Dallas Cowboys: Jeremy Mincey

Jeremy Mincey: 'Fans have to raise the bar'

November, 28, 2014
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The Cowboys 33-10 loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium was bad in a lot areas.

Cowboys defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey, who has played well this season, wishes the home crowd would make some more noise.

Mincey
“It’s tough. We need a little bit more support from the fans when the defense is on the field,” Mincey said. “We need them controlling the quarterback. They help the snap count, and they help everything. If our fans could just raise the bar, they want us to raise the bar, they have to raise the bar, too. We’re counting on the fans, just as much as they count on us. We need ya, baby. Come on.”

Earlier in the season, there were large chunks of fans from opposing teams at AT&T Stadium, which raised questions from several players about the commitment level from the paying customer.

Yet, as the season has progressed, Cowboys fans have clearly been the louder voice at home.

“Just make plays,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “Just get the crowd into the game, that’s all that comes down to. Keep them in the stands for the whole 60 [minutes], that means we have to take care of business.”

Mincey, who had three tackles and a fumble recovery, agrees. However, facing an uptempo offense like the Eagles might have been slightly easier with a little noise.

“I really think the noise could have slowed down that uptempo offense,” Mincey said. “But we just have to continue to get better and do our part.”
After the Cowboys dramatic 31-28 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night, we review it in our weekly Upon Further Review.

Church
  1. The Cowboys’ defense performed badly in the first half the Giants. It allowed scores on the first three possessions of the game. Things changed in the second half, and that’s probably the difference in the Cowboys’ victory. Yes, the defense, overall, looked sloppy particularly in the secondary giving you concern about the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense on Thanksgiving Day. But the Cowboys defense kept the Giants in check in the final 30 minutes with two three-and-outs to start the third quarter, and the Giants didn’t even score again until 3:00 remained in the game. Of the six second-half possessions, the Giants scored once, turned the ball over, a Barry Church interception at the Cowboys’ 3 and turned the ball over on downs when middle linebacker Rolando McClain stopped Rashad Jennings short of the marker on fourth down to clinch the victory. The pass rush could have been better, secondary too, but when it counted, the defense made the necessary plays to win the game.

Beasley
 2. Cole Beasley is one of those underutilized players for the Cowboys. Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten get the hype because, well let’s be honest, they’re playmakers for Tony Romo. So is Beasley in a small way. He had just two catches on the night and each was big. His 45-yard catch and run for a score in the third quarter cut the Giants' lead to 21-17. Beasley, a slot receiver who uses his small frame, 5-foot-8 to and speed to slice through defenses, also made a 21-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Beasley’s grab moved the Cowboys from their 43 into Giants territory on the game-clinching drive. Sometimes it’s not about the big plays made in a game, the small ones, such as Beasley’s two catches, that helps teams win games.

Mincey
 3. When you review the offseason moves by the Cowboys, defensive end Jeremy Mincey and McClain appear to be the smartest decisions made by the front office. McClain had 11 tackles, 10 solo along with two tackles for loss, in the victory. Mincey had four tackles, two solo, one sack and two quarterback hits. McClain continues to be the glue for this defense with his hard hits and smart plays. Tyrone Crawford is probably the best young defensive linemen on the team and Henry Melton had a recent surge of solid play, but Mincey has played consistently well at a high level for the majority of the season.

Football journey: Jeremy Mincey

October, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Defensive end Jeremy Mincey has essentially spent the first seven seasons of his career waiting to play for a team, a coach and a scheme that would allow him to play his best football.

He’s finally found it with the Dallas Cowboys.

Mincey spent the first few seasons of his career switching between linebacker and defensive end. Every other time he had an opportunity to get significant playing time, injuries slowed him down.

Well, he’s off to a good start this season as a key member of the Cowboys’ defensive rotation. He didn’t have a sack last week against Houston, but he nearly forced an interception with a little more than two minutes left, when he hit quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s arm as he was throwing a pass.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Mincey
AP Photo/Brandon WadeJeremy Mincey believes he's found the best scheme for him in Dallas.
And in overtime, he forced a third-down incompletion that made Houston punt and gave Dallas the ball so it could drive for its game-winning field goal.

