Dallas Cowboys: NFL

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said it will be difficult for the franchise to bid on a Super Bowl because of a new rule that says NFL teams that are awarded the championship game will lose a regular-season home game.

Jones
Jones
"That will put a difficult caveat to our bid," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan on Friday. "We probably will make a bid. They tell you what they want in a bid, but you can make a bid without what they want in a bid. So when you say, 'They're not going to give it to you,' the owners still get to vote. That's pretty much limiting, and our home games are so important to us. At this time, I'm not sure how we'll handle a bid; we'll make a bid for a Super Bowl in the future. But that's a head-scratcher: if I would do it at a cost of a home game."

The Cowboys hosted Super Bowl XL in 2010 between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite a massive ice storm leading up to the game and a seating fiasco that prompted a lawsuit against the league and the Cowboys, the NFL owners did make money.

This year's Super Bowl is in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Cardinals, and the next available game for a bid is Super Bowl LIII in 2019.

Under these new rules, if an NFL team wins the bid, it will have to play a game in London.

"We're playing Jacksonville in London and we would not have played in that game if it cost us a home game, and we just wouldn't do it, and haven't done it," Jones said, alluding to the Nov. 9 game. "That's not being mean in any way or [not] being a team player. We made too big of a commitment to our fans and to our organization to play our 10 games here."

Cowboys' Tyron Smith misses practice

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
4:18
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had both of their starting offensive tackles on the injury report on Wednesday.

Left tackle Tyron Smith, who was just named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, missed practice with an ankle injury, and right tackle Jermey Parnell was limited in practice with a chest injury.

Smith attended the open media access period of practice, but it's clear he didn't participate in team drills.

Parnell is scheduled to replace Doug Free as the starting right tackle in Sunday's game against the New York Giants.

Tony Romo (back/ankle), Bruce Carter (thigh), Jack Crawford (calf), Free (foot), Rolando McClain (personal), DeMarco Murray (illness) and Anthony Spencer (foot/knee) did not practice.

Carter and Free will not play against the Giants.

McClain is expected back on Friday after dealing with legal issues regarding his family. As for Romo, Crawford, Murray and Spencer, those are not considered serious injuries, much like Smith's and Parnell's, and they're expected to be available for Sunday's game.

"I think I'll be able to practice as the week goes on," Romo said. "We'll take it day-by-day and obviously reassess it each day. I think I'm getting close. We've worked diligently since the game, treatment [to the ankle] and all of the other stuff you can do. It's responding to it well. I'll be good to go."

Romo said he injured his ankle in the first half but couldn't remember the specific play it occurred on.

"It kinda happens, and later in the game you start to really feel it," he said.

Spencer said his foot feels better and he hopes to practice this week.
IRVING, Texas -- You see Dez Bryant, and there's a football in his hands.

Maybe he's twirling it in his palm. Perhaps he's tossing it high above his head and catching it again and again. Or just cradling it gently like a newborn.

You see Bryant on the practice field, and he's catching a football. Sometimes, quarterback Tony Romo is throwing it, or coach Jason Garrett is throwing it. Then again, he might have persuaded one of the equipment guys to play catch.

"Sometimes, I don't make eye contact with him," special-teams assistant Keith O'Quinn said. "Because if I do, I know he's going to want me to go out early and throw him some balls."

During the Dallas Cowboys' training camp, he often played catch with a couple of staff members' kids, who can't be older than 10, after practice. Garrett once saw him playing catch with a different youngster in the hotel parking lot.

[+] EnlargeBryant
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsBryant's insatiable drive to play catch is indicative of a work ethic unparalleled among the Cowboys.
"I love football, and I don't want to do nothing to put [that] in jeopardy," Bryant said. "That's why I like having the ball around me all of the time.

"I like having it around me because it reminds me of how much I have to lose if I don't handle my business. You have to respect what you do and what you love to succeed."

