Dallas Cowboys: Nate Livings

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”

Reviewing Cowboys' free agency: 2012

April, 17, 2014
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With free agency entering the final stages, we'll review the Cowboys' past five free-agency classes.

We'll continue with 2012:

Players signed: Mackenzy Bernadeau, Brandon Carr, Dan Connor, Nate Livings, Kyle Orton and Lawrence Vickers.

Starts earned: 62

Analysis: The Cowboys needed to upgrade the talent level along the offensive line and secondary. Bernadeau and Livings were signed to become starters and each started every game. Carr signed a big money deal -- five years, $50.1 million -- to become a starter alongside Morris Claiborne. Orton was the quality backup needed for Tony Romo at quarterback and Vickers and Connor were quality veterans who started a combined 14 games. Carr proved to be versatile as he played some free safety at times. When the season ended, Carr had a team-leading three interceptions and 11 pass breakups. He finished the last four weeks of the season with five pass breakups. The Cowboys’ run game mustered just 3.6 yards per carry with a variety of running backs due to injuries. Vickers was a solid pickup for the Cowboys, and when healthy, DeMarco Murray averaged 4.1 yards per carry and did score four rushing touchdowns. There were some questions about the health of Bernadeau because he spent the offseason recovering from health issues before the start of the season. He almost lost his starting gig to Derrick Dockery, but as the season progressed Bernadeau got better.

Grade: B

Cowboys holding their line in free agency

March, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Last week, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was praised for making the difficult decision to release DeMarcus Ware.

For all that Ware accomplished (team's all-time sack leader) and for all that he meant to Jones, the owner stuck to the disciplined outline the Cowboys are operating under in 2014.

Melton
So now that Henry Melton and Jared Allen have come and gone from Valley Ranch, you can't blame Jones for not being willing to spend big bucks on somebody he just met.

If he was "right" in deciding to part ways with Ware -- for the record, I think it was the wrong move and would have signed him to a re-worked deal although not at the level the Denver Broncos paid Ware -- then at least he is being consistent by not giving into the contractual demands of Melton and Allen.

At least for now.

We'll find out this season if Jones was "right" in holding strong if they don't end up joining the Cowboys and go to another team and either play well or they don't play well.

Allen
Melton is off to his fourth team on his free-agency tour with the St. Louis Rams. He also met with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. Allen has also met with the Seahawks.

Generally speaking, the more visits a player makes the more it means he is not getting the deal he wants. It is well within the player's rights to shop for the best deal on the open market. Jason Hatcher met with the Seahawks, Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. The one team he didn't meet with face to face, the Washington Redskins, made the best offer that even Hatcher said blew the other offers out of the water.

At the NFL scouting combine, executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient spenders in free agency. Giving Melton, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the moon, and Allen, who turns 32 next month, the stars would not be efficient spending.

When a team acts desperately in free agency, they tend to make a mistake. One of the best free-agent signings the Cowboys made was inking La'Roi Glover in 2002. One of the least productive was signing Marcellus Wiley to a four-year, $16 million deal in 2004. He produced three sacks, but the Cowboys had to have him.

In 2012, the Cowboys recruited Brandon Carr, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dan Connor and Kyle Orton in free agency. They were closers. They used the digital board to show the team's history and most of the players' highlights to help close the deal. They also paid an awful lot of money for them.

The Cowboys weren't able to close the deals for Melton and Allen on their visits, but that doesn't mean they won't sign them eventually.

And if they do, then it likely won't be for the stars or the moon.

Cowboys have to spend, choose wisely

March, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The free-agent shopping starts today at 3 p.m. CT.

If the Dallas Cowboys have learned anything, it’s that they should use coupons.

From 2006-11, the Cowboys signed 12 players in unrestricted free agency. Only two players who signed multi-year deals reached the end of their contracts: Kyle Kosier signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Cowboys in 2006 and was with the team through 2011. Keith Brooking signed a three-year, $6 million deal in 2009 and was a contributor through 2011.

