Dallas Cowboys: Kyle Wilber

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: Linebackers

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
1:30
PM ET
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 position 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.

Linebackers

On the roster: Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Anthony Hitchens, Rolando McClain, Will Smith, Keith Smith, Dontavis Sapp, Orie Lemon, Joe Windsor, Cam Lawrence

Locks: Carter, Wilber, Holloman, Hitchens

Inside track: Durant, Will Smith, Lawrence

Need help: McClain, Keith Smith, Sapp, Lemon, Windsor

How many fit? In a 4-3 scheme, the general answer is to go with six, but seven is a real possibility here. They ended last season with seven on the 53-man roster, although that was because they held out hope Sean Lee could return from a neck injury and didn’t put him on injured reserve.

Now that backup quarterback Kyle Orton is gone, that could open up a spot on the 53-man.

Durant will enter camp as the starting middle linebacker for Lee, who will miss the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but if Durant doesn’t keep the job is he certain to be around? He counts $1.46 million against the cap and the Cowboys would save more than $1 million if they let him go. I don’t see that happening because there is so little experience among the linebackers, but I can’t put him in the ‘lock’ category just yet.

McClain is the most intriguing prospect just because of his past. He was the eighth pick in the draft in 2010, but never found a fit in Oakland and retired twice before he could play a snap with Baltimore. There should be a heavy dose of skepticism, but if he wants to play and wants to work, then the Cowboys might have hit on a player for a pittance (sixth or seventh round pick in the trade with the Ravens).

Carter needs a big year for a variety of reasons, especially personally. There is no better time to turn it on than in a contract year and he is in the final year of his deal. Wilber found a home late last season on the strong side after a position switch. Holloman showed he can be a playmaker in the preseason and played well in last season's finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys drafted Hitchens in the fourth round in hopes he could be Lee’s backup, but then Lee got hurt. Hitchens has to be a main special teams’ contributor, as do the rest of the backups if they hope to make the final roster.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much to prove. So much to forget.

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

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

July, 5, 2014
Jul 5
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • How Henry Melton kicks in the option of his contract.
  • How many tight ends the Cowboys keep.
  • Who starts at linebacker?
  • The hypothetical to end all hypotheticals.

If you want to read Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: There is not a magic number necessarily, but if Melton matches his career high of seven sacks, the Cowboys will pick up the final three years, which guarantees him $9 million in 2015. Melton will be the key to this defense. He is the lone known true playmaker on the defensive line. I don't think you can count on another seven-sack season from George Selvie. The others all have something to prove. Melton has the most talent, but he's coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. For some players it takes a little more time to come back from that injury, but from all accounts Melton's rehab has gone well and he will be on the field to open training camp. The tough call will be whether the Cowboys pick up the option if he has a four- or five-sack season. Would it be worth it to kick in the final three years of the deal if he's just OK? That could be a tough call.

@toddarcher: They kept four tight ends last season for a spell when they had five receivers. I think the spot comes down to a fourth tight end or a fullback. I know there are a lot of people who love the fullback. Tyler Clutts did a nice job late last season, but I'm not one of those who believe the fullback is necessary. Another factor in how many players are kept at certain positions this year will be quarterback. If Kyle Orton comes back and the Cowboys keep him, then they will keep three quarterbacks for the first time in a couple of years. That chews into a roster spot somewhere else as well. But back to the tight ends: I think they need to get a blocking-type in their top-three, so that would put James Hanna on the bubble. I like Hanna, but I want to see the coaches use his abilities. In his two seasonss, they have yet to get him in space to use that speed.

@toddarcher: To me, it's Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and Kyle Wilber. I'm not even sure I can put Rolando McClain on the active roster if I had to do a 53-man breakdown today. Too many questions there. Carter is the clear front-runner at the Will. He did a better job later in the offseason. Durant has the most experience at the Mike, and that is not even that much. But he can be serviceable. Wilber played well last season and carried that over to the spring. He might be their best find, because moving him from defensive end to the Sam last season was really a move of desperation and it worked. I suppose DeVonte Holloman could push his way into the mix at Mike or Sam, but as of today, I'm going with the aforementioned three.

