Dallas Cowboys: Morris Claiborne

Jakar Hamilton is back to work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dallas Cowboys' defensive snaps

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
3:30
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IRVING, Texas -- Orlando Scandrick, who was suspended by the NFL for two games after violating its substance-abuse policy, played 51 snaps in his debut this season.

He spent much of his time in the slot, while Morris Claiborne lined up outside and played 53 snaps.

With another full week of practice, you would expect Scandrick to start. That said, Claiborne will still be on the field quite a bit because teams use so many formations with three receivers.

Sterling Moore, who did a solid job while Scandrick was out, saw his playing time reduced to just two snaps. It'll be interesting to see if his playing time increases because Claiborne struggled against St. Louis, even if his interception clinched the win.

Rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens, a fourth-round draft pick, started at middle linebacker and recorded 13 tackles in 75 plays.

Justin Durant and Rolando McClain could each return next week, reducing Hitchens' playing time. But he contributed a key stop on fourth down and made a diving pass deflection in the red zone.

Kyle Wilber is another linebacker who saw his playing time increase because of injuries. He played 46 snaps and recorded eight tackles.

J.J. Wilcox, 76
Anthony Hitchens, 75
Bruce Carter, 74
Barry Church, 73
Brandon Carr, 72
Morris Claiborne, 53
Nick Hayden, 52
Orlando Scandrick, 51
Jeremy Mincey, 50
Tyrone Crawford, 46
Kyle Wilber, 46
Henry Melton, 40
Terrell McClain, 38
George Selvie, 37
Ken Bishop, 21
Jack Crawford, 18
Jeff Heath, 3

Upon Further Review: Romo gets better

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
1:00
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The Dallas Cowboys moved to 2-1 with a 34-31 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys rallied from a 21-0 deficit thanks to Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and a defense that finally made plays when the game was on the line.

After every game we take a look back in Upon Further Review.

Romo
1. Maybe Romo should take Wednesdays off more often. The Cowboys' quarterback had his best game of the season, 18-for-23 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, in the victory. Romo said his surgically repaired back is getting stronger and taking a day off last week helped in terms of his recovery. You can see Romo is feeling better by the way he's twisting and turning away from defenders. Romo even stepped up in the pocket more against the Rams than he did the previous two weeks. He scrambled up field for a 16-yard gain when no receiver was open. Romo also made two deep throws, one to Dez Bryant, a 68-yard touchdown strike, and an incompleted pass to Terrance Williams that displayed his arm strength, something that was missing in previous weeks. Romo had fewer passes that floated over a receiver. Quarterbacks are going to miss throws, that's the nature of things, but Romo was on point for a majority of the afternoon. Romo's turnovers this season haven't been the result of anything physical, it's about decision-making. On the pick-six, he was pressured up the middle and could have waited one more second before throwing the pass toward Bryant. While the play was designed for Bryant, Romo missed receiver, Cole Beasley getting open across the middle. But that's nitpicking.

Carter
Carter
2. Bruce Carter, playing weakside linebacker after starting the first two weeks on the strong side, was a mess and a thing of beauty on Sunday. He missed a tackle on the first run play of the game and had trouble tackling Rams RB Zac Stacy. He displayed good coverage on a third-and-three when he tackled Lance Kendricks short of the marker. More inconsistency is where Carter laid a shot on Jared Cook, which didn't knock him down. Carter was also flagged for holding negated by a Rams' penalty. Of course, Carter's biggest play was his interception. The pressure up the middle forced Rams quarterback Austin Davis to hurry his throw to Stacy and Carter slid over to make the play. Carter's speed, something the Cowboys liked when they drafted him in the second round, allowed him to breeze into the end zone for the score. As the season progresses, Carter must improve his tackling skills, especially in the open field and speedy running backs will give him fits if he needs to cover them in the flat.

