NFC East: David Arkin

IRVING, Texas -- With the draft finally within site, unless there is some sort of rain delay, it’s time for Five Wonders to return.

We’ll keep them focused on the draft.

** I wonder if the Cowboys are in never-never land with the 16th pick when it comes to first-round defensive linemen. That’s what an 8-8 finish will do for you. You’re stuck right in the middle and have to do too much to move up significantly and won’t get enough (some of the time) to move down big either. After Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, there is a drop-off on right defensive ends. Anthony Barr is a project and somebody I believe the Cowboys would pick at No. 16. Will he be there at No. 16? The rest of the options available, like a Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton, Kareem Martin or Demarcus Lawrence look more like second-round picks. That’s why I think if the Cowboys move up it’s only a couple of spots for a specific player. The more likely option is to move back where they’d have better choices at the right value. Now if only some team would be willing to move up.

** I wonder what the reaction of people who live in the best-player-available world would be if the Cowboys took North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round. If Ebron is there at No. 16 and is the best player, then the Cowboys must take him, right? If you live in the best-player-available world in which there is no gray area, then Ebron is your guy. Hooray. But after taking Gavin Escobar in the second round last year and seeing Jason Witten make another Pro Bowl in 2013, do the Cowboys need a first-round tight end? You might hate the word “need” but I don’t. Need has become the four-letter word in draft circles. If they take Ebron, they are saying the Escobar pick was a mistake and Witten is on his final legs. Ebron is a terrific talent, but the Cowboys can’t pick him. I do think, however, the Cowboys would take a tight end (more of a blocker than receiver) later on in the draft.

** I wonder how much scheme versatility will factor into the Cowboys’ decision making Thursday-Saturday. The elephant in the room is that Jason Garrett must win now. He is in the final year of his contract. If he doesn’t win, then Jerry Jones doesn’t have to fire him. He just needs to pick a new coach. But let’s say Jerry falls in love with a coach who has a 3-4 background or an offensive coach who wants to bring in a 3-4 coordinator. Can the Cowboys make the switch again? They felt they had the tools to move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 somewhat seamlessly and we saw how that worked in 2013. If the Cowboys picked Aaron Donald in the first round, then would he fit in a 3-4 scheme next year? He doesn’t look like a 3-4 player. It is a fatalistic view to have going into a draft, but the Cowboys could find some defensive prospects that offer versatility in a 3-4 or 4-3, like Barr, Ealy, Lawrence and possibly Ryan Shazier.

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Which position should the Cowboys address first in the draft?

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    42%
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Discuss (Total votes: 11,844)

**I wonder if third round is the area in which the Cowboys target an offensive lineman. Of the linemen not named Zack Martin who visited Valley Ranch before the draft, almost all of them are in that Rounds 3-4 neighborhood like Gabe Jackson, Trai Turner, Jack Mewhort and Billy Turner. To be clear, in just about every mock I’ve been asked to participate in, I have the Cowboys taking Martin at No. 16. If they go offense there, I think they need (there’s that word again) to go defense with the second- and third-round picks, provided the grades match up. I’m breaking all ties in the defense’s favor. I’ll add this note: The last middle-round (Rounds 3-5) offensive lineman to pan out for the Cowboys was Doug Free (fourth round) back in 2007. And it took him well into his third season to get on the field. Since then the Cowboys have missed on Robert Brewster (third, 2009) and David Arkin (fourth, 2011). I’ll give them partial credit for Sam Young (sixth, 2010) since he’s still in the league. Their best middle-round offensive lineman in the last 10 years has been Stephen Peterman (third, 2004) and his playing time came with the Detroit Lions after he was cut.

**I wonder if the extra time in the draft has led teams to overanalyze things. The New Orleans Saints attempted to bust up the boredom by spending some time in Las Vegas. Some other teams took a week’s break earlier in the process. The Cowboys altered their schedule some but not that much. Too often we hear teams talk about the importance of watching the players play and not putting as much stock into the combine or pro days. And every year there are guys that come out of nowhere, like Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, and small-school gems, like Pierre Desir. Maybe they will be great finds. Who knows really? The extra time served up plenty of interest, which the NFL craves, and allowed for more mock drafts than ever before, but did it really serve the teams well? We’ll find out in a couple of years.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' defensive line shuffle continued on Monday when the team agreed to a deal with Everette Brown.

