Dallas Cowboys: Jakar Hamilton

Jakar Hamilton returns to practice

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
4:20
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys safety Jakar Hamilton returned to practice Friday after attending the funeral of his cousin.

"Pushing through it one day at a time," Hamilton said after practice.

Hamilton hasn't played in a game after serving his four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy.

Defensive end Anthony Spencer was a limited participant in Friday's practice with a sprained foot. Tackle Doug Free (foot) and defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) didn't practice and won't play in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Quarterback Tony Romo (back), tackle Jeremy Parnell (chest), wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) were full participants.

Anthony Spencer limited in practice

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
4:20
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer was limited in practice on Thursday with a sprained foot. Spencer, who has recovered from microfracture surgery, is expected to play in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh), who missed the last three games, was a limited participant in practice on Thursday. Carter said he felt good and should play against Washington.

"I did all the drills, special teams, I did everything," said Carter, who worked in the base and nickel packages. "I think as the week goes on and me running around, I'll be able to open up more each day and I think I'll be fine on Monday night."

Wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) were full participants in practice.

Defensive end Jack Crawford (calf), right tackle Doug Free (foot), safety Jakar Hamilton (personal reasons) and quarterback Tony Romo (back) didn't practice.

Jakar Hamilton is back to work

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
11:10
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Jakar Hamilton wasn’t among the several players who had their suspensions reduced due to the new adjustments in the substance abuse and performance enhancing drug policies.

Hamilton
 Hamilton, a Cowboys safety, missed the first four games of the 2014 season regardless of the new policies.

Teammate Orlando Scandrick saw his suspension reduced to two games and has played the past two weeks. Hamilton just returned to practice on the active roster on Monday.

“It made me think about a whole lot,” said Hamilton who is getting work on the scout teams in practice. “It made me think about my future and how much of an opportunity it was to even be here for a team to still like me despite what happened. They brought me back, and I’m blessed, and I just need to buckle down and take advantage of the opportunity because it don’t come but once in a lifetime.”

The Cowboys are short at corner with Morris Claiborne out for the season after tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee. However, it doesn’t appear that Hamilton will move to corner and be active for Sunday’s game against Houston.

Hamilton’s absence was painful on several levels. It left the Cowboys short in the secondary and quite possibly on special teams.

And on a personal level, Hamilton let one of his mentors down, Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders.

The two speak by text message everyday with Sanders sending a word of encouragement.

“The questions I ask he’s there to answer and give me support,” Hamilton said. “He just told me to be careful and just make sure it don’t happen again, and if I do get back, bust my a-- and show my worth. It’s a great opportunity to have someone like Deion in your corner to give you advice and take the time out to give you details on how to play the position in the NFL. I’m very thankful for him in my life as a supporter.”

Tony Romo, Bruce Carter miss practice

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
1:10
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo missed practice Wednesday to rest his back, something he's done the last two weeks. Romo did take part in the Wednesday morning walk-through and is expected to play Sunday against the Houston Texans.

Linebacker Bruce Carter (quad) also missed practice and will miss Sunday's game.

Safety Jakar Hamilton, who was reinstated by the NFL after being suspended the first four games for violations of the league's substance abuse policy, participated in his first practice.

Defensive tackles Henry Melton (hamstring) and Terrell McClain (groin) and linebacker Rolando McClain (groin) took part in individual drills during the open portion of practice. All three practiced just once last week because of health issues.

Training Camp Battles: Safety

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
12:00
PM ET
With the start of training camp coming next week, we review the five biggest position battles with the Dallas Cowboys. Our series concludes today.

Safety

The favorite: J.J. Wilcox

The contenders: Matt Johnson, Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton

Outlook: Wilcox took over the starting job early in the 2013 season and held it until a knee injury cost him three games in the middle of the season. Heath took over the spot and was overmatched in too many games, particularly in pass coverage. Wilcox never regained the starting job but in offseason workouts, he worked with the first-team defense. Johnson hasn’t played in two seasons due to a variety of injuries and missed offseason workouts this spring with hamstring troubles. Johnson's time with the Cowboys is running out. Hamilton has some range and could steal a roster spot. The key for any of these safeties is special teams play and this is where Hamilton and maybe Heath come in.

Who wins?: Wilcox is the better safety here because he's a good tackler and has improved in pass coverage. The Cowboys like their safeties to be interchangeable, but Wilcox will perform more at the free safety position.

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.

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Safeties

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
1:30
PM ET
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.

