NFC East: Travis frederick

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys starting center Travis Frederick had no reaction to the NFL's decision to overturn a one-game suspension on Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The only thing the Pro Bowl center cared about was stopping Suh, whom the Cowboys will face in a NFC wild-card playoff game on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

Frederick
Suh
"It didn’t matter either way; they have a lot of great players on their defense and would have been fine without him, but are also that much better with him on that team," Frederick said after Wednesday's practice. "He's obviously a great player and we had a chance to play him last year a little bit and we’ll go and watch [the film] and watch the film of what he did this year as well."

This season, Suh has 53 tackles with 8 1/2 sacks, four coming in the fourth quarter along with 13 tackles for loss. Suh isn't alone. He's got defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (7 1/2 sacks) helping a defensive line that has 32 of the team's 42 sacks this season.

Nine defensive linemen have recorded at least half a sack this season and the Lions are tied for third in the NFL in tackles for loss on running plays with 26.

The Cowboys are tied for fifth in the league with the most negative runs in the league at 48, despite having the NFL's leading rushing attack.

Stopping the run is a strength of the Lions, as evident by their No. 1 ranking against the run this season.

"It's really hard to specifically double one person because they’re so talented across the board," Frederick said. "You put two people on Suh and there’s Ansah coming of the edge, and you put two people on him and maybe you [Jason] Jones on the other edge. You really need to trust in the protection and trust in the system and hope everything works out."
When the Dallas Cowboys fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, it meant playcaller Scott Linehan was going to have to use a lot more formations with three receivers as opposed two tight ends.

That's why receiver Cole Beasley was on the field for 45 snaps and rookie fifth-round pick Devin Street for 21. Tight end Gavin Escobar, whose role was supposed to increase, played only nine snaps. The biggest surprise is that Lance Dunbar was only on the field for three plays.

Here's a look at the snap counts played for each of the Cowboys' offensive players on Sunday:

Jason Witten: 69
Doug Free: 69
Tyron Smith: 69
Ronald Leary: 69
Travis Frederick: 69
Zack Martin: 69
Tony Romo: 69
DeMarco Murray: 61
Terrance Williams: 60
Dez Bryant: 51
Cole Beasley: 45
Devin Street: 21
James Hanna: 13
Dwayne Harris: 9
Gavin Escobar: 9
Lance Dunbar: 3
Jermey Parnell: 3
Tyler Clutts: 1
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys arrived at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Tuesday afternoon under clear blues and temperatures in the mid 70s.

It was far different atmosphere from the high-90s temperatures that greeted the players at Valley Ranch on Monday for the players who ran a conditioning test.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Tony Gutierrez/AP PhotoTight end Jason Witten was one of several Cowboys veterans who wanted to run a conditioning test before heading to training camp.
Barry Church and Travis Frederick said Jason Garrett canceled the conditioning test -- a series of sprints ranging from 40, 50 and 60 yards that need to be completed at different times depending on the player’s position -- but older players such as Jason Witten called for the test to be run anyway.

League rules prevented any coaches from being on hand because the facilities are closed down 10 days prior to the start of training camp.

“When coach said we weren’t going to have a conditioning test this year a couple of the older guys wanted to make sure that we had everybody in the right shape,” Frederick said. “Sometimes if you don’t do it, you’re not in the right shape and you’re not ready to practice. When you come out and practice as hard as we do and you do it as much as you do during training camp, that’s when it leads to guys getting hurt. A couple of the older guys wanted to make sure guys were in shape, so we did get together yesterday and do some stuff like that. Nobody was around, just the players running it, but I think it was a really good step for our team.”

The players kept the times and had to have been on the honor system. What’s unclear, however, is if those who didn’t run the test Monday will run it Wednesday in Oxnard before practices begin Thursday. Could peer pressure play a part in those who did not attend the Valley Ranch workout lead to them running it?

Safety Barry Church said it was a “camaraderie thing.”

“I feel like it’s showing the players are trying to make this team our own and go out there and have our own type of identity as a team and combine together to see what we can get accomplished here this upcoming season,” Church said.