Bryant, born into an environment you wouldn't wish on anyone, finally grasps how much more there is to life than catching passes and scoring touchdowns as he prepares to start his fifth NFL season Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

These days, Bryant's sons -- Zayne and Dez Jr. -- provide the motivation to exceed every dream he had growing up in Lufkin, Texas, about three hours southeast of Dallas.

Football is the conduit to that lifestyle.

"I’m doing FaceTime with my son before the [preseason] Miami game, and he's running around the house throwing up the X," Bryant said. "Ain't nothing more important than being a great role model for my kids. That comes before everything.

"There's no doubt I love my dad to death, but I want my kids to grow up differently than I did."

So he works diligently to improve as a route-runner, imploring receivers coach Derek Dooley to correct the smallest mistake. He understands how he wants to attack cornerbacks, and he reads coverages almost as well as Romo.

And Bryant has learned the other receiver positions, so playcaller Scott Linehan has the confidence to move him around the formation, allowing him to avoid double teams more often.

(Read full post)

Witten's presence affects entire franchise

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Jason WittenAP Photo/James D SmithJason Witten has done much more than put up Hall of Fame-worthy numbers, the Cowboys say.
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten is the conscience of the Dallas Cowboys.

When he speaks to the team, players listen intently. He makes them laugh. He excites them. He brings them to tears. The grind of playing professional football matters to Witten perhaps more than it should and definitely more than it does to most.

New teammates look at him reverentially and almost fearfully; they know they need to earn his trust to gain acceptance. Older teammates look to him for guidance on or off the field. Opponents respect him for his talent and professionalism.

For the front office and coaches, Witten’s combination of determination, dedication and hard work almost make him a cliché. He has set a standard that few can match with nine Pro Bowls. Only Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Larry Allen have played in more Pro Bowls as Cowboys than Witten. With 21 catches this season, he would join Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in NFL history with at least 900 receptions.

Witten was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2012 and serves as the Cowboys’ rep to the NFL Players Association.

Although most sit on every word from Witten and the 11-year veteran rarely talks about himself, several members at different levels of the organization were asked about Witten and his impact on the franchise.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Tom Pennington/Getty Images"I don't know if I respect anybody as much as I respect Jason Witten," Dez Bryant said.
The students

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, Witten’s teammate since 2010

"It’s amazing the way that he moves. I can’t believe it. He’s big [6-foot-6, 261 pounds] and, like, he’s real shifty. He gets in and out of his breaks so quick. I watch him, like I really pay attention to him and still try to figure out how he does it. Witt is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, persons in this world. He’s helped me so much just by being around him with not one word spoken. It’s just his presence. The way that he works, I feel like I have to do that. I have to follow that kind of person if I want to be right on or off the field. He’s played a big part in my life. I don’t know if I respect anybody as much as I respect Jason Witten."

Running back DeMarco Murray, Witten’s teammate since 2011

"I’ve spent a lot of time with him this offseason and in the past, and every day I’m picking his brain still like I’m a rookie again because he’s a perfect example of being a pro, being a great person. He’s someone you model your game after and you model yourself as a person after as well. He does it the right way, and you can see it from the 11 or 12 years he’s been in the league, and this looks like this is his first training camp. He’s just like a kid in a candy store when it comes to football. All the individual accolades, it’s meaningless for him. He never talks about it. He never wants that. All he wants is a Super Bowl. That’s something you can respect about a person with the great attitude he has, the great selflessness he has as a person, as a teammate. I’ll run through a wall for that guy."

The neighbor

Mackenzy Bernadeau, Witten’s teammate since 2012

"Being in the locker next to him, you get to learn more about a guy. I’ve always respected him as a man and as a player, but just seeing the way he carries himself, brings himself to work every day, how passionate and enthusiastic he is about the team, he’s an emotional guy when he’s in the game. As a teammate, you better be right. If you’re not on the right page, he’s going to make sure you’re on the right page. Very competitive. Passionate about everything he does from lifting to running. He’s a team player. He’s a guy you can talk to, hang with, crack jokes with, but when it comes time to work, he’ll be ready to work and he expects everybody else to work. He’ll get in your face, but you know when you look in his eyes he means business and he’s ready to go. He plays that way, prepares that way for a game, for a practice. You see it just every day in his walk."

