Dallas Cowboys: Russell Okung

Best case/worst case: DeMarcus Lawrence

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Best case: He is DeMarcus Ware, circa 2005

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Lawrence
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys have high hopes for rookie DeMarcus Lawrence.
For nine years, Ware was everything the Cowboys hoped he would be. He put up 119 sacks, a franchise record. He went to the Pro Bowl seven times. But Ware needed time to grow in his rookie year in 2005. He finished his rookie year with eight sacks, with his best game coming in Week 16 when he had a three-sack effort against Carolina. The Cowboys would love to get eight sacks from Lawrence as a rookie. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer studied the last 32 edge rushers taken in the first round and saw they averaged 3.7 sacks per season. Lawrence was a second-round draft pick (albeit two spots from the first round). He will be given a chance to play a lot as a rookie. The Cowboys made a lot of additions to their defensive line in the offseason, but Lawrence is the lone true right defensive end. That distinction was why they gave up their third-round pick to get him in a trade with the Washington Redskins. He looks the part, with long arms and decent speed. He does not possess Ware’s athleticism (few do) but he if he can get eight sacks, the Cowboys' defensive line will be better than many believe and the Cowboys will have their pass-rusher of the present and the future.

Worst case: He is chewed up by left tackles

Rookies at any position need time. Rookie pass-rushers, as we established in the best-case scenario, need time. Lawrence will be tested in training camp by going against Tyron Smith in practice, but there has to be a hope his confidence doesn’t get damaged if Smith chews him up in the summer. If he can hold his own, then maybe that will build his confidence in getting ready to go against tackles like Jason Peters, Joe Staley and Russell Okung. The Cowboys’ approach to the defensive line this offseason has been to bring a lot of numbers. Lawrence, however, can bring the most quality, especially if Henry Melton is not fully healthy. If Lawrence doesn’t work out – or needs the normal amount of time to adjust to the NFL – then the Cowboys will have to go with quantity and throw everybody at the position from Jeremy Mincey to Tyrone Crawford to Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery. The Cowboys don’t need Lawrence to lead the defense in sacks in 2014, but he must contribute more than 3.7 sacks.
There is so much talk about whether the Dallas Cowboys should keep right tackle Doug Free. A pay cut and he stays. If he refuses, the Cowboys have a decision to make.

What about the starting left tackle Tyron Smith?

It's not like he had a Pro Bowl 2012 season. He finished tied for second in the NFL with seven false starts (Free led the league with eight), but he was still pretty good, allowing just three sacks.

But pretty good isn't enough. The Cowboys need Smith to perform at an elite level. When he was taken with the ninth pick of the 2011 NFL draft, the plan was to eventually move him from right tackle to the left side. Smith made that transition in 2012.

Smith wasn't a dominant tackle last season, and the Cowboys need him to be in 2013.

In 2010, there were two tackles -- Trent Williams and Russell Okung -- who where top-10 picks and have made at least one Pro Bowl. Smith needs to reach that level in Year 3 of his career.

Smith has good power, athletic ability and smarts. The Cowboys rely on him as a stable force on the left side and aren't afraid to run toward his side of the line.

The future looks good for him, but he needs to get better.

Cowboys go heavy on lines vs. Seattle

September, 16, 2012
SEATTLE -- The Cowboys are dressing only four wide receivers today vs. Seattle after using all six in the season opener.

The Cowboys made the move in order to go heavier along the offensive and defensive lines. The team has preferred to use just seven offensive linemen on game day, but Derrick Dockery is active and every healthy defensive lineman is active.

The inactive players are Cole Beasley, Andre Holmes, Mario Butler, Matt Johnson, Kyle Wilber, Phil Costa and Jay Ratliff.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins will make his debut after missing the opener because of offseason shoulder surgery, and newly signed LeQuan Lewis is active to play a special teams role. Wilber (thumb) is healthy but the Cowboys chose to de-activate him in favor of deeper lines.

