Dallas Cowboys: John Phillips

Cowboys chat recap: Put heat on coaches

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
IRVING, Texas -- After a little break, we were back chatting on SportsNation on Wednesday and touched on a number of topics.
  • Why the Cowboys go to Oxnard, California, for training camp
  • Why Kyle Orton will be at training camp
  • Why the way Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett manage the game matters
  • Why Calvin Johnson helps Dez Bryant this year

If you want to read the full chat, click here, but I want to delve more into one topic.
Cris A. (Dallas TX): What prevented Gavin Escobar to see so little playing time last year, his poor pass blocking or the coaches not finding a way to fit him in the offense?

Todd Archer: I'd say both. But here's where I think we'll see a difference with Linehan: he will coach to guys' strengths. It won't be about what Escobar can't do, but what he can do. It won't be about what [Cole] Beasley can't do but what he can do. I think the Cowboys coached a little scared in the past when it came to things like that. Do I think Escobar will be a great on-the-line tight end? Not really. He just doesn't have the body type to play the line. He's not that kind of player. But I think he can be an effective player if used right.

This was just a stream of consciousness in the chat, but it got me to thinking about the Cowboys’ offense the past few years. I think the coaches got bogged down into things guys couldn’t do as opposed to what they could do. Escobar is a good example of that. They knew he wasn’t much of a blocker when he was picked but they really didn't do anything to put his skills to work as a rookie. If he couldn’t block, he couldn’t be counted on. Despite their professed love for “12 personnel,” they ran the same stuff they did when Anthony Fasano, Martellus Bennett or John Phillips was the backup tight end. They didn’t invent ways to use Escobar differently. So what is the natural reaction? Well, Escobar is a bust. That’s not exactly fair to the kid. The coaches bear some responsibility for not utilizing his talents. To a smaller degree, they have done the same with Bryant. They haven’t moved him around because they were unsure he could play different spots or get in the slot. This offseason Bryant has moved around more. We saw Cole Beasley line up some outside. We’ve seen running backs line up in the slot.

To me, the coaches have been too reactive to the defense, despite Garrett saying they want to dictate the action. They haven’t. Now, they have been productive in yards and points and sometimes both over the years. But could they have been better? A lot better? There didn’t seem to be a lot of innovation to the offense because the answer was always, "trust the system." Well, the system sometimes should bend for the players in it. I don’t believe the Cowboys have done that enough.

But here’s a guess: Linehan will help change that, especially on game day.

Compensatory picks could mean a lot

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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.

Former Cowboys still playing this weekend

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys did not make the playoffs, but they could have as many as 11 former players taking part in the postseason this weekend.

Kansas City Chiefs

Anthony Fasano caught 23 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns in nine games for the Chiefs. He was the first of three second-round picks the Cowboys have used on tight ends since 2006. The lack of creativity at times with “12 personnel” has hurt him, Martellus Bennett and Gavin Escobar.

Indianapolis Colts

Running back Tashard Choice had 11 carries for 44 yards in three games for the Colts after he was cut by the Buffalo Bills. He had some moments with the Cowboys but could not get in the running back rotation with Marion Barber and/or Felix Jones.

Defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton was signed in June and released by the Cowboys on Aug. 26.

Erik Walden was a sixth-round pick in 2008, just like Choice, but he never showed the pass-rush ability the Cowboys hoped for. He won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers and has 45 tackles and three sacks in 15 games for the Colts.

New Orleans Saints

Shayne Graham was with the Cowboys in training camp in 2011 when they had five kickers on the roster at one point. At one point it looked like the job was his, but the Cowboys went with undrafted rookie Dan Bailey, who has been one of their best players the past three seasons. Graham was a late-season addition to the Saints' roster.

Kenyon Coleman is on injured reserve and Victor Butler is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.

Philadelphia Eagles

If there was a player to make the all-airport team it would be Clifton Geathers. He had the look of the prototype defensive end in a 3-4 but he just didn’t make enough plays. He had 26 tackles in 16 games for the Eagles this season with one in last week’s win against the Cowboys.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cornerback Adam Jones had an eventful one season with the Cowboys in 2008. He has found a home in Cincinnati. He has 56 tackles and three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, in 16 games.

