Dallas Cowboys: Wes Phillips

Cowboys position breakdown: Tight ends

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer breakdown the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2013, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2014.

Witten
Under contract: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna

A look back: The final numbers might look off after catching 110 passes in 2012, an NFL record for a tight end, but in some ways Witten had a better season in 2013.

He caught 73 passes for 851 yards and had eight touchdowns. He had to stay in for pass protection more, which contributed to his reception total decreasing, but he averaged 11.7 yards per catch, which was his second highest in the past five seasons. His eight touchdowns were one off a career high and his involvement inside the 20 played a big part in the improvement of the red-zone offense.

Escobar
Hanna
Escobar came in with second-round expectations with the Cowboys moving more to a “12 personnel” offense, but he was unable to unseat Hanna and saw only 197 snaps during the season. Hanna played 311. The Cowboys knew Escobar needed development as a blocker but how much even surprised them. He finished with nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. What he does have is athletic ability and the chance to stretch the seams from his position.

Hanna caught 12 passes for 73 yards and was OK. The coaches were unable to find ways to get him the ball in space where he could use his speed. For a backup, he was fine but Escobar should take some playing time from him in 2014.

A look ahead: The Cowboys replaced tight ends coach Wes Phillips, who took the same job with the Washington Redskins, with veteran New York Giants coach Mike Pope, which might qualify as their best move of the short offseason.

Pope has developed tight ends everywhere he has coached and developing Escobar will be his No. 1 task. Witten turns 32 in May and with his ninth Pro Bowl appearance in 11 years does not appear to be slowing down. Pope can help him with the nuances of the game and also challenge him schematically.

Escobar needs to add bulk this offseason and be a weight-room junkie. He has to show a willingness to improve as a blocker. If he doesn’t, then the Cowboys will have used a second-round pick on a niche player.

A look out: There is no doubt the Cowboys will draft a tight end in the second round. OK, we kid. With Witten entering his 12th season and Escobar and Hanna something of a question mark, it is not inconceivable the Cowboys look for help at the position.

They do not need to spend a premium pick or cash on the position. With Witten playing nearly 100 percent of the snaps, the Cowboys have to figure out a way to integrate their two tight end package better and with more options.

They could add more of a blocking tight end. Some at Valley Ranch thought Andre Smith could have filled that role in 2013 more. They could look in the middle to late rounds in the draft.

Position breakdown:

Quarterbacks
Running backs

Cowboys' coaching staff tracker

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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IRVING, Texas -- Since we parsed Jerry Jones' words Tuesday about the current state of the Dallas Cowboys offensive and defensive coordinators, let's parse what head coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday when it came to Monte Kiffin and Bill Callahan.

Like Jones, Garrett said both are under contract for 2014. Unlike Jones, however, Garrett said roles could change, but he would not elaborate.

What does it mean? Maybe everything. Maybe nothing.

Kiffin, who turns 74 next month, has said repeatedly he is not retiring. Could the Cowboys move him to a consultant role like they did with assistant head coach/wide receivers Jimmy Robinson last year? Robinson was not spotted at one practice in the offseason, during training camp or during the season. He is in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl looking for a job in 2014.

Given how Jones and Garrett handled the announcement of Callahan as playcaller last year, first with Jones saying it, then Garrett denying it only to come back a day or two later and say, indeed, Callahan would call plays, this is shaping up as an only-with-the-Cowboys situation.

With that in mind, let's look at the current state of the staff:

Head coach: Jason Garrett

Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach: Bill Callahan
Defensive coordinator: Monte Kiffin

Quarterbacks: Wade Wilson
Running backs: Gary Brown
Wide receivers: Derek Dooley
Tight ends: Vacant
Assistant offensive line: Frank Pollack
Offensive quality control/wide receivers: Keith O'Quinn
Offensive assistant: Vacant

Defensive line: Rod Marinelli
Linebackers: Matt Eberflus
Secondary: Jerome Henderson
Defensive assistant/defensive line: Leon Lett
Defensive quality control/linebackers: Ben Bloom
Assistant secondary: Joe Baker

