback remains a dangerous man.

“He had five interceptions?” said Spencer. “We’re not worried about what they do, we’re just worried about what we do and we have to affect him any way we can.”

In his career, Manning is 10-10 against his NFC East rival and has thrown more touchdowns (41) and interceptions (22) against the Cowboys than any other team.

Manning threw three touchdowns in the first meeting between the teams this season, a 31-21 Cowboys victory at AT&T Stadium.

He didn’t have receiver Victor Cruz in that game because he was nursing an injury and he won’t have him again this week since Cruz is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery.

He does have rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who cornerback Orlando Scandrick said is getting better each week.

With the Giants' season withering away less than two months from the close of the season, the Cowboys expect a proud Manning to rebound from his difficult game the previous week.

“Eli, he won two Super Bowls, the guy can play,” Scandrick said. “Last week was unfortunate, he had a tipped ball, missed a couple of throws, but Eli can play.”

Added Jason Garrett: "Well, he’s just a really good player and has been for a long time. When you play that position in this league, you’re going to have some games where it doesn’t go your way and he’s proven throughout his career that he always comes back.”
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys starting left guard Ronald Leary missed Wednesday's walkthrough practice with a pulled groin, yet said he's improving.

Kluwe
Leary
"Taking it day-by-day and it is getting better every day," Leary said. "I'd like to practice and get some of the bad sets out and get ready for the game. So, we'll see how it goes."

Leary said he was hurt on the last drive of regulation in Monday's overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. If Leary can't play in Sunday's game against Arizona, expect Mackenzy Bernadeau to start.

Quarterback Tony Romo (back), middle linebacker Rolando McClain (sore shoulder) and right tackle Doug Free (foot) missed practice dealing with health issues.

Defensive ends Jack Crawford (calf) and Anthony Spencer (foot/knee) were limited in the walkthrough.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (hamstring), linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) were full participants.

Rod Marinelli wants more sacks

October, 23, 2014
10/23/14
10:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli had a heart-to-heart conversation with his defense about the lack of sacks on Wednesday.

On the season, the Cowboys have six sacks, tied for 30th in the NFL. There are eight players with more sacks and four teams with more third down sacks (10) than the Cowboys.

"He's never just calm but he gets his point across," defensive end Anthony Spencer said of Marinelli's talk. "He exerts himself in a way that he means we need to get it done."

The Cowboys are getting pressures (75) on the quarterback, but the key thing is to bring the player down, particularly on third-down plays. On the season, the Cowboys have just two third-down sacks with three coming on second down.

Marinelli is using a rotation of players for the defensive line that would think he has fresher players to push the pocket. But it's not working on a consistent basis.

In the win over the New York Giants last week, Marinelli didn't blitz as much as in previous games. Marinelli chose to let the four linemen provide the pressure and let the secondary handle the passing game more than normal.

Last season after seven weeks, the Cowboys had 20 sacks, 15 coming from three players, Jason Hatcher (6), George Selvie (5) and DeMarcus Ware (4).

"In places we are (getting pressure) but we still got to work on it," Spencer said. "It's something we want to improve. Just probably winning the one-on-one rushes, we talked about it (Wednesday). We're working on it."

Romo, Murray return to practice

October, 16, 2014
10/16/14
2:15
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Quarterback Tony Romo returned to practice as did running back DeMarco Murray, left tackle Tyron Smith and defensive end Anthony Spencer.

 Each is expected to play Sunday against the New York Giants.

Romo usually misses Wednesday practices to do additional back exercises so he can be at his best on Sunday. Romo also suffered bruised ribs and an ankle injury against Seattle.

Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing (785) and carries (159) had a stomach virus that kept him out of practice on Wednesday. Garrett said the Cowboys, as you would expect, will continue to feature Murray and look for ways to get Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar more involved.

Tyron Smith tweaked his ankle against Seattle, but Garrett said a MRI “was a positive for us.” He is expected to play against the Giants.

Spencer, who usually doesn’t practice on Fridays to manage his knee, returned to practice, and there’s a chance he practices Friday just to make sure he gets in two days of on-field work this week.

Bruce Carter (quadriceps) and Doug Free (foot) were the only players to miss practice and neither is expected to play Sunday against the Giants.

