NFC East: Nick Hayden

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

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

QUARTERBACKS (2)

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

RUNNING BACKS (4)


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

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


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

TIGHT ENDS (3)


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

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

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

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

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

LINEBACKER (7)

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

CORNERBACK (5)


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

SAFETY (5)

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

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

If you want to read Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys entered 2014 knowing they had to drastically improve their defensive line.

A better defensive line means a better Cowboys defense.

Garrett
Garrett
"This defensive scheme has been at its best when they’ve had good defensive lines," coach Jason Garrett said. "Last year we felt the effects of the injuries we had. We were decimated up there, and it affected how we played defense all the way back through the linebackers and the secondary, and felt like we had to address it and get it right.”

The Cowboys played 20 different defensive linemen in 2013. Some of them practiced for the first time on a Wednesday and played on a Sunday. The defense never received a down from Tyrone Crawford and Jeremiah "Jay" Ratliff. They received 34 snaps from Anthony Spencer. DeMarcus Ware missed the first three games of his career and had just six sacks. Jason Hatcher, who led the Cowboys with 11 sacks, missed one game.

Ware was cut and has signed with the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys made no real effort to keep Hatcher, who joined the Washington Redskins.

After the draft and college free agency, the Cowboys have 17 defensive linemen on the roster, and they might cut that number down soon. Last year, they did not draft a defensive lineman or add one as an undrafted free agent. Call this a market correction, if you want.

They signed Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Henry Melton in free agency. They re-signed Spencer to a one-year deal. They gave up their third-round pick to draft Demarcus Lawrence in the second round. In the seventh round, they added Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop.

“The obvious is the obvious,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We were trying to emphasize defense in terms of numbers. We think that one of the ways to mitigate some of the big challenge that we have in our defensive front is numbers. Actual numbers on the field.”

Melton
The Cowboys love what George Selvie, a training camp pickup last summer, did in 2013 (seven sacks). They think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps. They love what Nick Hayden did as a starter in 2013, but they think he’ll be better if he plays fewer snaps.

While the Cowboys have thrown numbers at the D-line, they have not thrown cost. Melton carries the biggest cap number at $1.734 million.

But are the Cowboys better on the line? Spencer and Melton are not guaranteed to be ready for the start of training camp; both are recovering from knee injuries. McClain and Mincey have been complementary players. Selvie has to prove he is more than a one-year wonder. Crawford is coming off a torn Achilles. Lawrence will be making a big adjustment to the NFL.

A year ago at this time, on paper, Jones believed the Cowboys were stocked to make the switch to the 4-3. Then the season happened and the Cowboys were “a team that just flat was bankrupt in the defensive line last year,” Jones said. "We’re much better than what we played with."

Now, at least the Cowboys have given defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli options.

“We certainly know that is Rod’s goal, having those players biting at each other’s heels, fighting and competing," Jones said. "Our plan is to get numbers on the field.”
Will McClayAP Photo/James D SmithAssistant director of player personnel Will McClay, 47, will be an asset to the Cowboys in May's draft.
IRVING, Texas -- There is a Herm Edwards story that keeps coming back to Will McClay, especially now.

The story is from more than 10 years ago, when Edwards was coach of the New York Jets. As a boy, Edwards' father made him sweep the back patio of their house. When Edwards was done, his father went out back, saw the pile his son made and immediately went to the corners. They were untouched.

The message that stuck with McClay when he first heard the story was simple: Details matter.

In his current job as the Dallas Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, McClay is sweeping the corners.

In this case, sweeping the corners is looking anywhere and everywhere for a player to help the Cowboys in next month's draft. This is McClay's first as the Cowboys' highest-ranked personnel chief not named Jones.

"He's there night and day," said McClay's former Arena Football League assistant and confidante Terry Gray. "He's got a relentless passion to provide Mr. [Jerry] Jones and Stephen [Jones] the very best product available within the means and the parameters of what he's able to work with. He's nonstop. Nonstop. He doesn't sleep a whole lot."

