Dallas Cowboys: brandon weeden

So Dez Bryant has settled on an agent, leaving Eugene Parker and hiring Roc Nation. The Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver who suspended contract talks with the team before the season started, now wants them to resume again with his new agent.

While Bryant has finalized his business off the field, his on-the-field actions need some work.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCowboys receiver Dez Bryant encounters opponents' best cornerbacks each week, but he still has to find a way to get open and bring down catches.
Against Arizona he finished with just two catches for 15 yards and one touchdown. Both catches came in the fourth quarter and out of his 55 offensive snaps, a majority of the time he was covered by cornerback Patrick Peterson one-on-one.

"Played great," Bryant said of Peterson. "I'm a physical guy and they came out and did an outstanding job. We were a little bit powerless."

Arizona played single-high coverage, designed to stop the run which meant Bryant had his chances to make plays one-on-one. He was targeted 10 times, the fifth time this season he was thrown to in double-digits, but he produced just two catches. He also had two plays where he could have made catches but could have been considered drops.

It was Bryant's fewest catches when targeted more than 10 times in his career.

Bryant is an excellent receiver but he might have been impacted by backup quarterback Brandon Weeden and Peterson's efforts.

"Without question I missed him (quarterback Tony Romo), but I believe in Weeden, too," Bryant said. "But things didn't go our way. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and try to fix what we need to fix."

There was frustration in Bryant on Sunday, which is understandable given the amount of pressure on him to produce in the Cowboys' passing attack. Bryant does need to win his one-on-one battles more and that means being more physical when defenders jam him at the line of scrimmage and run precise routes to become a better target.

Bryant has improved as a route runner during his career and his command of the offense isn't an issue like it was his rookie season. Getting him on the move, in the slot running slants or the back shoulder fade routes are positive plays for Bryant. Arizona didn't pressure Weeden like they did Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

Yet, Weeden looked out of sorts when throwing to Bryant.

Maybe it was a chemistry deal, but Weeden is able to work with the first team in practice once a week as Romo rests his back. Romo could return for the Jacksonville game on Sunday in London. Romo playfully threw some passes to school-aged kids on Tuesday in London as part of a NFL Play 60 event. So maybe, Bryant gets his quarterback back.

"Across the board we're going to get it right," Bryant said. "I know we are."

Mackenzy Bernadeau prepares to start

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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IRVING, Texas -- Mackenzy Bernadeau has been here before.

Bernadeau
The Dallas Cowboys guard has started 47 games in his NFL career and might get another one Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Starting left guard Ronald Leary is nursing a pulled groin and his status is uncertain, so that means, coach Jason Garrett may turn to a veteran who played in overtime in last week's loss to Washington when Leary was injured.

"It's always exciting to get a chance to play and I don't consider this as me taking Ron's spot," Leary said. "I consider it me being accountable when one man goes down somebody has got to step up and play. So its just a great opportunity to get out there and play and hopefully Ron gets healthy and if not, I'll be ready to go."

Bernadeau has become a reliable lineman for the Cowboys because he's played both guard positions and started two games at center in 2012. When Bernadeau played in Carolina he started at both guard positions so just moving around the offensive line isn't a big deal.

"I'm comfortable at all three," Bernadeau said. "I played left most of the time, I've been prepping for it all season long in case something like this happens."

His potential return comes against an Arizona defense with just seven sacks on the season but is determined to send pressure on the quarterback by sending six and sometimes seven defenders. Arizona, despite being tied for 29th in the league in sacks, is tied for third with 10 interceptions because they play a tight man-to-man defense.

The pressure on the quarterback forces him to hurry throws and make quick decisions. The offensive line's communication has to be good, especially if Brandon Weeden is forced to start because of Tony Romo's back injury.

"They're good, they have a great front four, in the sub front they're great, they got a great 3-4 defense they got some guys who move around pretty well and some guys who can blitz and played a lot of games," Bernadeau said. "It's a great opportunity to just get out and play, we're preparing real well for it and just [by] looking at their games we'll be ready."