Special teams: Rich Bisaccia
Assistant special teams: Vacant

Strength and conditioning: Mike Woicik
Assistant strength and conditioning: Brett Bech
Assistant strength and conditioning: Kendall Smith

Wes Phillips left the Cowboys to be the Washington Redskins tight ends coach. Offensive assistant Dave Borgonzi left for a defensive assistant's job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mikal Smith also worked with the Cowboys secondary last year but did not have a specific title. He joined his father, Lovie, in Tampa Bay. Assistant special teams coach Chris Boniol and the club agreed to part ways, and the Cowboys will likely give that job to Carlos Polk, although Garrett did not confirm the position at the Senior Bowl. Polk served as an intern with the Cowboys in 2013.

Coaches like Bloom, Baker, O'Quinn and Woicik would need new deals to remain with the team in 2014.

New TE coach must develop Escobar

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
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IRVING, Texas – With the Dallas Cowboys heading to the Senior Bowl on Monday, coach Jason Garrett knows he has at least one vacancy to fill with the departure of tight ends coach Wes Phillips to the Washington Redskins.

The No. 1 task of the next tight ends coach has to be the development of Gavin Escobar.

Escobar
Witten
The new tight ends coach will inherit future Hall of Famer Jason Witten, who will be entering his 12th season in 2014. He is the franchise’s all-time leading receiver. He is coming off a 73-catch, 851-yard, eight-touchdown season. If the Denver Broncos or San Francisco 49ers make it to the Super Bowl, Witten will play in his ninth Bowl.

It’s not that coaching Witten is easy. It might be more challenging. On the CBS pregame show last week Bill Cowher interviewed New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who had this to say about Tom Brady:

"[Tom and I] have had a weekly meeting the entire time we've been together,'' Belichick said. “Tom is one of the toughest players I've ever had to coach, because when you walk into a meeting with Tom, he's already seen every game. Like the Colts. He's already seen every game the Colts have played defensively. So you can't go in there unprepared, you can't go in there saying, 'Well, I don't know if they're going to do this,' because he'll say, 'Did you see the Tennessee game? That's what they did.'

"You have to be as well-prepared as he is. And that's a good thing but it's also a hard thing. You can't throw the curveball by him. You better know what you're talking about, because he does.''

That’s the challenge for a coach with Witten. He knows everything inside and out. The coach has to challenge him in different ways.

But the Cowboys know what they are going to get in Witten.

They don’t know what they are going to get out of Escobar, their second-round pick in 2013. He had nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He needs to improve greatly as a blocker and it’s more than just getting stronger. He has to work at it, learn the technique, know all three positions the tight end has to play in this offense. Escobar can’t be a one-trick pony (or two tricks) of running the seams in the middle of the field and fades in the red zone.

The new coach has to get more out of Escobar than what the Cowboys got out of their other second-round tight ends in Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett.

Jason Garrett loses right-hand man

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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When Wade Phillips lost his job as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, his son, Wes, remained on the coaching staff as one of the assistant offensive coaches.

Last season, Wes Phillips received one of his biggest promotions, becoming the Cowboys' tight ends coach.

Coach Jason Garrett called Wes Phillips his right-hand man, and relied on him for many things.

[+] EnlargeWes Phillips
AP Photo/James D. SmithTight ends coach Wes Phillips was a valuable asset in Dallas according to head coach Jason Garrett.
"A lot of what you do as an assistant is you sit in the room and you watch other coaches coach," Wes Phillips said last summer. "You do a lot of work behind the scenes in the office, and now you’re more involved in all aspects of game planning, preparing your meetings. I was fortunate to sit in that room and listen to some excellent coaches."

Maybe being sons in a football family bonded them together, but Garrett has talked lovingly of Wes Phillips.

In 2010, when Garrett took over for Wade Phillips, the move could have been difficult given Wes was still on the coaching staff. If anything, it made things easier.

"Wes is one of the great assets of this staff," Garrett said back then. "He’s been my right hand man for the last three years. He just does an outstanding job. He knows football. He likes football. He’s one of those guys who is always ahead of things and helps me immensely that way. He sees the game, he understands and can coach different positions. He’s really a huge asset for us."

