Dallas Cowboys: Chris Johnson

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. We touch on a number of subjects ranging from: Chris Johnson, Miles Austin, Tony Romo's successor and cap hell.

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

Chat recap: All about opportunity

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
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IRVING, Texas -- We had another spirited chat on Wednesday in which we touched on a number of subjects.

One that I will delve further into here in a bit is why the Dallas Cowboys didn’t sign Kenny Britt or Hakeem Nicks, and why I don’t believe Chris Johnson will be coming here.

But we also discussed:
  • The Cowboys approach to free agency.
  • The possibility of signing DeMarco Murray to an extension.
  • If Anthony Barr is in play at No. 16 for the Cowboys.
  • The future of Morris Claiborne.

If you want to look at the whole chat, you can click here.

But let’s get back to the Britt, Nicks, Johnson talk.

Here was one question:

Eric (Long beach): Why didn't the cowboys have interest in guys like Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt that signed cheap one year deals? they could have been nice to go along with dez and injury insurance

Todd Archer: Let me turn the question around -- why would Nicks or Britt want to come here when the Cowboys are committed to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams? They are looking for opportunity too. They felt other teams were better opportunities for them.

To build off that subject:

I think far too often we forget the other side of interest in signing with a team. A player’s agent is never going to shrink the market for his client, so they would never say never when asked if their guy would be interested in playing for the Cowboys.

Since I’ve been covering this team, you always hear agents say, ‘Player X would love to be a Cowboy.’ Some of that is true. Some of that is to drive up the price. And how many times have we heard players say they grew up Cowboys’ fans? Jeremy Mincey, the new defensive end, said the 1994 NFC Championship Game loss was to the San Francisco 49ers was a painful day for him.

Players want opportunities to play. Maybe Nicks and Britt could have beaten out Williams for a starting spot opposite Bryant, but there was no guarantee that was happening here. Nicks signed with the Indianapolis Colts and should start at least at the start of the season with Reggie Wayne coming back from a knee injury. Britt chose the St. Louis Rams in part to reunite with coach Jeff Fisher, who coaxed him into his best years.

Johnson has been a starter since he got into the league. The Cowboys have their running back in Murray. When they are at their best, they ride Murray. They don’t split carries. But why would Johnson want to split carries anyway? He will get a better chance to do that somewhere else.

The Cowboys made a mistake in passing on Johnson in 2008 when they took Felix Jones. Some thought Johnson was too slight to excel at the position. He’s not the same player he was a few years ago, but he has something left. It’s just not enough for the Cowboys.

Chat leftovers: Chris Johnson? No

March, 21, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had more than 140 questions in Wednesday's Dallas Cowboys chat and it's impossible to answer all of them, so we're going to feature a weekly chat leftovers post to answer some of the best questions I missed the other day.

Who doesn't love leftovers?

In this segment we'll touch on Chris Johnson coming to the Cowboys, draft value, Joseph Randle and if this team is just hanging on until a complete rebuild.

Away we go:

Bo (Dallas): There were rumors of Chris Johnson coming to Dallas. Any update on that?

Archer: This isn't happening. The Cowboys don't want to assume the contract and if free agency has told us anything they don't want to acquire descending players and frankly that's what Johnson is these days. He's just not a fit, unless he wants to come in at the veteran minimum. And that's not happening either. The Cowboys will ride with DeMarco Murray. He seemed to turn a corner in the second half of the season and ended up getting added to the Pro Bowl. Murray is a better fit for this running game and for this salary cap. He's still on his rookie deal. The question the Cowboys will have is what to do with Murray in the future. Do they lock him up long-term? The only way I see that happening is if it is on a team-friendly deal. With the way the running back market is going, these backs better realize every deal going forward everywhere is going to be team friendly.

Daryl (Jersey): Why don't the Cowboys like 1-technique in the first round?

Archer: It's about value. A one technique typically plays only in rushing situations. The NFL is turning into a passing league and the stout-run defender is just not as valued these days. Third down is the money down. Teams want players who can affect the quarterback and stay on the field for all three downs, especially those they take in the first round. The Cowboys passed on Sharrif Floyd last year with the 18th pick because they did not view him as an elite pass-rusher. Their feeling then -- and now -- is that you can find a run-plugging defensive tackle later in the draft or even in free agency. Nick Hayden wasn't bad (and, yes I'm aware of Pro Football Focus' grade) and they gave little money to Terrell McClain in free agency.