Claiborne
3. Secondary coach Jerome Henderson teaches his cornerbacks about using the proper techniques so receivers can get shifted off their routes. Morris Claiborne, despite, the game-clinching interception on Sunday, struggled at this against the Rams. On the touchdown pass to Brian Quick, Claiborne never gets a hand on him. Quick just runs right by him. Kenny Britt made a great leaping catch over Claiborne. It seemed Claiborne, who's supposed to be an athletic corner, looked stiff here and jumped too early. Claiborne should know better when offenses run pick plays inside the 20. On a touchdown pass to Austin Pettis, Claiborne got tangled with Orlando Scandrick. Communication is key here because the corners should know who to cover in that situation and a receiver should never get free in the end zone. Claiborne's best play came on his interception. He was able to get the receiver to run near the sideline and Claiborne had inside position. Davis' pass was long and that was fine because it enabled Claiborne to snag the ball for his third career interception.

Three thoughts on Cowboys' win

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
1:00
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Three thoughts on the Cowboys' 26-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

1. Tony Romo can give me a million different explanations about why some of his passes wobble or lack zip, and I’m probably not going to believe him. He just doesn’t look right. I’ve seen 109 of the 110 NFL starts he has made in person, and I’ve never questioned whether he had a strong arm. Now, I do. Maybe, he’ll get stronger as the season goes on. Perhaps, he’ll adjust the way he plays to protect his back and to limit his deep balls. He can still help the Cowboys win games, but I don’t think he can do it as the focal point of the offense.

McClain
2. Rolando McClain showed me something by playing all but one snap of Sunday’s win over Tennessee, especially when the Titans spent a lot of the game using formations with three receivers. That means McClain spent a lot of time in the nickel, and he seemed to operate just fine. Each of the first two weeks, he has put a hit on an opposing player that we haven’t seen around here lately. He’s tackling with bad intentions. The Cowboys haven’t really had a player do that since Roy Williams.

3. Sterling Moore is the kind of NFL player who’s not quite big enough, fast enough or quick enough to excite the coaching staff. But every time they have to use him, he does a pretty solid job. Jason Garrett wants us to believe it doesn’t matter where you came from or where you were drafted. Well, when Orlando Scandrick returns this week, it’ll be interesting to see how much they use Scandrick on the outside and Moore in the slot, while Claiborne heads to the bench when the Cowboys are in their nickel defense.

Key stat: 12-1

The Cowboys improved to 12-1 when DeMarco Murray gets 20 carries or more in a game. Murray gained 167 yards on a career-high 29 carries against Tennessee on Sunday. It’s no surprise the Cowboys have a winning record when he gets the ball that much because it means the Cowboys are controlling the line of scrimmage and the game. All of that means they can keep handing the ball to Murray. But if all it took was 20 carries to Murray to win the game, then they’d just give it to him the first 20 plays of each game. Zack Martin has given the Cowboys three quality offensive linemen -- Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick are the others -- and two solid players in Doug Free and Ron Leary. The Cowboys feel comfortable running off left or right tackle as well pulling each each guard as well as running wide to each side. That makes their running attack versatile and dangerous and it should result in more games with 20 carries for Murray.

Player to Watch: Joseph Randle

A lot of folks were disappointed when Joseph Randle made the Cowboys’ final roster and Ryan Williams didn’t. You should understand the decision now. Williams is every bit as good as Randle as a runner -- some would argue he’s better -- but there’s no comparison between them as a pass protector or special teams contributor. Randle has been a good special teams player the first two weeks -- not just a guy along for the ride -- and he’s been a much more explosive runner than we was as a rookie. He looks like a player who understands his role, has accepted it and is trying to persuade the coaching staff to give him a bigger role.

Cowboys defensive playing time

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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Here's a look at the snap counts for each of the Cowboys' defensive players on Sunday:

Rolando McClain erased any doubts that he’s just a two-down linebacker with his performance Sunday against Tennessee. With Justin Durant (groin) out for a few weeks, McClain was on the field for 48 of 49 plays. It’s impressive because the Titans used a lot of formations with three receivers, which is why Sterling Moore played 44 snaps. Defensive lineman Jack Crawford saw his first action with the Cowboys, playing 12 plays. Kyle Wilber has lost his starting strongside linebacker job to Bruce Carter, but he’s getting playing time as a pass-rushing defensive end. He played 12 plays against the Titans.

