NFC East: Felix Jones

IRVING, Texas -- Another lively chat Wednesday with more than 100 questions from you guys wanting to know this, that and everything about the Dallas Cowboys.

SportsNation

Who would be the best first-round pick for the Cowboys?

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    49%
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    19%
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Discuss (Total votes: 11,576)

In the chat we talked about:

  • The return of Anthony Spencer.
  • The chances of Johnny Manziel coming to the Cowboys.
  • The chances Kony Ealy comes to the Cowboys.
  • The Morris Claiborne "trade" talks. I put quotes around that on purpose.


  • To read the whole chat, click here.

    Let's talk about the whole 'need vs. best player' debate some more:

    Kyle from Virginia asked: With Will McClay playing a bigger role in this draft, do you see Dallas taking the best player available regardless of position more often this year or just filling their needs? I am hoping they are focusing on the long-term, not just the upcoming season.

    Here is my answer: I'm not being a wise guy here, but the answer is: Yes. We always speak in this perfect world of taking the best player available, but you have to factor in need. The key is to not make the need overwhelm the evaluation process so you're inflating a player's worth. I do believe the Cowboys look at the draft as a multi-year deal not specific to one year, but need will always play a part in the process. It just has to. You can't eliminate it.

    To elaborate, much of the draft operates in a gray area. Ideally everything is crystal clear. I'm sure in the past I've said, 'You always take the best player available.' Heck, I probably said it two weeks ago, but I'd like to add two caveats:

    You always take the best player in the first round. You always take the best player when the best player's grade is much higher than the player you are going to take.

    It's clear the Cowboys need defensive line help, though I think the signings they've had in free agency helps steer them away from reaching for a player at No. 16. If they are unable to get one of their top defensive linemen at No. 16, be it Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald or whomever, then don't reach for the next-best defensive linemen if you don't believe he is better than somebody at another position.

    That's why I've had the Cowboys taking Zack Martin in the mock drafts I've been asked about. The Cowboys look to be in no-man's land at No. 16 when it comes to the top defensive linemen. Too low for Donald and Barr. Too high for Ealy or Easley. If they trade back in the first round, then it becomes a little more palatable to take one of the lower-ranked guys.

    In 2009, the Cowboys should have drafted LeSean McCoy in the second round. They had a first-round grade on McCoy but instead of taking him they traded down to get third- and fourth-round picks from the Buffalo Bills.

    At the time the Cowboys had Marion Barber on a big-time deal and drafted Felix Jones in the first round in 2008. They also liked Tashard Choice. They probably thought they were stacking it up at the position if they took McCoy. So what? You had a chance to get a first-round player with a pick in the 50s. Do it.

    We want everything to be black and white when it comes to the draft, but it's not that easy.
    IRVING, Texas -- There was a time when the way the Dallas Cowboys ran their draft room was the envy of the league.

    One of those years was back in 1991 and Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth ranked the Cowboys selecting Russell Maryland and Alvin Harper that year as ninth best on the all-time list of teams with two first-round picks.

    The Cowboys actually had three first-round picks that year thanks to a deal with the Washington Redskins, but traded Kelvin Pritchett to the Detroit Lions for picks in the second, third and fourth rounds.

    In Maryland, the top overall pick, the Cowboys got a vital piece to their vastly underrated defensive line. In Harper, the No. 12 pick, they got a complement to Michael Irvin who Norv Turner knew how to maximize.

    In trading Pritchett, who had a solid career, the Cowboys got linebacker Dixon Edwards, guard James Richards and defensive end Tony Hill. Edwards was a starter, but Hill lasted two seasons and Richards didn’t make the team.

    The Cowboys had two first-round picks in 1992, 2005 and 2008 as well.

    In 1992, they took cornerback Kevin Smith (No. 17) and linebacker Robert Jones (No. 24), who became starters on Super Bowl teams. In 2005, they took outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (No. 11) and defensive tackle Marcus Spears (No. 20). Ware became the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks. In 2008, the Cowboys selected running back Felix Jones (No. 22) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (No. 25). Neither signed a second contract, although Jenkins had a Pro Bowl season.

    IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips has the second-best winning percentage of any coach in Dallas Cowboys' history. Better than Tom Landry's. I think Phillips might know that.

    On Thursday, Phillips tweeted this:



    And later followed up with this addendum:



    Like most things with Phillips, he lacked context.

    When Phillips took over in 2007 as head coach, he inherited a team from Bill Parcells that was ready to win. QB Tony Romo was going into his first year as a full-time starter. The defense had DE DeMarcus Ware at his best. WR Terrell Owens was putting up big numbers.

    The Cowboys went 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC. Phillips was the perfect antidote to Parcells and the players responded. Well, they did to a point. The Cowboys were not the same after beating the Green Bay Packers to move to 11-1 and effectively clinch home-field advantage.

    They got lucky to beat the Detroit Lions the following week. They lost two of their last three games, but they were in shutdown mode against the Washington Redskins with nothing to gain from a win.

    Other than momentum they had lost.

    The Cowboys lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round at Texas Stadium, and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.

    That's basically when the Romo narrative started. Maybe you heard that Romo went to Cabo during the wild-card weekend. Did it affect the outcome of the Giants' game? Of course not, but the perception machine was rolling, and has been rolling ever since.

    SportsNation

    Which coach would you rather have?

