OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 5 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

Murray
1) Stephen Jones made it pretty clear the Cowboys have no intention of signing DeMarco Murray to a new contract before the season ends, but that doesn't mean he won't be on the team next year.

The reality is that last season was easily his best season -- 1,121 yards, nine touchdowns and a 5.2 average per carry -- in 14 games.

He's 26 and heading into his fourth season, and he still hasn't played 16 games. Running backs break down more quickly than any other position, so it's easy to see why the Cowboys don't want to give a guy with an injury history a new contract as he nears 30.

The franchise tag -- $9.54 million -- would be one option, and working out a three-- or four--year deal after the season would be another.

Murray is a good player, and if he puts together another good season, the Cowboys will find room and money for him.

Spencer
2) Anthony Spencer said he's doing considerably more running and lifting than he has done in the recent past, but he still has no timetable when he'll return to the practice field.

He remains on the physically unable to perform list.

Whatever he gives the Cowboys this year must be considered a bonus. He's still recovering from micro fracture surgery and the longer it takes the more you have to wonder if he'll even play this year.

Spencer doesn't.

"I wouldn't be out here putting myself thought all of this," he said, "If I didn't think I could come back and play. I don't have a timetable, I'm just doing everything I need to do to put myself in a position to get back on the field."

3) DeMarcus Lawrence showed moves on consecutive plays in a pass rush drill that had to get the coaching staff just a tad excited -- even though each play occurred against backup Darrion Weems.

On the first play, Lawrence burst off the line, dipped his shoulder low and blew past Weems for what would've been a sack. On the next play, he faked outside, used a rip move and burst inside past Weems.

The confidence to use an inside move was impressive. Most young pass-rushers get so enamored by the outside move, they forego the inside ones.

47

One way to judge whether an offensive staff is doing a good job with the game plan is to look at their success with the first possession of the game.

The Cowboys scored 47 points on their first possession -- five touchdowns and four field goals. Only Denver scored more.

The Broncos scored 62 points on eight touchdowns and two field goals.

Player to Watch: Joseph Randle

This is an important season for Randle, who averaged just 3.0 yards per carry on 54 carries last season.

The Cowboys took him in the fifth round, hoping he could provide an adequate replacement if Murray went down. Well, he had an opportunity and he didn't do much with it.

If he doesn't play better this year, then the Cowboys will be looking to possibly add two running backs in the offseason. He must play well in the preseason to fend off Ryan Williams because the Cowboys probably aren't keeping four running backs.

Can Tyron Smith teach rookie Lawrence?

July, 28, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Left tackle Tyron Smith benefited tremendously from his daily battles with DeMarcus Ware, the best pass-rusher in Dallas Cowboys’ history, during the past few training camps.

It wasn't just the reps against Ware that helped prepare Smith to fulfill his Pro Bowl potential. Ware often worked with Smith after practices, offering tips on footwork and hand placement from an edge rusher’s perspective.

The Cowboys would love to see Smith form a similar competitive mentor relationship with rookie pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, the second-round pick drafted to replace Ware.

"One of the most underutilized resources in football are offensive guys talking to defensive guys and defensive guys talking to offensive guys," head coach Jason Garrett said. "That's with coaches and that's with players. I think it's important to understand the other person's mindset, what they're trying to get accomplished, both with scheme and technique. So any kind of communication that happens between those guys I think is really, really good, particularly with the younger players."

Smith typically isn't a man of many words, but he said, "I'll try my best to teach the new guy."

The Smith-Lawrence competition has gotten off to a slow start. One of the most highly anticipated one-on-one matchups in camp has been seen a grand total of once in the first two full-pads practices.

Lawrence is working with the second-team defense now, so veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey is the one matched up with Smith on a regular basis. Lawrence has been dominating backup left tackle Darrion Weems, but he got stonewalled on his one pass-rush rep against Smith.

Lawrence, who has set a goal of double-digit sacks as a rookie, eagerly anticipates more action against arguably the NFL's best left tackle.

"I look forward to it because he ain't doing nothing but getting me better," Lawrence said. "If I go against the best, then I know what to expect."

Garrett shot down a theory that the Cowboys are trying to build Lawrence's confidence by letting him compete against lesser tackles. It sounds as if Lawrence will see plenty of Smith.