In the past, the Cowboys have used the test as a barometer for a player’s readiness for practice. If a player was unable to complete the test, he started the year on the physically unable to perform or non-football injury list. Garrett has attempted to alter some of the training exercises to potentially combat the number of injuries the team has suffered the last two years.

“When the players get together and do something like that I think that it shows there’s a level of maturity,” Frederick said. “There’s a level of work and a level of expectations by the older guys, the guys that held it. When you go out and do something like that, that is really showing the team is ready to step forward and is a mature team. Coach says 'There’s no conditioning test,' we could easily just not do it. Everybody is like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s great. We don’t have to do it.’ But are you going to be ready? Are you ready to work? Are you ready to come out and practice as hard as we need to practice to make ourselves into the caliber of team we want to be?”

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 -- Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick likes to please. He especially likes to please his quarterback, Tony Romo.

As Frederick enters his second season with the Cowboys, he has one goal.

“I’m going to try and do as much as I can to take as much as I can off Tony that he was doing before for the offensive line,” he said. “Not necessarily because I was a rookie or this or that, but because, if I can see it better, that’s going to take one thing off his plate and that’s going to help the team as a whole.”

Frederick
Romo
Part of Romo’s responsibility is setting the protections with calling out the middle linebacker. The offensive line follows the assignment. If Frederick can take that responsibility away from Romo, then Romo can worry more about the coverage.

When Romo and Frederick watch film of practices or games, they discuss what worked and didn’t work, what they might do differently the next time.

“I think what really has helped is going through the season last year,” Frederick said. “It’s literally about situations. You can talk about as many situations as you can think of and still see 50 more. It’s about being in situations and maybe you make a mistake. Maybe last year I’d change the Mike (linebacker call) on something and he would rather have kept it. After it happened, he told me, ‘OK, this is what I would’ve done.’ Now in the next situation I can do it.”

It’s not just about making Romo’s life easier. If Frederick can do more, he makes it easier for his fellow linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Ronald Leary or Mackenzy Bernadeau.

“The more I can communicate, the better Zack’s going to be able to do, the better Tyron is going to be able to do, the better Doug’s going to be able to do,” Frederick said. “When that happens, everybody can move faster and play faster and they don’t have to think. If I can think more than I did last year, then it makes it less that everybody else has to think about.”

There is a physical adjustment Frederick has made this offseason, too.

“Hand placement has been a big thing for me,” Frederick said. “In college it’s just about getting it done. If you’re strong, you have a better opportunity because no matter where you grab usually you can just hold on. But in the NFL with the great talent we play against and even here in who we practice against every day, you really have to focus on where you’re playing your hands and an inch can make a huge difference.”
The Dallas Cowboys haven't made the signing of guard Uche Nwaneri official because they have to make a roster move first.

Nwaneri
Moving Sean Lee to injured reserve, thus clearing space when training camp starts, is one possibility. The Nwaneri signing means the Cowboys want to add experienced depth to an offensive line that is getting younger at its core.

Four potential starters are each under 25 -- Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith.

Smith, 23, anchors the left tackle spot and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The team picked up his vested option for next season and has plans to give him a long-term deal.

Martin, 23, was a first-round draft pick this year and will play right guard with the potential to move to right tackle in the future.

Frederick, also 23 and last year's first-round pick, was solid at center and appears ready for a long-term future with the Cowboys.

Mackenzy Bernadeau is 28 and he's competing for a starting left guard spot with Leary.

The old man of the group if you will, is 30-year-old Doug Free, who played well in 2013 after taking a pay cut. The Cowboys value him. The question is for how long, considering they have Martin on the roster as well as two younger tackles, Darrion Weems and Jermey Parnell.

Nwaneri is 30. If he makes the team, he's got eight years of experience and adds depth to the interior of the line, which is important to the Cowboys.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said protecting Tony Romo up the gut is essential considering the quarterback is coming off back surgery.

This offseason, the Cowboys devoted themselves to getting younger and as one team official said, youth is important.

When you stick with youth, mistakes happen, and the Cowboys are willing to deal with that -- at least right now.

