Dallas Cowboys: NFC East

Jason Witten not worried about his numbers

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten received a game ball for Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, along with the rest of the offensive line that paved the way for the Dallas Cowboys to pound away for 220 rushing yards.

Witten
 Witten has only six catches for 46 yards in two games, but the franchise’s all-time leading receiver isn’t sweating his individual statistics.

“Our focus is trying to create that identity of a running football team,” Witten said.

At some point, the 32-year-old Witten will slow down, but it’d be silly to point to his lack of personal production in the first two games as the sign of a steep decline. He had only eight catches in the first three weeks of the 2012 season -- and some uncharacteristic drops after missing a month of practice after a big hit by then-Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain lacerated his spleen in the preseason opener. He ended up setting the NFL record for receptions by a tight end with 110 that season.

Witten, whose 885 career receptions are the second most by a tight end in NFL history, is willing to sacrifice catches as part of the Cowboys’ newfound commitment to the run. He also recognizes defenses will pay less attention to the nine-time Pro Bowl tight end if DeMarco Murray continues to rack up rushing yards, and play-action, in particular, should lead to some big-play opportunities.

“I think for all of us our numbers will come and opportunities will come,” Witten said. “You have less opportunities because of the way you run the football. I think all of us are committed to that and understand it and do whatever we have to do to help out.”

DeMarco Murray among NFL's best backs?

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
1:40
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IRVING, Texas -- Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy carried on a long-distance argument this summer over their claims as the NFL’s best running back.

Murray
 DeMarco Murray’s name doesn’t come up in those conversations. And he doesn’t care about where people think he falls on the pecking order of running backs in the league.

“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Murray said. “I never have, never will. I know what I can do. I have a lot of confidence in myself and those are some great running backs, but I definitely think I can handle a little bit of everything. So it’s something I don’t really get caught up in too much.”

Murray, who was selected for his first Pro Bowl after last season, doesn’t have enough of a track record to be considered elite at this point. But, if the past eight games are an indication, the 26-year-old Murray could be in that class soon.

In that span, Murray has rushed for 780 yards and seven touchdowns on 144 carries.

McCoy and San Diego’s Ryan Mathews are the only backs with more rushing yards after the midway point of last season. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is the only back with more rushing touchdowns. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and the Jets’ Chris Ivory are the only ones with a higher yards-per-carries average and at least 90 attempts.

Murray, who has had durability issues, must prove he can stay healthy and produce at that level consistently. But he’s beginning to build a case that he’s among the league’s best backs.

Cowboys have to run on the road

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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IRVING, Texas -- The San Francisco 49ers’ front seven might not have had 100 percent attendance in the season opener, but the Dallas Cowboys were able to run the ball against one of the better defenses in the NFL over the past few seasons.

Now they have to take that running game on the road Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

“I think anytime you can run the ball on the road, it helps everything,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “Hopefully, we’re able to do that.”

By everything, Romo means everything.

Murray
 If DeMarco Murray can run the ball, then that should open up passing lanes for Romo. If Murray can run the ball, then that should slow down the Titans’ attacking defense because they will have to honor the run. If Murray can run the ball, then that should keep the Cowboys in many manageable third-down situations.

Center Travis Frederick has another reason.

“Because you’re always facing an extra opponent in the away crowd,” he said. “What you want to do is go out and kind of quiet it early on and set the tempo. I think the running game is a good way in even things out and really getting over that first swell of emotion. Once things calm down, things open up a little bit better.”

The Cowboys ran for 754 yards away from home in 2013 and 750 yards at home. They were much more willing to stick with the running game away from AT&T Stadium as well. In five of the eight road games, the Cowboys had at least 20 carries five times. They had only three such games at home.

The Cowboys closed last season with three straight games with at least 20 carries away from home and won two of those games.

Of Murray’s eight 100-yard games in his career, only two of them have come on the road. He had 131 yards on 20 carries in the 2012 season-opening win against the New York Giants. He had 148 yards on 18 carries in a Week 14 loss to the Chicago Bears last season. Murray had 118 yards on 22 carries against San Francisco, but he has not posted back-to-back 100-yard games since his rookie season.

Reaching the century mark against the Titans might be difficult. Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles led the AFC in rushing in 2013 with 1,287 yards but was held to 19 yards on seven carries last week.

