Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. In it we discuss: If you want to see Part 1, click here. Away we go:

@toddarcher: Scott Linehan was asked this question at the Pro Bowl and he said the Cowboys will continue to do what they do. The difference is Bill Callahan will not be calling the running plays. That will now be Linehan's duty. The Cowboys have full belief in new line coach Frank Pollack in part because of what he brought to the running game changes first in 2013 and in 2014. Linehan will have tweaks but it will be more about the natural order of things and the development of players and the personality of the team. What it won't be is a change in scheme.

@toddarcher: I'm not sure I can put this in the "when" category. I think it needs to be in the "if" category. Rolando McClain and Doug Free can be re-signed now if the Cowboys and their agents get busy. I'll say this for Free, McClain and all of their free agents: It'll come down to price. I don't think the Cowboys break the bank, so to speak, for anybody. McClain played well but there are questions about him. I'm not sure a ton of teams will jump at him as a free agent and I think he realizes he has landed in a pretty good spot considering his past. To me, Free is a must-keep. He is better than people think and the leader of the room. Free is 31 but tackles can play longer. I'm not sure he will see a huge payday in the $6 million average per-year range.

@toddarcher: I would say it's fairly secure, but I don't think the Cowboys will avoid looking at taking a safety in the draft in the early or middle rounds if there is one they really like. Wilcox is an interesting case. He hasn't played the position long. He had decent moments and he had moments when you are reminded he has been a safety for just three years of his football life. He has natural skills but sometimes his angles are off and he gets beat. I think there's something to continue to work with but if you can upgrade, then I don't think the Cowboys should pass on the position.

@toddarcher: I would bring Dwayne Harris back. He plays a big role on special teams and on the offense. His numbers won't reflect that offensively, but he is a guy they can count on and he is a terrific blocker. He didn't have the breakout season I thought he would have as a returner, but he is dangerous. I don't think there will be a great demand for him in free agency. Maybe he'll look for a better opportunity for more playing time, but wherever he goes he will be a niche player.

@toddarcher: All three? Not good. Davon Coleman has yet to re-sign with the Cowboys and I'm told he's considering other options. I don't know what they could be, but it's certainly within his right to do that after spending most of the year on the practice squad. Chris Whaley is an intriguing process, but how well will he come back from the knee injury? Ken Bishop has the best chance. I thought he played well in the loss to the Green Bay Packers considering he too spent most of the year on the practice squad. There is something to work with there as a rotation guy. 
IRVING, Texas – At Sunday’s Pro Bowl, L.P. Ladouceur will be a lone wolf.

He is the only member of the Dallas Cowboys not to be on Team Irvin, where Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick reside. Ladouceur is on Team Carter, coached by the Baltimore Ravens staff.

Lamur
Ladouceur
Regardless, he is just happy to be at the Pro Bowl.

“After 10 years, to get a little reward like this, it’s a little cherry on top of the Sunday for me,” Ladouceur said. “It’s pretty good.”

This is actually his third trip to the Pro Bowl. He made two as a guest of former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar.

Ladouceur was added as a need player. And he missed Jerry Jones’ initial phone call.

“I was hanging out with my daughter outside; it was so pretty out,” Ladouceur said. “I called back and didn’t get a hold of him but (Marylyn Love, Jones’ executive assistant) told me, ‘Congratulations.’ It was a Friday afternoon. I’m with my family. I didn’t even think about it, to tell you the truth. Just a call out of the blue.”

Ladouceur has been just about perfect since he got to the Cowboys in 2005. He turns 34 in March and is signed through 2017. He joked he wanted to play “until I’m 52.”

“I’d like to play out my contract and then we’ll see from there,” Ladouceur said. “My body feels great. I can’t tell you I can play until I’m 40, but some guys have done it. Just year by year.”

And 2014 was a good year.

