Dallas Cowboys: Dwayne Harris

IRVING, Texas -- Tight end James Hanna has played 135 snaps, starting six of seven games this season.

He has yet to catch a pass.

Actually, Tony Romo has directed only one pass Hanna’s way -- and that was three games ago against New Orleans - but Jason Garrett says the tight end plays a valuable role for the Dallas Cowboys.

Hanna
Hanna spends much of his playing time as a blocking tight end, which should probably be considered impressive considering he’s just 249 pounds. By contrast, Jason Witten is 265 pounds.

“I think he’s a good player in the run game and a good player in the pass game," Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s underappreciated athletically, and I think he’s getting better technically as blocker.

“He’s a young player who continues to grow. He wants to be a good player and there’s a reason he’s playing. He’s worthy of having opportunities. We ask him to do a lot of things and some of it’s not fancy stuff that’s glamorous -- it’s some of the dirty work -- but he embraces it and gets better at it.”

One of the things you notice about the complementary players on this offense is they don't grumble about their roles. Sure, players such as receiver Dwayne Harris and running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle want to play more and Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams would like more passes directed their way.

But Garrett constantly preaches the importance of the team and these players have bought in, which hasn’t always been the case for the Cowboys.

“We have guys who understand the importance of doing their job,” Garrett said. “A lot of times their job isn’t the glamorous thing to do, but they understand that helps us have success on that particular play and, ultimately, that helps us have success as a football team.

“Guys understand that. We have a lot of good players and a lot of good people on our team.”
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett has put even more emphasis on avoiding turnovers this week, something that's hard to do considering how much time the Dallas Cowboys spend talking about ball security and forcing turnovers.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Seahawks have dominated at home because they generate turnovers, so DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys will need a better handle on ball security issues.
Last week, the Cowboys hung pictures of several members of the Houston Texans loosely holding the ball away from their bodies, where it could be knocked away.

Garrett doesn't focus on many stats, but he's adamant that winning or losing the turnover battle each week is the single most important statistic in football.

This year, teams that win the turnover battle are 50-16.

It's even more important this week because the Seattle Seahawks' defense at home has produced turnovers at a dizzying rate. In their last 18 regular-season home games, Seattle is 17-1 and has produced 48 turnovers.

In 13 of those games, they've produced at least two turnovers. Six times, they've produced three or more. The turnovers are the primary reason they've won those 17 games by an average of 16.3 points.

DeMarco Murray has fumbled in the first quarter in four of the Cowboys' five games this season. At practice this week, Garrett had all of the skill position players holding a football high and tight as they went through a variety of individual drills.

Murray and punt returner Dwayne Harris lost fumbles last week.

"The ball is important every week," Garrett said. "We put the ball on the ground a little bit and we have to find ways to rectify that issue. Let's continue to make an important emphasis in practice and make sure it shows up in the game.

"There's nothing we emphasize more than securing the ball and going to get the ball. We drill it every day in practice. The turnover ratio is the most important stat in football."

Football journey: Dwayne Harris

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
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IRVING, Texas -- When you talk about the most important players on the Dallas Cowboys' roster, you can’t mention too many players before you get to Dwayne Harris.

He’s an impact player as a punt and kick returner, he excels on punt coverage and he’s the best blocking receiver on the roster. You can’t run against eight-man fronts unless receivers are blocking linebackers and safeties.

Go ahead, ask running back DeMarco Murray just how important Harris is to the running game and see what he says.

[+] EnlargeDwayne Harris
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDwayne Harris makes plays for Dallas when he gets on the field.
When Harris has gotten an opportunity to contribute as a receiver, he’s made an impact there, too. Not bad for a sixth-round pick from East Carolina.

Talk to enough coaches and they will tell you all Harris does is make plays.

In his first preseason game, he caught five passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 15 seconds left.

Last season, he had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return in a win against Washington, and he caught a seven-yard game-winning touchdown pass against Minnesota with 35 seconds left.

Last season, he finished third in the NFL in punt returns (12.8 yards per return) and second in kickoff returns ( 30.6 yards per return) .

