Dallas Cowboys: NFL

Twitter Mailbag: Is Dez a Top 3 WR?

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
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We're heading into the weekend and we have our Dallas Cowboys twitter mailbag.

And if you have further questions, please free free to ask at @calvinwatkins.

Enjoy.
@calvinwatkins: Here's my Top 3: Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson. Fitzgerald might have slowed down a bit, but he remains a solid route runner and is one of the best at just snatching the ball. Marshall and Johnson are big targets who demand double teams. Dez Bryant is great at snatching the ball from defenders, and I expect his route running and his abilities to read defenses to improve. You saw last season he was able to make adjustments as the game progressed. He's a physical freak of nature, and he's tough and plays hard through nagging injuries. I expect another big season from Bryant.

@calvinwatkins: Not 4-12. Cowboys are better than this, yet the past three seasons this team has finished 8-8. During that time, the roster got younger thanks to the draft and some free-agent moves, and the talent base is inexperienced and comes with questions. Replacing Sean Lee at middle linebacker and finding a pass-rusher to cause problems in the pocket are the biggest issues for the defense. Tony Romo's recovery from back surgery and whether Scott Linehan can push this offense to greater heights than Bill Callahan did last season, are other storylines. I just don't think the Cowboys have gotten better. Younger? Sure. Better? No. I think this team is 7-9.

@calvinwatkins: The defensive ends are George Selvie and DeMarcus Lawrence. Selvie is coming off a career-high seven sack season and Lawrence is a rookie. It's doubtful, at least in the very beginning of the year, that Selvie and Lawrence will draw double teams. The one-technique tackle is Nick Hayden, but Terrell McClain will push him in training camp. Henry Melton will play the three-technique spot. Anthony Spencer is an interesting player in all of this, as he is recovering from microfracture surgery and could be ready by Week 1. Spencer might be a solid third-down back as the season moves along. If Spencer proves he's better than Selvie, then he could regain his starting job.

@calvinwatkins: The problem with Morris Claiborne is health. He's not a starter, Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr are at the top of the depth chart. When the Cowboys go to three corners, Scandrick moves to the slot and Claiborne takes on the outside receiver, we all know this. Claiborne has to get stronger overall. He wants to play through these health problems but his body won't allow him to. He just doesn't make enough plays on the ball and that drives the defensive coaches crazy. Claiborne has the speed to keep with most receivers and the long arms to defend passes, but he doesn't do it on a regular basis. Claiborne looked pretty good during the offseason work, so let's see if that carries over into training camp.

@calvinwatkins: Sean, that's more of a statement. The starters at safety are J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church. Heath played because of Wilcox's health issues and the coaches just felt more comfortable with him. Wilcox is a better tackler and displays better ball skills than Heath, that's why he's ahead of him on the depth chart now. We'll see how things go when training camp begins next month, but I expect Wilcox and Church, who led the team in tackles last season, to maintain their starting roles.  

Left guard battle is between brothers

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
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The business of the NFL takes over on a regular basis, so when the Cowboys drafted Zack Martin in the first round last month, it meant somebody along the offensive line was going to lose a starting job.

What the team did was pit Ronald Leary against Mackenzy Bernadeau for the starting spot at left guard.

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Leary
Leary started all 16 games at the position last season, while Bernadeau regained the starting spot at right guard after Brian Waters suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle injury. Bernadeau started 11 games for the Cowboys at right guard, but Martin is playing there now, so it's a position switch for the seven-year veteran.

"It's part of the business; it is what it is," Bernadeau said. "I can only control what I can control, and that’s getting better and doing my role and Martin is a great guy and I'm helping him out as well and talking to him. A great player, a great guy."

Leary said the same thing about Bernadeau, whom he called his brother despite the reality that they are competing for the same position.

"Competition is a good thing; it forces you to play your game," Leary said., "Play your best ball, and I knew coming into this game I was going to have to compete and I don’t have problem competing. So me and Mac, that's my brother, so it's not like we going behind each others back. We talk and help each other out; it’s a great thing."

From the moment the Cowboys signed Leary as an undrafted free agent in 2012, he was scheduled to become a starter. It just took him getting used to the NFL game after playing in college at Memphis.