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    Discuss (Total votes: 5,740)

    You can track most of the Cowboys' woes to that lost opportunity. If they simply beat the Giants and make the NFC Championship Game, things would be different. Could they have beaten the Packers for a second time at Texas Stadium? It's the best what-if of the Romo era.

    In 2008, the Cowboys acted as if they were predestined to not only make the playoffs but win the Super Bowl. Go back and watch the "Hard Knocks" episodes, and you see a team full of itself. They finished 9-7, missed the playoffs and were a mess late in the season.

    Phillips could not pull it all together and looked inept as he attempted to deal with the fallout from the Adam "Pacman" Jones' incident. Phillips earned a reprieve in 2009 when Dallas posted an 11-5 record, won the NFC East title, and recorded a playoff win -- but that was the high point.

    The Cowboys went 1-7 to start the 2010 season, including an embarrassing home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a gutless loss to the Packers (45-7) the following week. After that game, Jerry Jones made the switch to Garrett, and the Cowboys are 29-27 since and have not made the playoffs.

    Garrett did not inherit a team ready to win the way Phillips did in 2007. By the time Garrett took over, the Cowboys were growing old on the offensive line, and there were too many people (especially those in offices at Valley Ranch) who believed they had the best talent in the league.

    The head coach of the Cowboys has tremendous sway with Jones. The Cowboys did not take Randy Moss in 1998 at least in part because then-coach Chan Gailey didn't want Moss.

    On that premise, the 2008 draft -- with Dallas' two first-round picks -- was a mess because the Cowboys didn't even attempt to re-sign those first-rounders (Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins) when their contracts expired. The 2009 draft was a colossal failure in part because Jones was convinced that it could be a "special-teams draft," which is as ludicrous as the "draft for backups" the team had when Barry Switzer was the coach in 1995.

    This is not in defense of Garrett. He has made plenty of mistakes on the field and in the draft.

    Phillips has had a tremendous career in the NFL that has spanned decades. He is a terrific coordinator, but is he in the same conversation as guys like Dick LeBeau, or even Monte Kiffin? I'm not sure a Phillips defense scared offenses the way LeBeau's defenses in Pittsburgh and Kiffin's defenses in Tampa Bay did. Phillips was a good head coach but could not get his teams in Denver, Buffalo or Dallas past a certain point.

    Phillips knows his resume inside and out. He can cite team stats and all the Hall of Famers he has coached.

    He can claim his tweet was more about the number of games he and Garrett have coached, but it looked more like a passive-aggressive shot at the guy who replaced him, and a way for him to remind everybody of his record.

    By the way, his winning percentage is .607. Landry had a .605 winning percentage.

    Cowboys hope for another takeaway feast

    November, 20, 2013
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    IRVING, Texas -- Only three teams have more takeaways than the Dallas Cowboys this season. The Seattle Seahawks have 26, the Kansas City Chiefs have 24 and the Carolina Panthers have 23.

    [+] EnlargeBrandon Carr, Eli Manning
    AP Photo/James D. SmithBrandon Carr was responsible for the game-clinching interception in the Cowboys' opener against the Giants, who turned the ball over six times.
    In the midst of a horrible statistical season defensively, the Cowboys have forced 22 turnovers in their first 10 games.

    The Cowboys got it all started the right way in their season opener against the New York Giants with six.

    The Cowboys had three takeaways on the Giants’ first 10 snaps. DeMarcus Ware had an interception of Eli Manning on the first play. Barry Church forced a fumble on the sixth play and Will Allen intercepted Manning on the 10th.

    On the second play of the second half, Church returned a fumble 27 yards for a touchdown. Later the Cowboys scooped up a muffed punt, and in the fourth quarter Brandon Carr iced the win with a 49-yard interception return for a score.

    It was the 24th time the Cowboys forced six or more turnovers in a game in team history and the first time they had as many as six since Dec. 14, 2003, against the Washington Redskins.

    Manning threw 15 interceptions in New York’s first six games -- all losses -- and he has been intercepted just twice since. He has only three touchdown passes in the Giants’ four-game winning streak.

    The Cowboys get to see Manning again Sunday at MetLife Stadium for the rematch. Is it fair to expect a similar turnover game? Probably not.

    "You always feel confident," coach Jason Garrett said. "That’s always a point of emphasis for us, to take the ball away. Just because we did it before that doesn’t give us an advantage of doing it now. You have to go out there and do the things necessary to get the takeaways. Typically it has a lot to do with executing and beating your guy and making plays on the football."

    Some of the Giants look at the season-opening loss to the Cowboys as one they let slip away, despite the six turnovers. The Cowboys felt the same in the first regular-season game at AT&T Stadium in 2009. Tony Romo was intercepted three times and Felix Jones had a fumble, but with 3:46 to play they had a 31-30 lead and the defense could not make a stop.

    Lawrence Tynes kicked a 37-yard field goal on the final play to beat the Cowboys, 33-31.

    Without Murray, Dallas RBs to be tested

    October, 14, 2013
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    IRVING, Texas – DeMarco Murray did not talk with reporters on Monday to address the condition of the sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but a source has indicated that it is unlikely the running back will play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Without Murray, the Cowboys will have to figure out a way to run the ball effectively, which is something they did not do during the 2012 season.

    In the six games without Murray because of a sprained foot, the Cowboys ran for 368 yards on 123 carries, good for three yards a carry (if we round up from 2.99). Felix Jones' high mark during that run was 71 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles, but twice he failed to rush for 20 yards in a game.