Preston (North Little Rock): Do you think Joseph Randle is the answer at backup running back? With the offseason emphasis being on a better running game in 2014, do they look to draft another RB in this year's draft?

Archer: I like Randle even if his numbers as a rookie were less than stellar. He had a lot of carries when the Cowboys were trying to put a game away and defenses stacked the line. He had a lot of work when the line wasn't playing as well as it did later in the year. Is he great? Is he a game changer? I don't know, but I think he can handle the job if something happened to Murray. The Cowboys also like Lance Dunbar as a change of pace back and appeared to find him a role on Thanksgiving vs. the Oakland Raiders before he got hurt. I'd never say never on drafting a running back, but if they do I think it happens on the third day of the draft.

Brian (Ft. Worth, Texas): It feels like the Cowboys team of the late 90s with Aikman hanging on and the team trading for Galloway. Do you get that sense that the team is barely hanging on to its window to win with Romo?

Archer: I wrote about this the other day when the debate was whether the Cowboys are rebuilding or not. I don't think they are rebuilding. I think they are re-tooling. The only starters over 30 are Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Doug Free. DeMarcus Ware is gone. So is Jason Hatcher. So is Miles Austin. The core of this team is now Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Murray and those guys. The Cowboys have to find more of those guys to maximize what they have left in Romo and Witten. Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but the Cowboys can win the NFC East. They'll need a lot of things to go right for them, but I don't see the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and New York Giants pulling away from them.

Scouting Jeremy Mincey

March, 13, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- On Wednesday the Dallas Cowboys signed Jeremy Mincey to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million to be part of their defensive line rotation.

So who is Mincey?

I watched him play two games from last year while with the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals. The Jaguars defense figures to look more like what the Cowboys defense will use in 2014 than what he did when he ended the season with the Denver Broncos.

According to an AFC personnel man, Mincey is mostly a left defensive end and is better against the run than the pass.

In those two games, he played all four spots on the defensive line but mostly played left defensive end. He moved into defensive tackle in passing situations and was able to generate a decent push up the middle. One thing I noticed: He was not on the ground a lot.

At times he would hesitate off the ball and wait to engage with a blocker, but he did not stop moving. While at right defensive end he was able to chase down Chris Johnson from the backside. At left defensive end he was able to handle the tight ends for the most part and was able to walk the tackle back into the quarterback.

His sack against the Cardinals came after Carson Palmer tripped pulling away from the center but he forced a sack when he bulled a tight end back into Palmer. When the Jaguars went to third-and-short distances, he was on the field.

Against the Titans he played 35 of 73 snaps. Against the Cardinals he played 26 of 69 snaps. It would not be wise to play him that many more snaps and the sense is the Cowboys would like to keep their snaps among their defensive linemen fairly even.

Mincey's versatility could allow George Selvie to spend more time on the right side, but I don’t know if he is built to be a full-time right defensive end.

Selvie proved to be a find last year, picking up seven sacks. Mincey has a lot of Selvie’s traits but he might not play with the same amount of thump.

Who the Cowboys pick in 2008 re-draft

January, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- ESPN’s Mel Kiper recently conducted a re-draft of the first round in 2008, and Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins were not among the top 32 picks, nor were they among the 14 players he considered in the first round.

The Cowboys have had serious drafting issues over the years, but 2008 represents two misses in the first 25 picks.

The Cowboys could have had Chris Johnson, Ray Rice or Matt Forte with the 22nd overall pick but took Jones in part because he came from a two-back system in Arkansas and showed he could do more with less. Johnson has had a 2,000-yard season and has had more than 1,000 yards in every season. Rice and Forte have four 1,000-yard seasons apiece.

Jones topped out at 800 in 2010 and the Cowboys chose not to re-sign him after the 2012 season.

The Cowboys moved up to get Jenkins with the 25th pick in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks.

Jenkins is remembered more for tackles he chose not to make rather than gutting out a 2011 season in which he played with a badly damaged shoulder. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2009 after he had five interceptions.