DeMarco Murray misses practice

October, 15, 2014
10/15/14
1:05
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The NFL's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, missed Wednesday's practice with an illness. Dallas Cowboys' officials don't believe it's anything serious and he's expected to play Sunday against the New York Giants.

SportsNation

How will the Cowboys fare against the NFC East?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    38%
  •  
    41%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    1%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,815)

Murray was battling the illness over the weekend.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer missed practice with a sore left foot. Spencer said he hopes to practice later this week.

Quarterback Tony Romo (back), linebacker Bruce Carter (quad), tackle Doug Free (foot) and linebacker Rolando McClain (personal reasons) also missed practice on Wednesday.

Carter and Free won't play Sunday, while Romo and McClain are expected to participate in the Giants game.

Cowboys missing three LBs in practice

October, 8, 2014
10/08/14
4:15
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys were missing three linebackers, two starters, for Wednesday's practice.

Bruce Carter (quad), Cameron Lawrence (quad) and Rolando McClain (groin) did not practice. Carter said he's not playing in Sunday's game at Seattle and McClain re-injured his groin in last week's victory over Houston.

Lawrence is new to the injury report with what he described as a quad sprain.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (calf) were full participants in practice Wendesday. Quarterback Tony Romo and swing tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) didn't practice.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) was limited.

Dallas Cowboys' pass rush is lacking

October, 7, 2014
10/07/14
11:15
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' defense has been good at times this season but it needs improvement.

Overall, it ranks eighth in scoring defense (20.6) and is tied for 10th with 10 turnovers.

However, the Cowboys' pass rush, something that was a concern going into the season, is lacking.

SportsNation

Will the Cowboys beat the Seahawks on Sunday?

  •  
    58%
  •  
    42%

Discuss (Total votes: 18,197)

The Cowboys have just five sacks, tied for 26th in the NFL and their blitz frequency on pass plays is among the lowest in the NFL. On third-down plays, the Cowboys have blitzed just four times, employing more defenders to drop back into coverage than rush the passer.

Dallas has blitzed more times on second down, 22 times, than any other down, this season.

The offseason additions of defensive tackle Henry Melton and Terrell McClain, who has been hampered by nagging injuries, and the absence of end Anthony Spencer, has hampered the pass rush somewhat.

The solid play of the linebackers, Rolando McClain and Justin Durant, have been considered a positive sign, likewise the secondary led by the safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.

Yet, pressuring the pocket is the key to any defense's success.

"Obviously we haven't had huge sack numbers, but I do think we've affected the quarterback," coach Jason Garrett said. "I think that was the case a little bit (Sunday vs. Houston) as well. We didn't have the big dramatic losses, but we were around them, trying to make him feel uncomfortable. We use the word effect a lot, you got to effect the quarterback. You effect with individual pass rush, we effect with dogs and blitzes that you would bring. I think at different times we were able to do that, force (Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick) to hurry a throw, maybe throw from an uncomfortable position. I think we were able to do that throughout the game even though we didn't have the sacks."
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton was listed as limited on the Wednesday practice report.

Last week, Melton (hamstring) didn't practice until Friday and was listed as questionable going into the game against the New Orleans Saints. Melton did play against the Saints.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), who made his season debut last week, was limited.

Tony Romo (back) and Bruce Carter (thigh) didn't practice on Wednesday. Romo is expected to practice this week and play in Sunday's game against Houston. Carter most likely won't play.

Linebacker Rolando McClain (groin) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) were full participants on Wednesday.

Anthony Spencer returns from knee surgery

September, 29, 2014
9/29/14
2:00
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Anthony Spencer was never a forgotten man for the Dallas Cowboys, he was just somebody the team had patience for.

Spencer
Spencer made his season debut on Sunday night and played 22 snaps, getting three tackles and one quarterback hurry in the 38-17 victory over the Saints.

Spencer's return to the field follows microfracture surgery on his knee. Few players return from such a surgery in the NFL, especially a pass-rusher such as Spencer.

"It feels good," he said. "It's what I've been waiting for, I've been working toward this for the last year or so. It's all the hard work paying off and now I got to start working hard on being a football player again."

Given the Cowboys' lack of pass rush from its defensive front, adding a player like Spencer can only help. He was a 2007 first-round pick, drafted to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 but when the Cowboys converted to a 4-3 two years ago, he was asked to move to defensive end.

But knee troubles slowed his progress in the last year and after playing in a Week 3 game at Kansas City, he was shut down.