    Rookie Joseph Randle would get the first crack at the full-time job for however long Murray misses. Lance Dunbar has a hamstring injury and has yet to run since getting hurt in the Denver game. Phillip Tanner is the only other back on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys are contemplating adding a running back to the practice squad if Dunbar is unable to play against the Eagles.

    Randle had just 17 yards on 11 carries against the Redskins, but Jason Garrett will not condemn the numbers because of how Washington was selling out to stop the run late in the game.

    “You’ve got to be careful about evaluating those rushing attempts and the yards we had and the average we had in the ball game,” Garrett said. “There were circumstances involved in that. Having said all that, we’ve got to be able to run the football better. We have to be able to run the football well when DeMarco Murray is not our runner. That’s last night, but that’s also in recent history. We just have to put the next guy in there. We gave Joseph Randle some chances in the ballgame. He did some positive things. He was strong running the football. But he took care of the ball well. He was in some of those situations at the end of the game where it’s difficult. They have eight and nine and 10 man fronts up there, trying to get the ball back. I thought he handled himself well there. It didn’t seem too big for him. But as much as anything else, running the football has a lot to do with your whole offense -- your ability to knock them off the ball up front, your tight ends blocking, your receivers blocking as well as the runner.”
    The Philadelphia Eagles’ waiver-wire spree didn’t really materialize Sunday. The team was awarded just one player, former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Shaun Prater.

    One possible reason for the relatively light activity: The Jacksonville Jaguars, who are two spots higher than the Eagles on waiver claims, were awarded a stunning seven players. That included two players, DE/LB Chris McCoy and TE Clay Harbor, who were released by the Eagles.

    Prater is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. A fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year, Prater spent his rookie season on injured reserve with patellar tendinitis. He is not expected to be a factor right away. The Eagles will roll with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher (who played with Prater at Iowa) outside and Brandon Boykin in the slot.

    But at least Prater can practice and play. To make room for him, the Eagles released Curtis Marsh, another member of their disastrous 2011 draft class. Marsh had surgery on his broken hand last month and was not available for the last two preseason games.

    A couple of other roster-related notes:
    • The Eagles signed four players to their practice squad, all of whom were released over the weekend: OT Michael Bamiro, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Greg Salas and LB Travis Long. They have four more spots to fill.
    • Didn’t do too poorly on my projected 53-man roster, which was posted Friday morning. I had 48 players right. And where I was incorrect, I might have been right in a couple of spots where the Eagles turn out to be wrong.I had McCoy staying and Casey Matthews going. We’ll see how that one turns out.

      I had Salas and Russell Shepard among six wide receivers. The Eagles kept five, including Jeff Maehl. That’s two Oregon guys who made the team that I didn’t expect.

      I thought they’d keep 10 offensive linemen, including Matt Tennant. They went light there, cutting Tennant, and kept one more tight end than I expected: Emil Igwenagu.

      Finally, they kept two more DBs than I expected. One was Colt Anderson, who will play only on special teams. The other was Marsh, who was released today. So maybe I had 4.5 players wrong.
    • Roseman made two trades involving a running back for a linebacker. He got Emmanuel Acho, who made the team, for Dion Lewis, who is on IR in Cleveland. And he got Adrian Robinson, who was cut Friday, for Felix Jones, who made the Steelers roster.
    • The Eagles were off today and have some conditioning work scheduled for Monday. They’ll be off again Tuesday. The practice week for Monday night’s game at Washington begins in earnest on Wednesday.
    On name recognition, a trade involving running back Felix Jones probably seems like a significant deal. Jones, 26, was the Dallas Cowboys' first-round pick in 2008 and showed some promise during his five years with the team.

    He has been a non-factor since signing with the Eagles this offseason, however. General manager Howie Roseman traded Jones to Pittsburgh this morning for linebacker Adrian Robinson.

    It looks like a trade that, at best, won't hurt either club.

    The Eagles need depth at outside linebacker, where Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are trying to make the transition from defensive end. Connor Barwin, the free agent acquisition from Houston, is the only outside linebacker on the roster with significant experience playing the position in a 3-4 alignment.

    Robinson is just that, depth. The Harrisburg native, who played at Temple University, is 6-foot-1, 250 pounds. He was undrafted in 2012 and made the Steelers' roster. Robinson played in 12 games without recording a tackle, forced fumble or interception.

    What he does bring is a feel for the Steelers' 3-4 system as operated by Dick LeBeau. That is the model for what new Eagles coordinator Bill Davis is working toward. So Robinson could make the 53-man as a backup and a special teams player. Remember, the Eagles lost linebacker Jason Phillips, who was expected to contribute on coverage teams.

    With rookie running back Le'Veon Bell injured, the Steelers needed depth at that position. Jones, 26, carried the ball 12 times for 45 yards in two preseason games. With LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk in camp, there was little room for Jones. Rookie Matthew Tucker has looked better so far in camp.

