Dallas Cowboys: 2014 Young Guns

Young Guns: Travis Frederick

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
1:00
PM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

There was some concern regarding rookie center Travis Frederick's selection in the first round. Should the Cowboys have drafted a defensive lineman instead? Should the Cowboys have picked up more in the trade with the San Francisco 49ers?

Frederick
Regardless of what you thought about the trade, the Cowboys got a quality player in Frederick.

He allowed just 3.5 sacks and was penalized three times for 20 yards in 2013. With the Cowboys looking to solidify the middle of the offensive line, Frederick, along with Ronald Leary (left guard) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (right guard), allowed quarterback Tony Romo to move up in the pocket with confidence and pushed the run game along as running back DeMarco Murray rushed for over 1,000 yards and earned a Pro Bowl berth.

Frederick's ability to make the line calls proved the Cowboys had a smart and physical presence in the interior of the line. He's somebody the team can rely on for possibly years to come.

Now we're not putting Frederick in the Pro Bowl or anything like that; he was pushed around some by pass-rushers. Very few offensive linemen have perfect games, but the rookie held his own.

Getting to the second level with a one-cut run scheme is important because once a running back makes his move he has to have blockers taking on linebackers and getting a good push to advance the run game.

This was something Frederick did on a consistent basis in 2013 and the Cowboys are hoping it continues in 2014.

Young Guns: Tyron Smith

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
9:30
AM ET
Since 2010 the Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had an opportunity to pick up first- and second-round picks from the Jacksonville Jaguars for the ninth overall selection, but chose to ignore the offer and draft Tyron Smith.

Smith
Smith has started all but one game in his career and will play in his first Pro Bowl on Sunday. He has made the successful jump from right tackle to left tackle, and could be the next great Cowboys’ offensive lineman.

Oh, and he does not turn 24 until December.

After a so-so 2012 season in which he made the move from right tackle to protecting Romo's blindside, Smith blossomed in 2013. He was penalized only eight times this past season, and just once in the second half. In 2012 he had 11 penalties. The Cowboys averaged 5.28 yards per carry when running to their left tackle.

In pass protection, he allowed one sack.

Smith has the athleticism to handle the outside pass-rushers and strong hands to take on more powerful players. The hiccups he had as a rookie and in his second year were much less frequent in his third season.

Head coach Jason Garrett also sees a player moving into a leadership role with the team. After the team cut Jay Ratliff, Garrett moved Smith to one of the lockers by an entrance, across from Witten. The other players afforded such lockers are Romo, Sean Lee, Ware and Free.

In Smith and Travis Frederick, their first-round pick in 2012, the Cowboys have the foundation pieces to their offensive line for years to come.

In Smith, they might have the best left tackle in football for years to come.

Young Guns

Barry Church
DeMarco Murray
Sean Lee
Dez Bryant
Terrance Williams
Bruce Carter
Morris Claiborne
Gavin Escobar

Young Guns: Gavin Escobar

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
2:00
PM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Escobar
If you want to talk about a disappointing draft pick from the Dallas Cowboys' 2013 class, this was it. Gavin Escobar was drafted in the second round and presented as someone the Cowboys would pair with Witten in a two-tight end set.

Escobar's problems were he wasn't strong enough, he had a thin frame on his 249 pounds, so blocking pass-rushers was difficult. Maybe more importantly, the Cowboys didn't employ the two-tight-end set with Escobar. Instead, James Hanna was used more than Escobar in the two-tight-end set.

Escobar finished the season with nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. But his touchdown reception against the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular-season finale where he flipped into the end zone, showed the Cowboys they had an athletic player who needed a chance to participate.

The Cowboys are not preparing for the end of Witten's career, but at some point the veteran will retire, and this is where Escobar comes in. Escobar has to get more playing time in 2014, and become that pass-catching tight end who plays consistently, to justify the second-round selection.

A lot of this isn't Escobar's fault, the team moved down in the draft, bypassing the best tight end -- Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert (drafted by Cincinnati) -- to get a quality center who might have been grabbed in the second round. Escobar might have fallen to the third round, and maybe the Cowboys could have grabbed a defensive lineman, something the team desperately needed, in the second round.

But Escobar, 22, is a young player who has a future, if the Cowboys use him.

Young Guns: Morris Claiborne

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
9:30
AM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

IRVING, Texas -- When the Cowboys traded up to the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft in 2012 for Morris Claiborne, they thought they were getting a player similar to another LSU cornerback, Patrick Peterson.

The Cowboys had Claiborne as their highest-rated cornerback since Deion Sanders.

After two seasons they are still waiting for Claiborne to play to the potential they thought he had.

He has just two interceptions in two seasons. Despite the coaches’ claims of his ability to make plays on the ball, he just simply hasn’t done that. In fact, he has gotten turned around more when in position to make a play.