Bruce Carter: 49
Brandon Carr: 48
Rolando McClain: 48
Barry Church: 45
Morris Claiborne: 45
Sterling Moore: 44
Jeremy Mincey: 43
J.J. Wilcox: 41
Tyrone Crawford: 30
Henry Melton: 26
Nick Hayden: 25
George Selvie: 22
Davon Coleman 19 Terrell McClain 18 Jack Crawford 12 Kyle Wilber: 11
Jeff Heath: 10
Anthony Hitchens: 9
Defensive tackle Henry Melton, the Cowboys' prized offseason acquisition, was hobbled with knee and groin issues in the preseason.

He missed the entire preseason, which is why he played only 26 snaps against San Francisco in Week 1. The Cowboys want to work him in slowly to ensure he doesn't aggravate the groin injury. Jeremy Mincey led the defensive line with 43 snaps. Rolando McClain played 44 snaps and did a good job of providing a physical presence. Kyle Wilber, a projected starter at linebacker much of training camp, had only four snaps.

Here's a look at the snap counts for each of the Cowboys' defensive players on Sunday:


J.J. Wilcox: 58
Brandon Carr: 57
Barry Church: 51
Bruce Carter: 48
Morris Claiborne: 47
Justin Durant: 47
Rolando McClain: 44
Jeremy Mincey: 43
Sterling Moore: 39
Tyrone Crawford: 33
Nick Hayden: 33
George Selvie: 27
Henry Melton: 26
Ken Bishop: 21
Lavar Edwards: 15
Jeff Heath: 7
Anthony Hitchens: 5
Kyle Wilber: 4

Three thoughts from Cowboys' loss

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
11:15
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IRVING - Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 28-17 loss to San Francisco.

Tony Romo won’t be as bad as he was against San Francisco anytime soon. For now, we can chalk this one up to an aberration.

Think about it, Romo threw 10 interceptions all of last season, and he had just two games with more than one interception last season. This is only second time in the last 24 games Romo has thrown three or more interceptions in a game.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys are 1-10 in games in which Tony Romo throws three or more interceptions.
In 109 starts, this is only the 11th time Romo has thrown three interceptions or more in a game. The Cowboys are 1-10 in those games with nine consecutive losses, which should surprise no one.

This team can’t win if the offense is going to make the litany of mistakes it did Sunday, whether we're talking Romo’s bonehead plays, DeMarco Murray’s critical fumble or Tyron Smith’s rough night. And the Cowboys can’t kick field goals or commit turnovers in the red zone. These Cowboys need to score touchdowns to keep this defense propped up.

Finally, Romo must understand he doesn’t have to do everything. Sometimes, it’s OK to run he ball against an eight-man front.

2) No one thought the Cowboys would be able to run the ball and push around San Francisco’s front seven, but that’s what they did.

Murray rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. His performance snapped San Francisco’s league-leading streak of 17 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

And he did it in three quarters and without a run longer than 15 yards. If the Cowboys keep games close then Murray will be a weapon all season.

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San Francisco allowed just 95.8 yards rushing per game last season. Murray gained at least 5 yards on 12 of his 22 carries, and he was dropped for a loss just once.

They did it against a unit Travis Frederick said the Cowboys would have trouble running against because they were so fundamentally sound.

3) The Cowboys allowed a league-leading 71 completions of 20 yards or more last season.

Not much changed Sunday. Once again, big plays doomed the Cowboys. San Francisco gained 316 yards, but 107 came on four plays.

A 37-yard catch-and-run by Anquan Boldin preceded Vernon Davis’ 29-yard touchdown catch that gave San Francisco a 14-3 lead. A 21-yard completion to Stevie Johnson late in the second quarter set up Carlos Hyde’s 4-yard touchdown run for a 28-3 lead.

The Cowboys must lower that number significantly, or they’re going to give up a lot of points.

Key number: 58 percent

When you struggle to rush the passer, and your best cornerback (Orlando Scandrick) is suspended for the first four games, it should surprise no one the Cowboys struggled with their third-down defense.

San Francisco converted 7 of 12 (58 percent).

Their first three conversions were each 8 yards, which is supposed to be difficult, but with cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr playing off the line of scrimmage it wasn’t that difficult.

Without a pass rush, it’s going to be an adventure on third down all season.

Player to Watch: Bruce Carter

Carter struggled last season and much of the preseason. The Cowboys wanted to draft Ryan Shazier in the first round to replace him, but Pittsburgh selected him one pick ahead of the Cowboys.