The biggest issue with Leary was a chronic knee problem. It hasn't caused him to miss any games.

"This is as healthy as I've been in a long time, going back to college," he said. "I feel great right now, I'm feeling good right now."

Bernadeau was signed as a free agent from Carolina the same year and endured offseason health issues that prevented him from starting training camp on time. He played in 16 games in 2012, including two starts at center, showing the Cowboys position flexibility.

But last year, Bernadeau had more health problems and before the start of the season, the team signed Waters. He played well until his injury and then Bernadeau took over to start 11 games.

This summer at training camp, the Cowboys will share the first-team snaps between Leary and Bernadeau.

There's a belief both will remain on the 53-man roster regardless of who wins the starting job.

"We both compete as hard as we can and help each other on and off the field and we talk about certain plays we like and don’t like," Bernadeau said. "Its great competition. We're great friends and I understand the business."
As we enter a dead period of the offseason, we present some financial numbers that might interest you before training camp.
  • The Cowboys have roughly $8.5 million in salary-cap space. That's enough money to fit in a new contract for a free-agent linebacker, if the team deems one necessary to fill Sean Lee's spot at middle linebacker. Currently Justin Durant is No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker. The Cowboys are open to leaving Durant there, but want to see more work once training camp starts and most likely one or two preseason games before looking at the free-agent market.
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  • When it comes to the NFC East, Washington has just $2.5 million left in cap space. The Philadelphia Eagles have the most within the division at $19.3 million with the New York Giants coming in third at $6.9 million.
  • Cornerback Brandon Carr has the highest salary-cap number on the team at $12.2 million. Tony Romo ($11.7 million), Jason Witten ($8.4 million), Doug Free ($6.5 million)and Morris Claiborne ($4.43 million) are in the top 5. Backup quarterback Kyle Orton, if he plays in 2014, will have the sixth highest cap number on the team at $4.43 million. With Orton and Romo taking up so much cap space, the Cowboys average $17.7 million in space devoted to the quarterback position, far higher than the league average of $12.3 million. Pittsburgh has $21.7 million in cap space to the quarterback position, which leads the NFL.
  • The Cowboys lead the NFL in salary-cap space devoted to cornerbacks at $22.7 million. The NFL average for that position is $13.06 million with Carr leading the NFL with his cap number. Orlando Scandrick has a cap number of just $3.6 million and he's a projected starter over Claiborne.
  • Last year, the Cowboys had $48.6 million in cap space taken up by defensive players. So far that number has decreased to $42.2 million for the 2014 season. On offense, the Cowboys numbers have gone up. Last year, the Cowboys cap number for the offense was $49.4 million and this season it's $55.2 million.

Random thoughts: Orton and Spencer

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
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With training camp five weeks away, we have some random thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Orton
    The Cowboys don't seem to be winners in the Kyle Orton holdout. The backup quarterback has missed all the offseason workouts, including the mandatory sessions from last week. Orton is thinking of retirement and the team wants him to stay. Coach Jason Garrett compared Orton's situation to that of wide receiver Cole Beasley, who took a few days off from training camp a few years ago pondering his own journey in the NFL. Beasley returned and has gained success in the NFL. Orton doesn't need time away, it seems his mind is made up and he wants to move on. The Cowboys, for financial and depth reasons, want him to stay. But why keep a man on the roster if he doesn't want to be here? The best thing is to cut Orton and move on.
  • Anthony Spencer jogged pretty well during the offseason and while his return from microfracture surgery is late in training camp, he could be the X-factor with the defensive line. George Selvie and DeMarcus Lawrence are the main pass-rushers with Bruce Carter expected to take over the main tackling duties at linebacker. However, the Cowboys need someone to cause pressure in the pocket, and the best pass-rusher on this team is Spencer. Yes, he's recovering from a serious injury, but Spencer is motivated to return and prove he can be a productive force again. If Spencer can return, as say a third-down pass-rusher in 2014, the one-year contract he signed might be the best offseason move the team made.
  • I don't believe Tony Romo will have any problems once training camp starts from his back surgery. During the offseason work, Romo was throwing passes with good zip and looked pretty good while jogging around the practice fields. He doesn't look overweight, in fact it wouldn't surprise me if he came in at the 235-pound range this summer. The key to Romo is how he takes these hits and if he's still has that mobility in the pocket. If Romo can still move around like he's done in previous seasons, the Cowboys shouldn't be worried. Romo has always taken hits, that's just life in the NFL, but if he can still move around the pocket over a 16-game season, that will tell you plenty about his recovery.
  • It was interesting you didn't hear much about running back Joseph Randle, the 2013 fourth-round pick from Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are geared for DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar to get more touches this upcoming season. What about Randle? He's supposed to replace Murray if he gets hurt, but the Cowboys signed Ryan Williams, who has a promising career until injuries curtailed it. Randle has some skills, but needs the touches, yet, this Williams signing could be a sign the Cowboys have either moved on from Randle or want to push him to do better.
  • If the season started today, J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church would start at safety and that's the best pairing the team has right now. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said both are ranging players who make plays on the ball. Marinelli said the pair are good tacklers, Church led the team in tackles last season, and that's key for a defense that was beaten up plenty last season. Matt Johnson and Jeff Heath need to make more plays on the ball in the preseason if they're going to knock Wilcox out of a starting job. It didn't look good to see Johnson, again, doing rehab work because of his hamstring problems. Heath gained valuable experience last season when Wilcox was out with injury. Heath isn't afraid to mix it up, which is good, but his ball skills need work.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- After another cruel twist of fate, Sean Lee is back to being the highest paid assistant linebackers coach in NFL history.

