NFC East: Rod Marinelli

The Dallas Cowboys didn't force a turnover against the San Francisco 49ers. No one should be surprised they lost.

Dallas has lost 18 consecutive games when it didn't force a turnover, a span of 76 regular-season games. The last time the Cowboys won a game in which the defense failed to force a turnover, they needed 250 yards receiving from Miles Austin to rally against the Kansas City Chiefs in October 2009.

It hard to win in the NFL without turnovers because of the momentum they generate and field position they produce, which is why defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has increased the focus on turnovers the week.

The Cowboys work on turnover drills during the individual period of every practice, but the intensity has been increased this week.

“We ended up playing solid as a defense. We didn't make enough plays,” Marinelli said. “We kind of played the defense.

“We hustled. We hit. We were fairly physical but we need the back row to get the picks and lock them down. We need the front to make the sack fumble and the linebackers to get a pick when they have it. We gotta get the playmakers to step up, and that's the challenge this week.”

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
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NFL Nation's Todd Archer examines the three biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into training camp:

The health of Romo: Ever since he became the starter in 2006, how Tony Romo goes is how the Cowboys go. He is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, but he was able to do much more this offseason than he did in 2013, when he had a cyst removed. The Cowboys kept Romo out of any competitive drills in the spring in order for him to be fully healthy by the time they got to training camp. Using last year's camp as a guide, Romo did not miss a day of work, and the Cowboys don't believe he will need to be eased into the full practice load this summer either. Because a big part of Romo's game is his ability to move and create in open space, however, they will be cautious if there even hints of more soreness than just the aches and pains of training camp. All offseason, the Cowboys have not expressed any worry about Romo, who turned 34 in April, being able to return to form. He will get his first chance to show it on the practice fields in Oxnard, California. If he can play at a high level -- he had 32 touchdown passes and 10 picks in 15 games last season -- then the Cowboys should be able to contend for a playoff spot in a division that is not as strong as it has been in the past.

Marinelli to the rescue: The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013, and they enter this season without their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware), last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) and their best playmaker (Sean Lee). Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator and will bring subtle changes in coverages, fronts and blitzes, but the core of the 4-3 scheme will remain the same as when that coaching duo was together at Tampa Bay. The Cowboys did not make any splash signings in free agency, but their most important was Henry Melton. If he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and play the way he did under Marinelli in Chicago, the Cowboys have a chance. Marinelli also plans to lean more on cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in man coverage, but Carr and Claiborne have to play much better in 2014 than they did in 2013. There could be as many as seven new opening day starters on defense this season than in 2013, and it is up to Marinelli to make it work. He had more talent with the Bears when he was running their defense, but the players believe in what he is selling.

Plan of attack: From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”
IRVING, Texas -- Since the all-time quarterback rankings that had Tony Romo ahead of Troy Aikman went over so well earlier in the week, let’s close the week with some more rankings.

Garrett
Garrett
David Steele of the Sporting News has ranked the NFL head coaches and Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett came in at No. 23.

Here’s what Steele had to say:
One will always wonder how Garrett would do out from under Jerry Jones, as something other than the owner’s hand-picked golden child -- or with a roster only half as bizarrely constructed as the Cowboys’ usually is. On the other hand, coaching the Cowboys has always meant living up to outsized expectations, and Garrett hasn’t even come close so far.


All of the 22 coaches ahead of Garrett made the playoffs if we’re counting Bruce Arians' work as the Indianapolis Colts’ interim coach in 2012. Arians went 10-6 in his first year with the Arizona Cardinals last season but did not qualify for the postseason.

Garrett has a 29-27 career mark, two games above .500 because of his 5-3 stint as the interim when Wade Phillips was fired in the middle of the 2010 season. The Cowboys have gone 8-8 in each of Garrett's three seasons and lost the chance to make the playoffs all three times with Week 17 NFC East losses.