Safeties

On the roster: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton, Ahmad Dixon, Ryan Smith

Locks: Church, Wilcox, Heath

Virtual lock: Hamilton

Need help: Smith, Johnson, Dixon

How many fit? This is a thin group with only three locks and five spots open. And it’s possible the Cowboys go with four safeties, but they kept five last year and they don’t appear to have a hybrid corner/safety on the roster at this point.

Adding a veteran during camp or by the time the final cuts come around is a possibility.

Church
Church is the only truly known commodity. He is one of the most stable defensive players they have and has developed into something of a leader as well. The Cowboys want Wilcox to be the guy, but that doesn’t mean he will end up being the guy. He has much to learn after playing the spot only for a year at Georgia Southern and having his development slowed last year after the death of his mother and a knee injury. Heath will be a special-teams stalwart. He was forced to play too much last year, but he has fans throughout the building who believe he can grow into the job.

Of the remaining safeties, Hamilton had the best spring. He was a disappointment last year after he was one of their priority college free agents. He was not disciplined enough but was better in the OTAs and minicamp. Johnson’s lack of health has kept him off the field for the last two seasons, and he has run out of options. He did little in the spring because of a hamstring injury. He has to show he can stay healthy and make plays. The coaches say he did it in the limited work he has had over two seasons, but the Cowboys can be only so patient.

Dixon was drafted with the idea that he would be a special-teams ace as a rookie with the ability to grow. He is aggressive. He will attack. When the pads come on that should fit his game more. Smith is an intriguing undrafted prospect. He opened some eyes with his work in the spring and ability to cover some ground. Will he be aggressive when the pads come on? If he wants to build on a good first impression then he better.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs

Best case/worst case: J.J. Wilcox

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
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.

J.J. Wilcox

Best-case: He’s the guy

Wilcox
It’s clear the Cowboys want Wilcox to be the man. After the first three safeties available in the May draft -- Calvin Pryor, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jimmie Ward -- the Cowboys felt Wilcox was just as good as the others and therefore did not make an early or mid-round bid on a safety. Wilcox is new to the position, having only played it one year at Georgia Southern and just 13 games last season with the Cowboys. He was on the verge of winning the job in training camp but had to leave for a few weeks after the death of his mother. After taking over in Week 3, he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of three games and couldn't retake the job from Jeff Heath. Wilcox understands he has to make the step opposite Barry Church. He showed last summer he can make plays against the run and pass. He needs to add consistency, like all young players, but there is something to work with. If he can come up with a four-interception season, then the Cowboys will have their safety of the future.

Worst-case: Nobody takes the job

When Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, he managed to thrive with solid but unspectacular safeties. He did have a terrific front seven, but was able to get by with what he had at safety. He does not have a prolific front seven with the Cowboys, so he could need more from the safeties not named Church. If the job is too big for Wilcox, Heath, Matt Johnson or Jakar Hamilton, the Cowboys are in trouble. Wilcox will get the best chance to earn the gig. Heath was overexposed last season, but the Cowboys believe he has some upside. Johnson will remain a health question. Hamilton looked much better in the offseason than he did as a rookie. If they could combine each of their assets into one, then the Cowboys would have a decent player. They don’t need Darren Woodson, but they can’t have a repeat of last season, where the safeties were exposed on the deep ball and could not make enough disruptive plays. If it is a repeat, then put safety at the top of the list of team needs going into 2015.