Seattle will be without left tackle Russell Okung, who is slowed by a bruised knee. He will be replaced by Frank Omiyale. Wide receiver Charly Martin, running back Kregg Lumpkin, safety Winston Guy, cornerback Jeremy Lane, guard James Carpenter and defensive tackle Jaye Howard are Seattle's other inactives.

W2W4: Cowboys at Seahawks

September, 16, 2012
SEATTLE -- The Cowboys make their second road trip of the season, taking on the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. It's the Cowboys' first appearance here since 2007 when they lost an NFC wild-card game to the Seahawks.

We all know what happened in that game.

Let's preview the Week 2 game.

The series: Dallas leads the all-time series, 9-5, and has won three straight and four of the last six. Out of 14 games, four were decided by a touchdown or less and six of the games were decided by three or more touchdowns. Dallas is 3-3 at Seattle. If the Cowboys win the game, it would given them their 450th win all time, becoming the 13th team in league history with that amount.

Tony Romo's return: Romo has done a lot in his career -- two division titles, a playoff win, three Pro Bowls -- but it's the fumbled snap in the NFC wild-card game on Jan. 6, 2007, that is near the top of his resume. Romo fumbled a snap on a potential game-winning field goal and it led to a 21-20 loss. It was one of the more painful losses in Cowboys' history and in some ways has defined Romo's career despite the success he's had as an individual. Sunday afternoon he gets a chance at revenge.

Lineup changes: The Cowboys will start their second different center of the season with Ryan Cook getting the call over Phil Costa (back). Nose tackle Jay Ratliff will miss his second consecutive game as he's still recovering from a high-ankle sprain. Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore will take over for Ratliff. Brent started the Week 1 game for Ratliff. Mike Jenkins will make his season debut at cornerback. He's not expected to start, but Jenkins should see playing time on special teams and on the dime package. Jenkins' return to the field could mean fewer snaps for Morris Claiborne on defense. However, Claiborne might get to return kicks in place of Felix Jones. Coach Jason Garrett said he didn't anticipate a chance on kick returns. But we'll see.

Stop the run: Both teams have strong running backs in Marshawn Lynch of Seattle and DeMarco Murray of Dallas. Last week, Murray rushed for 131 yards on 20 carries in the victory over the New York Giants. Murray didn't have plenty of running lanes, but was able to burst through for some gritty runs. The Seahawks have a stout run defense. Seattle held Arizona to 43 rushing yards and stopped lead running back Beanie Wells to just 14 yards on seven carries in Week 1.

Rookie starts at quarterback: Seattle starts a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson. He was one of five rookie quarterbacks to make their debuts in Week 1. Wilson was sacked three times, threw for 153 yards and completed 18 of 34 passes. Third down hurt Seattle in its season opening loss to Arizona. The Seahawks went 5-of-16 on third down.

Injury report: The Cowboys had 13 players on their injury report and only Matt Johnson (hamstring), Ratliff and Costa are out. Seattle has 10 players on its report, including three receivers, but coach Pete Carroll said this week Golden Tate and Sidney Rice will play despite knee issues. Wide receiver Charly Martin (chest) is out. Lynch was limited in Wednesday's practice because of a back problem, but was a full participant Thursday and Friday. Tight end Zach Miller (foot) and Russell Okung (knee) are questionable. However, Okung was a full participant Friday.

Picks: Our experts all picked Dallas to win. What a shocker.
IRVING, Texas -- Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Seahawks despite being limited in practice all week.

The Cowboys are exercising caution with Ware because of a hamstring strain he originally suffered midway through training camp. Ware, an eight-year veteran, has never missed a game in his NFL career and said Thursday he will be ready to play full speed.

Ware could be facing a backup left tackle. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said starter Russell Okung (knee) will be a game-time decision. Seattle receiver Sidney Rice will play despite a knee injury, Carroll said.

As expected, Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff has been ruled out for the second consecutive week. Ratliff suffered a high ankle sprain in the Aug. 25 preseason game against the St. Louis Rams. He'll be replaced by Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore, who both played well in the season-opening win over the New York Giants.