He even lost his weakside linebacker job to Justin Durant. But the Cowboys moved him strong side linebacker, and he took Kyle Wilber’s job.

Well, he did a nice job against San Francisco with five tackles, one sack, one pass deflection and a quarterback hit. If he’ll play like that all season, there’s hope this defense won’t be among the league’s worst.

Three thoughts on the Cowboys

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
12:15
PM ET
IRVING -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys, who open the season Sunday against San Francisco.

1) Tony Romo played one half and 14 plays in the preseason.

Yes, he took a pretty good beating against Miami, but that was only a half.

Romo
He will get the full game against San Francisco’s defense, which remains a physical group even though it’s missing several starters because of injury or suspension. He will get hit and hit hard on a regular basis.

This is the truest test for Romo’s back that we will see. If he survives and has no issues getting ready for Tennessee next week, then you should be able to take a deep breath and relax, because it means Romo is really ready to go.

2) We will get a good feel this week for the Cowboys' alleged commitment to the run.

San Francisco did not allow a 100-yard rusher last season and finished fourth in the NFL in run defense (95.9 yards per game).

"The one thing you notice about San Francisco’s defense is that everyone does his job," Dallas center Travis Frederick said. "There’s no hero ball. If they’re supposed to be in a gap, they’re in it.

"This is a week where it’s going to be ugly. They don’t give up big plays in the running game. A four-yard run is a good play this week."

When the running game isn’t dominant, the Cowboys have a tendency to give up regardless of the score. We will see if play-caller Scott Linehan takes a new approach.

3) Middle linebacker Rolando McClain will get a strong test this week.

San Francisco is a physical running team without a lot of frills. Running back Frank Gore won’t be hard to find. He will be between the tackles, which is where McClain does his best work.

The Cowboys need McClain to be a dominant presence against San Francisco’s running game or the 49ers’ offense will score 35 points.

Key number: 48

Since Jason Garrett took over the Cowboys’ offense, they have usually been among the leaders in completions of 20 yards or more.

Last season, the Cowboys had 48 completions of 20 yards or more, tied for only 17th in the NFL. In 2012, they were 9th with 55.

You could certainly argue that last season's play-caller Bill Callahan, brought up in the West Coast offense, and his dink-and-dunk approach contributed to the lack of big plays in the passing game

Linehan likes going deep. He will challenge San Francisco’s secondary.

Player to Watch: Morris Claiborne

The No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft is only starting at cornerback because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Claiborne missed the entire preseason with knee and shoulder injuries, so he will make his debut in the opener.

Claiborne doesn’t have to be great, but the Cowboys need him to be a solid player against a really good group of receivers. Otherwise, the defense is really going to struggle.
MIAMI -- Brandon Carr, who missed the first two weeks of training camp dealing with the death of his mother, made his preseason debut against Miami.

It was an emotional experience.

Carr
 “I had my moment because it was my first time out there without her,” said Carr, “but I know she’s with me, and one of the things she taught me was how to handle adversity and continue to do my job.”

Carr made one tackle and Mike Wallace caught a short comeback route in front of him. Carr said he didn’t know if he would play Thursday against Denver.

The Cowboys need him to start the season strong because Orlando Scandrick has been suspended for the first four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy and Morris Claiborne has battled knee and shoulder injuries. Th Cowboys don't know if Claiborne will be ready to play against San Francisco, although they're hopeful

“It felt good to get out there and play at a game tempo, which is a lot faster than practice tempo,” Carr said. “The organization did a great job of letting me have the time I needed with my family and keeping my psyche right.

“But I told them once I came back and punched that clock, I would be ready to go.”
IRVING, Texas -- Three thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys:

1. If you choose to be positive, there are some scenarios where the Cowboys’ defensive line could be solid instead of a disaster.

Spencer
Melton
It all starts with defensive tackles Henry Melton (knee, groin) and Terrell McClain (ankle) and defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) getting healthy. Spencer and Melton can be good players and McClain can be solid.

Add defensive ends George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey to the mix, along with rookie DeMarcus Lawrence after he returns from his broken foot, and the Cowboys would be pretty happy with that rotation.

It will require considerable good fortune to get Spencer and Melton each playing at a high level early this season, but if it happened, the Cowboys would have a pretty good defensive line rotation without much drop off between the starters and backups.