Some progress has been made, like retooling the offensive line and drafting better, but the scheme change from the 3-4 to the 4-3 last season was disastrous. Rod Marinelli is Garrett’s fourth defensive coordinator since taking over in 2010. Scott Linehan will be the third different playcaller in as many years.

Game management has been an issue. The Cowboys have had too many "how-did-they-lose-that?" contests in Garrett’s watch (Detroit, 2011, Arizona 2010, New York Giants 2010, Green Bay 2013).

The ranking sounds about right for now. Garrett can work his way up the list if the Cowboys make the playoffs this year when outside expectations are so low. If he does that, not only will his ranking go up, but he would earn a contract extension as well, which might be a tad more important to him.
IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys seek a replacement for injured MLB Sean Lee, one place they won't look is in Bruce Carter's direction.

"From what I see, I think they're going to keep me at my same position," Carter said. "I guess they're just going to try guys and work them in and out and just see who fits best."

Carter
Carter
In 2012, when the Cowboys ran a 3-4 scheme and Lee missed 10 games because of toe surgery, Carter took over Lee's spot. Last season, when Lee missed five full games -- and parts of two others -- with hamstring and neck injuries, the Cowboys did not slide Carter from the weakside linebacker spot to the middle.

Lee is expected to miss the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

The Cowboys believe Carter is best-suited for the weakside position because of his athleticism, but he struggled making the transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3. He posted a career-high 122 tackles but only four were for loss. He did not intercept a pass, force a fumble or recover one from a difference-making position in the scheme.

The Cowboys benched Carter during one game and took him out of the starting lineup in two others.

"I felt I didn't have the best season that I wanted to have, obviously," Carter said. "But I mean, everybody has their ups and downs. I'm just going to go out here and just continue to work, put my head down and keep working."

Carter is in the final year of his contract. The Cowboys were a pick away from drafting former Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier in the first round of the draft, and he would have forced Carter to switch spots. At the rookie minicamp, new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said he doesn't coach confidence. A player's success is up to the player.

"Go play," Marinelli said. "It's a man's game, man. Play it the right way. That's what I want. We're going to coach it. We'll coach you hard. Be where you're supposed to be. This is what we expect. And then go."

Carter said he has spent more time working at Valley Ranch this offseason than in the past. Being in top shape, however, hasn't been the issue. Being more football-aware is what he needs to improve upon most.

"I just want to be the best player I can be," Carter said. "I have a lot of potential to be great. I don't want to leave anything in the tank. I want to sell out and give my all."
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IRVING, Texas -- While the Dallas Cowboys have not officially said so, Sean Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Tuesday, according to sources, and the defense will be without its best player.

The Cowboys have yet to use the bat signal to call all unemployed middle linebackers.

The current plan is to go with what is on the roster.

They have DeVonte Holloman, who started the final two games of last season at middle linebacker after Lee suffered a neck injury. They have Justin Durant, who started one game in Lee's absence last season. They have rookie Anthony Hitchens, their fourth-round pick.

With eight more organized team activities, followed by six practices during a three-day minicamp next month, the Cowboys will soon have a better idea about where they stand regarding a replacement for Lee.

After that, perhaps they will look off campus for help.

Veterans like Jonathan Vilma, Erin Henderson and Pat Angerer have been mentioned. Even Brian Urlacher's name has come up.

Urlacher's connection to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli makes it interesting, but would it be appetizing? Urlacher did not play last year. He turned 36 this week. His knee gave him issues in his final seasons with the Bears.

Last year the Cowboys signed guard Brian Waters before the season started. He did not play in 2012 but managed to play in seven games and start five before a torn biceps ended his season. He was 36 then.

Often, past success outweighs present ability when fans yearn for a player to be signed. Urlacher is not the same player who dominated the NFL for years, just as Waters was not the same player last year that he was earlier in his career. He was solid and he helped Dallas, but he was not the same Pro Bowl player.

Vilma and Angerer have health issues. The Minnesota Vikings released Henderson in January after a DUI arrest.