Center Phil Costa (back) has also been officially ruled out. Costa played only three snaps in the season opener. Ryan Cook, who was acquired in a trade from the Dolphins the previous week, filled in adequately despite having practiced only a few times with the Cowboys. Cook got all the first-team reps this week.

Rookie safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) is also out.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Seahawks preview

November, 4, 2011

Scout's Eye
Those of you who think that the Seahawks are going to come into Cowboys Stadium and roll over because of their 2-5 record might be in for a bit of a surprise come Sunday afternoon.

This game has a 2010 Jacksonville feel to it, when the Cowboys clearly overlooked the Jaguars and were embarrassed on their home field 35-17. When you study the Seahawks, their record is misleading because there is some talent on this team and their record should be better.

It's a mistake to compare the the Seahawks to the Rams. St. Louis defensively was a bad football team; Seattle is not.

QB, O-line struggle with pressure

Offensively, there are problems with the third-youngest offensive line in the NFL, but the biggest struggle is at quarterback with Tarvaris Jackson. There is no doubt that Jackson has a cannon for an arm, but the problem is that he is not an accurate quarterback. Receivers Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu really have to work to catch his passes.

[+] EnlargeTarvaris Jackson
AP Photo/Don WrightA young offensive line does little to improve the accuracy of Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
Jackson is all over the place when he throws the ball. I have seen him throw the out or slant and be dead on the money, but then the next three throws would be nowhere near the receivers.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell likes to move Jackson around in the pocket with designed boots or waggles, but there are plenty of times when you see Jackson moving on his own when the pressure becomes too much. One of the best traits that Jackson has is his ability to scramble and buy the second chance.

There will be times Jackson doesn't make the best decisions. I have seen him throw the ball up for grabs for no reason at all instead of taking a sack and living to fight on the next down.

The pressure that Jackson and even Charlie Whitehurst have had to deal with this season can be put at the feet of this offensive line. The Seahawks start two rookies on the right side with guard John Moffitt and tackle James Carpenter.

Moffitt really struggled on tape. He doesn't sustain well -- run or pass -- and much like his former Wisconsin teammate Bill Nagy, when he has to face a rusher who plays with power or strength, it really throws him off.

Carpenter is a large man who is not slow-footed, but he is more of a catch blocker than one who punches and tries to stop the charge of the defender. The Seahawks will try to get him on the edge in the screen game and on the toss sweep as well. Carpenter has had his share of struggles with the inside rush, much like Tyron Smith has. For young tackles such as Smith and Carpenter, that's the biggest problem -- always thinking about protecting the outside then having to adjust back inside, which rushers like DeMarcus Ware will take advantage of.

The two best offensive linemen for the Seahawks are the left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger.

Official scout of ESPN Dallas Bryan Broaddus previews the Cowboys-Eagles matchup on Sunday.

Listen Listen
Okung is impressive in the way that he tries to finish his blocks. His feet are good and he can adjust to the rush.

Unger was a player who the Cowboys were very interested in drafting three years ago after an outstanding career at Oregon, where he was an All-Pac 10 tackle and center. Unger, like Okung, is good with his feet and is able to adjust to twist stunts and blitzers. Rarely do you see him on the ground, plays on his feet. Good with the reach and cut-off blocks.

RB trio carries load well

The Seahawks have three running backs on the roster and use them all. Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington all get offensive snaps.

Lynch is the main ballcarrier and there is nothing really flashy about the way he does his job. He tries to hammer defenders when they come up for the tackle. Can tell that there are plays in which he gets frustrated because of the lack of blocking that he sometimes receives. Would not call Lynch an explosive back but one that will press the hole and if necessary use his vision to find the hole to the outside to finish the run. Lynch is not the type of back that will run away from you with blazing speed but more of a steady, workman-like runner.

Lynch is a productive pass catcher with outstanding hands. Will see him used in the red zone on screens much like the Cowboys saw last week against the Eagles' LeSean McCoy.

Lynch's problem in the games I studied was fumbling the ball. In the Bengals and Giants games, he put the ball on the ground, killing drives for his team.