Here is what Harris has to say about his journey to the NFL:

What was the name of your first team?

Harris: The Bulldogs

What was your first position?

Harris: Center

What position did you play in high school?

Harris: Quarterback

What’s your most memorable high school memory?

Harris: "We played our rivals Southwest DeKalb and I was the first freshman to ever beat them. I can’t remember all the stats, but I led us to a win.

What colleges did you visit?

Harris: "I visited North Carolina, Southern Miss, Kentucky and East Carolina. Those are the only schools that offered me to play quarterback. Everybody else wanted me to play receiver."

Why East Carolina?

Harris: "It was my best chance to play quarterback. I red-shirted. I made the switch to receiver after my freshman year. Going into my sophomore year I just thought about the statistics. Me, I’m 5-foot-10 so I just made a business decision. It was about getting to the next level and what gave me the best chance to do that.

"Initially, I wasn’t playing as much. I had a Wildcat package, but I wanted to be the starter because I wanted the ball in my hands all of the time. I talked to my coach and told him I wanted to change positions. Initially, they tried me on defense and I played cornerback for about a day.

"During my red-shirt year, they were going to take the red-shirt off and put me at running back, but it didn’t work out. One of our running backs had a great game, so they didn’t need to take the red-shirt off.

"Then they moved me to receiver. I had never played it before, so it took my about five games until I got on the field as a receiver. Until then, I was just a punt returner and a quarterback."

When did you start to think you had a chance to play in the NFL?

Harris: "After I broke every receiving record at ECU. I went to the Senior Bowl and saw some of the guys who were also at the combine. At the combine it was the same guys I had seen play in college, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know them."

What was draft day like? Did you expect to go higher than the sixth round?

Harris: "I expected myself to go higher than that. I don’t think a lot of the guys picked higher than me were better than me. I wasn’t mad at all on draft day, I was just happy I got a chance to be picked by somebody. I thought whoever got me was going to get a steal."

The Cowboys cut you in October of your rookie year and signed you to the practice squad where you spent nearly two months before getting back on the active roster. What was that experience like?

Harris: "It was an experience. You don’t know what to think. You don’t know what your next move is going to be. It was the first time it had ever happened to me. It was a scary 24 hours. Once they brought me back, I just continued to try to work hard and improve my craft."

One of the reasons coach Jason Garrett said they cut you is because you couldn’t get your weight down. You weighed 210 and they wanted you about 205. Did they tell you that?

Harris: "They’ve been saying I weigh too much since I got here. In college I played at 210 and I was a good player at 210. They wanted me to drop a little weight to make me quicker. So I did. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten any faster, but that’s what they want me to do, so I did it."

When did you know you could be an impact player at this level?

Harris: "From the beginning. Anytime they gave me a chance to play I had a good game and did what I had to do. And that’s from Day 1. In my first preseason. Whenever I got a chance I just tried to make plays."

What do you love about football?

Harris: "I just love the game. I love the physical nature of it because I’m a physical guy. The game is like life to me. You know the way Dez [Bryant] loves it and he shows all that enthusiasm -- I’m the same way -- I just don’t get quite as excited as he does."

How would you describe your football journey?

Harris: "It’s just beginning. I haven’t really touched the base of my talent. I haven’t really actually gotten to play or do anything besides special teams -- I play a little offense -- but I haven’t gotten my chance to really shine."

5 plays that shaped Cowboys' 26-10 win

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
12:50
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There were 125 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 26-10 win against the Tennessee Titans, but not all of them are created equal. We all pay attention to the touchdowns and turnovers, but there are often other plays that play an important role in shaping the game, too.