Terence Newman had a second straight solid season with the Bengals but missed the final three games with a knee injury. He should play Saturday against the San Diego Chargers. In 13 games he had 52 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass deflections.

Who is Kevin Brock? A tight end. He did a short stint in training camp with the Cowboys in 2010.

Dennis Roland was an undrafted offensive tackle with the Cowboys in 2006. He has had a decent career, mostly with the Bengals and is a backup now.

San Diego Chargers

The Cowboys traded Sean Lissemore to the Chargers on Sept. 1 for a seventh-round pick in 2015. Given the injuries they had on the line, they would have been better served to keep Lissemore, who might not have been the best fit in a 4-3. In 15 games (two starts), Lissemore had 24 tackles and two sacks for the Chargers.

Tight end John Phillips was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. He had four catches in 15 games.

The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers do not have any former Cowboys on their rosters.
Since Victor Butler agreed to a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, it means the end of the Dallas Cowboys' 2009 draft class.

Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss what the Cowboys are getting with Justin Durant and Will Allen, the state of the possible contract extensions for Tony Romo and Anthony Spencer and the team's draft strategy.

Listen Listen
The Cowboys drafted 12 players in 2009 in what was billed as a special-teams draft. What it became was one of the worst drafts in the last 10 years.

No starters were developed from the class and only six made the 53-man roster. Things started off on the wrong foot when the Cowboys began the draft without a first-round pick, handed to the Detroit Lions as part of the Roy Williams deal. The Cowboys traded their second-round choice to Buffalo for third- and fourth-round picks.

What did the Bills do with the pick?

Center Andy Levitre was selected at No. 53.

A review of the 2009 class:

Jason Williams. He was a third-round pick, 69th overall from Western Illinois. He did make the team but had little impact. Williams was supposed to be an outside linebacker with pass-rushing ability. He struggled to learn Wade Phillips' defense and didn't earn a single start. He played a career-high 14 games with the Carolina Panthers in 2011.

Robert Brewster. The tackle was a third-round pick (75th overall) from Ball State. Let's just say Brewster's body wasn't in shape from the moment he arrived at Valley Ranch. He was on the practice squad and that's about it. He never developed the strength necessary to be counted on to play in the NFL.

Stephen McGee. He was a backup who didn't develop. McGee struggled to convert from a quarterback who played out of the shotgun to someone who needed to take snaps under center. The fourth-round pick from Texas A&M stayed way too long before getting released last summer.

Victor Butler. The Cowboys had hopes their fourth-round pick (110th overall) would contribute on special teams and provide solid pass-rush skills. Butler was inconsistent with the Cowboys, and after visiting at least four NFL teams this offseason, he found a home with the Saints. Butler has potential but needs to solve the inconsistency problems.

Brandon Williams. The linebacker from Texas Tech was another fourth-round pick. The Fort Worth native played six games in 2010 and that was it. He didn't show much ability. He did battle some injuries but was inconsistent when healthy.

DeAngelo Smith. Smith was a fifth-round pick who didn't make the 53-man roster. The Cowboys thought he could be a solid cover guy, but he just didn't provide the club with enough confidence to make the team, let alone sustain a long-term career. Smith's claim to fame was getting beat by David Buehler in the 40 during training camp.

Michael Hamlin. The safety from Clemson was a fifth-round choice who did make the team but had little impact. He didn't contribute much on special teams. He played in four games with Jacksonville in 2010 and is out of the league.

David Buehler. The kicker from USC displayed a strong leg on kickoffs, but a groin injury in 2011 ended his time with the Cowboys. A fifth-round pick, Buehler converted 75 percent of his field goals, including a career-long 53-yarder. Consistency was an issue, and he didn't kick for anybody last season as he recovered from surgery on his groin. He signed with the New York Giants and could make the roster.

Stephen Hodge. The linebacker/safety from TCU just couldn't recover from his knee injuries. Hodge was projected as a special-teams ace, but his health prevented him from becoming one. This sixth-round pick just didn't work out.

