Dallas Cowboys: Montrae Holland

With OL retooled, Cowboys look to fix DL

June, 11, 2014
6/11/14
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IRVING, Texas -- The look of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line has changed dramatically over the last three seasons.

In 2011, the Cowboys started the process of tearing down the line, moving on from Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. In 2012, they replaced Kyle Kosier.

But in stripping down the line, the Cowboys didn’t have ready-made replacements, with the exception of Tyron Smith, who was their first-round pick in 2011. Bill Nagy was an undersized guard and seventh-round pick. He started four games before getting hurt. The Cowboys recalled Montrae Holland to the roster and started him for 10 games. They relied on Derrick Dockery as well. At center, they went with undersized Phil Costa, who was undrafted in 2010. Kevin Kowalski, another undrafted player in 2011, was a key reserve.

This spring the Cowboys have a line with three first-round picks in Smith, now at left tackle, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Doug Free is the only holdover, moving from left tackle to right tackle.

This offseason the Cowboys have stripped down the defensive line. A year ago at this time, Jerry Jones called it the strength of the team. DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos. Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins. Jay Ratliff is with the Chicago Bears. Anthony Spencer is coming back from microfracture knee surgery.

“There is an analogy there,” coach Jason Garrett said. “A lot of veteran players, who were really good, of the same generation, and you have to transition. You have to get younger.”

Like the offensive line, the Cowboys didn’t have any ready-made replacements on the defensive line. Instead of going with late-round or undrafted players, the Cowboys are going with low-cost veterans with questions about health, consistency or both.

They added Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye in free agency. They kept Spencer on a one-year deal for short money. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh round.

“Defensive line is one of those positions you can’t have enough of those guys,” Garrett said. “Some of the best teams I’ve been around, some of the best teams we’ve completed against seem to have a boatload of these defensive linemen constantly coming at you … We’ve just got to keep them coming.”

Rebuilding is not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, but it sure can be viewed that way at Valley Ranch. The preferred word is retooling. The Cowboys have retooled the offensive line. They are in the process of retooling the defensive line.

There might be a question of quality, but there is no question of quantity.

“The best defensive lines I’ve been around are the ones that have ‘wave’ players,” Garrett said. “If you think back to the 90s when this team was winning Super Bowls there were eight legit defensive linemen rotating through games. Jim Jeffcoat playing 12 plays in a game. It’s ridiculous.”

Garrett went on to mention Leon Lett, Chad Hennings, Jimmie Jones, Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Tony Casillas and Russell Maryland.

“If you can have some of those guys play 30 snaps instead of 60 snaps or 15 snaps instead of 30 snaps, you’re going to be so much better,” Garrett said.

Nick Hayden played a defensive-line high 821 snaps in 2013 after being unemployed in 2012. Hatcher played 747 in 15 games. George Selvie, who was signed during training camp, played 744. Six of his seven sacks came in the first nine games.

“We played a lot of snaps last year,” Selvie said. “Where the rotation helps is everybody can stay fresh. The new guys coming in, it will help a lot. It was rough by the end of the year. We were hurting. A lot of snaps like that takes a toll on your body.”

To carry out the offensive line analogy, Lawrence can be viewed like Smith, a premium pick at a premium spot. And the job is hardly close to being over. Melton, Okoye, Spencer, Selvie and Hayden all could be on one-year deals. Mincey signed a two-year deal. McClain is on a three-year deal.

“The games are won and lost up front and always will be lost up front,” Garrett said. “If you don’t have good offensive and defensive linemen your skill guys can’t do what they need to do. So we’ve tried to do that. We’ve kind of tried to restructure our fronts over the last few years and build the team the right way.”

The retooling is in its infant stages, like the offensive line in 2011. The Cowboys have to replenish the defensive line in 2015 and beyond with more premium picks the way they have the offensive line.

Tony Romo with Larry Bird-like ability

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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IRVING, Texas -- Josh Wilson thought he had a clean shot on Tony Romo.

He was left with nothing.

The Dallas Cowboys quarterback shook free from the blitzing Washington Redskins cornerback, got settled and found wide receiver Terrance Williams in the corner of the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown pass in the 31-16 win.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Tony Romo
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTony Romo got away from Washington's Josh Wilson before finding Terrance Williams in the end zone.
Romo has escaped from trouble so many times that it almost seems routine. He has spun away from defensive ends coming from his blindside. He has eluded linebackers up the middle. He has even shook off his own offensive lineman (Montrae Holland). On Sunday he broke free from a cornerback right in his face.

“I think that the No. 1 trait for Tony Romo as a quarterback is instincts,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s got a great feel for the game. He sees a lot of different things. He’s got a great feel for people around him, and he’s got just kind of this funny way of getting away from people. And not only does he get away from them, but quickly to have your eyes down the field to make that kind of a throw under that kind of duress, was an exceptional play.”