There will be time to sleep after the draft. Maybe McClay, 47, can sneak in a little bit in June after the minicamp ends but before training camp in Oxnard, Calif., begins in late July.

For now, sleep can wait. McClay, whom the Cowboys declined to make available for this story, is in charge of putting the Cowboys' draft room together. It is a painstaking process that takes months to go through but picks up its pace in the final few weeks before the Cowboys pick No. 16 overall in the first round on May 8.

This week, nearly 30 players from across the country will visit Valley Ranch, wrapping up on Wednesday. On Thursday, the club will host its Dallas Day workouts for the local draft prospects. When it is all over, McClay and the scouting department will be back in the office grinding away, sweeping the corners.

McClay's rise to this current position has taken him through the Arena Football League as a player and coach, the defunct XFL and the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was the assistant director of pro scouting. He joined the Cowboys organization in 2002 as defensive coordinator of the AFL's Dallas Desperados and became the head coach in 2004. He also served as a pro scout for the Cowboys, and in 2012 he was named the director of football research. Last spring he was promoted to his current title.

"Everything equates in looking at talent," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us. I commend him on the job he did finding guys like [George] Selvie and [Nick] Hayden, people like that. People that everybody had a shot at, but he brought them in."

Over the past few years, the Cowboys have found several prizes in street free agency in Laurent Robinson, Tony Fiammetta, Eric Frampton, Ernie Sims and Selvie, who had seven sacks last season. The Cowboys dressed 20 different defensive linemen in 2013.

McClay spent most of the season sweeping the corners for defensive linemen. And he was doing it long before he ever heard Edwards' tale. He did it at Houston Marian Christian, playing wide receiver as a freshman and quarterback as a senior to win Class 3A state titles in the Texas Christian Interscholastic League in 1981 and ‘84.

His high school coach, Mike Treybig, remembers walking into his office only to see McClay feeding the 16-millimeter film into the projector.

"

He found some really unique guys in the arena league and then of course when he was back in scouting. He has had a passion for it, and it just seems like every step of the way he's done a good job for us.

" -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones on assistant director of player personnel William McClay
"William liked watching tape," Treybig said. "I would imagine he would've loved it if we let him call his own plays. I know there were times we allowed him to do that. He was definitely a student of the game. We didn't have to worry about a lot of stuff when it came to William. We knew he did his homework and would take care of things to give us the best chance to win on that Friday."

McClay could have gone to Nebraska, but he chose Rice instead to stay close to home and played defensive back. He was recruited there by Mike Nolan, the current defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Tyrone Willingham, the former head coach at Notre Dame and Stanford, was the receivers coach at the time.

He remembers questions from McClay about what receivers looked for, searching for ways to get better as a defender even if the wins did not come as much as the Owls would have liked. Willingham and McClay remain close to this day.

"I'm personally excited for the individual, but I'm more excited for the organization because they did not let talent, for one reason or another, slip through the cracks," Willingham said. "That, to me, is so important because when you have talent you want to let it rise to the top to better everyone else in the organization."

Clint Dolezel played two years at East Texas State, throwing for 3,152 yards and 22 touchdown passes. McClay was defensive coordinator with a hand in personnel for the Milwaukee Mustangs in 1995 when Dolezel was recommended and eventually signed.

By the time Dolezel retired in 2008 with the Desperados with McClay as his head coach, he threw for 44,563 yards and 931 touchdowns.

"So many scouts get caught up in the fact, ‘Well, we want him because he went to this big school,'" said Dolezel, now the head coach of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul. "And a lot of times they're right, but those are the no-brainers that no one is pointing a finger at if he doesn't pan out. Hey, he had the pedigree because he went to Texas or Oklahoma or Florida State or Alabama. The good ones find the ones at East Texas State and schools like that."

In his interview with the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin had McClay research a particular free-agent cornerback the team was high on and wanted to sign. McClay watched the tape and concluded that the player would not be worth the money or fit in the system. Coughlin briefly objected, but McClay held firm. He got the job, and the Jaguars did not sign the player.