A day after tearing the ACL in his left knee, an injury expected to sideline him for the entire 2014 season, Lee attended meetings and practice Wednesday at Valley Ranch. He gave rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round pick who is first in line to try to replace Lee, some tips on a couple of Cover 2 looks after the workout.

"That's what great leaders do," safety Barry Church said.

This will be the norm for Lee now. Frustrating as it is, it's all Dallas' best defensive player can do to help the Cowboys win this season.

"He wants to win, if he's on the field or not," Hitchens said. "It means a lot to me, being a young guy that he's helping me out already. Whenever I have questions I run right to him. He's been here for a while, so he knows all the pieces of the puzzle, so I always go to him and ask questions."

It's further evidence that Lee is a natural born leader. However, he can't be the leader of the Dallas defense while wearing sweats on the sideline.

That leaves a massive void in that department for a defense that also lost respected veterans DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher this offseason.

How can the Cowboys fill that void? It will have to be by committee.

"That's what happens when your main dog goes down -- everybody has to carry the load now," cornerback Brandon Carr said.

Church, a safety with only one full season as a starter, is one of the first names that come up in that conversation. Carr and fellow veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick are also mentioned. Defensive tackle Henry Melton, a Valley Ranch newcomer but a Pro Bowler for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli with the Chicago Bears in 2012, is also a possibilit.

"Me and a couple of the other guys are going to have to take over that defense, just lead the younger guys in the right direction," Church said. "Feel like we can do that.

"It's going to take more than one player. As a defense, we're just going to have to come together and hopefully fill his gap. It's going to be a tough one because he's the leader of our defense, but I'm sure we can get it done."
video Tony Romo firmly believes that he has a bright future as the franchise quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

He declared during an interview on 105.3 The Fan that he'll come back from his second back surgery in less than a year "a better player than I've ever been." He expressed confidence that he'll hold up for the duration of the six-year, $108 million deal he signed last offseason.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/James D. SmithIf it were simply a matter of toughness, Tony Romo would most certainly fulfill his goal of playing out the duration of his contract.
"There's no question in my mind, not only am I going to be able to make it through 16 games, I'll make it through another five years," Romo said during his appearance Wednesday on the "Ben and Skin Show."

"Some people have issues just based on their body alignment and degenerative things, but none of those are my issues. Mine is just something small and I just got hit at the wrong time and that's part of what happened. If you play football long enough, you're going to have something."

If it's about toughness, Romo will be right about his future. After all, he's the guy who has led the Cowboys to comeback wins while playing with a punctured lung and fractured ribs on one occasion and a herniated disk in his back on another.

Too bad toughness will have little to do with Romo's longevity.

Few stood in the pocket and took hits as fearlessly as Troy Aikman, but back problems forced him to retire at 34, Romo's age now. Larry Bird's toughness was part of his legend, but the NBA great's bad back forced him to hang up his sneakers at 35.