John Phillips. The sixth-round tight end played well at times. He wasn't better than Martellus Bennett, a second-round pick from 2008. Phillips tore his ACL in the 2010 preseason opener and it slowed his progress. He was surpassed by James Hanna, a sixth-round pick in 2012, late last season. Phillips signed a free-agent deal with San Diego.

Mike Mickens. He was a seventh-round selection who is out of the league and didn't play any NFL games.

Manuel Johnson. Johnson was an East Texas favorite who made some plays in the preseason but never did enough to make the 53-man roster.

Lack of cap space could be a positive

March, 15, 2013
With the exception of Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys will not be able to retain any of their unrestricted free agents.

Calvin Watkins joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to talk about Martellus Bennett's progression since he left the Cowboys, the definition of a Tony Romo apologist and the Cowboys' salary cap situation.

Listen Listen
On Friday, wide receiver Kevin Ogletree signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Other free agents, including tight end John Phillips, running back Felix Jones and cornerback Mike Jenkins, have signed with or appear headed to other teams.

This is not a bad thing for the Cowboys. Those players were ineffective and dealt with injuries during their time with the team.

Yes, Jenkins was a Pro Bowler, but after he missed voluntary workouts in 2012 (while recovering from major shoulder surgery), he fell out of favor with team officials. Jones' health and his own inconsistencies have led to his apparent departure.

Phillips was an average tight end, who never seemed to regain his form after tearing his ACL. Phillips signed a contract with San Diego.

The Cowboys started the offseason more than $20 million over the salary cap. After restructuring contracts and releasing players, Dallas had just $175,000 in cap space when the new league year started Tuesday.

This might be a good thing because it allows Jerry Jones not to worry about making a splash in free agency and instead focus on building the team through the draft.
There is a positive in all of this: The Cowboys can finally start making moves, not in free agency, but the draft.
The first day of free agency is over and things will probably slow down a little on Day 2. With that, we review what we heard, saw and talked about Tuesday night and preview what could happen down the line.

Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the latest free-agency moves going on around the NFL.

Listen Listen
The loss of John Phillips: The Cowboys lost their backup tight end to the San Diego Chargers on Tuesday. Phillips was part of that dreadful 2009 class that produced very little for the Cowboys. Only free agent linebacker Victor Butler remains, and he's drawn interest from the New York Jets. Losing Phillips isn't a big deal because James Hanna has more upside as a solid pass-catching tight end. The Cowboys are in need of a blocking tight end, and this is where drafting someone in the late rounds could be important.

Chase Blackburn vs. Kevin Burnett: The Cowboys released backup inside linebacker Dan Connor because he refused to take a pay cut. The Cowboys are in the market for another one and like middle linebacker Blackburn, who started 15 games last season for the New York Giants at middle linebacker. He finished second on the Giants with 97 tackles and had eight tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits. He also had three sacks and six pass breakups. If signed, Blackburn, an eight-year pro, would be a nice backup for Sean Lee at the inside linebacker spot. But what about Burnett? The former Cowboys linebacker was released by the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday and might be a nice pickup to start at that vacant outside linebacker position. Burnett, who started 16 games for the Dolphins last season at one of the outside linebacker positions in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme, would like a return to Dallas. He was credited with 109 total tackles (second on the team), picked up 2 1/2 sacks, five tackles for loss and five quarterback hits. Who would you rather have, Blackburn or Burnett?

Martellus Bennett goes to Chicago: The tight end signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chicago Bears. He's come a long way since his days in Dallas, when he fumed at times for not getting enough passes thrown his way. Bennett had an excellent season for the Giants and, while they wanted him to return, the Bears had a need at the position. One of the biggest problems with Bennett in Dallas was his lack of maturity and the Cowboys' inability to know how to use him. Bennett's career is summed up this way in Dallas: He caught four touchdown passes his rookie season (2008) and none the next three seasons. He caught five TD passes during his one year with the Giants. He's a good blocking tight end, something the Cowboys need, and he's athletic enough to make plays on the field. We'll see how Bennett does with Jay Cutler.

Jenkins and Jones drawing interest: Free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins and running back Felix Jones didn't have any visits the first day of free agency. But with the biggest day of this period over with, both are starting to draw interest. The former first-round picks, especially Jones, need to prove to NFL teams that they can stay healthy for an entire season and are willing to accept backup roles. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins, a former Pro Bowler, gets a two- or three-year contract to become a starter or maybe gets his role changed to possibly get snaps at safety, where he played some in 2012.