"There is not a magic formula," Gray said. "It's just good, old-fashioned bust-your-ass hard work and lots and lots of tape. Lots of calls. Lots of research. Just looking at thousands of players until you find one you think fits for you. He's just got a very unique way knowing a football player when he sees one. That's commonly described by a lot of people, but he just knows it at a different level. It's more than just everybody saying, ‘He can't play.' It's Will finding guys that can play that no one considered.

"Will McClay is a machine. He's a film-watching, evaluating, researching machine. He just never stops and he will never stop."

There always will be corners to sweep.

The next big thing: Cowboys

January, 23, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Since the Dallas Cowboys' season ended with their NFC East championship game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, they have had plenty of time to figure out what to do next.

So far they have stood pat with the coaching staff, but they can't do that when it comes to players.

The biggest in-house personnel decision the Cowboys will make this offseason will be DeMarcus Ware’s future. He is set to count $16.003 million against the salary cap. That’s too much for just about any player, let alone a defensive end coming off a six-sack season in which he played 55 percent of the snaps. The Cowboys have to determine how they lower that cap figure with either a restructure, pay cut or re-work with incentives.

The Cowboys can’t be big players in free agency, which means Jason Hatcher will likely play elsewhere in 2014. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find cheap upgrades to help on either side of the ball.

When it comes to the draft, the Cowboys have to find defensive players ready to contribute immediately. They need help at every level of the defense, but especially along the line where George Selvie and Nick Hayden could be the only returning starters depending on the futures of Ware and Hatcher.

Cowboys Hidden Gems: Nick Hayden

January, 9, 2014
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As a whole the Cowboys' 2013 season was a disappointment, but they did manage to have some hidden gems. In this series, NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer looks at under-the-radar success stories.

IRVING, Texas -- There was little notice when defensive tackle Nick Hayden signed with the Dallas Cowboys on Feb. 11, 2013.

He did not play in 2012 after he was waived/injured by the Cincinnati Bengals. He did not even have a workout with another team during the season.

Hayden ended the 2013 season with the most tackles by a Cowboys defensive lineman with 51. He had more tackles than Jason Hatcher, who missed one game with a neck injury. He had more than DeMarcus Ware, who missed three games with a quadriceps strain.

He did not have a sack, but he came off the field in passing situations. He finished with two tackles for loss, 16 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and his only fumble recovery resulted in a touchdown in the 27-23 win against the Minnesota Vikings.

An afterthought in May, Hayden quickly showed the Cowboys he could be reliable. With injuries hitting the defensive line, Hayden kept performing. He was not always perfect or pretty, but he started 16 games.

With a base salary of $630,000 he was a bargain.

Ultimately, he played too many snaps. Only Brandon Carr (1,116), Orlando Scandrick (1,088), Barry Church (1,015) and Bruce Carter (874) played more than Hayden's 821 snaps. With fewer snaps in 2014, Hayden figures to be more productive as he wore down by playing more than he ever had in his career.

Before 2013, he never played a full season, never started more than 10 games in a season and never had more than 31 tackles.

He will make $730,000 in 2014, which is another bargain.


Hidden Gems

George Selvie
Tyler Clutts
Mackenzy Bernadeau

Dallas Cowboys season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 17
Preseason power ranking: 20

Biggest surprise: The Dallas Cowboys did not believe they could have a worse defense than the one they fielded in 2012. They were wrong.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lost his job after the Cowboys finished the year ranked 19th in defense and allowed 400 points. The Cowboys not only switched defensive coordinators, they switched philosophies, bringing in Monte Kiffin to run a 4-3 scheme.

It never worked.

The Cowboys allowed 6,645 yards, 432 points and failed to deliver most of the time. They were hit by injuries, just as Ryan’s defense was, and poor play from big-name players such as DeMarcus Ware, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. Sean Lee was having a Pro Bowl-type season but hamstring and neck injuries forced him to miss most of the final seven games. Only Jason Hatcher, Orlando Scandrick and Barry Church had representative seasons.