@toddarcher: Unlike Jason Garrett, I will answer a hypothetical even if it does me no good. Under this scenario, I see the Cowboys as a 6-10 team. I'm going on the premise that they get off to a decent start with Tony Romo. And if they want to make the playoffs, they have to get off to a decent start. So let's call a decent start as 3-3. I can see them winning another three -- just don't ask me which games -- because the schedule is tough down the stretch. The last part of the question -- Garrett remaining as coach -- is tough to say. Remember, he got the interim job with Romo hurt and went 5-3. Now he could end his job with Romo hurt. If the Cowboys play hard for him, which they have done, and they are in the games, which they have done, then I could see a chance of him returning in 2015. That doesn't mean it would happen. I'm on record saying Garrett has to make the playoffs to be back in 2015. Man, I hate hypothetical questions. Now I know why coaches don't answer them. But don't worry, we'll still ask them.

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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.

Five Wonders: Durant a starter or gone?

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- With the Dallas Cowboys holding their final open-to-the-media organized team activity today at Valley Ranch, what better time than now to bring back Five Wonders?

[+] EnlargeJustin Durant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Cowboys could use Justin Durant to fill in for Sean Lee or look to go younger at the position.
I believe Justin Durant will be the opening day starter at middle linebacker with Sean Lee out for the year. He has the most experience. He was OK in his spot work there last year before getting hurt himself. But let's say things don't go well for him in training camp and the preseason and he outplayed by DeVonte Holloman or Anthony Hitchens. I wonder if it would be worth it to keep him around. If he is cut (or traded) then the move would save $1.25 million against the cap. Every little bit of room helps. I know what you're saying. The Cowboys can't entrust the position to two players with little to no experience. Well, why not? They did it last year when they cut safety Will Allen and named J.J. Wilcox the starter. Wilcox almost immediately got hurt and that put undrafted rookie Jeff Heath in the starting lineup. Was cutting Allen a mistake last year? Perhaps it was, but he did not play that well and he was not a big special teams help. It would be a risky move, but Durant will not be around in 2015. Is it better to get Holloman or Hitchens the work with the future in mind? The coaches who are fighting for their jobs might think otherwise, but it's something to ponder.

• One of the biggest benefits of practicing against a team in training camp is to break up the monotony. You hear players all the time say they just enjoy seeing another color jersey on the practice field. So that's what the Cowboys will get when they work against the Oakland Raiders, as expected, in Oxnard, Caliornia. But I wonder if there is more of a benefit in the player evaluation side of things. In addition to the monotony of camp, players can figure out offensive and defensive tendencies. Players have been known to see the practice scripts over the years, which give them a heads up as to what to expect. When that happens, they'll obviously look better than perhaps they are. With the Raiders bringing in fresh schemes on offense and defense, a corner won't be as familiar with the routes, splits and speed and a receiver and offensive tackle won't know every move he'll see from a defensive end. It will only be two practices, but those sessions figure to be the most hotly contested of the summer and the personnel department will have some fresh tape to see.

• I'll admit I don't know much about Terrell McClain. He did not play very much for the Houston Texans last year. The Cowboys signed him to a modest deal that included a $300,000 signing bonus. But I wonder if McClain will be this year's version of George Selvie. Last summer Selvie had the look of a training camp body with the injuries the Cowboys suffered along the defensive line. He ended up not only making the team but he started every game and had a career-high seven sacks. McClain has been one of the more impressive players in team drills during the OTAs. The line has had a hard time blocking him. He has had to play the three-technique mostly because of Henry Melton's recovery from knee surgery, and has shown the ability to pressure the quarterback and make a tackle or two for a loss. I think he ends up as the starting nose tackle on this defense when Melton is back on the field.

