Dallas Cowboys: Gavin Escobar

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

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

In it we discuss:
If you want to check out Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: I believe Gavin Escobar will play a lot more in 2014 than he did as a rookie but it won't come at the expense of Jason Witten. Witten will still play 98 percent of the snaps unless there is an injury or a blowout or three. Escobar's ascension isn't about Witten's descent. It's about using his skills to the fullest and trying to find a role for him. I've said this before here but I don't think Escobar will be a true on-the-line tight end. That doesn't mean he won't play there. It just means he is more Jimmy Graham in style (not ability) than Witten. That's OK. There's nothing wrong with that. Whenever Witten moves on, the Cowboys will need to find more than one guy to replace him. @toddarcher: Sure you can. I know everybody loves the "defense wins championships," adage, but if you're defining winning as only taking home a Super Bowl then I think that's a little narrow view. The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers are carried by their offenses. They've won. Would you take that kind of winning around here with the Cowboys? Sure. The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009. The Packers won it in 2010. The Patriots last won one in 2004 but have gotten to the big game. The Broncos lost in it in 2013. Since the Cowboys have won one playoff game in 475 years (has it been that long?), I think fans would take the winning those teams have had with offensive-oriented teams. @toddarcher: Lance Dunbar didn't miss a snap in the offseason so that tells me he is fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his season last year on Thanksgiving. He'll have the third-down back role. We saw Scott Linehan use Dunbar in a number of different ways in the spring. He can be good in the screen game because he's a space player. He has the ability to be a change of pace runner for DeMarco Murray. But does this mean he will see a huge role? Not necessarily because I think Murray will still be on the field for the bulk of the game. And if something happens to Murray, I think they would keep Dunbar in the third down role, expand it a little, but use Joseph Randle or Ryan Williams, whoever wins the third back job, as the every-down back. @toddarcher: Great question. I think Dwayne Harris' role will stay the same. He will be used when they go to 11 personnel at times and when they go empty. He plays a vital role and he's dependable. The quarterback likes to throw to him. I think part of the reason why you didn't hear much about him in the offseason is because he didn't do any team drills in the spring because of a shoulder surgery. We weren't able to see him do anything with Linehan on offense, so it was put on the backburner. I believe you'll see him have a role in the slot. He's a really good blocker in there. He is also one of the more dangerous punt and kick return guys in the league. 

Cowboys chat recap: Put heat on coaches

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
2:00
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IRVING, Texas -- After a little break, we were back chatting on SportsNation on Wednesday and touched on a number of topics.
  • Why the Cowboys go to Oxnard, California, for training camp
  • Why Kyle Orton will be at training camp
  • Why the way Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett manage the game matters
  • Why Calvin Johnson helps Dez Bryant this year

If you want to read the full chat, click here, but I want to delve more into one topic.
Cris A. (Dallas TX): What prevented Gavin Escobar to see so little playing time last year, his poor pass blocking or the coaches not finding a way to fit him in the offense?

Todd Archer: I'd say both. But here's where I think we'll see a difference with Linehan: he will coach to guys' strengths. It won't be about what Escobar can't do, but what he can do. It won't be about what [Cole] Beasley can't do but what he can do. I think the Cowboys coached a little scared in the past when it came to things like that. Do I think Escobar will be a great on-the-line tight end? Not really. He just doesn't have the body type to play the line. He's not that kind of player. But I think he can be an effective player if used right.

This was just a stream of consciousness in the chat, but it got me to thinking about the Cowboys’ offense the past few years. I think the coaches got bogged down into things guys couldn’t do as opposed to what they could do. Escobar is a good example of that. They knew he wasn’t much of a blocker when he was picked but they really didn't do anything to put his skills to work as a rookie. If he couldn’t block, he couldn’t be counted on. Despite their professed love for “12 personnel,” they ran the same stuff they did when Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett or John Phillips was the backup tight end. They didn’t invent ways to use Escobar differently. So what is the natural reaction? Well, Escobar is a bust. That’s not exactly fair to the kid. The coaches bear some responsibility for not utilizing his talents. To a smaller degree, they have done the same with Bryant. They haven’t moved him around because they were unsure he could play different spots or get in the slot. This offseason Bryant has moved around more. We saw Cole Beasley line up some outside. We’ve seen running backs line up in the slot.