It was that “funny way of getting away from people,” comment that drew attention. At 6-2, 236 pounds, Romo is not the flashy, elusive quarterbacks who flourishes in today’s game, like Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick.

His athleticism is an underappreciated part of his game. But quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have a subtle way of side-stepping defenders even if they are not blessed with the greatest physical talents (aside from their right arms, of course).

“I think you can be an elusive guy without being overly skilled, overly impressed from a motor skills standpoint -- guys who run fast and jump high and have this rare quickness,” Garrett said. “There have been some great athletes through the years who kind of get away from people. The great Larry Bird seemed to get away from people for a long time, right?”
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Cowboys have a gaggle of candidates for the interior of the offensive line to choose from.

The team was spurned by guard Brandon Moore on Wednesday morning after he agreed to a deal but then decided he wanted to retire.

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Thursday morning before leaving for Oakland, the site of Friday's second preseason game, the Cowboys created a roster spot by releasing guard Jeff Olson, who recovered from a concussion.

Among some notable names available on the free agent market are Deuce Lutui, Bobbie Williams, Cooper Carlisle, Leonard Davis, Reggie Wells, Derrick Dockery, Antoine Caldwell, Jamey Richard, Rex Hadnot and Montrae Holland.

Dockery, Holland and Davis are former Cowboys, but there are also players with ties to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan available for a potential deal. Moore played for Callahan with the New York Jets.

"The way Jason (Garrett) looks at this thing, we sign guys and they come in here and they compete," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "I don’t think anything is necessarily a given at those spots."

What also helps is finding an offensive linemen who is familiar to the zone blocking scheme Callahan uses.

"I don't think this scheme is anymore difficult than any other," Jones said. "The guys that are out there they will adjust and we'll play the guys accordingly."

When the Cowboys play the Raiders on Friday night the starting guards will be Ronald Leary on the left side and Mackenzy Bernadeau at right guard with Travis Frederick at center.

Money isn't an issue for the Cowboys because the team has nearly $10 million in salary cap space. Jones, however, likes to have space available in case the Cowboys need to sign a free agent during the season.

"It's a work in progress. If we see opportunities, we'll look at them," Jones said. "We'll also be patient. We're not going to just push a panic button and say this has to be fixed tomorrow."

5 Wonders: Do draft needs push QB down list?

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
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IRVING, Texas – It’s a short week with the Washington Redskins coming to Cowboys Stadium on Thursday at 3:15 p.m., but there is always time for Five Wonders:

** It’s never too early to talk about the draft, right? Well, it is for me, since we don’t know the players who will be available just yet. The influx of third-year sophomores and juniors changes everything when it comes to the draft. But let’s stick with positions. Offensive line has to be at the top, right? I don’t see how it couldn’t. What about cornerback with the impending departure of Mike Jenkins and the importance of that position? That would seem to be a priority pick. What if the Cowboys don’t keep Anthony Spencer? That moves up outside linebacker in the mix. They could use a wide receiver as well. How about a tight end? And you can never have enough defensive linemen. So here’s my point: I wonder if the drafting of the quarterback of the future has to wait a year? I’m not so sure it should because if you wait for the stars to align, then you’re in trouble, but this is a team that has a ton of needs going forward. Can they afford to take a quarterback early? And when I say early I mean in the top three rounds.

** Roster composition is something a general manager has to always keep in mind. They have to play the what-if game more than anybody else. I wonder if the Cowboys are paying a price for not playing the what-if game at offensive tackle. With Tyron Smith doubtful to start Thursday against Washington, the Cowboys will have Jermey Parnell make the first start of his career. Who’s the swing tackle? Well, the guess is that it will be Smith in a break-in-case-of-emergency situation only. The Cowboys kept only three tackles on the 53-man roster in Smith, Parnell and Doug Free. In a former life Derrick Dockery played some tackle, but he’s not that guy anymore. David Arkin was a tackle in college, but he’s not that guy anymore. I wonder if the Cowboys made a mistake in not keeping a developmental guy on the practice squad just for this kind of thing. Jeff Adams was among the team’s final cuts and by no means was he ready to play in an NFL game in September. But he did have to play a ton in the preseason at San Diego because of injuries and wasn’t bad until conditioning caught up with him. Having a guy like Adams or someone of his ilk, would have been a help on a week like this if Smith can’t dress for the game.

** Jason Witten is on pace for 117 catches this season, which would be a single-season record for a tight end in NFL history. Tony Gonzalez holds the mark with 102 catches. But Witten is averaging only 8.7 yards per catch, which would be a career low. He’s had only two games in which he has averaged at least 10 yards a catch this season. He is on pace for 1,018 yards. I wonder how much he is being affected by the offensive line woes. With Tony Romo having to get the ball out of his hands so quickly, Witten is running not only shorter routes but routes that do not lend themselves to a lot of run after the catch. Some might claim he is just slowing down and was never that good after the catch. I’m not buying that. His longest catch of the year was a 35-yarder at Baltimore in which he ran away from Ed Reed. He has the legs, but Romo just can’t trust the offensive line to hold up long enough for Witten to work the seams.