Igor Olshansky (2009), Leonard Davis (2007) and Akin Ayodele (2006) are the only other players who made it more than one season on their original deals, and Olshansky and Ayodele made it only two seasons.

The Cowboys signed seven unrestricted free agents in 2012 and three lasted one season (Dan Connor, Nate Livings and Lawrence Vickers) on multi-year deals. Brodney Pool signed a one-year deal and barely made it to training camp.

Three members of the 2012 free-agent class remain: Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million), Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11.5 million) and Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million). Carr is coming off a disappointing 2013 season, Bernadeau took a pay cut last week and Orton is not sure he wants to play.

Spending money in free agency is hardly ever the answer. The Cowboys will not have a ton of money available to them when the market opens until the DeMarcus Ware situation is resolved, and even then they will have to be wise with how they spend it and who they spend it on.

The needs are obvious: defense, defense and more defense. That’s what happens when a unit finishes last in the NFL in 2013. But the Cowboys could use a veteran presence at wide receiver (Robert Meachem, Jason Avant) and a backup quarterback if Orton walks away (Shaun Hill).

Finding defensive line help is a must, but the Cowboys will have to be budget conscious. They have had on and off talks with Jordan Woy, who represents free agents Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, for most of the offseason. Both players could find better financial opportunities elsewhere.

Hatcher turns 32 in July and is coming off a career-high 11 sacks. He was added to the Pro Bowl. Spencer played in only one game in 2013 because of a knee injury that will not be healed enough for him to be 100 percent ready for training camp.

How much of a commitment can the Cowboys make and feel like they will get their money’s worth?

Ties to new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could help in the pursuit of Henry Melton, but he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Value is often the most overlooked part of free agency. The big-money signings lead to the biggest headlines, but do not correspond enough to wins and losses.

The Cowboys found value in Kosier, Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bernadeau but did not or have not received enough bang for the buck in Carr ($26.5 million guarantee) and Davis ($18.75 million guaranteed).

As the Cowboys look to clear this 8-8 bump that has turned into Mt. Everest, they need to spend wisely, but more importantly they need to choose wisely.

Cowboys' dead money on salary cap

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
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IRVING, Texas – A couple of weeks ago, Calvin Watkins gave you the top-10 salary-cap figures on the Dallas Cowboys. Last week, I gave you some salary-cap bargains.

Today we bring you the dead money that will be accounted for on the Cowboys’ 2014 salary cap.

They will have roughly $11.8 million in dead money, led by Jay Ratliff’s $6.928 million.

Two teams will have more dead money than the Cowboys (Carolina Panthers at $17.8 million, Buffalo Bills at $12.07 million). The Arizona Cardinals will have about $10 million in dead money.

The top-five “dead money” players remaining on the books for 2014 after Ratliff are: Nate Livings ($2.1 million), Marcus Spears ($1.4 million), Sean Lissemore ($1.2 million) and David Arkin ($113,400).

By the time the Cowboys have to get under the cap in March, there will be more dead money added after players are released. If the Cowboys cut DeMarcus Ware, they would have $8.5 million in dead money dedicated to Ware, but the move would save them nearly $7.4 million in cap space.

If they designate wide receiver Miles Austin as a June 1 cut, then the Cowboys would carry $2.749 million in dead money and Austin would count $5.1 million against the cap in 2015.

Cowboys release Nate Livings off IR

September, 5, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- On Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys placed guard Nate Livings on injured reserve. On Thursday, the Cowboys reached an injury settlement with the veteran guard and released him, but it doesn’t mean he will never be in a Cowboys uniform again.

Livings’ $1.7 million base salary was guaranteed as part of the five-year, $19 million deal he signed as a free agent in 2012.

