Dallas Cowboys: Travis Frederick

Five plays that shaped Cowboys' win

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13

There were 118 plays in the Dallas Cowboys' 30-23 win against Seattle. They weren't all created equal. It's never that way. Touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, but who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in the shadows of those that command the most attention.

Here are five plays that shaped the Cowboys' win:

Play: Joseph Randle run
Situation: First-and-10 from Dallas 33
Score: Seattle leads, 10-0
Time: 5:25 left in first quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were reeling after Seattle returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and Tony Romo got bruised thanks to a hard shot by Bobby Wagner on the previous series. The Cowboys needed someone to make a play; Randle did. He burst up the middle on a stretch play to the left behind blocks from Travis Frederick and Zack Martin before he was dragged down at the Seattle 29. Four plays later, the Cowboys had their first touchdown and some much-needed momentum.

Play: Romo incompletion
Situation: Second-and-goal from Seattle 2
Score: Seattle leads, 10-0
Time: 2:38 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Gavin Escobar has played sparingly this season, but the Cowboys have always thought he'd be a good red zone option because of his size. Well, they lined him up outside and tried to throw him a back-shoulder fade. The timing was off, and Romo threw behind Escobar and right into the hands of Byron Maxwell, who dropped the ball. An interception there -- he might've returned it for a touchdown -- and the blowout would've commenced.

Play: Terrance Williams reception
Situation: Third-and-20 from Dallas 31
Score: Seattle leads, 23-20
Time: 4:55 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: It was even more beautiful and spectacular than Williams' improbable touchdown catch last week. With Romo escaping yet another sack, he launched a perfect pass to the sideline that seemed destined to sail out of bounds. Suddenly, Williams stretched out and caught the ball, while somehow dragging his feet to stay inbounds. Entering Sunday, NFL teams had converted one of 55 third-and-20 situations. Four plays later, the Cowboys scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Play: Maxwell injury
Situation: Third-and-four from Seattle 24
Score: Seattle leads, 10-7
Time: 5:48 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Dez Bryant, lined up in the slot, had a step on Maxwell and a perfect throw from Romo would've probably resulted in a touchdown. But he was flushed right and forced to throw off his back leg, which gave Maxwell time to break up the pass. Maxwell hurt his knee when he landed and missed the rest of the game, which forced Seattle to use Richard Sherman exclusively against Bryant and put Marcus Burley on Williams.The Cowboys attacked Burley consistently throughout the rest of the game.

Play: Brandon Carr pass deflection
Situation: Third-and-nine from Dallas 30
Score: Tied, 20-20
Time: 8:25 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: Jermaine Kearse lined up in the slot and ran a nice post pattern against Carr and had a set to the inside. Carr made a diving deflection, stretching out his right arm to deflect the pass just as it arrived. Instead of having a first down at the Dallas 10, Seattle settled for a field goal.
IRVING, Texas -- There were 131 plays in the Cowboys’ 20-17 overtime win over Houston. They weren’t all created equal. It’s never that way. While the touchdowns and turnovers get most of the attention, who wins or loses is often determined by plays that get lost in the shadow of those that command the most attention.

Here are five plays that shaped the Cowboys’ win:

Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick incompletion
Situation: Third-and-2 from Dallas 48
Score: Tied, 17-17
Time: 13:11 left in overtime
Taylor's Take: Arian Foster had 16 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown in the second half. On his first two carries of overtime, he gained 24 and 6 yards. But for some reason coach Bill O’Brien chose to put the ball in journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands on the Texans’ biggest play of the game. Now, he tried to hit Foster, who was split wide, in the right flat but Justin Durant covered him tightly, giving Jeremy Mincey time to pressure Fitzpatrick and force an incompletion.

Play: Jason Witten catch
Situation: Second-and-15 from Dallas 17
Score: Houston leads, 10-7
Time: 7:44 left in third quarter
Taylor's Take: The Texans had all of the momentum after scoring their first touchdown, and the Cowboys were facing a second-and-15 after a holding call on Travis Frederick. The Cowboys needed a play and Tony Romo completed a perfect seam route to tight end Witten for a 33-yard gain. The ball went right past the linebacker’s helmet and the ball was literally waiting for Witten, when he turned to look for it. Two plays later, the Cowboys took the lead on a touchdown pass by Witten.

Play: Ryan Fitzpatrick incompletion
Situation: Third-and-4 from Dallas 11
Score: Dallas leads, 17-7
Time: 2:36 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: Houston had taken more than seven minutes to drive to the Dallas 11 and it needed to score in a two-possession game. Fitzpatrick was looking for Andre Johnson, who had lined up in the slot, but Jeremy Mincey wrapped his arm around Fitzpatrick’s torso as he threw the ball and it fluttered toward the end zone. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens made a diving attempt, but couldn’t corral the pass. An interception -- it was a difficult but makeable play -- would’ve probably sealed the win without overtime.