The Cowboys signed Orlando Scandrick to an extension in 2011 and moved up to take Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick in 2012 as Jenkins rehabbed from the shoulder surgery mostly away from Valley Ranch. The Cowboys made no effort to re-sign Jenkins, and he ended up with a one-year deal from the Oakland Raiders in 2013.

Teams can’t miss on first-round picks. They have to get two contracts out of them, but the last first-round pick they have extended with a multiyear deal before the rookie deal expired was DeMarcus Ware (2005). Anthony Spencer, their first-rounder in 2007, was given the franchise tag in back-to-back years but is a free agent this March. Dez Bryant (2010) figures to break that trend soon.

Kiper had the Cowboys choosing wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who went No. 205 overall to the Indianapolis Colts, and defensive tackle Kendall Langford.

The Garcon pick is interesting because it likely would have meant the Cowboys would not have dealt for Roy Williams in the middle of the 2008 season and thus saved themselves from a disastrous deal. Langford has been solid for the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams.

Fear not, however, because the Cowboys do have Kiper’s No. 24 pick on their roster. He had Brandon Carr, who was a fifth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, going to the Tennessee Titans. Of course, Kiper also mentioned Carr’s play the past two seasons has been “middle of the road.” Among the players Kiper also considered for the first round was wide receiver Danny Amendola, who was an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys that year.

So there’s that.
PHOENIX -- Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he's open to bringing former first-round pick Felix Jones back to the team if the free agent is still available.

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Felix Jones showed flashes at time, but injuries hampered his ability to have a bigger impact. Now a free agent, Felix Jones has yet to visit with any NFL teams.

"We've got to look at the backup backfield," Jerry Jones said. "You can't dismiss Felix. I don't want to dismiss him from our thinking."

The backup running backs to DeMarco Murray currently are Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar.

"Dunbar is pretty impressive when you look back (on his season)," Jerry Jones said. "When he got his chances, he did real well. He was in some pretty critical situations. He's got a real receiver knack. He can find the soft spot. He gives us an alternative. He's going to have to make the contribution on special teams. It's hard not to have that third back be a special teams contributor."

Felix Jones is not a special teams contributor, but he's someone, if healthy, who could have an impact.

"I didn't expect Felix to have some of the physical limitations that he's had," Jerry Jones said. "I know how hard of a worker that he is, and I know what his motor was when he came out of Arkansas. The facts are he did some good things for us last year. I would have hoped with those two No. 1 picks, Felix could have been the one. But of course, Murray had something to say about that. But the big thing with Felix has been his health. That's been the most disappointing thing."

The owner wouldn't call Felix Jones a bust, but compared to the other running backs drafted in 2008 -- Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Jamaal Charles -- there is major disappointment.

"I'm disappointed that Felix hadn’t been healthier," the owner said. "But I know that when he first joined our team, we were proud to have him with that No. 1 pick. And, as late as last year, I was proud to have that No. 1 in (Mike) Jenkins, the other first-round pick that year. But it's five years down the road now."

Practice report: Six starters miss practice

September, 28, 2012
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IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys were without six starters during Friday's practice at Valley Ranch. Of the six, four expect to play Monday night against the Chicago Bears.

Fullback Lawrence Vickers missed practice because of the flu. "I'll be out there (Saturday)," he said, adding that he should be well enough to play Monday night.

Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is on the injury report with a shoulder injury but revealed it's his right pectoral muscle that's nicked up. Spencer raised his arm and pointed to an area between the shoulder and the chest that's bothering him.

"I plan on playing," Spencer said. "I'm hoping (to practice) tomorrow."

Among the others who missed practice were defensive end Kenyon Coleman (knee), center Phil Costa (back), safety Matt Johnson (back), punter Chris Jones (knee) and nose tackle Jay Ratliff.

Linebacker Alex Albright (stinger) and safety Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) were limited in practice. Sensabaugh said he should play and wasn't sure if he'll need a sleeve to protect his calf. Albright said he's feeling better but isn't sure if he'll play.

"Just taking it slow," he said. Then while smiling he added, "I was beating guys up on special teams. It's a day-to-day thing right now."
IRVING, Texas -- Running back Felix Jones has taken more criticism from the media this training camp than in his entire NFL career.

Durability is a concern for the backup running back, who enters the final year of his contract.

Jones, who has shaved down his James Harden-like facial hair to go with a more conservative look, has run pretty well during the preseason. He's rushed 11 times for 48 yards and has picked up three catches for 26 yards. Jones runs with a burst at times, but it doesn't appear as if he makes defenders miss as much as he used to.