Jimmy Graham: Jason Witten is my idol

January, 23, 2015
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IRVING, Texas -- Throughout the years, we have heard countless teammates rave about Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

Witten
Graham
This past season, we heard Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray talk about Witten’s impact on them as players and men. We heard Tony Romo say Witten might be the best Cowboy of all time. Jason Garrett called Witten the best tight end in football for the past decade.

On Thursday, I pulled aside New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham after a Pro Bowl practice and asked about Witten.

During the practice, Witten, who was added to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Denver’s Julius Thomas, took the first-team snaps over Graham. I wondered if it was Graham deferring to a tight end who will be playing in his 10th Pro Bowl.

"The first thing I told him is, you know, he’s my idol and he always has been," Graham said. "I try to emulate everything he does on the field and off the field. Not only does he do everything right on the field, and he’s been consistent for the past forever, but he does so much in his community. So I’ve tried to emulate myself just like him as a man, just because of the type of individual he is."

Graham and Witten have played in Pro Bowls before. They share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. How they play tight end is different. Graham is more athletic, almost a wide receiver playing the position. Witten is the more traditional tight end.

"He is what I know I will be or what I try to be each and every year," Graham said. "And I strive to be the type of tight end that he is."
IRVING, Texas – With the NFL submerged in Deflategate, thanks to the New England Patriots, there is a another “scandal” brewing and it is in regards to It-was-a-catch-gate.

With nothing but time on his hands, Terry Hendrix, who is incarcerated in a Colorado correctional facility, has filed a lawsuit against the NFL seeking more than $88 billion.

According to WFAA.com in Dallas, Hendrix named Commissioner Roger Goodell, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and referee Gene Steratore in his suit for “negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and also reckless disregard,” after Dez Bryant’s fourth-down catch was overturned by replay late in the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Hendrix called the replay reversal a “fraud.” Most Cowboys fans would probably agree but not bring a suit against the NFL. Hendrix, however, is bringing the action on their behalf.

“For the theft from and the and the loss of a Super Bowl, against and upon Dez Bryant, #88, the 2014/2015 on field offense of and to include all the cheerrrleaders [sic], fans, of and all people in or from the sovereign republic of Texas,” Hendrix wrote in the suit.

Hendrix has asked for the case to be heard in 35 days.

His exact asking price: $88,987,654,321.88.

The power of No. 88 knows no bounds.

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
1:30
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IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
Away we go:
@toddarcher: This is a difficult question to answer, because whatever I say will not be right. First, we don't know what the 2015 salary cap will be. Second, we don't know what moves the Cowboys will make to create room. We can guess at restructuring Tyron Smith, making Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut if they don't get him to agree to a pay cut and not picking up Henry Melton's option, which I think is a sure bet. But the Cowboys don't look at it the way you and I look at it. They don't say, 'We have $10 million in cap room, let's sign these guys.' To them, cap room is always changing depending on the plan they devise. I think the best way to answer the question is this: The Cowboys will be able to do whatever they want to do in free agency and the cap will not limit them in any way.

@toddarcher: The easy answer is no, they're not, but it's not an easy question. Is it realistic to expect DeMarco Murray to lead the league in rushing again? I don't know. To some, running backs are like shooting guards in the NBA. You can always find a guy. Well, maybe, but you can't find a guy who has the value to the team like Murray. And that's the biggest thing the Cowboys will have to figure out. Sure, Joseph Randle might be able to get you 1,300 yards, but can he do all the things that Murray can do? Not really. When Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Murray was the person who set the identity of the team, I don't think you can take that lightly. But I don't know how you put a price tag on that, either. We've seen running backs be devalued over the last few years, but Murray's value to the Cowboys is probably greater than he would be to another team. It's a real dilemma, and the Cowboys can only be wrong. If they sign Murray and he continues to play at a high level, we say nothing. If they sign him and he falls off, they will get hammered.