The Cowboys have addressed what they can control regarding Romo's future under center extending another five years. They've invested first-round picks in offensive linemen in three of the last four drafts, meaning Romo should be protected as well as he's ever been. By all accounts, Romo has attacked rehab with passion and a purpose. And the Cowboys make sure Romo gets the best medical care possible.

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Of course, Dr. Drew Dossett also operated on Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison's back. Now, Harrison's career is in jeopardy after further complications with his back, and he doesn't even have to deal with complicated blitzes or 300-pound defensive linemen driving him into the turf.

For Romo to have a chance to accomplish his goal of leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, he must believe with every fiber of his being that his best football is ahead of him. But his prediction of playing five more years is based purely on hope, not the gloomy reality of the history of great athletes with back problems.

That's not to say Romo's plan is impossible. Peyton Manning just had a record-shattering season at age 37, a couple of years removed from multiple neck surgeries.

But Romo's health in the future is far from a guarantee, no matter what he says or how hard he works. The Cowboys can hope for the best with Romo, but they better be prepared to deal with the worst.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys passed on Johnny Manziel with the 16th overall pick, but they did add a quarterback from A&M to their roster to be more than a camp arm. Well, West Texas A&M.

[+] EnlargeVaughan
AP Photo/Jim CowsertWest Texas A&M product Dustin Vaughan didn't take himself too seriously in an online video parody of his QB skills.
Undrafted free agent Dustin Vaughan is known for two things: lighting up Division II competition and starring as the Christmas-sweater-sporting prima donna in a hilarious workout parody video. Not necessarily in that order.

Vaughan’s goal for the next few months is to prove he’s worthy of the Cowboys keeping him as a developmental prospect.

“I want to play for the Dallas Cowboys,” said Vaughan, whose chances of making the 53-man roster would increase significantly if Kyle Orton’s situation ends with the backup QB off the roster. “I want to find a role on the team that I can fit. I think that’s my job coming in here. That’s why they had me come, to find a role and to see if I could fit in.”

The Cowboys gave the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Vaughan a sixth-round grade and signed him soon after the draft ended. He turned down offers from the Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams to sign with Dallas, which gave him a $5,000 bonus that tied for the third-largest among their crop of 24 undrafted free agents.

Vaughan dominated Division II competition the past two seasons, throwing for 10,113 yards and 98 touchdowns while leading West Texas A&M to a 25-6 record. After playing in a spread offense at a small school, Vaughan’s challenge is to learn how to play under center while making a massive jump in the level of competition.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett cites Vaughan’s remarkable college production, poise, intelligence and throwing ability as reasons the Cowboys believe he has potential.

“He’s raw, but he’s a big kid, strong-armed, gym-rat type of guy,” quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. “He’s somebody that you could possibly develop.”

Vaughan considers the Cowboys an ideal situation for an undrafted quarterback trying to carve out an NFL career. He's well-aware that starter Tony Romo is one of the most successful undrafted quarterbacks in NFL history and looks forward to learning from him. Vaughan will also have the opportunity to learn from two coaches who lasted a long time as QBs in the league after coming in as long shots: Garrett (undrafted) and Wilson (eighth-round pick).

“This was definitely the situation that I wanted to be in,” Vaughan said. “It’s a great place to come in and learn from guys that have done it and have gone through what I’m going through right now, to be able to learn and be like a sponge.”
IRVING, Texas -- Conventional wisdom was dead wrong about Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter last season.

Carter
Carter
The speedy Carter, who showed flashes of brilliance in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 in 2012, didn’t end up being a perfect fit as the Will linebacker in Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 scheme. He definitely didn’t remind anybody of Derrick Brooks, either. Instead, Carter got benched in Week 4 and was part of the problem for the NFL’s worst defense.

Carter has admitted his confidence took a hit last season. That’s apparently not Rod Marinelli’s problem.

“I don’t do confidence stuff,” said Marinelli, who was promoted to defensive coordinator this offseason. “Get down and play. Get down and play. Here’s your assignment key. We want you to play fast and we want you to take the ball away.”