Injuries to his toe, knee, ankle, hamstring and shoulder have cost Jones 16 regular-season games out of 64 since the Cowboys drafted him in the first round of the 2008 draft. The 2010 season is the only year he didn't miss any games. Those injuries might have taken a toll on him.

Jones was playful with a reporter when asked about his beard following Monday's practice. When asked if he'll play 16 games this season, Jones said, "We'll see."

The Cowboys are depending on Jones more this year by adding kickoff returns to his plate. Jones hasn't returned kicks full time since his rookie season. But the Cowboys want more playmakers in different positions on the field, and Jones fits right in.

It's easy to compare Jones negatively to the 2008 draft class that featured Chris Johnson, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice. Jones is a talented player but hasn't been healthy enough to show it on the field.

Now Jones enters the final year of his contract trying to prove himself worthy of a lucrative new deal, whether it's with the Cowboys or another team.

Producing on kickoffs might help Jones prove how valuable he is.

In 2008, he averaged a career-high 27.1 yards a return, including a 98-yard touchdown.

But his overall workload decreased over the years. While he came off a career-high 800 rushing yards in 2010 as he played in 16 games, he rushed for just 575 yards last season.

Jones became the starting running back last season, but once again he suffered an injury, opening the way for DeMarco Murray to take over the starting gig.

Jones is the primary backup to Murray, which Jones has said in the past he's fine with. What he needs to do now is get close to 600 rushing yards and become a force on third down, whether it's blocking or fielding the ball out of the backfield.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 25, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Redskins will have to (gulp) throw. The Seattle Seahawks are allowing 100 rushing yards a game (the eighth-lowest figure in the league) and only 3.5 yards a carry (the fourth-best figure in the league). Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins, for whom the running game was such a big key in their early-season success, have become one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Their 83 rushing yards a game ranks better than only two teams -- the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans -- and their 3.7 yards a carry ranks 27th. They're also not committing to the run the way they intended to, as only two teams in the league -- the Colts and the Buccaneers -- have had fewer rushing attempts. This is clearly not the week for the Redskins to get their run game back on track, which means the passing game and Rex Grossman. The good news there is that, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins are averaging 10.6 more pass yards per game and 8.1 more points per game with Grossman as the quarterback than they were when John Beck was the quarterback.

Weird, likely irrelevant historical note. The game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is the 13th matchup this season between teams that have played each other in the Super Bowl. That bodes ill for the Eagles, who lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, because only three of the previous 12 rematches have gone to the team that lost the Super Bowl matchup. The Packers beat the Broncos this year, and the Bills and Dolphins both beat the Redskins, though the Dolphins-Redskins game gets an asterisk because they met in two Super Bowls and split them. Either way, if you're the Eagles, Terrell Owens isn't walking through that door. And Tom Brady is.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLeSean McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts.
Eagles should get some push. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is thriving with the help of one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league this season. ESPN Stats & Info says McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts. The good news this week is that the Patriots give up 2.74 yards per contact to opposing runners, which is the sixth-highest number in the league. So if the Eagles commit to the run, they have a chance against Brady and the Pats. Of course, that's a fairly big "if"...

Jacobs not toughing it out. I've said many times here, and still believe, that the Giants' run-game problems are thanks to the poor performance of their offensive line and that people have been too hard on Brandon Jacobs and the running backs. However, there is some proof, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, that Jacobs could be doing more to help his own cause. Jacobs is averaging just 1.61 rushing yards per carry after contact, which is the fourth-lowest figure in the league among running backs with at least 90 carries. Each of the three backs behind him on that list -- Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson -- weighs at least 37 pounds less than Jacobs, whose size used to be among his greatest assets as a running back. It's possible he has slowed down as he's gotten older. It's possible that he is so discouraged by the lack of running room that he doesn't push through first contact the way he used to. It'd be understandable, given that no one likes to get hit. But it also would feed into the perceptions about him that the booing home fans have developed.