Spencer didn't want the microfractue surgery because he was entering his free-agent year but he had no choice. The Cowboys gambled on him and signed him to a one-year deal with the hope he would add something to the defense.

He returned to the field on Sunday, played defensive end and took on right tackle Zach Strief on the first snap, one-on-one.

"Every game you have some kind of nerves but you still go out there and play," Spencer said. "I wasn't afraid, I knew my knee was going to hold up and I knew the things I've been doing have been working. I feel confident in how the surgery went and how it feels. I don't feel worried about that."
IRVING, Texas -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys:

1. If you choose to be positive, there are some scenarios where the Cowboys’ defensive line could be solid instead of a disaster.

Spencer
Melton
It all starts with defensive tackles Henry Melton (knee, groin) and Terrell McClain (ankle) and defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) getting healthy. Spencer and Melton can be good players and McClain can be solid.

Add defensive ends George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey to the mix, along with rookie DeMarcus Lawrence after he returns from his broken foot, and the Cowboys would be pretty happy with that rotation.

It will require considerable good fortune to get Spencer and Melton each playing at a high level early this season, but if it happened, the Cowboys would have a pretty good defensive line rotation without much drop off between the starters and backups.

2. The cornerback situation the first month of the season will be dire.

Morris Claiborne had a strong start to training camp, but he hasn’t been able to sustain it. Knee and shoulder injuries have limited him since the first week of practice.

The Cowboys are trying to get him ready for the first game against San Francisco, but we have no idea how long his body will hold up. They can’t trust him to be healthy enough to play, which is a concern since Orlando Scandrick will miss the first month of the season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Heading into the opener, Brandon Carr is the only proven cornerback on the roster the Cowboys know will be ready for the opener. That's scary.

3. Receiver Jamar Newsome had a nice game against Baltimore, as did fifth-round pick Devin Street.

Tim Benford has been on the practice squad each of the last two years, Chris Boyd has good size and potential and LaRon Byrd has been a good special-teams player in the past.

Street, a fifth-round pick, will make the team, but it’s going to be tough for any of the other receivers to make it. The Cowboys will probably keep five receivers: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and Street. One of the other guys will have to be a beast on special teams to make the roster.

Key number: 20

The Cowboys had only 20 drives of 10 plays or more last season. Only Miami and the New York Giants had fewer. It was the result of the Cowboys' struggles on third down, which prevented them from sustaining drives, and their inconsistent running game. Too many times the Cowboys were in third-and-long situations that didn’t put them in position to convert.

They must do better this season to protect their defense and keep them off the field.

Player to Watch: Tyler Clutts

Jason Garrett has talked all training camp about establishing a physical presence and how much a true fullback will help the Cowboys do that.

Clutts has been doing a good job working with DeMarco Murray and taking advantage of his limited opportunities, but to win the job he must prove himself more valuable to the offense than the third receiver or second tight end.

He needs to be a core player on special teams, and he needs to be a difference-maker on the 12 to 15 crucial goal-line and short-yardage plays the Cowboys will have this season.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts from the Cowboys’ first news conference of training camp:
  • I’m not obsessing over the conditioning test the players took by themselves after coach Jason Garrett called it off, but it still doesn’t make sense. Garrett said Wednesday that he told the players at the end of their last minicamp that their attendance and performance had been so good that he decided to cancel the conditioning best. Besides, Garrett said he wasn’t sure it served a useful purpose anymore and it put the players at more risk because the conditioning test doesn’t require many football movements, per se. All of that is fine. But if that’s the case, then he should’ve been fuming that Jason Witten apparently encouraged the players to do it themselves. That’s not a knock on Witten, but if the coach is adamant about not doing something then the players shouldn't ignore his request and do it anyway.
  • You have to wonder if the Cowboys’ offensive coaching staff is set up to succeed with all of the changes. Obviously, owner Jerry Jones and Garrett think it’ll work fine, but neither of them was demoted. Garrett was sending the plays into Tony Romo at the end of last season instead of Bill Callahan. Now, Callahan is out of the mix entirely having been replaced by Scott Linehan. Then you have assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who did a nice job last year. Now, he’ll probably have less responsibility because Callahan has more time to work with the line since he’s not putting the game plan together. A lot of people must subjugate their egos to make this staff work. It’ll be interesting to see if they can do it.
  • Anthony Spencer still isn’t ready to practice, so he’s been put on the physically unable to perform list. He’s been limited all offseason as he recovers from micro fracture surgery. It’s OK to wonder if he’ll ever play again.
44.3: The 12 playoff teams from last season ran the ball 44.3 percent of the time. The Cowboys ran it 35.1 percent of the time.