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Carter didn’t come up with any turnovers last season. Not one interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery. That might explain why the Cowboys were ready to draft Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier in the first round to replace Carter before the Pittsburgh Steelers beat them one pick before the Cowboys went on the clock.

If that bothered Carter, so be it. He's not going to get a pep talk from Marinelli.

“Go play,” Marinelli said. “It’s a man’s game, man. Play it the right way. That’s what I want. We’re going to coach it. We’ll coach you hard. Be where you’re supposed to be. This is what we expect. And then go.”

Marinelli made it clear he doesn’t coach confidence. Does he coach mental toughness?

“I just coach football,” Marinelli said. “And I think there’s a lot of toughness in football coached the right way.”
IRVING, Texas -- Chris Boyd, who once expected to join fellow Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews as an early-round NFL draft pick, feels fortunate to have the opportunity to compete for a roster spot as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I really appreciate it,” Boyd said. “It’s a blessing to play the game I love again. I’m just really thankful for the coaching staff here and the personnel department to reach out to me and give me the opportunity.”

Boyd was dismissed from the Vanderbilt football team due to his involvement in a June rape case that rocked the program, when he was accused of helping four teammates cover up the crime after the fact. In September, Boyd entered a conditional guilty plea to a misdemeanor accessory charge, getting 11 months and 29 days of probation and agreeing to testify against the men accused of the sexual assault charges.

Boyd, who continued his education at Vanderbilt and worked five days a week with a pair of personal trainers during football season, got grilled by NFL teams during interviews at the scouting combine. After further investigation, the Cowboys came away convinced that Boyd was worthy of being given a chance to play in the NFL.

“We got our arms around what his role is and how he perceived what his role is and how he feels about it now, and we felt comfortable that he was OK to bring in here and be a part of our football team,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He seems like a good person who got caught up in a bad situation. He probably wasn’t perfect in handling it, but I think he learned a lot from it and we feel comfortable with what kind of guy he is.”

Boyd said he was honest with teams about the situation and attempted to clear up “misconceptions.” He declined to discuss the case in detail while being interviewed during the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp, but Boyd said he pleaded guilty to the reduced charge because he believed he would be allowed to play again for Vanderbilt if he did so.

From a pure football perspective, Boyd is an intriguing prospect. He’s 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and was clocked in the high 4.5s and low 4.6s in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, which was held off campus hours after the Vanderbilt pro day from which he was banned. He caught 81 passes for 1,247 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons at Vanderbilt and felt like he was coming into his own last summer before his dismissal.

“I’m just planning on making the most of this opportunity that I have here,” Boyd said. “I’m here to work hard. I’m excited about this opportunity. You won’t regret it. I’m going to play this game hard every day. I’m going to come out here with the intention to get better and earn a spot.”
IRVING, Texas -- Former Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams was impressive enough in his workout Saturday morning at Valley Ranch that the Dallas Cowboys are considering signing him, two sources said.

Williams
Williams
“I’m hoping ‘great’ means I can be here,” Williams said of the feedback he got from Cowboys front office personnel and coaches after his workout. “If not, then I’ll keep moving forward, but I’m really hoping it’s here.”

The Cowboys have 90 players on their roster, so they would have to cut somebody to make room for Williams, the 38th overall pick in the 2011 draft who was released by the Cardinals this week. His tenure in Arizona was marred by injuries, limiting him to five games in three seasons.

He missed his entire rookie season after rupturing the patella tendon in his right knee during a preseason game, causing his knee cap to slide into his thigh. He gained 164 yards on 58 carries in 2012 before a shoulder injury ended his season. Williams did not play last season, rehabbing his knee, which he says is finally back to 100 percent.

“I’ve worked my tail off to get to this point,” Williams said. “It was a rocky road, but I got it done. Regardless of how anybody sees my career going, it was beneficial for me not to play last year and the other year I got hurt with my shoulder. It just gives my knee more time. This isn’t an easy injury to come back from at all. It worked for me.”

Williams realized he’ll be remembered as a bust in Arizona. He’s determined to realize his potential at his next NFL stop.

“Every ounce of blood in my body, man, every inch of skin,” Williams said. “I want to come in this game and leave it with a legacy. Not a legacy of being hurt – a legacy of being a guy you can talk about for years to come as far as being one of your favorite running backs.”