    Observation deck: Eagles-Panthers

    August, 15, 2013
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    PHILADELPHIA -- Round 2 of Chip Kelly’s quarterback derby, a 14-9 Eagles victory over the visiting Carolina Panthers Thursday night, is in the books. Here are some observations from Kelly’s first NFL win:
    • Michael Vick and Nick Foles each played a quarter, with Foles getting the start this week. Each led the Eagles to one touchdown and had one promising drive end with a turnover in Carolina territory. Vick completed 9 of 10 passes for 105 yards while Foles was 6-for-8 for 53. Foles again seemed more comfortable in the uptempo offense, working shorter routes, while Vick took deeper shots. Each ran the ball twice, Foles for a 7-yard TD scramble.
    • Vick did run a no-huddle offense after taking over at his own 26 with 2:53 left in the first half. Vick completed all four attempts, including a perfect 22-yard throw to Riley Cooper. He ran the ball twice, once a 14-yard scramble and once a designed 6-yard run.
    • All interceptions are not created equal. Vick threw one on the last play of the first half, but it came on a desperate heave after he sprinted left a step ahead of the Panthers’ pressure. Foles’ pick was a result of a physical mistake -- fumbling a shotgun snap -- and a mental one -- failing to throw the ball high enough through the end zone. Turnovers were a huge problem for both QBs last year and will weigh heavily in Kelly’s evaluations.
    • Kelly has said he doesn’t have to choose a starting QB until he’s preparing for the Sept. 9 season opener at Washington. Traditionally, the starting QB plays half of the third preseason game and only a series in the final tune-up, so there could be some clues when the Eagles play in Jacksonville Saturday night. Then again, the word “traditionally” is anathema to Kelly.
    • Running back LeSean McCoy, who missed the preseason opener with a sore knee, was dazzling on a 21-yard run in the first quarter. McCoy sprinted around left end, then made a physics-busting cut to his right that left several defenders clutching air. McCoy had 8 carries for 47 yards and caught three passes for 16 yards. He has said he expects to be a major weapon in Kelly’s offense and there was no reason to doubt him here.
    • Chris Polk, competing with Bryce Brown for the backup tailback spot, hurt himself with a fumble that killed a second-quarter drive. Polk finished with 24 yards on five carries. Fumbles were a problem last season for Brown, who missed this game with a bruised quad. Meanwhile, former Cowboys running back Felix Jones left the game with a rib injury and looks like an even longer shot to make the team.
    • It is no surprise the Eagles defense looked better than it did in Friday’s loss to New England. It couldn’t have looked much worse. There were several breakdowns in coverage, with receivers running free, but the run defense was tighter and the front seven was able to generate some pressure on Cam Newton. Bottom line: The Eagles held Newton to two first-half field goals.
    • Mychal Kendricks showed a lot of promise early last season, before being engulfed in the general malaise that defined the 4-12 Eagles. So it was going to be interesting to see how the second-year linebacker was used in Bill Davis’ hybrid system. Now an inside ‘backer, Kendricks disrupted several plays. He flushed Newton once, forcing an incompletion, dropped DeAngelo Williams for a 1-yard loss and got to Newton just as he threw after one disguised blitz. In a defense desperate for playmakers, that was very encouraging.
    • So was the play of defensive end Vinny Curry, who continues to find his way into the opponent’s backfield. Cedric Thornton, who started at left defensive end, blew up a Carolina running play, dropping Williams for a 5-yard loss. Davis is looking for players who fit his modified 3-4 front, and plays like that help.
    • The Eagles would be thrilled not to have to expose DeSean Jackson to the risks that come with returning punts. That gives Damaris Johnson an enormous opportunity to seize a roster spot. Johnson, who at 5-8, 175 pounds is even smaller than Jackson, helped himself with an 18-yard punt return and a 30-yard kickoff return. On the latter, Johnson used good judgment in bringing the ball out of the end zone. He also had a bad drop of a Matt Barkley pass in the third quarter.
    • With the intrigue at QB and the overhaul of the defense, scant attention has been paid to Dave Fipp’s special teams. The return and coverage units have been solid, for the most part. Brandon Boykin, who dropped an easy interception in the first half, had a 41-yard kickoff return. On the down side, Alex Henery was wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
    • The Eagles lost a fourth player to an ACL tear during this training camp. Phillip Hunt, a backup outside linebacker/defensive end, went down during practice this week. The Eagles announced the injury before Friday’s game. Hunt joins Jeremy Maclin, Arrelious Benn and Jason Phillips. The spate of season-ending injuries comes despite Kelly’s effort to avoid injuries by minimizing contact in practice.
    Morning. Hey, did you see Vince Young signed with the Packers? Good for him. I'll always remember with fondness and gratitude the contribution he made to the NFC East blog during his brief but remarkably newsy time in our division. May all of his and his team's dreams come true.

    On to the links.

    New York Giants

    Hakeem Nicks said he plans to practice today, after missing last week's practices with a groin injury, and that he's well aware of how much he has riding on a healthy 2013 season.

    What can something as simple as an autograph from a professional athlete mean to a fan? Giants punter Steve Weatherford found out, if he didn't know already.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    The plan is for top draft pick Lane Johnson to play right tackle in Philadelphia this year but left tackle in the long run or in a pinch, which is why he's working at both spots during this training camp.

    The signing of Felix Jones could have been the end for reserve running back Chris Polk's time with the Eagles, but Polk has responded with a strong camp as he works to hold off Jones and defend his spot.

    Washington Redskins

    Two key veterans -- DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Meriweather -- returned to Redskins practice from their injuries. It appears the Redskins dodged a bullet with Hall, whose sprained ankle seemed more worrisome at the time than it turned out to be.

    With Robert Griffin III still working his way back from knee surgery, it's going to be Kirk Cousins under center for the Redskins in their preseason games. His teammates are comfortable with that.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Todd Archer examines the ways in which Sunday's preseason opener was different for Jason Garrett with Bill Callahan calling the offensive plays.