The good news: The Cowboys couldn't participate Tuesday because they have just $175,000 in cap space. Anthony Spencer signed his franchise tender, and the team can continue having talks with their defensive end about a long-term deal. Also, if the team can finalize a new long-term deal with Tony Romo, it'll lower his salary cap number from $16.8 million and open the door for the Cowboys to sign some second-tier free agents.
John Phillips’ departure to San Diego isn’t a major loss for the Cowboys.

James Hanna, a sixth-round pick last season, offers more potential as the Cowboys’ No. 2 tight end. Hanna has elite speed for the position, making him an intriguing complement to Jason Witten.

Todd Archer joins Galloway & Company to discuss the Cowboys' latest moves, if the team should extend Tony Romo's contract and much more.

Listen Listen
The role of Phillips, whom ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports agreed to a three-year deal with the Chargers, likely would have been significantly reduced if he had returned to Valley Ranch. The Cowboys could use a good blocking tight end, but Phillips was only adequate in that department anyway.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Phillips’ departure: The Cowboys now have absolutely nothing to show for the 2009 draft. A dozen picks, not one remaining on the Cowboys’ roster, barring a change of heart regarding their lack of interest in keeping unrestricted free agent Victor Butler.

The Cowboys’ biggest mistake in that draft arguably occurred before the trade deadline the previous season, when they shipped their first-, third- and sixth-round picks to Detroit for perennially underachieving receiver Roy Williams and a seventh-rounder. Williams set the unofficial Cowboys record for the highest dollars-to-impact ratio before being released two and a half seasons later.

The Cowboys ended up trading out of the second round as well after the Seahawks swooped in a couple of picks ahead of them to take their target, center/guard Max Unger. The Cowboys picked up third- and fourth-rounders from the Bills, who used the No. 51 overall to take guard Andy Levitre, who agreed to a five-year, $39 million deal with the Tennessee Titans today after starting every game the last four seasons for Buffalo.

The top-rated player on the Cowboys’ board at the time, by far: running back LeSean McCoy. Dallas had a first-round grade on McCoy, but they were all set at running back with the trio of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

The Cowboys instead turned that pick into offensive lineman Robert Brewster and Butler. Brewster, like most of the Cowboys’ draft class that year, is out of the league and didn’t do anything to help the Cowboys. At least Butler hung around for four years, contributing as a reserve outside linebacker.

Phillips and Butler, a couple of decent backups, were the success stories from the draft. With them leaving in free agency, it’d be nice just to forget about that draft, but the lack of depth on the Cowboys’ roster is a constant reminder of the Dreadful Dozen.

Cowboys lose John Phillips to Chargers

March, 12, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Unable to do any real shopping in free agency Tuesday, the Cowboys lost their first player to the open market when tight end John Phillips agreed to a three-year deal with San Diego, according to a source.

John Clayton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the offseason happenings around the NFL and what they mean for the Dallas Cowboys.

Listen Listen
Phillips will go from backing up one of the NFL’s best tight ends in Jason Witten to another in the Chargers' Antonio Gates.

Phillips caught eight passes for 55 yards and a touchdown last season while making eight starts. He took over as the No. 2 tight end in 2012 when Martellus Bennett left in free agency, but his playing time decreased later in the season in favor of rookie James Hanna.

The Cowboys would have liked to have kept Phillips, a sixth-round pick in 2009, but they were not willing to spend much. Phillips caught 30 passes for 218 yards and two scores in 48 games. He missed the 2010 season with a knee injury.

The Cowboys are in the market for a veteran tight end behind Witten, with Hanna and Colin Cochart and Andre Smith currently on the roster.

What's left of the Cowboys free agents

March, 3, 2013
The Cowboys have knocked off two of their 18 free agents, with the signing of center Phil Costa to a two-year deal on Saturday and deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur signing a five-year contract on Friday.

Nate Newton joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys' fascination with their players, what it's like to be released late in your career, why Tony Romo isn't worth elite quarterback money and Doug Free's possible move to guard.