The team reached a three-week injury settlement with Livings, but he will be allowed to return to the Cowboys after the Nov. 3 game against Minnesota if they need offensive line help. If he joins another team, the Cowboys would be on the hook only for the difference between the $1.7 million and his new base salary.

Livings started every game last year at left guard but had right knee surgery following the season and a similar procedure during training camp. The time off will allow Livings to rehab on his own and get healthy. He will count $2.1 million against the salary cap in 2014.

The Cowboys also waived defensive end Travis Chappelear off injured reserve. He suffered an injury in pregame warmups at Arizona on Aug. 17.

Stephen Jones: Waters solves problems

September, 5, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Guard Brian Waters said he's not a savior for the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, but to team executive vice president Stephen Jones, Waters' signing this week solves several questions.

Waters
The Cowboys had depth issues along the line because of injuries to Nate Livings (knee) and Ronald Leary (knee) and the slow development of younger prospects such as Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin.

Waters' signing means, for now, that the Cowboys won't have to move right tackle Doug Free to right guard and elevate right tackle Jermey Parnell from the second team to the first.

"Getting Waters takes it from being a big, big question mark to, I think, not only not a question mark on the front end, but having good depth," Jones said. "Take a starter in (Mackenzy) Bernadeau, who may ultimately be a backup here, and I'm sure he's just not going to give the job away. He's been competing well, we've been pleased with him. We have (Phil) Costa (at center) -- and you know what we think about Costa and Parnell -- (that) gives you a solid eight there. We still got (David) Arkin and (Darrion) Weems. We're pleased."

Waters' first practice Wednesday saw him running with the second-team offense at right guard. It appears doubtful Waters can step in and play significantly Sunday night against the visiting New York Giants.

But Waters looked good during his workout, Jones said, which didn't surprise him.

"Obviously, I have a lot of experience," said Waters, who enters his 13th NFL season. "I have game-time experience, so I feel if those guys need me in any way, form or fashion, I think I can offer insight on some different ways to do things and different players that I’ve played against. Obviously, this center is young and smart. He’s not going to need much help from me. I’m probably going to need more help from him than he’s going to need from me."

Reviewing the Livings, Bernadeau signings

September, 4, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- In the spring of 2012 the Dallas Cowboys signed two offensive linemen, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau for a total of nearly $30 million. Livings was slated to start at left guard, which he did for 16 games, Bernadeau, the right guard, started 16 games himself. The signings were deemed a success because the Cowboys were trying to upgrade the interior offensive line because of age and declining play.

Today both players could be out of starting jobs.

Livings is out for the season, placed on injured reserve because of knee surgery, Bernadeau is fighting for a starting gig after the team signed Brian Waters Wednesday morning.

What happened?

"We were pleased with those guys coming in and competing for spots and really playing a lot of snaps last year," coach Jason Garrett said. "Salary cap has a lot to do with all the decisions you make and where you want to allocate your resources. We spent a lot of time on defense last year to make sure we [strengthened] the secondary and we made some other moves that we felt could help our offense. Every year, you're going to try and bring people in to create competition to make your team better and we're excited about the guys we have and a lot of competition will be out there."

Livings had a strong start to the 2012 season, but his health slowed his progress. Bernadeau started off slow and his starting job was in doubt during the middle of the season because Derrick Dockery shared first-team snaps with him in practice. But Bernadeau performed better and started two games at center, showing the Cowboys he has position flexibility.

Yet, in the last two seasons, Bernadeau hasn't been around in the offseason programs for a variety of health issues and that's concerning long-term. The same could be said of Livings.

It's the reason why the Cowboys tried to move Ronald Leary into the starting left guard spot and move Doug Free from tackle to right guard.

When the Cowboys face the New York Giants in Week 1 of the regular season, Bernadeau is the projected starter but when it comes to the Week 2 contest at Kansas City, there's some doubt about his role.

Garrett wasn't ready to commit to Waters or Leary as the starting guards in Week 1. It's easy to assume Waters won't be since he just arrived on the scene, Leary (knee surgery) did practice some Monday morning and felt good the day after so his availability for the Giants game seems strong.

