Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer

OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts from the Cowboys’ first news conference of training camp:
  • I’m not obsessing over the conditioning test the players took by themselves after coach Jason Garrett called it off, but it still doesn’t make sense. Garrett said Wednesday that he told the players at the end of their last minicamp that their attendance and performance had been so good that he decided to cancel the conditioning best. Besides, Garrett said he wasn’t sure it served a useful purpose anymore and it put the players at more risk because the conditioning test doesn’t require many football movements, per se. All of that is fine. But if that’s the case, then he should’ve been fuming that Jason Witten apparently encouraged the players to do it themselves. That’s not a knock on Witten, but if the coach is adamant about not doing something then the players shouldn't ignore his request and do it anyway.
  • You have to wonder if the Cowboys’ offensive coaching staff is set up to succeed with all of the changes. Obviously, owner Jerry Jones and Garrett think it’ll work fine, but neither of them was demoted. Garrett was sending the plays into Tony Romo at the end of last season instead of Bill Callahan. Now, Callahan is out of the mix entirely having been replaced by Scott Linehan. Then you have assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who did a nice job last year. Now, he’ll probably have less responsibility because Callahan has more time to work with the line since he’s not putting the game plan together. A lot of people must subjugate their egos to make this staff work. It’ll be interesting to see if they can do it.
  • Anthony Spencer still isn’t ready to practice, so he’s been put on the physically unable to perform list. He’s been limited all offseason as he recovers from micro fracture surgery. It’s OK to wonder if he’ll ever play again.
44.3: The 12 playoff teams from last season ran the ball 44.3 percent of the time. The Cowboys ran it 35.1 percent of the time.

Garrett can use any stat or rationalization he wants, but that’s not a winning number. Only one team ranked among the bottom 10 in percent of rushing attempts made the playoffs -- and that was New Orleans.

Nine playoff teams ranked among the top 16 in percentage of rushing attempts. This is a passing league and you have to make big plays in the passing game to score points, but the best teams can still run it when they need to run and when they want to run.

Player to Watch: Brandon Weeden

It’s not normal to pay that much attention to the backup quarterback, especially when a team has a quality starter. But Tony Romo has had two back surgeries in the past year and backup Brandon Weeden is here because he was a first-round bust in Cleveland

He has talent and with a better supporting cast, he could be a solid backup. The key, as usual for a quarterback, will be limiting his mistakes. He had nine games with multiple interceptions with Cleveland and the Browns were 1-8. He had nine games with no interceptions and the Browns were 4-5.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Defensive line

On the roster: George Selvie, Terrell McClain, Henry Melton, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey, Nick Hayden, Ken Bishop, Davon Coleman, Ben Gardner, Amobi Okoye, Martez Wilson, Dartwan Bush, Chris Whaley, Caesar Rayford, Ben Bass

Locks: Selvie, McClain, Melton, Lawrence, Crawford, Mincey

Inside track: Spencer, Hayden, Bishop, Gardner, Coleman, Bass

Need help: Wilson, Coleman, Bush, Whaley, Rayford,Okoye

How many fit? The Cowboys needed 20 defensive linemen last year because of injuries and a revolving door of newcomers who mostly struggled. The Cowboys opened the year last season with 10 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster and ended the year with that many, but the only constants were Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware, Edgar Jones, Hayden and Selvie.

Selvie
Ten seems to be the right number again in 2014 as the Cowboys plan to attack with numbers if not known commodities. Spencer and Okoye could be candidates to open the year on the physically unable to perform list because of injuries. Hayden started every game last year, but he is not a lock to make the roster. Selvie had seven sacks last year but he is not a lock to start. Crawford did not play last year because of an Achilles’ injury. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. McClain had a productive spring but can he carry that over to a full-time role?

The Cowboys gave up their third-round pick to move up for Lawrence, and he will fight with Mincey for a starting spot. He looks the part, but he has a lot to learn. Going against Tyron Smith might be a good thing. The Cowboys are betting that Mincey will be able to find a niche as a quality pass rusher.