Garrett can use any stat or rationalization he wants, but that’s not a winning number. Only one team ranked among the bottom 10 in percent of rushing attempts made the playoffs -- and that was New Orleans.

Nine playoff teams ranked among the top 16 in percentage of rushing attempts. This is a passing league and you have to make big plays in the passing game to score points, but the best teams can still run it when they need to run and when they want to run.

Player to Watch: Brandon Weeden

It’s not normal to pay that much attention to the backup quarterback, especially when a team has a quality starter. But Tony Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year and backup Brandon Weeden is here because he was a first-round bust in Cleveland

He has talent and with a better supporting cast, he could be a solid backup. The key, as usual for a quarterback, will be limiting his mistakes. He had nine games with multiple interceptions with Cleveland and the Browns were 1-8. He had nine games with no interceptions and the Browns were 4-5.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Defensive line

On the roster: George Selvie, Terrell McClain, Henry Melton, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey, Nick Hayden, Ken Bishop, Davon Coleman, Ben Gardner, Amobi Okoye, Martez Wilson, Dartwan Bush, Chris Whaley, Caesar Rayford, Ben Bass

Locks: Selvie, McClain, Melton, Lawrence, Crawford, Mincey

Inside track: Spencer, Hayden, Bishop, Gardner, Coleman, Bass

Need help: Wilson, Coleman, Bush, Whaley, Rayford,Okoye

How many fit? The Cowboys needed 20 defensive linemen last year because of injuries and a revolving door of newcomers who mostly struggled. The Cowboys opened the year last season with 10 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster and ended the year with that many, but the only constants were Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware, Edgar Jones, Hayden and Selvie.

Selvie
Ten seems to be the right number again in 2014 as the Cowboys plan to attack with numbers if not known commodities. Spencer and Okoye could be candidates to open the year on the physically unable to perform list because of injuries. Hayden started every game last year, but he is not a lock to make the roster. Selvie had seven sacks last year but he is not a lock to start. Crawford did not play last year because of an Achilles’ injury. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. McClain had a productive spring but can he carry that over to a full-time role?

The Cowboys gave up their third-round pick to move up for Lawrence, and he will fight with Mincey for a starting spot. He looks the part, but he has a lot to learn. Going against Tyron Smith might be a good thing. The Cowboys are betting that Mincey will be able to find a niche as a quality pass rusher.

Bass is entering his third training camp. He has flashed ability but hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his first two years. Gardner, Bishop and Coleman could be viewed as a part of the future as the line gets the overhaul the offensive line began in 2011. Rayford looks the part but has to have a good preseason to earn a spot. Wilson has some pass rush to him.

Losing Ware and Hatcher and possibly not having Spencer until the seventh game of the season, this group does not have high expectations. Rod Marinelli kind of likes it that way, but he has to somehow coax pass rush out of players who have yet to do it on a consistent basis.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers
Offensive line

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
7/18/14
11:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Can contract year pay off for Bruce Carter?

July, 15, 2014
7/15/14
11:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- It's a week before the Dallas Cowboys arrive in Oxnard, California, for training camp and we already know just how big of a year it is for Bruce Carter.

It's been written and talked about countless times in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Bruce Carter
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesCowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2011, is set to become a free agent after this season.
Carter is entering the final year of his rookie contract, set to become a free agent after the season. At one point he was viewed as a core player, vital to the future growth of the Cowboys' defense. After a frustrating 2013 season, he is not viewed that way anymore.

But it doesn't mean he can't be viewed that way again.

In 2011, Anthony Spencer was in a contract year and tied his career high with six sacks. He also had 31 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. His overall game made him a valuable player in the Cowboys' 3-4.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the 2012 season.

In another contract year, Spencer had his best season, putting up a career-high 11 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl bid.

The Cowboys put the franchise tag on him again for 2013, guaranteeing him nearly $20 million over the two seasons in which he was tagged.

Last season, he played in only one game because of a knee injury that required microfracture surgery and might keep him out of the beginning of this season. Once again he is in a contract year, having signed a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.5 million.