To me, the coaches have been too reactive to the defense, despite Garrett saying they want to dictate the action. They haven’t. Now, they have been productive in yards and points and sometimes both over the years. But could they have been better? A lot better? There didn’t seem to be a lot of innovation to the offense because the answer was always, "trust the system." Well, the system sometimes should bend for the players in it. I don’t believe the Cowboys have done that enough.

But here’s a guess: Linehan will help change that, especially on game day.

Best case/worst case: Gavin Escobar

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
1:00
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.
Gavin Escobar

Escobar
Best-case: He catches 30-35 passes

Jason Witten simply doesn't come off the field. He's too valuable to come off the field. He can set the edge in the running game. He can pick up critical first downs, and last year he was finally used in the red zone. Expecting Escobar to have a big-time season is folly. If he can average 2-3 catches a game, become a mismatch in the red zone and stretch the middle of the field, then the Cowboys will have a viable weapon. Maybe he never should have been taken in the second round, but the Cowboys have to make it work. Escobar has to show early in the summer that he can be counted on. Tony Romo has to be able to trust him. He made some flash plays in little playing time as a rookie. The Cowboys will have the chance to have a rotation with their slot players. In some respects, Escobar is a tight end in a wide receiver's role. Along with Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and perhaps Devin Street, the Cowboys can attack in different ways. Plus, Escobar's blocking is less of an issue. He can be a get-in-the-way blocker as opposed to a knock-the-guy-down blocker. With the weapons the Cowboys have on offense, 30-35 catches would mean the unit has clicked quite well in 2014.

Worst-case: The coaches don't trust him

As a rookie, Martellus Bennett scored four touchdowns and did not catch one in the next three seasons. His best year came in 2010 when he caught 33 passes. He has since gone on to bigger and better things with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. With Witten, Escobar will never play a ton of snaps but that doesn't mean he can't play an effective role. He showed last year, even with just nine catches, he can stretch the seams. He has good hands, too. But the Cowboys can't expect him to become an in-line blocker to the point where he spells Witten. It's not the way he is built. If the coaches insist on making him a complete tight end, then the team has wasted another second-round pick. The Cowboys would be better served to find more of a blocking tight end during camp than to put Escobar, who has added a little bit of bulk to his frame, on the line most of the time. This is where the creativity of new playcaller Scott Linehan will have to come into play. The Cowboys were unable to unlock the 12 personnel group the way they wanted with Bennett in part because of their lack of creativity and Bennett's poor play. They need to understand what Escobar is and use his traits to the fullest.
IRVING, Texas – When Jason Garrett said goodbye to us all after the Dallas Cowboys’ minicamp ended on June 19, he was asked about the state of the roster.

“We’ll continue to make evaluations of individual guys, where they stack up, if they belong on the roster, who else is on the landscape,” Garrett said then. “You’re always trying to do that. Feel good about how guys have come in here and worked. A lot of young guys got a lot of work over the course of the OTAs and minicamp. A lot of veteran players worked hard, felt competition. That’s a good thing for our team and we want to continue to do that. Whether the competition comes from within or without, it’s our job to make sure we’re always trying to put the most competitive situation available out there on our roster.”

[+] EnlargeRolando McClain
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Cowboys hope recent acquisition Rolando McClain can help fill the void left by the injury to Sean Lee.
Since then the Cowboys have added two veterans: guard Uche Nwaneri and linebacker Rolando McClain.

The player acquisition business is 365 days a year. It never stops.

In Nwaneri the Cowboys have a veteran with 92 starts to his credit. The loser of the left guard battle between Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary would be the top backup on the inside. The other backup candidates are inexperienced with Brian Clarke, Andre Cureton and Ronald Patrick. At the least, Nwaneri gives the Cowboys a lineman to help the backup quarterbacks have a chance in preseason games. At the best, he is a possible starter.

Trading for McClain is something of a gamble because of his past and his two forays into retirement. Does he truly want to play? If he does, then maybe the Cowboys have hit on a player who will be just 25 years old when training camp begins at a position of need with Sean Lee out for the year.