Play: Delay of game penalty
Situation: Second-and-9 from Dallas 21
Score: Dallas leads, 17-10
Time: 2:23 left in fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: The Cowboys were trying to close out the game and probably needed two first downs to do it since Houston had three timeouts and the two-minute warning. After Houston called timeout after the Cowboys’ first play, they were somehow penalized for delay of game creating a second-and-14 that ultimately allowed Houston to force a punt and start their game-tying drive.

Play: J.J. Wilcox tackle
Situation: Second-and-10 from Dallas 43
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 5:44 left in second quarter
Taylor's Take: Houston had a perfect play call against a Dallas blitz -- a receiver screen to DeAndre Hopkins. He had two linemen in front of him, but J.J. Wilcox maneuvered around the blocker and dropped Hopkins for a 2-yard gain. The Texans, who had recovered a fumble at the Dallas 43, were forced to punt.
When the Dallas Cowboys fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, it meant playcaller Scott Linehan was going to have to use a lot more formations with three receivers as opposed two tight ends.

That's why receiver Cole Beasley was on the field for 45 snaps and rookie fifth-round pick Devin Street for 21. Tight end Gavin Escobar, whose role was supposed to increase, played only nine snaps. The biggest surprise is that Lance Dunbar was only on the field for three plays.

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

Jason Witten: 69
Doug Free: 69
Tyron Smith: 69
Ronald Leary: 69
Travis Frederick: 69
Zack Martin: 69
Tony Romo: 69
DeMarco Murray: 61
Terrance Williams: 60
Dez Bryant: 51
Cole Beasley: 45
Devin Street: 21
James Hanna: 13
Dwayne Harris: 9
Gavin Escobar: 9
Lance Dunbar: 3
Jermey Parnell: 3
Tyler Clutts: 1

Three thoughts from Cowboys' loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Key number: 58 percent

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

San Francisco converted 7 of 12 (58 percent).

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

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

Player to Watch: Bruce Carter

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

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

Well, he did a nice job against San Francisco with five tackles, one sack, one pass deflection and a quarterback hit. If he’ll play like that all season, there’s hope this defense won’t be among the league’s worst.
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys arrived at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Tuesday afternoon under clear blues and temperatures in the mid 70s.

It was far different atmosphere from the high-90s temperatures that greeted the players at Valley Ranch on Monday for the players who ran a conditioning test.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Tony Gutierrez/AP PhotoTight end Jason Witten was one of several Cowboys veterans who wanted to run a conditioning test before heading to training camp.
Barry Church and Travis Frederick said Jason Garrett canceled the conditioning test -- a series of sprints ranging from 40, 50 and 60 yards that need to be completed at different times depending on the player’s position -- but older players such as Jason Witten called for the test to be run anyway.

League rules prevented any coaches from being on hand because the facilities are closed down 10 days prior to the start of training camp.

“When coach said we weren’t going to have a conditioning test this year a couple of the older guys wanted to make sure that we had everybody in the right shape,” Frederick said. “Sometimes if you don’t do it, you’re not in the right shape and you’re not ready to practice. When you come out and practice as hard as we do and you do it as much as you do during training camp, that’s when it leads to guys getting hurt. A couple of the older guys wanted to make sure guys were in shape, so we did get together yesterday and do some stuff like that. Nobody was around, just the players running it, but I think it was a really good step for our team.”

The players kept the times and had to have been on the honor system. What’s unclear, however, is if those who didn’t run the test Monday will run it Wednesday in Oxnard before practices begin Thursday. Could peer pressure play a part in those who did not attend the Valley Ranch workout lead to them running it?

Safety Barry Church said it was a “camaraderie thing.”

“I feel like it’s showing the players are trying to make this team our own and go out there and have our own type of identity as a team and combine together to see what we can get accomplished here this upcoming season,” Church said.

In the past, the Cowboys have used the test as a barometer for a player’s readiness for practice. If a player was unable to complete the test, he started the year on the physically unable to perform or non-football injury list. Garrett has attempted to alter some of the training exercises to potentially combat the number of injuries the team has suffered the last two years.