• The Cowboys finally found a home for Kyle Wilber late last season when they were forced to move him to outside linebacker. He started the final six games on the strong side and had 31 of his 42 tackles. He also had two tackles for loss and two quarterback pressures. He has been working with the first team in defense so far this offseason and looks the part. But last week's OTA offered up another opportunity for Wilber that I had not previously expected. Perhaps it was due to a shortage of defensive ends because a number of them were sitting out the team drills, but Wilber moved to defensive end in two-minute drills. I wonder if he can play a split role the way the New York Giants use Mathias Kiwanuka. He played linebacker in his career and would put his hand on the ground in pass-rushing situations. I'm not saying Wilber will be Kiwanuka, whom I believe has been a little underrated, but Wilber can add to his versatility by showing the ability to play both spots.

• What would a Wonders be without checking in on a contract situation? I wonder if the Cowboys should look at extending the offers to receivers Dwayne Harris and/or Cole Beasley this summer. What? Hear me out. Both players are expected to be restricted free agents after this season. The bottom tender offer for a restricted free agent this year was about $1.4 million. The Cowboys thought that was too high of a price for Phillip Tanner and chose not to tender an offer to the running back this year. That number will go about in 2015 when the team will have to make decisions on Harris and Beasley. I do believe it will be easier to justify putting the tender on Harris because he is a valuable special teamer in the return and coverage games. Beasley is a punt returner, but not nearly as effective as Harris. But Beasley will have a role in this offense because of his work in the slot. It should be noted that he is only running routes in the slot during the offseason, so with that comes some limitation on what he would be paid in the future. Can the Cowboys figure out a way to give Beasley a little bump in pay this year, a good base salary in 2015, but less than the projected RFA tender and buy out his unrestricted free agency year? It sure would seem possible and it would guarantee Beasley a job in the future with a quarterback that really believes in him in Tony Romo.
IRVING, Texas -- Here are some observations from the Dallas Cowboys’ organized team activities on Monday:

• The Nos. 1 and 2 defenses came up with wins in the two-minute drills against the offense. Linebacker Justin Durant broke up a fourth-down pass from Brandon Weeden to Jason Witten. Weeden was late with a third-down throw to Dez Bryant that could have been a big gain.

• The second-team defense had two would-be sacks to close out their two-minute drill. Martez Wilson came unblocked after the defense blitzed from the strong side.

• Linebacker Kyle Wilber showed some position flexibility by moving to left defensive end in the two-minute drills. He was at least able to battle to a draw with Doug Free.

• Cornerback Morris Claiborne took part in team drills after being limited to individual drills during the first OTA open to the media. With the Cowboys working mostly in their nickel defense, Claiborne got a lot of work on the outside, but Orlando Scandrick continued to work with the starters.

• Wide receiver Terrance Williams had two drops in the early part of practice but came up with a nice sideline catch on a throw from Weeden with safety J.J. Wilcox late with some help.

• Safety Jakar Hamilton came up with a nice pass breakup on a crossing route by Jamar Newsome on a throw from quarterback Caleb Hanie.

• Running back Lance Dunbar killed the backup linebackers in 7-on-7 drills. He ran away from Keith Smith on an underneath route. He lined up in the backfield, in the slot and even motioned wide. Dunbar has the look of a space player Scott Linehan has excelled with in the past in special circumstances.

• Jason Witten was a late arrival to practice because his son had minor surgery Monday. Witten said his son is fine and he was able to take part in all of the team work. Backup tight end Gavin Escobar did not practice because of a sore back. He said he banged his knee in practice last week but that is OK.

• Wide receiver Dwayne Harris did not take part in any offensive team drills but he did return punts during the special teams portion of practice.

• New defensive tackle Terrell McClain showed some burst up the middle to stop a run by DeMarco Murray while playing the three technique. He also played the nose tackle spot for a few snaps with Nick Hayden sitting out.

Non-Tony Romo OTA questions

May, 27, 2014
May 27
10:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- All eyes will be on Tony Romo when the Dallas Cowboys hold their first organized team activity of the offseason.

Romo said he will be on a “pitch count” during OTAs as he continues to rehab from back surgery last December, but doing anything will represent an increase from what he was able to do in OTAs last year when he was kept out of drills because of surgery to remove a cyst from his back.