Here's a look at five plays that shaped the Cowboys' win:

Play: Tony Romo incompletion
Situation: Second-and-4 from Tennessee 33
Score: Dallas leads, 16-10
Time: 4:51 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: There's a good chance we'd be talking about the 0-2 Cowboys if Jason Witten doesn't make the play of the game. Tennessee had scored on its first two second-half possessions to pull within 16-10. On this play, Witten initially blocked before releasing into the right flat. Romo threw the ball high and it bounced off Witten's fingertips into the arms of Bernard Pollard, who would've returned it for a touchdown. Witten instinctively grabbed Pollard around the waist and knocked the ball out. Six plays later, Dez Bryant caught a touchdown pass for a 23-10 lead.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiDespite a fumble by DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys held on for a Week 2 win at Tennessee.
Play: Jake Locker incompletion
Situation: Third-and-6 from Tennessee 50
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 7:27 left in first quarter
Taylor's Take: DeMarco Murray's second fumble of the season had given Tennessee great field position and an opportunity to take an early lead. Nate Washington ran a crossing route and settled in a soft spot on the Cowboys' zone, but safety J.J. Wilcox broke nicely on Locker's pass, deflecting it, and middle linebacker Rolando McClain slung him to the ground to force the incompletion and keep the score tied.

Play: Chris Jones punt
Situation: Fourth-and-six from Dallas 42
Score: Dallas leads, 10-0
Time: 6:51 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Dwayne Harris shows folks every week why he's among this team's most important players. Jones' punt bounced at 15 and was headed into the end zone, but Harris avoided Dexter McCluster's block at the 5, grabbed the ball at the 1 and tossed it backward just before he landed in the end zone. James Hanna downed the ball at the 2. The field position switch ultimately led to a field goal and a 13-0 Dallas lead.

Play: Cole Beasley reception
Situation: Third-and-7 from Dallas 35
Score: Dallas leads, 23-10
Time: 13:03 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys needed a good drive to burn some clock and reduce Tennessee's chances of a comeback. So Romo picked a good time to deliver one of his best passes. Beasley, operating from the slot, ran a quick out and Romo delivered a perfect pass that Beasley caught in stride for a first down. The 11-play, 38-yard drive ended with a field goal.

Play: Kyle Wilber sack
Situation: Second-and-10 from Tennessee 13
Score: Dallas leads, 13-0
Time: :53 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: The Titans were aggressive at the end of the first half, but Wilber wrecked the plan with a strong power rush. It was the first sack by a defensive lineman -- Wilber was rushing as a defensive end not a linebacker. It put the Titans in a third-and-long situation that helped force a punt and set up another Dallas field goal before the end of the half.

Beat Writers Report: Tyron Smith's day

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
1:00
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After Week 1, the Dallas Cowboys are 0-1 after a loss to San Francisco 49ers.

We review three things in our weekly Beat Writers Report.

Smith
1. Tyron Smith's day started off badly with a false start. When it ended, Smith allowed one sack and was penalized twice. You might credit him with two sacks allowed, but you don't know the responsibilities of the line on the first one. Overall, the starting left tackle had a nice game and was engaged one-on-one with a defender more than 50 plays on Sunday. Smith also helped left guard Ronald Leary six times, pulled twice and reached the second level for blocks numerous times. Smith does a nice job with his long arms to keep defenders such as Justin Smith and Ray McDonald from reaching Tony Romo. One of Smith’s best plays was handling linebacker Dan Skuta on a stunt. While Skuta rushed inside, Smith kept his lateral movement and pushed him away with no problems. It’s easy to view the penalties and the sacks as negatives, because they’re glaring, however, Smith proved once again that he is a solid leader for this offensive line.

Romo
2. Romo’s three interceptions weren’t about his missed practice time when the Cowboys were being cautious with him as he recovered from back surgery. Romo’s picks were mainly about poor decisions. Yes, Romo is what he is, a guy who will take chances, much like his idol Brett Favre. Romo, given the delicate state of his team, should know better than to throw passes into coverage on a consistent basis. On the first interception, Romo throws a deep pass to Dez Bryant, who clearly isn’t open. Romo doesn’t see Terrance Williams running a route where he gets open deep into the secondary. Quarterbacks can’t see everything, but Romo should have noticed safety Eric Reid moving toward Bryant. The late throw, which sailed, allowed Reid to make the play. The second pick was another example of missing an open receiver. Dwayne Harris was open as he ran into the end zone. Romo hesitated when he clearly saw Harris and while there was nobody open on the backside, he moved toward the corner of the end zone. Romo’s throw floated and was picked off by athletic linebacker Patrick Willis. If Romo wanted to reach Jason Witten, a higher throw was needed where only the tight end could get it.