At the end of May, there are no magic solutions to replace Lee.

The Cowboys will see if they can get by with Holloman, Hitchens or Durant, who did not take part in Tuesday’s practice because of an undisclosed injury. They will study the rosters of the other teams hard over the course of the summer to see if they can find (or need) an upgrade.

The players mentioned today -- Urlacher, Angerer, Henderson and Vilma -- are likely to be available when training camp begins or even later.

If the Cowboys need them in July or August or September, they can make the call.
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • When Dez Bryant might sign an extension.
  • Lance Dunbar’s roster spot with the addition of Ryan Williams.
  • The team’s best free-agent pickup
  • The state of the defensive line.
  • The best of the undrafted receivers.

Look for Part 2 of the mailbag on Saturday.

Away we go:
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have not had a flashy offseason by any stretch. Saying goodbye to the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, has been the headliner, and the team did not make a real bid to keep last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher.

I offered up an offseason wrap-up on Thursday, and the ESPN Insiders have put their touches on the offseason. While Mike Sando, Bill Polian, Matt Williamson, Louis Riddick and Field Yates combined to give the Cowboys a passing grade, only two teams did worse: the Carolina Panthers (C-minus) and Indianapolis Colts (D).

To read the league-wide grades Insider, you have to be an Insider, but here is what Sando wrote about the Cowboys’ offseason:

Analysis: The Cowboys had very little salary-cap flexibility through questionable long-term planning. They lost Ware as a result and appear to be no better off on defense, which could keep Dallas in a category with Washington among teams forced to win high-scoring games to contend.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
AP Photo/James D SmithThe Cowboys need a healthy season from pass-rusher Anthony Spencer.
"They really did not do enough to aid a defense that is just bereft of playmakers, especially on the front," Polian said.

Yates gave the Cowboys a B grade and lauded their discipline, but he did not offer an enthusiastic endorsement. The other graders weren't as positive. The GM consulted for this piece gave the Cowboys a C and lamented their lack of an edge pass-rusher. The GM pointed to Anthony Spencer's suspect health and said he thought Dallas would have preferred using its first-round pick on Ryan Shazier, who came off the board one spot earlier.

"They will have to outscore people with a 34-year-old quarterback coming off back surgery," the GM said.

The Cowboys' decision to draft an offensive lineman in the first round went over well. Williamson called Zack Martin the last piece of the offensive puzzle for Dallas. Riddick also loved that pick, but he still gave the Cowboys a C-minus.

"They followed their board and beat that whole drum on that," Riddick said. "Their expectations for Demarcus Lawrence in the second round are higher than what mine are, but other than that, the defense still has major problems at safety, they are banking on Sean Lee being healthy at linebacker and there are too many problem areas overall."
My analysis of the analysis: The Cowboys could have kept Ware by restructuring his contract again, but did not want to kick the salary-cap can down the street again. They also could have made him an offer in the Terrell Suggs neighborhood ($16 million guaranteed) but never made a proposal. They were simply ready to move on.

In essence they traded Henry Melton for Hatcher. Melton is younger but coming back from an ACL tear. If he can come back, then that signing was better than keeping Hatcher, who turns 32 in July and had one great season.

Despite the supposed salary-cap constraints, they could have gone after Julius Peppers and Jared Allen and paid them big money. That might have made the Insiders happy, but it would have hamstrung their abilities to keep Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant. That’s an easy call to make, so they went after low-cost, low-risk signings like Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. Will any of them play better than Ware in 2013? That is their hope.

The Insiders also did not recognize the coaching changes. How much better will Rod Marinelli be than Monte Kiffin? I’d say that is a plus. I think Scott Linehan will be better than Bill Callahan on the offensive side of the ball. That is a plus.

The Cowboys could not answer all of their offseason questions, but they did have a “smart” offseason, and in the NFC East they should be able to compete.

Cowboys offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Dallas Cowboys' offseason moves.