Here’s what Mincey has to say about his journey to the NFL:

What was the name of your first team?

Mincey: I didn’t start playing football until my junior year in high school. Actually, I didn’t even like it, I was a basketball player. My cousin was a star running back and he told me to come out for the team. It’s not like I was doing anything. I was just hanging out.

What position did you play?

Mincey: I started off at quarterback, but I was no good. That lasted a day. Then they moved me to tight end. I was a tight end for two days and then coach moved me to defensive end and my number went from 88 to 98. My first day of practice I got run over by an All-American running back and it turned a light on for me because i didn’t want that to happen again. I’m not a quitter, so I wasn’t going to quit.

So how did you end up playing college football instead of college basketball?

Mincey: I started getting bulky because I was lifting so many weights. I knew I had a better chance in football, so I kind of stuck with football, even though I was good in basketball, and it worked out.

What schools were you considering in high school?

Mincey: My main focus in high school was just to graduate. That was success. If you saw what I came out of, you would understand. Late in my senior year, when schools started showing interest, I started thinking about playing in college.

Florida was actually recruiting a running back on our team, Jimtavis Walker, and another player on whatever team we were playing, and they discovered me because I happened to have a breakout game.

My friend committed to Florida, and I ran into one of the coaches and he told me I could do the same. I originally signed with Jacksonville State out of Alabama, but something in my heart told me to follow my dreams and go to junior college.

They sent me some bus tickets and I jumped on the road to Kansas and Coffeyville Community College. My mama cussed me out at first because she thought I was throwing away a scholarship.

How did you end up at Florida?

Mincey: I had a childhood friend down there. I knew I was going to Florida. Nobody believed me, but I knew it.

When did you start thinking seriously about the NFL?

Mincey: I was fairly decent at Florida. Don’t forget this was only my fourth year of playing football. I was a standup end -- it was like playing strongside linebacker -- so I didn’t know anything about using my hands or getting off the ball.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Mincey
AP Photo/Paul AbellJeremy Mincey played for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2007 until midway through the 2013 season, and he had eight sacks in 2011.
So did you think you were going to get drafted?

Mincey: I knew I had a chance. My agent told me I had a second- or third-round grade -- and it was valid. I had my hopes high, but I didn’t have them so high that I had a letdown on draft day. I was frustrated that so many teams were calling me and not doing anything. I had one team call me and ask me for another player’s number. The New England Patriots called me in the sixth round, No. 191.

What was your experience like in New England?

Mincey: I’ll respect coach (Bill) Belichick until the day I die. I remember him asking me about my father, who was a former drug addict. I remember going home one time and my daddy said he talked to Bill Belichick for a good long time. I listened to him, but I didn’t believe him. I went back to New England and he called me into his office. I thought I was going to get cut, but he told me he talked to my father and I was like, “Wow."

When I got released, he told me the truth. He said he loved my energy and I had some guys ahead of me like Roosevelt Colvin, Mike Vrabel and Junior Seau just signed, and I was playing linebacker and I barely knew how to play defensive end.

You went to the Super Bowl with Denver last season. Why sign with Dallas?

Mincey: Denver had signed DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys needed a defensive end and they wanted me. As a player, it feels good to be wanted. You play harder and you do what’s right when you feel wanted.

What do you love about football?

Mincey: It’s like putting music together. You have the strings then you add the horns. It’s like a symphony, a physical symphony. It brings blacks and whites together. We don’t care about race, color, religion, straight or gay, it’s all about winning.

How would you describe your football journey?

Mincey: It has been a roller-coaster ride. I have been defying all odds and the good Lord has been on my side the whole time. Anytime something bad has happened, it has been for a better purpose, and it has been strange that I could actually see the better purpose and take it in stride.
IRVING, Texas -- There were 131 plays in the Cowboys’ 20-17 overtime win over Houston. They weren’t all created equal. It’s never that way. While the touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in the shadow of those that command the most attention.