"It's not like we're saying, 'OK, you're in eighth grade and you're going to go against this guy who is playing college football,'" Garrett said. "These are the kinds of guys he's going to face in this league and he has to understand the approach he needs to take. He's going to have some success at times and he's going to have some difficulties at times, but he's just got to keep going, keep playing."

There's no better way for a young player to learn than by facing elite competition in practice. Smith's success serves as proof.

Rookie Zack Martin impresses Melton

July, 28, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- First-round pick Zack Martin had a welcome-to-the-NFL moment on the first full-speed practice rep of his NFL career.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton exploded past the rookie right guard in the one-on-one pass-rush drill. In the blink of an eye, Melton got Martin to lean a little to his right, changed directions and ripped through with his hands to win the rep about as convincingly as possible.

"I just had to let him know that I'm here and it's going to be a long training camp," Melton said.

Martin has made it clear that he's ready for it. That first rep is the only time Martin has looked like a rookie during his first two days wearing pads with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys were confident that Martin, who set the Notre Dame record for games started with 52, could make an immediate impact when they drafted him with the 16th overall pick. He has done nothing to dispel that notion during his first couple of full-contact practices.

"I know there's a lot of expectations," Martin said. "Like I said in the past, I'm just trying to be consistent and show these guys that I can show up every day."

A couple of defensive assistant coaches offered high praise for Martin, saying he carries himself like a veteran on the practice field. He's held his own against Melton, a 2012 Pro Bowler, and has often dominated other defensive tackles.

"He's good," Melton said. "I purposely line myself up with him. He's coming on strong. If I'm working with him, he's making me better and I'm making him better. There's no one else better to work with."

What is Cowboys truth on Johnny Manziel?

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Trying to figure out the truth from Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones can be difficult.

Take Johnny Manziel for example.

Speaking on NFL Network during Sunday’s practice, Jones talked about just how close the Cowboys were to taking Johnny Football with the 16th pick of the first round in the May draft.

Manziel
“Well first of all, I feel so strongly about Tony Romo,” Jones said. “That Tony Romo could have handled being on the same team with Johnny Manziel -- both quarterbacks. He could have handled that in spades. I thought, ‘Jerry make the same kind of decision that you made when you bought the Dallas Cowboys.’ Nobody thought it would work. They were busted. Cowboys were busted. Broke. Nobody thought it would work. Make a more of an unconventional decision here and basically take the risk. And I want you to know that almost as I was handing in the card, it was that close to put that Manziel card in, it was that close. And I looked over at my son Stephen, our oldest son is the chief executive officer, and I said, ‘I took the right pick.’ If I had made this kind of pick when I bought the Cowboys, I’d never have bought the team. That’s not how you get there.”

Speaking at a function in June in Arkansas honoring Jones’ former coach, Frank Broyles, Jones had this to say about how difficult it was to pass on Manziel:

"Well, it was,” Jones said. “Yes, it was. First of all, I couldn't believe he had fallen there. And secondly, we had spent a lot of time, I'd spent a lot of time. He's the kind of player that can be that kind of difference-maker. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a successful player. We have in Romo what I consider to be the better quarterback. But there's also the future, there's also insurance if you don't have him. If anybody could have adjusted to Manziel's style, we could have because we're a lot like that with Romo.”

And finally let’s revisit what Jones said at a news conference on draft night after the Cowboys took Zack Martin in the first round .

“As you well know in here, Romo, by contract as well as by commitment, is certainly the quarterback for the Cowboys for several years to come,” Jones said. “There is no moving around that. I don’t care who you draft, that’s the way it would have been. That was going through our minds from the get-go. That’s why we didn’t spend a lot of time at all in this draft considering Manziel.”

The next time Jones is asked about Manziel he just might say the Cowboys had his name on a card ready to turn in to the commissioner.
OXNARD, Calif. -- The No. 32 would be on cornerback Orlando Scandrick's mind every day even if it wasn’t on his jersey.

There is no hiding the fact that the Dallas Cowboys ranked 32nd -- dead last -- in the league in total defense last season.

Scandrick
“The facts are the facts,” Scandrick said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s “Two-Point Conversion.” “We were the last-ranked total defense, so we can’t go anywhere but up from here, but that’s not going to change just by showing up. We’ve to have an attitude about us as a defense, and we’re going to have to play together. Playing together stops a lot of the things that happened that caused us to be the 32nd-ranked defense.”

The Cowboys lost three of their most productive defensive players from last season, releasing defensive end DeMarcus Ware, letting defensive tackle Jason Hatcher leave in free agency and seeing Sean Lee injure his knee in May.