But there will be other questions at the OTAs, too.

Here are five:

Selvie
What does the defensive line look like?

The Cowboys have revamped their line this offseason. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware, and Jason Hatcher signed with the Washington Redskins. They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency, though only Mincey and McClain are expected to work fully in the OTAs. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Okoye is coming back from a personal medical issue that kept him out of football last season. Anthony Spencer was re-signed, but he won’t do anything on the field until training camp. The Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and will welcome back Tyrone Crawford after he missed last year with a torn Achilles.

A quick thought on what the first-team line will look like (left to right): George Selvie (the leading returner in sacks from last year, with seven), McClain, Crawford, Mincey. And that does not mean this group will look like this in July.

Claiborne
Will there be a cornerback battle?

Orlando Scandrick was the Cowboys’ best cornerback in 2013. Morris Claiborne was the first-round pick in 2012 but has yet to play to that level in two seasons. Coach Jason Garrett showed last year he was unafraid to make lineup changes regardless of a players’ draft status or contract, so Scandrick should continue to line up with the first team.

It’s up to Claiborne to make the decision harder for the coaches. He is coming off offseason shoulder and finger surgeries and could be limited some. But if he can practice, he needs to show early he can be a factor on this defense. He also needs to show he can stay healthy.

Where does Zack Martin fit?

The Cowboys have all but declared him a starter, much the way they did with Travis Frederick last year. Martin worked at right guard in the rookie minicamp, which would push Mackenzy Bernadeau out of the starting lineup.

But the Cowboys could call it a three-man battle between Martin, Bernadeau and Ronald Leary for the two starting guard spots.

Martin performed well at the rookie minicamp but will face stiffer tests during the OTAs and minicamp. The Cowboys expect him to handle all the work the same way Frederick and Tyron Smith did as rookies.

Wilcox
Can second-year players make a jump?

Wide receiver Terrance Williams will be a full-time starter in 2013 since Miles Austin is gone. Tight end Gavin Escobar will get a chance to work a lot more. J.J. Wilcox is penciled in as the starting safety opposite Barry Church. DeVonte Holloman will battle Kyle Wilber for the starting strongside linebacker spot.

For the Cowboys to get off the 8-8 train, they need these young players to make jumps. Teams like to say the biggest jump a player will make is between his rookie and second season. The Cowboys will need all four to play more meaningful snaps in 2014.

What about the other QBs?

If Kyle Orton shows up, it will be a huge surprise. He has not taken part in the offseason program yet, but the team said it anticipates Orton at the mandatory minicamp in June. The Cowboys like what they have seen from Brandon Weeden so far, but would like him to be a developmental quarterback in 2014 and not Romo’s No. 2. At least that’s the thought going into the OTAs. The team also signed veteran Caleb Hanie and undrafted free agent Dustin Vaughan.

With Romo on a pitch count and Orton absent, Weeden, Hanie and Vaughan will get more work than expected. That’s a good thing for them as snaps in camp will be even more limited.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

May, 17, 2014
May 17
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

Will the Cowboys be balanced on offense? What do the wide receiver and linebacker situations look like? How about the safety position?

For Part 1, click here.

Away we go:
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Cowboys need more Bradie James picks

May, 7, 2014
May 7
10:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- In talking about Bradie James on Tuesday, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones could not help but think of the draft.

It wasn’t just that the draft is coming up Thursday. It was something James signified in turning into a starter from 2005-11 with the Cowboys, a captain and the leading tackler for a six-year run.

“When I think about the fourth-round value of what Bradie brought us, that’s where you’re trying to go,” Jones said.

James was the 103rd pick of the 2003 draft. When the Cowboys moved to the 3-4 scheme in 2005, he became a better fit for the defense. He was a sure tackler, dependable player and good leader. He was solid in a lot of ways.

Since James, the Cowboys have not been so fortunate with their fourth-round selections.