Minicamp observations: Hamilton shines

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
5:00
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys concluded their final minicamp practice Thursday at AT&T Stadium with a lunch for the players and coaches’ families, but the 90-minute session had some highlights worth noting.
  • Safety Jakar Hamilton came up with a nice interception after linebacker Anthony Hitchens deflected a Dustin Vaughan throw down the seam to wide receiver Devin Street. Hamilton instinctively stuck one hand in the air and then corralled the ball as he turned up field. Hamilton later did a nice job being in position to force an off-target throw to Dez Bryant in the slot.
  • Bryant
    Bryant
    From our vantage point it was hard to tell if Bryant was able to get his feet down for a touchdown catch on a fade pass from Brandon Weeden over Morris Claiborne, but it was an impressive athletic feat. Jason Witten might have had a TD catch from Weeden in seven-on-seven drills over safety J.J. Wilcox, but the replay officials might have overturned it with one foot appearing out of bounds.
  • Left tackle Tyron Smith sealed off the edge to allow running back Lance Dunbar to scamper in for a touchdown run in the red zone. Dunbar had a touchdown run with the second-team offense in a two-minute situation.
  • Rookie punter Cody Mandell scraped the center-hung digital board three times during special teams’ drills. He did the same when he played in Arlington while at Alabama. On Thursday, however, Jason Garrett said the board was lower than its normal 90 feet. The board was lowered for a recent George Strait concert.
  • Quarterback Caleb Hanie was sharp in his situational work, completing four of his five passes, including a nice corner route to Street for a decent gain. One of Dunbar’s touchdowns was set up by a pass interference penalty on Terrance Mitchell, who was covering Street.
  • Linebacker Orie Lemon did a nice job breaking up a goal-line throw to tight end Gavin Escobar in seven-on-seven work with the second team. Weeden was able to complete the same route to James Hanna in the first-team work with a nice fastball.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
10:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • The state of the Cowboys defense.
  • Adding a new name to the veteran linebacker mix.
  • The future of B.W. Webb.
  • Tony Romo's two back surgeries.
  • Bruce Carter's performance in organized team activities.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: The odds say the defense can't be worse than it was last year, but I was saying the same thing about the 2013 defense compared to the previous year. Look where that got me. The Cowboys don't have a pass-rusher better than DeMarcus Ware on the current roster. They believe Henry Melton can be a younger (and better fit) version of Hatcher, but he's coming back from knee surgery. They will not have Sean Lee. It's hard to say the defense will be better. There are questions at every level and with almost every player. The safest picks are Barry Church and Orlando Scandrick. You know what you will get from those guys. Do you know what you'll get from anybody else? I'm not so sure. I'm playing the odds and say they will be better, but I don't see them cracking the top half of the league. If they can get in the low 20s, then they'll have a chance to make the playoffs. @toddarcher: Well, James Harrison doesn't play a position of need here in this scheme. If they were in a 3-4, I'd say yes. He was marginal last year in Cincinnati in a 4-3. Too many times we get caught up in names when it comes to the Cowboys. That's why everybody mentioned Brian Urlacher. Harrison was a great player, on par with Ware. He made a ton of disruptive plays. But he's not that guy anymore. And he doesn't fit a need. The strong-side linebacker in this scheme is going to play 40 percent of the snaps. It will be either Kyle Wilber or DeVonte Holloman, and Wilber will get my vote. Harrison had his time. He's not a guy the Cowboys need to go after. @toddarcher: If I was putting together a 53-man roster right now, Webb would not be on it. Sterling Moore has been better. Tyler Patmon, who was at the rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and earned a job, has been better. We haven't seen seventh rounder Terrance Mitchell since the rookie camp because of league rules, but I'd put him ahead of Webb right now. You're just not seeing progress either outside or in the slot. I hate to give up on a guy in his second year, but sometimes it's just obvious. He has the athletic ability but it's just not translating. He was getting virtual one-on-one coaching last year when he was forced to play and he struggled. Right now he would be my fifth or sixth corner at best. He has to have a really good training camp and preseason to make the club. @toddarcher: It's still a surgery. They still had to knock him out. It still kept him out for an entire offseason. Jerry Jones likened it to a toothache, but it was enough to keep him out of everything. Was it as serious as the one he had last December? No, but it's still something. It's still accurate. @toddarcher: I wish I could say he's been different than in the past, but he's been about the same. I'm not meaning to sound down on him, but it's difficult to cover Jason Witten. I haven't noticed him on backs as much and he struggled there last year. But he's been in position a few times and not made a play. He's made some plays. It's been OK. He needs to be better than OK. That doesn't mean he has to turn into Derrick Brooks, but he has to take a step forward. Sometimes he will do something and you'll say, Wow. Other times you're left wondering what he was watching.

OTA observations: Pump up the volume

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
5:49
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys pumped up the volume at Tuesday's organized team activity, playing music throughout the workout, ranging from Run DMC to heavy metal.

Coach Jason Garrett said he has used music in past OTAs in 2-minute situations, but this was the first practice in which the music played almost through the entire practice.

"It puts you in the game," passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said. "You've got to communicate in the game. It's not always perfect. When you're out here in the spacious practice facility with nobody yelling or screaming at you it's like golf. You don't have to worry or think about distractions. You've got to learn how to play when you've got 100,000 people screaming down your neck and doing it without letting it bother you, so I think it's really good work."