    Jared Green, the son of Redskins great Darrell Green, is a long shot to make the Cowboys' roster as a wide receiver, but he and his dad are working on it.
    PHILADELPHIA -- The talk on the radio this morning was of Terrell Owens, which is downright preposterous and actually makes you wonder if there's any real hope for sports discourse. More realistic free-agent options (i.e., guys who have played at least one game in the league in the past three seasons) include Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson and Austin Collie. But as the Philadelphia Eagles confront 2013 life without receiver Jeremy Maclin, who tore his right ACL in practice Saturday, it doesn't sound as though you should expect them to make any moves like that.

    "We have a lot of faith in our skill position group as a whole. That's kind of how we look at it," Eagles GM Howie Roseman said before Sunday's practice. "We're not only looking at the wide receiver group. We look at the running backs. We look at the tight ends. Those are the guys that we have high hopes and expectations for."

    [+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDon't expect the Eagles to rush out and sign a free agent to replace injured receiver Jeremy Maclin.
    This is obviously the kind of thing a GM says after a major injury like this one, and obviously it's possible it's not true and that Lloyd and Collie will be in for workouts by the end of the day. But I think Roseman's answer here speaks to the big-picture look the Eagles are taking of their roster and of Chip Kelly's first season as their coach. The idea of replacing Maclin by adjusting the responsibilities of the remaining personnel, regardless of position, is much more in line with what Kelly seems to be about than rushing out to find an established replacement would be.

    "When we met with Chip originally, he's much more personnel-driven than even I thought just from observing him at Oregon," Roseman said. "So it's going to be based on the guys who are producing at a high level. If that's the tight end position, they'll get more reps. If it's the receiver position, if it's the running back group ... I think that's yet to be determined since we're so early in camp."

    We've been talking about this since before the Eagles hired Kelly. The best coaches are the ones who accurately assess their personnel and its capabilities, and design their schemes around those. It's not as though Kelly had some ironclad plan to run a certain specific offense and needs a piece to play the Maclin part in it. Losing Maclin makes the wide receiver group worse, unquestionably, but the depth the Eagles have at tight end (Brent Celek, James Casey, Zach Ertz) and running back (LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Felix Jones, Chris Polk) offers Kelly options in the likely event that Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson and Riley Cooper aren't enough to replace Maclin's production. Kelly could be sitting in a film room two weeks from now deciding that the backs look so good that the September plan will be to throw it to them as much as possible.

    I wrote Saturday that the Eagles won't be able to effectively replace Maclin, and I stand by it. But they're still going to have to play the games and do what they can to score as many points as possible. It appears as though their plan for handling this situation is the same one they've had all along -- to evaluate what they actually do have and be creative with it. Kelly surely isn't scared of that. On the contrary, it appears to be something he relishes.

    Camp Confidential: Dallas Cowboys

    July, 25, 2013
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    OXNARD, Calif. -- The feeling Tony Romo had early in his career when he was just trying to make the Dallas Cowboys' roster is the same one he feels today as he chases a Super Bowl.

    “For me, I tell this to some buddies and high school kids a lot of the time, it’s all relative to the way you look at it,” Romo said. “They’ll be like, ‘Wow, you play in the NFL or whatever.’ The same feeling I get going out on a Sunday is the same feeling a high school kid gets going out on a Friday night. They’re excited. They’re energetic. They’ve put in a lot of time and effort. It means a lot to them. It means everything to them. To me, that aspect of it doesn’t change, no matter where you’re at. Sometimes your surroundings change a little bit. Sometimes the just desperate feeling of trying to make the team; that doesn’t change now. It’s just a different goal. Now it’s not trying to make the team. Now it’s trying to win a championship. Now it’s trying to get better so we can take the next step. Now it’s just that feeling that you have. But it’s still that desperate kind of act of wanting to take that next step. There’s just another step always. It’s going to be the same thing even after we get that job done.”

    Despite missing the playoffs the past three seasons and losing Week 17 de facto NFC East title games in each of the past two seasons to the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, the Cowboys rewarded Romo with a six-year contract extension this offseason worth $108 million, including $55 million guaranteed.

    They also guaranteed Romo more say in the offense.

    At 33, Romo is the oldest Cowboy and is entering his seventh full season as the starting quarterback. He has seen all that a quarterback can see from opposing defenses and in the offseason was able to communicate his ideas to coach Jason Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and the rest of the staff.

    Once the season starts, Romo will spend time with the coaches during the week going over the game plan.

    “I think anytime the more you are involved, I think there is no question the more comfortable you are with anything,” Romo said. “I think that just goes with the territory. You gain a lot over the years with experience. You understand a lot offensively. You start to understand what has made us successful. You understand what can make our lives easier, what can make my job easier, and you just go hammer things out."

    Last year when Romo asked for a certain play or two in the game plan, it might not get called for a few games. That won’t be the case this year with Romo putting in that “Peyton Manning time” owner and general manager Jerry Jones alluded to in the offseason.

    [+] EnlargeTony Romo
    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Tony Romo will have a greater responsibility this season as he will have an active role in the Cowboys' offensive game planning.
    “What I want to do as a head coach, what our coaching staff wants to do, is just create more of a forum for him to be able to do that, keep those lines of communication open,” Garrett said. “His job is to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. It’s not an easy job. That’s his job. We feel like his involvement will help him do that job better and help our football team even more.”