Brown, a former second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2009, worked out for the Cowboys on Monday, as did defensive end Adrian Tracy.

It is the third straight week the Cowboys have signed a free-agent defensive linemen. Jarius Wynn was signed on Oct. 15 and Marvin Austin was signed on Oct. 21.

Brown has not played in a regular-season game since 2011 when he was with the San Diego Chargers. He spent time with the Detroit Lions (2012) and Philadelphia Eagles (2013). He had six sacks for the Panthers in 2009-10.

Before the deal can become official, the Cowboys have to release a player from the 53-man roster.

The Cowboys re-signed guard David Arkin to the practice squad after he was released over the weekend to make room for safety Jakar Hamilton. Arkin, a fourth-round pick in 2011, did not take an offensive snap in parts of three seasons.

“There's probably nobody on our football team who works harder and is more committed than David Arkin,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s the right kind of guy and he's working at it and he's getting better. I think he has improved over the last couple of years and that's why we're happy to get him back and put him back on the practice roster and continue that development.”

Cowboys LB Justin Durant active

October, 13, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Dallas Cowboys strongside linebacker Justin Durant is active for Sunday night's game against the Washington Redskins after missing last week’s game with a groin injury.

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Durant did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and was limited on Friday, which could mean Ernie Sims takes the bulk of the snaps. Bruce Carter will return to his first-team base and nickel defense role after splitting reps in the sub package last week.

The Cowboys have seven linebackers active with Cameron Lawrence getting called up from the practice squad on Friday.

Running back Lance Dunbar, cornerback Chris Greenwood, defensive end Edgar Jones, guard David Arkin, center Phil Costa, tackle Darrion Weems and tight end Andre Smith are inactive.

With Costa out, linebacker Kyle Bosworth will serve as the short-yardage and goal-line fullback if the Cowboys go that route.

Ernie Sims to replace Justin Durant

October, 6, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Ernie Sims-Bruce Carter debate that went on during the course of the week meant little with strongside linebacker Justin Durant out of Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos because of a groin injury.

Sims will replace Durant and Carter will be the weakside linebacker.

But Sims figures to play more with the Cowboys expected to rely on their nickel defense against the three-wide-receiver-heavy offense of the Broncos. He replaced Carter in the nickel in the second half of last week’s loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Miles Austin is also inactive, missing his second straight game. Terrance Williams will replace Austin.

Defensive end Edgar Jones is inactive with a groin injury and will be replaced by Caesar Rayford. For the second straight game the Cowboys have all four running backs -- DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle -- active.

Center Phil Costa is active after he did not dress last week with the Cowboys choosing to go with an extra offensive lineman over a fifth cornerback in Chris Greenwood.

Five Wonders: Easing Spencer back in

September, 10, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- If it’s Tuesday it’s time to wonder about some Dallas Cowboys-related topics.

In this week’s installment of Five Wonders, we wonder about the cornerback play after Sunday’s game, Phil Costa’s gameday future, and Anthony Spencer's involvement on defense.

And away we go:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezDallas might opt to use Anthony Spencer in a rotation as he recovers from offseason surgery.
1. I wonder when Anthony Spencer will be, you know, Anthony Spencer. He was encouraged by some of the running he did late last week, but the defensive end has not done much since July 25 knee surgery. Can the Cowboys realistically expect him to come in and play 60 snaps a game with limited practice time? To me, that’s asking too much. I wonder if they will work him in slowly in passing downs and allow George Selvie to take the run downs, setting up a three-man rotation at defensive end along with DeMarcus Ware. That would be the smart thing to do, especially if Selvie plays as well as he did against the Giants. I was skeptical of Selvie after his two-sack performance against Miami in the Hall of Fame Game, but I might have been wrr ….. wrr … wrong about him.

2. Worry is a word Jason Garrett abhors, but I wonder if at least some people worry about the cornerback play Sunday. The Giants had three receivers go for more than 100 yards, and Eli Manning had 450 yards passing. It was just too easy for Manning to throw slant after slant after slant to Hakeem Nicks or Rueben Randle or Victor Cruz regardless if Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne or Orlando Scandrick were in coverage. The Cowboys kept linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter hugged to the A gap at the snap, and the cornerbacks gave free releases mostly at the line to allow easy completions. With some good, accurate passers coming (Peyton Manning and Denver in a month), the Cowboys will have to tighten that down or live with not just a bending defense, but an entirely too flexible defense that gives up too many big plays.