On to some more observations:
  • Linehan said Brandon Weeden has had his best week of practice. With Tony Romo sitting and Kyle Orton absent, Caleb Hanie had his best day in the sessions open to the media. He completed all but two of his throws in team drills and one was a throwaway while he was under pressure. He connected with Devin Street near the sideline, putting the ball on a dime to where Street could keep his feet inbounds.
  • Weeden's best throw was a play-action dig to wide receiver Terrance Williams, putting the ball just a little low to keep it away from cornerback Orlando Scandrick, who was trailing on the play.
  • The timing Romo and Jason Witten have is almost always impeccable. You can see the small difference when Romo isn't in there. Weeden was unable to get enough loft on a corner route to Witten with linebacker Bruce Carter in coverage. The throw was more on the line and Witten couldn't get both hands on it. With a little more air, Witten would have made the catch.
  • The struggles continued for cornerback B.W. Webb. On two of three passes he was beaten by Tim Benford and Cole Beasley. On the second play Beasley was able to change direction so quickly that Webb lost his leverage and gave up a big gain.
  • Backup left tackle Darrion Weems did a nice job of kicking out defensive end Martez Wilson on a Lance Dunbar run to beat a blitz from the defense.
  • Backup tight end Gavin Escobar had a good day after missing the open session last week with what he described as a tweaked back. He plucked a Hanie pass away with Jakar Hamilton closing fast, making sure the safety did not have a chance to break up the play. Later working in motion he was able to get inside leverage with a hard sell to the outside for a decent completion from Dustin Vaughan.
  • DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens did not take part in team drills. Holloman has been slowed by a hamstring strain. Undrafted rookie Dontavis Sapp was able to get more work at backup middle linebacker.
  • Receiver Dwayne Harris was kept out of team drills as a receiver as he continues to come back from offseason shoulder surgery. He was able to handle the punt return duties. Harris said he will not do any team drills on offense until training camp.
  • The Cowboys signed defensive end Dartwan Bush, who attended the rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, and will place cornerback Jocquel Skinner on injured reserve with a knee injury.

CB gets Cowboys' top undrafted bonus

May, 15, 2014
May 15
9:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have not been shy in giving larger than normal signing bonuses or guaranteed money to undrafted free agents, but their 24 signings totaled $66,500 and no guaranteed money in base salaries.

Tarleton State cornerback Dashaun Phillips, a Duncanville, Texas, native, received the largest signing bonus at $7,500. Missouri wide receiver L’Damian Washington received $7,000 to sign. Running back Glasco Martin did not receive a signing bonus.

In 2012, the Cowboys guaranteed guard Ronald Leary $214,000. Last year, the Cowboys guaranteed linebacker Brandon Magee $70,000 and paid out a $10,000 signing bonus to Jakar Hamilton.

Here is the remaining breakdown of signing bonuses:

$5,000
QB Dustin Vaughan, West Texas A&M
DT Chris Whaley, Texas
OL Jarrod Pughsley, Akron
OL Josh Aladenoye, Illinois State

$3,500
WR Chris Boyd, Vanderbilt

$3,000
OL Andre Cureton, Cincinnati

$2,500
TE Evan Wilson, Illinois

$2,000
FB J.C. Copeland, LSU
RB Ben Malena, Texas A&M
S Marvin Robinson, Ferris State
P Cody Mandell, Alabama
LB Keith Smith, San Jose State

$1,500
S Ryan Smith, Auburn
OG Ronald Patrick, South Carolina
OG Brian Clarke, Bloomsburg
TE Jordan Najvar, Baylor
LS Casey Kreiter, Iowa
CB Jocquel Skinner, Bethel
DE Joe Windsor, Northern Illinois
DT Davin Coleman, Arizona State

$1,000
LB Dontavis Sapp, Tennessee

Cowboys believe J.J. Wilcox will blossom

May, 13, 2014
May 13
12:30
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Everybody believes one of the Dallas Cowboys' most pressing needs is safety. Everybody except the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Wilcox
Howard Smith/USA Today SportsThe Cowboys will rely on second-year safety J.J. Wilcox to add depth to the position in 2014.
The Cowboys liked Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, the top-rated safeties in the draft, but did not love either, especially when compared to offensive tackle Zack Martin, whom they took with the 16th pick in the first round. The Cowboys could have had Dix or Pryor at No. 16 but stuck with their board.

They loved Jimmie Ward, but in the second round. The San Francisco 49ers took Ward with the 30th pick in the first round.

When they looked at the rest of the board, they saw safeties who were comparable to what they already had on the roster, according to executive vice president Stephen Jones.

The Cowboys are putting their belief in last year’s third-round pick, J.J. Wilcox. He had 38 tackles in 2013. He started five games and missed three with a knee injury.

