Dallas Cowboys: Rod Marinelli

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
2:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • The potential of Tyrone Crawford
  • The potential of the defense overall
  • The potential of Jason Garrett
  • The potential of Sean Lee

Away we go:

@toddarcher: Everybody wants to heap a pile of expectations on Crawford. Jason Hatcher did it. Tony Romo did it. Jerry Jones did it. The coaches have done it. I'm just not ready to say he will have seven or more sacks in 2014. I think if he had five, that would be a good year. Remember, he is coming off a torn Achilles that cost him the 2013 season and he did not have a sack as a rookie in 2012. He was good, solid, dependable, but he never got the quarterback. He had a good spring, but he also expressed some worry that he was still having pain in his leg even if it is considered normal. A five-sack season would be a good way for Crawford to rebound. If he has seven, the Cowboys will be ecstatic. I'm not saying he doesn't have the potential for that kind of season. I just want to see some more evidence before jumping on an already crowded bandwagon.

@toddarcher: Thankfully the fine folks at bloggingtheboys.com have already looked this up. Generally, they do better. Only one team in the past 19 seasons allowed more yards after giving up the most yards in the NFL. Unfortunately that team was the 2008 Detroit Lions coached by Rod Marinelli, who takes over as Cowboys' defensive coordinator. According to BTB, the average improvement is 827 yards from the previous years. Sixteen of those 19 had more wins the following season, which bodes well for the Cowboys. I think the defense will be better in 2014 because it can't be worse. Well, I know it can be worse, but I think Marinelli will make a positive impact. I think you will see the Cowboys go from No. 32 in yards to the Nos. 20-25 range. Call me crazy.

@toddarcher: I'm going to take the new head coaches out of the mix, so no Bill O'Brien, Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden or Mike Pettine. He clearly isn't among the best in the league. I don't think he's the worst either. I've got Jason Garrett as better than Doug Marrone, Gus Bradley, Joe Philbin and Dennis Allen. I think he's better than Jim Caldwell. I think he's better than Marc Trestman. To me, guys like Jeff Fisher and Lovie Smith are overrated, but that is just my opinion. I'd put him in with guys like Ron Rivera, Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt, and, yes, I realize those guys have made the playoffs or a Super Bowl (Whisenhunt). Garrett is in that 18-23 range, to me. Middle of the road. Much like the Cowboys.

@toddarcher: Maybe I'm just being stubborn on this one, but no. Contractually they can't really walk away yet even if they wanted to ... and they don't want to. I realize Lee has had his share of injuries, but he is an impactful player. He has shown too much even with missing so many games. I'm going to take my chances that he will be healthy eventually. I don't doubt he will come back from the torn anterior cruciate ligament. While still a major rehab, it is not as daunting or as uncommon as it was in the past. Lee will do everything he can do be ready. Sometimes this stuff comes down to luck. Maybe all of Lee's bad luck is out of his system and he'll be able to play a full season in 2015 and beyond. I wouldn't want to see him do it elsewhere for another team..

Best case/worst case: Henry Melton

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
1:00
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players who will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.

Henry Melton

Best-case: The reunion works

Melton
When Melton had Rod Marinelli as his defensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, he was in Pro Bowl form. The Cowboys are banking on it happening, literally. They signed Melton to a one-year deal with a three-year option as a free agent. If Melton performs the way he did in his final two years -- 13 sacks in a two-year run as a starter -- then the Cowboys will gladly pick up the option, which would guarantee Melton $9 million in 2015. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and went through individual drills in the offseason program as he continued his rehab. The Cowboys know how important he is to their defensive line. He has the best resume but played in only three games last year before getting hurt and did not have a sack. He could draw the double teams that would free up other pass rushers. Marinelli has a way of speaking a defensive lineman's language. He makes sure they are relentless and attack up the field. Marinelli helped make Jason Hatcher a Pro Bowl player last year. He never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season but put up 11 in 2012 under Marinelli. Similar production from Melton would go a long way in helping a defense with low expectations.