Listen Listen
Here's what's left of the Cowboys' free agents and the possibility of the team signing them:

Linebacker Victor Bulter. The team could bring him back as a possible candidate to play outside linebacker. He does make plays, but isn't consistent.

Cornerback Michael Coe. A late-season pickup who most likely won't return.

Defensive end Kenyon Coleman. An injury ended his season, but age, and the Cowboys' goals of using younger players at his position are more important than bringing him back.

Guard Derrick Dockery. He was a nice pickup in training camp, but the team will treat him like Coleman: find a younger player for his position.

Safety Eric Frampton. The unrestricted free agent did a nice job last season in spots and could return to add depth to the position.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins. It's doubtful he'll return. He felt disrespected by how the team treated him last season while he recovered from shoulder surgery.

Running back Felix Jones. Cowboys want durable players at this position and Jones hasn't been that.

Punter Brian Moorman. He was on the roster because of the knee injury to Chris Jones. Jones has recovered and Moorman will be elsewhere.

Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. As the season progressed he lost playing time and might be with another team in 2013.

Safety Charlie Peprah. Cowboys should bring him back to add depth to the position. A physical presence.

Tight end John Phillips. It seems Phillips never took the next step in his development. Time to find another squad.

Linebacker Brady Poppinga. Batman won't be in Dallas/Fort Worth in 2013. He didn't make enough plays.

Linebacker Ernie Sims. Was a nice pickup in 2012, but Cowboys will go younger with the depth chart at linebacker.

Linebacker/Defensive end Anthony Spencer. The Cowboys have until Monday to franchise him and it appears doubtful they'll do it. Odds of him playing for somebody else, look better by the day.

Safety Danny McCray. He's a restricted free agent, so his return to get significant special teams snaps will continue.

Defensive end Brian Schaefering. Might be worth inviting back to training camp and seeing if he can push for a roster spot.

Cowboys free agents: John Phillips

February, 4, 2013
[+] EnlargePhillips
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJohn Phillips finished with eight catches for 55 yards and one touchdown and will be coming off shoulder surgery.

John Phillips

Position: Tight end

Type: Unrestricted

Summary: The backup tight end finished with eight catches for 55 yards and one touchdown. It was the second-fewest receptions in Phillips' four-year career. It was clear the Cowboys missed a good blocking tight end after they let Martellus Bennett go in free agency. Phillips was inconsistent in this area. It seems he has never been the same player after tearing his ACL in 2010. Phillips underwent shoulder surgery recently and he should be in good shape for training camp.

Why keep him: Phillips is a smart player who runs good routes but gets lost behind the excellent play of Jason Witten. Phillips can make some plays when called upon.

Why let him go: James Hanna emerged as a good player and finished with more receiving yards (86 to 55) than Phillips.

Best guess: Cowboys let him test the market and move Hanna into the No. 2 role behind Witten.

Follow the rest of the series here.

Texas vs. The Nation notes

February, 3, 2013
ALLEN, Texas -- Checked out the Texas vs. The Nation college all-star game on Saturday afternoon and came away with some impressions in regards to the Cowboys.
  • Michigan State's Anthony Rashard White was pretty impressive for the The Nation and might be worth a pick in the middle rounds. White, 6-foot-2, 330 pounds, played defensive tackle and took on numerous double-teams and was able to get some pressures on the Texas quarterbacks. White was difficult to block on several plays as he displayed quickness and power. Some NFL teams could see him as a nose tackle, but the Cowboys, if they're considering him, could place him at defensive tackle.
  • Tight end Matt Furstenburg from Maryland ran some good routes and didn't have too many problems blocking. Furstenburg is a big target at 6--foot-3, 244 pounds. He seems like a fourth- or fifth-round pick and if the Cowboys select him, he could become the No. 3 tight end if John Phillips doesn't get re-signed in the offseason and James Hanna moves up the depth chart.
  • Texas A&M center Patrick Lewis looked pretty good in run blocking and seems to have that push you're looking for. The Cowboys started three different centers last season due to injury. Lewis should get a serious look at Dallas Day this spring. He's not a highly-regarded draft pick, but we'll see how he performs moving forward in his workouts with other teams.
  • Cornerback AJ Bouye from Central Florida forced a fumble and looked good in man coverage on Saturday. Bouye has the skill set to play slot corner because he has quick feet and isn't afraid to mix it up with wide receivers. The Texas quarterbacks targeted him on consecutive plays late in the first half and while the receiver caught the passes, there was little room to get free.
  • SMU outside linebacker Ja'Gared Davis was good rushing off the edge and picked up a tackle for loss and provided some pressure on the quarterback. Davis was quick off the ball and showed some finesse and power in his rushes. Davis is another player the Cowboys should bring to Dallas Day and maybe target him as a late draft pick.