The position coach

Mike Pope, first year as Cowboys tight ends coach, 32nd year in the NFL

"He’s incredible. … He only has one gear, and he’s an intense and fierce competitor. He just never wants to lose anything. I don’t care what it is. You run a sideline route in two-minute, and the official says he’s this short of the first down, he goes haywire. He is different than some guys I’ve had who can do that out here and be a great human being when they step across the sideline. I’ve had a few that couldn’t do that. They were great on this side of the sideline, but they’re not very good over there. But he’s all things to all people. The other thing is his knowledge of football. He’s got a quarterback’s knowledge of football. He knows so much about what’s going on. Very seldom, it’s rare if he misses something. If it’s new, he might take a rep or two. He’s got the vastness of all this offense for all these years, and it has changed some, but there’s a lot of plays gone through his library in the years he’s played. But he’s just a brilliant football guy. He really is."

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJason Witten's work ethic surely hasn't gone unnoticed by Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones.
The owner

Jerry Jones, Cowboys owner and general manager since 1989

"He’s a marvel. He’s a marvel. It’s funny, he was a subject for us visiting [in camp], and just, we were watching him down there in some specific drills, and he just executed every drill as though he were executing against the New York Giants. Just to perfection to his ability to do it. And it’s really, he’s a special guy. He’s certainly in the top-five player … person … on any level of the NFL that I’ve been associated with in the 25 years in the NFL. Period. Across the board."

The trainer

Jim Maurer, Cowboys’ athletic trainer for the past 25 years

"There’s a lot of great players that have been through here, but he’s definitely got great football traits. Personally, from a medical side, you’re always wanting a guy that’s going to beat the odds every once in a while. Not necessarily with the things he’s had to beat with the ruptured spleen, but any injury, and Jason has always been the consummate professional as far as getting all the treatment he needs, asking us more questions to do whatever else we can do. A lot of guys do that. He’s not the only one, but for some reason he responds really well to everything and comes back. And not just comes back to play but comes back to play great. That’s immeasurable. I don’t know how many more of those guys are out there or will ever be out there."

The weight coach

Brett Bech, Cowboys' assistant strength and conditioning coach

"What people see on Sunday is a culmination of what starts probably in early February for him. Even this late in his career, he’s looking to improve himself physically, mentally. He never stops watching film. He takes notes feverishly. I sit right next to him in team meetings, and he’s always writing. Even the most general thing, he’ll write it in his notebook, circle it and put stars around it. For instance, ball security, five points of contact, which I’m sure he’s heard since he was a freshman in college. But we’re doing it a couple of weeks ago and he’s writing in his notebook, ‘Five points of contact,’ with stars all around it, and it’s probably the 15th time he’s been doing it, but it’s that attention to detail. In the weight room he’s always looking for ways to get his hips more flexible or to stay in peak physical condition with different ways of training, whether it’s altitude training or just interval training. He’s always asking about his technique or coming in and doing extra stuff. He knows his numbers as well as we do -- body fat and his vertical jump. He works his butt off, and it shows. I think the younger guys see that, and I’ll use him as an example. Him and a few other guys as an example of there’s a reason he’s making Pro Bowls in his 12th year because he works like this. If he didn’t, he may be a pretty good player. He may be one of our better guys. But he’s a household name because of his approach."

Miami batters Romo, beats Cowboys

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
11:20
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Tony RomoAP Photo/Lynne SladkyCowboys starter Tony Romo finished Saturday's game with a quarterback rating of just 68.5.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Dallas Cowboys' offense we saw against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night isn’t going to be nearly good enough during the regular season to offset their raggedy defense.

The offensive line, fortified with three first-round picks in the past four seasons, struggled against Miami’s defensive line.