Brandon Weeden prepares to start

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
4:25
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden has had the same routine for about two months: Practice with the first-team offense on Wednesdays and then go back to the scout team the rest of the week.

Weeden
It gets interesting now for Weeden as starting quarterback Tony Romo deals with a stubborn back that has raised concerns about his availability for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Weeden took the first-team reps in a walkthrough practice Wednesday and is expected to do the same the rest of the week, or at least until further notice.

“It's still a day-to-day type thing,” Weeden said. “I took the reps today and if he's [Romo] out there practicing great, if not then I will step in there and take each rep which has been good for the last seven, eight weeks. I've been able to take the reps on Wednesday which has been big for me so I'm going to treat it no different, if he's able to go that's the best thing. We'll have to see how everything plays out.”

Weeden was pressed to participate in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins when Romo went down in the third quarter when he took a knee to his lower back. He led the Cowboys on two scoring drives, which concluded in a Dan Bailey 21-yard field goal and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten. Weeden's scoring drives led the Cowboys to tie the score twice, but Romo returned for the final drive of the game and remained on the field for overtime.

Weeden finished 4-of-6 for 69 yards and the touchdown.

“He did a nice job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I thought he had poise and composure, ran the offense, handled himself in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, made good decisions, made good throws, led us on a couple of scoring drives. He really did a nice job. Not a real surprise.”

Weeden might take over the starting job if Romo is unable to play against the blitz-happy Cardinals, and that's something he's preparing himself for.

“It's just a different mindset, the uncertainty of you may play or you may not play for six, seven eight weeks whatever,” Weeden said. “You just don't know. You've got to approach it like you're going to play at some point, that way when your number is called, you're not caught off guard.”
IRVING, Texas - Tony Romo missed his third consecutive Wednesday practice.

Three weeks ago, it was a big deal. Now, it’s considered a blessing for backup quarterback Brandon Weeden to get practice repetitions he’d otherwise never get, while Romo goes through a series of core-strengthening exercises.

Romo
While Jason Garrett has refused to say whether this will be Romo’s routine the rest of the season, it doesn’t make any sense to change it since he’s playing well.

In his first two games, Romo completed 42 of 66 passes for 457 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 75.1. In the last two games, Romo has completed 40 of 52 passes for 479 yards with five touchdowns and one interception with a passer rating of 128.6.

He’s also moving better in the pocket, eluding defenders and creating more time to find receivers. He was sacked seven times in the first two games and once in the last two games.

He also has had runs of 16 and 21 yards in the last two games, converting key third-down situations each time.

“I’m continuing to get healthier each week that goes by and that’s encouraging,” Romo said. “My ability to move and react and fire and activate everything when you want it -- for me personally that has been a huge difference since the first two weeks.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 27-3 loss to the Denver Broncos.

1) Brandon Weeden didn’t do much over the last three preseason games to inspire much confidence, if the Cowboys need him to play.

Weeden
Jason Garrett said he did the usual array of good things and bad things in the game, but the troubling thing during the preseason is that he seems to have a habit of staring down his receivers. Other times, he’s not decisive and he either throws the ball late or scrambles because the receiver is no longer open.

He finished the preseason 34-of-57 for 388 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns.

The reality is that if the Cowboys need him to play this season, he’ll be behind the starting offensive line and he’ll have enough weapons that all he has to do is manage the game.

2) No team wants to go winless in preseason. Jerry Jones did his best to put a positive spin on it by referencing his first preseason as the Cowboys’ owner.

The Cowboys went 3-1 in the preseason and 1-15 during the 1989 season.

“Well, it has always concerned me,” Jones said. “On the other hand, the first year I came in the NFL, we were undefeated going into the Denver game. Dan Reeves was their coach. He was a disciple of Tom Landry and he was hot over the fact that Coach Landry and those things had been done here with the Cowboys.

“He left [John] Elway in all the way through the game and we played into overtime to beat the Cowboys so we didn’t go undefeated.