Worst-case: He needs more time

Adrian Peterson ruined it for everybody coming back from a torn ACL by being otherworldly in 2012 when he ran for 2,097 yards. He raised the expectations that everybody can come back that fast and that well. Robert Griffin III offered up the other side of the recovery. He was OK last year but not as dynamic as he was a rookie. The general thought is that a player is better the second year after the torn ACL. Players have to make physical and mental recoveries from the injury. Sometimes the mental recovery can be erased quickly with the first few hits. Other times, it takes a while for instincts to return. For the Cowboys, that would not be good because Melton is looked at as one of the kingpins of a re-made defensive line. He cannot be a question up front if the Cowboys want to be better in 2014 than they were in 2013. The Cowboys don't need him to be Warren Sapp, but he can't be average either. For Melton, that would not be good because if he needs another year, he will not cash in on that $9 million guarantee and would be a free agent in 2015 coming off two potentially so-so seasons.

Best case/worst case: Cornerbacks

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
1:00
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players who will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.

The cornerbacks

Best case: They lock it down

Claiborne
Scandrick
Brandon Carr has said he wants to take over the league. Morris Claiborne knows he is in the fight for his career after two disappointing seasons. Orlando Scandrick was their best corner last year and perhaps their best defender this year. The Cowboys have invested in them heavily in contract and draft position. Rod Marinelli said he has not had three man-to-man corners like these guys. Carr, Claiborne and Scandrick believe they are better suited to play more man than zone, which frustrated them at times in 2013. But they weren't great at man either and the coaches did not have enough trust to let them handle receivers all over the field. Carr and Claiborne, who will have to take away the starting spot from Scandrick after losing it last year, have the physical tools to be top press corners. Scandrick is as competitive as anybody on the roster and understands route concepts the best. They have to make plays early in the season to not only build their confidence but to build the confidence of the rest of the defense.

Worst case: No help from the pass rush

A cornerback's job is a lot easier when the front seven can affect the quarterback. Sacks and pressures are great, but if a quarterback is afraid of the pass rush he will get rid of the ball sooner. That means there is less time for a corner to have to defend and more chances at interceptions. The Cowboys lost their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware) and last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) in the offseason. They replaced them with a rookie second-round pick (DeMarcus Lawrence) and Henry Melton, who is coming back from a torn ACL. They also added numbers to the position in players like Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye but they have questions. Anthony Spencer might not be able to play until the seventh week of the season. Tyrone Crawford is coming back from a torn Achilles and didn't have a sack in his rookie season. Marinelli is not known as a coordinator who brings a lot of pressure. If they can't affect the quarterback, then Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne will have a difficult time staying with receivers.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much to prove. So much to forget.

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

Best case/worst case: Bruce Carter

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
9:00
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way toward shaping the Cowboys' season.

Bruce Carter

Carter
Carter
Best-case: He finally reaches his potential

So much was expected of Carter when the Cowboys moved to the 4-3 scheme last year. He seemed to have the speed and athleticism to handle the weakside linebacker spot. Although he had a career-high 122 tackles, he struggled in 2013. He had only four tackles for loss, no interceptions and after two sacks in the first two games he didn't record another one the rest of the season. Carter has not faced a bigger year in his career. He is set to be a free agent after the season. After playing well in 11 starts in 2012 before suffering an elbow injury, he was viewed as part of the future core. Now he's not. The Cowboys were going to draft Ryan Shazier in the first round if the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't scoop him up with the 15th pick. Carter's job description is changing under new coordinator Rod Marinelli. He will be protected by the 3-technique (lining up on the outside shoulder of a guard) at all times, which will keep him free from offensive linemen and give him better access to roam sideline to sideline. There is no doubting Carter's athleticism. He is one of the strongest players at his position. He can run with tight ends and backs. There is something there to develop, but time is running out. If he hits his potential, the Cowboys have a chance and Carter can work his way back into the future core.