@toddarcher: I think we all need to tap the brakes on this one. It seems like we're just trying to add 2+2 and say it equals Adrian Peterson. First, he is not a free agent. We don't know if he'll be a free agent. Second, he's not coming cheaply. If the Cowboys don't want to pay Murray, then why would they pay a huge price for a great running back, but an older running back with more tread on his tire and with some off-field baggage? We've seen the Cowboys change the way they deal with things financially. In the past, maybe they would make a run at a player like Peterson at any cost. Now? I'm not so sure it's a given. And remember, he is still a member of the Minnesota Vikings.

@toddarcher: Well, there has to be somebody worth trading up to get. It's too early to really know how that will go obviously, but I believe in having more picks, not fewer. However, I don't know if you want to move down so much that you take yourself out of the running to get a good player regardless of position. That's hurt the Cowboys in the past. It helped them in 2013 when they moved down for Travis Frederick, but it almost cost them because there was a run on offensive linemen and he was the last man standing, so to speak. But they also got Terrance Williams in that trade. I don't think this team is so stacked at any spot where they should just focus in on one position and damn the rest. If the best available at No. 27 is an offensive tackle, take the guy. You can never have enough good players.

@toddarcher: I thought he was good. He had some pass-protection issues, but in the run game he was more than solid. He has been everything you could have hoped for from an undrafted free agent, albeit one that secured a large amount of guaranteed money when he signed. His knee has not really been an issue, but you never know about the long term. He is an exclusive-rights free agent, so the Cowboys will have control of him for the next two years. I wonder if they approach him about a long-term deal at modest money just to make sure he stays put. The Cowboys would be wise to do all that they can to make sure this line stays put for years to come. Tyron Smith is signed through 2023. Travis Frederick is signed through 2017 and Zack Martin is through 2018. That should be a pretty good run.
Dez BryantAndrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsDallas' dreams were dashed when Dez Bryant's apparent catch was ruled incomplete on review.
We conclude our countdown of 10 plays that shaped the Dallas Cowboys' season.

Play No. 1: Tony Romo incompletion vs. Packers

Situation: Fourth-and-2 from Green Bay 32
Score: Green Bay leads, 26-21
Time: 4:42 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: This one goes down in the Cowboys' annals with Dwight Clark's "The Catch" and Jackie Smith's end zone drop in the Super Bowl. Dez Bryant made an apparent catch for the ages, leaping high above cornerback Sam Shields, taking three steps and lunging for the end zone. Bryant bobbled the ball, though it’s unclear whether it ever touched the ground, but regained possession as he rolled into the end zone. We’ll be discussing whether he caught it 50 years from now, but Green Bay advanced to the NFC Championship Game, while the Cowboys' season ended in disappointment.

Play No. 2: Tony Romo injured vs. Redskins

Situation: Third-and-11 from Dallas 36
Score: Washington leads, 10-7
Time: 7:59 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett did it to Romo again with his blitzing scheme. For the second consecutive season, Romo suffered a significant injury against Washington. This time, he suffered two small fractures in his back that forced him to miss one game and essentially rendered him useless against Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day. Win any of those three games and the road to the Super Bowl would have gone through Dallas.

Tony Romo: 'I have to be better'

January, 23, 2015
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IRVING, Texas -- Throughout the Dallas Cowboys’ season, Tony Romo was often asked to reflect on what he was able to do.

He never took a big picture view, saying the timing wasn’t right, that the focus was on that week’s opponent or that day’s practice.

The end of Dallas' season wasn't even two weeks old, and as he stood outside one of the team buses after a Pro Bowl practice in Glendale, Arizona, Romo’s big picture view wasn’t about his season. He did not discuss his comeback from major back surgery to lead the NFL in passer rating, Total QBR and completion percentage. He didn’t go on about the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesAfter throwing 34 touchdowns in 2014, Tony Romo is already looking forward to how he can improve his game next season.
 He didn’t thumb his nose at critics who wondered if he would ever rid himself of mistakes in big games or those who scoffed when he said in training camp his best football was ahead of him.