Biggest disappointment: It’s hard not to go with Ware, who had a career-low six sacks. For the first time he did not play in every game in a season, missing three games with a quadriceps strain. He also played with injuries to both elbows, a back strain and stinger. But the pick will be Miles Austin. Like Ware, he suffered through injury. He missed five games with a hamstring injury and was held without a catch in two games as he attempted to play through the strain. He finished the season with 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns. It was the fewest catches he had since 2008 when he was a bit player and first time since 2007 he did not score a touchdown. The Cowboys hoped for a late-season boost when he returned but it never came.

Biggest need: The easy answer is to say upgrade the entire defense. They need help at linebacker and safety. The defensive line needs an overhaul. We talked about Ware’s status, but Hatcher, who had a career-high 11 sacks, and Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, are set to be unrestricted free agents. The Cowboys used 19 defensive linemen during the year and found solid contributions from players such as George Selvie and Nick Hayden, but optimally they play in reserve roles. The hits on the line started in April when the Cowboys passed on Sharrif Floyd, their fifth-ranked player, at No. 18 and traded down and continued when Tyrone Crawford tore his Achilles on the first day of camp. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in the offseason the defensive line was a strength. There is no way he can say that now.

Team MVP: By process of elimination it cannot be a defensive player because the unit was the worst in the NFL. DeMarco Murray would get votes for a second-half MVP. The contest comes down to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Romo missed the final game because of back surgery, but threw 31 touchdown passes and was intercepted only 10 times while throwing for 3,828 yards. Bryant earned his first Pro Bowl berth and finished with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. They made big plays at big moments. They had mistakes at big moments, too. As a result, they split the award.

Film theory: Saints could copy Dallas

December, 31, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Rob Ryan's old team gave Eagles quarterback Nick Foles trouble in his two games against them. Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys sacked Foles five times, forced an intentional grounding penalty and generally shut down the Eagles' passing game in the second half.

Whether or not the Cowboys have Foles' number is a matter for 2014. Ryan, now the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, has already burned holes through Sunday's game film with his eyes.

[+] Enlarge Nick Foles
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Dallas Cowboys sacked Nick Foles five times on Sunday.
The Eagles can expect Ryan to try some similar tactics, with some wrinkles of his own mixed in.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly said his offense experienced a "combination" of problems.

"A tackle may have stepped in the wrong direction, back didn't hit the hole at the right time, receiver didn't get off the jam properly," Kelly said. "There's not one thing that's, aha, fix it and move on. It was just a combination of not all 11 guys clicking on the same team."

Focusing on the third quarter, it was apparent that Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin found a few ways to confound the Eagles' offensive line.

On the very first play of the quarter, DeMarcus Ware bull-rushed to the inside of left tackle Jason Peters. Running back LeSean McCoy stepped up to help with Ware. That left the outside open for linebacker DeVonte Holloman to blitz. He dropped Foles for a 9-yard loss.

"LeSean got stuck inside running into the twist on the D-line but didn't come off on the linebacker," Kelly said.

The Cowboys didn't blitz all that much, though. Instead they used stunts or twists, sending one of their defensive linemen around an otherwise engaged blocker. Usually, that blocker was rookie right tackle Lane Johnson. It often looked as if Johnson was being beaten one-on-one, but he was frequently leaving one defender too late to get in the way of one he didn't know was coming.

Example: On the play that resulted in Foles' fumble, defensive end George Selvie rushed to the inside of Johnson, forcing right guard Todd Herremans to help out. Defensive tackle Nick Hayden looped around to his left and past Johnson. Meanwhile, Ware and Jason Hatcher ran a similar stunt on the other side.

Hayden pressured Foles into stepping to his left. Hatcher hit the quarterback from behind, knocking the ball free.