In the process, the unit allowed Miami to hit quarterback Tony Romo way too often. The Dolphins sacked him three times -- and he played only a half.

Oh my.

Miami beat the Cowboys 25-20 at Sun Life Stadium, but Romo absorbed the beating Miami put on him. Even though the 34-year-old needed a trip to the cold tub immediately after the game, overall it remained a successful evening.

At least we found out Romo can take such a beating. Hey, that’s important when you consider that Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year, and that the club has been extremely cautious with him during training camp.

The Cowboys have consistently given Romo days off during training camp to ensure he has no issues with his back. Romo didn’t play in the first preseason game, and he played just 14 snaps in the second.

And it’s unlikely that he’ll play in Thursday's final preseason game against Denver. Baltimore jostled him a bit last weekend, but the Ravens didn’t pound him the way Miami did.

“It was good to see Tony out there playing,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “He got knocked around a little bit, and that could be good and bad.

"You want the protection to be clean, but at the same time for him, in his preparation for [the Sept. 7 opener versus] San Francisco, it's good to have him feel the physical part of the game.”

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images"It's good to have him feel the physical part of the game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of quarterback Tony Romo, sacked three times Saturday.
The consistent pressure on Romo is the biggest reason the Cowboys couldn’t sustain drives Saturday, which is troubling since most of their offensive starters played the first half.

The Cowboys ran 32 plays in five series but managed only a pair of long field goals -- 52 and 50 yards -- from Dan Bailey. The Cowboys gained just 110 yards, an average of 3.4 per play.

Romo completed just 10 of 18 passes for 87 yards, with a long of 17. He finished with a passer rating of 68.5.

Yuck.

The Cowboys were 2-of-8 on third down under Romo. Twice, Miami sacked Romo on third down, ending a drive. Another time, Romo was hit hard as he delivered the ball, leading to an incompletion.

“I’ll be very candid with you, their defensive front was doing a pretty good job, and that concerned me,” owner Jerry Jones said. “He took those three sacks, and that concerned me. Not that we couldn’t correct what it takes to block them, but it concerned me that he was taking those sacks.”

At the end of the first half, the Cowboys had moved from their 20 to the Miami 24. On first-and-15, defensive end Cameron Wake sacked Romo for an 8-yard loss, thwarting the drive and setting up Bailey’s second field goal.

"We wanted to put more points on the board, but we hurt ourselves with penalties,” Romo said. “The game is always going to be hard if you keep putting yourself behind."

Here’s the deal: This team has no chance if its offense doesn’t play well. What you saw from the Cowboys’ defense against Miami is what you’re going to see all season. The unit is going to give up a ton of yards and hope it forces turnovers and makes teams kick field goals.

Any thoughts the Cowboys have of making the playoffs depends on them fielding a dynamic offense. And when you consider the plethora of playmakers Romo and playcaller Scott Linehan have at their disposal, there’s no reason Dallas shouldn’t have one of the league’s top offenses.

The best way for the Cowboys to win games is to use their offense to grab leads, then use the running game, led by DeMarco Murray and the offensive line, to protect the defense and close out games in the fourth quarter.

To do that, however, the offensive line can’t get manhandled the way it was by the Dolphins. This is the preseason, so there’s zero reason to overreact, although this is the last time we’ll see most of the team’s key starters before the season begins.

Romo would tell you that a tad better execution on a couple of plays and the offense would’ve looked just fine Saturday. Romo would also tell you he didn’t feel as though Miami overwhelmed the Cowboys’ offense, otherwise he’d be concerned.

Still, it’s clear the Cowboys have much work to do to get ready for San Francisco.

Garrett has spent all offseason talking about having an offensive line that will enable the Cowboys to play a more physical style. He’s said the line will make Romo better and the defense more efficient.

We didn’t see that against Miami. We'd better against San Francisco in two weeks.
IRVING, Texas -- When coach Jason Garrett initially broached the idea of hiring Scott Linehan to call plays for the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo needed to do some research.