Bass is entering his third training camp. He has flashed ability but hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his first two years. Gardner, Bishop and Coleman could be viewed as a part of the future as the line gets the overhaul the offensive line began in 2011. Rayford looks the part but has to have a good preseason to earn a spot. Wilson has some pass rush to him.

Losing Ware and Hatcher and possibly not having Spencer until the seventh game of the season, this group does not have high expectations. Rod Marinelli kind of likes it that way, but he has to somehow coax pass rush out of players who have yet to do it on a consistent basis.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers
Offensive line

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
IRVING, Texas -- It's a week before the Dallas Cowboys arrive in Oxnard, California, for training camp and we already know just how big of a year it is for Bruce Carter.

It's been written and talked about countless times in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Bruce Carter
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesCowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2011, is set to become a free agent after this season.
Carter is entering the final year of his rookie contract, set to become a free agent after the season. At one point he was viewed as a core player, vital to the future growth of the Cowboys' defense. After a frustrating 2013 season, he is not viewed that way anymore.

But it doesn't mean he can't be viewed that way again.

In 2011, Anthony Spencer was in a contract year and tied his career high with six sacks. He also had 31 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. His overall game made him a valuable player in the Cowboys' 3-4.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the 2012 season.

In another contract year, Spencer had his best season, putting up a career-high 11 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl bid.

The Cowboys put the franchise tag on him again for 2013, guaranteeing him nearly $20 million over the two seasons in which he was tagged.

Last season, he played in only one game because of a knee injury that required microfracture surgery and might keep him out of the beginning of this season. Once again he is in a contract year, having signed a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.5 million.

Jason Hatcher was in a contract year last year and responded with his best season. He had 11 sacks -- after putting up just 16 in his previous seven -- and was named to the Pro Bowl. His age -- he turned 32 on Sunday -- kept the Cowboys from making a play at re-signing him, but the Washington Redskins signed him to a four-year, $27.5 million deal as a free agent.

Way back in 2007, Ken Hamlin joined the Cowboys on a one-year deal. He put up a career-high five picks and was named to the Pro Bowl. Prior to the 2008 season, he signed a six-year, $39 million deal with the Cowboys that included $15 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2009 season.

Some contract years have not been as productive. Cornerback Mike Jenkins saw the Cowboys add Brandon Carr in free agency with a $50 million deal and draft Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. Jenkins was coming off shoulder surgery, did his rehab elsewhere and started only two of 13 games in 2012. He signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Gerald Sensabaugh played on three straight one-year deals with the Cowboys from 2009-11 before cashing in at the end of the 2011 season with a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $8 million guaranteed. He was cut after the 2012 season.

Which brings us back to Carter, the club's second-round pick in 2011.

"That's certainly a cliché thing in all of sports, that people talk about, 'He's in a contract year and he's going to take a different approach than he had up till this point,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know if I buy that with guys that I have been around. I think Bruce Carter wants to be a really good football player. I think that's independent of anything that is going on in the business side. I think getting comfortable in this scheme for the second year -- I think Sean Lee's absence will help him. It will force him to step up a little bit more. It will force Justin Durant to step up a little bit more. Sometimes you can have a player as strong as Sean Lee is -- such a great leader like Sean is -- sometimes you defer to that guy. I think it's really important for those guys to understand he's not here right now. They have to step up. They've done a better job of that throughout the OTAs and minicamp."

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said Carter has "ramped up," the meetings with the position coach in the offseason.

"I think he's taking steps in the right direction," Eberflus said. "And he's putting the work in. He's meeting with me as much as he can. Studying the tape, giving him clear and concise goals daily for practice and he's doing a good job of attaining those goals each and every day so when he does that he takes steps in the right direction to improve his fundamentals and his game."

Barry Church to enter new role for Cowboys

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
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IRVING, Texas -- A year ago, Barry Church was something of a question mark.

He was coming off a torn Achilles and played in parts of only three games in 2012.

This year, the safety might be the Dallas Cowboys' most established defender.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church
AP Photo/James D SmithMore will be asked of Barry Church this season.
Anthony Spencer is the most tenured, but he might not play until the seventh game of the season. Orlando Scandrick has the most Dallas experience among the defensive backs, but he will be pushed for a starting job by Morris Claiborne. Bruce Carter has more career starts, but the linebacker is enigmatic to say the least.