But there is nothing wrong with adding an experienced player to the line, and if Nwaneri's deal is completed that's what the Cowboys will have accomplished.
IRVING, Texas -- One of the things teams liked about Zack Martin entering the draft was his versatility.

He started 50 of 52 games at left tackle at Notre Dame. He has been plugged in as the Dallas Cowboys’ right guard since he was picked in the first round.

This week he has added some work at center.

He never played center before and only snapped for some teams in draft workouts.

“It’s hard,” Martin said. “I told [starting center Travis Frederick] the first time I was in there and came to the sideline, ‘God, you got a lot going on up there. You’ve got to know a lot.’ Just trying to get better every day but there’s definitely a lot going on over the ball.”

Frederick is the unquestioned starter, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, who is competing for the left guard spot, is the backup. Martin could become an emergency fill in.

“He’s a really, really smart football player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You can tell in how he played on college tape and you can tell from minute one since he’s been here, both in the classroom and on the field. The game comes very easily to him from a mental standpoint. He doesn’t seem to struggle with the different looks, playing different spots. There’s a lot of poise and confidence. Now, he’s got a long way to go. Don’t get me wrong, he’s young to this whole thing. He’s had about 10 practices with us ... but the versatility, we viewed him as a guy who could potentially play five offensive line spots.
IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys are to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, they will need younger players to grow up in 2014.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has two candidates for breakout seasons -- Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams -- in his annual list.

Frederick
Williams
Williams
The Cowboys were one of four teams with more than one player. The San Diego Chargers had three: D.J. Fluker, Melvin Ingram, Keenan Allen. The New Orleans Saints (Kenny Vaccaro, Akiem Hicks) and Denver Broncos (Montee Ball, Sylvester Williams) also had two.

Here’s what Prisco said about Frederick and Williams:
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys -- When the Cowboys picked him in the first round of the 2013 draft, there were snickers. But it was the right move. He showed last season as a 16-game starter that he has a chance to be a really good center. He is smart and athletic, two musts for the position these days.

Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys -- With Miles Austin now gone, this second-year player takes over as the starter opposite Dez Bryant. That should mean a lot of single coverage and a chance for big plays. Look for his numbers to go up dramatically from his 44 catches a year ago.

Defining how Frederick breaks out is tougher than Williams just because of the nature of his position. The Cowboys were stronger up the middle in 2013 than they had been in recent years because of Frederick. He did not miss a game as a rookie and carried himself as a veteran from the first day he arrived.

(As an aside, there is a similar feeling when it comes to this year’s first-round pick, Zack Martin.)

For Williams, it can be a little easier to define because his statistics will be there for everybody to see. He caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

With Austin gone, Williams will be the starter opposite Bryant in 2014. The Cowboys have no reservations about Williams. They believe he will slide into that role without any issues. In coach parlance, they don’t believe the game is too big for him.

He will get opportunities. Bryant will be the focal point of opposing defenses.

With Bryant catching 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, Austin caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver in 16 games in 2012. The Cowboys would live with those numbers from Williams.

Cowboys' quarterbacks had 375 completions last year.

Pencil in Bryant for another 90-plus catch season. Jason Witten will catch 75-80 passes. The running backs will combine for 80. Cole Beasley should figure in that 35-45 catch range. Dwayne Harris and Gavin Escobar will have more than the 18 they combined for last year. Devin Street will be in that 20-30 range if things go well as well.

There will be opportunities for Williams to show 2014 will be a breakout season.
IRVING, Texas -- Much of the contract talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys these days has surrounded wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Smith
Bryant is entering the final year of his contract and his agent, Eugene Parker, has had dialogue with the Cowboys about an extension. The Cowboys have made it known they want to keep Bryant with a long-term contract as well.

They also want to keep left tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys recently picked up the fifth-year option, which guarantees he will be with the team in 2015, but the Cowboys want to lock up their Pro Bowl left tackle as well.

"Not really focused on that at all," Smith said from the Cowboys' annual sponsors' golf tournament. "Just focused on this one year right now."