“We went 4-1. Thought this is going to work. We won one football game that year. So much for preseason.”

3) Dustin Vaughan isn’t going to make the final roster.

This team has too many issues on defense and players such as Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence need roster spots even though they aren’t playing for several weeks. Vaughan is a great fit for the practice squad, and if the 6-foot-5, 235-pound undrafted free agent gets claimed by another team then that’s just a tough break.

Other teams have issues with their rosters and most teams don’t keep a third quarterback.

Key number: -56

It’s just the preseason and coach Jason Garrett stayed committed to evaluating personnel.

Still, it must be discouraging to get outscored by 56 points, the largest point differential in the league, as the Cowboys went winless in the preseason.

The Cowboys have gone winless in the preseason five times. Only the 1998 team that still had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders made the playoffs.

Player to Watch: Rolando McClain

McClain
Rolando McClain is the most intriguing defensive player on the roster. He has every physical skill you want in a linebacker, but none of us really knows how much he wants to play.

He says the right things on the rare occasion he speaks publicly, but he’s missed several practices as he gets his body used to playing football again. After all, this is a player who’s retired twice in the past year, so you’re always waiting to see if he’ll retire a third time.

The Cowboys are trying their best not to depend on him, which is good. But they need help at linebacker, so it’s only a matter of time before they get seduced by his talent and put him in the starting lineup.

“I don’t think Rolando is going to be the savior of this team,” Jerry Jones said. “We don’t have Sean Lee, but Rolando does have the skill level to come in here and really add to what we can do.

“We’re going to need him, but I don’t want anybody to think I expect him to be Dick Butkus or even Sean Lee.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 16 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1. You can’t get fooled by anything you see in a preseason football game, especially the first one.

Randle
Several starters, including Tony Romo, didn’t play against San Diego, and the Cowboys did little game-planning for this game. Still, you should be pleased with play-caller Scott Linehan’s first game calling plays for the Cowboys.

San Diego stopped Joseph Randle for no gain on the game’s first carry. Normally, the Cowboys would throw the ball on second down. Instead, Randle carried again. This time he gained 10 yards and a first down. He gained six yards on his third straight carry.

Then Brandon Weeden faked a handoff and thew a deep post to Dwayne Harris, who dropped a pass that was a tad high. Harris had created so much separation that he might have scored had he caught the ball. The Cowboys finished the first half with 17 passes and 15 runs, and that’s with Weeden throwing seven straight times to end the half.

No one expects the Cowboys to have a 50-50 run pass ratio, but anything over 62 percent passes is not a winning number for the majority of NFL teams. Only New Orleans made the playoffs throwing the ball that much -- and they have to be considered an outlier because their team is built to play that way.

2. A defense playing the Tampa 2 scheme isn’t supposed to give up big plays.

SportsNation

Will the Cowboys' defense be better than last season?

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Discuss (Total votes: 15,087)

The entire defense is predicated on making the offense drive the ball methodically down the field until it makes a mistake or the defense makes a play. The Cowboys gave up a league-high 252 plays of 10+ yards last season, and the preseason game didn’t reveal much improvement.

Few starters played Thursday, but conceptually it’s still a tad surprising to see the defense allow so many big plays. Dallas allowed 14 plays of 10 yards or more, including five of more than 20 yards. Those 14 plays accounted for 297 yards; the Chargers gained just 98 yards on their other 44 plays.

The defense will obviously improve as the starters begin to play next week, but the big plays will continue to be concerning until they stop happening so frequently.

3. The starting offensive line did a nice job creating running lanes, and the pass protection was nearly flawless.

The one time Brandon Weeden did get pressured, he stepped up into the pocket and scrambled for positive yards. The strength of this team will be the offensive line, and they showed quite a few positives in one series.

Key number: 27

The Cowboys had 27 players who didn’t play against San Diego, including 13 starters or key contributors. Most weren’t hurt, and the Cowboys didn’t want to take a chance anyone would get hurt. Even a key role player such as Lance Dunbar spent the game on the sideline.