John Phillips has shoulder surgery

January, 29, 2013
IRVING, Texas – Tight end John Phillips had recent surgery on his left shoulder, but the soon-to-be free agent is expected to be ready for the spring workouts.

Phillips is set to be an unrestricted free agent in March but could return to the Cowboys. He started eight games in 2012 and finished with eight catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Late in the season he lost playing time to rookie James Hanna.

Phillips is the third Cowboys player to undergo offseason surgery. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware had right shoulder surgery earlier in the month and is looking at a long rehab that could keep him out until training camp. Cornerback Sterling Moore had minor left knee surgery for a cleanup.

Rookie review: James Hanna

January, 23, 2013
[+] EnlargeHanna
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJames Hanna has shown he can run good routes and could be the No. 2 tight end behind Jason Witten next season.

James Hanna

Position: Tight end

How acquired: Sixth round (186th overall), Oklahoma

What he did: Hanna finished the season with just eight catches for 86 yards. Hanna was third on the depth chart behind John Phillips and, of course, Jason Witten for the majority of the regular season. But injures to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant in the regular-season finale at Washington forced the Cowboys to put Hanna on the field in key situations. Hanna had three catches for 20 yards -- with his longest catch going for eight yards -- against the Redskins. Hanna was considered a pass-catching tight end coming out of Oklahoma, but there was some concern about whether he could block well enough on a consistent basis. Hanna struggled in this area until later in the regular season, but he did a nice job in the passing game overall.

Where he fits in the future: Phillips is a free agent, and it appears he in unlikely to return. If that's the case, Hanna would move into the role of No. 2 tight end behind Witten. Hanna has displayed an ability to run good routes and make catches. The Cowboys' 2012 draft class was marred by injuries, but Hanna was one of a few who remained healthy for the bulk of the season. The Cowboys need durable players moving forward, and Hanna's ability to stay on the field is a positive.

Depth one of biggest problems

January, 10, 2013
When you hear what Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has said since the season ended there seems to be a missing link here: Depth.

ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Ian Fitzsimmons talks about the firing of Rob Ryan in Dallas, says Ryan didn't deserve to take the fall, discusses the possibility that Jason Garrett might not be the Cowboys' coach next season and talks about who would replace Garrett if he were to leave.

Listen Listen
Jones talked about how injuries shouldn't be used as an excuse for why the Cowboys defense struggled at times in the 2012 season. While that's an accurate statement, it's also misleading.

You're only as good as your depth.

In the 2012 season, the Cowboys signed 17 players as free agents either as injury replacements such as Charlie Peprah, Eric Frmapton and Brian Moorman, or re-signed players who had been in training camp like Ben Bass.

But the draft is a pivotal way to build depth in case starters get hurt.

The Cowboys had 11 drafted players as backups in the 2012 season including two former first round picks in Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins.

As the season progressed, Josh Brent (a 2010 seventh round supplemental pick) and Sean Lissemore (2010 seventh rounder) earned starting gigs. Eventually Brent was lost for the season after his arrest and Lissemore missed six games with an ankle injury. With those players out, the Cowboys turned to players like Bass (undrafted free agent), Tyrone Crawford (2012 third round pick) and Brian Schaefering (undrafted free agent) to fill-in along the defensive line.

Inconsistency among many of the backups hurt the Cowboys more than anything else.

The Cowboys needed more plays out of Victor Butler, a fourth-round pick in 2009 and John Phillips, a sixth rounder in the same year. Jones, the franchise's first pick in 2008, battled injuries and was below average as a running back.