That leaves Church, who led the Cowboys with 147 tackles from his safety spot. He also had five tackles for loss, an interception, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.

“You never want to get too complacent or take things for granted,” Church said. “I feel like I have a role on this team now, especially at the safety crew because I’m one of the oldest guys out there in the secondary, me and Orlando and Brandon Carr. It’s a different role coming in being one of the old guys.”

Church came to the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He worked his way up from special-teamer to sub-package player to a starter.

This year he figures to add another role: leader.

With Sean Lee out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Cowboys are in need of a defensive leader. Church deferred to Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher last year, but now the younger players (as well as his peers) will look to him.

The coaches have asked him to be more vocal.

“I pretty much know the defense front and back, so the more I can communicate to the other guys and get people lined up, the better. I definitely feel like I can do it. I could’ve done it last year, but Sean was the designated leader and the vocal captain, so you roll with him. He was the guy. He proved himself. I was coming off an injury and had to re-prove myself.”

Church is a player coach Jason Garrett often cites as an example to younger players trying to figure it out.

“He loves to play,” Garrett said. “People respond to him. And he does a lot of positive things. He’s around the ball a lot. He makes a lot of plays. So he has that way about him where people kind of gravitate toward him because of his personality and because of his play. Just needs to play more and keep doing that. In regards to the absence of Sean, he absolutely needs to step up as a leader. Your best players need to do that. When you play a position like safety, you’re a big communicator back there with everybody else in the secondary. So being strong with his [voice] and being strong with his mannerisms and getting everybody squared away, I think that’s a big part of what his job is.”

Best case/worst case: DeMarcus Lawrence

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys’ season.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Best case: He is DeMarcus Ware, circa 2005

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Lawrence
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys have high hopes for rookie DeMarcus Lawrence.
For nine years, Ware was everything the Cowboys hoped he would be. He put up 119 sacks, a franchise record. He went to the Pro Bowl seven times. But Ware needed time to grow in his rookie year in 2005. He finished his rookie year with eight sacks, with his best game coming in Week 16 when he had a three-sack effort against Carolina. The Cowboys would love to get eight sacks from Lawrence as a rookie. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer studied the last 32 edge rushers taken in the first round and saw they averaged 3.7 sacks per season. Lawrence was a second-round draft pick (albeit two spots from the first round). He will be given a chance to play a lot as a rookie. The Cowboys made a lot of additions to their defensive line in the offseason, but Lawrence is the lone true right defensive end. That distinction was why they gave up their third-round pick to get him in a trade with the Washington Redskins. He looks the part, with long arms and decent speed. He does not possess Ware’s athleticism (few do) but he if he can get eight sacks, the Cowboys' defensive line will be better than many believe and the Cowboys will have their pass-rusher of the present and the future.

Worst case: He is chewed up by left tackles

Rookies at any position need time. Rookie pass-rushers, as we established in the best-case scenario, need time. Lawrence will be tested in training camp by going against Tyron Smith in practice, but there has to be a hope his confidence doesn’t get damaged if Smith chews him up in the summer. If he can hold his own, then maybe that will build his confidence in getting ready to go against tackles like Jason Peters, Joe Staley and Russell Okung. The Cowboys’ approach to the defensive line this offseason has been to bring a lot of numbers. Lawrence, however, can bring the most quality, especially if Henry Melton is not fully healthy. If Lawrence doesn’t work out – or needs the normal amount of time to adjust to the NFL – then the Cowboys will have to go with quantity and throw everybody at the position from Jeremy Mincey to Tyrone Crawford to Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery. The Cowboys don’t need Lawrence to lead the defense in sacks in 2014, but he must contribute more than 3.7 sacks.

Cowboys place Sean Lee on IR

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
6:50
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IRVING, Texas – To make room for Rolando McClain on the 90-man roster, the Dallas Cowboys officially ended Sean Lee’s season.

Lee was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, which means he will not play until 2015. He suffered the injury during the first organized team activity of the offseason.

Lee
Lee had surgery on June 12. The Cowboys had the option of placing him on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp and could have put him on the reserve/PUP list, which would have cost him the first six games of the season with the opportunity to return after 12 weeks.