However, Scandrick expressed confidence that the Dallas defense would be vastly improved in its second season playing a 4-3 scheme.

“I just think this year is going to be different,” Scandrick said. “I don’t know if I’m just an optimist, but I really feel that this year is going to be different. We have a different group of guys. We have some younger guys. We have a lot of guys who have a lot to prove. We have some younger guys who want to prove they can play in this league. We have some other younger guys who want to prove they can be starters in this league. I really think from the bottom of my heart that we have a chance to be a solid defense this year.”

As safety Barry Church put it, the Dallas defense “has a boulder on our shoulder,” thanks to their ranking last season.

Scandrick has had a chip on his shoulder since he slipped into the fifth round in the 2008 draft. He was once of those young guys who had to prove he could play in the NFL. In his seventh NFL season, he finally got the chance to prove he could be a full-time starter and is fighting to keep that role now.

At 27, Scandrick suddenly has the longest Dallas tenure among players in the defensive meeting room other than defensive end Anthony Spencer, who could start the season on the physically unable to perform list.

The departures of Ware and Hatcher, as well as the season-ending knee injury suffered by Lee, left a leadership void on the Dallas defense. Scandrick feels a responsibility to help fill it.

“It was tough to see those guys go,” Scandrick said. “I just think about when I came in and how those guys took me under their wing and how they looked out for me. I just think I owe it to the younger guys now to do the same thing. Like I tell them, I’m open to helping whenever I can.

“I think it’s also that I help my coaches when my coaches are trying to get a point across. Sometimes it’s easier to hear it when you hear it from a player. I’m just here to find ways to win. All I want to do is win, and all I care about is winning.”

Crowds smaller so far at Cowboys camp

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Drawing a crowd has never been a problem for the Dallas Cowboys.

Through the first four days of training camp, the crowds have been smaller than normal.

Last year the Cowboys drew 13,230 fans in the first four days of training camp. Through the first four days of camp this summer the Cowboys have had 11,000 fans. At their opening practice last year, the Cowboys drew 6,614 fans on Sunday. On Saturday with their pre-practice extravaganza, the Cowboys drew 4,279 fans.

Maybe three straight 8-8 seasons are starting to catch up with the Cowboys. Maybe it’s one playoff win since 1996. Maybe it was the Oxnard Salsa Festival.

“Those things will take care of themselves,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said of the crowds. “It’s my understanding there’s a festival in town this weekend and some of the people who would normally come here, some of them are over there. The crowds will take care of themselves.

“We’re worried about winning, putting a good team on the field; not about the crowds.”

Morris Claiborne has a new demeanor

July, 28, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Throughout the offseason, Dallas Cowboys teammates, coaches and staff noticed a difference in Morris Claiborne.

On the first day of full-padded practices Saturday, Claiborne showed part of that difference for everybody else to see.

On his first snap of one-on-one drills against wide receiver Terrance Williams, he fought, clawed and talked back. On the second he pushed Williams to the ground, yelling, "Get Dez over here," which prompted some more talking with a perturbed Williams.

Later Claiborne was beat by Bryant on one deep ball, but he broke up a comeback to Bryant and a deep ball to Devin Street before cramps knocked him out of the final team session.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports"A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes," Morris Claiborne said. "For that, I feel like I'm a better person from it even though it might've hurt at the time."
“I’ve got a different approach just from football, from life period,” Claiborne said. “A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes. For that, I feel like I’m a better person from it even though it might’ve hurt at the time. I feel like I’m a better man after it and it’s carried over to football.”

In a span of only a few days last December he experienced the birth of his daughter, Madison, and the death of his father, Robert Owens. He alternated from joy with the birth of his second child to sorrow over the death of his father, who was 64.

He could not go to his escape on the football field because he was dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of six games last season. He used the word “funk” to describe what was happening.

“Life,” he said. “Not being able to play football because you’re injured. You got people saying this and people saying that, so now you’ve got so much pressure and you can feel it from coaches and players. You can feel that pressure and all of a sudden to go back and have somebody close to you taken away from you and you’ve got to deal with that too. It’s hard. Your family has changed so now you’re the head man in charge and everybody is looking at you now because the head man pretty much died. Then you have a baby. I couldn’t hide from it.”

Time has helped, and, in his mind, he speaks regularly to his father.

"Anybody can feel different, but that’s my belief,” Claiborne said of his conversations. “That’s my feelings.”