“When the players get together and do something like that I think that it shows there’s a level of maturity,” Frederick said. “There’s a level of work and a level of expectations by the older guys, the guys that held it. When you go out and do something like that, that is really showing the team is ready to step forward and is a mature team. Coach says 'There’s no conditioning test,' we could easily just not do it. Everybody is like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s great. We don’t have to do it.’ But are you going to be ready? Are you ready to work? Are you ready to come out and practice as hard as we need to practice to make ourselves into the caliber of team we want to be?”

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:


The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.


The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.


I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.


Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.


Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Cowboys’ roster.

Offensive line

On the roster: Tyron Smith, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, Ronald Leary, Darrion Weems, Uche Nwaneri, John Wetzel, Josh Aladenoye, Brian Clarke, Andre Cureton, Darius Morris

Locks: Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free, Leary, Parnell

Inside track: Weems, Nwaneri

Need help: Wetzel, Aladenoye, Clarke, Cureton, Morris

How many fit? The Cowboys had 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster to start last season and through attrition ended with eight on the final 53-man roster of the season. Eight seems too light, but the Cowboys have carried just seven to the game for the past few seasons. Ten might seem like too many but finding offensive linemen can be tricky and the future has to be factored in with Free and Parnell entering the final year of their contracts.

As the Cowboys head to Oxnard, California, for training camp, I believe nine is the magic number. The top six are without question Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free and Leary. The Cowboys could have their best line since 2007 when Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis made the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys invested three first-round picks in Smith, Frederick and Martin. Free rebounded with a solid 2013 season. Bernadeau and Leary are good enough to win with.

The questions are with the backups.

With Parnell entering the final year of his contract, could he be trade bait late in camp provided Weems shows he can be the swing tackle on game day?

There would be some salary-cap benefit, saving $1.5 million, especially if Parnell isn’t viewed as a starter in 2015 or beyond. The Cowboys could choose to extend Free’s deal, which could make a Parnell move possible. It’s all predicated on Weems, who had some good moments in the offseason.

The interior depth is a little in question. The loser of the left guard battle between Bernadeau and Leary becomes the top backup with Bernadeau serving as the backup center. Nwaneri has a lot of experience. Clarke could be a guy worth grooming for the future after what he showed as well. Wetzell might have some position flexibility as well at tackle and guard.

The series:

Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends

Frederick looks to lighten Romo's plate

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick likes to please. He especially likes to please his quarterback, Tony Romo.

As Frederick enters his second season with the Cowboys, he has one goal.

“I’m going to try and do as much as I can to take as much as I can off Tony that he was doing before for the offensive line,” he said. “Not necessarily because I was a rookie or this or that, but because, if I can see it better, that’s going to take one thing off his plate and that’s going to help the team as a whole.”

Part of Romo’s responsibility is setting the protections with calling out the middle linebacker. The offensive line follows the assignment. If Frederick can take that responsibility away from Romo, then Romo can worry more about the coverage.

When Romo and Frederick watch film of practices or games, they discuss what worked and didn’t work, what they might do differently the next time.

“I think what really has helped is going through the season last year,” Frederick said. “It’s literally about situations. You can talk about as many situations as you can think of and still see 50 more. It’s about being in situations and maybe you make a mistake. Maybe last year I’d change the Mike (linebacker call) on something and he would rather have kept it. After it happened, he told me, ‘OK, this is what I would’ve done.’ Now in the next situation I can do it.”

It’s not just about making Romo’s life easier. If Frederick can do more, he makes it easier for his fellow linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Ronald Leary or Mackenzy Bernadeau.

“The more I can communicate, the better Zack’s going to be able to do, the better Tyron is going to be able to do, the better Doug’s going to be able to do,” Frederick said. “When that happens, everybody can move faster and play faster and they don’t have to think. If I can think more than I did last year, then it makes it less that everybody else has to think about.”

There is a physical adjustment Frederick has made this offseason, too.

“Hand placement has been a big thing for me,” Frederick said. “In college it’s just about getting it done. If you’re strong, you have a better opportunity because no matter where you grab usually you can just hold on. But in the NFL with the great talent we play against and even here in who we practice against every day, you really have to focus on where you’re playing your hands and an inch can make a huge difference.”

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
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


Five questions with: Travis Frederick

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
IRVING, Texas -- With the players entering the downtime of the offseason, we offer up a Five Questions segment.

Today's subject is Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick.

The Cowboys made Frederick their first-round pick in 2013, and he started every game at center. He was viewed as a surprise pick by many, but he solidified the offensive line.

What is your first football memory?

Frederick: Watching football with my parents. My dad was a big Chicago Bears fan growing up. My grandpa has had season tickets forever, so going to Bears games and watching Bears games with the family.

If you could play any other position, what would it be?