2. The cornerback situation the first month of the season will be dire.

Morris Claiborne had a strong start to training camp, but he hasn’t been able to sustain it. Knee and shoulder injuries have limited him since the first week of practice.

The Cowboys are trying to get him ready for the first game against San Francisco, but we have no idea how long his body will hold up. They can’t trust him to be healthy enough to play, which is a concern since Orlando Scandrick will miss the first month of the season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Heading into the opener, Brandon Carr is the only proven cornerback on the roster the Cowboys know will be ready for the opener. That's scary.

3. Receiver Jamar Newsome had a nice game against Baltimore, as did fifth-round pick Devin Street.

Tim Benford has been on the practice squad each of the last two years, Chris Boyd has good size and potential and LaRon Byrd has been a good special-teams player in the past.

Street, a fifth-round pick, will make the team, but it’s going to be tough for any of the other receivers to make it. The Cowboys will probably keep five receivers: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and Street. One of the other guys will have to be a beast on special teams to make the roster.

Key number: 20

The Cowboys had only 20 drives of 10 plays or more last season. Only Miami and the New York Giants had fewer. It was the result of the Cowboys' struggles on third down, which prevented them from sustaining drives, and their inconsistent running game. Too many times the Cowboys were in third-and-long situations that didn’t put them in position to convert.

They must do better this season to protect their defense and keep them off the field.

Player to Watch: Tyler Clutts

Jason Garrett has talked all training camp about establishing a physical presence and how much a true fullback will help the Cowboys do that.

Clutts has been doing a good job working with DeMarco Murray and taking advantage of his limited opportunities, but to win the job he must prove himself more valuable to the offense than the third receiver or second tight end.

He needs to be a core player on special teams, and he needs to be a difference-maker on the 12 to 15 crucial goal-line and short-yardage plays the Cowboys will have this season.
Orlando Scandrick, one of the best players on an abject defense, will miss the first four games of the season after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Scandrick
And you thought a defense that allowed 415.3 yards and 27.0 points per game last season couldn’t get worse.

Well, it just did. This is a huge hit for a team with a shaky cornerback situation.

Morris Claiborne hasn’t practiced in more than a week. He has yet another training camp injury that prevented him from playing in the preseason opener for the third consecutive season.

Brandon Carr missed the first three weeks of training camp to be with his family as he dealt with the death of his mother.

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Neither one of those guys plays with the edge Scandrick does, which is important on a unit devoid of playmakers. He’s the one cornerback not afraid to challenge Dez Bryant on every snap of each practice.

He always believes he’s the best player on the field -- even when it’s clear that he’s not. Scandrick’s unshakable confidence has helped make him a good player.

Understand, Scandrick is also one of the smartest players on defense, which is why it’s hard to believe he did something so dumb. He reportedly took a drug that’s on the NFL’s banned list while vacationing in Mexico.

There’s no acceptable excuse for that.

All players have to do is check with the NFL to see whether whatever they’re about to ingest is on the list. If they don’t, they deserve whatever happens.

In this case, it’s a four-game suspension that will force him to miss games against San Francisco, Tennessee, St. Louis and New Orleans.

A bad defense just became worse. And one of its best players is to blame.
OXNARD, Calif. - Three thoughts on Day 8 of Dallas Cowboys’ training camp:

There should be no doubt that Josh Brent is returning to the Cowboys. Every time owner Jerry Jones is asks, he talks around it, but refuses to deny it.

[+] EnlargeJosh Brent
LM Otero/AP PhotoIn January, former Cowboys DT Josh Brent was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years of probation for a drunken car crash that killed his friend and teammate, Jerry Brown.
The more important questions are whether NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will suspend him. Brent spent six months in jail after being convicted of intoxicated vehicular manslaughter, which resulted in the death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown.

Brent has not played since November 2012. He retired before the start of last season to focus on the trial and his personal life.

In theory, Goodell could consider his time away from the game as a suspension and reinstate him immediately.

Then the question would be whether Brent could make this team after being away from the game for more than a year.

He’s paid his debt to society. Other players, such as Leonard Little and Donta Stallworth, committed similar crimes and returned.

It would be interesting to see what Goodell does, as he was roundly criticized for his two-game suspension of Baltimore running back Ray Rice, who knocked his then-fiancee out in a hotel elevator.