He also keeps a tangible part of his father with him -- a rubber Cowboys bracelet. Owens got the bracelet when his son was picked in the first round of the 2012 draft. The Cowboys moved up to the sixth pick to get Claiborne, whom they called their highest-rated defensive back since Deion Sanders.

Claiborne’s first two seasons have not gone the way he wanted, the way the Cowboys wanted or the way the fans wanted. It's not what any of them expected. He intercepted just two passes in his first two seasons. He battled through wrist, shoulder, knee and hamstring injuries. He missed a game with a concussion and busted lip as a rookie.

The confident player who roamed the LSU secondary was replaced by someone unsure of himself.

“I don’t need to really remind him or anyone the commitment we made and the commitment he made,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “He’s got a lot of pride. He’s certainly got some things you can point to the last couple of years. But if he can get out here and be the player, he has the skill level ... [He has to] work through just this kind of thing [in practice], have good things happen, get tired, have things go against him a couple of plays, if he can work through that, he’ll be an improved player and be the guy we want to have out there.”

At the first team meeting of camp, coach Jason Garrett highlighted Claiborne’s work in individual drills to the rest of the team.

“His approach mentally has been outstanding and I think it’s going to reflect in his play,” Garrett said.

One practice does not reflect a complete change, and Claiborne knows it. It’s about doing his job every day, which is something he learned from his father.

“I feel like I have something to prove to myself,” Claiborne said. “It starts with myself. I have to prove it to myself. I’m very comfortable where I’m at now.”

Cowboys wake-up call: Day 5

July, 28, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Every day of Dallas Cowboys training camp we’ll offer up a wake-up call that offers a quick review of the previous day and a preview of the current day.

Today’s schedule: The Cowboys will have their first off day of camp before returning to practice on Tuesday. Their second off day comes on Friday as they try to maximize their work before the Aug. 7 preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers with their mandatory practice schedule.

More observations from Sunday’s practice:
  • On Saturday Jeremy Mincey learned how strong Tyron Smith’s hands were in a one-on-one pass rush drill in front of the entire team. On Sunday he got a little revenge, swatting Smith’s hands on an outside pass rush move to get to the quarterback in offensive line-defensive line drills. On the next rep, Mincey was able to use his power to back Smith up in the pocket.
  • Running back Lance Dunbar showed just how quick he was in space by leaving rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens grasping for air in one-on-one drills.
  • After getting beat by Terrance Williams for a completion, Morris Claiborne heard this from secondary coach Jerome Henderson: Come on, got to be intense the whole day.”
  • Can Tony Romo still move? He was able to sprint away from George Selvie’s pressure in team drills to throw the ball away to live another day. It was the first time in two days Romo was forced from the pocket.
What I’m watching: It is the Cowboys first off day of training camp so it might be a movie.

Some of the players might be off to the movies as well.

The Cowboys have had just two days of full-padded practices but league rules require a day off and Jason Garrett is attempting to adjust the schedule correctly before they play the Chargers.

“Even with pads or no pads you’re still out here running around,” linebacker Bruce Carter said. “It’s still wear and tear on your body. Guys are going hard, so I think it’s a good idea. We had a ton of injuries last year going into the season, so I think it is a good thing.”

Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence will opt for the more veteran move of getting in the ice tub to rejuvenate his legs, but …

“I’m ready to go,” Lawrence said. “If coach tells me to go, I’m going.”

They said it: “It was good to see them out there in shoulder pads and football pads and looking like real football players and I think they competed the right way. I think if you look at a lot of the different competitive parts of practice it was really impressive. Not to say that it’s any good yet, because it’s not, but the approach is right and we’re going about it the right way and we have guys on this football team who love to play and love to compete against each other and that’s going to be good for everybody in the long run.” -- Jason Garrett on the Cowboys’ first practice in pads.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)


Romo's health will be something that will be monitored throughout camp and perhaps it could force the Cowboys to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster as insurance. That would benefit Caleb Hanie, who joined the team in April, or undrafted rooke Dustin Vaughan. The Cowboys haven't kept three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster since 2011, but they don't want to get caught needing a quarterback if something were to happen to Romo and Weeden had to start. For now, however, the plan is to stick with two on the 53.