Worst-case: Same as it ever was

If players aren't getting better, they're getting worse. If Carter is the same player in 2014 as he was in 2013, then that will severely limit the defense. He has to be a playmaker on a defense that does not look to have a lot of them, especially along the defensive front. What drove the coaches and those around Valley Ranch nuts last year was the indifference Carter seemed to show when he played poorly. That's part of the reason he was benched against the San Diego Chargers and was pushed by Ernie Sims for playing time. The coaches see a physical specimen capable of doing everything necessary. Does Carter have the innate football sense? The Cowboys have changed how they drop in coverages to give the linebackers the chance to eye the quarterback more. That should allow Carter to use his athleticism. Much of the offseason has been about building up Carter for the coaches. They want to challenge him more. They know how important he is to the scheme. If that doesn't work and Carter's seeming indifference doesn't improve, then they have no chance. He does not have to become a fire-breather, but he has to show a little smoke.

Best case/worst case: J.J. Wilcox

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
9:00
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IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.

This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys’ season.

J.J. Wilcox

Best-case: He’s the guy

Wilcox
It’s clear the Cowboys want Wilcox to be the man. After the first three safeties available in the May draft -- Calvin Pryor, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jimmie Ward -- the Cowboys felt Wilcox was just as good as the others and therefore did not make an early or mid-round bid on a safety. Wilcox is new to the position, having only played it one year at Georgia Southern and just 13 games last season with the Cowboys. He was on the verge of winning the job in training camp but had to leave for a few weeks after the death of his mother. After taking over in Week 3, he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of three games and couldn't retake the job from Jeff Heath. Wilcox understands he has to make the step opposite Barry Church. He showed last summer he can make plays against the run and pass. He needs to add consistency, like all young players, but there is something to work with. If he can come up with a four-interception season, then the Cowboys will have their safety of the future.

Worst-case: Nobody takes the job

When Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, he managed to thrive with solid but unspectacular safeties. He did have a terrific front seven, but was able to get by with what he had at safety. He does not have a prolific front seven with the Cowboys, so he could need more from the safeties not named Church. If the job is too big for Wilcox, Heath, Matt Johnson or Jakar Hamilton, the Cowboys are in trouble. Wilcox will get the best chance to earn the gig. Heath was overexposed last season, but the Cowboys believe he has some upside. Johnson will remain a health question. Hamilton looked much better in the offseason than he did as a rookie. If they could combine each of their assets into one, then the Cowboys would have a decent player. They don’t need Darren Woodson, but they can’t have a repeat of last season, where the safeties were exposed on the deep ball and could not make enough disruptive plays. If it is a repeat, then put safety at the top of the list of team needs going into 2015.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

** The Rolando McClain deal
** The futures of Travis Frederick and Zack Martin
**The rebuilding of the defense
** The defensive coaches

 
IRVING, Texas – Listening to some tape from the Dallas Cowboys’ minicamp offers some perspective on the team’s move to trade for linebacker Rolando McClain.

After one minicamp practice, I asked linebackers coach Matt Eberflus if the starting middle linebacker was currently on the roster.

“We’re going to coach the guys on the grass and find out what goes on from there,” Eberflus said.

McClain wasn’t at minicamp and wasn’t even in the picture, as he had filed retirement papers with the NFL. It wasn’t until he asked the league to be reinstated last week that McClain became an option for the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeJustin Durant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJustin Durant has some experience at middle linebacker, but he says it's "probably not" his best position.
But to think McClain, who has not played in a game since November 2012 with the Oakland Raiders, can step on the field as a starter early in training camp in Oxnard, California, is asking too much. The first goal is that he passes the conditioning test on the first day. He needed two tries to pass a conditioning test with the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the spring before he decided to retire for a second time.

