Dallas Cowboys: Brandon Carr

Five plays that shaped Cowboys' win

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
12:20
PM ET
video
There were 118 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 30-23 win against Seattle. They weren't all created equal. It's never that way. Touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, but who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in the shadows of those that command the most attention.

Here are five plays that shaped the Cowboys' win:

Play: Joseph Randle run
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 33
Score: Seattle leads, 10-0
Time: 5:25 left in first quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were reeling after Seattle returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and Tony Romo got bruised thanks to a hard shot by Bobby Wagner on the previous series. The Cowboys needed someone to make a play; Randle did. He burst up the middle on a stretch play to the left behind blocks from Travis Frederick and Zack Martin before he was dragged down at the Seattle 29. Four plays later, the Cowboys had their first touchdown and some much-needed momentum.


Play: Romo incompletion
Situation: Second-and-goal from Seattle 2
Score: Seattle leads, 10-0
Time: 2:38 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Gavin Escobar has played sparingly this season, but the Cowboys have always thought he'd be a good red zone option because of his size. Well, they lined him up outside and tried to throw him a back-shoulder fade. The timing was off, and Romo threw behind Escobar and right into the hands of Byron Maxwell, who dropped the ball. An interception there -- he might've returned it for a touchdown -- and the blowout would've commenced.


Play: Terrance Williams reception
Situation: Third-and-20 from Dallas 31
Score: Seattle leads, 23-20
Time: 4:55 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: It was even more beautiful and spectacular than Williams' improbable touchdown catch last week. With Romo escaping yet another sack, he launched a perfect pass to the sideline that seemed destined to sail out of bounds. Suddenly, Williams stretched out and caught the ball, while somehow dragging his feet to stay inbounds. Entering Sunday, NFL teams had converted one of 55 third-and-20 situations. Four plays later, the Cowboys scored the go-ahead touchdown.


Play: Maxwell injury
Situation: Third-and-four from Seattle 24
Score: Seattle leads, 10-7
Time: 5:48 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Dez Bryant, lined up in the slot, had a step on Maxwell and a perfect throw from Romo would've probably resulted in a touchdown. But he was flushed right and forced to throw off his back leg, which gave Maxwell time to break up the pass. Maxwell hurt his knee when he landed and missed the rest of the game, which forced Seattle to use Richard Sherman exclusively against Bryant and put Marcus Burley on Williams.The Cowboys attacked Burley consistently throughout the rest of the game.


Play: Brandon Carr pass deflection
Situation: Third-and-nine from Dallas 30
Score: Tied, 20-20
Time: 8:25 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: Jermaine Kearse lined up in the slot and ran a nice post pattern against Carr and had a set to the inside. Carr made a diving deflection, stretching out his right arm to deflect the pass just as it arrived. Instead of having a first down at the Dallas 10, Seattle settled for a field goal.
The Dallas Cowboys are 4-1 after a 20-17 overtime victory against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon.

With that we present our weekly Upon Further Review.

Enjoy.

1. One of the biggest story lines for the Cowboys in their game with the Texans was slowing down defensive end J.J. Watt. In the base defense, he's an end, but moves inside on the nickel. He has swim moves, bull rushes and finesse to reach the quarterback. Early in the game, Watt targeted what he thought was the weakest link along the offensive line in left guard Ronald Leary. He got a tackle on the first running play of the game. Afterward, Watt was slowed or shut down, depending on your point of view. As the game progressed, Watt finished with just four tackles and wasn't credited with any quarterback hurries, though he piled on Tony Romo as his helmet was knocked off. In the final 16 defensive snaps of the game, Watt drew double coverage four times and faced both tackles, Zack Martin and Jason Witten. Watt wasn't credited with any tackles during that span.

2. Romo takes Wednesdays off and I'm sure old school players and fans shake their head about this. But he does it to give his back more rest and to build strength. It was clear in the first two weeks of the season, Romo was struggling to throw deep passes. Against the Texans, Romo threw deep with a zip we haven't seen in a while. You can tell Romo is feeling better as he's moving around the pocket to avoid pressures and firing passes deep. The 37-yard completion to Dez Bryant in overtime is an example of this. One of his best throws of the game was to Witten on a seam route in the third quarter. But Romo floated a pass to Bryant that was picked off to start the fourth. Out of 41 throws, he threw one pass away, was penalized for intentional grounding, and he attempted eight deep throws.