When you look back at the signings of Livings and Bernadeau you have to view them as a disappointment given the pair lasted only one year together. The future of each appears remote with the Cowboys going with Leary, a younger player, and the strong possibility the team will draft a guard in the early rounds of the 2014 draft.

Nate Livings to go on IR

August, 31, 2013
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The Dallas Cowboys will place offensive guard Nate Livings on injured reserve, the team announced.

Livings has not practiced since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Aug. 2, his second such operation since last season. Owner/general manager Jerry Jones has said that Livings, whose $1.7 million salary is guaranteed, has a degenerative condition in the knee.

Livings started all 16 games last season, his first with the Cowboys after signing a five-year, $18.7 million deal in free agency, but the team entered training camp looking to replace him in the starting lineup.

Ronald Leary, an undrafted second-year player who spent most of his rookie year on the practice squad, was likely to beat out Livings for the starting job at left guard regardless of health. Leary is also recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, but the Cowboys are optimistic that he will be able to play in the Sept. 8 season opener against the New York Giants.

Putting Livings on injured reserve creates a vacancy on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster.

Dallas Cowboys cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: After cutting Sterling Moore, the Cowboys have only four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster with Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and rookie B.W. Webb.

Moore was a late-season pickup off New England’s practice squad last year and offered versatility with his ability to play in the slot. Webb struggled in two of the five preseason games, giving up two touchdowns in Thursday’s loss to Houston.

Claiborne did not play in any of the preseason games because of a sore knee, but he must be ready to play in the season opener against the New York Giants.

The roster is hardly settled and the Cowboys will likely have their eye on cornerbacks by other teams.

While there are a few surprise players on the 53-man roster, the biggest might be Nate Livings, last year’s starting left guard. He did not play in the preseason because of a second surgery on his right knee in six months and does not appear to be close to returning anytime soon.

The Cowboys faced a financial question on Livings because his $1.7 million base salary is fully guaranteed. Whether he is on the roster or not, he would count $2.4 million against the cap this year.

Even if he were healthy, Livings would not have been a lock to start again. The Cowboys are ready to go with Ronald Leary, who is also recovering from knee surgery and missed three preseason games.

Wait til next year: Safety Matt Johnson did not play in a game last year because of recurring hamstring injuries and was eventually placed on injured reserve in November. He was placed on injured reserve Saturday, ending his season because of a foot injury suffered in the Aug. 4 Hall of Fame Game against Miami.

The hope in the offseason was that Johnson could compete for a starting spot but he was felled again by injury.

While the Cowboys could not hold a roster spot for him for a second straight year, they did not want to give up on eventually getting something out of their 2012 fourth-round pick, so the injured reserve made the most sense.

Why didn’t the Cowboys put him on the returnable injured reserve list? He would have had to have spent one day on the active roster and then made the switch to IR. The roster spot was too valuable.

What’s next: Do not expect this to be the 53-man roster for the season opener against the Giants. The Cowboys will look at the waiver wire for upgrades to the bottom end of the roster.

Possible additions could come at the offensive and defensive lines, linebacker and cornerback. They have few experienced backups at defensive line and linebacker.

There are several players the Cowboys would like to get to the practice squad provided they clear waivers, like Alex Tanney, Jason Vega, Micah Pellerin and Brandon Magee.

Cowboys moves: QB: Alex Tanney; WR: Tim Benford, Danny Coale, Anthony Armstrong; RB: Kendial Lawrence; DB: Micah Pellerin, Xavier Brewer, Jakar Hamilton, Sterling Moore; LB: Brandon Magee, Caleb McSurdy, Cameron Lawwrence, Taylor Reed; DE: Thaddeus Gibson, Jabari Fletcher, Jerome Long, Jason Vega; OL: Ray Dominguez, Demetress Bell, Edawn Coughman, Kevin Kowalski; IR: S Matt Johnson

LG Leary closer to return for Cowboys

August, 30, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a positive sign he'll practice on Monday, projected starting left guard Ronald Leary did some running before the Cowboys' final preseason game against the Houston Texans on Thursday night.