Eli against the blitz. The Saints love to blitz, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning surely will face extra pass-rushers on Monday night. But in spite of the injury to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who's one of the best backs in the league at picking up the blitz, Manning has fared well this season against five or more rushers. In fact, over the past two years, Manning ranks among the best quarterbacks in the league when teams send five or more pass-rushers. His 74.6 Total QBR in those situations is fifth-best; his 8.4 yards per attempt and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of plus-16 are third-best; and only Aaron Rodgers has thrown more touchdown passes than the 26 Manning has thrown over the past two years when teams send five or more.

Cowboys draft picks: WR Dwayne Harris

June, 1, 2011
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WR DWAYNE HARRIS
Ht. 5-10 Wt. 200
School – East Carolina
Round (overall) - Sixth (176th)

To learn more about Cowboys draft pick Dwayne Harris, we talked with East Carolina inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick. Here’s what he had to say:

Harris’ statistics improved every year. How did he develop over his time at East Carolina?

Kirkpatrick: He was a high school quarterback, which is not an uncommon deal because so many high schools play their best player at quarterback so they can get the ball the most. He came to us as a kid wanting to play quarterback and could’ve played quarterback at a lot of places. He was not the type of drop back type of thrower we were probably looking or as much be he could’ve played in the spread offense. He was determined so he stayed at quarterback through his freshman year and redshirted. So we have a practice and we’re like, ‘Wow, we’ve got to find a place for this kid. He can really run with the ball.’ The defensive coaches were constantly saying he’s running the scout team and we can’t tackle him. We looked at him as a running back and I think he could’ve been a great running back but we had Chris Johnson, who was pretty good. He was going to be a backup to Chris, then we started to move him to the slot and we looked at some of that Wildcat at quarterback. He was good but he had to learn to be a receiver. He was good with the ball. He was good in the return game. At the same time we had Chris and he was our main return guy. He was the other guy. Once he got a taste of it, he liked it. I think he said, ‘You know what I have a chance to maybe play at the next level as a wide receiver but probably not as a quarterback. He bought into it and worked. He’s a very talented kid and loves playing football. I think his best football is ahead of him.

[+] EnlargeHarris
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireDwayne Harris played quarterback in high school, but took a liking to playing wide receiver at East Carolina. "He's a guy that can make guys miss but he's also willing to run them over," said Donnie Kilpatrick, ECU's inside receivers coach.
Why?

Kirkpatrick:
Because he did get better every year and he’s still not played much wide receiver. We switched our offense this year when the guys came over from Texas Tech. I was the one holdover. We were a drop back and throw it team but it was power run and play-action pass. We didn’t throw it nearly as much as we did this year. We started putting him outside at receiver, put him in a lot of different places. It’s still new to him but he took to it quickly.

Does he see the game through a quarterback’s eyes?

Kirkpatrick:
My favorite guys to recruit at wide receiver are the high school quarterbacks because they’re the guys that kind of understand coverages a little more. They have a higher football IQ many times. Guys that play wide receiver at the high school level, the coaches just don’t get them involved enough or have the time to have them learn [coverages]. But with their quarterbacks, when they do get to college, they have spent time doing it. They have a little better feel for finding throwing lanes, what a quarterback likes, what a quarterback sees and what a quarterback wants them to do.

Did you think he would be an NFL player?

Kirkpatrick:
I knew with him being able to catch punts as well and being fearless like that, he’d have a chance. There’s always questions. He’s not a burner. He’s not a real tall guy, so he’s not the prototype big outside wide receiver with the great 40 time. But I knew he's faster than everybody thought. And I knew he had great hands. Quarterbacks, they throw it but you’ve got to throw it back to them and they develop great hand-eye coordination. He’s fearless in traffic. He’s a guy that can make guys miss but he’s also willing to run them over. Just after his first year here he was the best blocking receiver I’ve ever been around. He’s unselfish and realizes that’s a big part of the game. We emphasize that too.

What makes him a good blocker?

Kirkpatrick:
The first thing is want to and attitude. That’s why a lot of them are not good blockers because they don’t have the attitude ot want to. But he’s really, really strong -- therefore he doesn’t get overmatched if he has to block a linebacker or a safety or for sure a cornerback. He’s a strong guy and just fearless. He loves contact. He will take you out and enjoys that part of the game. A lot of wide receivers don’t. They like the basketball part of it, the shaking and baking. He really enjoys the blocking part.

There were some who knocked his hands. What kind of hands does he have?