    Perhaps even get the Cowboys back to the playoffs.

    THREE HOT ISSUES

    1. Dez Bryant's dominance. No player has caught the eye more in training camp than Bryant, who is entering his fourth season. Over the second half of last season he was one of the best receivers in the NFL with 50 catches for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Since arriving in 2010, Bryant has always been able to make the highlight catch, but he became more reliable in his route-running and decision-making, which helped in his jump in productivity. He even made plays while hurt, displaying toughness by playing the last three games with a broken index finger that required postseason surgery. He has had no problems with the injured finger in camp.

    As good as Bryant was, he has his sights on becoming the NFL’s best receiver.

    “This is what I truly believe: I always feel like there’s always room to get better,” Bryant said. “I think just by going in, getting everything I already know, cleaning it up, sharpening it up the best way I possibly can and just learning more and more the coaches give me, I feel like I’ll be taking a step each and every day.”

    2. Monte Kiffin puts stamp on defense. Kiffin is 73 years old, but he doesn’t act that way. On the first day of training camp, he implored the crowd to get loud to excite his defense. When he has been displeased, he has thrown his hat to the ground. When he’s not happy with himself, he has given himself a slap in the head.

    “He’s a fired-up guy,” linebacker Bruce Carter said. “You never know what you’re going to get with Coach Kiff. He brings a lot of excitement to the defensive meeting room. Guys are really adapting to him well.”

    A lot of eyebrows were raised when the Cowboys hired Kiffin after his so-so run at USC. Kiffin believes having more time with the players than he had in college will help ease the adjustment from the 3-4 to the 4-3.

    The key hire might have been defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. He worked with Kiffin in Tampa Bay and led a turnover-driven defense in Chicago for four years. Kiffin’s knowledge, combined with Marinelli’s expertise, give the Cowboys an edge they did not have the past few years on that side of the ball.

    3. Jason Garrett, walk-around coach. Offensive coordinator/assistant head coach Bill Callahan will call plays, freeing up Garrett to handle game situations and the entire team.

    When Garrett took the job on a full-time basis in 2011, Jimmy Johnson advised him to work as a “walk-around” head coach, but he held on to the play-calling duties. Whether they were taken away from him or he gave them up is up for debate, but the Cowboys’ hope is Garrett’s coaching ability will be enhanced.

    While Jones has backed the coach and talked of a future beyond the final two years of Garrett’s current contract, this is a win-now season for Garrett. He has gone 8-8 in each of his first two full seasons and lost both season finales with playoff spots on the line. Jones’ patience would be put to the test with a fourth straight non-playoff season.

    Garrett has been around the NFL a long time as a player and coach and understands the life.

    Without having to overlook every nook and cranny of the offense, Garrett has been all over the practice fields in Oxnard, Calif.

    “I have always felt that he found a way to see everything,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “He doesn’t miss much; he never has in the past and he won’t in the future. He’s a guy who’s on top of every detail and knows what’s going on. That’s what makes him a great coach, and that’s why we all respond to him.”

    REASON FOR OPTIMISM

    The Cowboys lost five major components of their defense to injuries last year and had DeMarcus Ware playing with one healthy arm, which led to the dismissal of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Lee, Carter, Barry Church, Orlando Scandrick and Ware are healthy now, which will help a defense that has to get better at creating turnovers.

    The Cowboys do not seem overly concerned about the long-term effects of early training camp injuries to defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (hamstring) and defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee).

    Using frames of references from the defenses Kiffin and Marinelli have run, the Cowboys appear to have the right pieces for the 4-3. The Cowboys view Lee and Carter the way Chicago viewed Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. They look at Ware and Ratliff the way Tampa Bay used to view Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp.

    A healthy defense should make Kiffin’s first year a success.

    REASON FOR PESSIMISM

    On a team that has not made the playoffs the past three seasons, the Cowboys’ key pieces still look largely the same: Romo, Jason Witten, Ware, Ratliff and Miles Austin.

    [+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys are counting on veterans, including a healthy DeMarcus Ware, to lead Monte Kiffin's defense this season.
    Because of salary-cap constraints and the desire to re-sign Romo, the Cowboys were not able to be major players in free agency. Their biggest pickups were linebacker Justin Durant and safety Will Allen. In the draft, they traded down from the 18th pick to No. 31 to take center Travis Frederick, whom many rated as a third- or even fourth-round pick.

    The Cowboys are banking on core players who have won one playoff game and missed the playoffs more than they have made it.