3. The key to Dan Bailey's success: The holder and the long snapper. Chris Jones, the holder and J.P. Ladouceur, the long snapper, have to be on point with everything they do when it comes to a kick. As consistent as Bailey has been during this stretch, three misses the last 29 games, he's basically had the same holder and snapper. Having a chemistry with those two players is just as important as anything else. Bailey works daily with those guys and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia works with Jones on handling different types of snaps. Knuckleballs in the turf, high ones and to each side of him. Bailey's confidence in Jones getting the ball down on the spot allows him to make sure his steps to the ball don't get altered.

4. The Cowboys missed Orlando Scandrick while he served a two-game suspension for violating the performance enhancing policy. However, Brandon Carr has been very good this season, too. He led the Cowboys with eight total tackles and had one of four pass breakups against the Texans. Carr's durability can't be questioned. He played in his 101st consecutive game on Sunday. While Carr doesn't break up as many passes as Scandrick, he normally takes on the biggest receiver on the opposing team and is playing with more confidence in the first five weeks of the season.

5. Want to know how important middle linebacker Rolando McClain is to the defense? When he was on the sidelines after re-injuring his groin, the Texans were able to produce some positive yards in overtime. McClain gets players lined up. Here's coach Jason Garrett on McClain: "We still need to be able to line up regardless of who's out there. And we didn't line up the right way and it hurt us."

Cowboys defensive playing time

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
Here's a look at the snap counts for each of the Cowboys' defensive players on Sunday:

Rolando McClain erased any doubts that he’s just a two-down linebacker with his performance Sunday against Tennessee. With Justin Durant (groin) out for a few weeks, McClain was on the field for 48 of 49 plays. It’s impressive because the Titans used a lot of formations with three receivers, which is why Sterling Moore played 44 snaps. Defensive lineman Jack Crawford saw his first action with the Cowboys, playing 12 plays. Kyle Wilber has lost his starting strongside linebacker job to Bruce Carter, but he’s getting playing time as a pass-rushing defensive end. He played 12 plays against the Titans.

Bruce Carter: 49
Brandon Carr: 48
Rolando McClain: 48
Barry Church: 45
Morris Claiborne: 45
Sterling Moore: 44
Jeremy Mincey: 43
J.J. Wilcox: 41
Tyrone Crawford: 30
Henry Melton: 26
Nick Hayden: 25
George Selvie: 22
Davon Coleman 19 Terrell McClain 18 Jack Crawford 12 Kyle Wilber: 11
Jeff Heath: 10
Anthony Hitchens: 9
Defensive tackle Henry Melton, the Cowboys' prized offseason acquisition, was hobbled with knee and groin issues in the preseason.

He missed the entire preseason, which is why he played only 26 snaps against San Francisco in Week 1. The Cowboys want to work him in slowly to ensure he doesn't aggravate the groin injury. Jeremy Mincey led the defensive line with 43 snaps. Rolando McClain played 44 snaps and did a good job of providing a physical presence. Kyle Wilber, a projected starter at linebacker much of training camp, had only four snaps.

Here's a look at the snap counts for each of the Cowboys' defensive players on Sunday:


J.J. Wilcox: 58
Brandon Carr: 57
Barry Church: 51
Bruce Carter: 48
Morris Claiborne: 47
Justin Durant: 47
Rolando McClain: 44
Jeremy Mincey: 43
Sterling Moore: 39
Tyrone Crawford: 33
Nick Hayden: 33
George Selvie: 27
Henry Melton: 26
Ken Bishop: 21
Lavar Edwards: 15
Jeff Heath: 7
Anthony Hitchens: 5
Kyle Wilber: 4

Three thoughts from Cowboys' loss

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
11:15
AM ET
IRVING - Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 28-17 loss to San Francisco.

Tony Romo won’t be as bad as he was against San Francisco anytime soon. For now, we can chalk this one up to an aberration.

Think about it, Romo threw 10 interceptions all of last season, and he had just two games with more than one interception last season. This is only second time in the last 24 games Romo has thrown three or more interceptions in a game.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys are 1-10 in games in which Tony Romo throws three or more interceptions.
In 109 starts, this is only the 11th time Romo has thrown three interceptions or more in a game. The Cowboys are 1-10 in those games with nine consecutive losses, which should surprise no one.

This team can’t win if the offense is going to make the litany of mistakes it did Sunday, whether we're talking Romo’s bonehead plays, DeMarco Murray’s critical fumble or Tyron Smith’s rough night. And the Cowboys can’t kick field goals or commit turnovers in the red zone. These Cowboys need to score touchdowns to keep this defense propped up.