Best move: The Cowboys could not make big splashes in free agency and their 8-8 record kept them in the middle of the pack in the draft as well, so the best move was not one regarding personnel. It was coaching. Elevating Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator after the Cowboys finished last in the league in 2013 was their best move. With the Chicago Bears, Marinelli had a difference-making defense that could create turnovers at will. He also had Pro Bowl-quality players such as Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. He does not have that in bountiful supply in Dallas, unless Sean Lee can stay healthy or Henry Melton returns to form from injury.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellWill the Dallas Cowboys regret not re-signing DeMarcus Ware?
Riskiest move: DeMarcus Ware put up 119 sacks with the Cowboys from 2005-13, but the club believed it was time to move on after Ware had just six in 2013. A quadriceps injury forced Ware to miss the first three games of his career in 2013 and he was slowed by other maladies. The Cowboys did not make an attempt to offer Ware a reduced contract and simply cut him. Within 24 hours he was signed to a three-year deal by the Denver Broncos with $20 million guaranteed. For this 4-3 scheme to work, there must be an accomplished right defensive end. The Cowboys believed Ware’s time as a dominant pass-rusher was over but did not pick up his replacement until the second round of the draft, selecting DeMarcus Lawrence.

Most surprising move: With the 16th pick in the first round, the Cowboys had a chance to select Johnny Manziel to be Tony Romo’s eventual successor. It seemed to be a perfect marriage of the attention Jerry Jones seeks and the spotlight Johnny Football enjoys. Jones passed on Manziel, recommitting his faith in Romo, who signed a six-year, $108 million extension last season, and making a smart move in picking up Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He will be a Day 1 starter and give the Cowboys three first-round picks on their offensive line, which will help Romo and potentially help a defense if the Cowboys can control the clock.

Numbers game: The emphasis of the Cowboys’ offseason has been about the defense, but they have taken a quantity-over-quality look. They had some interest in Peppers and Jared Allen after releasing Ware, but only at a reduced rate. The Cowboys signed Melton, who is coming off an ACL injury, to a one-year deal with an option for three more years if he plays at a high level. They signed Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain to low-risk deals. They kept Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, on a one-year deal. They even signed Amobi Okoye, who did not play last season due to personal medical issues, in hopes a reunion with Marinelli will rejuvenate him. The flashiest addition might be Lawrence, and it is difficult to expect rookies to hit the league running.
IRVING, Texas -- Conventional wisdom was dead wrong about Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter last season.

Carter
Carter
The speedy Carter, who showed flashes of brilliance in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 in 2012, didn’t end up being a perfect fit as the Will linebacker in Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 scheme. He definitely didn’t remind anybody of Derrick Brooks, either. Instead, Carter got benched in Week 4 and was part of the problem for the NFL’s worst defense.

Carter has admitted his confidence took a hit last season. That’s apparently not Rod Marinelli’s problem.

“I don’t do confidence stuff,” said Marinelli, who was promoted to defensive coordinator this offseason. “Get down and play. Get down and play. Here’s your assignment key. We want you to play fast and we want you to take the ball away.”

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Carter didn’t come up with any turnovers last season. Not one interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery. That might explain why the Cowboys were ready to draft Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier in the first round to replace Carter before the Pittsburgh Steelers beat them one pick before the Cowboys went on the clock.

If that bothered Carter, so be it. He's not going to get a pep talk from Marinelli.

“Go play,” Marinelli said. “It’s a man’s game, man. Play it the right way. That’s what I want. We’re going to coach it. We’ll coach you hard. Be where you’re supposed to be. This is what we expect. And then go.”

Marinelli made it clear he doesn’t coach confidence. Does he coach mental toughness?

“I just coach football,” Marinelli said. “And I think there’s a lot of toughness in football coached the right way.”
IRVING, Texas -- The hospital bracelet was still on DeMarcus Lawrence's left wrist.

On Thursday morning, Lawrence saw his first son, Damari, born thanks to a FaceTime call. DeMarcus Lawrence arrived around midnight after his flight was delayed and was on a plane Friday night, arriving back in Dallas at 5:30 a.m.