“Ultimately, I feel like we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do so it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Romo said. “I think you just figure out how you have to be better. I have to be better. Our team has to be better. And you have to go attack this thing with everything we got.”

On Tuesday night, sitting in the lobby at the Arizona Biltmore, Romo watched his fellow Pro Bowlers walk by. He was struck at how different it felt from his earlier trips. In his first Pro Bowl in 2006, he was the unknown kid who led the Cowboys to the playoffs. He had the world in front of him.

Now in his fourth Pro Bowl and five years removed from his most recent trip to the all-star game, his life has changed. He turns 35 in April. He is married and has two sons. He knows these moments don’t last forever.

The world may still be in front of him, but his view of it has changed.

“You want to keep constantly trying to figure out new ways to improve,” Romo said. “You’re never satisfied. Last year is not a satisfying feeling. If anything, it makes you more hungry to be better going forward so you have an opportunity to achieve all your goals. Ultimately we didn’t get that done and that just never sits well. I’m a firm believer that you have to start over and go do everything you did to be better the next season. You can’t just rest on anything you’ve done. It just doesn’t work that way.”

“I’m going to have to start over, tear it all down and figure out what I did well and work on the things I didn’t do as well and then go try and continue to perfect your craft to get to your highest level.”’

How does he improve on 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions? On completing 69.9 percent of his passes? On 8.5 yards per attempt?

The secret is in the dirt. It’s an old Ben Hogan saying and one Romo references often. It’s on the practice field or in the meeting room. It’s studying the tiniest of details from where he places his ring finger on the ball to how he slightly adjusts where he points his lead foot.

“If you’re not improving and getting better from year to year, if you don’t think you can try to figure out new ways to perfect your craft, I don’t understand how you can help your football team,” Romo said. “You’re going in the wrong direction, to me, if you don’t. You’ve got to figure out how you can be a better player. Each guy has to do that a little different and just think if our team takes that approach, we have a chance to be better.”

For the first time since 2012, Romo will be able to work on his craft in the offseason. In 2013, he had surgery to remove a cyst from his back and did not take part in organized team activities and the minicamp. In 2014, he was coming back from the discectomy that prevented him from playing in the winner-take-all finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

It limited him in training camp. He never practiced more than two straight days. It limited him early in the season until the Cowboys’ athletic training staff formulated the ‘Romo Wednesday,’ in which he worked on his strength in his core and legs.

“It’s going to be a much better offseason on building in areas that I haven’t been able to in a couple of years,” Romo said. “I’ll always have to maintain a little bit of what I’ve been doing for my back. Strengthening the areas there, that’s the most important thing. I think what I’ve found is that you’ve got to attack the offseason, and you can do it in many different forms. I think it’ll be nice to attack some area that I haven’t been able to.”

He doesn’t want to say what areas he will attack. He prefers to keep that secret in the dirt to himself. He said the tear-down process will start in the middle of February.

“Right now you’re just trying to enjoy the Pro Bowl and family and things like that,” Romo said.

When the bus returned to the Biltmore, he was going to sit by the pool and relax with his family and teammates. The sun was out and everything was bright.

“Next season is a whole new season and we’ve got to tear it down and start all over again,” Romo said. “You’re guaranteed nothing. That’s the only way to be successful year to year. I think our team has an opportunity with a lot of the right people in place, and I’m excited about the challenge and excited about the ability to work and get after it.”
IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. had offered up his regrades for the 2014 draft and the Dallas Cowboys improved .

Kiper has long been a fan of Zack Martin, though he keeps wondering if the Cowboys will move him to right tackle in the future. That’s not happening.

Martin was an obvious success story in becoming an All-Pro and Pro Bowler. The rest of the class, however, was kind of quiet to Kiper. DeMarcus Lawrence, their second-rounder, missed a lot of games earlier in the season. He said fourth-rounder Anthony Hitchens “provided some useful depth.”