Player to Watch: Uche Nwaneri

Nwaneri has started 91 of 95 games the past six seasons for Jacksonville. He will be fortunate to make the roster, an indication the one thing head coach Jason Garrett has done right is re-build the offensive line.

Mackenzey Bernadeau, who plays center and guard, is the sixth offensive lineman and Jermey Parnell will probably be the third tackle and seventh lineman, though he needs to play better.

If the Cowboys keep an eighth offensive lineman, Nwaneri is probably competing against a player such as John Wetzel, a 23-year-old with a year of experience, who can play guard and tackle. Nwaneri is the better player now, but will he be at the end of the season? And do the Cowboys want to pay him $855,000 instead of the $495,000 Wetzel would earn?

Nwaneri is a solid veteran and the Cowboys wouldn’t have any issue using him in a game, but he must be considerably better than a youngster to earn a roster spot. Especially because the Cowboys usually only dress seven lineman on game day, and he would be inactive most weeks because Bernadeau can play two positions.
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.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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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.

Chat recap: Re-thinking QB position

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:00
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IRVING, Texas – In our weekly chat on Wednesday, we touched on a number of subjects, including the recently released Kyle Orton.

We also discussed:


To read the full chat, click here.

But I wanted to delve a little deeper into one subject from the chat and that’s Johnny Manziel. Wait, who? I kid. Here’s what I was asked:
Steve (Tyler, Tx): Any second thoughts on passing on Manziel now that Kyle Orton has retired?

Todd Archer: I was waiting for this question. It's an interesting scenario isn't it? Well, first off, Orton didn't retire. He was cut. Now, I believe he wanted to retire but was going to show up to camp so he didn't have to pay back bonus money. But that's splitting hairs. Let's say the Cowboys did this back before the draft. Wouldn't their philosophy have been different regarding the quarterback? I believe so. I don't think they regret not taking Manziel because we're using hindsight of what we know now and not what we knew then.

After the Cowboys took Zack Martin in the first round, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys really spent no time talking about taking Manziel with the 16th pick in the first round. A little later in the offseason, Jones said the Cowboys seriously considered it. So Jones kind of covered the bases with those answers.

Had the Cowboys made the move with Orton before the draft, I believe Manziel would have been more of a consideration. Remember, they had not seen much from Brandon Weeden before the draft. The organized team activities had not started by that time.

The drama that Manziel would have brought to the Cowboys would have been overwhelming, but I don’t think the Cowboys – or any team – should act in fear of what might happen off the field with fans’ reactions or media interpretations. I think they did the right thing in taking Martin from a football perspective. He makes the offense better in 2014 and potentially the defense better in 2014. Manziel likely wouldn’t have made either better in 2014. Maybe not in 2015, either.

Would I have felt differently if Orton were gone by then? Perhaps. I think Manziel will be an excellent quarterback.

If Orton was gone by May and if the Cowboys passed on Manziel, then I believe they would have adjusted their thinking about drafting a quarterback at all. The position wasn’t discussed much during the draft. But the guy I think they would have taken in the middle rounds if he was available: Tom Savage.

Savage went to the Houston Texans in the fourth round. Why Savage? One of the reasons why they liked Devin Street so much was the fact that he played in a pro-style offense at Pitt. Savage was his quarterback. Savage was the quarterback when the Cowboys ran Street through a private workout. Jason Garrett has a close relationship with Pitt coach Paul Chryst.

Strong offseason fueling Brandon Weeden

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
11:05
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IRVING, Texas – Brandon Weeden's bid to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback in 2014 got a lot easier when the club decided to release Kyle Orton.

Weeden
Barring something unforeseen, Weeden, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, will be Tony Romo’s backup. But Weeden does not look at the move as “weight off my shoulders.”