“The only thing I had time for was to take a shower and get here,” the Dallas Cowboys’ second-round pick said.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Lawrence
Ric Tapia/Icon SMICowboys rookie DeMarcus Lawrence said the recent birth of his son has had a humbling effect on him.
By the afternoon session Lawrence was able to take it off, keeping it in his locker.

The short amount of time Lawrence had with his son, who was due May 27, had a profound effect on Lawrence.

“I didn’t think a kid could change your life just by birth that way,” Lawrence said. “He made me so humble. Just made me open my eyes and make me look at the bigger picture of life.”

Lawrence is in the early stages of learning the Cowboys’ defense, but coordinator Rod Marinelli likes what he saw in Lawrence at Boise State and the brief time he has been with him.

“He’s got good stuff,” Marinelli said.

“I think he's really smooth. He's got a great feel for a reaction to movement. That's what I look for, that's something you can't test, you got to see it. He's strong in here, pad level gets down, smooth, really, really good instincts, that's our job to build on it. He's going to be a big boy, a big man.”

The Cowboys have big expectations on Lawrence, but have been careful to avoid the comparisons to DeMarcus Ware. When Ware arrived as a first-round pick in 2005, the initial spelling of his first name was Demarcus. At Boise State, Lawrence’s name was spelled with a lower-case M. He said on Saturday, it should be a capital M.

“That’s how it is on my birth certificate,” Lawrence said. “My mom always spelled my name with a capital M, so I’m going to keep it like that.”

Ware put up a team-record 119 sacks in his nine seasons. He made the Pro Bowl seven times. Lawrence had 20 sacks in two seasons at Boise State.

“They want me to come in and be the best player I can be and that’s just the pressure on me that I put on myself,” Lawrence said. “I come in with high expectations and come to get the job done.”

The Cowboys paid a price to get Lawrence in giving up a third-round pick to the Washington Redskins. If they have been shy about the Ware comparisons, they were more than willing to say he was the third-best right defensive end in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr, who were the first and ninth picks of the draft.

“I ain’t going to put no more pressure on myself than I already have,” Lawrence said. “I feel like I’m the best and I’m just going to go out there and prove it each and every day. You can’t let your words speak. You got to let your play speak for you. That’s what I’m going to go out there and do.”
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys made some roster moves during the first day of the rookie minicamp Friday.

The biggest was signing defensive tackle Amobi Okoye to a two-year contract.

Okoye
"We like a lot of things about him," coach Jason Garrett said. "He was a high draft pick a few years ago, a really young player coming out of school and he has a lot of talent. Rod [Marinelli] was around him in Chicago, we know him well, he's had an intimate-type relationship. So we think that's a real positive thing. He's had some health issues the last year or so where he lost a lot of weight. He's gained his weight back and we're waiting on some medical things. We feel like he has a chance to be a contributor on that defensive line."

Garrett said Okoye passed his physical Thursday but there are medical issues that need to be cleared up relating to an undisclosed health problem.

Okoye was the 10th overall pick by the Houston Texans in the 2007 draft and started 58 of 62 games in four seasons. He played 25 games for Marinelli in 2011 and 2012 with the Chicago Bears before a health issues cost him his 2013 season.

The Cowboys also signed offensive lineman Jerrod Black from Iowa State as a workout player. Black was one of the 30 national visits the Cowboys hosted during the draft process.

Also, the team released linebacker Jonathan Stewart.
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.”