Romo’s last pick of the day was another result of decision-making. Bryant was doubled by Perrish Cox and Reid and not open, yet Romo, with plenty of time, let the ball fly. It was slightly underthrown and picked off.

Romo had some other throws that were late or he just missed receivers. It happens to every quarterback. But the interceptions, at least the three he threw on Sunday, should not have been thrown.

3. The Cowboys love linebacker Bruce Carter’s athletic ability, that’s why they drafted him. An example of this is a sack on a delayed blitz in the first half and a pass breakup to start the second. Carter, however, allows receivers too much space in front of him and reacts late to some passes. Carter was called for holding on tight end Vernon Davis on a pass play down the field in the third quarter. As the game progressed, the front seven did get better for the Cowboys, but it seems there was indecisiveness against the run. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's ability to sprint out of the pocket and his strong arm causes defenses to play jittery.
MIAMI -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 25-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins

1) Tyler Patmon, an undrafted rookie free agent, intercepted two passes (returning one for a TD) and forced a fumble.

Ultimately, the game is about making plays and he provided the coaching staff with several reasons why he should be on the roster, especially at a position where the Cowboys have a plethora of questions.

[+] EnlargeTyler Patmon
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyTyler Patmon, right, made a number of big plays against the Dolphins, including making two interceptions.
Patmon forced a fumble with a perfect open-field hit at the Dallas 36-yard line, ending one potential Miami scoring drive.

In the third quarter, he intercepted starter Ryan Tannehill's underthrown pass along the sideline at the Dallas 5. Patmon made his biggest play in the fourth quarter, intercepting a swing pass at the Miami 9 and returning it for a touchdown that gave Dallas a 20-11 lead with about seven minutes left.

Each play changed the game, and it will help that Patmon made his first two plays against Miami’s starters.

2) In case you didn’t know it, Dwayne Harris showed why he’s one of the Cowboys’ most valuable players.

He’s a difference-maker on kick and punt returns, the kind of player who will help the Cowboys win a couple of games this season with his work in the return game.

He averaged 38.5 yards on two kickoff returns, including a 50-yard return that he nearly took back for a touchdown. He has outstanding vision and a feel for the soft spots in coverage, and once he sees an opening he attacks it.

3) Right now, safety Ahmad Dixon gets the vote for the player most likely to give Jason Garrett a migraine. Or turn his red hair gray.

Still, there’s something to like about Dixon’s aggressive -- perhaps reckless is a better word -- approach. If it can be harnessed, then Dixon could eventually be a really nice addition to this secondary.

Last week, he didn’t play as punishment for being late to a walk-through practice the day before the Baltimore game. Against Miami, he made a poor decision that resulted in a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness late in the fourth quarter.

On third-and-9 from Dallas' 22-yard line with 2:11 left, Miami quarterback Matt Moore overthrew receiver Matt Hazel near the goal line. Dixon might have been able to intercept the pass if he hadn’t been so intent on punishing Hazel.

Instead, Dixon blasted Hazel in the chest. It was a classic example of hitting a defenseless receiver and drew a penalty.

An incompletion would’ve forced Miami, trailing 20-19, to attempt a field goal and would’ve given Dallas an additional 30 seconds or so to rally had Miami made the kick.

The penalty moved the ball to the Dallas 11 and five plays later Miami scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Key number: 3.4

The Cowboys gained only 110 yards on 32 first-half plays. Tony Romo played the entire first half, so that excuse has been eliminated. The Cowboys didn’t have any pass plays of 20 yards or more or running plays of 10 yards or more, so we shouldn’t be surprised their offense produced just two field goals. More important, they failed to control the line of scrimmage.