While all that chaos was unfolding, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce were more or less alone, with no one to block. The defensive maneuvering put all the pressure on the tackles.

Foles held the ball too long at times. Other times, the coverage was very good.

"Sometimes there was a guy open, he probably could have gotten it out of his hand a little quicker," Kelly said. "There were some other times where he's waiting for guys to get open and they didn't come out of the jam."

That's something else Ryan will surely pick up on. When defensive backs get physical with DeSean Jackson, he can be slowed down. The NBC cameras caught cornerback Brandon Carr holding Jackson back on a go route down the right sideline. Foles' throw was too deep, but that's because it was timed for Jackson to be running at full speed, not dragging a cornerback with him.

Much of the focus this week will be on the Saints' explosive offense and the Eagles' defensive challenges. But there's a good chance Foles and the offense will have to keep pace. To do that, they're probably going to have to fix the flaws exposed by the Cowboys, as well as the ones Ryan finds on his own.

Cowboys need more from Ware, Hatcher

December, 17, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Of the nine defensive linemen on the Dallas Cowboys roster, only three were with the team when training camp began and Nick Hayden was far from a lock to make the cut.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys defense stands a better chance with DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher on the field at the same time.
DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are the two mainstays left and both have been banged up. Ware missed three games with a quadriceps injury. Hatcher missed one with a stinger that has been problematic for two months.

If the defense is to have a chance to succeed, the Cowboys need Ware and Hatcher. But here's a question: Why are they not in the game more?

Jason Garrett said the Cowboys, "believe in the rotational system that Rod [Marinelli] uses."

It's fine to rotate players. You want players to remain fresh through the course of a game. But do they need to come off the field together?

Of the 69 defensive snaps in Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers, Ware and Hatcher were on the field together for 44 of them. There were 13 snaps where one or the other was on the field. There were 12 snaps in which neither was on the field, including goal-line snaps in the fourth quarter before Andrew Quarless' touchdown. Hatcher was not on the field for James Jones' 3-yard touchdown catch and Eddie Lacy's game-winning score.

At different times the Cowboys' defensive line featured Everette Brown, Drake Nevis, Corey Irvin and George Selvie. At one point they had Ware and Edgar Jones at defensive end with Jarius Wynn and Irvin at tackle.

"It's real important to keep that group fresh up front," Garrett said. "If you're looking for guys to put pressure on the quarterback, being fresh is a big part of that. The best defenses line I've been around rotated guys. So we'll continue to do that. It's not exclusive. They don't always come out together. They don't always play together. But occasionally they do, sometimes they're on the sideline together and you have to battle through that. The other guys have an opportunity to step up and make an impact on the game. George Selvie did a fantastic job in yesterday's game. He made a lot of plays, tackle for losses, sacks and impacted the game in a positive way. Everett Brown did as well. We have to get that across the board."

But there is a time and place for everything. In the most crucial snaps -- like on the goal line -- Ware and Hatcher must be on the field.

Cowboys' finds running out of gas

December, 13, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive end George Selvie will make his 13th start of the season Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. He played more than nine games in a season just once in his career before 2013.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden will also start his 13th game Sunday. He started 13 games for his career before this year.

Selvie has one sack in his last six games. Hayden has not been credited with more than two tackles in a game in a month. He had just two of those games in the first nine games.

When the Cowboys signed Hayden in February, they hoped he would be part of a defensive line rotation. When Selvie signed in July the hope was initially he helps the Cowboys get through practice, nevermind make the roster.

Neither was expected to be a core defender. Are they starting to wear down?

“We feel like those guys are our starters and have been all year long,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You’re always trying to rotate the defensive linemen like we’ve talked about, particularly in this scheme, so you’re always trying to find what that balance is.”

Selvie is tied with DeMarcus Ware for second on the defense with six sacks.

“I think he’s a good consistent football player and has been all year long for us,” Garrett said. “He was around the quarterback a little bit the other night in the ballgame. He comes to work every day. He’s not a dynamic, dynamic, dynamic pass-rusher, but to me every game he shows up and somehow positively impacts the game.”