Washington is a short, explosive ball carrier. Forsett has good hands but doesn't play with the explosiveness of Washington. Washington attacks the hole with suddenness, while Forsett shows more patience.

Safeties shines for Seahawks

While the Seahawks' offense has issues, their defense is far superior to the Rams'. The Seahawks have more skill at safety, corner and pass rusher.

I was really impressed with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

[+] EnlargeWalter Thurmond and Earl Thomas
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys likely won't catch Seahawks safety Earl Thomas (29) out of position Sunday.
Thomas shows nice range and catch-up speed to make plays. He is also used as a blitzer in this scheme. He is quick around the corner. Thomas plays assignment sound. You don't see him out of position much.

Chancellor is a physical tackler but doesn't move as well in coverage as Thomas because he is not that quick-footed. Chancellor has struggled some in the passing game. He misplayed a ball in the air against the Giants down the sideline that led to a touchdown, so you don't see him put in those types of situations often.

At corner for the Seahawks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are the starters. Sherman, a rookie from Stanford, is not the most physical player but has good cover skills. Both corners like to play press coverage and can run with their men.

The Cowboys had trouble last week against the Eagles when they had to fight off the press. I am not saying that these Seattle corners are as good as the Eagles', but they do have height that helps them when they jam receivers at the line. Browner is over 6-foot-3 and Sherman is at 6-foot-2.

Watch for the Seahawks to play with a single high safety and Chancellor down in the box to handle the run. On the outside, these corners will press and make Dez Bryant and Miles Austin fight for space and hope that their pass rush can get home like the Eagles did last week.

Pass rush can be explosive

The Seahawks have two rushers that can create problems for tackles. Defensive ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock do a nice job. Clemons is a starter that plays the weakside defensive end, so he will flip sides opposite the strength of the Cowboys. Brock will come into the game as a nickel rusher.

Both Clemons and Brock are explosive rushers. Both like to attack the edges, but Doug Free and Tyron Smith have to careful when these two try to spin inside on their rush. Last week against the Eagles, the biggest struggles that Free and Smith had was when Jason Babin and Trent Cole were able to use a spin move. I expect that Clemons and Brock have studied that game, and they will test Free and Smith from the word go.

Seattle faces Ware here, there, everywhere

November, 3, 2011
DeMarcus Ware starts at right outside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.

He finishes at the quarterback.

In between, he's all over the place.

The Seattle Seahawks' left tackle, Russell Okung, will match up with Ware some of the time Sunday. Their right tackle, James Carpenter, will face Ware other times. Tight ends, running backs and even interior offensive linemen will contend with him.

Ware, who collected four of his 12 sacks in Week 8, lines up across the formation. He has six of his sacks from the left side of the defense and six from the right, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

This matchup appears particularly tough for the Seahawks. They've allowed 28 sacks, most in the league, despite already having a bye week. The Cowboys' 21 sacks on defense rank sixth among teams with seven games.

The St. Louis Rams attempted 33 passes and took only one sack at Dallas two weeks ago, but they averaged only 9.8 yards per completed pass. Ware had the one sack, plus two of the Cowboys' six quarterback hits.

Seattle has taken 20 sacks in its four road games this season, and at least four in every game but the one against Atlanta, when the Falcons had zero.

Penalties are another concern for the Seahawks' offensive line. The line has committed 19 accepted and declined penalties this season. That includes 12 in four road games and seven in three home games.

Five-star: Right side paves way to record

November, 3, 2011
Five-star question: Will DeMarcus Ware get the 2.5 sacks he needs to tie Jim Jeffcoat (94.5) for "officially" the most in franchise history?

Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware will break the club's all-time career sack record against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The Seahawks aren't at offensive tackle with Russell Okung and James Carpenter, but Ware has played against better this season and has still managed to get sacks. I feel that will be no different this week.

At left tackle, Okung is athletic enough to stay in front of Ware -- plus he plays with some power in his punch. The right side is where Ware should be able to get his pressure. That'd be against Carpenter, the rookie from Alabama, who has some talent but he doesn’t move as well as Okung.