“Given the situation Kyle has been in in previous years in Dallas, he’s been the backup quarterback, so I think if he was there it would be one more obstacle I would have to kind of hurdle,” Weeden said. “But at the same time I can’t really get wrapped up in putting all of my attention on that. I need to do what I did in the [organized team activities] and continue to play well and get better. I think hopefully things will work out that way regardless.”

The Cowboys felt confident enough to jettison Orton, who skipped the entire offseason program and minicamp, in part because of what Weeden did in the spring. With Romo recovering from back surgery and being kept out of competitive drills and Orton missing, Weeden took all of the first-team snaps.

“I think the reps I got in the OTAs were kind of irreplaceable,” Weeden said. “If I was in a situation where God forbid something happened to Tony and I’m asked to play, those are the guys I’m going to battle with, so those reps I got were invaluable. I know I won’t get many of those in [training] camp, but fortunately I had 12 practices where I was able to get out with those guys. Now it’s, ‘Let’s get to work.’ I’m ready to get to California and get things rolling.”

Orton had the same benefit last year of taking all of the offseason snaps in 2013 as Romo recovered from surgery to remove a cyst from his back. When Romo hurt his back in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins, he was able to step into the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles and play well. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but a late turnover sealed the Cowboys’ loss.

“[Gavin] Escobar and [Jason] Witten are two totally different players. Dez [Bryant] and Terrance [Williams] are two totally different players,” Weeden said. “You kind of learn what certain guys’ strengths are and little nuances of what they do. That’s the thing more than anything. You kind of get a feel for what Dez likes on fades and all that stuff a certain way where Terrance might like it another way. You’ve got to learn what each guy likes. When you’re with so many new guys it takes time. You always want more time, but it’s nice to have the reps I did get there to get a head start.”
With the start of training camp coming next week, we review the five biggest position battles with the Dallas Cowboys.

Backup quarterback

The favorite: Kyle Orton

The contenders: Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie

Orton
Outlook: Orton missed the entire offseason contemplating retirement. The Cowboys took a wait-and-see approach with Orton, with coach Jason Garrett citing the collective bargaining agreement, to deal with the veteran. The status of this position is unsettled because while Orton is 35-35 as a starter, he’s still one of the better backups in the NFL. Orton played well in the regular-season finale for an injured Tony Romo last season. But if Orton is out of the picture, it means Weeden (5-15 as a starter) becomes Romo’s backup. With Romo rehabbing his back, Weeden received all the snaps in the offseason with the first team and developed a chemistry and better understanding of the new wrinkles of the offense with new playcaller Scott Linehan.

Who wins?: The Cowboys could cut, fine and even ask for previous signing-bonus money back from Orton if he refuses to report to training camp. There are no winners here because Orton, somewhere along the way, lost his desire to play and doesn’t want to be around, and the Cowboys have to depend on Weeden to support a starting quarterback coming off a second back surgery.
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 Cowboys’ roster.

Quarterbacks

On the roster: Tony Romo, Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden, Caleb Hanie, Dustin Vaughan

Locks: Romo, Orton

Virtual lock: Weeden

Need help: Hanie, Vaughan

How many fit? The Cowboys have kept three quarterbacks before, but not since they had Stephen McGee around in 2011. I believe they carry three again in 2014.

They have carried just Romo and Orton on the 53-man roster the last two seasons with Alex Tanney spending some time on the practice squad last season before he was poached by the Cleveland Browns.

Some might be surprised to see Orton is a lock after he skipped the entire offseason, which could cost him about $150,000 in fines and a de-escalator, but the Cowboys have consistently said they value him. If he doesn’t show up to training camp, then he faces big-money fines, so for that reason I believe he shows up to Oxnard, California.

The Cowboys have invested little money in Weeden, but they have invested time this offseason with him taking the first-team snaps since Romo is recovering from back surgery and Orton is missing. They like Weeden enough to want to continue to develop him. He appears to be the 2015 backup right now, but injuries at other spots -- or poor play in the preseason games -- could mean the Cowboys go with two quarterbacks for the third straight season.