Smith is on the books for $10.039 million in 2015 thanks to the option. He is in the final year of a four-year deal he signed in 2011 as the first-round pick, worth $12.49 million.

"I'm happy they picked up my fifth year and just glad I get to stay in Dallas," Smith said. "I love it out here and it's a great town. The fans are great too."

Whenever the Cowboys and Smith come to a deal, it will be a huge one.

Seven offensive linemen carry cap figures of $10 million or more in 2014. Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas has the highest per-year salary average at $11.5 million. The Washington Redskins guaranteed left tackle Trent Williams $36.75 million in 2010 with a $10 million a year average. Thomas was guaranteed $29.5 million by the Browns in 2011.

In 2012, the New York Jets re-signed D'Brickashaw Ferguson to a deal that included $32.4 million guaranteed.

Smith has time on his side. He does not turn 24 until December. In fact, he is younger than the Cowboys' last two first-round picks, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys selected Zack Martin in the first round of last month's draft, Mackenzy Bernadeau didn't need to be told what it meant.

Like first-round picks before him on the offensive line, Tyron Smith (2011) and Travis Frederick (2013), Martin is being plugged in as a starter. The Cowboys have plugged him in at right guard, where Bernadeau has started 26 games the last two seasons.

"I know the business," Bernadeau said. "I know he's going to come in and play somewhere. Not knowing obviously where it's going to happen but I was prepped to know if he's ready to come in take the right side I'll be competing or trying to play the left side or just be ready to prepare to if I need to play all three interior positions. I knew myself and I didn't have to have a conversation with anybody."

Bernadeau has worked with the first team at left guard during the organized team activities and will compete with Ronald Leary for a starting spot. Leary started every game at left guard in 2013. Bernadeau has been taking some backup center snaps as well.

"Since I've been here I'm always going to be ready for all three spots, left side, center, right side," Bernadeau said. "I'm always prepping for that."

Bernadeau, who accepted a pay cut during the offseason over the next two seasons, played left guard for the Carolina Panthers. He said the difference between playing on the right or left side is, "like learning to write with your left hand instead of your right hand," but his previous experience helps.

He had to get used to right tackle Doug Free the last two years, but has spent time getting used to playing next to Tyron Smith in 2014.

"It's more important to get used to the guys next to you and what their steps are than the techniques because I played both sides before," Bernadeau said.

Perhaps most importantly for Bernadeau is that he is on the field at all in the offseason. He missed his first offseason with the Cowboys because of hip surgery and was limited last year because of shoulder surgery.

"It's great to be able to get a full offseason in," Bernadeau said. "Hopefully I'll stay healthy."

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

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San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said after the NFL draft that his team is better.

The Cowboys made upgrades to the offensive line, getting Zack Martin in the first round, the defensive line, selecting Demarcus Lawrence in second round, and adding depth to the linebacker corps with fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens and seventh-rounder Will Smith.

"No question, we are younger. We are better," Jones said. "We will have over 30 players between our draft picks and our free agents. That's one-third of our team drafted or signed over the last three days. We will end up cutting a lot of players when we are through signing everybody."

The younger part is the key. The Cowboys allowed two defensive linemen, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, to leave in free agency because of financial reasons and age. Both are age 31 and while the Cowboys re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is 30, there are no guarantees he'll recover from microfracture surgery in time to start the 2014 season.

The Cowboys replaced Hatcher with 27-year-old Henry Melton and then added Lawrence, 22, to replace Ware as the left defensive end.

Along the offensive line, the Cowboys' addition of Martin brings youth to the unit. On Saturday, while talking with reporters, Martin joked he was older, 24, than two current linemen in Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, both 23.

"We feel like, hey, we need to get younger," Jones said. "We need to give some young guys a chance to show [what they can do]. We got better."

Dallas Cowboys draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
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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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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.
IRVING, Texas -- Last April, the Cowboys traded down in the first round and selected center Travis Frederick.

He took over the starting job in his rookie season and gave the Cowboys confidence that he will maintain in that spot for several seasons.

