Dallas Cowboys: Demarco Murray

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.

Romo preseason debut is success

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
10:45
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video

ARLINGTON, Texas -- You wanted to see Tony Romo move around Saturday night in his preseason debut against the Baltimore Ravens.

You wanted to see him get jostled, and you wanted to see him throw the deep ball. And deep down, you probably wanted to see him lead the first-team offense on a scoring drive too.

He did all of that in just 14 plays and emerged unscathed.

So the evening must be considered a rousing success, despite Baltimore's 37-30 win at AT&T Stadium.

This season is all about the Dallas Cowboys' offense because we know the defense is going to stink. For the Cowboys to end their string of three consecutive 8-8 seasons, Romo must stay healthy and the offense must be prolific.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo's 4-for-5 night and long TD pass suggest the 34-year-old QB will be ready for Week 1.
Obviously, we won't know whether Romo's back is going to hold up until the regular season begins, but the starting offense has looked dynamic throughout training camp and has been good in each of the first two preseason games.

The Cowboys have taken a cautious approach with Romo throughout training camp, given that the 34-year-old quarterback has had two back surgeries in the past year and the alternative is Brandon Weeden.

So far, so good.

Romo completed four of five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in his preseason debut. He led the starting offense to a touchdown but also botched a handoff that resulted in a Ravens touchdown.

Considering he's missed so much practice time during training camp, we shouldn't really be surprised he was involved in a mishap such as that. Actually, the real surprise is probably that more mistakes didn't occur.

Romo has become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks because of his ability to move in the pocket and create extra time that often results in big plays. He provided a glimpse of his ability to still do that on the Cowboys' third play.

Facing pressure, Romo stepped up into the pocket. Then, he moved right and delivered a perfect pass to Dez Bryant, who was running across the field. The catch and run netted 22 yards.

"I thought he looked like himself and moved around in the pocket," coach Jason Garrett said. "He made some good throws that looked like he saw the field well. He felt the pocket really well and looked comfortable moving the team."

(Read full post)

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.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 13 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) Before you get yourself all worked up over the possibility of Josh Brent rejoining the Cowboys, understand their desperation level.

This defense gave up 415.3 yards and 27 points a game last season, and there’s no guarantee it will be better. And that’s with a quality defensive staff headed by Rod Marinelli.

SportsNation

Would you like to see Josh Brent return to the Cowboys?

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    71%
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    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,151)

Adding Brent to the roster would really be no different than adding Rolando McClain. They’re taking a chance on a player they might otherwise pass on because the defense needs a talent infusion.

Study the players on the Cowboys’ defensive line, and making the decision to add Brent to the mix isn’t that difficult.

Plus, there’s no guarantee he makes the team. He hasn’t played in more than a year and he wasn’t working out much, if at all, while he was in jail.

Actually, the most interesting aspect of Brent’s potential return is whether Roger Goodell suspends him or counts the year he sat out in retirement as a suspension year.

With all of the criticism Goodell received for the two-game suspension of Baltimore running back Ray Rice, it’s hard to tell whether that will make him issue a tougher penalty than he ordinarily would in the Brent case.

McClain
2) Rolando McClain has some minor hamstring and quadriceps issues, but it’s clear the Cowboys want him on the field.

They say the minor injuries are the result of McClain not participating in the offseason workout program combined with the hard work he has put in since he arrived.

The combination has put his body under some stress. Still, the club is beyond pleased with his work right now.

Don’t be shocked if the starting linebackers against San Francisco are Kyle Wilber, McClain and Justin Durant.

Bruce Carter has work to do.

3) The screen pass looks like it’s going to be a bigger part of the Cowboys’ offense than it has been, which would make sense.

Play-caller Scott Linehan used them frequently with running back Reggie Bush last season, All of the lineman except Ron Leary would be considered quality blockers in space, and DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar have good hands.

Screen plays don’t work without the coaching staff committed to the practice time it takes to get good at executing them.

Key number: 37

The Cowboys problem last season wasn’t moving the ball. They had just 37 three-and-outs in 183 possessions.

Only six teams had a higher percentage and five made the playoffs. Now, the Cowboys need to score touchdowns instead of kick field goals.

Do so, and they might be able to protect their defense and win some games.