** I wonder if the Cowboys have any regrets on not signing veteran Montrae Holland in training camp. Of the three players they worked out in Oxnard, Calif., in August, Holland was the best. They settled for Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper with Holland’s agent looking for incentive money should Holland become a starter. The Cowboys did not want to go there and passed. It’s hard to say Holland would have been an answer for this team since he has not signed with another team, but he did an adequate job in 2011. Dockery struggled against Cleveland. He does not bend as well as he used to and didn’t display much power. Would the Cowboys have been better off with Holland? Perhaps.

** Caleb McSurdy was the first to go because of a torn Achilles. Within two days of each other Danny Coale (anterior cruciate ligament) and Matt Johnson (hamstring) were next to go. The Cowboys’ 2012 draft class has not produced much beyond first rounder Morris Claiborne. Defensive end Tyrone Crawford, the third rounder, will have an opportunity in the final six weeks to show what he can do. Tight end James Hanna has gotten more offensive snaps lately but just no passes in his direction. Kyle Wilber has seen only spot duty on defense. Grading drafts immediately after players are picked in April is foolish and there are people who say you should wait a few years before deciding if a class was good or bad. I wonder if we’ll need to wait that long on this class. Johnson will be the key. The way the Cowboys waited and waited and waited for him to get healthy tells you they believe he has a bright future. They simply couldn’t hold the roster spot for him any longer. Now he gets time to get healthy and start all over again in 2013.

5 Wonders: Rob Ryan's head coaching future

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
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IRVING, Texas – The NFL moved the trade deadline back to Thursday because of Hurricane Sandy, but I don’t wonder if that will help the Cowboys make a move.

Here are some things I am wondering about in our weekly Five Wonders’ post:

** It’s no secret Rob Ryan wants to be a head coach. It’s part of the reason why he came to Dallas. He was on some lists last year until the Cowboys cratered in December and missed the playoffs. I wonder if he is getting back on some lists this year with the way the defense has performed. Of the opponents’ 162 points, 78 can be attributed to turnovers or mistakes by the offense and special teams. The defense has done a nice job in sudden-change situations, limiting the opponent to field goals. That’s the only way the Cowboys were actually able to come back Sunday against the New York Giants. In a passing league, the Cowboys are No. 3 against the pass and have done two great jobs vs. Eli Manning. They have a huge test this week in Matt Ryan. If the defense continues this way, then Ryan’s name will be mentioned when jobs open following the season. But here’s a bonus wonder: I wonder if how Rex Ryan’s New York Jets have fallen apart will impact Rob’s campaign.

** I wonder why the Cowboys run the ball. OK, I don’t think they should not run the ball at all, but it’s clear the only way they can run it is if they face a bad Baltimore run defense that does not move guys around so the runners can pick and choose their way. In the last two games they have picked up 104 yards on 48 carries. You have to admire the pluck, but if you’re averaging 2.2 yards a carry, why bang your head into the wall so much. I laughed when I heard people question why the Cowboys only had 15 run plays against New York. Well, the score was one thing and the 1.3 yard per carry average by Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner was another. Could the Cowboys have run the ball on second- or third-and-1 on their final drive? Sure. The Giants showed a six-man box. It was there to pick up a yard, but with how the game was going and how successful they were passing I didn’t think they were wrong. Where I think they were wrong was in the called pass play on third down. Jason Witten was doubled and taken out of it by New York, leaving Tony Romo to throw to Kevin Ogletree on a fade. It’s not a high percentage throw and it’s going to a receiver that even the coach has questioned his consistency. It was a half-field read on third down from what I was told. It goes to Witten or Ogletree. If that’s the case, then put Miles Austin or Dez Bryant next to Witten to make it more difficult for New York to double the tight end. But back to the main point on the running game: Felix Jones has a bruised knee and whatever flicker he had against Baltimore it’s not there now. Tanner has better contact balance. Lance Dunbar has more speed. If you’re going to run it, give it to those guys while DeMarco Murray is out.

** I wonder if this is the beginning of the Morris Claiborne the Cowboys wanted when they moved up to the No. 6 pick to get him in April. Claiborne had his best game of the season against the Giants. He was much more aggressive at the line than he had been. He was a surer tackler. He looked a lot more comfortable. Maybe that’s from seeing an offense for a second time. He also added a fumble recovery a week after having his first interception at Carolina. What’s funny is that the Panthers’ game might have been Claiborne’s worst even if he had the turnover. He was too laid back in that game. He was the opposite against the Giants. He’ll have to be that way again Sunday at Atlanta with Julio Jones and Roddy White on the other side of the field.