The normal recovery time for a torn ACL is 6-9 months.

With a few players likely being placed on PUP at the start of camp – Anthony Spencer, Amobi Okoye and others who could fail the conditioning test – the Cowboys could not eat up another roster spot on Lee, knowing there was only an outside shot he could play in December.

The Cowboys do not want to rush Lee’s recovery. He has not been able to play a full season in his career, missing time with hamstring, wrist, toe, hamstring and neck injuries. He is their most dynamic playmaker on defense, but they have been forced to play without him.

Now they know they will be without him for the full season.
video
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' search for a possible replacement for Sean Lee has led them to Rolando McClain.

In 2010, the Oakland Raiders made McClain the eighth pick of the NFL draft. It never worked out for him with the Raiders for a variety of reasons, including some of his misdeeds. It never worked out for him in two short stints with the Baltimore Ravens that led to him retiring twice.

But he doesn't turn 25 until July 14.

The Cowboys are looking at a low-risk chance for a high-ceiling talent.

“He sounds as excited about football as I've ever heard him,” said McClain's agent, Pat Dye.

McClain
If that holds up, then the Cowboys might have found the guy to man the middle linebacker spot that opened when Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May. The Cowboys mostly worked veteran Justin Durant at Lee's spot in the organized team activities and minicamp, but dabbled with rookie Anthony Hitchens and second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman at the spot.

Durant is an outside linebacker masking as a middle linebacker even if the coaches believe he can play all three linebacker positions. Holloman started two games at middle linebacker last year as a rookie out of desperation. Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, has a lot to learn.

McClain comes with a better resume than any of them, but his off-field issues -- a number of arrests since being drafted -- are a concern. The fact that he retired twice is a concern, but Dye's words offer encouragement that McClain, who ended Jason Witten's preseason in 2012 with a hit in a exhibition game that led to a lacerated spleen, knows this might be his last chance.

“I see, and Rolando sees, the Dallas situation as a great opportunity given Sean's injury, and you're talking about a great franchise and a great organization,” Dye said. “I've described to any of the clients we've had through the years there -- Emmitt Smith, Dexter Coakley, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking, DeMarco Murray -- that playing for the Cowboys in football is kind of like playing for the Yankees in baseball. Just an iconic franchise. With kind of what he's done going back to his time with the Raiders, I think that all of this has led him to a point where he feels like the game is too important to him to give up. He's just 24 years old. He's very talented. He's very bright. Tough. Competitive. There's a reason he was a top-10 pick at a position that is almost impossible to be a top-10 pick. Hopefully this situation will go smoothly.”

Patience will be required. McClain has not played in a game since November 2012, after he was suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team. He has not taken part in a full offseason program. He will have to learn a new defense and a new team.

The Cowboys have taken these sorts of chances on former high draft picks before. In 2005, they signed Marc Colombo, who was the Chicago Bears' first-round pick in 2002, after he suffered a serious knee injury. In 2006, Colombo became the Cowboys' starting right tackle and held the spot through 2010.

Asking that of McClain is too much. He's on just a one-year deal and the Cowboys believe Lee will be 100 percent in 2015, but this is a chance worth taking.

And it falls in line with how the Cowboys have conducted their offseason business, spending wisely if not exorbitantly on guys such as Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye.

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.  

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.

Stephen Jones: Cowboys O can be great

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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IRVING, Texas -- Much of the focus of the Dallas Cowboys' offseason has been about how to improve a defense that finished 32nd in the NFL last season.

The Cowboys swapped out defensive coordinators, bringing in Rod Marinelli for Monte Kiffin. They have swapped out players, cutting DeMarcus Ware and losing Jason Hatcher. They lost their best defender, Sean Lee, to a knee injury in May. Their highest-profile free-agent signing, Henry Melton, has not taken a team snap as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The biggest re-signing, Anthony Spencer, might not be able to take a snap in training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery.

Despite the historic defensive deficiencies in 2013, the Cowboys were a Week 17 win away from making the playoffs.

With just a slight improvement on defense, the Cowboys believe they can contend for the postseason.