Kluwe
Leary
Leary is recovering from minor knee surgery and there was some concern about his status for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the New York Giants. After surgery, Leary said it would take two weeks to recover, and he's being proven accurate.

"I couldn't run a couple of days ago, so now that I'm running it shows that I'm getting better," Leary said. "I don't know about (practicing Monday) right now, I'm just taking it day-by-day."

The man Leary is replacing, Nate Livings, also had knee surgery, but he's not close to returning. Coach Jason Garrett said Livings is progressing in his rehab.

Garrett also said that safety Matt Johnson, who is recovering from a severely sprained foot, might need a little more time. This is a bad situation for Johnson, a fourth-round pick from Eastern Washington in 2012, who has yet to play in a regular-season game due to injuries.

"That was an injury with his foot that we thought he might come back quickly or it might take a little bit of time," Garrett said. "It turns out, it's taken a little bit of time. Again, we'll see what kind of progress he makes over the weekend and evaluate early next week."

Based on that, Johnson should make the 53-man roster when the Cowboys cut down from 75 ahead of a Saturday-afternoon deadline. If Johnson isn't available for the Giants game, the Cowboys could place him on the reserve/injured-returnable list, which knocks him out for eight weeks.

Backup running back Lance Dunbar is still wearing a protective walking boot on his left foot and said he hopes to get it removed Friday. Dunbar said he's not sure what the plan is once it comes off, but noted he does feel good.

Garrett said he was hopeful starting defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee), defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (groin) and right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (knee) would practice Monday.

Hatcher said his groin injury was minor; Bernadeau's ankle injury isn't considered serious.

However, if Bernadeau can't play against the Giants, the Cowboys could move tackle Doug Free to right guard and Jermey Parnell to tackle.

"That was a good thing for our football team just to see that in a real, live game situation," Garrett said of playing Free and Parnell at different positions in last week's preseason game. "They've been practicing that way a little bit. Again, the idea was to get the five best guys out there, the best combination of five as well. So that's certainly an alternative out there for us going forward. We had a bunch of injuries in training camp. You just try to put the best mix together, and oftentimes that provides an opportunity for somebody. We'll see how it all shakes out in the next few days."

5 Wonders: Look at a possible trade

August, 27, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have one more preseason game to go, Thursday against Houston, but since they’re not playing their starters, we’re not wondering much about what will happen.

This week’s Five Wonders touches on a potential trade decision, Jason Witten's blocking as well as Tony Romo’s accuracy.

On to the Wonders:

PODCAST
Stretch Smith joins Galloway and Company to discuss five positive and five negative things he took away from the Cowboys' fourth preseason game.

Listen Listen
** Let’s talk trade. Not a big trade, but just something I’m wondering about with the Cowboys as they start the process of trimming the roster and possibly looking at players from other teams. I wonder if the Cowboys could look to move defensive end Sean Lissemore. This isn’t to say they should trade him or that he has had a poor camp and won’t get a spot on the 53-man roster. Lissemore signed a four-year extension with the Cowboys that included $3.17 million in guaranteed money last season. I think he’s a good, solid role player. He just might not be the best fit for a 4-3 defense. The Cowboys need help on the offensive line, but to expect major moves at this time of the year is just not realistic. You’re talking about acquiring a player like Ryan Cook, who was picked up last year from Miami a week before the season for a seventh-round pick. Lissemore’s age, friendly contract and ability to play a couple of spots might be able to bring some value in return to the Cowboys where they need it most.