Garrett, who has been with the Cowboys since 2007, depends on several coaches for help on game days, and Wes Phillips was the man providing information from the press box on if he needed to challenge close calls. When Garrett decided to make a switch with the offensive structure, he moved Phillips from the press box to the field so he could talk more with veteran tight end Jason Witten and continue to develop rookie tight end Gavin Escobar.

So with Wes Phillips moving on to the Washington Redskins, Garrett has to make a change on the coaching staff. Offensive assistant Keith O'Quinn is a possibility to replace Phillips.

But nobody can say Wes Phillips was on the Cowboys' staff because of his name. The Cowboys valued Phillips, and he earned respect across the NFL for his work.

"I think a lot of people look at nepotism and they think, ‘Well, guys get jobs that maybe don’t deserve them,'" said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, who, as son of owner Jerry Jones, heard similar comments when he started his career. "I think that shows that obviously Wes is a sharp guy. He loves football. He works hard at it. He has a passion for it. He’s obviously made his mark around here ... I think his arrow is up, and he’s only going to get better in this league."

Wes Phillips leaves for Redskins

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will need a new tight ends coach.

Wes Phillips accepted an offer to become the tight ends coach of the Washington Redskins one day after interviewing for the position on Jay Gruden’s staff.

Phillips had been with the Cowboys since 2007 and finished his first season as tight ends coach. He joined the Cowboys as a quality control coach and worked with wide receivers and special teams. In 2011 he was named an assistant offensive line coach.

That the Cowboys allowed Phillips to interview with a division rival was a sign the Cowboys were ready to find a replacement.

The Cowboys could look in-house for a new coach with Keith O'Quinn, who has helped coach the wide receivers the past few seasons in addition to his offensive quality control work. Another possibility is Mike Pope, the long-time New York Giants tight ends coach who was let go this week. Pope is widely regarded as one of the best tight ends coaches in the NFL.

Wes Phillips interviewing with Redskins

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach Wes Phillips is interviewing with the Washington Redskins, according to multiple sources.

Phillips is among a handful of Cowboys assistants with expiring contracts. He has been with the club since 2007 when his father, Wade, was named head coach. In 2013 Wes Phillips was the tight ends coach after serving as the assistant offensive line coach in 2011 and ’12. He also spent time working with wide receivers and special teams in his time on the staff.

In 2013, Cowboys TE Jason Witten caught 73 passes for 851 yards and had eight touchdown catches, the second-best single-season total of his career. As a group, the tight ends caught 94 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Cowboys have yet to announce any changes to the coaching staff, although the team and assistant special-teams coach Chris Boniol mutually agreed to part ways two weeks ago. Like Phillips, Boniol had a one-year contract.

The Redskins hired Jay Gruden as head coach (to replace Mike Shanahan) and promoted tight ends coach Sean McVay to offensive coordinator.

Garrett's role in offense about 'mechanics'

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the first time this season, Jason Garrett was involved in the play calling even if he was not calling the plays.

The Dallas Cowboys head coach did not call the plays, but he did relay them to Tony Romo from offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. League rules prevent direct communication from the coaches booth to the quarterback.

“It was more about mechanics,” Garrett said.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson had been relaying the plays into Romo, but he moved to the coaches’ booth and tight ends coach Wes Phillips moved down to the field.

“Taking the plays from Bill and just talking to Tony, it’s something that I’ve done really for a long time, whether I was calling plays as an assistant coach or as a player,” Garrett said. “I’ve been in that role a lot. It’s a role I’m comfortable in.”

While Garrett may not have called the plays, it gave him a more direct way to veto calls if he felt something needed to be altered. Garrett was more involved with the Cowboys' offense in practice as well, spending more time with that unit than any other. For the first time this season he did not direct the scout team offense against the defense in red zone drills.

Romo said he did not notice a difference. In between series he talked on the headset with Callahan and Wilson.

“It went smooth,” Romo said. “To the quarterback on the field it doesn’t sound terribly different because it’s just coming in,” Romo said. “I think having another set of eyes and Wade having 85 years of experience in football helps be able to see everything.”