So he spent a few hours studying Linehan's approach during the five seasons he called plays for the Detroit Lions, after a three-year stint as the St. Louis Rams coach.

Romo liked Linehan’s approach because he saw an opportunity for Linehan to influence and impact the Cowboys offense without overhauling it.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/James D SmithScott Linehan aims to bring more play-action to the Cowboys' passing game. Of his time with Linehan, Tony Romo says, "He sees the game from a different perspective … I think he is a big part of us trying to be successful this year."
That's because Linehan's timing-based passing offense is similar to the scheme Garrett implemented with the Cowboys when he arrived in 2007. It's the same scheme Troy Aikman ran in the glory days of the 1990s.

Linehan didn't need to alter the playbook much, though he has changed some of the language to make it simpler.

More importantly, Romo figured the variety of screens and play-action passes Linehan used, along with his innate ability to consistently get the ball to his best players, would give the Cowboys offense a boost.

Plus, Linehan likes to throw the ball, and we know how much Romo likes that.

Detroit finished among the NFL’s top six in yards gained each of the past three seasons. The Lions ranked among the top six in pass attempts in each of his five seasons.

You can't tell based on what we’ve seen in the first two preseason games.

He's run the ball -- DeMarco Murray had eight carries in 14 plays on Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens -- and he's used it to set up play-action passes.

Linehan's biggest impact will be on screens and play-action passes, which will give the Cowboys offense a new look because they seldom ran either play the past two seasons.

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The Cowboys have thrown a total of just 57 screen passes in the past two seasons. Only three teams attempted fewer, and they averaged just 5.02 yards per attempt for one of the NFL's lowest totals.

Under Linehan, the Lions ranked ninth in the NFL with 111 screens attempted the past two seasons. Their average of 7.05 yards per attempt was tied for fourth in the league.

A perfectly executed 21-yard screen to Murray set up the Cowboys' first touchdown against Baltimore.

"We're working on them a lot, and Scott is calling them," Murray said. "We've had periods where we worked on screens before, but these are more intense. This is part of what he does. He emphasizes them, and he wants us to get it right. Plus, we have linemen who can get out in front of them now."

Teams that are serious about running successful screens usually devote daily practice time to them because of the high degree of synchronized teamwork required.

Linehan called five against Baltimore, including two bubble screens. Romo, Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie each threw at least one screen -- an indication Linehan wanted to see how each would execute it.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray will be the primary recipient of a revamped screen game under Scott Linehan. Murray says Linehan's screens are "more intense" than those of former Dallas playcallers'.
There's also been an emphasis on play-action passes this season.

Romo does such a nice job carrying out the ball fakes on play-action passes that it's almost impossible for the linebackers not to be fooled and take a couple of steps toward the line of scrimmage.

He had a 109.1 passer rating on play-action passes in 2013 and a 111.2 rating in 2012.

For some reason, whether Garrett or offensive coordinator Bill Callahan was doing the play calling, the Cowboys rarely took advantage of this aspect of Romo's skill set.

Just so you know, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 141 play-action passes the past season. That's the same amount Romo has amassed in two seasons.

"Scott has been great. He has a mind for football," Romo said. "I think our interaction has been outstanding. He sees the game from a different perspective, and it makes it easy to communicate daily about what we're trying to accomplish. I think he is a big part of us trying to be successful this year."

It’s no secret -- the offense must carry the Cowboys this season. Linehan's philosophical approach makes them more equipped to do that.
Joseph Randle started three games last season. The 2013 fifth-round pick did little to inspire confidence he could adequately replace DeMarco Murray, gaining 108 yards on 44 carries in those games.

But he's had a good training camp, and it continued Thursday with a nice performance against San Diego. Randle gained 50 yards on 13 carries, a 3.8 average, but he ran through arm tackles and showed a burst and decisiveness we didn't always see last season.

Randle
The Dallas Cowboys' scheme is designed for the running back to make one cut and go. It's not good for a runners who want to take their time picking a hole.