There were some good things from some backups.

Dwayne Harris, a sixth-round pick in 2011, emerged as a solid returner and made some plays in the passing game to earn a look as the No. 3 receiver in 2013. The Cowboys extended Lissemore's contract to 2016, Crawford and rookie draft picks Kyle Wilber and James Hanna have a future.

And while Jones talks about not using injuries as an excuse, we agree with him there, he needs to make sure he has better players to choose from when it's time to use his reserves.

John Garrett shouldn't be exempt

January, 9, 2013

Every assistant coach should be harshly and honestly evaluated after the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

That uncomfortable process is very much underway with the firings of running backs coach Skip Peete and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. It’s unfortunate for good men to lose their jobs, but that’s life in the NFL, and the firings can be easily justified from a football perspective.

Just wondering whether tight ends coach John Garrett gets an exemption.

The only reason the elder Garrett brother wouldn’t be in jeopardy of losing his job is the same reason he was hired in the first place: He happens to share bloodlines with the then-offensive coordinator/current head coach.

Please don’t point to Jason Witten’s record-breaking career as proof that John Garrett has done a good job. Witten was a three-time Pro Bowler when Garrett showed up at Valley Ranch. He doesn’t need a position coach to push him to be great. In fact, the example Witten sets is the best asset Garrett has.

Garrett should be judged by the development of young tight ends. That’s been a major failure during his six-season tenure.

Martellus Bennett didn’t develop one bit during his four-year tenure with the Cowboys, who didn’t spend a second-round pick on the dude just to be the equivalent of a third tackle despite what they want you to believe. In fact, Bennett regressed during his time under the tutelage of Mr. High and Tight, catching four touchdown passes as a rookie and failing to reach the end zone the rest of his time here.

But the Cowboys still missed Bennett after he left for the Giants, where he basically matched his four-year Dallas production in one season. Just look at the glaring differences in Dallas’ two-tight end packages the last two seasons.

In 2011, the two-tight end packages were a Jason Garrett favorite despite Bennett’s limited contributions as a pass catcher. The Cowboys drastically reduced how often they used two tight ends after his departure, when John Phillips filled Bennett’s role.

According to Stats Inc., the Cowboys ran 320 plays using two-tight end formations that season. Tony Romo was 59-of-89 passing for 729 yards (8.2 per attempt) and four touchdowns and was sacked six times. The Cowboys rushed 225 times for 935 yards, an average of 4.2 per pop, and two touchdowns.

The Cowboys ran 198 plays out of two-tight end packages in 2012. Romo was 51-of-74 passing for 556 yards (7.5 per attempt) and three touchdowns. The Cowboys’ average yards per carry in these packages plummeted to 2.7, gaining only 326 yards on 120 carries.

Phillips, a fourth-year player, caught only eight passes for 55 yards. Some questioned why rookie James Hanna (eight catches for 86 yards) didn’t get a bigger share of the snaps, wondering whether Garrett was showing favoritism to a player he coached at Virginia. (Kevin Ogletree, who kept getting No. 3 receiver reps despite being the fifth-best receiver on the roster, was also coached by Garrett at Virginia.)

Speaking of favoritism, Garrett’s three-year stint as Virginia’s receivers coach certainly shouldn’t have made him attractive to NFL teams. The Cavaliers’ passing offense ranked 91st, 57th and 102nd in the nation during those three seasons. Garrett added the assistant head coach title in his final season, when Virginia matched its worst record in a two-decade span.

Prior to his extended stay at Valley Ranch, Garrett had been an NFL position coach for consecutive seasons only once. That was as the quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 1999 and 2000. Jake Plummer, who looked like a promising young quarterback when he beat the Cowboys in the playoffs the season before Garrett’s arrival, threw for 22 touchdowns and 45 interceptions in their two seasons together.

It’s probably pure coincidence that Romo matched his career high and tied for the NFL lead with 19 interceptions this season with Garrett passing game coordinator, a promotion his little brother gave him in 2011. After all, it’s a meaningless title that didn’t add any significant responsibilities.

But that title, like John Garrett’s mere presence at Valley Ranch, is a reminder that nepotism runs rampant around those parts.