Welcome to MetLife Stadium

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Welcome to MetLife Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys take on the New York Giants, and with a win would move back into first place in the NFC East. A loss would not end their season but it would be crippling.

Change in roles: Jason Garrett said Bill Callahan will continue to call the plays, but the Cowboys' head coach is now at least in the relaying of plays from Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson will join Callahan in the coaches’ booth and tight ends coach Wes Phillips will move from the booth to the field. In the first 10 games, Romo and Wilson would look at the pictures between series and communicate with Callahan upstairs. Will Garrett take his eyes off the defense to talk between series with Romo?

There has been a dysfunction to the process since Callahan was named the playcaller. This is not his offense, and Garrett is in must-win territory, despite what Jerry Jones said last week.

Only with the Cowboys.

A healthy return: Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is back in the lineup after an aggravated stinger knocked him out of the New Orleans game. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is back after a two-game absence with a hamstring injury. Safety J.J. Wilcox is back after missing three games with a knee injury. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware was back against the Saints but could not finish the game after his quadriceps tightened up.

Ware said he feels better heading into today’s game than he did entering the game against the Saints.

The Cowboys will need Ware to be more than just effective, just as they will need Hatcher, Claiborne and Wilcox to be better, especially with linebacker Sean Lee out with a hamstring injury.

When these teams faced off in September, Eli Manning threw for 450 yards and Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle had more than 100 yards each.

In the elements: Weather can be a great equalizer. The cold and wind at MetLife Stadium could be a huge factor. The wind chill is expected to be about 17 degrees. The wind will be whipping.

These two teams like to throw the ball. The Cowboys have not run the ball effectively for most of the season. The Giants have run the ball more in their four-game winning streak but not exactly well, averaging 2.9 yards per carry.

The kicking game will also be important and the coin toss could mean more than normal. The Cowboys like to defer if they win the toss on the road in order to get the first possession of the second half with the crowd still at the concession stand. Maybe they change that up today.

A tough goodbye for Wes Phillips

October, 21, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- On Friday, Wes Phillips lost his grandfather, Bum. On Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, Phillips knew the Texas legend was watching.

“It’s been tough,” said Phillips, the Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach. “As much as I feel I know that for dad, that’s his hero from when he was little, like a superhero. He’s been trying to be just like his dad his whole career so it’s been tough. But we were fortunate in that we knew his health was failing and we got to say our goodbyes and we got to hear from him. He was completely lucid and his brain was good til the end. We got to hear what he had to say to us as well.”

Bum Phillips was 90. A memorial service will be held Tuesday and Phillips will be laid to rest at his ranch in Goliad.

Wade Phillips, Wes’ dad and the former Cowboys coach, worked Sunday’s game as Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.

There was no doubt Wes and Wade would coach Sunday.

“That’s the last thing he would’ve wanted for us to miss a game for him,” Wes said

Wes Phillips has made his own name

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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IRVING, Texas – Before Wes Phillips joined the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff in 2007, he was a quarterbacks coach at Baylor for one year and spent two years coaching the position at West Texas A&M. His first official coaching job was as a student assistant at UTEP, his alma mater.

It helped that his father, Wade, was named Cowboys head coach in 2007.

If he got in the NFL door thanks to his father, Wes Phillips’ work has kept him around.

“I think a lot of people look at nepotism and they think, ‘Well, guys get jobs that maybe don’t deserve them,’” said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, who, as son of Dallas owner Jerry Jones, heard similar comments when he started in the NFL. “I think that shows that obviously Wes is a sharp guy. He loves football. He works hard at it. He has a passion for it. He’s obviously made his mark around here … I think his arrow is up, and he’s only going to get better in this league.”

Phillips always wanted to get into the family business started by his grandfather, Bum, and continued by his father. Unlike Bum and Wade, Wes is an offensive coach.

“He’s the black sheep of the family,” said Wade, now the defensive coordinators for the Houston Texans, who visit Dallas tonight in the preseason finale for both teams. “He knows that. He went on the dark side, but we still love him.”

Wes Phillips joined the Cowboys as a quality-control coach. He has worked with wide receivers, the offensive line and even was the special-teams coach for a game in 2009 when Joe DeCamillis underwent an emergency appendectomy.