Injuries hampered Claiborne in 2013. He missed six games because of a hurt hamstring. He also had to deal with personal tragedy with the death of his father.

The Cowboys need Claiborne to be the physical, playmaking cornerback for this defense to succeed. He hinted early last season that the scheme was not a good fit for him. The Cowboys drafted him with the idea of playing man-to-man, but they played more zone early in the season, playing their cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage.

The hope was that it would lead to more plays, but it didn’t happen for Claiborne or Brandon Carr. Only Orlando Scandrick played at a better level in 2013 from the previous year.

It is time for Claiborne to show he has all of the attributes to be a top-flight cornerback. While he said confidence was not an issue, he was a step late too many times. Perhaps that was due to a lack of faith in his leg. Perhaps it was a lack of faith in the scheme.

This is a critical year for Claiborne. He has to commit himself to the offseason program and get stronger and faster. He has to commit himself to his craft instead of relying on his natural gifts.

It’s too early to give a final grade on the Cowboys’ decision to move up to draft Claiborne, but it’s not trending well so far.

Young Guns

Barry Church
DeMarco Murray
Sean Lee
Dez Bryant
Terrance Williams
Bruce Carter

Young Guns: Bruce Carter

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:00
PM ET
Since 2010, the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Carter
Carter
The Cowboys had high expectations for weakside linebacker Bruce Carter. He was going to excel in the new 4-3 scheme of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Cowboys wanted to use Carter's speed and athletic ability to make plays on the ball.

But Carter struggled badly. He was benched in the second half of the San Diego loss, lost his starting job to veteran Ernie Sims and has raised questions about his future.

Carter did finish the season third on the team with 96 tackles and did record five tackles for loss, but his stock is clearly down at Valley Ranch. If there was one thing the Cowboys thought they had in 2013, it was two young linebackers in Sean Lee and Carter to make plays.

Carter didn't perform well in pass coverage and voiced his displeasure at getting benched. He didn't make a scene but just wanted an explanation as to what was going on with his status on the field.

The Cowboys didn't need to explain what the problems was. It was evident. Carter just didn't make the plays necessary to stay on the field. He enters a contract year needing to bounce back in order for the Cowboys to think he has a future with the team.

Of course, the Cowboys can tender him after 2014, but that would be considered a disappointment considering how much they thought the second-round pick from North Carolina was supposed to ascend as one of their better young players.

Carter's future is in doubt. He's not a bust, because the Cowboys saw how well he played toward the end of the 2012 season with Lee out due to an injury.

The skill set the Cowboys have seen in Carter is there, he just needs to be consistent.

Young Guns: Terrance Williams

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
9:30
AM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

IRVING, Texas -- The key to the Cowboys’ first-round trade down in last year’s NFL draft was picking up wide receiver Terrance Williams in the third round.

Williams
Williams
With Travis Frederick in the first round and Williams picked two rounds later, the Cowboys found two core players in their first three picks.

Williams caught 44 passes for 736 yards and had five touchdowns. His playing time increased with Miles Austin’s absence with a hamstring injury and the game was not too big for him. The only rookie receivers with more catches in team history than Williams are Bob Hayes (47) and Dez Bryant (45). The only rookie receivers with more yards in team history than Williams are Hayes (1,023) and Mike Sherrard (744). He had a touchdown catch in four straight games early in the season, which was the longest by a rookie in team history.

Williams was able to make the big play -- touchdowns of 82 and 60 yards -- and the intermediate plays – a nice sideline grab late vs. the Washington Redskins comes to mind. He and Tony Romo took some time to gel, but they developed a feel over the course of the season that paid off with 51-yard catch on the game-winning drive against the Redskins when things broke down.

The coaches were impressed with his work ethic throughout the season. They felt like he rarely made the same mistake twice. He was also a solid blocker. He even showed some toughness by fighting through a hamstring injury the last two games.

With Austin’s status in doubt because of a salary-cap crunch, the Cowboys know they have Williams ready to assume the No. 2 role behind Bryant. The next jump he has to make is handling the pressures of being the guy opposite Bryant on a full-time basis.

Young Guns

Barry Church
DeMarco Murray
Sean Lee
Dez Bryant

Young Guns: Dez Bryant

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
2:00
PM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Dez Bryant emerged as the Cowboys' No. 1 offensive threat in 2013. He finished the season leading the team in catches (93), receiving yards (1,233) and first downs earned (62).

Bryant
Bryant
For his efforts, Bryant was named to his first Pro Bowl, and to think his numbers would have been better if not for a one-catch performance at New Orleans, three-catch day at Detroit and a few games where he wasn't targeted on several possessions.

Bryant also caught a touchdown pass in his last five games.

The biggest issues for Bryant going forward is how he deals with different types of coverages and how he handles his emotions.