In 2005 they drafted Marion Barber (109 overall) and Chris Canty (132 overall). In 2007 they drafted Doug Free (122 overall). Barber earned a Pro Bowl spot and was a tough runner. Canty was a solid player for four years before leaving in free agency. Free is the Cowboys' starting right tackle.

Since selecting Free in the fourth round, however, the Cowboys have not found an every-day starter. Running back Tashard Choice (122 overall, 2008) started four games in parts of four seasons. Quarterback Stephen McGee (101 overall, 2009) and Victor Butler (110 overall, 2009) combined to start three games. Brandon Williams (120 overall, 2009) never made an impact in part because of a knee injury.

The Cowboys never figured out of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (126 overall, 2010) was a cornerback, safety or wide receiver in his two seasons with the team. David Arkin (110 overall, 2011) never started a game.

In 2012, the Cowboys picked Kyle Wilber (113 overall) and Matt Johnson in the fourth round. Wilber became a starter out of necessity last year but at outside linebacker after playing defensive end in the 4-3. Johnson has yet to play in a game because of an injury.

Last year the Cowboys took cornerback B.W. Webb (114 overall) and he did little to inspire the stopping of what has become a trend.

Successful drafts are determined by the quality of depth a team forms in the later rounds. In 2003, the Cowboys found James and he went on to become the franchise’s sixth all-time leading tackler. Free has been a starter since 2009.

The Cowboys need more of those guys this week in order to have a successful draft in 2014 and less of the Arkins, Butlers and McGees.

Cowboys guard Ronald Leary cashes in

March, 24, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Ronald Leary made $405,000 in 2013 and started every game at left guard.

Because of his playing time and low base salary based on one year of experience, Leary earned an extra $307,104.43 as part of the NFL’s performance-based pay system. Each team is given $3.46 million to divide among the players and it does not count against the salary cap.

Kluwe
Leary
The system was designed to reward players whose level of playing time did not match their base salary. Leary, an undrafted free agent in 2012, took part in 990 of 997 offensive snaps in 2013.

Leary was one of 12 Cowboys to earn at least $90,000.

Safety Jeff Heath: $247,273.09
Defensive tackle Nick Hayden: $156,788.33
Wide receiver Terrance Williams: $153,719.19
Defensive end George Selvie: $141,704.71
Linebacker Kyle Wilber: $137,825.71
Safety J.J. Wilcox: $134,132.05
Tight end James Hanna: $112,413.69
Center Travis Frederick: $101,334.51
Running back DeMarco Murray: $98,646.61
Safety Barry Church: $96,884.40
Linebacker Ernie Sims: $90,679.43

Anthony Spencer, who played 34 snaps all season, earned the smallest check: $369.97.

The only catch is that the players do not get the cash until 2016.

Jared Allen option not likely now

March, 19, 2014
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Allen
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' search for defensive line help is not over with the addition of Henry Melton, but their push for Jared Allen will not be quite as intense, according to sources.

Allen wrapped up a visit with the Cowboys on Tuesday before they agreed to a deal with Melton.

Allen would be the Cowboys’ best defensive end, but at what price? He has had seven straight seasons with at least 11 sacks, but he turns 32 in April and the Cowboys were not willing to pay a hefty price for DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers.

With Ware and Jason Hatcher gone, George Selvie is the leading returning sacker from 2013 with seven. Jeremy Mincey, who signed a two-year deal worth a maximum of $4.5 million last week, had two sacks with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos in 2013. Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Bruce Carter and Orlando Scandrick had two sacks apiece for the Cowboys.

Allen has also visited with the Seattle Seahawks.

Cowboys interested in LB Woodyard

March, 10, 2014
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On the eve of the start of free agency, the Cowboys have expressed some interest in Denver weakside linebacker Wesley Woodyard.

Woodyard
Woodyard compiled 84 tackles, three forced fumbles and four pass breakups in 2013. In the past two seasons, Woodyard has 10 pass breakups and four interceptions.

Last year, the Cowboys used the free-agency period to sign veteran linebacker Justin Durant to a two-year, $2.3 million deal with $400,000 guaranteed.