The Seahawks like to keep a tight end to help block when they can, and they mainly do it on Carpenter's side so there could be some rough plays to that side when he rushes. With that being said, I still feel Ware, when he does get that one-on-one match up, will be able to take advantage of the rookie, who hasn't faced the type of pass rush moves and skill that Ware brings to the table.

The key for the Cowboys this week is to build an early lead and force the Seahawks into a passing game. If the Cowboys can do that, you'll see the Seahawks struggle because rookie right guard John Moffitt will also struggle to effectively protect.

Five-star: 2.5 sacks? Expecting too much

November, 3, 2011
Five-star question: Will DeMarcus Ware get the 2.5 sacks he needs to tie Jim Jeffcoat (94.5) for officially the most in franchise history?

Rob Ryan claims that DeMarcus Ware is better than Superman, much less Lawrence Taylor, but let’s try to keep expectations realistic.

It’s a bit much to expect the man to have multiple sacks every week. So, no, he’s not likely to pull even or surpass Jim Jeffcoat on Sunday. To put the difficulty of that task in perspective, Ware has had 2.5 or more sacks in eight of 103 career games.

Granted, one of those games came against Seattle. That was a sad day in Seahawks history, as legendary left tackle Walter Jones was humiliated as he hobbled around on a bad knee in what ended up being the final game of his career.

Not that it’s impossible for Ware to beat recent first-round picks Russell Okung and James Carpenter for a few sacks. But the Seahawks’ tackles have combined to allow 7.5 sacks this season, according to Stats Inc. A Ware hat trick would be a surprise.

On another note, Jeffcoat holds the Cowboys’ record for most sacks since the NFL made it an official stat in 1982. The team recognizes Harvey Martin as its all-time leader with 114. Martin also holds the team record for sacks in a season with 23 in 1977 – half a sack more than the official league record Ware is on pace to break this season.

Just thought that Martin merited mentioned, especially during a week when one Cowboys legend from that era is getting a long overdue spot in the Ring of Honor.

Power Rankings: Top 10 left tackles

June, 14, 2011
Power Rankings Left TacklesESPN.com IllustrationOur bloggers say Joe Thomas and Jake Long are the NFL's best left tackles by a wide margin.
ESPN.com ranks the NFL’s top 10 at left tackle, one of the most important positions in the league. Next week: Top up-and-coming assistants.

Take a quarter out of your pocket and look at its width. That’s basically the difference between the top two left tackles in the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

Cleveland’s Joe Thomas received 76 points from our eight-person panel of voters. Miami’s Jake Long received 75. That put them way ahead of the rest of our top 10 list of the NFL's best blindside pass protectors.

Our panel of division bloggers gave Thomas five first-place votes, and Long received three.

“It was pretty much a coin flip for me,’’ said NFC East blogger Dan Graziano.

If Graziano’s quarter had landed on the other side, we might have had a different outcome. I think the same can be said for some of the other voters. I gave Thomas my top vote only after some strong consideration for Long.

But let’s cut to the chase and point out the man who ultimately decided this election. It’s AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky. Every other voter had Thomas and Long in the top two spots. Kuharsky threw things off a bit by putting Long at No. 1 and Tennessee’s Michael Roos at No. 2. He had Thomas at No. 3.

Let’s turn to Kuharsky for his rationale.

“I've seen Long more, which helped him,’’ Kuharsky said. “Also, frankly, I knew there could be close to a consensus for Thomas. He's very good. But we're not talking Orlando Pace or Jonathan Ogden. The groundswell for Thomas as top left tackle is, in my eyes, more a media creation than the view of players, scouts and coaches. I wanted to note and reflect that.’’

Point taken, and I agree that we’re not talking the same level as Pace and Ogden -- at least not yet. Thomas and Long are young and it’s too early to put them in the category of surefire Hall of Famers. But, aided largely by Kuharsky, Roos did finish No. 6 overall.