Sometimes you need to take what’s behind Door No. 1, which is what Tyron Smith did.

Smith signed an eight-year extension worth $98 million that includes a $10 million signing bonus. There’s no doubt it’s a team-friendly deal, but it gives Smith $40 million in the first four years of the deal.

Guaranteed money is the most important aspect of an NFL contract. Smith probably could have gotten more, but everyone doesn’t place the same value on money.

Some dudes want security more, especially in a game like professional football, where the injury rate is so high.

And guess what? In five years, when the deal has been surpassed, he can go back and ask the club to re-do the deal -- who will be shocked if he does -- just like teams ask players to re-do deals when their performance no lingers coincides with their pay.

Morris Claiborne has a strained tendon in his knee, which he twisted during Wednesday’s practice.

He participated in the walk-through but won’t practice Thursday afternoon. Claiborne said he worked hard in the walk-through on staying attentive and engaged, something he hasn’t always done.

The most important thing is to keep Claiborne on the field, where he can continue to learn and get confidence for the season. If he misses much time, it will be a significant blow for a player who needs a good training camp in the worst way.

Key number: 35.0

The Cowboys finished 25th in the NFL in third-down conversions at 35 percent (63 of 180) in 2013.

They must do better this season to protect their defense and generate more points on offense. The poor third-down percentage is among the reasons Dan Bailey kicked 28 field goals and scored 131 points.

The Cowboys need drives to end with touchdowns because their defense is so suspect. They can’t allow teams to stay within one possession because they’ve been kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.

Tony Romo’s third-down efficiency should be helped by Cole Beasley and Jason Witten on third downs and by a better offensive line, which should given him more time to throw.

Player to Watch: RB Ryan Williams

The 38th player taken in the 2011 draft has just 58 career carries thanks to knee and shoulder injuries, which ruined two of his first three seasons.

He’s competing for a job with the Cowboys, but he’s going to have to beat out Joseph Randle, a fifth-round pick last season, to get it.

Right now, Randle probably has a slight edge in the competition, but it’s not going to be decided until the preseason games start. The better special-teams player -- not the better runner -- will make the team.

Williams has never played much on special teams because of his injuries and his role. Neither had Randle until last season, which is why he has an edge over Williams.

This competition probably won’t be decided until the final game.

Morris Claiborne has a new demeanor

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
10:00
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Throughout the offseason, Dallas Cowboys teammates, coaches and staff noticed a difference in Morris Claiborne.

On the first day of full-padded practices Saturday, Claiborne showed part of that difference for everybody else to see.

On his first snap of one-on-one drills against wide receiver Terrance Williams, he fought, clawed and talked back. On the second he pushed Williams to the ground, yelling, "Get Dez over here," which prompted some more talking with a perturbed Williams.

Later Claiborne was beat by Bryant on one deep ball, but he broke up a comeback to Bryant and a deep ball to Devin Street before cramps knocked him out of the final team session.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports"A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes," Morris Claiborne said. "For that, I feel like I'm a better person from it even though it might've hurt at the time."
“I’ve got a different approach just from football, from life period,” Claiborne said. “A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes. For that, I feel like I’m a better person from it even though it might’ve hurt at the time. I feel like I’m a better man after it and it’s carried over to football.”

In a span of only a few days last December he experienced the birth of his daughter, Madison, and the death of his father, Robert Owens. He alternated from joy with the birth of his second child to sorrow over the death of his father, who was 64.

He could not go to his escape on the football field because he was dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of six games last season. He used the word “funk” to describe what was happening.

“Life,” he said. “Not being able to play football because you’re injured. You got people saying this and people saying that, so now you’ve got so much pressure and you can feel it from coaches and players. You can feel that pressure and all of a sudden to go back and have somebody close to you taken away from you and you’ve got to deal with that too. It’s hard. Your family has changed so now you’re the head man in charge and everybody is looking at you now because the head man pretty much died. Then you have a baby. I couldn’t hide from it.”

Time has helped, and, in his mind, he speaks regularly to his father.

"Anybody can feel different, but that’s my belief,” Claiborne said of his conversations. “That’s my feelings.”