Here are five plays that shaped the Cowboys’ win:

Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick incompletion
Situation: Third-and-2 from Dallas 48
Score: Tied, 17-17
Time: 13:11 left in overtime
Taylor's Take: Arian Foster had 16 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown in the second half. On his first two carries of overtime, he gained 24 and 6 yards. But for some reason coach Bill O’Brien chose to put the ball in journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands on the Texans’ biggest play of the game. Now, he tried to hit Foster, who was split wide, in the right flat but Justin Durant covered him tightly, giving Jeremy Mincey time to pressure Fitzpatrick and force an incompletion.

Play: Jason Witten catch
Situation: Second-and-15 from Dallas 17
Score: Houston leads, 10-7
Time: 7:44 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: The Texans had all of the momentum after scoring their first touchdown, and the Cowboys were facing a second-and-15 after a holding call on Travis Frederick. The Cowboys needed a play and Tony Romo completed a perfect seam route to tight end Witten for a 33-yard gain. The ball went right past the linebacker’s helmet and the ball was literally waiting for Witten, when he turned to look for it. Two plays later, the Cowboys took the lead on a touchdown pass by Witten.

Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick incompletion
Situation: Third-and-4 from Dallas 11
Score: Dallas leads, 17-7
Time: 2:36 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: Houston had taken more than seven minutes to drive to the Dallas 11 and it needed to score in a two-possession game. Fitzpatrick was looking for Andre Johnson, who had lined up in the slot, but Jeremy Mincey wrapped his arm around Fitzpatrick’s torso as he threw the ball and it fluttered toward the end zone. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens made a diving attempt, but couldn’t corral the pass. An interception -- it was a difficult but makeable play -- would’ve probably sealed the win without overtime.

Play: Delay of game penalty
Situation: Second-and-9 from Dallas 21
Score: Dallas leads, 17-10
Time: 2:23 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were trying to close out the game and probably needed two first downs to do it since Houston had three timeouts and the two-minute warning. After Houston called timeout after the Cowboys’ first play, they were somehow penalized for delay of game creating a second-and-14 that ultimately allowed Houston to force a punt and start their game-tying drive.

Play: J.J. Wilcox tackle
Situation: Second-and-10 from Dallas 43
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 5:44 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Houston had a perfect play call against a Dallas blitz -- a receiver screen to DeAndre Hopkins. He had two linemen in front of him, but J.J. Wilcox maneuvered around the blocker and dropped Hopkins for a 2-yard gain. The Texans, who had recovered a fumble at the Dallas 43, were forced to punt.

Cowboys re-shaping defensive line

October, 3, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Dallas Cowboys have developed one of the NFL's best offensive lines, coach Jason Garrett and the front office have started the same process with the defensive line.

In many ways, they are using the same approach they did to re-shape their offensive line.

Since the start of the 2013 season, the Cowboys have released Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware, and let Jason Hatcher leave via free agency. Of the 11 defensive linemen on the roster, eight joined the Cowboys this season.

McClain
Melton
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (second round), who broke his leg in training camp and should return this month, and Ken Bishop (seventh round) were draft picks. Henry Melton, who missed the last 13 games last season with a torn ACL, signed a one-year deal with a club option for three years and was the only big-dollar defensive player they acquired.

They also signed free agents Jeremy Mincey (30), Terrell McClain (26) and Amobi Okoye (27), who is eligible to come off the non-football illness list for Week 7 before training camp. Mincey signed a two-year deal for $3 million, McClain signed a three-year deal for $3.05 million, and Okoye received a two-year deal worth $1.6 million.

They added Jack Crawford (26) after the Oakland Raiders released him on the final cut, and traded a late-round draft pick to Tennessee for Lavar Edwards (24) the same weekend.