** Jason Witten set a record for catches by tight ends in a season with 110 last year. Even more remarkable is the fact that he had only eight catches after the first three games. But I wonder if the Cincinnati game is a sign that things might change in 2013. Of Tony Romo’s 18 passes against the Bengals, Witten stayed in pass protection eight times. That’s a high percentage. With his backups, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, not known for their blocking perhaps Witten will find himself helping the line more than he has in the past. Over the last five seasons Witten has averaged 92 catches a year. In 2011 he caught 79 passes for 942 yards and five touchdowns. While still a very good season, those are not typical Witten numbers, but I wonder if that is the neighborhood he will be in this year.

** Tony Romo is something of a tech-junkie. The quarterback kind, anyway. He likes to tinker with his mechanics the way a golfer tinkers with his swing in an attempt to find a better release point, better footwork, better whatever. Romo has hinted at arm angle changes this summer that have been able to hold up in his work in the preseason. He completed 72 percent of his preseason passes (26 of 36 in three games). And it wasn’t like he was throwing a ton of short throws to Jason Witten or his running backs. So I’m wondering if Romo will set a career high in completion percentage this season. His previous best for a full season is 66.3% in 2011. He completed 69.5% in five-plus games in 2010 before a broken collarbone ended his season. Troy Aikman holds the Cowboys’ team record at 69.1% in 1993.

** I wonder if the Cowboys are putting too much faith in Ronald Leary. This has nothing to do with Leary’s ability to return rather quickly from a knee scope or not. This has to do with Leary having not played in a game yet and the fact that he was an undrafted free agent a year ago who spent most of the season on the practice squad. Leary was decent in his preseason work before needing the surgery but the Cowboys’ flirtations with Brandon Moore and Brian Waters were about Leary, at least to a degree. Leary might be the Cowboys’ best option but the bar should be higher than comparing him to Nate Livings.

** Through four preseason games the Cowboys have nine takeaways: five interceptions and four fumbles. Last year the Cowboys forced only 16 turnovers on the season. They had nine in their first nine games. I wonder how many games it will take the Cowboys this season to force nine turnovers. The ability to turn the emphasis of taking the ball away into actually taking the ball away is impressive. The Cowboys did similar drills with Rob Ryan, Paul Pasqualoni, Wade Phillips, Brian Stewart and Mike Zimmer at defensive coordinator but they were hardly ever able to see the fruits of that work during games. The quarterbacks the Cowboys face in the first four games of the season – Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford and Philip Rivers - threw 48 interceptions last season. Smith has thrown just 10 picks in his last 25 starts and is playing for a new coach in Kansas City.
The Cowboys are in a delusional state as they enter the final week of their preseason.

After four preseason games, the Cowboys are hoping several key starters and reserves return to the field from injuries for the regular-season opener against the New York Giants.

Starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff is no closer to playing than Bob Lilly is to coming out of retirement.

After the Arizona game, Jerry Jones said the expectation was for Ratliff to return from hamstring and groin injuries for the season opener. The owner didn't sound as confident in that assessment after Saturday night's preseason game against Cincinnati.

Then there's defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is recovering from minor knee surgery. He's not going to practice this week either, but he's farther along than Ratliff in his recovery.

That's two starters whom the Cowboys need to work in this 4-3 scheme of Monte Kiffin's and who will be replaced by free agents off the street if they're not ready. George Selvie will start against the Giants if Spencer isn't ready. Selvie has played in 36 games over his career; 90 for Spencer. Nick Hayden (28 career games) would replace Ratliff (104).

"We will get Spencer, (Morris) Claiborne, Ratliff and we will be even better," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "I'm not making predictions right now, but like I said, we have to keep working and playing like we have been playing and we'll be OK."

Claiborne is expected to practice in some fashion Monday after missing nearly two weeks with a sore knee. He just started running last Thursday and it's no big deal if he doesn't play in final preseason game against Houston. What matters is the opener.