“They do a good job with a combination of things,” Frederick said. “They play multiple fronts. They’re going to give us different looks and a couple different pressures they want to use to stop the run. And they’ve got good personnel, a really good front seven that’s fast and going to flow to the ball quickly. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

Too many mistakes for $109M LT Smith

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
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IRVING, Texas -- This can’t be how Tyron Smith wanted to start after joining the NFL’s exclusive $100 million club.

Smith
 The Pro Bowl left tackle’s stat line from Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers: two sacks allowed, two penalties, no comment.

That’s not exactly a case of the Dallas Cowboys getting their money’s worth after giving Smith the biggest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history, a deal worth about $109 million over the next 10 seasons.

In fairness to Smith, the first sack officially goes on his ledger but wasn’t his fault. Tony Romo, the $108 million quarterback, deserves the blame on that for foolishly opting not to hand the ball to DeMarco Murray on a packaged play on second-and-1 from the San Francisco 2 and not throwing the ball away when he saw the receiver double-covered.

A false start before the first snap of the season, a legitimate sack allowed and a personal foul for leg whipping still represent a disappointing performance for an elite left tackle, although head coach Jason Garrett gushed about Smith anyway.

“Tyron did some really good things in the game,” Garrett said. “He was a dominant blocker both in the run game and the pass game. He had a false start and he had a leg-whip penalty that we’re going to send into the league. I don’t think it was done intentionally by any means. So he had some of those negative plays. He gave up a sack. But for the most part, he did a really good job in this game.”

The standard should be higher for the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history.

Garrett: Don't force ball to Dez Bryant

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
11:15
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IRVING, Texas -- Common sense dictates that the Dallas Cowboys want to get Dez Bryant the ball a bunch.

Bryant
Bryant
 Common sense also dictates that Tony Romo shouldn’t throw Bryant the ball when he has two or three defenders all over him.

That happened twice Sunday. Romo was picked off both times.

“I think it’s pretty clear -- you don’t force the ball to people,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Dez is a great player, but [Jason Witten is] a great player too, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Devin Street, Dwayne Harris, all those guys are really, really good football players, who, if given an opportunity, are going to come through for us.

“Tony understands that. Tony’s typically struck a really nice balance about trying to give these guys a chance and understanding how to read things out and throwing the ball to the right guy. In each of those cases, he probably was too aggressive throwing to Dez, and those plays hurt us, obviously.”

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Romo targeted Bryant only four other times in the season-opening loss. The Pro Bowl receiver caught those four passes for 55 yards.

The 49ers clearly made containing Bryant one of the primary focuses of their defensive game plan. That’s not exactly a revolutionary concept.

Every team the Cowboys play will pay a ton of attention to Bryant. It’s on Romo and the Cowboys’ offensive coaching staff to figure out ways how to still get Bryant the ball without making ridiculously risky throws.

“It’s what happens every week in the NFL,” Garrett said. “Dez Bryant, if you look at his whole body of work throughout his career, he’s gotten doubled throughout most games every game he’s every play. The same thing with Jason Witten. These guys are really good players. Week in and week out they find ways, we’ve tried to find ways to give them opportunities.”

The Cowboys failed Sunday and paid heavily when Romo forced the issue.

If available, Dallas would call up Scandrick

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
12:55
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IRVING, Texas -- With the NFL and NFL Players Association working on a revamped drug policy that could be put in place quickly, the Dallas Cowboys could benefit with the potential earlier-than-expected return of cornerback Orlando Scandrick if the penalties are changed.

Scandrick
 Scandrick was suspended the first four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy last month after testing positive for MDMA, according to sources. The drug was cut with an amphetamine, which moved Scandrick’s violation from the substance-abuse policy to the PED policy, requiring the four-game ban. He would not have been suspended under the substance-abuse policy.

If the drug policy is changed, the question is whether the sides would allow recently suspended players, like Scandrick and Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, to play immediately. When the league implemented a new domestic violence policy recently, the two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was not increased to six.

The Cowboys would activate Scandrick to the roster if he is allowed to play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. His suspension started after the final cuts, and he is scheduled to return Sept. 29. The Cowboys are not allowed to have contact with Scandrick, per league rules, but he said he would work out twice a day on his own with a personal trainer in Los Angeles.