Player to Watch: Ryan Williams

Williams is doing his best to make it difficult for the Cowboys to cut him. He finished with 12 carries for 47 yards, a 3.9 yard average per carry, but he’s a more dynamic runner than Joseph Randle.

The problem, of course, is the third running back has considerably more responsibilities than just running the ball since DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar will get the vast majority of carries.

Randle is better in pass protection and he’s better on special teams. Randle delivered a big hit on kickoff coverage against Miami. The Cowboys can suit him up and know he has a role; they can’t do that with Williams.

This is the best competition for a roster spot on the team. Each week, Williams makes it more difficult.

He has one more opportunity to sway the coaching staff, but he needs to do it without the ball in his hands.

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.
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 Cowboys’ roster.

Wide receivers

On the roster: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, Devin Street, Tim Benford, LaRon Byrd, Jamar Newsome, L'Damian Washington, Chris Boyd

Locks: Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Harris, Street

Has a shot: Benford

Need help: Byrd, Newsome, Washington, Boyd

How many fit? The Cowboys typically keep five wide receivers and that appears to be the max going into 2014 as well, but injuries in camp or an unexpected turn from a Benford, Byrd or Boyd could force them to keep six.

They know what they have in their top four receivers. Bryant is a star. Williams is only entering his second season but he showed last year he can handle the job. Beasley and Harris have roles in the slot while they can play a little bit outside if needed. Street has the lead for the fifth spot after a solid spring. The Cowboys traded up in the fifth round to get him and liked the fact that he worked in a pro-style offense at Pittsburgh. He needs to work on handling a more physical game at the NFL level but that’s something every young receiver needs.

Benford has spent the last two seasons on the practice squad, which is not always the best thing. I can’t think of a receiver who made the jump to the active roster with the Cowboys after spending that much time on the practice squad. But he had a good spring and his quickness in the slot could earn him some extra time. At the very least he can show he can play in the league with a good spring. Byrd is listed at 225 pounds, but he looks almost like an H-back. He did a nice job catching the ball in the spring and his experience in the pro game gives him an edge. Newsome was on the practice squad last year and flashed a few times this spring.

Washington’s spring was cut short because of a shoulder injury. His speed and story have a lot of people rooting for him, but Boyd might be the more accomplished receiver. He has good size and decent speed to fit what the Cowboys want in outside receivers.

Every year one of these young receivers jumps out early at camp only to be reeled in later on. Last year it was Eric Rogers. One of these guys will do the same, but don’t get too excited too fast. It will be difficult for any of them to break into the top five without an injury.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties

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. 
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.

Terrance Williams

Best-case: He makes the jump

Coaches like to say all of the time that a player's biggest jump comes from his rookie season to his second season. The player has a good understanding of what's going on, having been through the rigors of a season, and knows what he is and isn't. Williams showed last year the game isn't too big for him. He was able to make big plays in big moments. With Dez Bryant on the other side and Jason Witten expected to line up mostly on his side, Williams will have the chance to make plays. Tony Romo will not be afraid to come after him. Some believe he will be a breakout player on this offense in part because of the attention Bryant and Witten will receive. He doesn't have great speed, but he still averaged 16.7 yards per catch. When he gets rolling, he is difficult to stop. He has the tools to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but he doesn't need to have 1,000 yards for the offense to be successful. Romo, Bryant, Witten and DeMarco Murray will be the focus. Williams just has to fit in. In the offseason, receivers coach Derek Dooley has been impressed with what Williams has been able to do with more work. That has to carry into the season.

Worst-case: He doesn't make the jump

If he is less than pedestrian, the Cowboys don't have options to replace him. They would have to do it by committee, unless fifth-round pick Devin Street can step up. Street is the only other true outside option after Williams and Bryant. The down-the-line receivers have warts. Dwayne Harris is a situational guy on the outside, probably not an every-down option. Cole Beasley is a slot player even if he got some work outside in the offseason. Williams' work ethic has been lauded by the coaches since he got here, but if things don't go well for him, how will he react? Last year the Cowboys didn't need him to be the man on a week-to-week basis with Bryant and Miles Austin. He could fly a little under the radar. This year he can't fly under the radar. He has to be one of their better players every week. If he doesn't, then the offense can become flawed and predictable. Williams offers the best blend of big- and medium-play ability opposite Bryant. Street would benefit from playing a similar role to what Williams had last year. If he has to play more, then that could upset the balance of the passing game.