Durant battled injuries last season as the strongside linebacker, playing in 10 games before getting placed on injured reserve. The Cowboys could promote Kyle Wilber to the starting role at strongside linebacker and create competition on the weakside spot for Bruce Carter with a veteran signee.

If the Cowboys release Durant, it'll save the team $1.25 million on the salary cap.

The Cowboys are looking for upgrades along a defense that finished last in total yards (6,645), 30th against the pass (4,589) and 27th against the run (2,056) last season.

2014 Cowboys free agents: Ernie Sims

February, 26, 2014
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Sims
Ernie Sims
Position: Linebacker
Type: Unrestricted
2013 salary: $840,000

Summary: Sims played in 12 games, starting six because of Bruce Carter’s ineffectiveness and injuries to Justin Durant and Sean Lee, but he had a hard time staying healthy as well, dealing with a groin injury. He had 42 tackles and forced a fumble.

Why keep him: He played for new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in Detroit and knows the scheme to the point where he can play all three linebacker spots. He will be a physical presence on a defense that needs as much physicality as possible.

Why let him go: He was out of position too often last year, looking for the big hits. The development of Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman gives the Cowboys younger and less expensive options at the backup spots. They can also play on all of the major special teams' units, which Sims did not do.

Best guess: It’s time to move on.

DL is where Cowboys should copy Seattle

February, 4, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- In this copycat league that is the NFL, all of a sudden everybody needs tall and long conerbacks like Seattle’s Richard Sherman. One problem, there aren’t that many of those kinds of guys around.

Plus from a Dallas Cowboys’ perspective, they have already allocated their cornerback resources in Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. So scratch that possible remodel.

Where the Cowboys can attempt to emulate the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks is with their defensive line.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithFor years, Dallas has relied on DeMarcus Ware to provide a pass rush. Adding depth to the defensive line could be a priority this offseason.
The Seahawks do what Rod Marinelli wants to do with the Cowboys. He just did not have enough quality players, rolling through 20 defensive linemen in 2013 because of injuries and poor play.

Seattle’s defensive line accounted for 33.5 sacks from eight players. The Cowboys defensive line had 28 sacks from six players.

Michael Bennett led the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks. Fellow free-agent pickup, Cliff Avril, was second with eight. Clinton McDonald had 5.5, and Chris Clemons had 4.5

Jason Hatcher led the Cowboys with 11, followed by George Selvie with seven and DeMarcus Ware with six. Kyle Wilber had two sacks from his defensive end spot before he was switched to outside linebacker later in the season. Everette Brown and and Jarius Wynn each had one sack.

The Cowboys want to rotate defensive linemen as much as possible to keep them fresh. That is a great approach when you have players worthy of being in the rotation. In the Super Bowl win against the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks had four linemen take at least 41 of 69 snaps, led by Bennett, who played 47. In the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, they had four linemen take at least 31 of 55 snaps. In the divisional-round win against the New Orleans Saints, they had five linemen take at least 43 snaps.

That rotation kept opposing quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees under pressure. The pressure could come from the inside or the outside. And it would come with mostly just four rushers, which allowed that back seven to be even more aggressive.

For far too long the Cowboys’ pass rush has been Ware and nobody else. This past season it was Hatcher, and sometimes Selvie and Ware. The Cowboys hope Tyrone Crawford can develop after missing last season with an Achilles injury, but the defensive line needs a ton of help.

For the Cowboys to make a jump in the defensive rankings -- forget being a top-five or 10 unit -- they need a better pass rush. For a better pass rush, they need better players. To get better players in free agency they need to hope the defensive line market is as slow as it was in 2013 when Bennett received a one-year, $5 million deal, and Avril received two years and $15 million from the Seahawks. That could allow Dallas to either keep Hatcher (unlikely), or get lucky with some other prove-it type deals. The easier way to get better players is the draft, but will the right players be available at the right time?

If the Cowboys get a better pass rush, their secondary will look a lot better.

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