Dallas Cowboys: Matt Johnson

OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 6 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

Johnson
1. Matt Johnson is never going to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

He has yet another hamstring injury -- this is three training camps in a row -- and he’s expected to miss at least a week. That said, who among us will be shocked if he misses more than that.

The Cowboys have liked Johnson’s potential so much that they’ve kept him on the roster, even though the former fourth-round pick has never appeared in a game in his first two seasons.

He’s been good in practice, according to coaches and teammates, but will that be enough?

It’s hard to believe they would keep him for another year, which means paying him for a third year, if he can’t stay healthy and compete for a job. The competition at safety is taut. Every day he misses diminishes his slim odds of making the team.

Lee
2. Sean Lee is the kind of player you hope has success because he’s the epitome of what coaches want in a player and what players want in a teammate.

Yes, he’s been hurt frequently. Too frequently. And the reality is the Cowboys can’t really depend on him because he hasn’t shown an ability to stay on the field.

But his injuries are the result of bad luck -- not poor conditioning or training -- and you can tell he’s miserable about the missed time. He doesn’t have to be at training camp.

He could be rehabbing in Dallas, but he wants to be around his teammates. He’s sitting in on meetings and film sessions. He’s doing everything the other linebackers are doing except playing.

Not many other players would do that.

Melton
3. Henry Melton's knee is essentially fine from a structural perspective. Any athlete who’s had a knee injury will tell you the most difficult part of recovery is trusting the knee again.

That’s why the preseason games will be so important to Melton, especially as an interior lineman. He must get used to players falling on his legs or banging into them.

He must get used to the game’s physicality, and he must become adept again at maintaining his balance and staying on his feet when guys around him are falling down.

When he does -- no matter how long it takes -- that’s when he’ll return to being a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle.

Key Number: 71

The Cowboys gave up 71 pass plays of 20 yards or more last season. No team allowed more.

Super Bowl champion Seattle allowed 30. The 12 playoff teams yielded an average of 51.

The Cowboys have no chance to win if they don’t stop the big plays. It makes it too easy for the offense. Improved safety play will help, but the Cowboys must figure out how to rush the passer and remove quarterbacks from their comfort zone.

Player to Watch: Cole Beasley

This is the first time Cole Beasley has ever entered training camp with outside expectations.

He seems ready to meet them.

He caught 39 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns last season. More important, he earned Tony Romo's trust.

On third down, he caught 14 of the 18 passes directed toward him for 146 yards, 11 first downs and a touchdown. When the Cowboys use Beasley in the slot on third downs along with Jason Witten at tight end, it gives Romo a pair of players with good hands who can work underneath and make first downs.

Beasley played only 247 snaps last year. Miles Austin, who had 541 snaps, is gone. Look for Beasley to gobble up a bunch of Austin’s playing time, which means he could easily catch 60 passes this season.

Training Camp Battles: Safety

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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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
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.

Filling out Cowboys' roster: Safeties

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
1:30
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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
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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.

Workload unlikely to change for Tony Romo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
10:30
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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.

Cowboys maintain patience with Johnson

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
9:00
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IRVING, Texas -- When Matt Johnson spoke after the first day of the Dallas Cowboys' organized team activities about how well his hamstrings had felt for more than year, he joked that he needed to find a piece of wood to knock on.

Johnson
It must not have worked.

Johnson has missed most of the OTAs with a sore hamstring but there is a tiny hope will be able to do some work during next week's minicamp. Johnson suffered hamstring injuries that mostly kept him out for his entire rookie year. He missed last season with a foot injury that required surgery.

As they have since they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the Cowboys will remain patient.

"Our attitude is to try to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do," coach Jason Garrett said.

Some of you might ask why.

"The interesting thing about Matt is that every time we've given him an opportunity, he seems to do a pretty good job, whether it's in practice or some of the scrimmage situations that he's been in," Garrett said. "He just needs time on task. He needs to get out there. It seems to me that he's got a real good approach mentally. He continues to work. He doesn't seem outwardly frustrated. I'm sure he is, but he's just got to continue to work through it, get himself healthy. We're going to try to give him every chance to show us what he can do."

If the Cowboys were set at the safety position maybe they would feel otherwise. While they like what J.J. Wilcox has done this offseason, he is hardly a lock to win the spot. Jeff Heath started nine games last year.

Johnson, despite his inability to stay healthy, still has a chance to win a job.

Cowboys turn to ballet for help

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
9:34
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IRVING, Texas -- Ballet and football don’t seem to go together, but the Dallas Cowboys are hoping the combination helps in their quest to lessen their hamstring injuries.

The team has installed ballet bars outside the locker room at three different heights for players to use for extra stretching.

Associate athletic trainer Britt Brown, “told me, ‘You know, that’s going up for you,’ and he started laughing,” safety Matt Johnson said. “If they work, we’ll do whatever it takes.”

Johnson did not play in a game as a rookie in 2012 mostly because of hamstring injuries. He did not play in 2014 because of a foot injury. Miles Austin, Morris Claiborne, Dwayne Harris, Justin Durant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Lance Dunbar, Danny McCray, Gavin Escobar and Barry Church were among those missing games or practices with hamstring injuries last season.