Best case/worst case: Gavin Escobar

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
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 that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.
Gavin Escobar

Escobar
Best-case: He catches 30-35 passes

Jason Witten simply doesn't come off the field. He's too valuable to come off the field. He can set the edge in the running game. He can pick up critical first downs, and last year he was finally used in the red zone. Expecting Escobar to have a big-time season is folly. If he can average 2-3 catches a game, become a mismatch in the red zone and stretch the middle of the field, then the Cowboys will have a viable weapon. Maybe he never should have been taken in the second round, but the Cowboys have to make it work. Escobar has to show early in the summer that he can be counted on. Tony Romo has to be able to trust him. He made some flash plays in little playing time as a rookie. The Cowboys will have the chance to have a rotation with their slot players. In some respects, Escobar is a tight end in a wide receiver's role. Along with Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and perhaps Devin Street, the Cowboys can attack in different ways. Plus, Escobar's blocking is less of an issue. He can be a get-in-the-way blocker as opposed to a knock-the-guy-down blocker. With the weapons the Cowboys have on offense, 30-35 catches would mean the unit has clicked quite well in 2014.

Worst-case: The coaches don't trust him

As a rookie, Martellus Bennett scored four touchdowns and did not catch one in the next three seasons. His best year came in 2010 when he caught 33 passes. He has since gone on to bigger and better things with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. With Witten, Escobar will never play a ton of snaps but that doesn't mean he can't play an effective role. He showed last year, even with just nine catches, he can stretch the seams. He has good hands, too. But the Cowboys can't expect him to become an in-line blocker to the point where he spells Witten. It's not the way he is built. If the coaches insist on making him a complete tight end, then the team has wasted another second-round pick. The Cowboys would be better served to find more of a blocking tight end during camp than to put Escobar, who has added a little bit of bulk to his frame, on the line most of the time. This is where the creativity of new playcaller Scott Linehan will have to come into play. The Cowboys were unable to unlock the 12 personnel group the way they wanted with Bennett in part because of their lack of creativity and Bennett's poor play. They need to understand what Escobar is and use his traits to the fullest.

Cowboys heat up hamstrings

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
3:40
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IRVING, Texas -- Hamstring injuries were a common theme for the Cowboys in 2013. At least 12 players had some sort of hamstring problem.

During offseason workouts this spring and summer, some position players were wearing tights to keep their legs warm and in some cases using heat spray on their legs.

At one practice last week, wide receiver Dez Bryant had both legs sprayed.

A team official said some players need extra maintenance.

"We really haven't been talking about it amongst each other, about, oh, how are we going to tape our hamstrings," Bryant said. "I think everybody knows how important it is to keep your body right. And I think that's exactly what all of us have been doing. We've been making sure everything is good."

Dwayne Harris and Bryant wore tights under their shorts during practices at Valley Ranch last week despite the warm temperatures.

The Cowboys are doing extra stretching, bringing in parallel bars to help players with their flexibility and monitoring the amount of running being done.

Bryant has never been a player the team has had to worry about in terms of being in shape.

"I'm going to continue to keep doing what I'm doing," he said. "It's important to me to be in the best shape I possibly can be. And make sure the rest of my teammates, they are in shape too as well, especially the wide receivers. I'm really not trying to go into camp taking a step back. We're trying to build not only me but help the rest of the guys build off what we learned from OTAs, minicamp and go from there."

Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

June, 21, 2014
Jun 21
12:00
PM ET
Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it, we discuss:
If you want to see Part 1 of the mailbag, click here. And this will be our last Twitter mailbag for a few weeks thanks to some vacation.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: Since Romo is such a golf guy, let's use a golf analogy: he's on the back nine. I don't know how anybody could think otherwise. He is 34. He is coming off two back surgeries. He is in his eighth year as a full-time starter. Just because he is on the back nine doesn't mean he can't play at a high level. I know the odds are stacked and thirty-something quarterbacks haven't won a lot of Super Bowls here lately, but I'd take my chances he's on Holes 12 and 13, if you will. He still has football in him, provided he can stay upright. I do think Romo is smart enough to adapt his game as he gets older. If you allow me to carry on with other sports analogies, here's another one: fastball pitchers can develop into multipitch guys over the years. Romo has done a lot on his own with some improvisation and ability to buy time. I don't think you'll see him run around as much as he did when he was younger. I think you'll see him pick and choose his spots. I believe he did some of that last year, which is one of the reasons his sack total was so high. He was willing to take the sack -- not necessarily the big hit mind you -- and move on to the next play rather than take a risk of a hit or a poor throw. @toddarcher: Conventional wisdom says DeMarco Murray because when he gets 20 carries in a game, the Cowboys win. I hate that stat. If it really means what it says it means, then Murray should get the ball on the first 20 plays of every game. We all know it doesn't work that way. But I'm also of the opinion that the running back position has been devalued. I think the Cowboys could get by without Murray. Would they be as good? No, but they would not be lost. To me, if they lost Jason Witten, then they would be in trouble. Witten has been a mainstay. He does everything. The passing game has missed receivers over the years, but Romo has been able to throw for more than 300 yards in game whether he has Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson or Dwayne Harris playing big roles. Without Witten, I don't know that that would continue. And in the running game, Witten can set the edge. He's not a blow-them-up blocker, but he can displace defensive ends and linebackers to allow backs to pick holes. On defense, I really didn't have a candidate, but if I did, I'd probably go with Barry Church. I don't know what they would do at safety without him. The defense would take a different look, for sure. @toddarcher: If you're talking left defensive end, then sure. If you're looking for a pure right defensive end, then no. But he has position flexibility. He can move inside if necessary as well. The left side has to be a stronger player at the point of attack. He is that type of guy and he has some good pass rush to him, but not to the point where you can say he would be a DeMarcus Ware type. He can be a Greg Ellis type. If he does not play well, then the Cowboys' defensive line will struggle. They need him to have a good year. I think the expectations have been raised on the kid from comments by guys like Jason Hatcher and Tony Romo. People need to remember he didn't have a sack in 2012 and he missed last year. There will be some growing pains, but the potential is definitely there. @toddarcher: He has done a better job. He appears to be playing more confident. Now, does that mean he is a shutdown corner worth the No. 6 pick in the draft? I don't want to go that far from watching football in helmets and jerseys in the spring, but it sure beats the alternative. He is as healthy as he has been, which plays a part into the confidence. He's not thinking about injuries out there. His comments at the end of the minicamp were encouraging. He was going to take a few days off here and there between now and training camp but he planned on staying on the grind. That's good news. He knows how important this year is to him. The Cowboys need him as much as anybody else on defense to be successful. As I said, I like what I've seen but I still think Orlando Scandrick will be the starter Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. To win that job from Scandrick he will have to knock out the champ, if you know what I mean. @toddarcher: Yes, there is. If you want to take a look at the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, look at Article 4, Section 9. It's about forfeiture. If I had to bet when Kyle Orton shows up at training camp it would be either July 27 or July 28. Once he misses six practices, the Cowboys can come after the prorated amount of signing bonus in 2014. So in addition to the fines he induced in the offseason -- $69,455 for missing the minicamp, $10,930 for missing the physical -- and the $75,000 de-escalator in his contract for missing too many workouts, Orton would be fined $30,000 for missing camp. So let's say he misses a week, costing him $150,000. You're looking at about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators, which brings his base salary to just under $3 million. I think for 17 regular-season weeks and a month of preseason, Orton would be OK to make that kind of money and then walk away from the game. It will be interesting to see how this goes when the Cowboys get to camp. They have remained patient, to say the least, while Orton has been silent. 

Workload unlikely to change for Tony Romo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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