3. With Brian Waters getting more acclimated to the Cowboy Way, I wonder what happens to Phil Costa. Somewhat surprisingly, the Cowboys dressed eight offensive linemen on the 46-man roster Sunday, with David Arkin joining Costa and Jermey Parnell as the backups. The Cowboys normally like to keep seven linemen active to increase their flexibility in other spots. If they revert to that old form, then Costa would appear to be the odd man out (as well as Arkin) because Mackenzy Bernadeau can play center. The Cowboys would be covered in case of injury at any of the three interior spots, making Costa a little superfluous. But before you start wondering about a trade involving Costa to, say, Pittsburgh, who lost Maurkice Pouncey for the year, I would offer some hesitation that a strength today might be a weakness in the future. Costa is a low-cost insurance policy in case something was to happen to Bernadeau, Travis Frederick or any interior linemen.

4. The Cowboys ran 74 plays against the Giants. They ran that many in a game just four times last season and went 1-3, losing to Baltimore (79), the Giants (83) and Washington (75), and beating Cleveland (78). Much has been made about Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia and how many plays he wants to run per week. I wonder if the Cowboys have a similar philosophy, but just haven’t told anybody. The more plays you run, the more the other team is off the field. The Cowboys had the added benefit of four takeaways by the defense that allowed them to run more snaps and hold the ball for 37:10. The Cowboys had only two games last season in which they held the ball for a longer amount of time (Baltimore, Cleveland).

5. I wonder if the Cowboys will get that conditional seventh-round pick from Chicago in next year’s draft. In order for it to happen, tight end Dante Rosario will have to be on the Bears’ 46-man gameday roster for eight games this season. Rosario was inactive in the Bears’ win against Cincinnati, but the Bears released Kyle Adams on Monday, which would seem to clear a spot for Rosario. A wonder inside the wonder when talking trade: I wonder if the Cowboys will have to fork over their seventh rounder in 2015 to Indianapolis for Caesar Rayford. For that to happen, Rayford will have to be on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster for five weeks. Rayford was inactive against the Giants and will need time, but pass-rushers are hard to find. If I’m a betting man (and I’m not, unless it’s for entertainment purposes only), then I think there is a better chance the Colts pick up that extra selection rather than the Cowboys getting that pick from the Bears.
IRVING, Texas -- Guard Brian Waters said he's not a savior for the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, but to team executive vice president Stephen Jones, Waters' signing this week solves several questions.

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

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

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

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

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

"Obviously, I have a lot of experience," said Waters, who enters his 13th NFL season. "I have game-time experience, so I feel if those guys need me in any way, form or fashion, I think I can offer insight on some different ways to do things and different players that I’ve played against. Obviously, this center is young and smart. He’s not going to need much help from me. I’m probably going to need more help from him than he’s going to need from me."
IRVING, Texas -- When Jerry Jones brought up the possibility of playing Doug Free some at guard in February at the NFL scouting combine, it sure sounded like a strange idea.

Free does not have the build of a guard. He relies more on athleticism than power, which is more difficult on the interior.

With the Cowboys closing in on the regular season and Ronald Leary and Nate Livings injured and David Arkin improved, if not ready to be a full-timer, Free has taken snaps this week at right guard with Jermey Parnell at right tackle and Mackenzy Bernadeau moved to left guard.

It is a version of “play the five best guys” I did not envision when training camp started. I thought the best five would have included Phil Costa at center and rookie Travis Frederick at guard. Costa has only been OK and Frederick has been stout as a center but only OK at guard.

Free had a solid training camp and has done a nice job in the three preseason games. Parnell is only now getting into the mix of practice after missing a lot of time with a hamstring injury. Saturday’s game against Cincinnati will be his first of the preseason.

The Cowboys are simply looking at options going forward with Brian Waters apparently unwilling to play at the Cowboys’ price.

The Cowboys hope Leary will return for the opener, but they can't depend on him being ready. And it must be pointed out that he has never played in a regular season game. Livings, who started every game last year, could be on the roster bubble despite a guaranteed $1.7 million base salary. He has not practiced since the early part of training camp and does not appear to be close to practicing just yet.