Getting snaps for five quarterbacks in the summer is impossible so it’s likely Hanie or Vaughan will be let go if/when Orton shows up to camp. Hanie had some positive moments in his work over the spring. Vaughan has a big arm and could be a developmental player.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • How Henry Melton kicks in the option of his contract.
  • How many tight ends the Cowboys keep.
  • Who starts at linebacker?
  • The hypothetical to end all hypotheticals.

If you want to read Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: There is not a magic number necessarily, but if Melton matches his career high of seven sacks, the Cowboys will pick up the final three years, which guarantees him $9 million in 2015. Melton will be the key to this defense. He is the lone known true playmaker on the defensive line. I don't think you can count on another seven-sack season from George Selvie. The others all have something to prove. Melton has the most talent, but he's coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. For some players it takes a little more time to come back from that injury, but from all accounts Melton's rehab has gone well and he will be on the field to open training camp. The tough call will be whether the Cowboys pick up the option if he has a four- or five-sack season. Would it be worth it to kick in the final three years of the deal if he's just OK? That could be a tough call.

@toddarcher: They kept four tight ends last season for a spell when they had five receivers. I think the spot comes down to a fourth tight end or a fullback. I know there are a lot of people who love the fullback. Tyler Clutts did a nice job late last season, but I'm not one of those who believe the fullback is necessary. Another factor in how many players are kept at certain positions this year will be quarterback. If Kyle Orton comes back and the Cowboys keep him, then they will keep three quarterbacks for the first time in a couple of years. That chews into a roster spot somewhere else as well. But back to the tight ends: I think they need to get a blocking-type in their top-three, so that would put James Hanna on the bubble. I like Hanna, but I want to see the coaches use his abilities. In his two seasonss, they have yet to get him in space to use that speed.

@toddarcher: To me, it's Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and Kyle Wilber. I'm not even sure I can put Rolando McClain on the active roster if I had to do a 53-man breakdown today. Too many questions there. Carter is the clear front-runner at the Will. He did a better job later in the offseason. Durant has the most experience at the Mike, and that is not even that much. But he can be serviceable. Wilber played well last season and carried that over to the spring. He might be their best find, because moving him from defensive end to the Sam last season was really a move of desperation and it worked. I suppose DeVonte Holloman could push his way into the mix at Mike or Sam, but as of today, I'm going with the aforementioned three.

@toddarcher: Unlike Jason Garrett, I will answer a hypothetical even if it does me no good. Under this scenario, I see the Cowboys as a 6-10 team. I'm going on the premise that they get off to a decent start with Tony Romo. And if they want to make the playoffs, they have to get off to a decent start. So let's call a decent start as 3-3. I can see them winning another three -- just don't ask me which games -- because the schedule is tough down the stretch. The last part of the question -- Garrett remaining as coach -- is tough to say. Remember, he got the interim job with Romo hurt and went 5-3. Now he could end his job with Romo hurt. If the Cowboys play hard for him, which they have done, and they are in the games, which they have done, then I could see a chance of him returning in 2015. That doesn't mean it would happen. I'm on record saying Garrett has to make the playoffs to be back in 2015. Man, I hate hypothetical questions. Now I know why coaches don't answer them. But don't worry, we'll still ask them.

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IRVING, Texas – Most of the time when Kyle Orton’s absence was discussed in the offseason, Brandon Weeden was mentioned as the biggest beneficiary.

Hanie
While true, Caleb Hanie also benefited.

With Orton staying away, the Dallas Cowboys had to sign Hanie, a Forney, Texas, native. With Orton skipping all of the organized team activities and mandatory June minicamp and Tony Romo staying out of competitive drills, Hanie took most of the backup snaps behind Weeden.

“He knows how to play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s one of the things we were attracted to when we signed him in the spring. Get a guy in here who can handle the huddle and handle situations at the line of scrimmage. He’s seen defenses in this league. He’s started games. He’s been in playoff games.”