He also keeps a tangible part of his father with him -- a rubber Cowboys bracelet. Owens got the bracelet when his son was picked in the first round of the 2012 draft. The Cowboys moved up to the sixth pick to get Claiborne, whom they called their highest-rated defensive back since Deion Sanders.

Claiborne’s first two seasons have not gone the way he wanted, the way the Cowboys wanted or the way the fans wanted. It's not what any of them expected. He intercepted just two passes in his first two seasons. He battled through wrist, shoulder, knee and hamstring injuries. He missed a game with a concussion and busted lip as a rookie.

The confident player who roamed the LSU secondary was replaced by someone unsure of himself.

“I don’t need to really remind him or anyone the commitment we made and the commitment he made,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “He’s got a lot of pride. He’s certainly got some things you can point to the last couple of years. But if he can get out here and be the player, he has the skill level ... [He has to] work through just this kind of thing [in practice], have good things happen, get tired, have things go against him a couple of plays, if he can work through that, he’ll be an improved player and be the guy we want to have out there.”

At the first team meeting of camp, coach Jason Garrett highlighted Claiborne’s work in individual drills to the rest of the team.

“His approach mentally has been outstanding and I think it’s going to reflect in his play,” Garrett said.

One practice does not reflect a complete change, and Claiborne knows it. It’s about doing his job every day, which is something he learned from his father.

“I feel like I have something to prove to myself,” Claiborne said. “It starts with myself. I have to prove it to myself. I’m very comfortable where I’m at now.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 4 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) It was one play, just about as meaningless as can be, considering it was the first day players wore pads, but Morris Claiborne wanted to establish a tone.

Claiborne
First, he locked down Terrance Williams, forcing an incompletion. Then he jumped up and started woofing. Eventually, the players were separated.

It was the first time since he arrived that we’ve seen that type of feistiness from Claiborne.

Hey, whatever it takes. He’s been the epitome of a bust his first two seasons, allowing 70 completions in 117 attempts with only two interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

For a guy who was supposed to be the best defensive player in the 2012 draft that’s not nearly good enough.

Jason Garrett said he’s improved significantly during the offseason. It’s time for him to take it to the field.

Better secondary play is the fastest way for this defense to improve, since their pass rush remains suspect.

Smith
2) The Cowboys are moving closer to a long-term agreement with left tackle Tyron Smith, who’s going to deserve every nickel of whatever he gets.

Smith is man-handling the defensive ends on this roster, the way DeMarcus Ware used to destroy tackles, including Smith, during training camp.

Smith is only 23, so don’t be surprised if he signs a deal that’s nine or 10 years long. When he does, it’ll be interesting to see if Dez Bryant can continue to ignore his contract situation and play well.

After all, the club has already taken care of Sean Lee, who was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Bryant was the Cowboys’ first-round pick.

3) Kyle Wilber spent his first two seasons bouncing around between outside linebacker in the 3-4 and weakside defensive end.

Injuries last season created some playing time for him at strongside linebacker and the Cowboys suddenly found a player.

Wilber has the strength to hold the edge and consistently force running plays inside, in part because of the time he spent at defensive end, and he made several important plays for the Cowboys last season.

He finished the season with 44 tackles and two sacks, while starting six games.

34

The Cowboys were tied for 25th in the NFL with 34 sacks. Only five teams had fewer.

Their sack total was 10 fewer than the average 2013 playoff team.

Teams that don’t get many sacks often say they’re overrated. Well, they’re not. Pressure is good, but sacks are a momentum-changer and usually result in a punt at the end of the drive.

You must rush the passer and put quarterbacks under duress, or it’s hard to force turnovers and win games.

The Cowboys are counting on defensive Henry Melton, who missed the last 13 games with a torn ACL, to provide pressure up the middle. He has been a terrific pass-rusher, and they need him to command double teams to help other players get to the quarterback.

Player to Watch: Gavin Escobar

The Cowboys wasted Escobar’s rookie season. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson.

It’s dumb to ask a tight end who should excel at working from the slot and creating mismatches with his size to be the same type of player as Jason Witten.

Escobar can help this team by making plays downfield and giving Tony Romo one more vertical threat.

He caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He can be a playmaker, if Scott Linehan gives him a chance to do it. If not, he’ll be a wasted pick.

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.

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