RUNNING BACKS (4)



Murray had a fumble on his second carry of team drills, but ball security has not been an issue for him in his career. Dunbar has shown up well. Randle's vision and quick feet give him an edge, to me, in this system. He makes it to the hole quicker than Ryan Williams, who is built a little more powerfully. Both players will have to work on pass protection. The fullback role remains in Clutts' possession. It's been too early to see much from the fullbacks.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


These five remain unchanged, but Jamar Newsome bears some watching as camp goes on. He looks the part. He has decent speed and he has decent hands. It will be interesting to see how he handles the preseason games.

TIGHT ENDS (3)



The Cowboys added Dallas Walker before coming to camp, but he is more about saving the legs of the top three guys. There is a clear gap from Hanna and Walker and Jordan Najvar. I believe the Cowboys will still be looking for more of a blocker as camp goes on.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)


Nwaneri takes the final spot over Brian Clarke from the first projection to open camp. This will likely flip flop throughout camp and the preseason. A lot of it will depend on injuries among the top eight linemen and cost. If a younger player emerges, like Clarke or Ronald Patrick, then they could win that last spot. Leary is battling a hamstring strain that has kept him out the first few days of camp, so Bernadeau is getting the jump on the left guard position with the first team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

Sticking with the same 10 players for now. Gardner injured his shoulder in the first practice and could need some time to heal before he gets back to practice. That could hurt his chances and help somebody like a Ben Bass or Caesar Rayford. Coleman could be the latest of the Cowboys' undrafted finds. He is active but before we get too carried away we need to see how he performs against better than backup competition.

LINEBACKER (7)

I don't like carrying seven linebackers right now, but I'm sticking with it. McClain took second-team middle linebacker snaps, which was surprising considering he was not with the club in the offseason. The Cowboys will give him every chance to show his potential and are hoping the talent is there. He made a tackle on his first snap in team run drills, shaking off a block and bringing down the runner.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr has not been at camp as he tended to his ailing mother. Claiborne came out as fired up as he had been in his first two years on the first practice. He knows the importance of the season. For now I've got five corners, but I'm going to look to see if it is worth keeping a sixth. Tyler Patmon and B.W. Webb would be in that mix.

SAFETY (5)

Dixon gets the final spot, but he would be out if I do go with six corners for the next projection. And he also needs to watch undrafted rookie Ryan Smith. He's splitting time on the third team with Dixon right now. This spot won't shake out until the preseason ends.

SPECIALISTS (3)


No change here. Not sure there will be a change all camp.

Cowboys to be patient with Murray contract

July, 27, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys have let it be known they want to sign Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith to long-term contract extensions. They don’t have the same sense of urgency with running back DeMarco Murray.

Murray is entering the final year of his rookie contract, just like Bryant. The Cowboys picked up the fifth-year option on Smith’s deal in the spring for 2015 but want to lock him up before they get to next season.

Just because the Cowboys do not anticipate an extension for Murray does not mean he is not part of their future.

“I think we’ll see kind of how his year goes and go from there,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “He’s the type of player we want on our team. He’s young and he had a good year last year. But I’d imagine that he’s going to have a great year too and I hope he does.”

Murray ran for 1,121 yards last year and was added to the Pro Bowl despite missing two games. He has yet to play a full season, but he is critical to the Cowboys’ success. The Cowboys are 11-0 when he receives 20 or more carries.

But he plays a position that has been de-valued in recent years. The largest free-agent contract signed in the offseason averaged $3.5 million a year. The last time the Cowboys paid a running back big money was Marion Barber, who signed a seven-year deal worth $45 million that included $16 million guaranteed in 2008. The Cowboys cut Barber after the 2010 season.

Jones said contract decisions are made on individual basis, not on how good or bad a deal worked with a player at the same position in the past.

“Running backs, that’s kind of evolved in this league,” Jones said. “It’s tough for running backs to have a lot of longevity. But there’s ones that do. DeMarco is a leader. He takes good care of himself. I think his best football is ahead of him.”