For all of the talk of Brian Urlacher joining the Cowboys, signing a 36-year-old with a bad knee after sitting out one year made less sense than adding a soon-to-be 25-year-old who sat out a season.

So where do the Cowboys look next for help before camp starts?

In the minicamp post referenced earlier, I mentioned they could look at linebacker, interior offensive line and tight end for help. Two of the three have been checked off. All that is left is tight end.

Why tight end?

They have a need for a blocker behind Jason Witten. That’s not Gavin Escobar’s forte. James Hanna is willing but that’s not his strength either. Jordan Najvar is an undrafted free agent. There aren’t many current candidates available to fit the bill in price or job description, but the Cowboys could spend time in training camp looking at other rosters for help.

Minicamp observations: Hamilton shines

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys concluded their final minicamp practice Thursday at AT&T Stadium with a lunch for the players and coaches’ families, but the 90-minute session had some highlights worth noting.
  • Safety Jakar Hamilton came up with a nice interception after linebacker Anthony Hitchens deflected a Dustin Vaughan throw down the seam to wide receiver Devin Street. Hamilton instinctively stuck one hand in the air and then corralled the ball as he turned up field. Hamilton later did a nice job being in position to force an off-target throw to Dez Bryant in the slot.
  • Bryant
    Bryant
    From our vantage point it was hard to tell if Bryant was able to get his feet down for a touchdown catch on a fade pass from Brandon Weeden over Morris Claiborne, but it was an impressive athletic feat. Jason Witten might have had a TD catch from Weeden in seven-on-seven drills over safety J.J. Wilcox, but the replay officials might have overturned it with one foot appearing out of bounds.
  • Left tackle Tyron Smith sealed off the edge to allow running back Lance Dunbar to scamper in for a touchdown run in the red zone. Dunbar had a touchdown run with the second-team offense in a two-minute situation.
  • Rookie punter Cody Mandell scraped the center-hung digital board three times during special teams’ drills. He did the same when he played in Arlington while at Alabama. On Thursday, however, Jason Garrett said the board was lower than its normal 90 feet. The board was lowered for a recent George Strait concert.
  • Quarterback Caleb Hanie was sharp in his situational work, completing four of his five passes, including a nice corner route to Street for a decent gain. One of Dunbar’s touchdowns was set up by a pass interference penalty on Terrance Mitchell, who was covering Street.
  • Linebacker Orie Lemon did a nice job breaking up a goal-line throw to tight end Gavin Escobar in seven-on-seven work with the second team. Weeden was able to complete the same route to James Hanna in the first-team work with a nice fastball.

More reps for youngsters as minicamp ends

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
10:00
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' offseason comes to an end after Thursday's final minicamp practice, but the club has already been saving some of the veterans for training camp.

Coach Jason Garrett has rested some of the regulars over the last two weeks of work. Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Brandon Carr and Barry Church did not take part in the two-minute drill in Wednesday's workout. Dez Bryant did not take part in every snap. Doug Free was replaced by Jermey Parnell for a spell.

"It's really just to see those young guys and see some of the other guys that we're counting on," Garrett said, "and give them an opportunity to show what they can do; work with the ones, be in some of the situations we've been working on and see how they respond."

Second-year tight end Gavin Escobar had a fourth-down catch in a two-minute drill that ended in a Bryant touchdown. Cornerback Sterling Moore shut down a throw to Terrance Williams in the end zone. Tyrone Crawford forced an incomplete pass with a pressure.

"We'll continue to do that and see how they respond to the work," Garrett said.

Thursday's practice will be the Cowboys' first at AT&T Stadium. It will be followed by a family cookout.

Players can continue to work out at Valley Ranch until 10 days before training camp starts. Injured players will continue to rehab. The rookies will continue their full-scale workouts for another week, but the on-field work with the coaches will end until the team reconvenes in Oxnard, California, on July 22.

Dallas could use slot by committee at WR

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
3:20
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IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys went with their three wide receiver formation last year, they could count on Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams outside with Miles Austin working the slot.

This season, they could carry a more varied look and not just because Austin is now with the Cleveland Browns.