Finally, Romo must understand he doesn’t have to do everything. Sometimes, it’s OK to run he ball against an eight-man front.

2) No one thought the Cowboys would be able to run the ball and push around San Francisco’s front seven, but that’s what they did.

Murray rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. His performance snapped San Francisco’s league-leading streak of 17 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

And he did it in three quarters and without a run longer than 15 yards. If the Cowboys keep games close then Murray will be a weapon all season.

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San Francisco allowed just 95.8 yards rushing per game last season. Murray gained at least 5 yards on 12 of his 22 carries, and he was dropped for a loss just once.

They did it against a unit Travis Frederick said the Cowboys would have trouble running against because they were so fundamentally sound.

3) The Cowboys allowed a league-leading 71 completions of 20 yards or more last season.

Not much changed Sunday. Once again, big plays doomed the Cowboys. San Francisco gained 316 yards, but 107 came on four plays.

A 37-yard catch-and-run by Anquan Boldin preceded Vernon Davis’ 29-yard touchdown catch that gave San Francisco a 14-3 lead. A 21-yard completion to Stevie Johnson late in the second quarter set up Carlos Hyde’s 4-yard touchdown run for a 28-3 lead.

The Cowboys must lower that number significantly, or they’re going to give up a lot of points.

Key number: 58 percent

When you struggle to rush the passer, and your best cornerback (Orlando Scandrick) is suspended for the first four games, it should surprise no one the Cowboys struggled with their third-down defense.

San Francisco converted 7 of 12 (58 percent).

Their first three conversions were each 8 yards, which is supposed to be difficult, but with cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr playing off the line of scrimmage it wasn’t that difficult.

Without a pass rush, it’s going to be an adventure on third down all season.

Player to Watch: Bruce Carter

Carter struggled last season and much of the preseason. The Cowboys wanted to draft Ryan Shazier in the first round to replace him, but Pittsburgh selected him one pick ahead of the Cowboys.

He even lost his weakside linebacker job to Justin Durant. But the Cowboys moved him strong side linebacker, and he took Kyle Wilber’s job.

Well, he did a nice job against San Francisco with five tackles, one sack, one pass deflection and a quarterback hit. If he’ll play like that all season, there’s hope this defense won’t be among the league’s worst.
MIAMI -- Brandon Carr, who missed the first two weeks of training camp dealing with the death of his mother, made his preseason debut against Miami.

It was an emotional experience.

Carr
 “I had my moment because it was my first time out there without her,” said Carr, “but I know she’s with me, and one of the things she taught me was how to handle adversity and continue to do my job.”

Carr made one tackle and Mike Wallace caught a short comeback route in front of him. Carr said he didn’t know if he would play Thursday against Denver.

The Cowboys need him to start the season strong because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy and Morris Claiborne has battled knee and shoulder injuries. Th Cowboys don't know if Claiborne will be ready to play against San Francisco, although they're hopeful

“It felt good to get out there and play at a game tempo, which is a lot faster than practice tempo,” Carr said. “The organization did a great job of letting me have the time I needed with my family and keeping my psyche right.

“But I told them once I came back and punched that clock, I would be ready to go.”
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.
Orlando Scandrick, one of the best players on an abject defense, will miss the first four games of the season after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Scandrick
And you thought a defense that allowed 415.3 yards and 27.0 points per game last season couldn’t get worse.

Well, it just did. This is a huge hit for a team with a shaky cornerback situation.

Morris Claiborne hasn’t practiced in more than a week. He has yet another training camp injury that prevented him from playing in the preseason opener for the third consecutive season.

Brandon Carr missed the first three weeks of training camp to be with his family as he dealt with the death of his mother.

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Neither one of those guys plays with the edge Scandrick does, which is important on a unit devoid of playmakers. He’s the one cornerback not afraid to challenge Dez Bryant on every snap of each practice.

He always believes he’s the best player on the field -- even when it’s clear that he’s not. Scandrick’s unshakable confidence has helped make him a good player.

Understand, Scandrick is also one of the smartest players on defense, which is why it’s hard to believe he did something so dumb. He reportedly took a drug that’s on the NFL’s banned list while vacationing in Mexico.

There’s no acceptable excuse for that.

All players have to do is check with the NFL to see whether whatever they’re about to ingest is on the list. If they don’t, they deserve whatever happens.

In this case, it’s a four-game suspension that will force him to miss games against San Francisco, Tennessee, St. Louis and New Orleans.

A bad defense just became worse. And one of its best players is to blame.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 9 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1. The general thought about the Cowboys’ defense seems to be that it can’t be any worse than it was last year.