** I wonder how the punt return team can be so mediocre and the punt coverage team can be so great. Have you seen the numbers? The Cowboys are averaging 5.5 yards per punt return so far this year and that includes a 44-yard return by Dez Bryant against Tampa Bay that the Buccaneers gifted the Cowboys. Take away that return and the Cowboys are averaging 2.8 yards per return, which is about on par with their average rushing carry (3.6). The punt coverage has been outstanding, allowing only 3.2 yards per return with a long of 9 on the season. Chris Jones and Moorman have done a great job of angling their punts to the sidelines and 13 of their 23 punts have ended up inside the 20. The Cowboys would be wise to keep Bryant off the punt returns or just let him do it when the opponent is kicking out of their end zone. Let Dwayne Harris or Cole Beasley be punt catchers if not punt returners.

** At some point when Charlie Peprah plays, you should believe he will do something to help the Cowboys. That just seems to be what happens when the Cowboys sign a guy off the street here lately. Last year the Cowboys added Montrae Holland, Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Frank Walker and Sammy Morris, who made plays to contribute to wins. So far this season the Cowboys have added Moorman, Eric Frampton and Ernie Sims off the street and they have made some big plays. Sims was a Cowboy for five days when he made his debut and had a pass breakup and a pressure. He also helped stop the Giants’ final play to set up the Cowboys’ final drive. Finding players to contribute at this time of year is extremely hard but the Cowboys’ pro department has been able to find some good pieces.

Derrick Dockery gets some snaps with starters

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys backup guard Derrick Dockery received some first-team snaps at right guard Friday.

Despite struggling this season, Mackenzy Bernadeau is the starter and is expected to remain there for the Baltimore Ravens game on Sunday.

Dockery was signed during training camp after the Cowboys endured several injuries to the interior of the offensive line.

"Yes, I'm getting a little bit," Dockery said of his practice time with the first team. "I don't know what it means. They're just preparing me for any opportunity that may happen in the game."

Dockery started two games in 2011 and has played four offensive snaps this season. He started at left guard for an injured Bill Nagy in Week 2 and earned the start over an injured Montrae Holland in last season's final game.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said this week that he likes Dockery's size (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) and that it has helped Dockery stay on the active roster.

If Bernadeau struggles this week, a lineup change could occur.

The Cowboys have benched offensive linemen in the past. Guard Leonard Davis was benched for poor play during a game and replaced by Holland. Davis later returned to that game when Holland suffered an eye injury.

5 Wonders: Can Cowboys pro department hit again?

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
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IRVING, Texas -- Another Tuesday, another Five Wonders and we’ll leave the inter-touchdown-ception from last night’s Green Bay-Seattle game to some other folks. This is strictly about the Cowboys.

On to the Wonders:

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If the Cowboys lost a game because of a bad call by the refs, would you stop watching NFL games?

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Discuss (Total votes: 7,637)

**I wonder if the Cowboys’ pro scouting department will be as successful in finding players this year as it was last year. Maybe one of the five players they try out today -- Don Carey, Antwaun Molden, Tyrone Culver, Eric Frampton or Aaron Rouse -- signs and becomes a big contributor to the defense and/or special teams in 2012. The Cowboys did a pretty good job last year finding players, including from Laurent Robinson, Montrae Holland, Tony Fiammetta and Sammy Morris. None of the players available are perfect so you have to accept some flaws, but the players from last year all helped the Cowboys win games. They hope to be as lucky this year.

** After seeing what Seattle did to Green Bay on Monday night, sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half, I wonder if we need to re-assess the Cowboys offensive line a little. Or at least tip the cap to Seattle’s defense. Playing with that crowd noise certainly gives them an edge in rushing the passer. Ah, who am I kidding? I wonder just how much Chicago’s defense is licking its chops to get after Tony Romo. The Bears have a league-high 14 sacks in the first three games and have one of the most dangerous pass rushers in Julius Peppers and he doesn’t even lead the team in sacks. Last week marked only the fourth time Romo has been sacked at least four times and the Cowboys have won the game. I wrote this after the game, but the pass protection must improve in a hurry with teams like Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Giants on the docket.

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**I wonder if Jerry Jones will do a little “I told you so” to Mike Jenkins or the media and fans. While I’d hope Jones would back off his all-is-well notion regarding the replacement refs, I’ll give him a nod in the team’s thinking with Jenkins. Injuries happen and the Cowboys were without Gerald Sensabaugh, so the coaches came up with the idea of putting Brandon Carr at safety in the nickel defense. It worked out great. Now they have lost Barry Church for the season with an Achilles tear and there’s some thought that Carr might be able to play more safety. Why? Because the Cowboys have Jenkins. Jones kept saying the Cowboys would need Jenkins and they would not trade him, no matter how tempting or no matter how much Jenkins’ camp asked. Now the Cowboys need Jenkins and he played extremely well against Vincent Jackson. Jenkins’ style of play fits perfectly with what Rob Ryan wants to do and Jenkins knows he has to play well in order to get a big contract. It might be a perfect storm for the team and Jenkins. And I’ll add this wonder: Can the Cowboys keep Jenkins in 2013? I wouldn’t rule it out.