Bryant and Williams have taken some turns in the slot. Cole Beasley is continuing his same role of working inside. Rookie Devin Street was used a ton in the slot in college. Dwayne Harris is not taking team snaps as he recovers from shoulder surgery, but he is effective in the slot as well. And while he’s not a receiver, tight end Gavin Escobar has receiver skills.

“It’s still early to really figure out how we’re going to use everybody,” wide receivers coach Derek Dooley said. “I think the biggest thing is giving them a lot of opportunities in a lot of areas and we’ll figure it out in training camp.”

The different strengths of the receivers can prove troublesome for defensive coordinators with what personnel packages they would want to use to defend the Cowboys. Beasley has almost exclusively been used in the slot during the organized team activities open to the media, but Dooley said he has increased his route inventory and will have to play outside. Harris can be a devastating blocker in the slot, which opens up the run and the pass. Escobar showed he can work the seams and his height might be too much for most cornerbacks.

Bryant and Williams are bigger receivers on the inside than most slot corners.

“Every player has strengths, things they do really well and every player has things they don’t do well,” Dooley said. “What’s fun about coaching is using those strengths to your advantage and trying to minimize putting them in positions where they’re not as good. It’s a little bit, ‘Hey, players, go out there and build on your strengths and improve as much as you can on your weakness,' but the coaches, it’s up to use to put them in the right spots so we can feature what they do well.”

OTA observations: Pump up the volume

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
5:49
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys pumped up the volume at Tuesday's organized team activity, playing music throughout the workout, ranging from Run DMC to heavy metal.

Coach Jason Garrett said he has used music in past OTAs in 2-minute situations, but this was the first practice in which the music played almost through the entire practice.

"It puts you in the game," passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said. "You've got to communicate in the game. It's not always perfect. When you're out here in the spacious practice facility with nobody yelling or screaming at you it's like golf. You don't have to worry or think about distractions. You've got to learn how to play when you've got 100,000 people screaming down your neck and doing it without letting it bother you, so I think it's really good work."

On to some more observations:
  • Linehan said Brandon Weeden has had his best week of practice. With Tony Romo sitting and Kyle Orton absent, Caleb Hanie had his best day in the sessions open to the media. He completed all but two of his throws in team drills and one was a throwaway while he was under pressure. He connected with Devin Street near the sideline, putting the ball on a dime to where Street could keep his feet inbounds.
  • Weeden's best throw was a play-action dig to wide receiver Terrance Williams, putting the ball just a little low to keep it away from cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who was trailing on the play.
  • The timing Romo and Jason Witten have is almost always impeccable. You can see the small difference when Romo isn't in there. Weeden was unable to get enough loft on a corner route to Witten with linebacker Bruce Carter in coverage. The throw was more on the line and Witten couldn't get both hands on it. With a little more air, Witten would have made the catch.
  • The struggles continued for cornerback B.W. Webb. On two of three passes he was beaten by Tim Benford and Cole Beasley. On the second play Beasley was able to change direction so quickly that Webb lost his leverage and gave up a big gain.
  • Backup left tackle Darrion Weems did a nice job of kicking out defensive end Martez Wilson on a Lance Dunbar run to beat a blitz from the defense.
  • Backup tight end Gavin Escobar had a good day after missing the open session last week with what he described as a tweaked back. He plucked a Hanie pass away with Jakar Hamilton closing fast, making sure the safety did not have a chance to break up the play. Later working in motion he was able to get inside leverage with a hard sell to the outside for a decent completion from Dustin Vaughan.
  • DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens did not take part in team drills. Holloman has been slowed by a hamstring strain. Undrafted rookie Dontavis Sapp was able to get more work at backup middle linebacker.
  • Receiver Dwayne Harris was kept out of team drills as a receiver as he continues to come back from offseason shoulder surgery. He was able to handle the punt return duties. Harris said he will not do any team drills on offense until training camp.
  • The Cowboys signed defensive end Dartwan Bush, who attended the rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, and will place cornerback Jocquel Skinner on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Frederick, Williams ready to break out?

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
11:30
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IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys are to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, they will need younger players to grow up in 2014.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has two candidates for breakout seasons -- Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams -- in his annual list.