Frederick: That's a great question. Probably defensive line. Not that I can claim to be any good at defensive line, but I think it would be similar attributes that you would need. Mean and strong. Short. You can be shorter. I'm the shortest offensive lineman. You can be shorter on defense.

If you were the NFL commissioner for a day, what rule would you change?

Frederick: That you can't cut going backwards toward your own end zone. On a screen or if a guy is coming back up the field, you can't cut. It's a safety thing. I understand why they did it. I'm not bashing them. I don't want to say anything negative, but in college we could do it and that was one of my favorite things to do.

Who is the non-Cowboy you respect the most in football?

Frederick: I would say my old offensive line coach, Bob Bostad, who coaches for Tennessee now. He coached me at Wisconsin, just kind of taught me and turned me into a player. Everybody has that person that believed in them and he was the guy that believed in me and gave me a chance to play at Wisconsin and kind of molded me into the payer I am.

If you weren't playing football, what would you be doing?

Frederick: I'd probably be doing IT work or computer engineering somewhere, some place and sitting in a cubicle.

Veteran depth key to offensive line

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
The Dallas Cowboys haven't made the signing of guard Uche Nwaneri official because they have to make a roster move first.

Moving Sean Lee to injured reserve, thus clearing space when training camp starts, is one possibility. The Nwaneri signing means the Cowboys want to add experienced depth to an offensive line that is getting younger at its core.

Four potential starters are each under 25 -- Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith.

Smith, 23, anchors the left tackle spot and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The team picked up his vested option for next season and has plans to give him a long-term deal.

Martin, 23, was a first-round draft pick this year and will play right guard with the potential to move to right tackle in the future.

Frederick, also 23 and last year's first-round pick, was solid at center and appears ready for a long-term future with the Cowboys.

Mackenzy Bernadeau is 28 and he's competing for a starting left guard spot with Leary.

The old man of the group if you will, is 30-year-old Doug Free, who played well in 2013 after taking a pay cut. The Cowboys value him. The question is for how long, considering they have Martin on the roster as well as two younger tackles, Darrion Weems and Jermey Parnell.

Nwaneri is 30. If he makes the team, he's got eight years of experience and adds depth to the interior of the line, which is important to the Cowboys.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said protecting Tony Romo up the gut is essential considering the quarterback is coming off back surgery.

This offseason, the Cowboys devoted themselves to getting younger and as one team official said, youth is important.

When you stick with youth, mistakes happen, and the Cowboys are willing to deal with that -- at least right now.

But there is nothing wrong with adding an experienced player to the line, and if Nwaneri's deal is completed that's what the Cowboys will have accomplished.
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.

Zack Martin signs four-year deal

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are down to one unsigned draft pick with first-round choice Zack Martin signing a four-year deal on Monday.

The Cowboys surprised some by passing on Johnny Manziel with the 16th pick of the first round to take Martin, who started 52 games at Notre Dame at tackle. In the organized team activities, Martin has lined up with the first team at right guard. He also took some backup center snaps last week.

Martin’s four-year deal is worth $8.967 million and includes a $4.842 million signing bonus. Second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence is the last remaining pick to sign.

Martin is the third first-round pick the Cowboys have used on the offensive line in the last four years, joining Tyron Smith (2011) and Travis Frederick (2013). He was a two-time captain at Notre Dame and was named the MVP of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The last offensive lineman to be named an MVP in a bowl game was Penn State center Jay Huffman in the 1959 Liberty Bowl.

With OL retooled, Cowboys look to fix DL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zack Martin takes some center snaps

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
IRVING, Texas -- One of the things teams liked about Zack Martin entering the draft was his versatility.

He started 50 of 52 games at left tackle at Notre Dame. He has been plugged in as the Dallas Cowboys’ right guard since he was picked in the first round.

This week he has added some work at center.

He never played center before and only snapped for some teams in draft workouts.

“It’s hard,” Martin said. “I told [starting center Travis Frederick] the first time I was in there and came to the sideline, ‘God, you got a lot going on up there. You’ve got to know a lot.’ Just trying to get better every day but there’s definitely a lot going on over the ball.”

Frederick is the unquestioned starter, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, who is competing for the left guard spot, is the backup. Martin could become an emergency fill in.

“He’s a really, really smart football player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You can tell in how he played on college tape and you can tell from minute one since he’s been here, both in the classroom and on the field. The game comes very easily to him from a mental standpoint. He doesn’t seem to struggle with the different looks, playing different spots. There’s a lot of poise and confidence. Now, he’s got a long way to go. Don’t get me wrong, he’s young to this whole thing. He’s had about 10 practices with us ... but the versatility, we viewed him as a guy who could potentially play five offensive line spots.