"I agree," executive vice president Stephen Jones said, "and I think we're better on offense than we were last year."

The Cowboys averaged 27.4 points per game last year, which was fifth-most in the league, but they averaged only 341.1 yards per game, which was 16th. They struggled on third down, converting just 35 percent, and they could not finish games by running the ball or chose not to attempt to run the ball.

Jones believes the offense has a chance to be great in 2014.

"Obviously we believe Tony Romo is an elite quarterback and you put the supporting cast with him, that's why picked Zack Martin," Jones said. "I think we're better in the offensive line and you'd hope so if you spent the 16th pick in the draft on one of the better offensive lineman in the draft. You'd like to hope you're better. And we were pretty good last year and I think we'll move that up to where you say, ‘Hey, we've got a chance to have an elite offense.'"

The pieces are there. Romo threw 31 touchdown passes and was intercepted just 10 times in 15 games. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray and Tyron Smith went to the Pro Bowl. With Martin, the Cowboys have three first-round picks on the line with Smith and Travis Frederick. Wide receiver Terrance Williams proved he could be a playmaker last year and will take over for Miles Austin.

The Cowboys will break in their third playcaller in as many years in Scott Linehan after Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan, but Jones likes the freshness Linehan will bring to the offense. The Cowboys are not overhauling the system, but adding Linehan's wrinkles.

"I think he brings a different look," Jones said. "After a while when it's been Jason's offense and Bill ran Jason's offense and called the plays in Jason's offense but at the end of the day we'd been doing that for a while. I think now to add wrinkles and add things to it, I don't think it's going to be, when people get ready to play us, that they know exactly what to expect now."

Jerry Jones: Defense can't be worse

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
11:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones is the eternal optimist, as we all know.

The Dallas Cowboys defense will be without DeMarcus Ware (offseason release), Jason Hatcher (free-agent defection) and Sean Lee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but the owner and general manager sees a defense that will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 when it finished last in the league in yards allowed.

Jones
Jones
Why?

"Because we were so bad last year, there's no place but up," Jones said.

So there is that. The Cowboys made modest moves in free agency with the signings of Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. They re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is not likely to be ready to start training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round.

Mostly they are hoping for serious improvement from within.

The Cowboys finished 19th overall in defense in 2012. Injuries ravaged the defense by the end of the season, but that did not save Rob Ryan's job.

Last year the Cowboys made a scheme change, switching from the 3-4 under Ryan to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. They did not make serious personnel additions (Will Allen, Justin Durant) and were hoping not only for improvement from within but scheme flexibility from players drafted to play in Bill Parcells' or Wade Phillips' 3-4.

It seemed as if the Cowboys thought 2013 would be better because it could not be worse than it was at the end of 2012, but Jones disagreed with the assessment.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We're certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."

Workload unlikely to change for Tony Romo

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
10:30
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IRVING, Texas -- Through the organized team activities, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been kept out of competitive drills as well as some individual work as he recovers from December back surgery.

Romo
With the Cowboys' minicamp starting Tuesday, Romo will continue down the same road. Romo has said recently he expects to be 100 percent within a few weeks, but that time frame comes after the Cowboys' offseason is over.

"We'll take him day-by-day like we do with all the other guys," Garrett said last week, "but I don't see it changing dramatically."

Romo has gone through walkthrough drills with the first-team offense and thrown individual routes with wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. He has not taken a snap in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills. He has also sat out of the quarterback's footwork drills as the team attempts to protect him from jarring motions as much as possible.

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Romo will not be the only Cowboy to likely be limited because of injury during the three-day minicamp. Wide receiver L'Damian Washington (shoulder), wide receiver Devin Street (quadriceps bruise), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring), linebacker DeVonte Holloman, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, defensive end Ben Gardner (groin), defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (illness), defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee), wide receiver Dwayne Harris (shoulder), defensive end George Selvie (shoulder), defensive end Caesar Rayford (shoulder) have been either slowed by injury during all or part of the offseason program.

Johnson took part in just one OTA before his hamstring tightened up. Because of his history (he missed his rookie season with recurring hamstring injuries) the Cowboys have wanted to protect Johnson. He missed last season because of foot surgery.