    OBSERVATION DECK

    • If there was any worry about Ware’s recovery from offseason shoulder surgery and the move from outside linebacker to defensive end, they were calmed very early. Ware had a three-sack practice on the second day of camp and has given left tackle Tyron Smith fits.
    • While Ware is healthy, his counterpart on the other side is not. Spencer will miss two to four weeks of camp because of knee surgery. Spencer had a breakout year in 2012 with 11 sacks and was added to the Pro Bowl. He missed time in the offseason as well but does not believe it will affect his knowledge of the defense with the move to defensive end.
    • The offensive line was a question last year, and it is a question again this year. Guards Mackenzy Bernadeau (hamstring) and Nate Livings (foot) have not been able to practice. Ronald Leary, who is expected to compete for a starting job, has not practiced because of a calf injury. For a unit in need of continuity, the beginning of camp has not gone well.
    • The loss of defensive end Tyrone Crawford for the season because of a torn Achilles is a big one. The Cowboys wanted the second-year player to be a big part of their rotation at end and tackle this year and possibly be a starter in 2014. Without Crawford, the Cowboys will have to scramble for help, but so far they have not shown any interest in the more veteran names available.
    • The Cowboys will go without a fullback on the 53-man roster when the season opens, relying more on two-tight end formations. In Witten, the Cowboys have one of the best tight ends in the game. They have rookie Gavin Escobar, drafted in the second round, and James Hanna, last year’s sixth-rounder, as the top backups. Escobar has benefited from extra work early in camp and could become a decent intermediate target for Romo.
    • If there is an unknown player to watch as the regular season approaches, it is second-year running back Lance Dunbar. He made the Cowboys last year as an undrafted free agent and saw his role increase a little as the year went on. With Felix Jones now in Philadelphia, Dunbar is the leader to be the true third-down back. Several of the veterans have noticed his speed and quickness and believe he could have a solid season as a pass-catcher.
    • Right tackle Doug Free saw his pay cut in half in the offseason, down to $3.5 million, but he is off to a better start to training camp. Free struggled last year and ended up splitting time late in the season with Jermey Parnell. That has not been the case this summer, and not just because Parnell has been slowed by a hamstring strain. Free has been more firm in the run game and as a pass protector.
    • With so many games decided by a field goal in the NFL, teams need a top-flight kicker. The Cowboys have one in Dan Bailey. He has had eight winning or tying kicks in the last two minutes in his first two seasons.

    Fantasy Week: DeMarco Murray

    July, 10, 2013
    7/10/13
    3:43
    PM ET

    Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is up in Bristol today, appearing on a variety of TV and radio shows. He's going to be on NFL Live at 4 pm ET. They call it the "car wash" up there -- they bring you in and run you through every show they've got. It's good stuff, and if you're a Cowboys fan or a Murray fan, I hope you're enjoying it.

    Here on the NFC East blog, it's Fantasy Week, so my first thought was to check and see where Murray ranked among fantasy running backs in our preseason rankings. The answer: No. 21. Low-end No. 2 running back in a 12-team league. In a weak year for top-level running backs. And what this tells us is that Murray is no longer considered, by our fantasy football experts, to be a top-level running back. He was a late first-round/early second-round pick a year ago. This year, he's looking at middle of the third round.

    Why? Well, as you know, Murray's had a bit of a tough time doing two very important things that a fantasy running back must do: Staying healthy and scoring touchdowns. The Cowboys have played 27 games since Murray became their starting running back in late October of 2011. Murray has missed nine of those 27 games because of leg injuries. He's also scored a grand total of six touchdowns, never more than one in the same game. So the 83.1 yards per game he's averaged as a starter is a decent enough figure, but it's not enough to get him any further up this list until we see some sustained proof that things can get better.

    Can they? The Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle this year, and he's a threat to take over if Murray gets hurt, just as Murray was a threat to Felix Jones in 2011. Murray has incentive to stay healthy, for sure. And the Cowboys are changing some things about the way they design and implement their offense this year, with quarterback Tony Romo being more involved during the week and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan taking over play-calling duties on game day. There's also the chance of improved interior offensive line play with the help of first-round pick Travis Frederick, which would help Murray run better and possibly avoid injury.

    But in the end, the biggest questions aren't about the Cowboys, but about Murray himself. He seems like a back who enjoys contact, and backs like that, while super-tough, tend not to last very long in the NFL. Murray was one of the guys on the film they showed us at the league meetings in the spring when they introduced the new rule about running backs leading with the crowns of their helmets in the open field. He's an angry, aggressive runner who puts himself in position to get hurt. It's hard to imagine that changing, regardless of what changes on the Cowboys' offense around him.

    My fantasy advice? I think Murray in the third round has a chance to be a nice value pick, especially if you're thin at running back because you got shut out of the top guys and decided to go with a quarterback and/or receiver early. Murray is only 25 and clearly quite talented, and if he does stay healthy he's a fine No. 2 fantasy back at the very least. But if you get him, make sure you get Randle, too. And if Murray starts out with one or two really big games, look to trade him while he's healthy. Because he could produce for you, but it's tough to imagine a high-profile fantasy back right now who comes with more risk.
    As Fantasy Week rolls along, we pause to mine the Internet for non-fantasy football news related to the four NFC East teams. It ain't easy, it's just links.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    First-round draft pick Lane Johnson hasn't signed yet, and training camp starts in less than two weeks. It's not super alarming, as Johnson is hardly unique among first-rounders and the issue is the only one there can be these days with these contracts -- offset language. It likely ends up getting resolved in time, but until it does there exists the possibility that Johnson misses some camp time. Which would be unfortunate, if he's to be the starting right tackle as expected.

    The running back position figures to be very important in the Eagles' offense this year, so here's a look at some of the issues related to that position, including Felix Jones' chances of making the team and the disappearance of the fullback.

    Washington Redskins

    John Keim looks at the Redskins' defensive line, examining (among other things) the importance of Adam Carriker and the extent to which the return of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo should help Stephen Bowen.

    Robert Griffin III's popularity continues to grow -- and not always in ways that could be counted as reasonable.

    Dallas Cowboys

    Bryan Broaddus is in a prediction sort of mood, and his latest is that Anthony Spencer will lead the Cowboys in sacks this year.