Cowboys Camp Report: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Dallas Cowboys training camp:
  • Tony Romo averaged just 7.2 yards per attempt in 2013 as the field shrunk on the Cowboys. Through two padded practices Romo is looking to get the ball down the field. On the first play of team drills he connected with Dez Bryant on a deep ball after Bryant left cornerback Morris Claiborne. In seven-on-seven drills he led Terrance Williams for a big gain with Williams out-jumping B.W. Webb for the completion and getting his feet down before he went out of bounds. In team and seven-on-seven drills Romo completed 13-of-17 passes. He was intercepted for the first time in camp when Devin Street slipped, allowing Sterling Moore to make the pick.
  • DeMarco Murray showed a burst of speed on a run up the middle of the Cowboys’ nickel defense that had running backs coach Gary Brown oohing and aahing. After seeing the hole open in front of him, Murray accelerated through the line untouched and then received some down-field blocking help from Bryant. Later in third-down drills, Murray caught a Romo dump off for a first down working his way through cornerback Orlando Scandrick for the pickup.
  • Injuries are always a worry early in camp and the Cowboys lost Matt Johnson (hamstring), Terrell McClain (ankle) and DeVonte Holloman (dehydration), and it could have been worse. Safety Jeff Heath jammed his right wrist while attempting to tackle Lance Dunbar on a run. He was examined by the medical staff and was able to return after a tape job. Bruce Carter left briefly during one-on-one drills with a sore knee but he returned and said after practice he was OK.
  • There could be something of a rotation in the battle to be the Cowboys’ third running back. Ryan Williams took the third-team snaps over Joseph Randle, who took that work on Saturday. Williams showed great patience on a screen pass from Brandon Weeden in third-down drills. He nearly came up with a Dustin Vaughan throw on a wheel route after beating linebacker Dontavis Sapp down the sideline, but the pass was just out of his diving reach.
  • Dan Bailey made five of six kicks in his first live work of training camp. Bailey made kicks from 34, 38, 41, 44 and 48 yards. His one miss came from 51 yards in which he hooked the ball left. An interesting note with the first-team field goal protection team: center Travis Frederick lined up as the left wing. Normally that position has been reserved for a tight end or defensive lineman. And for some reason the Cowboys keep Witten on the field goal unit as the right wing.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Head coach Jason Garrett pretty much guaranteed an elite performance by Dez Bryant during Sunday’s practice.

Bryant
Bryant
Garrett made sure to get under Bryant’s skin the previous afternoon, throwing another log on the Pro Bowl receiver’s competitive fire. The head coach loudly provided some intentionally inaccurate color commentary after Bryant got wide open but was overthrown on a pass during 1-on-1s, barking that cornerback Orlando Scandrick had kicked Bryant’s butt on the rep.

“I had my reasons for saying what I said, and so, Dez Bryant’s going to be ready to go today,” Garrett said before Sunday’s practice. “Trust me.”

Not exactly a bold prediction, but it proved to be true.

Bryant actually got off to a bit of a slow start in 1-on-1s, as cornerback Morris Claiborne had pass breakups on their first two reps. Claiborne would have been called for holding on a curl route, but he made a nice play to bat away a deep ball on the second throw.

That didn’t sit well with Bryant, who responded in spectacular fashion, torching Claiborne on a slant-and-go the next time they matched up.

Claiborne was toast as soon as Bryant made the double move, having bitten hard on the slant. Claiborne was at least 15 yards behind Bryant as he caught the pass and sprinted into the end zone.

In team drills later in the practice, Bryant put another highlight on the reel at Claiborne’s expense, burning him on a go route for what would have been another long score.

Claiborne had taunted Terrance Williams during 1-on-1 drills Saturday, shouting that they better bring Bryant over to compete against him.

Be careful what you wish for, especially after the head coach has been talking trash to the No. 1 receiver.

Matt Johnson hurts hamstring again

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Once again Matt Johnson was unable to make it through a training camp practice because of a hamstring injury.

Johnson has been beset by hamstring injuries since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. He missed most of his rookie season with recurring hamstring injuries. He missed most of the offseason program in the spring with a hamstring injury. He has yet to play in a regular-season game.

“You hate it for Matt,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “He’s done everything right. ... I’m sure no one is more frustrated than him.”

The severity of the injury is not known. He got hurt in team pursuit drills in the early part of Sunday’s practice. He immediately grabbed his leg and was checked out by an athletic trainer before heading inside for the day.

Johnson wasn’t the only injury. Defensive tackle Terrell McClain left early with an ankle sprain. DeVonte Holloman was having dehydration issues. Linebacker Will Smith (groin) and offensive lineman Darius Morris (hamstring) did not practice.

The Cowboys have their first off-day of training camp on Monday.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 4 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) It was one play, just about as meaningless as can be, considering it was the first day players wore pads, but Morris Claiborne wanted to establish a tone.

Claiborne
First, he locked down Terrance Williams, forcing an incompletion. Then he jumped up and started woofing. Eventually, the players were separated.