Hitchens actually provided more than that, starting 11 games and getting credited with 100 tackles by the coaches.

The long-term success of a draft won’t be measured by Martin. It will be measured by how Lawrence develops, especially considering what the Cowboys gave up to get him. He was more productive in the playoffs. Hitchens will be valuable.

But what will wide receiver Devin Street provide after catching just two passes as a rookie? The Cowboys had five seventh-round picks. Defensive end Ben Gardner missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury. Linebacker Will Smith spent most of the year on the practice squad. Defensive tackle Ken Bishop showed some promise in the loss to the Green Bay Packers.

If they can get one of those seventh-rounders to become a regular contributor, then that’s a success.

Sam Shields: 'It was a catch'

January, 23, 2015
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IRVING, Texas -- Picking up Dallas Cowboys' pieces from four days at the Pro Bowl in Phoenix:

Reliving the catch: Dez Bryant pulled out of the Pro Bowl because of a lingering groin injury, but Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields is playing in the game. The last time they saw each other Bryant’s fourth-down catch was overruled by replay.

Shields
“It was a catch,” Shields said, “But the new rule and at the last minute what happened, that’s what the refs came up with. I never said he didn’t catch it. He made a helluva catch I was in great coverage. Like I said, it was good on good and he came up with the catch.”

Bryant thought it was a catch. The Cowboys thought it was a catch. Shields thought it was a catch. The NFL didn’t. Bryant said he was reaching for the goal line as he was going down. Shields agreed.

“I did look back and I seen him reaching and I guess that’s when he didn’t control the ball as he was doing that,” Shields said.

A different experience: In 2003, 262 players were picked in the draft. Tony Romo was not among them.

On Wednesday’s Pro Bowl draft, Romo went No. 2 overall behind Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

“It’s just a great experience for everybody,” Romo said. “I think it takes you back to your draft day a little bit and I know that was a great day for me going undrafted and just having fun with it.”

Same as it ever was: The Pro Bowl is hardly about football. It’s about the game’s best players hanging out together and having fun.

At Thursday’s practice at Luke Air Force Base, Jason Garrett’s workout looked a lot like a regular-season practice, minus the pads and run in just about 60 minutes. Darren Woodson joked it was harder than any Pro Bowl practice he remembered when he was in the all-star game.

The Baltimore Ravens staff is running Team Carter, and their session was much different.

“I really believe these guys like to play football,” Garrett said. “They want to play football at a high level. They want to get themselves ready to play a game, understand what we’re trying to do on offense, defense and in the kicking game. I don’t think we want to grind these guys into the ground. We know that it’s the Pro Bowl but hopefully we create a good atmosphere and environment for them to get some stuff done, but have some fun doing it.”

A team that stays together: I’m not a big chemistry guy. I believe chemistry is made by winning. But during the off time the Cowboys always seemed together -- and not just the seven players in attendance.

The players, coaches, equipment staff, athletic training staff and video staff, as well as their wives and girlfriends, were seemingly joined at the hip, especially at night by the fire pit outside at the Arizona Biltmore. Garrett often talks about the family atmosphere that he has tried to build, and that was clearly evident earlier in the week.

Here and there: Marc Colombo is working as the assistant offensive line coach to Frank Pollack at the Pro Bowl. He spent 2014 working in the scouting department. Nothing is official about his role in 2015, but he is the leader in the clubhouse to land the job Pollack held in 2013 and ’14 ... Assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin is with the staff. He has not signed a new deal to remain with the Cowboys and that is expected to be sorted out once the team returns home after the all-star game ... It was windy at Thursday’s practice but it did not affect Matthew Stafford at all. Of all the quarterbacks at the game, his passes just pierced through the wind effortlessly ... The Cowboys have to go against Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams in 2015 and it was surprising to see how big he is in person. He is a fierce pass rusher, but he has a thicker build than, say, DeMarcus Ware.
PHOENIX -- The way Team Irvin practiced Thursday, it was easy to tell it's in the Pro Bowl to win it.