Frederick
Williams
Williams
The Cowboys were one of four teams with more than one player. The San Diego Chargers had three: D.J. Fluker, Melvin Ingram, Keenan Allen. The New Orleans Saints (Kenny Vaccaro, Akiem Hicks) and Denver Broncos (Montee Ball, Sylvester Williams) also had two.

Here’s what Prisco said about Frederick and Williams:
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys -- When the Cowboys picked him in the first round of the 2013 draft, there were snickers. But it was the right move. He showed last season as a 16-game starter that he has a chance to be a really good center. He is smart and athletic, two musts for the position these days.

Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys -- With Miles Austin now gone, this second-year player takes over as the starter opposite Dez Bryant. That should mean a lot of single coverage and a chance for big plays. Look for his numbers to go up dramatically from his 44 catches a year ago.

Defining how Frederick breaks out is tougher than Williams just because of the nature of his position. The Cowboys were stronger up the middle in 2013 than they had been in recent years because of Frederick. He did not miss a game as a rookie and carried himself as a veteran from the first day he arrived.

(As an aside, there is a similar feeling when it comes to this year’s first-round pick, Zack Martin.)

For Williams, it can be a little easier to define because his statistics will be there for everybody to see. He caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

With Austin gone, Williams will be the starter opposite Bryant in 2014. The Cowboys have no reservations about Williams. They believe he will slide into that role without any issues. In coach parlance, they don’t believe the game is too big for him.

He will get opportunities. Bryant will be the focal point of opposing defenses.

With Bryant catching 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, Austin caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver in 16 games in 2012. The Cowboys would live with those numbers from Williams.

Cowboys' quarterbacks had 375 completions last year.

Pencil in Bryant for another 90-plus catch season. Jason Witten will catch 75-80 passes. The running backs will combine for 80. Cole Beasley should figure in that 35-45 catch range. Dwayne Harris and Gavin Escobar will have more than the 18 they combined for last year. Devin Street will be in that 20-30 range if things go well as well.

There will be opportunities for Williams to show 2014 will be a breakout season.

Cowboys turn to ballet for help

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
9:34
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IRVING, Texas -- Ballet and football don’t seem to go together, but the Dallas Cowboys are hoping the combination helps in their quest to lessen their hamstring injuries.

The team has installed ballet bars outside the locker room at three different heights for players to use for extra stretching.

Associate athletic trainer Britt Brown, “told me, ‘You know, that’s going up for you,’ and he started laughing,” safety Matt Johnson said. “If they work, we’ll do whatever it takes.”

Johnson did not play in a game as a rookie in 2012 mostly because of hamstring injuries. He did not play in 2014 because of a foot injury. Miles Austin, Morris Claiborne, Dwayne Harris, Justin Durant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Lance Dunbar, Danny McCray, Gavin Escobar and Barry Church were among those missing games or practices with hamstring injuries last season.

"We’ve put an emphasis on addressing, as an organization, some of the injuries that we’ve had,” coach Jason Garrett said.

The Cowboys have also changed their pre-practice stretching routine, as well going through what Garrett called a "dynamic warmup." Johnson said strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik used a similar routine with the New England Patriots.

"Typically we’ve done kind of the old team stretch, and we’re experimenting with dynamic warm-up -- stuff that I’ve done, other coaches have done in the past,” Garrett said. “You try to be innovative, you try to evolve, you get feedback from players, feedback from coaches, we’re just trying to help our players get themselves more ready to practice and hopefully stay healthier over time."

Dunbar excited for role in offense

May, 30, 2014
May 30
2:40
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IRVING, Texas -- Lance Dunbar has taken a quick look at the Detroit Lions offense the past few years to get a feel for the Dallas Cowboys' newest playcaller, Scott Linehan.

Dunbar
"It's pretty exciting," Dunbar said. "There's a lot of screens and stuff. He got them the ball in space."

Lions running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined for more than 100 catches. Bush caught 54 passes for 506 yards. Bell caught 52 for 485 yards.

To expect Dunbar to exceed 50 catches might be a stretch. He caught only seven passes for 59 yards last season. Detroit did not have a tight end like Jason Witten either. There will only be so many passes to go around with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Witten, Gavin Escobar and DeMarco Murray, who caught 53 passes for 353 yards last season.

But Dunbar will have a role.