"He did a good job of cutting his foot in the ground and getting up the field," coach Jason Garrett said. "It looked like he saw the field well, saw the holes, saw the soft spots and got north and south. I thought he had a real good night."

More important than his running, Randle did well on his blitz pickups and made a tackle on special teams.

"I'm trying to take step forwards every day," Randle said. "This is the time of year you grind and try to move up the depth chart. I'm supposed to be pushing my way toward more playing time and finding a role on this team."

He's fighting Ryan Williams, a former second-round pick, for a roster spot. The best special teams player will earn it.

For now, Randle has a slight edge.

Training camp battles: left guard

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
12:00
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With the start of training camp coming next week, we review the five biggest position battles with the Dallas Cowboys.

Left guard

The favorite: Ronald Leary

The contenders: Mackenzy Bernadeau

Outlook: This battle was set up when the Cowboys drafted Zack Martin in the first round and decided to move him to right guard. It meant Bernadeau lost his starting spot and had to fight for a job with Leary. Leary started all 16 games in 2013 and performed well. The Cowboys like competition at various spots, especially if it means improving the position and Bernadeau will compete. Bernadeau lost his job at right guard to Brian Waters only to regain it when he suffered a season-ending injury last season. Bernadeau is still a quality offensive lineman and has shown his versatility by playing both guard spots and some center. Regardless of whether he gets the starting job, Bernadeau is needed along the line. The Cowboys won't invest in a veteran player for the offensive line, like Waters, because the team wants a younger lineup at several key spots.

Who wins? It's a close race, but expect Leary to maintain his spot. Bernadeau will morph into a player who can play several positions and this will help the line overall.
With the start of training camp coming next week, we review the five biggest position battles with the Dallas Cowboys.

Middle linebacker

The favorite: Justin Durant

The contenders: Anthony Hitchens, DeVonte Holloman and Rolando McClain.

Outlook: With Sean Lee out for the season with a torn ACL, the Cowboys turned to Durant to become the Mike linebacker. He’s got experience at the position with the Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars (13 starts). Whether he's good at the position is another story. The Cowboys do like Durant's ability to play the run, but are unsure about his pass-coverage skills. There are younger players behind Durant in draft pick Hitchens, who was selected to back up Lee. Hitchens might not be ready to move into this role full-time at this stage of his development. Holloman can play two of the three linebacker spots in the 4-3, yet, his inexperience is a concern. McClain is another possibility; he's coming out of retirement and a failed workout with the Baltimore Ravens this spring. If McClain can get into shape mentally and physically, he’s the wild card and might push Durant in some ways.

Who wins?: Durant maintains the spot for now, however, this might change as the season progresses. Given his injury history, Hitchens is somebody to watch closely this summer. It will be Lee's spot longterm, regardless.

Training camp battles: defensive tackle

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
12:00
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With the start of training camp coming next week, we review the five biggest position battles with the Dallas Cowboys.

Defensive tackle

The favorite: Nick Hayden

The contenders: Terrell McClain, Ken Bishop and Tyrone Crawford

Outlook: Hayden became a starter due to injuries last season. He was more than serviceable (44 total tackles and a fumble recovery) but now the Cowboys have added some competition. In free agency the Cowboys acquired McClain to play the one-technique position and in the draft selected Bishop in the seventh round. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes position flexibility with his linemen so expect numerous players to get these looks. Crawford missed last season with a torn Achilles and the team is excited about his potential. Crawford can play rush end and defensive tackle, particularly in the nickel defense. Hayden will be challenged by McClain who impressed the coaches with his work in the offseason. This is an important season for McClain based on how his career has developed. He's played for three NFL teams before signing with the Cowboys. Establishing himself in the starting lineup is a must so he can shed the label of journeyman.

Who wins?: There’s nothing wrong if McClain wins the job over Hayden. He’s quicker and can also play the three-technique position as well.

Twitter Mailbag: Is Dez a Top 3 WR?

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
3:00
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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
1:00
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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.

Kluwe
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
9:00
AM ET
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."

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