"We’ve put an emphasis on addressing, as an organization, some of the injuries that we’ve had,” coach Jason Garrett said.

The Cowboys have also changed their pre-practice stretching routine, as well going through what Garrett called a "dynamic warmup." Johnson said strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik used a similar routine with the New England Patriots.

"Typically we’ve done kind of the old team stretch, and we’re experimenting with dynamic warm-up -- stuff that I’ve done, other coaches have done in the past,” Garrett said. “You try to be innovative, you try to evolve, you get feedback from players, feedback from coaches, we’re just trying to help our players get themselves more ready to practice and hopefully stay healthier over time."

Matt Johnson hopes this is the year

May, 30, 2014
May 30
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Matt Johnson remains the most mysterious of all Dallas Cowboys.

In his third season with the Cowboys, he has yet to play a game. Hamstring, back and foot injuries have kept him off the field in his first two seasons. He is like some sort of myth.

Johnson
The questions asked to him on Tuesday after the first organized team activities (OTAs) were the same asked to him last spring.

“I can just repeat my answers from last year,” Johnson joked. “I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a groove playing football really since my senior year in college. It’s just good to get back out there with the guys and compete and kind of gear up for a new season.”

He hopes the new season isn’t like the old season. The Cowboys have been extremely patient with Johnson, perhaps more than they should have been. Johnson understands the angst fans have toward him.

“I have to own it, there’s no other way,” Johnson said. “I’ve been hurt. I haven’t proven myself. I haven’t proven why they drafted me.”

The Cowboys drafted Johnson in the fourth round out of Eastern Washington because of his abilities to make plays. He had 17 interceptions in four seasons. He had a four-interception game against Portland State as a sophomore.

All of that is so long ago, but Johnson still has a chance to deliver on what the Cowboys saw in him in 2012. They waited until the seventh round to draft a safety earlier in the month (Ahmad Dixon) and have yet to add a veteran. J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick last year, is working with the starters now. Johnson is working the second team with Jeff Heath.

The screw in his foot will remain unless it starts to bother him. So far it hasn’t. He hasn’t had an issue with his hamstrings in more than a year, but he quickly looked to knock on wood once he said it.

Even though he hasn’t shown it, he feels he has improved.

“Mentally is the only way,” Johnson said. “I’ve tried to get better at my footwork when I’ve been out there, but I’m grasping the game better. It’s slowed down for me definitely from my rookie minicamp to now. The game is a lot slower. I want to get in a groove each day. I see myself progressing whereas before it was progress, progress, progress, have a setback. It would be nice to keep it going for a while.”

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:
.

Cowboys believe J.J. Wilcox will blossom

May, 13, 2014
May 13
12:30
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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.

SportsNation

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

  •  
    10%
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    48%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    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.”

Cowboys need more Bradie James picks

May, 7, 2014
May 7
10:30
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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.

Reviewing the Cowboys’ drafts: 2012

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
9:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Day 4 of reviewing the Dallas Cowboys' past five drafts continues today with the Class of 2012.

If you want our thoughts on the 2009-11 drafts, click here for 2009, here for 2010 and here for 2011.

First-round pick: Morris Claiborne (No. 6 overall)

Claiborne
Number of picks: 7

How they did: The Cowboys made a bold move by trading up from No. 14 to No. 6 to take Claiborne, whom they had given the highest grade for a cornerback since Deion Sanders. Two years later, the Cowboys are still waiting for Claiborne to pay off.

In fact, most of the draft class has yet to pay off. Third-round pick Tyrone Crawford (No. 81 overall) did not play last season because of a torn Achiiles. One fourth-round pick, Matt Johnson (No. 135 overall) has yet to play in a game in his two seasons because of injuries. It took the other fourth rounder, Kyle Wilber (No. 113 overall), almost two seasons to find his role. Danny Coale (knee, foot) and Caleb McSurdy (Achilles) never made the team. Sixth-round pick James Hanna was the No. 2 tight end a year ago.

Pivotal pick: It’s hard to say anybody other than Claiborne because of the price the Cowboys paid to get him, giving up their second-round pick. He came in with a surgically-repaired wrist that kept him out of offseason work as a rookie. He suffered through a hamstring injury that kept him out of six games last season. He has two interceptions in two seasons and has not displayed the confidence he played with at LSU. He must turn it around in 2014 or the Cowboys’ decision to move up to get him will haunt the team for a long time.

Hanna
Best pick: There isn’t one yet really. Crawford did not record a sack as a rookie but was solid. The Cowboys are banking on him in a big way to return from the Achilles’ injury. Based on expectations and playing time, Hanna (No. 186 overall) might be the best, but he has just 20 catches for 159 yards. He could see his playing time decrease in a big way if Gavin Escobar gets more work as the club intends.

Worst pick: The Cowboys have kept Johnson around because of his potential, but the patience has to be running thin. He did not play as a rookie because of recurring hamstring injuries, as well as an aching back. He did not play in 2013 because of ankle surgery. He is out of time to make something happen, which he knows. Considering the Cowboys’ need at safety, however, there is still a chance for Johnson to make an impact.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

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

In it we talk about the Cowboys' drafting injured players, Anthony Spencer's possible return, a position switch for Morris Claiborne and a Matt Johnson update.

If you want to see the Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

 

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