** I wonder what happened to Doug Free. In 2009, he showed he could play after taking over for Marc Colombo. In 2010, he moved to left tackle and was considered the best linemen on the team. After the lockout ended, the Cowboys signed him to a deal worth $8 million a year and if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have had a tackle and would’ve seen him go to Philadelphia to protect Michael Vick’s blindside. Something is not right with Free. His best asset has been his athleticism. He could overcome a poor step or set and recover. He’s never been the strongest offensive lineman but he would play low enough and could move enough to be solid. Jason Garrett said Free has to be “firmer.” Too often he’s getting pushed back in the pocket or not generating enough movement in the run game. Confidence can be a funny thing and I wonder if he’s lost confidence as he’s moved back to right tackle.

** I liked the aggressiveness the Cowboys showed in attempting an onside kick in the second quarter against Tampa Bay. They should have shown just as much aggressiveness and faith in the defense the previous week in Seattle late in the first half on a fourth-down play. But on Dan Bailey’s attempt, I wonder if the field surface played a part in the Cowboys not converting. During the week, Bailey is attempting those onside kicks in practice on grass. Cowboys Stadium has artificial turf, so maybe the ball slid more on the turf than it did during the week on grass. Or maybe Bailey was so excited for the play that he just hit it too far. Tampa Bay was aligned deep and the play was there if Bailey didn’t touch the ball so far.

5 Wonders: Still waiting on Felix Jones

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
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SAN DIEGO – Before the Cowboys return to Dallas today, they will spend the morning meeting with some Navy SEALs as they continue the team-building experience known as training camp.

We will continue the five-wonders experience right here before boarding a plane home after 25 days on the road.

** I wonder if Jerry Jones is just being polite when he told KRLD-FM that Felix Jones has “got a chance to have a big year for us.” If you did not know Jones wore No. 28 during training camp, then you would wonder if No. 28 is a bona fide NFL back. Now, Jones is a lock to make the team and he can be an upgrade as a kick returner. But that Jones burst has been missing for a lot of camp. You haven’t seen that “wow” run from Felix yet. He’s dropped two passes in two preseason games. He had a drop in the first San Diego practice. He failed the conditioning test entering camp and after Saturday’s game against the Chargers, coach Jason Garrett said he felt Jones was still working his way back into shape. He had an involved shoulder surgery after last season, so maybe there’s some uneasiness there. But this can’t be the way Jones wanted to enter a contract year.

** I wonder if this is how the wideout position shakes out: Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree, Cole Beasley and … Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris or Danny Coale. Holmes is slowed by a back injury that could keep him out of Saturday’s game. He was OK vs. Oakland but the people who know these things didn’t seem all that enthralled about his performance. Since then he has been disjointed, to say the least, in practice. But he’s 6-foot-5 and can make plays the other two can't. Harris has had a decent camp and is reliable when the ball gets in his hands. The problem is that he sometimes doesn’t always go the right way. Coale has had the least amount of practice because of foot and quadriceps injuries but did a nice job vs. San Diego. Now is it enough to claim the fifth spot? I wonder if the Cowboys hold him out of the preseason altogether with the hopes he can get on the practice squad.

** I wonder how much of an impact new secondary coach Jerome Henderson is having on this team. The Cowboys have four picks in two preseason games. They have been more aggressive in practices. They carry themselves differently. Henderson is a former player and knows how to get to players. Rob Ryan wanted to get him last year, but Cleveland would not let him go. They reunited this year and now we know why Ryan wanted him. Most rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle, but one who didn’t was Cleveland’s Joe Haden, who was coached by Henderson. Now he gets Morris Claiborne.

** I wonder if Mackenzy Bernadeau can carry over his good start to the regular season. There was some skepticism when the Cowboys signed him to a four-year, $11 million deal in March and it grew when he missed the offseason with hip and knee surgeries. Since he’s gotten on the field, Bernadeau has been impressive. When he gets his hands on his guy, he blocks him. I know it’s not exactly a new concept, but he has power and he moves pretty well. The Cowboys could not do much in the screen game last year with Montrae Holland, but Bernadeau might be OK with that part. He finishes his blocks and you don’t see him on the ground.