With the Cowboys moving more to a zone-blocking scheme in the run game, the focus is not so much on moving defenders out of the way, but shielding them and allowing the runners to find lanes. For years it worked in Denver without the strongest of linemen.

Perhaps it could work with Free. Finding out before they play the New York Giants on Sept. 8 makes sense.
IRVING, Texas -- The good news for left guard Ronald Leary is that the minor surgery he had last week was on his right knee, not the chronic left knee that had many NFL teams concerned to the point that he went undrafted.

The bad news is that the Cowboys' second-year offensive lineman most likely will miss the rest of the preseason, and his status for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against the New York Giants is in doubt. However, Leary said his recovery time is expected to be two weeks and he hopes to be ready in time for the game.

"You want to get out there and get these reps, but I'll be alright, I'll be back," Leary said. "Every time you have an MRI, it sees everything, you worry about that."

The Cowboys have lost their first-team (Nate Livings) and second-team (Leary) left guards to knee surgeries this summer. David Arkin started in their place in Dallas' third preseason game at Arizona on Saturday, and he is expected to start the fourth preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Livings is still recovering from his injury and might not return until just before the regular season starts.

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With Livings out, Leary was getting valuable snaps with the first-team offense and was earning praise from the offensive coaches. But now his development is slowed because of the knee injury.

"I'm not where I want to be, and I just want to build on it," Leary said of his progress. "It's not a setback (being hurt). I'll be back."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray might have played only three series Saturday at Arizona, but that wasn’t the case for the first-team offensive line.

Tyron Smith, David Arkin, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free played a series into the third quarter. Arkin played even longer.

“We’ve just been limited,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We anticipated them playing certainly the whole first half when Tony and Kyle [Orton] were in there. We were going to give them one more series because we don’t have that many guys. It was good to give them a chance to play next to each other.”

Jermey Parnell went through pregame warmups but did not dress for the game after practicing for just a few days last week in Oxnard, Calif. Ronald Leary (knee), Nate Livings (knee), Ryan Cook (back), Ray Dominguez (shoulder) and Kevin Kowalski (knee) did not dress for the game.

The entire starting offense should play into the third quarter Thursday against Cincinnati at AT&T Stadium.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dreadful. Just dreadful. The Dallas Cowboys (1-2) completed the West Coast portion of training camp with a 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals (2-0) on Saturday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Cowboys' first-team offense was able to move the ball but failed to score, in large part because of turnovers that gave the Cardinals prime field position.

Here are some thoughts on the Cowboys' loss:

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The Cowboys committed six turnovers against Arizona. Kyle Orton threw two interceptions, both on bad throws. Lance Dunbar and Dez Bryant fumbled after long receptions, and for the second consecutive week, the Cowboys' special-teams unit muffed a punt. This time, it was Dwayne Harris losing a fumble. Alex Tanney also threw a late pick. But Arizona managed only 12 points (four field goals on five tries).

First-team offense shut out: Tony Romo completed 7 of 10 passes for 142 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions during three drives. Romo looked in tune once again with Bryant, who caught four passes for 74 yards. But the Cowboys' two best plays led to turnovers. Romo connected with Dunbar on a catch-and-run, but the running back fumbled while being tackled after a 43-yard gain. The play would have given the Cowboys the ball at the Arizona 7. Bryant fumbled on the next possession after making a catch in the middle of the field. He was stripped by cornerback Jerraud Powers while being pulled down, giving the Cardinals the ball at their own 24.

Arkin starts at left guard: With Ronald Leary out while recovering from right knee surgery, David Arkin got the start and played a little more than three quarters. Arkin did a nice job as a run- and pass-blocker. There did, however, seem to be confusion on a pass play when Arizona's defensive linemen used a stunt against Arkin that resulted in a sack.