When the Cowboys open camp, Justin Durant will likely be the first-team middle linebacker. He took the first-team snaps in the minicamp and during most of the organized team activities after Sean Lee suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

But let’s go back to the tape from minicamp again.

Durant was asked if the Mike linebacker spot was his strongest.

“My strongest?” he said. “Probably not, just because I’m not as familiar with middle as outside.”

Eberflus was asked the same question.

“The great thing about Justin is he can play all positions,” Eberflus said. “I don’t know if that’s his strongest position, but I don’t know that it’s not his strongest position.”

Durant had his most productive game of the season against New Orleans after taking over for Lee, who suffered a hamstring injury, finishing with seven tackles before also hurting his hamstring. He missed the next three games before starting the Green Bay contest. He made two tackles before getting hurt again, ending his season.

He said he played middle linebacker for a year and a half with the Jacksonville Jaguars as well as in college.

“I’ve just got to revert to my old ways,” he said.

He cross-trained at the position last year, but now the job is full-time. The angles are different. What he sees is different.

“In the middle, you’ve got to see both sides of the field,” he said. “If you’re outside, you’re just focused on your side.”

Eberflus and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli like what Durant did last year. He missed six games with hamstring and groin injuries but finished with 30 tackles, two tackles for loss, two pressures, a pass break-up and a forced fumble.

“I think that’s a real good fit for him,” Eberflus said. “He’s an intelligent young man. He plays the game in a smart way and he’s able to communicate and make the calls. The more he’s in there, the better off he feels and he’s making progress.”

Lawrence learning lessons from Smith

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
10:30
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IRVING, Texas – The education of DeMarcus Lawrence started quickly.

Every day in offseason workouts, Lawrence, the Dallas Cowboys’ second-round pick, had to go up against Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. There were times Lawrence won, but more times he didn’t. Lawrence and the Cowboys did not seem to mind.

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsTyron Smith (above) taught rookie DeMarcus Lawrence plenty during offseason workouts.
“I feel like it’s helping me,” Lawrence said. “If you’re going against the best, you ain’t got no choice but to pick up your game and become the best. I feel like he’s helping me out a lot, and he’s getting me ready for the season.”

Lawrence’s education was not unlike the education Smith received from DeMarcus Ware, the man Lawrence is replacing. At training camp last summer in Oxnard, California, Ware had his way with Smith – or any offensive linemen in his way – and Smith ended up having his best season. He was not only named to the Pro Bowl, he earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli liked what he saw from Lawrence in the offseason.

I don’t sense that with him, the confidence thing,” Marinelli said. “I think he’s just tough. He’s a tough kid. Oh, he just comes out and if he gets beat, he comes back again harder. Now it’s just about skill development.”

Lawrence’s hands were considered his biggest strength when the Cowboys picked him, but he believes the work with Marinelli and Leon Lett has made him a better player before he has even put on pads in the NFL.

“Just with my hand movements, my outside moves,” Lawrence said. “Instead of going against a tackle head up, I’m just playing half a man and I’m really using my speed to my best interests.”

With Jeremy Mincey limited some in the offseason, Lawrence was able to get more work, especially against Smith.

“I think what you look at anytime you’re dealing in non-pads in the offseason for him is alignment, assignment, key, technique, speed and takeaways,” Marinelli said. “Those are the things you can really emphasize. You won’t go full speed without collisions and that’s what you try to do. You try to get him ready for camp, but he’s made progress. Good progress in the drill work and all those things. Right now we’re just trying to get him ready for pads.”