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett made Phillips the tight-ends coach this year.

[+] EnlargeWes Phillips, Jason Witten
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezWes Phillips, son of Wade and the Cowboys' tight-ends coach, said he searches for "one little nugget" to give standout Jason Witten, left.
“A lot of what you do as an assistant is you sit in the room and you watch other coaches coach,” Wes said. “You do a lot of work behind the scenes in the office and now you’re more involved in all aspects of game planning, preparing your meetings. I was fortunate to sit in that room and listen to some excellent coaches.”

There is also some symmetry to his father’s early coaching career. Wade coached Hall of Famers to-be Elvin Bethea and Curly Culp in his second year on Bum’s Houston Oilers’ staff. Wes’ first time running a position group comes with a Hall of Famer to-be in Jason Witten.

“I coached Elvin Bethea and Curley Culp and I thought, ‘Man, I’m really a good coach,’” Wade said, “but maybe I wasn’t. Maybe that was the players … (but) it gave me confidence to know I could coach. Hopefully that will help him, too.”

Wes is Witten’s fifth position coach in 11 seasons; the tight end has eight Pro Bowl appearances in his first 10 years.

“When you’ve got a guy like that it’s, ‘How can I stimulate him?’” Wes said of Witten. “How can I take a guy who’s had so much experience and so much success and give him one little nugget or something that can help him be more successful? … With him it’s got to be very succinct, very direct on what you’re trying to get accomplished, and you'd better know your stuff because he knows it like a coach.”

Earlier this week Wade (@sonofbum) tweeted about how well-coached the Cowboys tight ends looked as he prepared for tonight’s game at AT&T Stadium. He said he feels the pride his father felt when he became a successful coach.

“The only thing I regret with Wes is I didn’t give him a position a lot sooner,” Wade said.

Which position?

“Well, I’d make him offensive coordinator first, but that wasn’t my choice,” Phillips deadpanned, an acknowledgment that Garrett was named coordinator before Phillips was named Cowboys head coach in 2007. “No, I just think he deserved a position because of the kind of coach he was and it would’ve helped his career a lot more. But he’s going to have a fine career. Hopefully he’ll be the third NFL head coach in this family. That will be the only family that’s ever done that.”

If Wes Phillips ever gets that far in this profession, it will have been on merit.

“The way I look at it is one way or the other, everyone gets hired because they know somebody,” Wes said. “They have some sort of connection. And it’s not how you get there. It’s what you do once you get there. I do take pride in just doing my job the best I can. The fact that I’ve been able to stay here going on seven years is really a long time in the NFL. I’ve been fortunate.”

Witten hopes for better outcome in Oakland

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Before Wes Phillips showed last year’s preseason game at Oakland to the rest of the Cowboys’ tight ends in preparation for tonight’s game against the Raiders, he sought out Jason Witten.

“Hey, are you superstitious or any of that stuff?" Phillips asked. "Because we’re going to be watching the film.”

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At first, Witten wasn't sure what Phillips was talking about. Then, it clicked.

“Oh,” he said, “the play.”

Yes, the play in which Witten nearly had his 2012 season end after six preseason snaps. Turning as he made a catch of a Tony Romo throw, Witten was slammed by Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain. He was slow to get up, but it was not one of the biggest hits the eight-time Pro Bowler had taken in his career.

He was sore but actually returned to the game and caught another pass before his night was over.

It wasn’t until the plane ride back to Oxnard, Calif., where he realized he did not just get the wind knocked out of him.

“On the plane, it was, ‘Man, this is more than a shot in the gut. This is something a little bit more,’” Witten said. “It wasn’t til the next day we got back and I had a CT scan and the trainers and doctors said, ‘Hey, we need to get another one. This time we’ve got to get the IV going to light you up.’ They must not have liked what they saw if they’re sending me back in there. That’s when I began to get a little concerned.”

Witten suffered a lacerated spleen, though the benign “slightly” was used as an adjective, which is easy to say when it’s not your spleen. Witten came within whiskers of having his season end. If the spleen needed to be removed, he would not have played in 2012.