Kirkpatrick:
Some of those statements are funny. We’d go out recruiting and people ask, ‘Why did you take this kid over that kid? It’s the same deal with the NFL. I have a lot of close friends that coach in the league and it’s obvious why some win and some never really win because they don’t know how to get the right talent in there personnel-wise. He has great hands. He played more as an outside receiver this year and the only reason that was ever written has to be because there were a couple of deep balls down the field over his shoulder that would’ve been really, really good catches that he didn’t make. It’s something he’s worked on. I mean he caught 80 something balls as a junior and 101 the next and it’s not like everybody didn’t know we were throwing it to him. They knew who he was. This is not an exaggeration. There were times there were three guys covering him and he was still able to get open. Not by much, but he can catch the ball in a crowd.

Further review: Cowboys RBs

May, 4, 2011
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While some may focus on issues at safety, field goal kicker and how first-round pick Tyron Smith will do at right tackle in 2011, the Cowboys' running back position also merits a closer look after the draft.

Cowboys officials were determined to find another running back in this draft despite already having Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

There was a deep class at the position, and the Cowboys took advantage by drafting Oklahoma's Demarco Murray in the third round.

But what does it mean at Valley Ranch?

It could mean the end for Barber, who has started since 2008 but appears to have worn down physically. Barber is due $500,000 in June, but that's on hold because of the lockout.

Jones started the last few weeks of the season when Barber was healthy and -- while he did have his moments -- it's easy to second guess the Cowboys' decision to draft Jones in the first round in 2008 over a host of other backs, including Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson.

Choice, who has shown flashes he can play, was drafted the same year as Jones, but he's had limited opportunities as the third back. The Cowboys would like him to play special teams, which Choice has struggled with doing.

The Cowboys would like to have their starting back get about 15-20 carries, if possible.

Murray was the featured back at Oklahoma, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in two of the last three seasons. He's had injury issues, but Murray said NFL teams didn't ask him about it and the Cowboys don't seem concerned.

"He’s a complete back," Jason Garrett said. "He’s a guy who is big and sturdy. If you get a chance to be around him, you see how long he is and how big his hands are. He is a physical-looking halfback and a guy, again, who has versatility both as a runner, as a receiver and as a third-down blocker. We are going to create competition on our football team and bring him in there and see where he stacks up against the other guys."

If Barber is sent packing, Murray will compete with Choice for playing time. Murray returned kicks at OU, and the team said it has tape of him catching punts. The team tried to get Jones to catch punts his rookie season, and he couldn't do it on a consistent basis.

Murray might be the No. 2 back that the Cowboys are looking for to replace Jones, whose contract ends in 2012. This doesn't mean the Cowboys won't extend Jones, but this is an important year in his development. If Barber is gone, then Jones will become the starter. While durability was a question for Jones during his first two seasons, it didn't appear that way in 2010.

Jones did have some problems in the Colts game, where he was dehydrated and needed to get an IV at halftime. Jones came in heavier than he did his rookie year, looking to become more physical, but he lost the weight as the season wore on.

Marion Barber remains the starter by default

October, 19, 2010
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We've gone back and forth on this for the last month. Should Marion Barber be the starting running back?

Yes. No. Does it matter?

The way the Cowboys have structured their running game, Barber is the starter and Felix Jones is the backup. But after a few plays, in comes Jones and Barber switches to the third down and short yardage back.

On the season, Jones leads the team in rushing yards with 229, good for 34th in the NFL. He's averaging 45.8 yards per game, good for 38th.

Barber has been fantastic in his role.

He's nine-for-nine on third-and-fourth and one situations and he leads the NFL with eight first downs on third down.

Jones isn't leading the NFL in anything.

The last two weeks, the Cowboys relied heavy on Jones and he produced no touchdowns out of 43 combined touches. His counterparts the last two weeks, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson touched the ball 45 times and gained three touchdowns, including a game-winner in the Titans game.

Now it's not all about touchdowns, first downs, setting up second and short situations are also important. Yet, last week, Jones didn't seem to have that burst needed to make him a dangerous back.

Jones needed an IV during the Vikings loss and puked a few times at halftime because he was worn out. Maybe this gives the Cowboys pause regarding Jones' ability to become the full-time running back. Jones' weight is back down. He was 220 now he's about 215.