**Some quick roster thoughts on special teams: I wonder if they go with five running backs but not Jamize Olawale. I wonder if Lance Dunbar can get in the mix as a kick returner. I wonder how many defensive backs they can take: nine or 10. If it’s 10, they’d go with Mana Silva. If it’s nine, then I wonder if inside linebacker Orie Lemon gets that final special teams spot. I wonder if Charley Hughlett is doing enough to push L.P. Ladouceur out of a spot. If he is, then the team will solely make the call based on economics. Ladouceur is more reliable. Hughlett hasn’t been bad, but he is a little erratic with placement.
SAN DIEGO -- The Cowboys have two available roster spots, and with the injury to wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has patella tendinitis in his right knee, they are short at wide receiver.

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The offensive line has some health issues too, but the return of guard Nate Livings to Monday's practice solidified that position a little bit.

Coach Jason Garrett said the team is always evaluating the roster, but there doesn't appear to be a rush to get any new players in. However, things could change if injuries to wide receivers Donovan Kemp (knee), Andre Holmes (back) and Bryant (knee) appear serious.

"We've just got to evaluate what the MRIs say," Garrett said. "Then we have to make our best decision from there, whether it's a young guy for legs or a veteran player because we just need an experienced player. So we'll go through the evaluations of whose available based on what we hear from the MRIs."

There are a few reasons why the Cowboys might not sign a player:

* Signing a free agent -- such as Plaxico Burress, for example -- doesn't mean that player can participate right away. Based on the new collective bargaining agreement, a player has to wait three days before practicing in full pads. But if a players is released from an NFL team and signs with another, he can practice immediately.

* The first cut-down day is Monday, Aug. 27. The Cowboys have to reduce the roster from 88 players to 75. It just doesn't make sense to add players with the first roster reduction date forthcoming.

*The Cowboys don't want to sign just anybody. If you remember, the Cowboys worked out four offensive linemen when injures threatened the depth of the unit. Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper signed, but Montrae Holland, after a strong workout, couldn't come to terms on a contract. Jamaal Jackson also worked out, but the team didn't like his performance, so it passed on him.

5 Wonders: Tyrone Crawford is a player

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
9:00
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Cowboys have their second off day of training camp today, so I’m wondering where I’ll spend the day. But I did not forget about Five Wonders.

Here we go:

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** The play of rookie defensive end Tyrone Crawford has me wondering if the Cowboys haven’t stolen a player with their third-round pick. He has added 15 pounds since the draft. He has the feet of a normal 4-3 end and the power you want from a 3-4 end. When the Cowboys selected him, the move was met by the general fan with a shrug (and a, "Who?"). The football people really liked the pick. Crawford is showing up almost every day and has made plays in the base and nickel packages. One member of the organization wondered whether Crawford could not start a few games this season.

** I wonder if Jason Garrett did not tip his hand on what the Cowboys want in their No. 3 receiver when discussing Miles Austin’s ability to play inside and outside. Garrett said the Cowboys could have the best of both worlds in their No. 3 search because of Austin. Putting him in the slot, however, gives him more of an edge against sub corners. Not many teams put their outside corners in the slot in passing situations. To me, that gives Kevin Ogletree and Andre Holmes an edge over Dwayne Harris or some of the others in the mix. Ogletree and Holmes are more outside receivers with their size. It’s what the Cowboys did last year with Laurent Robinson. Harris can play outside, but his quickness opens him up to be more of a slot receiver.

** I wonder how much the Cowboys like their young interior offensive linemen. They signed Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper and had Montrae Holland in for a workout not just to be camp bodies. They envision roles for these guys as backups. The injuries suffered by Kevin Kowalski (ankle) and Bill Nagy (ankle) might have long-term consequences for both guys. Maybe David Arkin will be better in the games than in practice, but he is also struggling. The thought was that the Cowboys were about to turn over their line group these last two years, but it’s quite possible they could carry Pat McQuistan, Dockery and/or Loper on the 53-man roster. Jermey Parnell is a Jerry Jones favorite, so he’s the swing tackle again in 2012. Ronald Leary also makes the team and has shown ability.

** I wonder just how much worry there should be over the health of nose tackle Jay Ratliff. He has yet to practice in pads in camp. He did not take any snaps in the offseason, be it in the organized team activities or minicamp. Plantar fascia can be a debilitating injury and one that flares up constantly, but this has been about three months. When will it be OK? Ratliff is an undersized nose tackle for a 3-4 and relies on leverage to make plays, which makes the condition of his feet an issue. If he doesn’t have the strength to hold up, then he just can’t fire off the ball. There’s not a person in the organization worried about it, but it shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Here’s one interesting note regarding Ratliff, too: Last year, he showed up to camp weighing 285 pounds and didn’t like the attention to the weight loss. This year? He is listed at 303 pounds. I think he dropped too much last year.

** I wonder why people believe the team’s decision to cut Brodney Pool was some sort of stern message made by Jason Garrett. It wasn’t. It was actually an easy decision. Pool might have been a starter for most of his career, but he showed little in his time with the Cowboys, and the team’s expectations for him entering camp were not that high either. After all, he received a $100,000 signing bonus. The move was made because as Rob Ryan said, “he wasn’t the same guy,” and that’s coming from a coach who calls Pool a friend. Maybe this works out best for Pool because he could have a chance to hook on with another team.