Tanney leads scoring drive: After not scoring for three quarters, Tanney connected with Gavin Escobar on a 5-yard touchdown pass with 10:55 to play in the fourth quarter to bring the Cowboys to within 9-7. The score ended a 16-play, 89-yard drive that lasted just under 10 minutes. Tanney had two chances to give his team the lead in the final five minutes, but one drive ended with a punt and the other on an interception. Tanney finished 14-of-19 for 136 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Surprise decisions: Jermey Parnell, who returned to practice late last week from a strained hamstring, was a healthy scratch. Demetress Bell was the right tackle with the second team in the second half. Darrion Weems was the left tackle. The Cowboys might have played Bell just to get a good look at him against another opponent. He was signed after camp started but failed the conditioning test. Coach Jason Garrett said Bell needed to get in shape. Phillip Tanner, who was getting snaps behind starter DeMarco Murray and Dunbar at running back, didn't get any snaps Saturday. Instead, rookie Joseph Randle was the running back with the third team. Tanney took all the snaps after Romo and Orton were done for the day. The Cowboys didn't give Nick Stephens any snaps in the second half. It's doubtful if the Cowboys go with three quarterbacks, but Tanney played better than Orton.

What's next? The Cowboys finally come home after a month on the West Coast. They will be off Sunday and resume practices at 8 a.m. Monday in Irving.
PHOENIX -- The Cowboys play their third preseason game Saturday at Arizona against the Cardinals.

Here are five players to keep an eye on:

David Arkin: He's going to start at left guard with Ronald Leary possibly out for the rest of the preseason as he recoversfrom knee surgery. Arkin battled Kevin Kowalski for playing time at the right guard spot when Mackenzy Bernadeau went down with an injury. Arkin is going to get a chance to show the coaches he can be a productive player, which is important because the Cowboys like to run off the left side where Tyron Smith resides.

George Selvie: After a productive first preseason game (where he picked up two sacks and six tackles), Selvie was inserted into a starting role at defensive end in the second game but slowed down with just two tackles. Selvie will start again against the Cardinals, and a solid game should help his chances of remaining with the club.

B.W. Webb: Webb wants to forget about what happened in the second preseason game at Oakland, where he muffed a punt, missed a tackle and had a few mental errors. In practices after the Raiders game, Webb handled punts with no issues and is doing a better job in pass coverage with the second and third teams. Webb should make the roster, but it's unclear if the Cowboys would try to release him so they could try to get him through waivers and place him on the practice squad.

Terrance Williams: The third-round pick from Baylor missed the first two preseason games while recovering from a concussion. He makes his debut here as the No. 3 receiver. He's looked good in practices and is developing a strong command of the playbook. He is turning into a pretty good threat in the deep passing game.

Gavin Escobar: It has been a tough two weeks for the rookie tight end. Escobar is still behind James Hanna on the depth chart and continues to struggle as a blocker. He's a good receiver, but the Cowboys need their tight ends to block if they're going to increase the number of attempts in the run game.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Ronald Leary will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday, continuing a summer long issue for the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line.

Leary was penciled in as the starting left guard, but he will now likely need two to four weeks to recover from the procedure, according to a source.

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Meanwhile, Nate Livings is at least two weeks away from returning to the field after undergoing surgery on his right knee earlier in training camp.

The Cowboys had an agreement with Brandon Moore on a one-year deal last week, but the veteran elected to retire instead. The Cowboys have an offer on the table for six-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters, who has not played since 2011 with New England.

Leary missed the first week of training camp because of a calf injury, but he started and played in most of the Cowboys' first two preseason games. He spent most of last year on the practice squad after the Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent and guaranteed him more than $200,000.

With Leary and Livings out, David Arkin will start at left guard in Saturday's preseason game at the Arizona Cardinals.

Dallas Cowboys cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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Click here for the complete list of Dallas Cowboys roster moves.

Most significant move: When the Cowboys drafted wide receiver Danny Coale in the fifth round, some thought he might get himself into the No. 3 wide receiver mix. The fact that he could not says a lot about the wide receivers the Cowboys already had and that they kept at the cut deadline. Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley all performed admirably in training camp and in preseason games while competing for reps and jobs, and because of that, not only was Coale expendable, but the Cowboys feel a lot better about their wide receiver depth going into the season than they might have felt a few months ago.

Onward and upward: Adrian Hamilton, the undrafted pass-rusher who had the big numbers last year at Prairie View A&M, looked like a potentially helpful guy, and his ability to get to the quarterback is likely to make him interesting to some other team. The main reason he didn't make the Cowboys' roster was probably his inability to help on special teams. But he looked like a playmaker when on the field, and I wouldn't be surprised if he drew some interest. ... It's a surprise to some that third quarterback Stephen McGee was kept, but he could be the first one to go if the Cowboys add an offensive lineman off someone else's cut list.