He has a 0-4 record as a starter he completed 59 of 116 passes for 679 yards with three touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has not thrown a pass in a regular-season game since 2011 and spent parts of the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.

The Cowboys struck out on their first attempt to sign Hanie. In 2008, he chose to sign with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent, despite a full-court press from the Cowboys.

“I felt it was a better opportunity for me in Chicago with the guys they had up there,” Hanie said. “At the time Tony was planted as the starter and I think Brad Johnson was on the roster then. It would’ve been a little uphill battle for me to get on the roster. It was tough turning them down, I can tell you that much, being the hometown team.”

Last December Hanie was among a handful of quarterbacks the Cowboys worked out after Romo got hurt. They eventually signed Jon Kitna for the final week of the season.

In April, Hanie and the Cowboys finally got together.

“It’s kind of come full circle now,” he said.

The Cowboys expect Orton to show up at training camp, but they also expected him to show up for the minicamp. The fines for skipping training camp practices are much more severe ($30,000 per day).

“If he’s here, I’ll notice,” Hanie said. “If he’s not, I don’t worry about that. I just worry about what I can do and control and see how it goes from here.”

Hanie had some solid moments in the offseason. He connected on a touchdown with Cole Beasley in the slot, splitting the cornerback and linebacker on a throw to the slot. Hanie pumped his fist as he went to the sideline.

“I think it’s gone well,” Hanie said. “Obviously you want to be perfect in everything you do, every check and throw and with 100 percent accuracy, but it’s just not realistic sometimes. You’ve just got to let things go and try to improve every way you can and take as much coaching as you can while you have the opportunity.”
The backup quarterback, or who we think should be the backup quarterback for Dallas Cowboys is missing.

Kyle Orton is thinking of retirement.

Weeden
Team officials anticipated Orton coming to the voluntary offseason workouts. Didn't happen.

Then team officials said Orton was expected to show up for the mandatory three-day minicamp last week. Didn't happen.

Coach Jason Garrett, who shares the same agent as Orton, anticipates him coming to training camp in late July.

Will it happen?

It appears doubtful because Orton wants to retire. He doesn't care about the amount of money, nearly $3.2 million in base salary that will be lost.

All the fines and signing bonus money the team wants back, it most likely won't happen. They can ask, but it doesn't mean they're going to get it. The fine money the team gets is from the base salary. If there's no base salary then there's, in reality, no fine money.

In terms of the signing bonus money the Cowboys want back, it's from the 2012 and 2013 seasons. How could they get that money back?

Orton participated in those seasons already, including in the regular-season finale with Tony Romo out with a back surgery.

So this leaves the Cowboys with a 30-year old as the backup quarterback to Romo in Brandon Weeden.

He spent two seasons with the Cleveland Browns and went 5-15. It seemed the Browns were going through a transitional phase every minute and after two seasons, Weeden and new general manager Ray Farmer agreed it was time to part ways.

Weeden said there are no hard feelings with the departure from Cleveland and if anything, playing in Dallas is a fresh start for him.

"Those scars have healed," Weeden said. "I'm good. I don't worry about it. I enjoyed my two years, met some good buddies, I've moved on and I'm excited to be here and excited for the opportunity."

What the Cowboys lost in Orton, a veteran with 70 starts on his résumé, is someone who gives the team a better chance to win a game than Weeden.

Yet, that doesn't mean Weeden can't win a game in the NFL.

If the Cowboys plan on increasing the running attack in 2014, then DeMarco Murray should thrive if Weeden plays.

Dez Bryant knows Weeden well from their days at Oklahoma State. Weeden said Bryant has improved as a route runner from his days in college.

There is a chemistry building this offseason between Weeden and the offense because he received the first-team reps in the offseason workouts as Romo rehabbed his back injury and Orton stayed away.

"But that's not why I go out here every day," Weeden said. "I go out here every day to get better and build on what I have done the last two years. It's not about saying I'm going to be the backup. That takes care of itself. If you play well and you prove to guys around you and the coaching staff, things will fall into place. That's my main focus."

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