Cowboys add Derrick Dockery, Daniel Loper

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
8:25
PM ET
OXNARD, Calif. -- Needing to shore up their interior offensive line because of injuries early in training camp, the Dallas Cowboys agreed to terms with veterans Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper on one-year contracts Friday.

Montrae Holland, who started 11 games last season for the Cowboys, also worked out Friday but the team was not willing to add play-time incentives to his contract if he would become a starter. While owner and general manager Jerry Jones said it was possible Holland could still be added, Holland tweeted after practice a deal would not work out.

To make room for Loper and Dockery, the Cowboys released tight end John Nalbone, who missed the last three days because of personal reasons, and placed wide receiver Cole Beasley on the reserve/left squad list. Because of league rules, Loper and Dockery will not be able to practice in pads until Monday.

Of the three, Holland looked to have the best workout and was in terrific shape. He said he actually weighs more (329) now than he did last year (322), but he has become stronger.

“Absolutely,” Holland said when asked if he wanted to re-join the Cowboys. “I’m from East Texas. I grew up a Cowboys fan. What do you mean? Of course I want to be here. I just let them do the business part.”

The Cowboys were in need of bodies after losing Bill Nagy (ankle) and Nate Livings (hamstring) to injuries in Oxnard, Calif. Mackenzy Bernadeau (hip/knee) and Kevin Kowalski (ankle) were placed on the physically unable to perform list before the team headed to California.

Dockery, a Garland native, said he has been working out and waiting for the phone to ring.

“I wasn't surprised,” Dockery said. “It's the nature of the beast, things happen. I’m excited to be back with the Cowboys, NFC East, great team, great organization, great ownership. I'm looking forward to it.”

Cowboys work out three offensive linemen

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
2:39
PM ET
OXNARD, Calif. -- Following his daily news briefing with the media, coach Jason Garrett walked back to the practice fields to watch three offensive linemen workout.

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Injuries to the offensive line prompted the Cowboys to bring in Montrae Holland, Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper on Friday afternoon.

Garrett said he's not sure when Nate Livings (hamstring), Mackenzy Bernadeau (hip and knee), Kevin Kowalski (ankle) and Bill Nagy (ankle) will practice again, which forced the Cowboys to bring in some more players to get snaps with the offensive line.

Holland and Dockery have started games for the Cowboys in the past and Loper spent last season with the team.

"We've got to get some guys in here who can play," Garrett said. "The young guys are getting a lot of work. One of our objectives of training camp is to evaluate players. We have a tremendous amount of plays of those young interior offensive linemen on tape already. So they're getting a chance to play different spots, see different looks, but we need to bring some guys in."

The Cowboys have juggled the interior of their offensive line in the first week of camp.

Kowalski was supposed to compete with Phil Costa for the starting center job. Instead, David Arkin and Harland Gunn are getting first- and second-team reps because of health issues.

Ronald Leary and Arkin are sharing reps on the second team at guard.

At some point the Cowboys have to get their offensive line together from a chemistry standpoint. The projected starters are: left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Bernadeau, center Costa, right guard Livings and right tackle Doug Free.

The tackle and center spots are settled, it would seem, but Livings' injury this week has created problems.

"Continuity is always a challenge," Garrett said. "Regardless of how much time you play together, you always feel like you want more time, particularly on the offensive line. You like to get to that point as quickly as possible. Injuries are a reality in the NFL. You have to be able to deal with them. Injuries mean opportunities for young guys, and those guys have to step up and get in there and show us they can do something and make this football team and have a role on this team. It's a great chance for them, hopefully sooner rather than later."

Not a good start for Cowboys offensive line

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
11:55
AM ET
OXNARD, Calif. – It’s one of the oldest clichés in football: The offensive line needs continuity and chemistry to succeed.

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One padded practice into training camp and the Cowboys are fighting an uphill battle with that continuity and chemistry because of injuries to Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Kevin Kowalski and Bill Nagy.

Livings isn’t expected to miss a lot of time. Bernadeau and Kowalski are on the physically unable to perform list, and Nagy is out with a high ankle sprain.

Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan is not worried, at least publicly. He’s saying all the right things about the injuries opening up spots for younger players, such as Ronald Leary, to compete. What else can he say?

There has been a monumental shift on the Cowboys’ line in the last three years and a big shift this season as well. Only center Phil Costa is returning to the same position from a year ago. Tyron Smith and Doug Free have switched tackle spots, and Free said the other day he’s still getting acclimated to the right side.

Free started seven games at right tackle in 2009. Smith has never played left tackle, except for the few snaps he took there early in camp last year in San Antonio.