The issues on offense are so severe -- the team lost both first- and second-team left guards Nate Livings and Ronald Leary. Each have undergone surgeries, and Jones said Livings' knee is degenerative. Livings seemed to dispute that Saturday night by saying "those are Jerry's words."

Jones talks as if Livings has retired. The general manager has glowing praise of the potential return of Leary, who has a chronic knee problem himself, but not in the knee that just got surgically repaired.

"We're trying to make it work," Jones said. "We've tried two or three things and some of it has worked and some of it has not. Leary looks like it's going to work for us. We have done a few things that haven't. That can happen to you when you're dealing with a part of your roster that takes 10 players."

To solve some of the problems, the Cowboys moved Doug Free to right guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau to left guard and Jeremy Parnell to right tackle for the Bengals game.

The Cowboys have talked about offensive line continuity throughout the offseason.

So much for that.

Injuries and ineffective play have pushed the Cowboys into desperation mode. The team offered contracts to Brandon Moore and Brian Waters, who haven't played for NFL teams for more than a year.

Moore has retired; Waters is just waiting.

Backup running back Lance Dunbar has been outstanding in the preseason, but he's out with a sprained foot. The last guy to have a sprained foot around here was DeMarco Murray, who missed six games last season. If Dunbar isn't ready for the opener, Phillip Tanner and rookie Joseph Randle move up.

Injuries happen every year to NFL teams -- it's part of life. The Cowboys are putting a lot of hope in the return of some injured players so they can feel good about their chances against the Giants.

That's pretty scary. And its delusional.

Stock Report: Tanner up and Ratliff is down

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
11:37
AM ET
After four preseason games the Dallas Cowboys are 2-2, thanks to a 24-18 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night.

With that we give our weekly Stock Report.

Stock up

Phillip Tanner. The No. 3 running back moved up the depth chart with Lance Dunbar (foot) out with his injury. When DeMarco Murray was benched after two possessions, Tanner took over and did a solid job in the running game. Tanner rushed 14 times for 39 yards, and while he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, he proved his worth to the Cowboys' front office with his performance.

B.W. Webb. The rookie cornerback has improved since the Hall of Fame game. Saturday night, he picked up an interception off an Andy Dalton pass in the middle of the field. Each week, Webb is showing he can play in the slot and as an outside cornerback, and he's not afraid to mix it up with receivers.

(Read full post)

Cowboys deal with offensive line changes

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
12:34
AM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- There were first-team offensive line switches from the Cowboys on Saturday night in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Doug Free moved to right guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau played left guard and Jermey Parnell started at right tackle.

Quarterback Tony Romo was sacked twice, though one was a coverage sack and another defender came through the line untouched. Overall the running attack behind DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner combined for 90 yards between them behind the first-team line which played for a little more than three quarters.

Romo completed 13 of 18 passes for 137 yards with two touchdowns in five first-half possessions.

"A lot of stuff to look at," said Free who declined further comment regarding the offensive line play.

"We won't know until we look at the tape, but he's been doing a really good job there and he's really a smart player," Romo said of Free. "Not everybody can make an adjustment like that, especially not in really one week. I think it's a testament to Doug's ability to play both those positions (right tackle and right guard). Not unlike what I said about the wide receivers, the flexibility that gives us sometimes, is really, really a big deal to have a guy who can do multiple positions."

Injuries and ineffective play have forced the Cowboys to juggle the offensive line this summer. The team was rebuffed by veteran guard Brandon Moore on a one-year deal. Moore decided to retire. Another veteran guard, Brian Waters hasn't accepted a contract from the Cowboys and it appears that deal is dead.

So the Cowboys are staying with their current group of linemen despite several injuries.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he's expecting injured left guard Ronald Leary to return from his knee surgery soon. The Cowboys don't feel as confident about injured guard Nate Livings, who is still recovering from knee surgery.

"It is an area where you just got to have numbers and with everybody managing (their own lines), it's hard to have the five best," Jones said.

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