Player to Watch: Devin Street


The fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh is a smooth receiver who has the size the Cowboys these days at 6-3 and 200 pounds, but his task right now is to get stronger.

He’ll have to get bigger, so he can be physical enough to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage and to create separation with all of the hand-fighting that goes on between receivers and defensive backs.

He scored a couple of touchdowns in the Cowboys Blue & White scrimmage, but if he wants playing time this season he’ll have to do it on special teams unless there’s an injury.

The Cowboys like their group at receiver, so they don’t need to rush Street into the lineup. They can develop him slowly and let receivers coach Derek Dooley help him improve.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 10 of Dallas Cowboys training camp:


1) One way the Cowboys can improve their defense is to be considerably better against play-action passes.


Last year, they were awful.

Opposing quarterbacks passed for 1,088 yards, while averaging a ridiculous 9.0 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Before you start criticizing the cornerbacks, understand the linebackers and safeties usually bit so hard on the run fake they left the cornerbacks exposed. A cornerback forcing a receiver inside who doesn’t get the help he expects is always going to look bad.

With Rod Marinelli in charge of the entire defense this season, the Cowboys have changed how they’re playing and some of the coverages they're using in certain situations to be more fundamentally sound.

2) The combination of an improved offensive line and Scott Linehan’s creativity has running back DeMarco Murray poised to have a huge year.

You’re certainly entitled to criticize him for his inability to get through a 16-game season unscathed -- he’s missed 11 games in three seasons -- but Murray has a career average of 4.9 yards on 542 carries.

He was terrific last year with 1,121 yards rushing, 53 receptions for 330 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He’ll be 27 before next season and running backs notoriously become significantly less productive when they hit 30. As a player who’s had an injury history teams will be even more leery than usual when it comes to signing him to a long-term deal.

But if he puts up numbers this year as a 26-year-old in his prime should put up, then someone is going to play him whether it’s Dallas or some other team.

3) Jason Garrett has put together a diverse coaching staff, which can only help.

This isn’t about race, although the Cowboys do have four African-American coaches on their staff. This is more about age and pedigree.

The Cowboys have three coaches in their twenties, two in their thirties, 10 in their forties, including Garrett, five in their fifties, one in his sixties and two in their seventies.

Some members of Garrett's staff played in the NFL and some didn’t. He has some who played big-time college football and some who played for tiny programs. He has guys who were drafted and played in the Pro Bowl and guys who were role players.

What that does is allow the staff to relate to the players on several different levels.

Each player learns differently. Each player has a different background. The more diverse the coaching staff, the better the odds a player will find someone on the staff he can relate to -- even if it’s not his position coach.

Key number: 257

The Cowboys’ defense was on the field for 1,094 plays last season and 257 of them -- 65 runs and 192 passes -- gained 10 yards or more.

That’s 23.4 percent. Wow.

The 65 runs of 10-plus yards they allowed ranked second only to Chicago’s 84. Philadelphia (202) and Minnesota (200) were the only teams that allowed more pass plays of 10 yards or more.

The Tampa 2 scheme is designed to stop big plays because the safeties and linebackers are supposed to keep plays in front of them. The biggest indictment of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator is that he couldn’t get his players to play the scheme the way it was designed.

Player to Watch: Ron Leary

The third-year guard from Memphis missed much of the first two weeks with a strained hamstring, but Garrett said he didn’t think it would hurt him too much in the competition at left guard.

That’s an indication he'd prefer Leary to win the job. To do so, he’ll have to earn it because Mackenzy Bernadeau has been doing a good job in addition to his duties as backup center.

Leary plays with power and has a nasty streak the Cowboys like. He started 16 games last season and helped Murray rush for 1,121 yards.

He does a good job of anchoring in the middle of the line, making it difficult to pressure Romo up the middle
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 7 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

The Cowboys signed Tyron Smith to a huge deal -- a $98 million extension -- that will keep him locked up for the next 10 seasons.

Smith
It’s hard to believe owner Jerry Jones has ever felt better about giving a player a contract. Smith is only 23, and he’s already one of the best left tackles in the game. His work-ethic is beyond reproach and he has emerged as a leader.

When Jones talks about Smith, he compares him to tight end Jason Witten, a consumate professional. Every long-term deal has some risk; the risk on Smith’s deal is negligible.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is going to miss 8-10 weeks with a fractured right foot, which pretty much ruins his rookie season.

In a perfect world, Lawrence -- a need pick -- would be finding a groove about the middle of the season and making an impact for the Cowboys. Now, he’s just going to be getting started right about then.

More important, he’s missing all of the teaching that takes place during training camp. During the season, most of the work is about preparing for the next opponent. The Cowboys drafted Lawrence to be a significant contributor this season. Now that is unlikely to happen.

The Cowboys have five receivers who have pretty much guaranteed spots on the roster, including rookie Devin Street.

But there is so much potential in the receivers group that the Cowboys could easily keep six. If they do, the best special teams player will make the team. And we’re not going to know who that is until the preseason games start because you can only simulate so much in training camp. The games are when players such as LaRon Byrd, Dezmon Briscoe and Chris Boyd separate themselves.

Key number 24.6

Imagine if the Cowboys didn’t have a league-leading 24.6 million counting against their salary cap for players no longer on the team, how good their cap situation would be. As it is, the Cowboys were about $11 million under the salary cap before they signed Smith to his mega deal. Still, they have the room to get team-friendly deals done with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, if they choose. DeMarcus Ware ($8.5 million), Jay Ratliff ($6.9 million) and Miles Austin ($2.7 million) comprise the biggest chunks of dead money.

Player to Watch: Jeremy Mincey

Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys have been intrigued by Mincey for several seasons, but had not been able to get a deal done. They finally have him, and they need the 30-year-old veteran to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. He has 20 sacks in 66 career games. His best season occurred in 2011 for Jacksonville, when he had eight sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. Dallas would take that with zero complaint.

Garrett enters his biggest season -- again

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
10:00
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Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
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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.

Chat recap: Re-thinking QB position

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:00
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IRVING, Texas – In our weekly chat on Wednesday, we touched on a number of subjects, including the recently released Kyle Orton.

We also discussed:


To read the full chat, click here.

But I wanted to delve a little deeper into one subject from the chat and that’s Johnny Manziel. Wait, who? I kid. Here’s what I was asked:
Steve (Tyler, Tx): Any second thoughts on passing on Manziel now that Kyle Orton has retired?

Todd Archer: I was waiting for this question. It's an interesting scenario isn't it? Well, first off, Orton didn't retire. He was cut. Now, I believe he wanted to retire but was going to show up to camp so he didn't have to pay back bonus money. But that's splitting hairs. Let's say the Cowboys did this back before the draft. Wouldn't their philosophy have been different regarding the quarterback? I believe so. I don't think they regret not taking Manziel because we're using hindsight of what we know now and not what we knew then.

After the Cowboys took Zack Martin in the first round, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys really spent no time talking about taking Manziel with the 16th pick in the first round. A little later in the offseason, Jones said the Cowboys seriously considered it. So Jones kind of covered the bases with those answers.

Had the Cowboys made the move with Orton before the draft, I believe Manziel would have been more of a consideration. Remember, they had not seen much from Brandon Weeden before the draft. The organized team activities had not started by that time.

The drama that Manziel would have brought to the Cowboys would have been overwhelming, but I don’t think the Cowboys – or any team – should act in fear of what might happen off the field with fans’ reactions or media interpretations. I think they did the right thing in taking Martin from a football perspective. He makes the offense better in 2014 and potentially the defense better in 2014. Manziel likely wouldn’t have made either better in 2014. Maybe not in 2015, either.

Would I have felt differently if Orton were gone by then? Perhaps. I think Manziel will be an excellent quarterback.

If Orton was gone by May and if the Cowboys passed on Manziel, then I believe they would have adjusted their thinking about drafting a quarterback at all. The position wasn’t discussed much during the draft. But the guy I think they would have taken in the middle rounds if he was available: Tom Savage.

Savage went to the Houston Texans in the fourth round. Why Savage? One of the reasons why they liked Devin Street so much was the fact that he played in a pro-style offense at Pitt. Savage was his quarterback. Savage was the quarterback when the Cowboys ran Street through a private workout. Jason Garrett has a close relationship with Pitt coach Paul Chryst.

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Todd Archer examines the three biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into training camp:

The health of Romo: Ever since he became the starter in 2006, how Tony Romo goes is how the Cowboys go. He is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, but he was able to do much more this offseason than he did in 2013, when he had a cyst removed. The Cowboys kept Romo out of any competitive drills in the spring in order for him to be fully healthy by the time they got to training camp. Using last year's camp as a guide, Romo did not miss a day of work, and the Cowboys don't believe he will need to be eased into the full practice load this summer either. Because a big part of Romo's game is his ability to move and create in open space, however, they will be cautious if there even hints of more soreness than just the aches and pains of training camp. All offseason, the Cowboys have not expressed any worry about Romo, who turned 34 in April, being able to return to form. He will get his first chance to show it on the practice fields in Oxnard, California. If he can play at a high level -- he had 32 touchdown passes and 10 picks in 15 games last season -- then the Cowboys should be able to contend for a playoff spot in a division that is not as strong as it has been in the past.

Marinelli to the rescue: The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013, and they enter this season without their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware), last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) and their best playmaker (Sean Lee). Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator and will bring subtle changes in coverages, fronts and blitzes, but the core of the 4-3 scheme will remain the same as when that coaching duo was together at Tampa Bay. The Cowboys did not make any splash signings in free agency, but their most important was Henry Melton. If he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and play the way he did under Marinelli in Chicago, the Cowboys have a chance. Marinelli also plans to lean more on cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in man coverage, but Carr and Claiborne have to play much better in 2014 than they did in 2013. There could be as many as seven new opening day starters on defense this season than in 2013, and it is up to Marinelli to make it work. He had more talent with the Bears when he was running their defense, but the players believe in what he is selling.

Plan of attack: From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.
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.

Running backs

On the roster: DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams, Ben Malena, Tyler Clutts, J.C. Copeland

Locks: Murray, Dunbar

Virtual lock: Randle, Clutts

Need help: Williams, Malena, Copeland

How many fit? The Cowboys had four running backs on the roster with either four tailbacks or three tailbacks and a fullback. That seems to be the right number in putting together the 53-man roster this year, but the breakdown could be different.

Murray, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season, and Dunbar are locks. Randle has the inside track for the No. 3 job and would likely take over the every-down role if something were to happen to Murray. He will be pushed by Williams, who is a former second-round pick. He was unable to stay healthy in his time with the Arizona Cardinals but he has natural ability that could push him by Randle, a fifth-round pick last year.

Malena is an interesting prospect. He showed speed, quickness and smarts in the spring, and his ability to play special teams could enhance his chances. Of the other tailbacks only Dunbar has real special teams' experience.

There is a question as to whether the Cowboys will keep even one fullback. Could they go heavy and carry four tight ends, like they did for a spell last season? If they do, that fourth tight end isn't on the roster at the moment. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup. Copeland, who signed as an undrafted free agent, needs to get in better shape.

Evaluating fullbacks in the spring is difficult because they are not in pads. They are paid to move people and you can't really move people in the organized team activities and minicamp. Clutts has the edge over Copeland, and he could also play some special teams.

Could the Cowboys keep only three tailbacks? Sure, but then they would have to put one on the practice squad, which could be a spot for Malena.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
If you want to check out Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: I believe Gavin Escobar will play a lot more in 2014 than he did as a rookie but it won't come at the expense of Jason Witten. Witten will still play 98 percent of the snaps unless there is an injury or a blowout or three. Escobar's ascension isn't about Witten's descent. It's about using his skills to the fullest and trying to find a role for him. I've said this before here but I don't think Escobar will be a true on-the-line tight end. That doesn't mean he won't play there. It just means he is more Jimmy Graham in style (not ability) than Witten. That's OK. There's nothing wrong with that. Whenever Witten moves on, the Cowboys will need to find more than one guy to replace him. @toddarcher: Sure you can. I know everybody loves the "defense wins championships," adage, but if you're defining winning as only taking home a Super Bowl then I think that's a little narrow view. The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers are carried by their offenses. They've won. Would you take that kind of winning around here with the Cowboys? Sure. The Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009. The Packers won it in 2010. The Patriots last won one in 2004 but have gotten to the big game. The Broncos lost in it in 2013. Since the Cowboys have won one playoff game in 475 years (has it been that long?), I think fans would take the winning those teams have had with offensive-oriented teams. @toddarcher: Lance Dunbar didn't miss a snap in the offseason so that tells me he is fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his season last year on Thanksgiving. He'll have the third-down back role. We saw Scott Linehan use Dunbar in a number of different ways in the spring. He can be good in the screen game because he's a space player. He has the ability to be a change of pace runner for DeMarco Murray. But does this mean he will see a huge role? Not necessarily because I think Murray will still be on the field for the bulk of the game. And if something happens to Murray, I think they would keep Dunbar in the third down role, expand it a little, but use Joseph Randle or Ryan Williams, whoever wins the third back job, as the every-down back. @toddarcher: Great question. I think Dwayne Harris' role will stay the same. He will be used when they go to 11 personnel at times and when they go empty. He plays a vital role and he's dependable. The quarterback likes to throw to him. I think part of the reason why you didn't hear much about him in the offseason is because he didn't do any team drills in the spring because of a shoulder surgery. We weren't able to see him do anything with Linehan on offense, so it was put on the backburner. I believe you'll see him have a role in the slot. He's a really good blocker in there. He is also one of the more dangerous punt and kick return guys in the league. 

Best case/worst case: DeMarco Murray

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
1:00
PM ET
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 who will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys’ season.

DeMarco Murray

Best-case: He's a closer

Murray
Murray ran for 1,121 yards last season and scored nine touchdowns on the ground. He was added to the Pro Bowl. When he plays well, the Cowboys play well. It’s as simple as that. The Cowboys have to use him more. Health will be an issue. He has yet to play a full season. But the Cowboys must use Murray more in the second halves of games and in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter of games last season, he carried just 43 times for 207 yards. In the second halves of games last season, he carried just 89 times for 391 yards. In the first halves, he carried 128 times for 730 yards and eight touchdowns. For his career, he has 104 carries in the fourth quarter for 505 yards. With a defense that will need a lot of help, the Cowboys will have to finish off games by pounding the ball to kill the clock. They don’t need to alter their approach early in games. They still need to score points to get two-score leads that make running the ball make a lot more sense. The Cowboys drafted Zack Martin, in part, to be better running the ball late in games. Think back to the Green Bay game last season or the Detroit game in 2011. The Cowboys had big second-half leads and didn’t run it. Maybe it was Jason Garrett’s hubris. Maybe it was the lack of faith in the running game. There are no excuses now, even if Scott Linehan has leaned to the pass as a playcaller. If Murray is a closer, then the Cowboys can contend in the NFC East.

Worst-case: He can’t stay healthy

This was the same worst-case scenario discussed with Tony Romo. Sean Lee gets criticized for his inability to stay healthy. Murray has yet to play a full season either. Murray missed three games as a rookie. He missed six in 2012. He missed two games last season. The Cowboys are 4-6 without Murray. He is a difference-maker, but he can only be a difference-maker if he is on the field. The best running backs are durable. That was Emmitt Smith's best trait. He was there every week and he produced. If Murray goes down, the Cowboys are looking at Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle or Ryan Williams as their top back. Dunbar is not built to be an every-down back. Randle took over in Murray’s absence last season and averaged 3 yards per carry. In late-game situations, the Cowboys couldn’t kill the game, especially at Detroit. Williams has a pedigree, but he has played in five games in his career because of injury. If Murray can’t stay healthy, the look of the Cowboys’ offense changes drastically and that is not something they can afford.

Insiders not high on Cowboys' future

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
11:15
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – ESPN Insiders John Clayton, Mel Kiper, Louis Riddick and Mike Sando had the difficult task of coming up with power rankings for teams over the next three years.Insider

The Dallas Cowboys did not fare well. They came in at No. 28. Only the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders were worse.

Using five categories – roster, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching – the Cowboys checked in with 68.10 out of 100. The Seattle Seahawks checked in at No. 1 with 88.4 points.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/John FroschauerTony Romo's age could be a factor in the Cowboys' low ranking in the NFL Future Power Rankings.
To read the full article, you have to be an Insider, but here’s what they wrote about the Cowboys:
The overview: Dallas and Oakland are the only teams ranking among the NFL's five worst in four of the five categories. The Cowboys were 13th at QB. Tony Romo ranked tied for eighth in our recent "QB Tiers" project, but that was for the present. The future rankings project forward through 2016, when Romo will be 37 years old. How will his surgically repaired back hold up? Subtracting DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee from a defense that's already shaky appears devastating. That helps explain why the Dallas roster (beyond QB) ranked 29th. There aren't enough front-line players on defense. Salary-cap challenges persist. Only the Raiders and Dolphins ranked lower than the Cowboys in the front-office category, which is a strong statement of disapproval for how Jerry Jones runs the franchise. --Mike Sando

The dilemma: For Dallas, the real issue going forward is how successful it is at developing its draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, primarily 2012 draftees Morris Claiborne and Tyrone Crawford and 2014 draft picks DeMarcus Lawrence and Anthony Hitchens. The offense is set, regardless of how easy it is to pile on Romo. Defense is where championships are won. --Louis Riddick

The youth movement: The Cowboys are betting on two rookies from the 2014 class to be exactly what they hope they can be. If Zack Martin performs well at guard after transitioning from playing mostly tackle at Notre Dame, the offensive line could be the best in the NFL -- no exaggeration. And second-rounder Lawrence needs to provide pressure for a defensive line that is really light on ceiling elsewhere. --Mel Kiper
Analysis: If they’re going to hold Romo’s age against the Cowboys, then why isn’t that a factor for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees? Injury, too. Manning has a medical risk to him and is the oldest of the quarterbacks. Brady’s 25 touchdown passes in 2013 were the fewest he has had since 2006. Is that a sign of age catching up with him?

While I have said the Cowboys should have kept Ware, are the Insiders sure Ware’s best days aren’t behind him? He has been slowed by injuries as well the last few years. Can he be a consistent 12-15 sacks-per-year guy for the next three years?

I’m not so sure salary-cap challenges persist. They’ll be in really good shape in 2015 and should be in great shape in 2016, all while being able to keep Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant off the market, and perhaps DeMarco Murray, too. The days of the Cowboys doing huge deals for players they don’t know, I believe, will be few and far between.

The Cowboys have re-tooled this roster in the last three years. They have tried to rebuild – without using that word – and win at the same time. Where I agree the most is the development of defensive players. They need Claiborne, Crawford and Lawrence to play at a high level this year. They also need guys such as Bruce Carter, Brandon Carr and whoever plays safety next to Barry Church to play much better than they played last year.

I was a little more optimistic in my three-year take on the Cowboys, while using the last three years as a template.

Some of this is the benefit of the doubt. I get it. Those teams and quarterbacks have earned the benefit of the doubt. The Cowboys haven’t earned anything.

I just don’t think they earned a No. 28 future ranking, either.

Cowboys' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Since Tony Romo took over as quarterback, the success of the Dallas Cowboys has mostly centered on Romo's effectiveness.

Romo
He has played well enough in the past three seasons to throw 90 touchdown passes and get intercepted 39 times, but the Cowboys have not been able to finish better than 8-8 and have missed the playoffs. They have not qualified for the postseason since 2009.

As the Cowboys look to end the drought in 2014, Romo will remain the central part to their success, but the core of the team has changed.

While Romo and Jason Witten remain, the core of the team has become players like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have transitioned from an older team to a younger team.

Starting next year, the Cowboys will be in much better salary-cap space. The days of the Cowboys setting the market on free agents might be over. They signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2011 and have not received the payoff. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin this offseason. They did not attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher. For a team that did not hesitate to pay age often, the Cowboys have turned almost frugal.

They have drafted better and smarter. Three of their past four first-round picks have been offensive linemen. Their drafting will never be perfect but it has been better. They have found more role players after a disastrous 2009 draft. They are trying to build the roster from the inside out as opposed to outside in.

For the Cowboys to make the jump from 8-8 to a consistent playoff team, they honestly need to continue down the same path. Patience has never been one of owner Jerry Jones’ strong suits, but the team has shown a willingness to change its ways.

If they continue to build smartly and avoid the costly mistakes that come about in free agency, the Cowboys could find themselves beginning to open up another window of opportunity as Romo and Witten wind down their careers.

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