It was the first time since he arrived that we’ve seen that type of feistiness from Claiborne.

Hey, whatever it takes. He’s been the epitome of a bust his first two seasons, allowing 70 completions in 117 attempts with only two interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

For a guy who was supposed to be the best defensive player in the 2012 draft that’s not nearly good enough.

Jason Garrett said he’s improved significantly during the offseason. It’s time for him to take it to the field.

Better secondary play is the fastest way for this defense to improve, since their pass rush remains suspect.

Smith
2) The Cowboys are moving closer to a long-term agreement with left tackle Tyron Smith, who’s going to deserve every nickel of whatever he gets.

Smith is man-handling the defensive ends on this roster, the way DeMarcus Ware used to destroy tackles, including Smith, during training camp.

Smith is only 23, so don’t be surprised if he signs a deal that’s nine or 10 years long. When he does, it’ll be interesting to see if Dez Bryant can continue to ignore his contract situation and play well.

After all, the club has already taken care of Sean Lee, who was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Bryant was the Cowboys’ first-round pick.

3) Kyle Wilber spent his first two seasons bouncing around between outside linebacker in the 3-4 and weakside defensive end.

Injuries last season created some playing time for him at strongside linebacker and the Cowboys suddenly found a player.

Wilber has the strength to hold the edge and consistently force running plays inside, in part because of the time he spent at defensive end, and he made several important plays for the Cowboys last season.

He finished the season with 44 tackles and two sacks, while starting six games.

34

The Cowboys were tied for 25th in the NFL with 34 sacks. Only five teams had fewer.

Their sack total was 10 fewer than the average 2013 playoff team.

Teams that don’t get many sacks often say they’re overrated. Well, they’re not. Pressure is good, but sacks are a momentum-changer and usually result in a punt at the end of the drive.

You must rush the passer and put quarterbacks under duress, or it’s hard to force turnovers and win games.

The Cowboys are counting on defensive Henry Melton, who missed the last 13 games with a torn ACL, to provide pressure up the middle. He has been a terrific pass-rusher, and they need him to command double teams to help other players get to the quarterback.

Player to Watch: Gavin Escobar

The Cowboys wasted Escobar’s rookie season. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson.

It’s dumb to ask a tight end who should excel at working from the slot and creating mismatches with his size to be the same type of player as Jason Witten.

Escobar can help this team by making plays downfield and giving Tony Romo one more vertical threat.

He caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He can be a playmaker, if Scott Linehan gives him a chance to do it. If not, he’ll be a wasted pick.

Rod Marinelli's love of football

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
3:00
PM ET
OXNARD, Calif. -- Rod Marinelli never had a backup plan. He was going to be a football coach.

The Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator is in his 19th season in the NFL and second with the Cowboys. He has been coaching since 1973.

What would he be doing if he wasn’t on an Oxnard, California, practice field at the end of July?

“Doing this,” Marinelli said. “Free some place.”

He turned 65 on July 13 and he inherits a defense that was last in the league. Others might blink and shy away from the opportunity, but Marinelli embraces it. He wants his players to embrace it. The last time he was a defensive coordinator he had Pro Bowlers like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers, Tim Jennings and Henry Melton.

With the Cowboys the only Pro Bowler he has is Melton, who is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. There are questions at every level of the Cowboys’ defense, but nothing can take away the juice he gets from being on a field.

“I love practice,” Marinelli said. “I love the physicalness. I love the fundamentals. I love the competition. And you like to see men grow and develop. That’s as much as anything. And then the schematics of it. It’s fun. I mean it’s all good. It’s a great sport.”

He might walk slowly but it does not hinder the energy he has in practice or the feelings his players have for him. Marinelli was one of the main reasons Melton chose to sign as a free agent with the Cowboys.

“He’s got the credentials and he actually cares for you, not just as a football player but as a man,” Melton said. “Even in the offseason, not necessarily call or text about football, it would be about family. He actually cares about your success.”

Marinelli said he coaches the man first, the player second.

“Responsibility, accountability, all those things first,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli and the Cowboys hope that approach leads to results. He is in the final year of his deal with the Cowboys, but he knows he will be coaching somewhere in 2015 if he is not back with the Cowboys. Retirement is not in his mind.

“I don’t think that far,” Marinelli said. “I don’t. I like it. I can’t tell you, but I just like it. I can’t see being home, my gosh.”

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