Linebacker Ernie Sims will play starter snaps for the sixth time this season. Starter Jeff Heath will make his fifth start after making the team as an undrafted free agent. Sterling Moore wasn’t with the team two weeks ago but he will be the team’s third corner Sunday.
The Cowboys found out last year that for as well as players off the street can play for a short time, over a longer time they can be exposed.

“I think the biggest challenge for guys is acclimating themselves initially,” Garrett said. “I think our guys have done a good job of that, to step in here and play on a moment’s notice. It’s always better when you have your starting players in there -- we recognize that -- and having our starting players healthy and ready to go. Having said that, every team in the league is dealing with injuries, so that’s not something we talk about a lot. We just have to get these guys ready to play as best they can play; a tough challenge as a coaching staff.”
After the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night, we review what we saw and what we heard in our weekly Beat Writers Report.

Austin
" Fans don't really care about reporters' problems. I have a wonderful job. I get to cover an NFL team for a living, and sometimes it humbles you because it's a dream job. However, there are times when you need to speak to the participants about how they performed because the paying public is seeking answers regardless if a team wins or loses. Which brings me to wide receiver Miles Austin. He failed to catch a low throw by a scrambling Tony Romo against the Bears and finished with two catches for 19 yards. Austin declined to speak with reporters after the game. He was nice about it, and noted that we should talk on Friday. But after a blowout loss in which the Cowboys dropped out of first place in the division, Austin needed to speak. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley spoke to reporters within earshot of Austin. As Beasley spoke, Austin looked over while he put his clothes on. Being held accountable following wins and losses is important especially when the Cowboys' fan base demands answers. Austin's season has been horrible. Hamstring injuries have limited him to just 19 catches for 179 yards and zero touchdowns. After a game like Monday's, Austin needed to do the right thing, as a veteran, and speak with reporters and stand up face the music. Most of his teammates did.

" It's funny how the Cowboys forgot about the run game and how DeMarco Murray is somebody the fans hate. Murray had a solid outing against the Bears, averaging 8.1 yards per carry and setting the tone with six runs on the first possession of the game. All week Murray was asked whether he could handle the expected cold weather; at one point a reporter asked if he was he a cold-weather back. Murray answered such questions with one of his best games of the season. You might not like his running style -- he doesn't run over guys as much and prefers to run toward the sidelines -- but with three games remaining Murray has 843 rushing yards, and he could reach 1,000.

Williams
Williams
" According to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys have dropped 20 passes this season, including nine by Bryant. That's a glaring number considering the talent on this roster. The dropped passes became prevalent on a drive late in first half Monday. Trailing 17-14, the Cowboys wanted to finish the first half with a score. But Jason Witten, Murray and Terrance Williams could not secure passes. Williams failed to make a contested catch; cornerback Zack Bowman knocked the ball away on third-and-10. The Cowboys were forced to punt, and the Bears scored quickly to push their lead to 24-14. Dropping passes hurts momentum and takes offenses off the field on third down. If the Cowboys are going to move into the postseason, they need to do a better job of catching passes.

" Jerry Jones expressed frustration with the defensive scheme following the loss. The next day, Jones was encouraging, expressing support for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Sometimes you question what Kiffin or the players he places on the field are doing. On the Bears' first score, the Cowboys dropped back in zone coverage but rookie cornerback B.W. Webb was caught looking in the backfield. Webb ignored wide receiver Earl Bennett standing near him in the end zone, so guess who quarterback Josh McCown directed a pass to? Yep, Bennett, for the 4-yard touchdown reception. The issue is why the Cowboys are in zone coverage inside the 20. Webb is athletic but not good enough, at least right now, to get significant snaps.