One NFC scout said Jones doesn't look as explosive but, "Just a tad tight in the hips though. He is their explosive element but doesn't get enough touches in space."

Another NFC scout had this reaction: "He's getting more carries and is hit more between the tackles. He will struggle to make people miss in a short area because of his tight hips. Brian Westbrook has loose hips, Jamaal Charles has loose hips. Felix makes people miss more with his burst and lateral quickness than swivel hips."

The Cowboys should end this silly thing of starting Barber and then sitting him for Jones. It's almost as if it's a ceremonial thing with Barber.

"Yeah, but like I said, it's different situations," Wade Phillips said. "If we were ahead at the end of the game, there you'd see Marion run it a lot."

That is true. It happened when the Cowboys beat the Texans and Barber picked up significant carries in the fourth quarter.

But to start Barber because it's ceremonial is silly. Really.

In the last two games, Barber hasn't started the second half. But he starts the first half. Why?
Why not start Jones?

"Because Marion is our starter," Phillips said. "He has been. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I don’t think it bothers anybody."

We asked Jason Garrett why Barber got a handful of second half carries in the loss to the Vikings and he said, "We’re playing those guys and a lot of its situational. Marion played early in the game and we've let Felix go the last couple of weeks and Marion is playing more on the third downs and coming back and really kinda subbing in on first and second down things."

Barber and Jones don't get upset over the lack of carries, reporters, fans and their teammates wonder about it. Barber is the same player who didn't want to start in 2007 when the team tried to put him ahead of Julius Jones.

But in the NFC divisonal playoff game, Barber became the starter. The next season, Julius Jones was allowed to test the free agent market and Barber signed a new contract to become the full-time starter.

Almost three years into it, Barber still hasn't rushed for over 1,000 yards and Jones hasn't done as much as several players drafted after him such as Rashard Mendenhall, Johnson and Charles.

The Cowboys are not changing the way they do things.

Which is fine, it's their team, but when you're 1-4 and not going anywhere it would seem a change is needed somewhere.

Run D better get right vs. Adrian Peterson

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
9:51
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IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys failed to play up to their standards against the NFL’s two leading rushers the last couple of games.

The Dallas run defense doesn’t exactly catch a break this week against Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, who ranks behind only Houston’s Arian Foster and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson with 485 rushing yards despite the Vikings’ early bye.

“He’s one of the hardest runners in the NFL. It doesn’t get any easier,” outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “You’ve got to be ready for a guy like Adrian who can catch the ball out of the backfield, run the ball really hard. We’ve got to be physical and we’ve got to be physical up front, especially the front seven. That’s how we’ve always been.’’

The Cowboys haven’t been nearly as stingy against the run recently as they usually are. Their run of 19 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher -- which was the longest streak in the NFL -- was snapped when Foster gained 106 yards on 17 carries. Johnson followed that up by racking up 131 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries against the Cowboys.

Now the Cowboys have to figure out a way to contain Peterson, whose blend of speed and power makes him one of the most physically gifted backs to ever play the game.

“He’s the total package,” inside linebacker Keith Brooking said. “He can do it all.”

The Cowboys remain confident in their run defense. They actually believe that, for the most part, they played sound up front the last couple of games.

They’ve been hurt by big plays. Foster had runs of 26 and 21 yards. Johnson had runs of 42 and 29 yards, with the secondary guilty of poor run support on both plays.

Coach Wade Phillips pointed out that Johnson averaged less than 3 yards on the rest of his carries. We’ll call that fuzzy math instead of fibbing. He actually averaged 3.5 yards on the rest of his carries. If you also take Johnson’s two 1-yard touchdowns out of the mix, it was 3.9 yards per pop, which still supports Phillips’ point that the Cowboys’ run defense played reasonably well against the defending NFL rushing champion with two major exceptions.

“I know we’re a very good run defense,” Brooking said. “When you turn on the film and watch the game, you see that. We have to eliminate the two or three explosive plays per game. That’s something that can be eliminated quickly.”

The flip side is that Peterson can cover 60 yards quickly if the Cowboys’ front seven isn’t sound.

Felix Jones flourishes with larger role

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
10:08
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Is there any question that Felix Jones should be the Cowboys’ lead running back for the foreseeable future?