Scandrick has missed four days of practice, but the Cowboys started their game planning for the Niners in training camp.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas Friday the possibility of Scandrick returning was news to him.

“I’m not planning on it, let’s put it like that,” Jones said. “Just on first blush, just from what you just said, the quicker we can get him back, the better our team would be because he arguably did have certainly defensively, and in the secondary, a great training camp. I really admired the way that he really kept competing and kept preparing himself for the season even though he knew he was going to be out for the four games. No individual, no person would deserve it more if he could get back early.”

Cowboys won't sleep on 49ers defense

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
2:30
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IRVING, Texas -- Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman have instant name recognition with even casual NFL fans. They’ve been superstars on one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses the past few years.

Who the heck are Dan Skuta and Michael Wilhoite?

The short answer is that Skuta and Wilhoite are the guys expected to replace Smith (suspended) and Bowman (physically unable to perform list) in the San Francisco 49ers’ starting lineup for Sunday’s season opener at AT&T Stadium. But good luck finding anyone at Valley Ranch who will admit that the Dallas Cowboys find comfort in the drop-off from Pro Bowlers to backups.

“They’re good football players,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said when asked what he knows about Skuta and Wilhoite. “Each of those guys you can tell loves to play football. They’re physical players, and they’ve stepped into those roles they’ve been asked to step into. It doesn’t seem like they’ve skipped a beat at all on defense.”

How could the San Francisco defense not skip a beat?

Smith, the talented but troubled outside linebacker who is suspended for the first nine games of the season, has a chance to be one of the premier pass rushers in NFL history. He has 42 sacks in 43 career games. Skuta, a five-year veteran, has a grand total of a half sack in his career.

Bowman, who is recovering from the serious knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game, makes all kinds of plays. He’s racked up nine sacks, seven forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions while making the Pro Bowl the past three seasons. Wilhoite has zeroes across the board in each of those categories for his three-year career.

“Regardless of who is on the field for the 49ers, they are going to come to play,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “You can tell that they play with a mentality.”

It’s not as if San Francisco lacks talent on defense even with two Pro Bowlers watching from home. Garrett still says the 49ers might have the best front seven in the league.

Patrick Willis is as good as any inside linebacker in the league. Defensive end Justin Smith has made five straight Pro Bowls. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks played in the Pro Bowl last season.

Quarterback Tony Romo says the Cowboys might not have a better test all season, a statement he’ll surely revise before their trip to Seattle. The point is the Cowboys won’t be caught sleeping on a defense that has been dominant just because two of its best players won’t make the trip.

“Look, I got so much respect for them,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I mean obviously they got some really good players that are out, there’s no denying that, but they know what they are. They’re tough. They’re physical. They play downhill. They tackle well. They’re always in the right position, good technique.

“Just everything you want, they do it. Stop the run, they play good coverage. They get pressure on the quarterback. We’ve got to just match that intensity, and we know it’s going to be a tough physical game. We’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity that we have.”

Jerry: Tony Romo will be 'improved player'

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
10:30
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IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones doesn’t just expect Tony Romo to be the same quarterback he was before undergoing his second back surgery in the span of less than a year.

Romo
 Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ owner and general manager, expects Romo to be better than before.

Jones has been consistent in insisting this summer that Romo was completely healthy, even as the Cowboys’ $108-million-man missed several practices throughout training camp, with the team attributing those absences to preventative maintenance. Jones firmly believes that a healthy Romo is primed for his best season at the age of 34 because of the blossoming relationship with new offensive play-caller Scott Linehan.

“I also think you’ll see an improved player relative to the experience and the time that he’s spent with his new coordinator,” Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan after being asked about Romo’s health. “This is a real successful matchup. I think these guys are going to be pretty effective with the way they work together.

“Tony basically said, ‘He’s thinking of it before I do,’ and that’s something because Tony has a lot of thoughts as he plays a ballgame. He stays out ahead of it pretty good, so we’re going to be pretty pleased with that combination.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a half-joking manner, Jerry Jones declared this spring that the Dallas Cowboys’ defense would get better because it couldn’t be any worse.

When you rank dead last in the league in total defense, there’s only one way to go, he figured. Of course, it’s completely possible for the Cowboys to have the worst-ranked defense again and give up more yards than last season’s franchise record, but Jones would rather not view the situation that way.