Quarterback Tony Romo isn't one to just target a receiver for the sake of doing that -- he throws the ball to the open man -- hence the impressive 44-catch season by rookie Terrance Williams and the 39-catch effort by second-year receiver Cole Beasley in 2013. However, there are times when the Cowboys have to find ways to get Bryant open regardless of the coverage.

Moving him around the line of scrimmage is key and you can't use the excuse that Bryant doesn't know the offense, because he has a command of it, not like Miles Austin, but he's trustworthy enough for Romo to make adjustments with him on the fly.

Playcaller Bill Callahan has to get Bryant going early because he can have such a big impact in the game. But when it doesn't happen, this is where things go haywire.

Bryant's outburst in the loss at Detroit made national news, something he wasn't trying to do, and while it later was revealed Bryant was being a positive light on the sideline, the perception was he was out of control. Bryant is an emotional player and one of the tough guys on this team. Bryant, however, has to be mindful of how he acts on the sideline.

He's everything the Cowboys need and his future says he'll get a contract extension because at his age, 25, he's somebody this team needs to move forward.

Young Guns: Sean Lee

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
9:30
AM ET
Since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys believe Sean Lee is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL and paid him like one last summer when he signed a six-year, $42 million extension.

The deal could be worth as much as $51 million provided Lee is healthy.

Health is the only question mark for Lee. He has not played a full season since the Cowboys took him in the second round of the 2010 draft. He missed five games in 2013 because of hamstring and neck injuries. The sprained ligament in his neck requires rest, not surgery, which is the good news.

Despite missing five games, Lee finished second on the defense with 123 tackles. His four interceptions led the Cowboys, which is also a sign of how poorly the secondary played. He also had six pass deflections, three quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery.

He is the quarterback of the defense. He is also the brains and the heart; the defensive version of Witten in a way. Lee had a run of seven straight games with double-digit tackles, including a season-high 21 against the San Diego Chargers. One of his four interceptions was good for a 52-yard return for a touchdown. He finished with 174 return yards on his picks.

Lee has a nose for the ball. Unfortunately injuries have a nose for him. In order for Lee to be considered one of the best linebackers in football, he has to play a full season. Until then, the talk is only about his potential.

If he can play in 80 percent of the snaps in 2014, he will earn an extra $1.5 million on his 2015 base salary that is already guaranteed. From 2016 to 2019, he can earn an extra $7.5 million toward his base salaries with 80 percent playing time in the previous years.

There is incentive for Lee to stay healthy. The Cowboys will gladly pay him, but they know they need him on the field if the defense is ever to become a playoff-level unit.

Young Guns
DeMarco Murray
Barry Church

Young Guns: Barry Church

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
1:00
PM ET
Since 2010, the Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Player: Barry Church
Position: Safety
Age: 25

Outlook: Church is coming off a solid 2013 season when he led the team in tackles with 135 and finished tied for fourth with six pass breakups. Church was a steady presence in the backend while the team struggled to find a consistent performer at free safety. Will Allen, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath started at free safety this season, while Church didn't miss a single start. Church's season started off well when he forced a fumble and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown in the season-opening victory against the New York Giants. Church displayed abilities to become a solid run defender and was a reliable safety against the pass. There were times he was inconsistent. In a Week 3 victory over St. Louis, Church had a career-high three pass breakups. The Cowboys' future with Church is secure because he's signed through 2016.

Young Guns: DeMarco Murray

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
9:30
AM ET
Since 2010, the Dallas Cowboys have done a better job of finding talent. As a core of Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer and Doug Free inch closer to the end of their careers, the Cowboys need a group of young players heading into their primes to take ownership of the team. Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer analyze those players from the class of 2010 on.

Player: DeMarco Murray
Position: Running back
Age: 25

Outlook: When Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith are the measuring sticks of every Cowboys running back, then it is hard to measure up, but Murray had his best season in 2013. He became the first Dallas runner to top 1,000 yards in a season with 1,124 on 217 carries while playing in only 14 games because of a knee injury. He has yet to play in a full season in his first three years but his importance to the offense cannot be understated. Murray's 5.2 yards per carry was most by any runner with more than 200 carries on the season. He had three 100-yard games on the season and had 696 yards in the final eight games of the year. And he could have had more. Jason Garrett felt there were times Murray left yards on the field by not finishing his runs. Murray was also productive in the passing game, catching a career-high 53 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown.

Murray is signed through 2014. The Cowboys will have a decision to make on his long-term future. The last time they signed a running back to a megadeal, they were burned by Marion Barber. However, Barber’s running style might have curtailed his career. Murray is more elusive than Barber, but the Cowboys will have to determine if a running back is worth big money or if they can find a runner to do all that Murray does and all that he means.

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