About an hour after Team Carter, led by the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff, went through a light practice that consisted of mainly 11-on-11 drills, Team Irvin began its practice at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona, with team stretching.

Jackson
Team Irvin, led by the Dallas Cowboys' staff, then went through a series of individual position drills before working on 11-on-11.

“We want to win,” Team Irvin and Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. “It’s one thing to get a group of competitors together and the best of the best to do it. And everyone wants to, at the end of the day, say we outplayed you.

“I’m definitely looking forward to winning the last football game I play.”

Team Irvin’s practice was more organized and taken more seriously than Team Carter’s, starting with the stretching, which Team Carter did not do. Team Irvin was divided into lines and went through a series of light calisthenics led by an assistant coach.

During receiver drills, Team Irvin had an assistant act as a cornerback, defending receivers’ first steps. There also was more individual coaching during Team Irvin’s practice.

After the practice, position coaches huddled their players together, similar to the end of a regular-season practice.

The winning team receives $55,000 per player, while the losing players receive $28,000 each.

“We don’t need any practice,” Team Carter and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “This stuff is pointless. You saw how long we was out here for -- 30 minutes.

“Not very intense at all. We still want to play hard but have fun and make sure we put on a great show for the fans.”

DeMarco MurrayRay Carlin/Icon SportswireAfter what DeMarco Murray did in 2014, it's hard to deny him the chance to sign a big-money deal.

IRVING, Texas -- Years ago, if you can believe it, folks actually thought Troy Hambrick was a better running back than Emmitt Smith.

It's because Hambrick, Smith's backup with the Dallas Cowboys in 2001-02, usually entered the game after Smith, then in his early 30s, had softened up opposing defenses. Still, Hambrick ran effectively, gaining 579 yards and averaging 5.1 per carry in 2001.

He even had an 80-yard run against Philadelphia that season. Two years later, given an opportunity to start, he averaged 3.5 yards.

After one more season, Hambrick was out of league at 28.

The moral of the story? Just because a backup running back looks good doesn't mean he'll actually be good.

And when it comes to a potential replacement for DeMarco Murray, it doesn't matter whether we're talking about current Cowboys backup Joseph Randle or one of the stellar college backs in the 2015 draft such as Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah or Miami's Duke Johnson.

None of those players comes with a performance guarantee.


(Read full post)


video

ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano discusses the second year of the revamped Pro Bowl.
PHOENIX -- There is a theory going around about the Dallas Cowboys and their running game that sounded a lot like the theory around the team in the 1990s: You can get just about any running back to have success behind that offensive line.

Murray
Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with help from an offensive line that had too many Pro Bowlers to count. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing in 2014 with 1,845 yards, breaking Smith’s franchise record for yards in a season, with three Pro Bowlers blocking for him.

Jason Witten does not subscribe to that theory. At all.

“We’ve got good running backs,” he said. “Joe Randle took advantage of every opportunity he got. I think [Lance] Dunbar’s got a great future ahead of him. Obviously the O-line, but I think it would be silly to not give him the credit for what he did. It’s not easy to do that and I think Coach [Jason] Garrett said it a few weeks back that he created a mindset for our team and that’s not easy to do. He deserves a lot of that credit, DeMarco does, and so that’s why you want a guy like that back because he stands for everything you want in your football team.”

But the financials will play a part in Murray’s future. The Cowboys can afford to pay him whatever they want. It will be a question of if they want to pay him big money before the free-agent market opens.

Witten will do everything he can to make sure Murray stays. The two developed a tighter relationship in 2014 as workout partners in the offseason.