He is hoping to take part in the minicamp in some fashion.

"I've just been making sure it's good to go," Johnson said. "I think we're being over-cautious but I feel good."

Cornerback Terrance Mitchell, one of the Cowboys' five seventh-round picks, will take part in team drills for the first time since the rookie minicamp in May. League rules prevented him from showing up before June 13 because Oregon had not graduated.

Cowboys chat recap: Where's the rush?

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
9:00
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IRVING, Texas -- With the Dallas Cowboys closing up shop on their organized team activities this week, we had a lively chat on Wednesday.

In it we discussed:
  • The Cowboys’ salary-cap situation.
  • The Cowboys’ secondary situation.
  • The Cowboys’ leadership situation
  • The Cowboys’ fullback situation

If you want to read the full chat, click here. And as a note, next week’s chat will be pushed back to June 20 with the Cowboys holding the minicamp next week.

But there was one question I’d like to expand upon.

Rico (North Jersey): Hey Todd, thanks for answering my question. I do not think any of our d-line guys can get double digit sacks, but if all them get 7 or 8 sacks each, I think that would improve greatly from last year. I'll take that over a D.Ware. What do you think?

Todd Archer: Jeremy Mincey has one eight-sack season and it came in 2011. Henry Melton has never had eight sacks in a season. Anthony Spencer did it once. George Selvie had a career-high seven last year. I don't think all of them can get you seven or eight. Maybe 5-7 is the max. Is that enough? Not sure.

I just don’t see a defender right now with the ability to get a double-digit sack season. The best indicator for these kinds of things is past performance. Spencer has one in his career but there is a really good chance he does not play more than 10 regular-season games this year. Mincey came close with eight when he was in Jacksonville. Maybe Melton can do what Jason Hatcher did last year at the 3-technique. Hatcher never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season and had 11 in 2013. He really took to the scheme

Melton has a history with Rod Marinelli of performing well, so there is that past-performance indicator. I just don’t think he gets 10 sacks. Selvie had seven sacks last year. Can he do it again? Six of those seven sacks came in the first nine games. If he plays less this year, will that freshness allow him to get to the quarterback more?

DeMarcus Lawrence will have a chance, but remember DeMarcus Ware had eight as a rookie and three came in one game in Week 16. He will have to learn on the job.

The Cowboys had only 34 sacks last year. They had 34 in 2012 with Rob Ryan running the 3-4. It is their lowest two-year total since 2003-04 when they had 65. Bill Parcells moved to the 3-4 in 2005 after drafting Ware and the Cowboys’ sack totals increased. They really increased when Wade Phillips took over. In Phillips’ three full seasons the Cowboys had 46, 59 and 42 sacks.

For nine years, Ware was the lead dog. This year it looks like a sack-by-committee approach. But will the leader reach 10? Do they have five guys who could get 40 sacks between them? I just don’t think you can expect career years from so many players.

Anthony Spencer running on field

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
3:20
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Anthony Spencer has started running on the field in his comeback from microfracture knee surgery, but the Dallas Cowboys' defensive end is not sure when he will be able to practice.

Spencer
“It’s one thing to be able to run and then another whole thing to play football, so I’ve got a little ways to go,” Spencer said. “But it’s progress and that’s basically what I’ve been showing this whole time.”

Spencer acknowledged he could open training camp on the physically unable to perform list with only six weeks to go before the Cowboys report to Oxnard, California. If the Cowboys place him on active/PUP he could return to practice at any time during the summer and it would make him eligible for reserve/PUP when the final cuts are announced. If he is placed on reserve/PUP, he would miss the first six games.

Spencer, who signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys as a free agent, has run twice over the past seven days and has not felt any problems

“We’ve been doing it in a way that it’s not too sore after, and I’ve been able to come back and do some more stuff the next day, so we’re just progressing,” Spencer said.

Spencer had the surgery last fall. The normal recovery is 8-10 months with such an involved operation, and Spencer does not feel like it has gone too slow. He said he expects to start doing some change of direction and cutting in a few weeks.

He has no doubts he will play this season.

“Not from me,” he said. “I’m sure some other people have their doubts, but I don’t have any doubts, no.”

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