"He's a very intelligent guy," Dunbar said of Linehan. "He gets everybody going. He's getting us on the same page."

Dunbar has to show he can stay healthy. He battled through foot and hamstring injuries before suffering a season-ending knee injury against the Oakland Raiders. But it was that game in which Dunbar showed what the coaches thought he could do from the beginning of the season. He carried 12 times for 82 yards and had a 45-yard run. He caught one pass for 12 yards before his game ended in the fourth quarter.

With the field spread, Dunbar's speed and quickness can be an asset.

Dunbar has been full speed for the entire offseason and has not needed time off to rest the knee.

I can't do nothing about [last year]," Dunbar said. "It happened. What matters is what you do after that. I think in my mind I'm back and right. I need to focus on what I'm trying to do so I can get back out there doing what I was doing when I left off."

Non-Tony Romo OTA questions

May, 27, 2014
May 27
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IRVING, Texas -- All eyes will be on Tony Romo when the Dallas Cowboys hold their first organized team activity of the offseason.

Romo said he will be on a “pitch count” during OTAs as he continues to rehab from back surgery last December, but doing anything will represent an increase from what he was able to do in OTAs last year when he was kept out of drills because of surgery to remove a cyst from his back.

But there will be other questions at the OTAs, too.

Here are five:

Selvie
What does the defensive line look like?

The Cowboys have revamped their line this offseason. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware, and Jason Hatcher signed with the Washington Redskins. They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency, though only Mincey and McClain are expected to work fully in the OTAs. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Okoye is coming back from a personal medical issue that kept him out of football last season. Anthony Spencer was re-signed, but he won’t do anything on the field until training camp. The Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and will welcome back Tyrone Crawford after he missed last year with a torn Achilles.

A quick thought on what the first-team line will look like (left to right): George Selvie (the leading returner in sacks from last year, with seven), McClain, Crawford, Mincey. And that does not mean this group will look like this in July.

Claiborne
Will there be a cornerback battle?

Orlando Scandrick was the Cowboys’ best cornerback in 2013. Morris Claiborne was the first-round pick in 2012 but has yet to play to that level in two seasons. Coach Jason Garrett showed last year he was unafraid to make lineup changes regardless of a players’ draft status or contract, so Scandrick should continue to line up with the first team.

It’s up to Claiborne to make the decision harder for the coaches. He is coming off offseason shoulder and finger surgeries and could be limited some. But if he can practice, he needs to show early he can be a factor on this defense. He also needs to show he can stay healthy.

Where does Zack Martin fit?

The Cowboys have all but declared him a starter, much the way they did with Travis Frederick last year. Martin worked at right guard in the rookie minicamp, which would push Mackenzy Bernadeau out of the starting lineup.

But the Cowboys could call it a three-man battle between Martin, Bernadeau and Ronald Leary for the two starting guard spots.

Martin performed well at the rookie minicamp but will face stiffer tests during the OTAs and minicamp. The Cowboys expect him to handle all the work the same way Frederick and Tyron Smith did as rookies.

Wilcox
Can second-year players make a jump?

Wide receiver Terrance Williams will be a full-time starter in 2013 since Miles Austin is gone. Tight end Gavin Escobar will get a chance to work a lot more. J.J. Wilcox is penciled in as the starting safety opposite Barry Church. DeVonte Holloman will battle Kyle Wilber for the starting strongside linebacker spot.

For the Cowboys to get off the 8-8 train, they need these young players to make jumps. Teams like to say the biggest jump a player will make is between his rookie and second season. The Cowboys will need all four to play more meaningful snaps in 2014.

What about the other QBs?

If Kyle Orton shows up, it will be a huge surprise. He has not taken part in the offseason program yet, but the team said it anticipates Orton at the mandatory minicamp in June. The Cowboys like what they have seen from Brandon Weeden so far, but would like him to be a developmental quarterback in 2014 and not Romo’s No. 2. At least that’s the thought going into the OTAs. The team also signed veteran Caleb Hanie and undrafted free agent Dustin Vaughan.

With Romo on a pitch count and Orton absent, Weeden, Hanie and Vaughan will get more work than expected. That’s a good thing for them as snaps in camp will be even more limited.