Well, it can.

The first few practices have provided no indication this defense will be better than last year’s version that allowed 415.3 yards and 27 points per game. It’s not about a lack of effort, it’s about a lack of talent.

What players worry opposing offensive coordinators? Henry Melton? Brandon Carr? Orlando Scandrick?

Melton has the best pedigree, but he’s fighting through the mental hurdles of the knee injury that cost him 13 games last season. He's still too worried about his knee to play with reckless regard for his body, which is what it takes to succeed at defensive tackle.

And when he did play his best football in Chicago, he had Julius Peppers at defensive end and Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher at linebacker. No one remotely resembling those players starts for the Cowboys.

Talk to enough coaches and staff members at training camp and they’ll tell you the scheme has been tweaked and there’s even more emphasis on teaching than usual because the Cowboys don’t have enough talent to overcome poor technique or mental mistakes.

None of that guarantees a better performance.

2. For the Cowboys to end this wretched four-year streak of not making the playoffs, they must play better in the fourth quarter.

Jason Garrett emphasizes it to the players regularly -- and he’s right.

Last year, the Cowboys led San Diego, Denver, Detroit and Green Bay in the fourth quarter and lost. They had double-digit leads over Detroit and Green Bay.

In the last three years, the Cowboys have been within seven points of their opponent -- ahead or behind -- in 38 of 48 games. Their record in those 38 games is 20-18.

The Cowboys won the fourth quarter seven times last season. They were 6-1 in those games with the only loss coming against Denver.

Their margin for error this season will be slim again, in part, because of the defense. They’ll need to win a lot of fourth quarters to make the playoffs.

3. Garrett and playcaller Scott Linehan insist the Cowboys will run the ball this season.

Before you roll your eyes, understand this season they’re equipped to run it because of an offensive line that has been fortified with three No.1 picks in the last four years.

Teams had no respect for the Cowboys’ running game so they often used seven defenders in coverage and still managed to contain DeMarco Murray. Play coverage this season and the Cowboys should be more than happy to punish teams with their running game -- at least that's what Garrett and Linehan want you to believe.

More importantly, a better running game will make the passing game more efficient because the Cowboys can use play-action passes to generate big plays. Tony Romo attempted just 74 play-action passes last season, one of the league’s lowest totals.

Key number: 1

The Cowboys blitzed 132 times last season, one of the lowest totals in the league, and produced just one interception and nine sacks.

Pathetic.

Blitzes are supposed to disrupt the quarterback and force mistakes because the quarterback is making decisions under duress. Opposing quarterbacks had a 117.5 passer rating when the Cowboys blitzed last season.

Look at the personnel and there’s no reason to think the Cowboys will be any more effective blitzing this season. Their defensive line doesn’t have a proven pass-rusher.

The coaching staff has no idea how it's going to create pressure on the quarterback

Player to Watch: Justin Durant

With Sean Lee out for the season with a knee injury, recently signed Rolando McClain trying to earn trust and rookie Anthony Hitchens not ready for a starting role, Durant is making the most of his opportunity.

Durant, who had 24 tackles for the Cowboys last season, has impressed the coaching staff with his grasp of the system and his play so far in training camp.

He’s not going to be a difference-maker, but he’s been a solid player at various times in Jacksonville and Detroit. If he can duplicate that performance here, it would be a big help for the defense

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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.

Church chimes in on D's question marks

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
3:00
PM ET
Safety Barry Church is as close as it comes to a sure thing on a Dallas Cowboys’ defense that has a whole bunch of question marks.

What does Church expect from some of the most prominent question marks around him? He provided his answers during a Tuesday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM.

Church
 On J.J. Wilcox: “Just an explosive playmaker. Those are the words that come to my mind when I think of him. This whole offseason, he was all over the place -- getting interceptions, locking up tight ends -- so I feel like he’s going to be a big playmaker for us on the back end. I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table this season.”

On Bruce Carter: “Definitely with the loss of Sean Lee, it’s time for him to step up and be that focal point of the defense, and I feel like he’ll be able to do that. He’s making a lot of the checks out there. He’s the head of the huddle for the defense, so I feel like this offseason really generated a lot of confidence for him, and I feel like going into the season that’s going to work for him. He’s going to get better and better as the season progresses.”

On Morris Claiborne: “To me, he’s had the best offseason out of anybody in our secondary and anybody on our defense. He’s turned his body around. He’s completely focused. Before, I would have to give him the check for the defense a couple of times. Now, I’m just like, ‘Boom, here’s the call,’ and he’s ready to roll. ... Now you’re starting to see some of the productivity he can bring to our defense.”