Ryan Clady, Jordan Gross and D'Brickashaw Ferguson rounded out our top five at Nos. 3, 4 and 5 respectively. After Roos, the rest of the top 10 was filled out by Jason Peters (No. 7), Marcus McNeill and Donald Penn, who tied for No. 8, and Matt Light at No. 10.

Let’s work our way back toward the top, with one more quick stop at Roos. I had him at No. 8 on my ballot, and James Walker and Kevin Seifert didn’t even vote for him. I’ve had a couple of scouts tell me Roos is a good left tackle, but seemed to take a step backward last season.

Kuharsky heard otherwise.

“I've had a coach and two scouts tell me Roos is as good or better than Thomas and Long,’’ Kuharsky said. “I obviously see Roos a lot and think he's quite good, certainly better than he wound up here.’’

Roos or ruse? Take your pick, but let’s head right back to the top of the voting and back to the argument between Thomas and Long. They were drafted one year apart with Thomas entering the league in 2007 and Long coming in for the 2008 season. Each has made it to the Pro Bowl in every season played.

Kuharsky mentioned the “media creation’’ about Thomas. In Cleveland? That’s not where you usually turn to find guys to top Power Rankings, so our vote has to say something pretty strong about Thomas. Let’s turn to the guy who covers Thomas.

"Thomas has always been focused on doing his job,’’ Walker said. “You can't tell whether the Browns are 16-0 or 0-16 with the way he plays, and that's why he's been to four straight Pro Bowls. The NFL has gone the way of speed pass-rushers, and Thomas is the prototype to combat that. He’s lean with very good feet and agility, but still strong enough to dominate in the running game. There’s really no weakness in his game.”

None of our panelists saw a weakness in Long’s game.

“I thought Long's run-blocking ability put him a little bit ahead of Thomas,’’ Grazianzo said. “I think he's shown improvement every year and is likely to pass Thomas soon if he hasn't already (and for me, these lists are about which guy I'd pick right now, so a guy I think is going to get better is going to get a long look from me). And he earned a bonus point or two from me for playing the last six games of 2010 in a shoulder harness and still being incredible.’’

The best news is, these guys are so young we can have this same argument every year for the next decade. Now, let’s move on to some other notes about the voting in the Power Rankings for left tackles.

Turn off the Light. As we mentioned, Light came in at No. 10. That surprised me a bit because he’s a big name with three Super Bowl championships and three Pro Bowl selections. I had Light at No. 6 and Walker had him at No. 4. But Light didn’t even appear on four ballots, including the one from AFC East representative Tim Graham.

“Matt Light is a quality player, but Stats Inc. blamed him for 10 sacks allowed and four penalties last season, more in each category than his previous two seasons combined,’’ Graham said. “I've always thought Light got more recognition simply from being Tom Brady's left tackle. Once you name the three or four elite tackles and you rack your brain for the next group, it's easy to understand people sorting through the great quarterbacks and asking, 'Who is so-and-so's left tackle?' Light made the Pro Bowl last year, but as an alternate. Light's reputation also is enhanced by his involvement in the union and being a truly rare species: the gregarious Patriot.’’

Also-rans. Andrew Whitworth, Chad Clifton, Doug Free, Russell Okung and Jeff Backus didn’t make the top 10, but each received votes.

“I don't think there are 10 elite or even complete left tackles in the NFL,’’ NFC West blogger Mike Sando said. “I list Okung on a very short list of players with the talent and makeup to be elite at that position. Okung hasn't played enough to this point, but I think he'll join that group this season. Listing someone with considerably less ability was the alternative.’’

The longest shot. Somewhere, former Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen and coach Jon Gruden are smiling at Penn’s name appearing on this list. It’s true, they headed the regime that signed Penn as a free agent in 2007 after he was cut by Minnesota in 2006. Then again, they were also the ones who signed Luke Petitgout, and Penn only got a chance to play because Petitgout turned out to be washed up. I used to subscribe to the theory that you needed to use a first-round pick to get a good left tackle. But Penn has shown that’s not necessary. In his case, he simply made the most of his shot at playing time and turned it into a $48 million contract as training camp started last year.