Livings and Bernadeau were signed to be the starting guards, so they’re making an adjustment to a new team and new scheme. Bernadeau has yet to take a snap in an organized team activity, mini-camp or training camp workout because of hip and knee surgeries.

Jason Garrett says he does not like to use the word “worried” -- or any synonym. That’s just how coaches are with their next-man-up theory.

But the organization is not sitting back and waiting for players to get healthy. They are looking at players on other rosters. They have Montrae Holland, Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper in for workouts. Scoff all you want at that, but Larry Allen isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.

Callahan’s run game is not too dissimilar to what the Cowboys used in 2011, so at least Holland, Dockery and Loper have experience with the Cowboys, if not Callahan’s technique.

Maybe none of this will matter when the Cowboys open the season Sept. 5 at the New York Giants, but this is certainly not the way to start training camp.
OXNARD, Calif. -- With injuries to four interior offensive linemen, the Cowboys are bringing in familiar faces for a workout.

According to sources, veterans Montrae Holland, Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper will head to Oxnard, Calif., for workouts. All three spent part of last season on the 53-man roster.

Holland started 11 games last season at right guard. The team cut him at last year's training camp but re-signed him after Bill Nagy suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

Dockery started two games after joining the team following training camp. Loper was on and off the roster but did not appear in a game.

Nate Livings suffered a hyperextended knee in Wednesday's practice, but he is not expected to be out long. Nagy suffered a high ankle sprain Monday and is not expected to return soon.

Mackenzy Bernadeau (hip, knee) and Kevin Kowalski (ankle) are on the physically unable to perform list.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Every Wednesday we’ll be bringing you Five Wonders, with today being the official training camp debut of the award-winning fixture. And by award-winning I mean the gold star my children put on my computer a long time ago.

With no further ado, here we go:

* Jason Garrett likes to say his receivers need to run, run and then run some more. As a group they have to be in the best physical condition of any players on a team. But I wonder if the Cowboys should monitor how much work they give Miles Austin. He missed six games last year because of hamstring injuries to both legs, and the offense missed him. Given Dez Bryant’s issues, the Cowboys need Austin more than ever, so it might be wise to limit Austin some. It’s a balance Garrett has to find of getting players ready for a season while not taxing them so much that they become susceptible to injury. And while I wonder about this, I don’t believe the Cowboys are wondering about it at all.

* I wonder if this is the year defensive end Clifton Geathers gets into the mix. He has been with the Cowboys for parts of the last two seasons, playing in five games last season and garnering five tackles. At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, he is definitely a candidate for the All-Airport team. He just looks like a player. And he’s also cheaper than Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears. Coleman has a $1.9 million salary. Spears is set to make $2 million. Geathers is set to make $540,000. You can’t discount the financials in these decisions. The Cowboys jettisoned their veteran offensive linemen last year and they chose not to sign Mat McBriar over $300,000. The Cowboys are getting younger and cheaper, and if Geathers can show he can handle more of a role he could slide two veterans out of the mix.

* Last year the Cowboys hit on several veteran free agent finds during the season, from Laurent Robinson to Tony Fiammetta to Montrae Holland to Sammy Morris. I don’t have to wonder too much if they have confidence in the pro scouting department to find help again in 2012. For all of the fans wanting the Cowboys to sign a veteran wide receiver like Plaxico Burress or at least Patrick Crayton, I’d say the team is being patient when it comes to the receiver group. And remember the money. Robinson signed for the minimum salary benefit last year before blowing up as the No. 3 receiver. The Cowboys didn’t look for a veteran last year at wide receiver, and their decisions to look into Josh Gordon and Dezmon Briscoe seems to indicate they will do the same this year.

* I wonder why there is not more concern over the foot injury of nose tackle Jay Ratliff. He was not able to take part in any on-field football work during the offseason because of plantar fasciitis and he can only go through the walkthrough practices early in camp. The Cowboys don’t want Ratliff to aggravate the injury in camp, but this is something that has been problematic for at least three months. While a difficult nose tackle to block because of how active he is, he needs his feet to help with leverage. Without leverage Ratliff is just another guy. And let’s not forget that his sack total has decreased in each of the last four seasons from 7.5 to six to 3.5 to two.

* I wonder if Saalim Hakim can get into this wide receiver mix. I cannot believe I typed that after the performance Hakim put forward in the rookie minicamp after the draft, because as a receiver he showed a remarkable ability to not catch the ball. But now Hakim, who is the younger brother of Az-Zahir Hakim, the former St. Louis wideout from the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf days, is in much better shape and is catching the football. Hakim made his way on to the Cowboys’ radar with his work on special teams for Jim Fassel in the UFL. Hakim’s speed should make him a factor on special teams here, but he had an eye-popping run after catch on Monday that had one defender groan, "That (expletive) is fast." It was almost as if Hakim glided above the ground as he sped down the sideline.

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