What's next: Other than potentially adding to their offensive line depth or looking for upgrades there, there's not much for the Cowboys to do at this point. And the acquisition of Ryan Cook from Miami in exchange for a seventh-round pick early Friday addressed the offensive line depth by adding a versatile backup who can play center, which David Arkin can't yet do. I think they might take a look at a veteran center such as Dan Koppen, who was cut by the Patriots and probably would be an upgrade over starter Phil Costa. But they like Costa and believe he can improve, and they don't appear to be ready to give up on him at this point. Which is fine. I think the Cowboys are focused more on the long term anyway.


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the preseason with a 30-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday night. Unlike last season, when wide receiver Raymond Radway was injured in the closing seconds of the preseason at Miami, there were no such major health issues coming from this game. This was the last chance for several players to make an impact on the coaches and scouts, and join the 53-man roster.

What it means: The Cowboys finish the preseason 3-1 and have to make some hard decisions regarding the No. 3 quarterback spot, whether to keep a fourth running back or which running back to keep, whether Orie Lemon and Mario Butler make the team, and whether Danny Coale and Matt Johnson should earn paychecks in September.

McGee vs. Carpenter: There is this battle for the No. 3 quarterback position. Stephen McGee played the first half, led one touchdown drive and converted 13 first downs. He completed nine of 18 passes for 124 yards. The Cowboys led 20-6 at the break. Rudy Carpenter also led the Cowboys on a touchdown drive -- capped by a 58-yard run by Lance Dunbar -- and finished 4-of-10 for 48 yards. In addition, Carpenter had a 21-yard scramble. But it would appear neither quarterback did enough to secure a spot on the roster.

Only one starter plays: Between both units, only center Phil Costa played. Costa missed the first three preseason games with a strained lower back, and the Cowboys wanted to give him some snaps before putting him in a regular-season game. Costa didn't have any bad snaps, and it's unknown whether he had any blown assignments. David Arkin replaced Costa.

The running game is strong: There are no questions regarding the status of DeMarco Murray as the starter. Felix Jones has been guaranteed a roster spot by owner/general manager Jerry Jones. We thought the No. 3 running back gig was going to Phillip Tanner, but Dunbar came on strong Wednesday night. Dunbar ran with a burst, scoring on a 58-yard run. Let's not forget about Tanner, who burst up the middle for a 1-yard score. Dunbar rushed 15 times for 105 yards, and Tanner rushed for 48 yards on nine carries.

Lemon made his case: If linebacker Lemon was a bubble player, he should make the roster. He returned an interception 26 yards to give the Cowboys a 10-6 lead in the second quarter. Lemon was active on defense and, given what he does on special teams, should make the 53-man roster. Adrian Hamilton also was fighting for a roster spot, but he hasn't shown his pass-rush abilities on a consistent basis with the Cowboys.

Cowboys lose three players: Guard Derrick Dockery left the game for personal reasons, and fellow guard Daniel Loper suffered a hamstring injury. Cornerback Lionel Smith departed the game with a concussion. None of the three returned.

Who played well: Tyrone Crawford, Orie Lemon, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar and Dan Bailey.

Who didn't: Teddy Williams, David Arkin, Stephen McGee.

Bailey is perfect: Kicker Dan Bailey finished the preseason 8-for-8 on field goal attempts. Bailey made kicks of 25, 30 and 26 yards Wednesday night. The Cowboys didn't have any concerns about him heading into the preseason, but unlike last season when the team had a kicking competition, nothing was going on here. It was all Bailey. The longest kick of the preseason by Bailey was 49 yards.

Ryan Tannehill makes the start: The eighth pick of the NFL draft, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made the start for the Dolphins. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 35 yards. The former Aggie played with a presence and threw some strong passes, but he still has a ways to go to help the Dolphins.

What's next? The Cowboys must cut their roster to 53 players by Friday night and then finalize their practice squad roster with as many as eight players. The team will practice over the weekend at Valley Ranch and prepare for the regular season opener at the New York Giants.

Observation deck: Rams-Cowboys

August, 26, 2012
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I don't know. Maybe the preseason is finally getting to me. Maybe I was brainwashed by the beautiful California weather at their training camp. Maybe they just looked really good against a lousy St. Louis Rams team in their 20-19 preseason victory Saturday night. Maybe it's all of the above, but as crazy as this looks to me even as I type it, I kind of like this Dallas Cowboys' defense.