"You’re always trying to bring good players in," Garrett said. "We had some big decisions to make last year from an organizational and salary-cap structure. Those are hard decisions when guys have been good players and you have to move on from them.

"I think we’ve done a good job, both in the draft with young players, but also with some veteran players and the guys already on the team to create that competition and challenge those guys."

The Cowboys have used an eight-man defensive line rotation during their first four games, which means three players sit each week. It wasn’t that tough the first couple of weeks, because the Cowboys had one or two defensive linemen who couldn’t play because of injury.

That is not the case this week, when just about everyone is healthy enough to play.

"We have an eight-man rotation. Who are going to be the eight? It’s up for debate every week," Garrett said. "You want guys to have to earn those spots. You have to earn it on Sunday, and you have to earn the right to dress on Sunday."
Defensive end Lavar Edwards, a fifth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans last season, is happy to be with the Dallas Cowboys because he believes he’ll fit better in the Cowboys’ 4-3 scheme than the Titans' 3-4 defense.

The 6-foot-4, 277-pound Edwards had nine tackles in seven games as a rookie. The Cowboys acquired him on Saturday for a conditional 2015 seventh-round pick.

“I think I’m a little better fit in the 4-3,” Edwards said. “I was the only defensive end they kept on the line last year. They moved all the others to outside linebacker. I had no idea I was going to get traded, but it’s good to be employed. That’s the most important thing.”

Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys view Edwards as a left defensive end, which means he’ll usually line up against tight ends and tackles and will need to be strong against the run.

He'll join George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey as part of the Cowboys' defensive end rotation.

“He was a guy we really liked coming out of school,” Garrett said. “We feel like he can be part of our rotation -- a big strong guy who plays with really good effort.”
IRVING, Texas -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key number: 20

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

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

Player to Watch: Tyler Clutts

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

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

He needs to be a core player on special teams, and he needs to be a difference-maker on the 12 to 15 crucial goal-line and short-yardage plays the Cowboys will have this season.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Defensive line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The series:

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

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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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.

Best case/worst case: DeMarcus Lawrence

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
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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.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Best case: He is DeMarcus Ware, circa 2005

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Lawrence
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys have high hopes for rookie DeMarcus Lawrence.
For nine years, Ware was everything the Cowboys hoped he would be. He put up 119 sacks, a franchise record. He went to the Pro Bowl seven times. But Ware needed time to grow in his rookie year in 2005. He finished his rookie year with eight sacks, with his best game coming in Week 16 when he had a three-sack effort against Carolina. The Cowboys would love to get eight sacks from Lawrence as a rookie. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer studied the last 32 edge rushers taken in the first round and saw they averaged 3.7 sacks per season. Lawrence was a second-round draft pick (albeit two spots from the first round). He will be given a chance to play a lot as a rookie. The Cowboys made a lot of additions to their defensive line in the offseason, but Lawrence is the lone true right defensive end. That distinction was why they gave up their third-round pick to get him in a trade with the Washington Redskins. He looks the part, with long arms and decent speed. He does not possess Ware’s athleticism (few do) but he if he can get eight sacks, the Cowboys' defensive line will be better than many believe and the Cowboys will have their pass-rusher of the present and the future.

Worst case: He is chewed up by left tackles

Rookies at any position need time. Rookie pass-rushers, as we established in the best-case scenario, need time. Lawrence will be tested in training camp by going against Tyron Smith in practice, but there has to be a hope his confidence doesn’t get damaged if Smith chews him up in the summer. If he can hold his own, then maybe that will build his confidence in getting ready to go against tackles like Jason Peters, Joe Staley and Russell Okung. The Cowboys’ approach to the defensive line this offseason has been to bring a lot of numbers. Lawrence, however, can bring the most quality, especially if Henry Melton is not fully healthy. If Lawrence doesn’t work out – or needs the normal amount of time to adjust to the NFL – then the Cowboys will have to go with quantity and throw everybody at the position from Jeremy Mincey to Tyrone Crawford to Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery. The Cowboys don’t need Lawrence to lead the defense in sacks in 2014, but he must contribute more than 3.7 sacks.