“The toughest thing, other than it being an organ and not a sprained ankle, was just the uncertainty of not knowing and nobody being able to tell me, ‘Here’s the date where you can be back,’” Witten said.

While he hoped to play in the season opener against the New York Giants, he was wondering if he would miss the first month of the season. For two weeks he had to lie in his hotel room bed while his teammates practiced.

“You hear the horn go off and practice starts and I can’t even get out of bed,” Witten said. “I think you appreciate being able to play through a tough injury.”

Even Witten might not have truly believed it at the time, but he told coach Jason Garrett not long after hearing the diagnosis that he would play against the Giants in the regular-season opener.

“I just looked at him and said, ‘What are you going to do the next couple of weeks?’” Garrett said. “He said, ‘I have to be motionless in my bed for two weeks.’ I was like, ‘Huh, this will be interesting timing.’ But he’s an amazing guy.”

Witten was cleared by a New York doctor the night before the opener and caught two passes for 10 yards in the Dallas win.

Witten had a slow start to the season with a number of uncharacteristic drops, not because he was hurt, but because he could not practice. He finished the year with 110 catches, an NFL record for a tight end in a season, and was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time.

“Forget all that stuff,” Garrett said. “When you tell the Witten story, I start with (the Giants game) because I think he showed what he’s all about and what he’s been doing for a long time in this league. I think it’s a great example for the rest of our football team and really for the rest of humanity in the whole NFL. That’s how you do it. He’s really a tough guy, an amazing guy and we’re lucky to have him.”

Because of his status on the team and his desire to win, Witten said he felt obligated to get back so quickly.

“It was a long three weeks, I know that,” Witten said, “but I’m a better person and player because of that.”

With the return to Oakland tonight, Witten said he “hopes and prays for a different outcome, that’s for sure.”

And that brings us back to Phillips showing the play on Tuesday.

“He went fast on it,” Witten said. “We watched it, but there wasn’t much rewind to it. He fast-forwarded it pretty quick.”

Cowboys name assistant O-line, TE coaches

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
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IRVING, Texas -- In another sign that offensive coordinator Bill Callahan could call plays for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013, the team announced Frank Pollack as their new assistant offensive line coach.

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Wes Phillips will coach tight ends after serving the last two seasons as assistant offensive line coach.

Pollack was Oakland’s offensive line coach in 2012 and played for Callahan at Northern Arizona. From 2007-11, he was the assistant offensive line coach for Houston, and he had a nine-year career as a player, including two stints with San Francisco (1990-91, 1994-98) and a two-year run in Denver (1992-93).

The addition of Pollack gives the Cowboys a veteran coach with ties to Callahan to oversee offensive line meetings while Callahan is in passing game meetings.

Phillips takes over the tight ends position from John Garrett, who left after six years to be Tampa Bay’s wide receivers coach. Phillips, the son of ex-Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, has been with the team since 2007, moving from offensive quality control coach to assistant line coach to tight ends.

Jason Garrett has called the offensive plays for the Cowboys since 2007, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones has indicated there will be a change and many believe Callahan will take over. Callahan was named offensive coordinator last year, but Garrett continued as the playcaller. Callahan has not called plays in the NFL since 2003 when he was Oakland’s head coach and running the West Coast offense.

So who calls Cowboys' offensive plays?

January, 11, 2013
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The reshuffling of the Cowboys’ coaching staff is far from over this offseason.

New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will be given the right to choose his own assistants. Head coach Jason Garrett might be fighting for the right to continue calling the offensive plays.

With all due respect to the position coaches, deciding who will call offensive plays is by far the most important call Jerry Jones (hopefully with some input from Garrett) will make regarding the coaching staff the rest of the offseason. The Cowboys could go three routes:

1. Let Garrett keep the gig: Garrett made it clear this is his strong preference during his press conference the day after the season ended, stating that he believed the status quo was the best way to go.

Jones indicated otherwise during his radio appearance a couple of days later.

“Jason’s been in charge of the offense for the last six years,” Jones said on KRLD-FM, refusing to directly answer questions about whether Garrett would continue to call plays. “So we’ve got to look at it and say, how do we best use these assets?”