The cornerbacks are covering their men. Brandon Carr was a star of last week's game, and rookie Morris Claiborne made plays on second and fourth downs on a goal-line stand Saturday. Safeties Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh are both playing well, patrolling their zones and making their tackles. The linebackers (of which injured DeMarcus Ware was not one on this night) have been active and aggressive, led by Sean Lee on the inside. Jason Hatcher was back on the defensive line and disrupting things in the backfield. Coordinator Rob Ryan was showing off more options, scheme-wise, for the pass rush, and the improved coverage on the back end has been helping with with that. The only points the Rams scored in the first half were on field goals of 52 and 55 yards.

Now, the postgame news of Jay Ratliff's ankle sprain certainly puts a damper on things for the Cowboys going forward, as it sounds like the season opener is in doubt for him. And yeah, I know those guys on the back end were covering Donnie Avery and Danny Amendola and that it's going to be 100 times tougher 10 days from now when it's Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz instead. I get it. I write all the time that we can't draw long-range conclusions from preseason games, and I'm not doing that. But it's completely fair to like the way the Cowboys' defense has performed on the practice field and in these preseason games. And if they're building confidence based on those performances, that's the kind of thing that could conceivably carry into the regular season. So, good for them. Neither matters in the long run, but playing well in preseason is better than playing poorly in the preseason.

Here's what else I saw Saturday night:

Tony Romo was excellent, dodging the rush, extending plays and completing 9 of 13 passes for 198 yards, including touchdowns of 61 and 38 yards to Dwayne Harris. Romo's starting receivers in this game were Harris and Kevin Ogletree, and his starting tight end was John Phillips. Romo is ready to start the season.

So is Harris, by the way. Ogletree went into the game the favorite to be the No. 3 wide receiver, and he might still be, but Harris more than made his case. Yes, the touchdowns were partly the result of poor tackling by the Rams in the secondary, but Harris made the catches and the plays, he looks good in the return game and he made a key block on a DeMarco Murray run one play before his 61-yard touchdown catch. He's certainly made the team, I'd have to think, and he could continue to play himself into more time. Ogletree led the team in targets with six, and he caught five passes for 75 yards, so you can't exactly consider him out of the picture. He had a bad third-down drop, but he caught a ball up the right sideline that you couldn't help but thing looked like the one Miles Austin didn't catch in the first Giants game last year. You know the one I mean. I know you do.

Murray also looked very good against the team that let him rush for 253 yards in his starting debut last year. Murray had 26 yards on five carries and 16 yards on two catches before leaving the game with a hand injury that he said afterward is not serious. Next you'll see him is Sept. 5 in the Meadowlands, I'd imagine. The Cowboys plan to run a lot of their offense through Murray this year.

I'm sorry, but the offensive line still looks awful to me, and I commend Romo and Murray for succeeding in spite of its performance. David Arkin can actually snap the ball to the quarterback now, but he still doesn't look strong enough to hold up at center. The guards looked like they were getting pushed back into the pocket all night. Doug Free is a mess, and even Tyron Smith got beaten on the outside by Robert Quinn on a play early in the game. If the best thing you can say about the offensive line is that it'll be better when Phil Costa gets healthy, you've got a problem. At offensive line, I believe the Cowboys have a significant problem.

The Ratliff injury is a big deal if it lingers deep into the regular season. The Cowboys expect to know more about its severity Sunday. My guess is Josh Brent would fill in at nose tackle, but it could also be Sean Lissemore. Lissemore is also in the mix at defensive end.

I'd take Bruce Carter over Dan Connor as the starting inside linebacker next to Lee. Connor may look better going forward, and maybe they can use him in certain pressure packages. But Carter looks faster and better in coverage, and I think that's going to matter more at that spot.

Felix Jones made a nice blitz-pickup block on Harris' second touchdown, but he whiffed badly on one later that resulted in a Kyle Orton sack. Phillip Tanner also missed in blitz pickup with Orton behind him. Orton has to be wondering what he did to make the backs not like him.

Rookie tight end James Hanna continues to look good as a receiver, and Adrian Hamilton continues to make plays on defense. Remains to be seen what roles the team will have for them this year.

Special-teams ace Danny McCray left with a neck injury, but he told reporters after the game that he should be fine.

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