On Brandon Carr: “I expect him to live up to that contract, and I know he will. He’s been putting in a lot of work this offseason. Me and him especially have working on our footwork drills, man-to-man drills and lifting together and running together. I feel like he’s got just a whole new focus going into this season. He wants to, like he said earlier in one of his interviews, take over the league. I feel like he can be one of those top-3 corners in the NFL. I feel like he’ll show everybody this year. I definitely have the faith in him to live up to that contract, and I know he will.”

On DeMarcus Lawrence: “Definitely, it’ll take some time. DeMarcus Ware, he’s a one-of-a-kind guy. It’s definitely going to take more than one year to replace a guy like that, but DeMarcus Lawrence has got the talent. He’s been out there working against one of the best offensive tackles in the game in Tyron Smith every day in practice. He’s taken a couple of lumps from him, but he’s definitely won some of those battles, too. That definitely shows me that he has the talent, and he has the will to do it. We’ve just got to see what he can do when the pads come on, but I definitely see a productive guy in DeMarcus Lawrence.”

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Todd Archer examines the three biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into training camp:

The health of Romo: Ever since he became the starter in 2006, how Tony Romo goes is how the Cowboys go. He is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, but he was able to do much more this offseason than he did in 2013, when he had a cyst removed. The Cowboys kept Romo out of any competitive drills in the spring in order for him to be fully healthy by the time they got to training camp. Using last year's camp as a guide, Romo did not miss a day of work, and the Cowboys don't believe he will need to be eased into the full practice load this summer either. Because a big part of Romo's game is his ability to move and create in open space, however, they will be cautious if there even hints of more soreness than just the aches and pains of training camp. All offseason, the Cowboys have not expressed any worry about Romo, who turned 34 in April, being able to return to form. He will get his first chance to show it on the practice fields in Oxnard, California. If he can play at a high level -- he had 32 touchdown passes and 10 picks in 15 games last season -- then the Cowboys should be able to contend for a playoff spot in a division that is not as strong as it has been in the past.

Marinelli to the rescue: The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013, and they enter this season without their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware), last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) and their best playmaker (Sean Lee). Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator and will bring subtle changes in coverages, fronts and blitzes, but the core of the 4-3 scheme will remain the same as when that coaching duo was together at Tampa Bay. The Cowboys did not make any splash signings in free agency, but their most important was Henry Melton. If he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and play the way he did under Marinelli in Chicago, the Cowboys have a chance. Marinelli also plans to lean more on cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in man coverage, but Carr and Claiborne have to play much better in 2014 than they did in 2013. There could be as many as seven new opening day starters on defense this season than in 2013, and it is up to Marinelli to make it work. He had more talent with the Bears when he was running their defense, but the players believe in what he is selling.

Plan of attack: From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Cornerbacks

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
1:30
PM ET
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.

Cornerbacks

On the roster: Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Sterling Moore, B.W. Webb, Terrance Mitchell, Tyler Patmon, Dashaun Phillips

Locks: Carr, Scandrick, Claiborne

Inside track: Moore, Mitchell

Need help: Webb, Patmon, Phillips

How many fit? Remember when the Cowboys kept only three cornerbacks a few years ago? And the fourth was Alan Ball, who was a starting safety? They can’t go that light again, but the Cowboys rarely used a dime package (six defensive backs) last season and Rod Marinelli did not use it much when he was with the Chicago Bears.

While some teams will carry six cornerbacks, taking five is the most likely option.

Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne are starters (yes, the third corner is like a starter). The remaining two spots are up for grabs, but Moore’s ability to play inside and outside should give him a leg up provided he plays as well in the summer as he did in the spring. He should have had the job last season, but the Cowboys kept Webb instead and he never really developed as a rookie. Webb’s struggles continued for most of the spring, but he was a little better in the minicamp. His draft status last season was a big part of why he made the roster, but he might not be so fortunate this summer.

Mitchell missed most of the offseason because Oregon did not graduate until late, but he made a favorable impression at the minicamp. The coaches like his swagger and he also possesses good size. The Cowboys feel lucky that they were able to grab him in the seventh round. Phillips was given the largest signing bonus of any undrafted free agent ($7,500) and Patmon earned a spot on the 90-man roster by making the most of an invite to the rookie minicamp. Of the two, Patmon was noticed more in the spring, but Phillips showed ability to go get the ball at Tarleton State.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
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
Jul 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.”

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