Many at Valley Ranch feel that hasn’t happened during Garrett’s tenure, despite the Cowboys piling up big yardage totals. Dallas has ranked between 14th and 18th in the NFL in scoring offense four of the last five years, creating a sense that a change is needed.

After Jerry said his peace, Garrett said he’d be open to handing over play-calling responsibilities to someone else during a radio interview hours later. Funny how that works.

2. Let Bill Callahan call plays: Callahan already has the offensive coordinator title. The Cowboys might actually give him the responsibilities.

Callahan has a worthy track record as an NFL play-caller. His Oakland offense ranked in the top 10 in yards and points for four straight seasons, peaking in 2002, when the Raiders ranked first in total offense and second in scoring offense en route to the Super Bowl (where they were defeated by Kiffin’s Bucs, coincidentally).

However, Callahan’s success came in the West Coast offense. Would the Cowboys want to use the scheme he knows best? Could he do a good job calling plays in Garrett’s scheme after a year of working in it? How about implementing aspects of Callahan’s West Coast scheme into the Cowboys’ offense?

If Callahan is calling plays, the Cowboys would have to consider hiring another offensive line coach, although assistant offensive line coach Wes Phillips is highly regarded at Valley Ranch.

3. Hire an outsider: It’s been widely reported that Norv Turner, who likely topped Jerry’s wish list, will land in Cleveland. That’s just as well for Garrett, who would have been in the awkward position of being the boss of a man who coached him with the Cowboys and almost returned to Valley Ranch as the head coach in 2007.

There are several other intriguing candidates who are available. Tony Sparano, who was fired after one season as the Jets’ offensive coordinator, worked under Garrett in 2007 when the Cowboys scored the second most points in the NFL and had a 13-3 record. Sparano, who is immensely respected by Tony Romo and Jason Witten, called plays the previous season when the Cowboys ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring.

Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. might be the best available candidate who has never worked for the Cowboys. His contract expired, and Carmichael might be willing to leave New Orleans for a play-calling role with Sean Payton returning to the Saints.

5 Wonders: Roster, coach turnover in 2013?

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
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IRVING, Texas -- With the Cowboys’ season over, this will be the final weekly version of Five Wonders, but we’ll continue an occasional series throughout the offseason.

These Wonders are about the future:

** I wonder how much turnover this roster will see. Of the 16 unrestricted free agents, I don’t know if there is a lock to return. Anthony Spencer is not a lock, though the team wants him back badly. Then there will be salary-cap decisions that could be made on guys like Doug Free, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears, Dan Connor, Lawrence Vickers and possibly even Miles Austin and/or Orlando Scandrick. That’s 23 guys right there. You figure on a lot of turnover every year, but this offseason figures to involve more regular contributors than just down-the-line guys. The Austin case could be interesting. He is scheduled to make $6.7 million in base and count $8.3 against the cap. I’m not advocating getting rid of him by any stretch, but there is frustration over at Valley Ranch. Austin finished with 66 catches for 943 yards and six touchdowns, but he was slowed again by hamstring injuries and was knocked out of both Washington games because of injuries. While it would not be cap prohibitive to cut Austin, the Cowboys do not have a receiver ready to replace him, and it would be hard to find a guy who can play outside and inside the way he does. Like everybody else on the roster, 2013 will be a key year for Austin.

** I wonder how the Cowboys can pay Spencer. As noted before the Cowboys wil,l be in a difficult salary-cap situation and will have to make a lot of decision related to money. I’m not sure they will have enough to keep Spencer before he hits the open market. And I would figure a team will be ready to give him more than what the Cowboys can afford. Spencer is coming off a career-high 11-sack season and he is one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the NFL. I do wonder if he can be a star for a defense, the way DeMarcus Ware is a star, or is more of a supporting actor. San Francisco’s Ahmad Brooks signed a six-year deal worth a max of $44.5 million last year ($37.5 million actual) with $17.5 million guaranteed. The Cowboys paid Spencer $8.8 million this season on the franchise tag. It would be $10.6 million if they tag him again and that’s a lot to budget for in a cap crunch. Signing him to deal with an average of $8 million-plus would be good, but another team flush in space in need of a strong-side outside linebacker who never comes off the field will probably pay more.