    The folks still suing over the Super Bowl seating fiasco can't do so with class-action status, according to a judge's ruling. But the plaintiffs' attorney says the affected parties will continue to sue.

    New York Giants

    Fullback Vonta Leach still hasn't signed anywhere, which means the Giants still have hope of bringing him in. Again, if you want to take their continued interest in Leach as a sign that Henry Hynoski is hurt worse than they've let on, you have my permission.

    Ralph Vacchiano expects the Hakeem Nicks negotiations to be more complicated than the Victor Cruz negotiations were.
    NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

    How does each NFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

    Dallas Cowboys

    After a season in which they ranked third in the league in passing yards and 31st in rushing yards, the Cowboys seek greater balance in their offense. Any balance, actually. The starting running back remains DeMarco Murray, whose toughness and physical style give the Cowboys an extra dimension when he's on the field. Murray's problem is staying on the field, as he's had to miss nine games over his first two NFL seasons due to injury. The team let Felix Jones leave as a free agent and drafted Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle in the fifth round. It's no coincidence that Randle is a back who didn't miss a single game in his college career. The Cowboys needed someone durable and reliable to back up Murray, who's already struggling with hamstring problems this offseason, and neither Lance Dunbar nor Phillip Tanner showed enough in limited work last year to prove he was the backup they needed. What the Cowboys need at running back is to get and keep Murray as healthy as possible and to get Randle up to speed so he's ready to step in when he's inevitably needed as the fill-in starter.

    New York Giants

    The Giants let starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw depart via free agency, a difficult choice necessitated by salary and health concerns. That likely leaves the running game in the hands of 2012 first-round draft pick David Wilson, who opened eyes as a big-play threat and a kick returner in his rookie season, and Andre Brown, who functioned as a reliable goal-line back before an injury ended his season. Either should be able to handle full-time starter duties, and it's likely the team will split carries somewhat between them anyway. What the Giants need to do is establish whether Wilson and/or Brown can handle the pass-blocking duties at which Bradshaw excelled for so long. If one of them demonstrates superior performance in blitz pickup, that's likely to give him the edge for playing time over the other. With fullback Henry Hynoski out now with a knee injury, and with excellent run-blocking tight end Martellus Bennett now a Chicago Bear, the Giants remain on the lookout for reliable blocking backs. The recent injury to Tim Hightower shows that, and it remains to be seen whether Ryan Torain, Da'Rel Scott or seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox can be part of the solution.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Every prediction about Chip Kelly's offense claims certainty that the Eagles will use the run game and the screen game more this year than they did in the past. LeSean McCoy remains the starter, and one of the best running backs in the league when healthy. Bryce Brown showed when McCoy got injured last year that he could handle starter's responsibilities brilliantly, but his fumble problems obviously must be overcome if he's to be trusted with significant carries. The Eagles signed Cowboys castoff Felix Jones for depth, and they still have Chris Polk, so the candidates for carries are plentiful this offseason. What remains for the Eagles is to establish the manner in which they'll distribute those carries (and catches) among their backs in an offense that will try to run as many plays as possible every game.

    Washington Redskins

    Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris came from the back of the depth chart last offseason to overtake Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster to claim the starting running back job, and he quite literally ran with it. A perfect fit in Mike Shanahan's one-cut zone-blocking run schemes, Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards as a rookie and delivered a 200-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece in the regular-season finale/division-title game against the Cowboys. Shanahan does love to play the volume game at running back, and he still has Helu and Royster as well as late-round 2013 draft picks Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison. What remains for the Redskins is to figure out the pecking order behind Morris and work to find ways to use the talent they have at running back to ease some of the physical pressure on quarterback Robert Griffin III. It's also important to note that Washington was able to re-sign fullback Darrel Young, a key figure in a run game that led the league with 169.3 yards per game in 2012.

    The Dallas Cowboys selected running back Felix Jones with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. The next two picks that day were running backs as well -- Rashard Mendenhall to the Steelers and Chris Johnson to the Titans. That year's second-round running backs were Matt Forte and Ray Rice. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to build draft boards.

    Anyway, after five years as one of the worst kinds of NFL running backs -- the injury-prone backup -- Jones was cut loose by the Cowboys this offseason and has, as Adam Schefter reports, agreed to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Because the Eagles already have LeSean McCoy as their No. 1 running back and Bryce Brown -- who ran like a No. 1 last year when McCoy got hurt -- as a No. 2, you likely have questions about why they want Jones. I'm sure they'll explain it when asked, but here's my first stab at it:

    New Eagles coach Chip Kelly wants to run the ball a heck of a lot, and it's entirely possible he'll find ways to get more than two running backs semi-regular carries. Eagles fans aren't used to this, but a lot of things are going to be different this year and this is one of them. Jones also offers some level of versatility, provided he can stay healthy. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He has big-play ability. And should things go wrong with McCoy and/or Brown, Jones has some experience (though you can question its quality) as a between-the-tackles starting running back as well.

    So yeah, I figure Jones has a chance to make the Eagles as a No. 3 back and get some amount of work in games if he does. And remember that this is a new coaching staff that might have a different opinion of Brown than the old one did. Brown showed a lot of good things late last year, but he also showed a penchant for fumbling that likely leaves his spot on the depth chart somewhat less secure. There was a time when someone thought Jones was a first-round talent -- well ahead of backs who actually turned out to be. Surely, he's worth a May 14 flier for a team that's looking to run as many offensive plays as possible in 2013.

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