Cowboys looking for new Moe Williams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
10:45
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IRVING, Texas -- In talking to Dallas Cowboys passing game coordinator Scott Linehan last week during the rookie minicamp for this story, he mentioned the success he has had in the past with a running game.

[+] EnlargeScott Linehan
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsScott Linehan has a track record of using running backs efficiently in the passing game.
Since his arrival with the Cowboys, most of the discussion has been about how much he threw the ball with the Detroit Lions. He pointed out -- not in a defensive way -- that the Minnesota Vikings ran it well when he was the coordinator when he had Randy Moss catching Daunte Culpepper's passes. Many assume, he said, that he had Robert Smith running the ball.

He didn't. He had Michael Bennett as his lead back.

Linehan was also quick to mention another back.

"Moe Williams was a big part of it, too," he said. "He had like 600 yards that year. He is my all-time favorite third-down guy."

There have been questions about the Cowboys' receivers not named Dez Bryant or Terrance Williams and the roles of Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and Devin Street.

While the Cowboys have been a three-wide receiver dominant team in recent years, the need for a 50-catch No. 3 receiver isn't a requirement, unless there are injuries. With Jason Witten, the third receiver is mitigated. With the Cowboys looking to get Gavin Escobar more involved, the No. 3 receiver role could be diminished.

But Linehan's mention of Williams was interesting. He will use the running backs in the passing game. In 2003, Williams caught 65 passes for 644 yards and three touchdowns. From 2002-04, he caught 113 passes.

Linehan's top backs in Detroit, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, caught 56 and 53 passes respectively. They combined for 1,053 yards. With St. Louis, Steven Jackson had a 90-catch season. When Linehan and Jason Garrett were together in Miami, Ronnie Brown caught 32 passes and Ricky Williams caught 17.

Last year, DeMarco Murray caught 53 passes for 350 yards. Injuries prevented Lance Dunbar from being used as much as the Cowboys wanted to use him in 2013. He caught just seven passes for 59 yards. He ran 30 times for 150 yards.

If he can stay healthy, he could be Linehan's next Moe Williams.

ESPN Insider: Escobar one to watch

May, 20, 2014
May 20
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IRVING, Texas -- The commonly held perception is that a player makes his biggest jump in the NFL between his rookie season and second year.

Escobar
With that in mind, ESPN Insider Field Yates rates Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar as one of 10 breakout players from the 2013 draft.

To read the full story, you need to be an Insider Insider, but here's what he said about Escobar:
Nine catches for Escobar probably wasn't the production the Cowboys had in mind for him as a rookie second-rounder, but there's plenty of reason for optimism. Some scouts believed Escobar had a ceiling as a pass-catcher that came close to Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, and that's something Dallas will work to tap into in 2014. Escobar is still clearly a reserve to Jason Witten and must improve as a blocker, but his length and catch radius project to increased development with a full offseason at his disposal.


The Cowboys made a surprise move in picking Escobar in the second round in 2013. He was the third second-round tight end the Cowboys picked since 2006, joining Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett. They found more success after leaving the Cowboys. Escobar is in Witten's shadow, but he should be given more chances in 2014.

New tight ends coach Mike Pope, who has developed a number of tight ends for the better part of three decades, told Jason Garrett the Giants had Escobar in a similar spot on their draft board.

"When you have a new coach come in from a different team, I'm always interested in hearing what they thought of a player when they were coming out," Garrett said. "Was our evaluation similar to their evaluation? What round did they have him in? It's always fun to get that impression and then get that impression from afar and the impression from up close when he gets a chance to meet with him and work with him.

"I think he sees probably a lot of the same things we see: a very talented, pass-catching tight end. He has to grow and get stronger as a blocker but he has a lot of skills we want to work with."

Garrett said Escobar has gotten stronger in the offseason, "but it's not something that happens overnight." His playing time figures to grow if the Cowboys are more married to the two-tight end personnel in which Escobar works essentially as a wide receiver working the slot.

If he does, then Yates' prediction could come true.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

May, 17, 2014
May 17
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

Will the Cowboys be balanced on offense? What do the wide receiver and linebacker situations look like? How about the safety position?

For Part 1, click here.

Away we go:
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