Best case/worst case: Cornerbacks

July, 9, 2014
7/09/14
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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 who will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.

The cornerbacks

Best case: They lock it down

Claiborne
Scandrick
Brandon Carr has said he wants to take over the league. Morris Claiborne knows he is in the fight for his career after two disappointing seasons. Orlando Scandrick was their best corner last year and perhaps their best defender this year. The Cowboys have invested in them heavily in contract and draft position. Rod Marinelli said he has not had three man-to-man corners like these guys. Carr, Claiborne and Scandrick believe they are better suited to play more man than zone, which frustrated them at times in 2013. But they weren't great at man either and the coaches did not have enough trust to let them handle receivers all over the field. Carr and Claiborne, who will have to take away the starting spot from Scandrick after losing it last year, have the physical tools to be top press corners. Scandrick is as competitive as anybody on the roster and understands route concepts the best. They have to make plays early in the season to not only build their confidence but to build the confidence of the rest of the defense.

Worst case: No help from the pass rush

A cornerback's job is a lot easier when the front seven can affect the quarterback. Sacks and pressures are great, but if a quarterback is afraid of the pass rush he will get rid of the ball sooner. That means there is less time for a corner to have to defend and more chances at interceptions. The Cowboys lost their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware) and last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) in the offseason. They replaced them with a rookie second-round pick (DeMarcus Lawrence) and Henry Melton, who is coming back from a torn ACL. They also added numbers to the position in players like Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye but they have questions. Anthony Spencer might not be able to play until the seventh week of the season. Tyrone Crawford is coming back from a torn Achilles and didn't have a sack in his rookie season. Marinelli is not known as a coordinator who brings a lot of pressure. If they can't affect the quarterback, then Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne will have a difficult time staying with receivers.

Marinelli likes that D has much to prove

July, 9, 2014
7/09/14
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IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”

Lawrence learning lessons from Smith

July, 3, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – The education of DeMarcus Lawrence started quickly.

Every day in offseason workouts, Lawrence, the Dallas Cowboys’ second-round pick, had to go up against Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. There were times Lawrence won, but more times he didn’t. Lawrence and the Cowboys did not seem to mind.

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsTyron Smith (above) taught rookie DeMarcus Lawrence plenty during offseason workouts.
“I feel like it’s helping me,” Lawrence said. “If you’re going against the best, you ain’t got no choice but to pick up your game and become the best. I feel like he’s helping me out a lot, and he’s getting me ready for the season.”

Lawrence’s education was not unlike the education Smith received from DeMarcus Ware, the man Lawrence is replacing. At training camp last summer in Oxnard, California, Ware had his way with Smith – or any offensive linemen in his way – and Smith ended up having his best season. He was not only named to the Pro Bowl, he earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli liked what he saw from Lawrence in the offseason.

I don’t sense that with him, the confidence thing,” Marinelli said. “I think he’s just tough. He’s a tough kid. Oh, he just comes out and if he gets beat, he comes back again harder. Now it’s just about skill development.”

Lawrence’s hands were considered his biggest strength when the Cowboys picked him, but he believes the work with Marinelli and Leon Lett has made him a better player before he has even put on pads in the NFL.

“Just with my hand movements, my outside moves,” Lawrence said. “Instead of going against a tackle head up, I’m just playing half a man and I’m really using my speed to my best interests.”

With Jeremy Mincey limited some in the offseason, Lawrence was able to get more work, especially against Smith.

“I think what you look at anytime you’re dealing in non-pads in the offseason for him is alignment, assignment, key, technique, speed and takeaways,” Marinelli said. “Those are the things you can really emphasize. You won’t go full speed without collisions and that’s what you try to do. You try to get him ready for camp, but he’s made progress. Good progress in the drill work and all those things. Right now we’re just trying to get him ready for pads.”