And more work against Smith.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
Away we go:

@toddarcher: He will go on the refused to report list if he does not show and is not cut and the Cowboys would gain a spot on the 90-man roster in his absence. I want to get more into the "why" on Orton's absence. I don't believe it's unhappiness with his contract. I don't think he is looking to go anywhere else. I truly believe he doesn't want to play. But if the Cowboys don't cut him, then he might have to play. We all should be so burned to have to come back and earn $3 million for a season in which he might not play a snap. Orton can skip the first week of camp before the Cowboys would be able to come after some of his signing bonus money. If he retired, then he would have to repay the team $3.4 million. Would you want to write that check? Would you be willing to give up about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators and still make excellent money? I believe we'll see Orton sometime in late July in California. @toddarcher: No, because those aren't his strengths either. He can run with running backs and tight ends. When he plays with confidence, he is fine. He had a solid offseason in coverage, improving as the OTAs and minicamp went along. Now that doesn't mean anything when the pads come on but there were some encouraging signs. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus made it sound like Carter is much more into the process of learning everything he needs to learn. That's a good thing. He's just not built to be a run stopper/pass-rusher. The weak-side backer in this scheme has to be the playmaker. Think Lance Briggs in Chicago. Carter has those skills, but can he put it all together? I'm not sure, but he did some good things in the spring. @toddarcher: As an Aussie, I was expecting a Mat McBriar question. Oh well. The Cowboys had nine picks. Do I think all nine will make the 53-man roster? No. I'll make Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens and Devin Street locks. I like Ben Gardner, Ahmad Dixon and Terrance Mitchell to make it as seventh rounders. I think Ken Bishop and Will Smith will have chances too, but I'm just playing a numbers game right now. Then there are the undrafted rookies, like Tyler Patmon, Ben Malena and Davin Coleman. The Cowboys look to have some rookies who can contribute if not this year, then in the future. @toddarcher: I've asked and was told no. I think his day is done and I think the Cowboys want to see what they already have. There's something about Babin that just doesn't fit. He has been in a ton of spots the last couple of years. Teams keep biting on his talent. The Cowboys are content with their defensive line mix. @toddarcher: If you think about it, it is their base package. They will play more nickel defense than base package just because of what you said. It's all dependent on personnel groupings. If teams want to line up with a fullback or two tight ends, you'll see their base defense. If they want to spread the field, they'll go with a nickel look. The Cowboys feel like they're covered at cornerback with Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne. They like their defensive line rotation, although there are a lot of questions simply based on the untested or unknown players added in the offseason or coming back from injuries. But at the end of the day, Rod Marinelli will be in a nickel defense 60-65 percent of the snaps. 
IRVING, Texas -- Let's start the final day of the Dallas Cowboys' minicamp with some observations from Wednesday's team and 7-on-7 drills.
  • All eyes will be on Bruce Carter this season. If he can cover the way he did in this session, then he will be greatly improved over 2013. He blanketed Jason Witten on a corner route in the end zone, forcing an incompletion when Brandon Weeden's pass wasn't perfect. He also intercepted Weeden at the goal line, reading the quarterback's eyes as he tried to fire a pass low. After the play defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli challenged Carter by saying, "Do it again."
  • Weeden's best throw came on the first play of 7-on-7 drills when he put just enough air and just enough speed on a throw over safety J.J. Wilcox to wide receiver Terrance Williams by the goal posts. Williams was able to make the athletic grab and get both feet down for the touchdown.
  • Tempers flared when center Travis Frederick and defensive end Tyrone Crawford got into a scuffle. Rookie guard Zack Martin lost his helmet in the fracas.
  • Crawford had an active practice, but DeMarcus Lawrence also performed well hours after signing his first contract. He trapped Lance Dunbar on a shotgun run versus the first team. To close the day he drew a holding penalty on Darrion Weems and had a would-be sack of Vaughan.
  • Rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell has wasted little time making a good impression. He had an interception of Caleb Hanie on a slant, forced a fumble that went out of bounds and broke up a Dustin Vaughan pass to LaRon Byrd.
  • The defense had some poor situational football on a fourth-and-long play. Tight end Gavin Escobar was able to come up with a first-down on a seam route with the linebackers and safety getting separated in their coverages.
  • Rookie safety Ahmad Dixon ended practice with an interception on a Vaughan overthrow of tight end James Hanna. Dixon sprinted up the field but heard the coaches and teammates yelling for him to get down because the turnover ended the game. No need to risk a return and have something bad happening.