** I wonder if there is a chance Felix Jones returns in 2013. Stop laughing and hear me out. Jones is what he is: a backup. The Cowboys will need a backup running back in 2013 and one with the ability to start if needed, especially given the health issues DeMarco Murray has had his first two years. Is it worth it to keep Jones for two more years at low money? I’m not talking anything substantial at all. Jones is not going to get a chance to be a starter anywhere else on the free-agent market. He hasn’t shown he is that guy. But he’s not a bad option as a backup, and, yes, I realize health is an issue for him too. He’s proven to be tough, playing 2011 with a shoulder injury and this season with two bad knees. The Cowboys like Lance Dunbar but, to me, he’s more of a niche back. We can say the Cowboys can draft a runner late and find a guy, but there are so many needs that keeping Jones on a low-money, short-term deal might make more sense. OK, continue laughing.

** I just talked about player turnover. I wonder about coaching turnover. Jason Garrett would not get into whether the coaching staff would return in 2013, calling it premature. It makes you wonder if changes are coming. Is Rob Ryan safe? Garrett admired how Ryan worked through so many injuries in 2012 and kept things competitive, but he stopped short of a vote of confidence. Even after the loss to the Redskins, Ryan made it sound as if he might not be back when asked if he would like to coach this defense at full strength going forward. Let’s move on to special teams coach Joe DeCamillis. Last year, Oakland was denied permission to speak with him about a move to the Raiders, but that special teams’ job has opened again. DeCamillis and Oakland coach Dennis Allen are great friends. There could be a few new head coaches who would like to speak to DeCamillis. The special teams’ units had some poor moments with a blocked punt for a touchdown at Seattle and a kickoff return for a score at Baltimore. The kick return game didn’t provide much of a lift, but Dwayne Harris proved to be a tremendous punt returner and Dan Bailey was Dan Bailey. On offense, John Garrett, Skip Peete, Wade Wilson and Wes Phillips have been around since 2007. Just wonder if there has to be some moves to break up the band, so to speak.

** The last Wonder will focus on the draft. I wonder if the Cowboys will help the offensive and defensive lines come April. They need help. They also need to look at how they evaluate players in those spots, especially on the offensive line where they have missed on just about everybody not named Tyron Smith. Since Garrett has taken over they have done a better job of taking the “right kind of guys,” and have put together a growing young nucleus. They need interior line help on both sides of the ball. If Spencer leaves, then they need an outside linebacker. They will need cornerback help, too, with Mike Jenkins unlikely to return. If you want to add a safety to the list, OK, but to me, that’s not a top-end priority. They can use a tight end to pair with Jason Witten, even though they like James Hanna’s development. They can use wide receivers too. A running back, too. I haven’t mentioned a quarterback of the future yet, and I’m not sure they go that route with so many more pressing needs to fill. Because of the poor drafts in the Wade Phillips’ Era, the Cowboys do not have much depth (think the 2009 draft). Because of the upcoming cap limitations the Cowboys can’t miss on their picks.

Jason Garrett meets with coaches

January, 7, 2012
1/07/12
1:58
PM ET
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett met with some coaches in the last few days to talk about their status with the organization. Several coaches, Dave Campo, Brett Maxie, Skip Peete, Hudson Houck, Wes Phillips and Keith O'Quinn, entered the last year of their contracts.

It isn't known if these coaches were retained by Garrett, but Campo, the secondary coach offered a "no comment" when asked about his status with the team.

The Cowboys tried to replace Campo last season with Ray Horton, who was the secondary coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Horton became the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.

Houck is the highest paid offensive line coach in the NFL, at $1 million a season, and it appears he along with Maxie, the safeties coach will return.

Phillips has a close relationship with Garrett, but he might leave to join his father, Wade Phillips in Houston. The Cowboys seemed to be pleased with Peete, the running backs coach, who worked with rookie DeMarco Murray, who rushed for a team-high 897 yards.

O'Quinn, the offensive quality control/wide receivers coach, who is well-respected, could also return.

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