“You don’t invest that time just for one year,” Witten said. “You’re really thinking big picture. But he deserves it. He’s worked hard. He has a lot of good things around him and he’s the first to give others credit. You want him to have as much success as he can, but of course you want him on your team. … You want to see him maximize that but there’s no question that I hope he’s thinking about guys like me when he’s going through that decision. Not that he owes us anything because he doesn’t, but that he wants to be a part of that. But you know it’s a business, too.”
Jason Witten, James Ihedigbo, Isa Abdul-QuddusRon Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS/Getty ImagesJason Witten's fourth-down catch against the Lions was key to the Cowboys' playoff win.
We continue our countdown of 10 plays that shaped the Dallas Cowboys' season:

Play No. 3: Jason Witten reception vs. Lions

Situation: Fourth-and-six from Detroit 42
Score: Detroit leads, 20-17
Time: 6:00 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: You can talk about the apparent pass interference penalty against Anthony Hitchens or Detroit coach Jim Caldwell’s decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 49, but this was the play of the game. Witten ran a beautiful route, taking a hard jab to the right before breaking left across the middle, where Tony Romo hit him in stride for a 21-yard gain and a first down. Nine plays later, Romo threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams as the Cowboys earned just their second playoff win since 1996.


Play No. 4: Terrance Williams reception vs. Seahawks

Situation: Third-and-20 from Dallas 31
Score: Seattle leads, 23-20
Time: 4:55 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: Williams usually catches the ball with his body because his hands are small for an NFL receiver. Occasionally, though, when instincts kick in, he’ll pluck the ball out the air with his hands, which is what he did on this amazing toe-tapping catch along the right sideline that sustained the Cowboys’ go-ahead drive. Romo, scrambling on the play, heaved a pass that seemed destined to go out of bounds, when Williams seemingly appeared out of nowhere to snag the ball and keep the drive alive.

A lot has changed in last year for Zack Martin

January, 22, 2015
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PHOENIX – A year ago at this time, Zack Martin was in Mobile, Alabama, preparing for the Senior Bowl, unsure of his football future.

This week he is at the posh Arizona Biltmore preparing for his first of what should be many Pro Bowl appearances.

Martin
“There was a lot going on last year,” Martin said. “Obviously, more of trying to do as much as you can to get noticed and get picked. This year it’s a little more relaxing, just kind of here for a week to enjoy everyone’s company and enjoy yourself playing.”

As Martin was walking to his room Tuesday, Joe Staley introduced himself to the Cowboys rookie.

“Zack Martin, the greatest guard in the history of guards,” Staley said.

Or not.

“He was joking,” Martin said.

Staley played for Brian Kelly at Central Michigan. Martin played for Kelly at Notre Dame. That Martin earned that kind of praise -- joking or not -- from Staley speaks to Martin's reputation across the league. In addition to the Pro Bowl, he was named All-Pro, the first Cowboys rookie to be so honored since 1969.

“I didn’t really expect this coming in, but obviously I kinda hit the jackpot with the situation I came into with great coaches and even better players to play next to,” Martin said, “Really got lucky with that.”

The Cowboys got lucky. While most of the draft-day talk centered around Johnny Manziel, the Cowboys would have selected linebacker Ryan Shazier if the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn’t taken him with the 15th overall pick.

Martin was a Day 1 starter and didn’t miss a game or a snap. Coaches like to say a player’s biggest improvement comes between his rookie year and second season.

“Honestly, I have no idea how he could improve that much,” center Travis Frederick said. “My level of improvement was a lot, and it just had to do with learning the game, but he’s already at such a high level … that if he continues to improve at the level he did this year, there really is no ceiling for him.”

Martin said he needs to get stronger. He said he can improve on the big things as well as the fine details.

He doesn’t consider himself to be the greatest guard in the history of guards.

“Just go in and do what I’ve always done,” Martin said. “I’ve always said our group takes care of that because we hold ourselves to such a high standard that that group won’t allow anything else but that.”

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