Lawrence signs deal, rookies wrapped up

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
9:15
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' draft class is all signed, sealed and delivered.

Second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence signed a four-year deal with the Cowboys on Wednesday morning, his agent, David Canter, tweeted, becoming the final member of the nine-player class to come to terms. First-round pick Zack Martin signed on Monday.

The Cowboys picked Lawrence, a defensive end, with the 34th overall pick after giving up their third-rounder to the Washington Redskins. The Cowboys viewed Lawrence as the third-best right defensive end in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr and were willing to make a trade with a divisional rival to get him.

In two seasons at Boise State, Lawrence had 20 sacks and 34 tackles for loss, and the Cowboys hope he can grow into a premium pass-rusher on a defense that needs pass-rushing help. He has taken most of the first-team reps at right defensive end since the rookie minicamp.

“He’s made progress,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “Good progress in the drill work and all those things. Right now you’re just trying to get him ready for pads.”
IRVING, Texas -- Since the all-time quarterback rankings that had Tony Romo ahead of Troy Aikman went over so well earlier in the week, let’s close the week with some more rankings.

Garrett
Garrett
David Steele of the Sporting News has ranked the NFL head coaches and Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett came in at No. 23.

Here’s what Steele had to say:
One will always wonder how Garrett would do out from under Jerry Jones, as something other than the owner’s hand-picked golden child -- or with a roster only half as bizarrely constructed as the Cowboys’ usually is. On the other hand, coaching the Cowboys has always meant living up to outsized expectations, and Garrett hasn’t even come close so far.


All of the 22 coaches ahead of Garrett made the playoffs if we’re counting Bruce Arians' work as the Indianapolis Colts’ interim coach in 2012. Arians went 10-6 in his first year with the Arizona Cardinals last season but did not qualify for the postseason.

Garrett has a 29-27 career mark, two games above .500 because of his 5-3 stint as the interim when Wade Phillips was fired in the middle of the 2010 season. The Cowboys have gone 8-8 in each of Garrett's three seasons and lost the chance to make the playoffs all three times with Week 17 NFC East losses.

Some progress has been made, like retooling the offensive line and drafting better, but the scheme change from the 3-4 to the 4-3 last season was disastrous. Rod Marinelli is Garrett’s fourth defensive coordinator since taking over in 2010. Scott Linehan will be the third different playcaller in as many years.

Game management has been an issue. The Cowboys have had too many "how-did-they-lose-that?" contests in Garrett’s watch (Detroit, 2011, Arizona 2010, New York Giants 2010, Green Bay 2013).

The ranking sounds about right for now. Garrett can work his way up the list if the Cowboys make the playoffs this year when outside expectations are so low. If he does that, not only will his ranking go up, but he would earn a contract extension as well, which might be a tad more important to him.

Cowboys chat recap: Where's the rush?

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
9:00
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IRVING, Texas -- With the Dallas Cowboys closing up shop on their organized team activities this week, we had a lively chat on Wednesday.

In it we discussed:
  • The Cowboys’ salary-cap situation.
  • The Cowboys’ secondary situation.
  • The Cowboys’ leadership situation
  • The Cowboys’ fullback situation

If you want to read the full chat, click here. And as a note, next week’s chat will be pushed back to June 20 with the Cowboys holding the minicamp next week.

But there was one question I’d like to expand upon.

Rico (North Jersey): Hey Todd, thanks for answering my question. I do not think any of our d-line guys can get double digit sacks, but if all them get 7 or 8 sacks each, I think that would improve greatly from last year. I'll take that over a D.Ware. What do you think?