Jason Garrett finally granted Jerry Jones’ wish Sunday. The Cowboys lost to the Titans, but the running game certainly wasn’t to blame.

Felix Jones rushed for 109 yards on 15 carries. That’s his highest yardage total in a regular-season game, and it matched his most carries.

“I call him Black Dynamite,” Roy Williams said. “I mean, he’s exciting. He can break it at any moment, just like Chris Johnson. Those are two of the exact same kind of backs.”

Marion Barber was a ceremonial starter, with Jones getting in the game on the next play. Barber carried six times for 19 yards.

It appears clear that Jones is the Cowboys’ biggest threat out of the backfield. However, Garrett said he isn’t ready to commit to Jones as the lead horse despite the results against the Titans.

“Game situations dictate how much a guy is going to get the ball,” Garrett said. “[Jones] was in there, got some opportunities and took advantage of them.

“That’s almost a week-to-week type thing. Marion got some shots, too. I thought he ran the ball well. We like our backfield. We like the different guys that are playing.”

Perhaps Garrett is just being coy, as Jerry Jones described the offensive coordinator’s public statements this week that indicated that getting the ball to Felix Jones wasn’t being emphasized any more than it was before the bye week.

It’s either that, or Garrett’s crazy.

Grudge Match: Titans-Cowboys

October, 9, 2010
10/09/10
8:00
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*Titans quarterback Vince Young vs. Cowboys defense: Young has come a long way since he made his first career start against the Cowboys in 2006.

When Young first broke into the league, his attitude was more of a runner than a passer. Young’s throwing motion will never be confused with a classic, dropback quarterback. It always drove me crazy when coaches said “We can fix his throwing motion.” It didn’t work with Kerry Collins or a guy like Drew Henson. Young does not throw the ball overhand but more three-quarters style and with a flick of the wrist.

The Titans like to run routes across the field and inside where he can make easier throws. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimendinger tries to make this offense as easy as possible for Young to make the right reads and throws.

Where the Cowboys need to try to affect Young in this contest is two areas: attacking the middle of the pocket and getting their hands up when they are along the line of scrimmage.

Young has the mobility to break tackles from the outside; teams have had success is pressuring him in his face. A matchup to watch inside is Titans center Eugene Amano on Jay Ratliff and nickel rusher Stephen Bowen. In my view, Amano is the weakest of the Titans’ linemen and should be attacked.

If the Cowboys can hold running back Chris Johnson in check, the focus of the Titans attack then falls on the shoulders of Young to make plays on a consistent basis.

*Cowboys guard Leonard Davis vs. Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones: The Titans’ defense doesn’t have the stars it once had rushing the passer, but they still get a tremendous amount of pressure with this current group.

Jones is the type of player than tends to give Davis fits. He is mobile, quick and athletic. Davis tends to struggle with these types because he doesn’t always move his feet. He will struggle when these defenders attack his shoulder and he has to adjust. When Davis gets in trouble, he overextends and tries to block off balance.

Jones is not a powerful player and there is no way that he can go toe-to-toe with Davis run or pass and think that he will have success. The Titans like to get their linemen on the move, so Davis cannot allow Jones to be a factor in the middle of the pocket and in the running game.

If Davis does struggle, there is a good chance the Cowboys will suffer some negative plays on offense.

*Cowboys receivers vs. Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan: There are going to be some great matchups across the board in this game but, this is the one I am really going to pay very close attention to.

Finnegan is one of the top five cover men in the NFL. He is not the biggest guy, but he has outstanding talent. He plays with an ease of movement and skill.

Finnegan is a hard man for a receiver to run away from because of his burst and acceleration. He plays very tight coverage and is hard to fool. Sometimes you find cornerbacks guessing on the routes, but not this guy. He is very smart and he has a great feel of how to read and play routes.

Finnegan has good ball skills and the hands to make a quarterback pay for their mistake. In the last two seasons, he has had five interceptions each year. He is a willing tackler and not afraid to stick his nose in the action.

In the past, the Titans have used Finnegan as a blitzer off the edge. In the Broncos game last week, he got his first sack of the season on a third-and-15 play.

I can see the Cowboys trying to attack rookie corner Alterraun Verner, who is not a bad player but nowhere as productive as Finnegan. If the Cowboys do have success on Finnegan on Sunday, the Titans’ defense might be in trouble.

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