Martin
On Thursday night, the Cowboys made not only what was a considered a safe pick, but drafted someone whom Jason Garrett called, "a damn good football player" in tackle/guard Zack Martin.

So now Martin will compete at one of the two interior offensive line positions and try to do what Frederick did: earn a starting job.

"I'm looking to come in here and compete and I want to come in there and compete from day one," Martin said. "So obviously, I want to come in there and be on the field and help the team win, so yeah, that's my goal."

It's a realistic goal for Martin because the Cowboys need youth and talented players for the offensive line.

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Garrett said Martin brings a versatility to the offensive line where he can play all five positions but in 2014 he will be asked to play guard. Garrett didn't say which guard spot Martin will play. It's assumed he can pair up with Doug Free on the right side. Martin played left tackle in college, but in the pros learning from a veteran such as Free could be important to his development.

"He played inside at the Senior Bowl," Garrett said of Martin. "He did a very good job there. People believe he can play center. A lot of people argue he can play all five spots on the offensive line, so initially we're giving him the chance to work inside as an offensive guard and see how he holds up there. Very favorable from the Senior Bowl in working inside. He does have position flex, a lot of experience playing outside and we can see he can play across the board on the offensive line."

This team is trying to get younger along the offensive line and expects draft picks to contribute quickly.

It's not depending on finding gems such as Andre Gurode (second round, 2002) or Flozell Adams (second round, 1998) in the draft to emerge into starters.

Finding solid players in free agency such as Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier is not guaranteed every season.

So now the Cowboys are hoping draft picks such as Tyron Smith (first-rounder in 2011), Frederick and now Martin will be strong players to protect a 34-year-old quarterback in Tony Romo.

"One of my biggest strengths, I think, is my versatility," Martin said. "Like I told them, I am willing to play anything they need me to do to help the team."
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IRVING, Texas -- It seems as if Jerry Jones is remembering he was an offensive lineman on a national championship team at Arkansas.

For the third time in the past four years the Cowboys selected an offensive lineman with their first pick by taking Zack Martin with the 16th pick. In 2011, they took Tyron Smith with the ninth pick. In 2013 they took Travis Frederick with the 31st pick.

The Cowboys had gone from 1982 to 2010 without taking an offensive lineman in the first round. Now they love picking linemen.

The pick helps Tony Romo and it also helps the Cowboys for whenever they decide to find Romo's successor.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Cowboys drafted an offensive lineman in the first round for the third time in the past four years in the hopes that they can better protect Tony Romo.
At 34 and coming off two back surgeries, Romo will have to be protected perhaps more than he has ever been protected. Some of Romo's finest moments have come when he has broken free from an onrushing defender with a spin move and bought time outside the pocket. It's what made Romo, Romo.

With three first-round picks along the offensive line, the Cowboys have fortified Romo's protection. Romo was sacked 35 times last year. In four of his past five full seasons he has been sacked at least 34 times. Not all sacks are created equal, and part of Romo's decline in interceptions in 2013 was due to the fact that he took more sacks.

Aaron Rodgers has done that with the Green Bay Packers, but he's not 34 and coming off two back surgeries.

The Cowboys can play Martin at guard or tackle in 2014 and possibly move him to tackle in 2015 if Doug Free is not re-signed. It is possible Free could move to guard as well. He took some snaps there last summer but had a bounce-back year at right tackle in 2013.

While the Cowboys are committed to Romo, he cannot play forever. Whenever they move on, they will have an offensive line that will allow the young quarterback to learn behind a veteran offensive line.

Smith had his first of what should be many Pro Bowl seasons in 2013. He is considered the best young tackle in football and could sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys as early as this offseason. Frederick started every game as a rookie in 2013 and is signed through 2016 with an option for 2017. Now the Cowboys have Martin.

Breaking in a young quarterback is always difficult. If Martin can play the way Smith and Frederick have played, the Cowboys will ease that transition.

And if you think about it, this move can help the defense, too. If Martin plays well, the running game improves. If the running game improves, the offense improves. If the offense improves, the defense, which was ranked last in 2013, is on the field less in 2014.

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