Todd Archer: Jeremy Mincey has one eight-sack season and it came in 2011. Henry Melton has never had eight sacks in a season. Anthony Spencer did it once. George Selvie had a career-high seven last year. I don't think all of them can get you seven or eight. Maybe 5-7 is the max. Is that enough? Not sure.

I just don’t see a defender right now with the ability to get a double-digit sack season. The best indicator for these kinds of things is past performance. Spencer has one in his career but there is a really good chance he does not play more than 10 regular-season games this year. Mincey came close with eight when he was in Jacksonville. Maybe Melton can do what Jason Hatcher did last year at the 3-technique. Hatcher never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season and had 11 in 2013. He really took to the scheme

Melton has a history with Rod Marinelli of performing well, so there is that past-performance indicator. I just don’t think he gets 10 sacks. Selvie had seven sacks last year. Can he do it again? Six of those seven sacks came in the first nine games. If he plays less this year, will that freshness allow him to get to the quarterback more?

DeMarcus Lawrence will have a chance, but remember DeMarcus Ware had eight as a rookie and three came in one game in Week 16. He will have to learn on the job.

The Cowboys had only 34 sacks last year. They had 34 in 2012 with Rob Ryan running the 3-4. It is their lowest two-year total since 2003-04 when they had 65. Bill Parcells moved to the 3-4 in 2005 after drafting Ware and the Cowboys’ sack totals increased. They really increased when Wade Phillips took over. In Phillips’ three full seasons the Cowboys had 46, 59 and 42 sacks.

For nine years, Ware was the lead dog. This year it looks like a sack-by-committee approach. But will the leader reach 10? Do they have five guys who could get 40 sacks between them? I just don’t think you can expect career years from so many players.

Cowboys' front seven ranked last

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
1:10
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Last week, Pro Football Focus rated the Dallas Cowboys' roster at No. 18 in the league and that's in large part because of the projected starters on offense.

On defense, the only starter with a “good” tag is defensive tackle Henry Melton, and he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Three projected starters were listed as below average, and six were projected as average.

None of this is really new, but to show just how stacked it might seem against new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is this review of the Cowboys' front seven from Mike Tanier from Sports on Earth.

Tanier puts the Cowboys dead last in his front seven rankings.

Here's what he wrote:
32. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and (in the saddest, most ridiculous minicamp story of the year) Sean Lee from a defense that allowed 2,056 rushing yards and recorded just 36 sacks last year. Henry Melton arrives as a younger, more system-suited replacement for Hatcher, but everything else is a shambles. Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and DeVonte Holloman form the most anonymous linebacker corps in the league, and only Carter has any significant starting experience. Anthony Spencer may start the season on the PUP list as he battles back from microfracture surgery on his knee. And of course, the Cowboys are so cap-stressed that they wouldn't be able to sign a veteran reinforcement, even if one becomes available this late in the offseason.

The wisest thing the Cowboys could do is insert rookies Demarcus Lawrence and Anthony Hitchens into the rotation quickly and let them learn on the job. The Cowboys did not get into this predicament by doing the wise thing. But they are so thin and talent-poor that they may not have a choice.

One quibble I would make is that they could have attempted to keep Ware, signed Jared Allen, Julius Peppers or pick a veteran in free agency if they wanted to by doing more poorly structured deals that affected their ability to do business in the future. They chose not to go that route and likely won't do it for a Lee replacement, be it either Jonathan Vilma or Brian Urlacher.

And if a veteran of some substance becomes available later, they could always find room by restructuring the contracts of Jason Witten or Brandon Carr. Money wouldn't be an issue, in my opinion.

Marinelli did a great job with the Bears in part because he had a younger and healthier Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Peppers and Melton in the front seven and solid role players such as Corey Wootton, Israel Idonije, Stephen Paea and Nick Roach.

From the looks of the Dallas defense right now, the Cowboys will be asking a lot of role players to play prominent parts, especially on the front seven. Marinelli has to turn a defense that is built on "maybes" and "hope so's" into one that can be competitive.

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