And more work against Smith.

Cowboys take low-risk chance on McClain

July, 1, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' search for a possible replacement for Sean Lee has led them to Rolando McClain.

In 2010, the Oakland Raiders made McClain the eighth pick of the NFL draft. It never worked out for him with the Raiders for a variety of reasons, including some of his misdeeds. It never worked out for him in two short stints with the Baltimore Ravens that led to him retiring twice.

But he doesn't turn 25 until July 14.

The Cowboys are looking at a low-risk chance for a high-ceiling talent.

“He sounds as excited about football as I've ever heard him,” said McClain's agent, Pat Dye.

McClain
If that holds up, then the Cowboys might have found the guy to man the middle linebacker spot that opened when Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May. The Cowboys mostly worked veteran Justin Durant at Lee's spot in the organized team activities and minicamp, but dabbled with rookie Anthony Hitchens and second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman at the spot.

Durant is an outside linebacker masking as a middle linebacker even if the coaches believe he can play all three linebacker positions. Holloman started two games at middle linebacker last year as a rookie out of desperation. Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, has a lot to learn.

McClain comes with a better resume than any of them, but his off-field issues -- a number of arrests since being drafted -- are a concern. The fact that he retired twice is a concern, but Dye's words offer encouragement that McClain, who ended Jason Witten's preseason in 2012 with a hit in a exhibition game that led to a lacerated spleen, knows this might be his last chance.

“I see, and Rolando sees, the Dallas situation as a great opportunity given Sean's injury, and you're talking about a great franchise and a great organization,” Dye said. “I've described to any of the clients we've had through the years there -- Emmitt Smith, Dexter Coakley, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking, DeMarco Murray -- that playing for the Cowboys in football is kind of like playing for the Yankees in baseball. Just an iconic franchise. With kind of what he's done going back to his time with the Raiders, I think that all of this has led him to a point where he feels like the game is too important to him to give up. He's just 24 years old. He's very talented. He's very bright. Tough. Competitive. There's a reason he was a top-10 pick at a position that is almost impossible to be a top-10 pick. Hopefully this situation will go smoothly.”

Patience will be required. McClain has not played in a game since November 2012, after he was suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team. He has not taken part in a full offseason program. He will have to learn a new defense and a new team.

The Cowboys have taken these sorts of chances on former high draft picks before. In 2005, they signed Marc Colombo, who was the Chicago Bears' first-round pick in 2002, after he suffered a serious knee injury. In 2006, Colombo became the Cowboys' starting right tackle and held the spot through 2010.

Asking that of McClain is too much. He's on just a one-year deal and the Cowboys believe Lee will be 100 percent in 2015, but this is a chance worth taking.

And it falls in line with how the Cowboys have conducted their offseason business, spending wisely if not exorbitantly on guys such as Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye.

Jerry Jones: Defense can't be worse

June, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones is the eternal optimist, as we all know.

The Dallas Cowboys defense will be without DeMarcus Ware (offseason release), Jason Hatcher (free-agent defection) and Sean Lee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but the owner and general manager sees a defense that will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 when it finished last in the league in yards allowed.

Jones
Jones
Why?

"Because we were so bad last year, there's no place but up," Jones said.

So there is that. The Cowboys made modest moves in free agency with the signings of Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. They re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is not likely to be ready to start training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round.

Mostly they are hoping for serious improvement from within.

The Cowboys finished 19th overall in defense in 2012. Injuries ravaged the defense by the end of the season, but that did not save Rob Ryan's job.

Last year the Cowboys made a scheme change, switching from the 3-4 under Ryan to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. They did not make serious personnel additions (Will Allen, Justin Durant) and were hoping not only for improvement from within but scheme flexibility from players drafted to play in Bill Parcells' or Wade Phillips' 3-4.

It seemed as if the Cowboys thought 2013 would be better because it could not be worse than it was at the end of 2012, but Jones disagreed with the assessment.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We're certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."

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