“I think the defense is much improved, much improved,” Jones said after the preseason finale. “Awareness, the player we’re going to ask to do the job, I think we’re much improved from the team that was on the field the last four games when we ended the season. This is a better defense.”

Jones attempts to muster hope for a defense that lost arguably its three best players from last season with linebacker Sean Lee tearing up his knee, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher leaving in free agency and defensive end DeMarcus Ware being released. Plus, Orlando Scandrick will serve a four-game suspension to start the season after performing the best among the Cowboys cornerbacks last season.

The Cowboys certainly upgraded at defensive coordinator by demoting Monte Kiffin, who the game has clearly passed by and promoting Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys have recent evidence that Marinelli is a quality coordinator from his tenure with the Chicago Bears before coming to Dallas last year.

But Marinelli is no miracle worker. Just look at the Detroit Lions defensive rankings from his tenure as head coach: 28th, 32nd and 32nd in yards and 30th, 32nd and 32nd in scoring.

Marinelli needs playmakers to make his scheme work. Where are they on the Dallas defense?

The reality is this defense is in even worse shape than anticipated when training camp opened. They lost rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who they desperately needed to develop as an edge pass-rushing threat, for several weeks due to a broken foot. Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Terrell McClain didn’t play a down in the preseason due to injuries, with Melton still working to chip off rust after missing the last 13 games last season with a torn ACL. Defensive end George Selvie is dealing wth soreness in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Cornerback Morris Claiborne sat out the entire preseason -- again -- and will need to take pain-killing injections to play with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Scandrick is suspended four games.

“We know our limitations,” Jones said. “We know our scheme better, and we got players [who] can execute. We’ve got better players, healthier players to execute the scheme.”

That's the hope for the Dallas defense. But it’s definitely not the reality as they get ready for the regular season.
MIAMI -- Brandon Carr, who missed the first two weeks of training camp dealing with the death of his mother, made his preseason debut against Miami.

It was an emotional experience.

Carr
 “I had my moment because it was my first time out there without her,” said Carr, “but I know she’s with me, and one of the things she taught me was how to handle adversity and continue to do my job.”

Carr made one tackle and Mike Wallace caught a short comeback route in front of him. Carr said he didn’t know if he would play Thursday against Denver.

The Cowboys need him to start the season strong because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy and Morris Claiborne has battled knee and shoulder injuries. Th Cowboys don't know if Claiborne will be ready to play against San Francisco, although they're hopeful

“It felt good to get out there and play at a game tempo, which is a lot faster than practice tempo,” Carr said. “The organization did a great job of letting me have the time I needed with my family and keeping my psyche right.

“But I told them once I came back and punched that clock, I would be ready to go.”

Jason Garrett: Cowboys are ready

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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MIAMI -- The next time Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and most of the projected starters on defense are on the field will be in the Dallas Cowboys’ regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 7.

The Cowboys have not played their starters in the final preseason game since 2006, and there is no reason for Jason Garrett to risk his regulars Thursday against the Denver Broncos at AT&T Stadium.

Despite the 0-3 record, Garrett pronounced the Cowboys ready, but in part because they have no choice but to be ready.

“That’s the nature of it,” Garrett said. “Hopefully, you get better day after day, game after game. You have to improve over the course of the season. One of the things we always preach to our team is the players and teams that improve over the course of the season are the ones that are going to be there at the end. Are we ready? Are we playing at our optimum level right now? Absolutely not. In 31 other cities, if they’re honest, they’ll probably say the same thing. But after three preseason games this is where we are. We go back to work on Monday morning, keep trying to improve our football team and get ready for a great challenge against a team that has advanced to the NFC Championship the last three years.”

The Cowboys will have to reduce the roster to 75 by Tuesday and will have to get to the final 53-man roster by Saturday. There will be plenty of work to be done to fill in roster spots with trades, free-agent signings or waiver-wire pickups.

The Cowboys started some of their game-planning for the Niners while in Oxnard, California, but will kick it up a notch this week and leading into the opener.

“There’s some good things to build on and obviously some things to correct, and we’ll go back to work in practice to do that and get ready for that challenge against the Niners in Week 1,” Garrett said.