Jason Hatcher was in a contract year last year and responded with his best season. He had 11 sacks -- after putting up just 16 in his previous seven -- and was named to the Pro Bowl. His age -- he turned 32 on Sunday -- kept the Cowboys from making a play at re-signing him, but the Washington Redskins signed him to a four-year, $27.5 million deal as a free agent.

Way back in 2007, Ken Hamlin joined the Cowboys on a one-year deal. He put up a career-high five picks and was named to the Pro Bowl. Prior to the 2008 season, he signed a six-year, $39 million deal with the Cowboys that included $15 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2009 season.

Some contract years have not been as productive. Cornerback Mike Jenkins saw the Cowboys add Brandon Carr in free agency with a $50 million deal and draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. Jenkins was coming off shoulder surgery, did his rehab elsewhere and started only two of 13 games in 2012. He signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Gerald Sensabaugh played on three straight one-year deals with the Cowboys from 2009-11 before cashing in at the end of the 2011 season with a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2012 season.

Which brings us back to Carter, the club's second-round pick in 2011.

"That's certainly a cliché thing in all of sports, that people talk about, 'He's in a contract year and he's going to take a different approach than he had up till this point,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know if I buy that with guys that I have been around. I think Bruce Carter wants to be a really good football player. I think that's independent of anything that is going on in the business side. I think getting comfortable in this scheme for the second year -- I think Sean Lee's absence will help him. It will force him to step up a little bit more. It will force Justin Durant to step up a little bit more. Sometimes you can have a player as strong as Sean Lee is -- such a great leader like Sean is -- sometimes you defer to that guy. I think it's really important for those guys to understand he's not here right now. They have to step up. They've done a better job of that throughout the OTAs and minicamp."

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said Carter has "ramped up," the meetings with the position coach in the offseason.

"I think he's taking steps in the right direction," Eberflus said. "And he's putting the work in. He's meeting with me as much as he can. Studying the tape, giving him clear and concise goals daily for practice and he's doing a good job of attaining those goals each and every day so when he does that he takes steps in the right direction to improve his fundamentals and his game."

Barry Church to enter new role for Cowboys

July, 14, 2014
7/14/14
11:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- A year ago, Barry Church was something of a question mark.

He was coming off a torn Achilles and played in parts of only three games in 2012.

This year, the safety might be the Dallas Cowboys' most established defender.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church
AP Photo/James D SmithMore will be asked of Barry Church this season.
Anthony Spencer is the most tenured, but he might not play until the seventh game of the season. Orlando Scandrick has the most Dallas experience among the defensive backs, but he will be pushed for a starting job by Morris Claiborne. Bruce Carter has more career starts, but the linebacker is enigmatic to say the least.

That leaves Church, who led the Cowboys with 147 tackles from his safety spot. He also had five tackles for loss, an interception, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.

“You never want to get too complacent or take things for granted,” Church said. “I feel like I have a role on this team now, especially at the safety crew because I’m one of the oldest guys out there in the secondary, me and Orlando and Brandon Carr. It’s a different role coming in being one of the old guys.”

Church came to the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He worked his way up from special-teamer to sub-package player to a starter.

This year he figures to add another role: leader.

With Sean Lee out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Cowboys are in need of a defensive leader. Church deferred to Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher last year, but now the younger players (as well as his peers) will look to him.

The coaches have asked him to be more vocal.

“I pretty much know the defense front and back, so the more I can communicate to the other guys and get people lined up, the better. I definitely feel like I can do it. I could’ve done it last year, but Sean was the designated leader and the vocal captain, so you roll with him. He was the guy. He proved himself. I was coming off an injury and had to re-prove myself.”

Church is a player coach Jason Garrett often cites as an example to younger players trying to figure it out.

“He loves to play,” Garrett said. “People respond to him. And he does a lot of positive things. He’s around the ball a lot. He makes a lot of plays. So he has that way about him where people kind of gravitate toward him because of his personality and because of his play. Just needs to play more and keep doing that. In regards to the absence of Sean, he absolutely needs to step up as a leader. Your best players need to do that. When you play a position like safety, you’re a big communicator back there with everybody else in the secondary. So being strong with his [voice] and being strong with his mannerisms and getting everybody squared away, I think that’s a big part of what his job is.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES