Dallas Cowboys: Demarcus Lawrence

DeMarcus Lawrence makes his debut

November, 4, 2014
Nov 4
1:20
PM ET
video

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys' 2014 second-round pick, made his season debut on Sunday after missing the first eight games while recovering from a foot injury.

Lawrence played 27 snaps and recorded two tackles in the loss to Arizona. There was no pressures given, as he was at Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer's feet as he threw a pass.

"I had a pretty good overall game," Lawrence said. "There are still some things I can clean up overall. I think it was pretty good for the first game. I feel like those should be sacks, no excuses for me missing the opportunities on not getting a sack. I feel overall [that] I can do better."

Lawrence's second game comes on Sunday in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars. So he goes from chasing down Palmer, a 12-year veteran, to rookie Blake Bortles.

The Cowboys drafted Lawrence to become a pass rusher the team needed after the departure of DeMarcus Ware, who was released and then signed with the Denver Broncos. Pass rush has been lacking for the Cowboys this season, but defensive tackle Henry Melton has produced four sacks the past two weeks. After having four over a five week period, the Cowboys have five the past two weeks.

Lawrence hopes to be involved in those sack totals.

"Seem like he did a good job, he was active in the game," coach Jason Garrett said of Lawrence, who might get more playing time this week. "He showed up a little bit, around the football [and it] did not seem too big to him at all. He was physical, obviously, technically he has to improve, and he'll [learn] a lot from the snaps that he played. But there were a lot of positive things with DeMarcus."

Cowboys' D needs to make more plays

November, 2, 2014
Nov 2
7:30
PM ET
video
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Brandon Carr sat at his locker trying to find the words to describe his feelings. The Dallas Cowboys' cornerback was in full uniform as his teammates were pulling theirs off. He was searching for answers.

"Frustrated, but a little adversity is nothing we haven't been through before," Carr said after the Cowboys' 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. "We have to pick our heads up. We got a business trip coming up (to London to take on Jacksonville) and it's an opportunity to end this sked."

The Cowboys' defense has struggled during this two-game losing streak. On Sunday, Arizona was a perfect four-for-four in the red zone, and all this from a team that entered Week 9 with the NFL's second-worst red zone percentage at 42.1 percent.

There were other questions about the Cowboys' defense such as its failure to get opposing offenses off the field on third down. Arizona converted 60 percent of its third-down plays, the second-highest against the Cowboys' defense this season.

Melton
Quarterback Carson Palmer got passes off with defenders at his feet, inches from the Cowboys pulling him down in the back and basically on his face. Palmer completed 22 of 34 passes for 249 yards with three touchdowns. Yes, he was sacked three times, twice by Henry Melton, who has four the past two weeks, and the defense was credited with nine quarterback hurries.

"We were out there a lot," Melton said. "I don't know the play count, it seemed like a lot. We're not the only defense that plays a lot of snaps in game, but once you're out there you got to get it done."

The Cowboys' defense was on the field for 65 plays, the third most this season. Arizona controlled the clock with an efficient run game, 102 yards, and Palmer's passing to eat up 31:28. That's not even close to Washington's time of possession last week of 38:12.

With the Cowboys using a rotation of linemen, which also included the return of rookie DeMarcus Lawrence, guys should be fresher.

Larry Fitzgerald, one of the great receivers of his generation, had five catches for 70 yards, which included a 31-yard reception off a pick-play against Orlando Scandrick.

Palmer completed passes to eight different players and out of 29 carries, the run game averaged 3.5 yards.

"We ain't do enough to win," Scandrick said. "It's a good football team over there. They do a lot of stuff; a veteran quarterback, a veteran receiver, arguably a Hall of Fame receiver, they made plays."

The Cowboys lost starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain and starting defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford to knee injuries in the fourth quarter, and the injuries raises concerns about their availability for London.

Scandrick
The Cowboys' defense has always been this mysterious deal since the start of the season because the expectations were low. Losing DeMarcus Ware and the lack of confidence in the secondary were the main reasons and nobody knew where the pass rush was coming from.

We've seen improved play from Melton the past two weeks, but we need to see more from other players. Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was pretty active in his first game of the season, producing two tackles and almost sacking Palmer.

Yet, the common theme around here was frustration and a lack of progress. It's like the Cowboys have been stagnated after their 6-1 start.

"We're frustrated but we got 24 hours to be frustrated and stop the ceiling from falling," Scandrick said. "We need to go over the London and get a W. We need a win in the worst way."
IRVING, Texas -- Now that the Dallas Cowboys have developed one of the NFL's best offensive lines, coach Jason Garrett and the front office have started the same process with the defensive line.

In many ways, they are using the same approach they did to re-shape their offensive line.

Since the start of the 2013 season, the Cowboys have released Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware, and let Jason Hatcher leave via free agency. Of the 11 defensive linemen on the roster, eight joined the Cowboys this season.

McClain
Melton
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (second round), who broke his leg in training camp and should return this month, and Ken Bishop (seventh round) were draft picks. Henry Melton, who missed the last 13 games last season with a torn ACL, signed a one-year deal with a club option for three years and was the only big-dollar defensive player they acquired.

They also signed free agents Jeremy Mincey (30), Terrell McClain (26) and Amobi Okoye (27), who is eligible to come off the non-football illness list for Week 7 before training camp. Mincey signed a two-year deal for $3 million, McClain signed a three-year deal for $3.05 million, and Okoye received a two-year deal worth $1.6 million.

They added Jack Crawford (26) after the Oakland Raiders released him on the final cut, and traded a late-round draft pick to Tennessee for Lavar Edwards (24) the same weekend.

"You’re always trying to bring good players in," Garrett said. "We had some big decisions to make last year from an organizational and salary-cap structure. Those are hard decisions when guys have been good players and you have to move on from them.

"I think we’ve done a good job, both in the draft with young players, but also with some veteran players and the guys already on the team to create that competition and challenge those guys."

The Cowboys have used an eight-man defensive line rotation during their first four games, which means three players sit each week. It wasn’t that tough the first couple of weeks, because the Cowboys had one or two defensive linemen who couldn’t play because of injury.

That is not the case this week, when just about everyone is healthy enough to play.

"We have an eight-man rotation. Who are going to be the eight? It’s up for debate every week," Garrett said. "You want guys to have to earn those spots. You have to earn it on Sunday, and you have to earn the right to dress on Sunday."
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
11:00
AM ET
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.

Church chimes in on D's question marks

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
3:00
PM ET
Safety Barry Church is as close as it comes to a sure thing on a Dallas Cowboys’ defense that has a whole bunch of question marks.

What does Church expect from some of the most prominent question marks around him? He provided his answers during a Tuesday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM.

Church
 On J.J. Wilcox: “Just an explosive playmaker. Those are the words that come to my mind when I think of him. This whole offseason, he was all over the place -- getting interceptions, locking up tight ends -- so I feel like he’s going to be a big playmaker for us on the back end. I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table this season.”

On Bruce Carter: “Definitely with the loss of Sean Lee, it’s time for him to step up and be that focal point of the defense, and I feel like he’ll be able to do that. He’s making a lot of the checks out there. He’s the head of the huddle for the defense, so I feel like this offseason really generated a lot of confidence for him, and I feel like going into the season that’s going to work for him. He’s going to get better and better as the season progresses.”

On Morris Claiborne: “To me, he’s had the best offseason out of anybody in our secondary and anybody on our defense. He’s turned his body around. He’s completely focused. Before, I would have to give him the check for the defense a couple of times. Now, I’m just like, ‘Boom, here’s the call,’ and he’s ready to roll. ... Now you’re starting to see some of the productivity he can bring to our defense.”

On Brandon Carr: “I expect him to live up to that contract, and I know he will. He’s been putting in a lot of work this offseason. Me and him especially have working on our footwork drills, man-to-man drills and lifting together and running together. I feel like he’s got just a whole new focus going into this season. He wants to, like he said earlier in one of his interviews, take over the league. I feel like he can be one of those top-3 corners in the NFL. I feel like he’ll show everybody this year. I definitely have the faith in him to live up to that contract, and I know he will.”

On DeMarcus Lawrence: “Definitely, it’ll take some time. DeMarcus Ware, he’s a one-of-a-kind guy. It’s definitely going to take more than one year to replace a guy like that, but DeMarcus Lawrence has got the talent. He’s been out there working against one of the best offensive tackles in the game in Tyron Smith every day in practice. He’s taken a couple of lumps from him, but he’s definitely won some of those battles, too. That definitely shows me that he has the talent, and he has the will to do it. We’ve just got to see what he can do when the pads come on, but I definitely see a productive guy in DeMarcus Lawrence.”

Chat recap: Re-thinking QB position

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:00
PM ET
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.

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.

Best case/worst case: DeMarcus Lawrence

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
9:00
AM 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 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.

Best case/worst case: Cornerbacks

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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.

The cornerbacks

Best case: They lock it down

Claiborne
Scandrick
Brandon Carr has said he wants to take over the league. Morris Claiborne knows he is in the fight for his career after two disappointing seasons. Orlando Scandrick was their best corner last year and perhaps their best defender this year. The Cowboys have invested in them heavily in contract and draft position. Rod Marinelli said he has not had three man-to-man corners like these guys. Carr, Claiborne and Scandrick believe they are better suited to play more man than zone, which frustrated them at times in 2013. But they weren't great at man either and the coaches did not have enough trust to let them handle receivers all over the field. Carr and Claiborne, who will have to take away the starting spot from Scandrick after losing it last year, have the physical tools to be top press corners. Scandrick is as competitive as anybody on the roster and understands route concepts the best. They have to make plays early in the season to not only build their confidence but to build the confidence of the rest of the defense.

Worst case: No help from the pass rush

A cornerback's job is a lot easier when the front seven can affect the quarterback. Sacks and pressures are great, but if a quarterback is afraid of the pass rush he will get rid of the ball sooner. That means there is less time for a corner to have to defend and more chances at interceptions. The Cowboys lost their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware) and last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) in the offseason. They replaced them with a rookie second-round pick (DeMarcus Lawrence) and Henry Melton, who is coming back from a torn ACL. They also added numbers to the position in players like Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye but they have questions. Anthony Spencer might not be able to play until the seventh week of the season. Tyrone Crawford is coming back from a torn Achilles and didn't have a sack in his rookie season. Marinelli is not known as a coordinator who brings a lot of pressure. If they can't affect the quarterback, then Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne will have a difficult time staying with receivers.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”

Lawrence learning lessons from Smith

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
10:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – The education of DeMarcus Lawrence started quickly.

Every day in offseason workouts, Lawrence, the Dallas Cowboys’ second-round pick, had to go up against Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. There were times Lawrence won, but more times he didn’t. Lawrence and the Cowboys did not seem to mind.

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsTyron Smith (above) taught rookie DeMarcus Lawrence plenty during offseason workouts.
“I feel like it’s helping me,” Lawrence said. “If you’re going against the best, you ain’t got no choice but to pick up your game and become the best. I feel like he’s helping me out a lot, and he’s getting me ready for the season.”

Lawrence’s education was not unlike the education Smith received from DeMarcus Ware, the man Lawrence is replacing. At training camp last summer in Oxnard, California, Ware had his way with Smith – or any offensive linemen in his way – and Smith ended up having his best season. He was not only named to the Pro Bowl, he earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli liked what he saw from Lawrence in the offseason.

I don’t sense that with him, the confidence thing,” Marinelli said. “I think he’s just tough. He’s a tough kid. Oh, he just comes out and if he gets beat, he comes back again harder. Now it’s just about skill development.”

Lawrence’s hands were considered his biggest strength when the Cowboys picked him, but he believes the work with Marinelli and Leon Lett has made him a better player before he has even put on pads in the NFL.

“Just with my hand movements, my outside moves,” Lawrence said. “Instead of going against a tackle head up, I’m just playing half a man and I’m really using my speed to my best interests.”

With Jeremy Mincey limited some in the offseason, Lawrence was able to get more work, especially against Smith.

“I think what you look at anytime you’re dealing in non-pads in the offseason for him is alignment, assignment, key, technique, speed and takeaways,” Marinelli said. “Those are the things you can really emphasize. You won’t go full speed without collisions and that’s what you try to do. You try to get him ready for camp, but he’s made progress. Good progress in the drill work and all those things. Right now we’re just trying to get him ready for pads.”

And more work against Smith.

Cowboys missing star pass-rusher

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
1:00
PM ET
In the magnificent years of the Dallas Cowboys one theme has been nearly constant: A star pass-rusher.

Harvey Martin, Leon Lett, Charles Haley, Randy White, Too Tall Jones, Bob Lilly, Jim Jeffcoat, DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis are some of the names that have drawn double-teams from opposing offenses.

Ware, the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks at 117, was released in a salary-cap move this spring.

[+] EnlargeCowboys defensive line
AP Photo/LM OteroGeorge Selvie, who had seven sacks in 2013, leads a front seven that no longer features DeMarcus Ware.
All that is left is defensive end George Selvie, coming off a career-high seven-sack season, 2014 second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence from Boise State and most likely Henry Melton at defensive tackle, coming off ACL surgery.

None of these players has the star power of Ware, who was the Cowboys’ No. 1 defensive player for numerous seasons.

A standout pass-rusher is what is missing right now from these 2014 Cowboys.

The man coaching the defensive line, Lett, is 12th on the franchise list with 22.5 career sacks. He was a dominant pass-rusher in his prime and has more name recognition than the current group.

“I think you can do it different ways, four guys just going,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “You need a couple of guys with some juice, somebody has to get doubled. Or you’re trying to get a good guy with a matchup, things like that. We go into camp and I like some of these guys and we've just got to put the pads on and see it.”

Marinelli added that “football as you know, is a show-me game.”

At the end of the season, Marinelli had Everette Brown, Jarius Wynn, Martez Wilson, Frank Kearse, Corvey Irvin and Edgar Jones as backups.

Jason Hatcher and Ware were the leaders of the line.

The defensive line Marinelli was supposed to coach didn’t develop as Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer combined for one played game because of injuries.

Nick Hayden and Selvie morphed into starters.

But in the draft, the Cowboys valued defense, using seven of their eight picks on that side of the ball. Lawrence (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) with big hands and long arms, is seen as a potential replacement for Ware.

Ben Gardner (6-4, 262), a seventh-round pick from Stanford, impressed the scouts and coaches with his work in college.

Another seventh-round pick, Ken Bishop (6-0, 301), from Northern Illinois, might have a future at the one-technique.

In free agency, the Cowboys added Terrell McClain at defensive tackle and Jeremy Mincey at end. Adding quality depth and youth were the goals as Dallas worked to fix the pass rush after Ware departed for Denver.

The standouts of the offseason moves are Melton and Lawrence.

Melton reached the Pro Bowl in 2012 after compiling six sacks, two forced fumbles and creating havoc for Marinelli’s defense in Chicago.

Marinelli left for Dallas and Melton was hurt just three games into the 2013 season. They are reunited and hope to build on their 2012 success.

Lawrence, though not a first-round pick, might have the most impact from the draft class.

“He’s got the movement,” Marinelli said. “I think he’s really tough and he’s got enough speed out there and he works. I like his work habits, now that’s Step 1, and camp starts is Step 2.”

No star power.

Maybe in time the Cowboys will have it from a pass-rusher.

As Marinelli says, Step 2 is training camp and we get to find out.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
Away we go:

@toddarcher: He will go on the refused to report list if he does not show and is not cut and the Cowboys would gain a spot on the 90-man roster in his absence. I want to get more into the "why" on Orton's absence. I don't believe it's unhappiness with his contract. I don't think he is looking to go anywhere else. I truly believe he doesn't want to play. But if the Cowboys don't cut him, then he might have to play. We all should be so burned to have to come back and earn $3 million for a season in which he might not play a snap. Orton can skip the first week of camp before the Cowboys would be able to come after some of his signing bonus money. If he retired, then he would have to repay the team $3.4 million. Would you want to write that check? Would you be willing to give up about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators and still make excellent money? I believe we'll see Orton sometime in late July in California. @toddarcher: No, because those aren't his strengths either. He can run with running backs and tight ends. When he plays with confidence, he is fine. He had a solid offseason in coverage, improving as the OTAs and minicamp went along. Now that doesn't mean anything when the pads come on but there were some encouraging signs. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus made it sound like Carter is much more into the process of learning everything he needs to learn. That's a good thing. He's just not built to be a run stopper/pass-rusher. The weak-side backer in this scheme has to be the playmaker. Think Lance Briggs in Chicago. Carter has those skills, but can he put it all together? I'm not sure, but he did some good things in the spring. @toddarcher: As an Aussie, I was expecting a Mat McBriar question. Oh well. The Cowboys had nine picks. Do I think all nine will make the 53-man roster? No. I'll make Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens and Devin Street locks. I like Ben Gardner, Ahmad Dixon and Terrance Mitchell to make it as seventh rounders. I think Ken Bishop and Will Smith will have chances too, but I'm just playing a numbers game right now. Then there are the undrafted rookies, like Tyler Patmon, Ben Malena and Davin Coleman. The Cowboys look to have some rookies who can contribute if not this year, then in the future. @toddarcher: I've asked and was told no. I think his day is done and I think the Cowboys want to see what they already have. There's something about Babin that just doesn't fit. He has been in a ton of spots the last couple of years. Teams keep biting on his talent. The Cowboys are content with their defensive line mix. @toddarcher: If you think about it, it is their base package. They will play more nickel defense than base package just because of what you said. It's all dependent on personnel groupings. If teams want to line up with a fullback or two tight ends, you'll see their base defense. If they want to spread the field, they'll go with a nickel look. The Cowboys feel like they're covered at cornerback with Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne. They like their defensive line rotation, although there are a lot of questions simply based on the untested or unknown players added in the offseason or coming back from injuries. But at the end of the day, Rod Marinelli will be in a nickel defense 60-65 percent of the snaps. 
IRVING, Texas -- Let's start the final day of the Dallas Cowboys' minicamp with some observations from Wednesday's team and 7-on-7 drills.
  • All eyes will be on Bruce Carter this season. If he can cover the way he did in this session, then he will be greatly improved over 2013. He blanketed Jason Witten on a corner route in the end zone, forcing an incompletion when Brandon Weeden's pass wasn't perfect. He also intercepted Weeden at the goal line, reading the quarterback's eyes as he tried to fire a pass low. After the play defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli challenged Carter by saying, "Do it again."
  • Weeden's best throw came on the first play of 7-on-7 drills when he put just enough air and just enough speed on a throw over safety J.J. Wilcox to wide receiver Terrance Williams by the goal posts. Williams was able to make the athletic grab and get both feet down for the touchdown.
  • Tempers flared when center Travis Frederick and defensive end Tyrone Crawford got into a scuffle. Rookie guard Zack Martin lost his helmet in the fracas.
  • Crawford had an active practice, but DeMarcus Lawrence also performed well hours after signing his first contract. He trapped Lance Dunbar on a shotgun run versus the first team. To close the day he drew a holding penalty on Darrion Weems and had a would-be sack of Vaughan.
  • Rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell has wasted little time making a good impression. He had an interception of Caleb Hanie on a slant, forced a fumble that went out of bounds and broke up a Dustin Vaughan pass to LaRon Byrd.
  • The defense had some poor situational football on a fourth-and-long play. Tight end Gavin Escobar was able to come up with a first-down on a seam route with the linebackers and safety getting separated in their coverages.
  • Rookie safety Ahmad Dixon ended practice with an interception on a Vaughan overthrow of tight end James Hanna. Dixon sprinted up the field but heard the coaches and teammates yelling for him to get down because the turnover ended the game. No need to risk a return and have something bad happening.

SPONSORED HEADLINES