Cowboys break ground on new facility

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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FRISCO, Texas -- The Cowboys made it official on Friday afternoon as owner Jerry Jones, along with family members and city officials from Frisco, broke ground on a new practice facility that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2016.

Jones, who was joined by several family members and local government officials that included Frisco mayor Maher Maso, grabbed shovels and dug out some dirt on land covering 20 acres that will hold the Cowboys’ corporate headquarters, practice facilities, indoor football stadium, medical and retail shops.

“Frisco flu, boy we’ve got it,” Jerry Jones said.

“This project speaks for itself,” Maso said. “It’s everything Frisco. There are a lot of words to describe it.”

The city and the Cowboys, along with private investors, are combining on the financing. Jones wouldn’t disclose how much the new project will cost but noted the price has gone up two-and-half to three times more.

“We do know it’s got to be first class,” he said.

The Cowboys are contractually obligated to hold at least a one week’s worth of training camp practices at their new facility.

Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president, said the team hasn’t renewed its contract with Oxnard, California officials for the 2015 season. However, once that’s done, the plan is to have camp for at least two weeks in California and then move it to Frisco for the final two-and-a-half weeks starting in 2016.

“One thing we’ve learned when all these sports pages -- and all this media gets a hold of it -- right in the same paragraph -- almost when you say you haven’t won a Super Bowl in 16 years -- they have to put over and say, ‘But boy do they know how to put a project that equals one and one is three.’,” Jerry Jones said while smiling and admitting he's got the new math figured out. “They know how to do that and Frisco has that, and they will benefit from that and candidly you are.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Dez Bryant caught 11 balls out of the slot last season, which is nine more than he caught in 2012.

The Cowboys want him to catch a lot more from the slot this season.

 The Cowboys can finally expand Bryant's package of plays because they can move him around the formation and put him in the slot, where he doesn't have to deal with bump-and-run coverage.

Jason Garrett said the Cowboys would've liked to have done it in other years, but Bryant wasn't ready. His grasp of all the different positions wasn't good enough.

Now, it is.

There's a significant difference between playing outside receiver and one who is in the slot.

"He's grown as an inside receiver," Garrett said. "The trait and the qualities are different. I've been around a lot of outside receivers who looked like a fish out of water when they moved inside.

"If you picture an X receiver in right formation, there's no one outside of you. You're typically working against a corner by yourself or there's a safety rotating over the top. When you're inside, you have people inside of you and outside of you. You have a linebacker walked out, you have a safety coming down, and you have to have a feel for how to run the routes because there's a lot going on.

"It has a lot to do with your feel as an athlete -- your vision, your instincts and your experience. You have to get in there and do it."

What is Cowboys truth on Johnny Manziel?

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
1:45
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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. -- Cole Beasley wants to prove he’s more than just a slot receiver after feeling like he’s been pigeonholed in his NFL career.

“That comes with being 5-8 and 175 pounds,” Beasley said.

 The Cowboys plan to give Beasley every opportunity to prove he can make plays as an outside receiver. It’s not just about expanding the role of a receiver who emerged as a significant contributor in his second NFL season, catching 39 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. If Beasley can do more than just play in the slot, it opens up possibilities for the Cowboys coaches to create mismatches with their most dangerous weapon.

For the first few seasons of his NFL career, the Cowboys featured Dez Bryant solely as the X receiver, keeping his role as simple as possible. They moved him around some last season, and he’s mentally prepared for much more of that entering his fifth year, often working out of the slot in three-receiver sets with Beasley outside.

“I think there’s really no limit on what we can do with him, and I believe that,” receivers coach Derek Dooley said. “We started moving him around last year, and that’s the only way to continue to get him the production that he needs to get because defensive coordinators are too good. If they know where he’s going to be, it’s going to be a long Sunday.

“So the sky’s the limit. It’s a matter of repping. To your point, moving him into the slot, we’ve got to figure out what Cole’s role is, so that’s what we’re working through right now.”

It’s a challenge that Beasley embraces.

“I’d just say [I am] more confident after being in the last two seasons and getting some time to actually play,” Beasley said. “Knowing I can do it and knowing how good I can be, that really excites me. I wouldn’t say I’m a different player. I’d just say with more opportunities, I’ll get better and better.”

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