Dallas Cowboys draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
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NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


IRVING, Texas – A wrap-up of the Dallas Cowboys draft. Click here for a full list of Cowboys' draftees.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Robin Alam/Icon SMIZack Martin was the right choice for the Dallas Cowboys in the first round.
Best move: In taking Zack Martin with the 16th pick in the first round with Johnny Manziel staring at them in the face, the Cowboys made a football decision. Bravo. It did not directly help a defense that ended last in the NFL in 2013, but indirectly it could make the defense better. If the Cowboys are better along the offensive line, they can do a better job closing out games by running the ball and the defense would be on the sidelines watching. Martin started 52 games at left tackle at Notre Dame but will move to guard, most likely for Mackenzy Bernadeau, this year. He is the third offensive linemen the Cowboys have drafted in the first round in the last four seasons. The Cowboys hit on tackle Tyron Smith (2011) and center Travis Frederick (2013) and if they hit on Martin, they will make Tony Romo’s life much easier. Jason Garrett said teams win games up front, but he has been reluctant to run the ball and Scott Linehan’s offense in Detroit was pass happy. The Cowboys do not have to become a ground-and-pound team but they will have to do a better job of finishing games with the run.

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Which Cowboys draft pick are you most excited about?

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Discuss (Total votes: 18,529)

Riskiest move: The Cowboys entered the draft knowing they needed a right defensive end. When they went with Martin in the first round, the need increased, so they were willing to overpay some by giving the Washington Redskins their second (47th) and third (78) picks in order to move to the 34th pick to take Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. With how the draft fell, they had a chance to stick at their picks and take defensive linemen anyway, but none with the elite talent they believe Lawrence has to affect the quarterback. Moving up is always dangerous. The last time the Cowboys moved up significantly in a round was in 2012 when they took Morris Claiborne in the first round. Through his first two seasons, the Claiborne move has not paid off.

Most surprising move: Most of the draft experts had linebacker Anthony Hitchens as a late-round pick, but the Cowboys took him in the fourth round, No. 119 overall. He was Iowa’s defensive MVP in 2013 and led the team in tackles for two seasons with 112. He could play inside linebacker as Sean Lee’s backup and be a special teams stalwart early on. The Cowboys defense is predicated on speed and he ran a 4.7 at the scouting combine. But he was productive. He had an eye-catching 13.5 tackles for loss as a senior.

File it away: The Cowboys came into the draft needing to find help for a defense that finished last in the NFL in 2013. The Cowboys ended up with nine picks and took seven defenders to potentially help Rod Marinelli make over the unit in 2014. Five of those picks came in the seventh round, so some expectations need to be tempered, but the Cowboys were able to find a defensive end in Ben Gardner, a linebacker in Will Smith, a safety in Ahmad Dixon, a defensive tackle in Ken Bishop and defensive back Terrance Mitchell. If the Cowboys can find three players to fill roles out of that group, they should be happy.
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IRVING, Texas -- The pick: Demarcus Lawrence, defensive end, Boise State


My take: With many people upset the Dallas Cowboys did not help their defense in the first round Thursday, they made sure they got their guy in the second round by trading up with the Washington Redskins, of all teams.

Lawrence is a pure right defensive end. He had 20 sacks in two seasons at Boise State and he had 20.5 tackles for loss last season. With the loss of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys needed a right defensive end. They just turned to another Demarcus. Lawrence has speed. He has long arms. He can get around the edge, and he should benefit greatly from the coaching of Rod Marinelli.

Before adding Lawrence the Cowboys had plenty of left defensive end types in George Selvie, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford.

Lawrence had three separate one-game suspensions, but the Cowboys met with him at Valley Ranch before the draft and were able to get a handle on him.

Love the Broncos: In 2008, the Cowboys drafted Orlando Scandrick out of Boise State in the fifth round. In 2012, they drafted Crawford in the third round out of Boise State. Now they have gone with Lawrence.

There is a chip-on-the-shoulder type attitude that most Boise State players carry and the Cowboys like that, especially in Scandrick. If there has been a complaint about the Cowboys' defense with Ware as the best player it is that it has been too nice. Lawrence will bring attitude.

What’s next: By giving up their second-round (No. 47) and third-round picks (No. 78), the Cowboys are done until Saturday unless they trade back into the third. The Cowboys have eight picks Saturday with six coming in the seventh round.

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