Spencer could start year on PUP list

May, 16, 2014
May 16
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IRVING, Texas -- These are tough odds Anthony Spencer faces right now.

The Dallas Cowboys' defensive end is recovering from microfracture surgery and has a goal of playing at some point this season.

Spencer
Spencer, who underwent the procedure last year, said he hopes to return by the end of training camp. If that’s the case, Spencer most likely will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list. This news is not a surprise, given the difficultly to return from such a surgery.

Team doctors have given Spencer a timetable on when he can return. But Spencer won’t reveal it, instead he’s just focusing on his rehab.

“This injury it’s really uncommon, you rarely see guys coming back from it,” Spencer said. “So, I’m really not looking at any type of timetable. I’m just on my body schedule; where my body is, that’s where I am.”

The Cowboys have had two players, Al Johnson and Kevin Hardy, return from microfracture surgery. New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston had the procedure in 2009 and Detroit Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus got it done in 2010.

And each returned to the field from their injuries.

Washington Redskins defensive tackle Stephen Bowen underwent microfracture surgery and hopes to return this season.

“There’s guys who come back and other guys who struggle,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “It’s certainly not an impossibility. Sometimes it just takes longer than an ACL or something like that.”

Spencer's recovery had him lay in bed for 15 to 16 hours a day to immobilize the leg, all while his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Once he was able to move around, Spencer needed two crutches for four-to-five months.

Now he’s able to walk on his own, but can’t put too much pressure on his knee during the rehab process.

It’s a slow moving rehab that has had very little setbacks. Spencer has undergone four MRIs since the surgery to make sure his knee is stable.

Which it is. But for how long is the question.

“I have to listen to my body,” Spencer said. “I’ve gotten to where I’m listening to my body in rehabbing and doing the things at the pace of my body. Just try to do that and be as patient as possible. That’s one of the biggest things with the surgery (that) I’ve read (is) just being patient and I’m not pushing it pass that.”
The Cowboys signed the first of their nine draft picks Thursday when seventh-round selection, Stanford defensive tackle Ben Gardner, inked a four-year deal, according to a source.

Gardner was one of five seventh-rounders the Cowboys drafted on Saturday in a defensive heavy draft.

Gardner, 6-foot-3, 276 pounds, will play defensive tackle and is expected to back up Henry Melton along the line.

A first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, Gardner suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle. The injury prevented him from participating in the combine, but he was cleared by an independent doctor two weeks ago to resume football activities.

Cowboys officials expect him to participate in the rookie minicamp this weekend at Valley Ranch. Gardner played in just nine games last season, yet had 19 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one blocked punt.

“The whole process has been long and kind of stressful,” Gardner said after getting drafted last week. “I wasn’t able to finish the season, finish my senior season, which was terrible and then I missed out on the combine, the Senior Bowl and all that. It probably hurt me in my draft stock. Basically at the end of the day you just want to be in a place where you have a chance to succeed, no matter where you are drafted. I think it is a perfect fit in Dallas and I couldn’t be happier about it.”

The Cowboys are trying to finalize the deals for most of their late-round picks this week.

Update: The Cowboys also signed seventh-round pick Will Smith, an inside linebacker from Texas Tech, to a four-year contract.

Smith is one of two linebackers the team drafted. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round pick from Iowa, is unsigned.

Update: The Cowboys reached an agreement with their third draft pick of the day in cornerback Terrance Mitchell, their last of nine selections.

Mitchell, from Oregon, was the 254th pick. He intercepted seven passes in 38 starts, including a team-high five in 2013. He will compete with B.W. Webb and Sterling Moore for one of the final cornerback spots.

Like Gardner and Smith, Mitchell received a four-year deal with a $420,000 base salary in 2014.

The Cowboys would like to sign most of their draft picks before the rookie minicamp ends over the weekend.

Why were Cowboys high on Hitchens?

May, 12, 2014
May 12
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys’ selection of Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens caused a lot of head scratching.

The Hitchens fans among the media draft analysts gave him a sixth-round grade. Many had him as a seventh-rounder or undrafted free agent.