" DeMarcus Ware said he needs to play better in the next three weeks, but what about the other members of the defensive line? Jason Hatcher was slowed by a stinger, but he's seeing more double-teams. George Selvie and Nick Hayden are getting some pressures on the quarterback but not enough to force long down-and-distance situations. There was a reason Selvie and Hayden were on the street this summer. Have they reached their ceiling? Maybe. If so, it comes at a bad time, with the Cowboys a game behind first in the division with three games to play.

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.

No changes on Cowboys' injury report

November, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys continue to have good news regarding their injury report.

There were no new names added to the report, which listed starting linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant, cornerback Morris Claiborne and wide receiver Dwayne Harris as having missed practice with hamstring injuries.

However, rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman (neck) was a limited participant in practice the last two days. Holloman said he hopes to participate in contact drills next week.

Wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), wide receiver Dez Bryant (back), defensive tackle Nick Hayden (ribs), safety J.J. Wilcox (knee) and defensive end George Selvie (shoulder) practiced fully. Bryant, who has dealt with back problems this season and reportedly needed an epidural to relieve some stiffness a few weeks ago, said he's feeling fine.

"Just doing the same thing," Bryant said of his treatments. "I'll be ready to go on Thursday. No issue."

Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (neck) and defensive end DeMarcus Ware (thigh) were limited in practice but are expected to play on Thanksgiving Day against the Oakland Raiders.

Jeff Heath in a good highlight for change

November, 25, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – In the Dallas Cowboys' previous three games, Jeff Heath was in the wrong kind of highlights.

Against Detroit, he was on the wrong end of a jump ball to Calvin Johnson. A week later he was run over by Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. Two weeks ago against New Orleans he was beaten for three touchdowns.

Heath
On Sunday, Heath, the undrafted rookie from Saginaw Valley State, scored the first touchdown of his career and the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the game on a 50-yard fumble return. It was the fifth defensive touchdown of the season for the Cowboys and the third against the New York Giants in two games.

Heath was the beneficiary of a great strip by cornerback Orlando Scandrick on a completion to Victor Cruz.

“We practice it so much that it just becomes habit,” Heath said. “Once you get the ball in your hands you don’t think twice about it. You just run. Everyone turns into blockers and the guy with the ball is looking to score.”

Heath found himself as something of a spectator on the play.

“I didn’t know if anybody was near me, but the screen was right there and I was able to look up and realize nobody was really that close,” Heath said.

Heath spiked the ball, but he said his teammates quickly reminded him to keep it since it was the first of his career.

It is the first time the Cowboys have had five defensive scores in a season since 1999. Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Sean Lee and Nick Hayden have the other defensive scores.

Cowboys run D to be tested too

November, 23, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have offered up little resistance with their pass defense. They are allowing 313 yards per game through the air, worst in the league.

Eli Manning started it all off with 450 yards passing in the season opener with four touchdown passes. He was intercepted three times, but he has had his way with the Cowboys at times in his career.

But part of the Giants’ resurgence lately has not been with Manning leading the way. It’s been with a ball control offense. On a conference call Wednesday Giants coach Tom Coughlin made note of how much the Giants have run the ball in their four-game winning streak: 31, 32, 38 and 24 times.

“That’s what they used to do, run the ball and then play-action to pass it,” defensive tackle Nick Hayden said. “They’re just trying to get back to it and being balanced instead of just throwing the ball the whole time.”

It’s not that the Giants have run it great. They are averaging fewer than 3 yards per carry, but Andre Brown, Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis can be bruising backs. The Cowboys have faced mostly shiftier backs in LeSean McCoy, Reggie Bush and Jamaal Charles.

“Just harder to bring down guys and they can break a lot of tackles,” Hayden said. “We’ve got to be more physical.”

And as bad as the pass defense has been, the Cowboys allowed the New Orleans Saints to rush for 242 yards in their last game.

“We just got the details, be where we’re supposed to be at when we’re supposed to be there,” defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. “We’ve been playing with a lot of guys, just here and there filling guys in. We’ve been banged up, but I’m not the guy to make excuses. We’ve got to do better. We just have to go out here and concentrate on it and take it one step at a time and we’ll be OK.”

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