But it was the loss of his mother, Marshell Wilcox, in training camp that affected Wilcox’s performance the most. The Cowboys were set to name him the starter in training camp on the day his mother died, according to Jones. He missed two weeks to be with his family to grieve. He eventually was named the starter in Week 3.

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Which 7th-round pick has the best chance to make an impact for the Cowboys this season?

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    21%
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    10%
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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,574)

“That can get a lot of people off track when you have that type of emotional tragedy like that,” Jones said. “It took a toll on him, and we started seeing signs of what we’d seen in camp towards the end of the year. But I think, obviously, that was a tough deal he was going through, and we have a lot of confidence we’re going to see the J.J. we saw in training camp.”

Wilcox was mostly a running back at Georgia Southern, playing safety only his senior season. The Dallas coaches, however, saw him make a quick transition to the position and were primed to rely on him as a rookie. After hurting his knee, Wilcox could not unseat Jeff Heath as the starter opposite Barry Church, but saw his playing time increase down the stretch.

The Cowboys drafted Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon in the seventh round. They also have Matt Johnson and Jakar Hamilton at the position. Johnson still intrigues because the 2012 fourth-round pick has yet to stay healthy enough to play in a game.

“Matt Johnson is the great unknown,” Jones said. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll stay healthy and we’ll get to really take a long look at him.”

Compensatory picks could mean a lot

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
10:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- As easy as it has been to rail on the Dallas Cowboys' drafting over the years, the one area where the Cowboys have consistently excelled is in finding undrafted free agents.

That is why this week’s news that the Cowboys received three seventh-round compensatory picks should not be overlooked.

With the free-agent losses of Mike Jenkins, Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman and John Phillips, the Cowboys gained picks Nos. 248, 251 and 254 in the seventh round. Those picks cannot be traded, so in effect the Cowboys can guarantee landing their top targets in college free agency.

Last year, the Cowboys targeted Brandon Magee and Jakar Hamilton as undrafted free agents. Magee was guaranteed $70,000. Hamilton received a $10,000 signing bonus. Magee didn’t make the final roster, but Hamilton spent time on the active roster after opening on the practice squad.

The Cowboys also had Jeff Heath and Cameron Lawrence contribute as undrafted free agents. In 2012, they signed Ronald Leary and Cole Beasley. Leary started at left guard, and Beasley has developed into a valuable slot player. In 2011, they signed Dan Bailey and they signed him to a seven-year, $22.5 million extension this offseason. In 2010 they signed safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray. Church led the Cowboys in tackles last season.

Oh, by the way, Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent in 2003.

Cowboys position breakdown: DBs

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
2:00
PM ET
Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer breakdown the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2013, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2014.

Under contract: B.W. Webb, Jakar Hamilton, Morris Claiborne, Sterling Moore, J.J. Wilcox, Orlando Scandrick, Jeff Heath, Brandon Carr, and Barry Church.

A look back: This unit was an overall disappointment. Scandrick (tied for team lead with 13 pass breakups) and Church (team-leading 135 tackles) were the best of the bunch. Claiborne battled through injuries and inconsistent play and has raised questions about whether he was worth being the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Carr started the season strong but slumped badly the last two months of the year. Carr was the main defender during Calvin Johnson's 14-catch, 329-yard performance in an Oct. 27 victory by Detroit. The Cowboys struggled to find a free safety to make plays on the ball from Heath to Wilcox. Depth is a concern so much that Webb, a fourth-round draft pick last spring, was replaced by Moore, a veteran, who was released in training camp. The Cowboys struggled against passers who challenged the secondary deep and that's been a recurring theme the last few seasons.

A look ahead: Scandrick and Carr are the starters with Claiborne the nickle corner. But the Cowboys need Claiborne to either regain the starting role from Scandrick or make more plays on the ball as the No. 3 corner if he can't become a starter again. Carr said he played with confidence during the season, and while that might be true, his play on the field didn't show. Carr has to produce more plays on the ball and even though some teams didn't target him early in the season, that changed in the last few months of the 2013 season. It will be interesting to see if Wilcox can overtake Heath as the starting free safety. Church was solid as a strong safety especially in the open field. Yet, depth was a problem for the Cowboys and Webb needs to prove he can be a NFL corner.

A look out: The Cowboys need to draft a cornerback who has good awareness and ball skills. Creating competition is the best way to get this disappointing unit to improve. Free agency isn't something the Cowboys will look at because of the lack of money to spend in salary cap, so the draft is the best way to go.

Position breakdown:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Tight ends
Wide receivers
Defensive line
Offensive line

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