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The Cowboys took him in the middle of the fourth round with the 119th overall pick. What did Dallas’ scouts see in Hitchens that others might have missed?

“We saw a guy who could run with size, and we saw one of the few inside linebackers that we thought could come in here and help us if we lost Sean Lee,” said owner/general manager Jerry Jones, whose widely criticized first-round selection of center Travis Frederick last year worked out well. “So we saw a guy who could definitely improve us from where we were last year when we lost Sean Lee. Probably, for me, the most important thing is how much of a hitter he is. He blows them up. So we sat there with him and used a fourth-rounder.

“With all due respect to the other evaluators, I would say that there is a lot of difference in a lot of players when you start getting in that fourth round between this player or that player and whether we would have taken him. We literally had him – as we’d been sitting there all day long – we had him there, too. We didn’t have him there in the third, we had him there in the fourth. We sat there all day long with him as one of the guys that we would use our fourth pick with at that time. I’d say that’s the difference in the eye of the beholder.”

The Cowboys raved about the “run-hit factor” with Hitchens, but he was clocked at 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a mediocre time for a middle linebacker. His 1.62-second 10-yard split, however, is more impressive than his 40 time.

The 6-foot, 240-pound Hitchens played weakside linebacker at Iowa, where he racked up 226 tackles over the last two seasons, and the Cowboys believe the converted high school running back has some position flexibility. But they drafted him to be a solid backup for the injury-riddled Lee and a core special-teams player.

“We just feel like we needed linebacker depth,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ve had different injuries at the linebacker position the last couple of years, and that’s the nature of the league. Guys get hurt. You want to make sure you have enough numbers there, enough competition there so if something does happen to one of your top-flight players, you can survive, function and even thrive. That’s where we feel like Hitchens fits in.

“Really productive player at Iowa. He was their defensive MVP this year, and they had a good defensive group. We feel like it was a real quality player at a position of need for us. We just felt like it was a good pick for us at that time. He is going to help our football team.”
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys believe they drafted a third-round prospect despite trading their third-round pick.

They consider selecting Pittsburgh receiver Devin Street in the fifth round a steal.

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Street had a third-round grade on the Cowboys’ board, which is why they packaged their fifth-round pick (No. 158) and a seventh-rounder (No. 229) to move up a dozen spots and draft him with the 146th overall pick.

The Cowboys see the 6-foot-3, 189-pound Street, who holds Pitt’s career receptions record with 202, as a pro-ready receiver. He’s expected to immediately compete for the No. 3 receiver role and gives the Cowboys a legitimate option as an outside receiver if Dez Bryant or Terrance Williams gets injured.

“Very, very accomplished route runner, great hands, great length,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “If anything, needs to work on some of the strength a little bit. Other than that, he’s played in a [pro-style] system, he knows the route tree. It will be easy for him coming in.”

Street could be limited this offseason due to a shoulder injury he suffered as a Pitt senior, when he caught 51 passes for 854 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games. That injury, which limited him to three reps of 115 pounds on the bench press at the combine, could have caused his draft stock to drop.

However, the Cowboys sent receivers coach Derek Dooley to privately work out Street on the Pitt campus. Dooley returned to Valley Ranch raving about Street and didn’t stop until the Cowboys drafted him.

“It doesn’t matter where you get picked; it only matters what you do when you get here,” Dooley told Street during the phone call after the Cowboys made the pick. “Get your ass ready. You’re going to get down here quickly and we’re going to go to work, and you’re going to put it on all those teams that passed you up.

“You see all them receivers that went ahead of you? All right, don’t ever forget it, you hear me? And that needs to motivate you every day.”

Cowboys draft Terrance Mitchell in 7th

May, 10, 2014
May 10
7:11
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – The pick: Terrance Mitchell, cornerback, Oregon

My take: The Cowboys, who crave creating more turnovers, added a cornerback with some ball skills. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Mitchell picked off five passes last season and seven during his career with the Ducks. He was a three-year starter who should compete for a roster spot as a rookie.

Notable: Mitchell ran a disappointing 4.63-second 40-yard dash at the combine, but he cut his time to 4.43 at his pro day. … He left school early despite feedback from the NFL advisory committee that he wouldn’t be an early round pick. … Needs to work on his tendency to draw flags.

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