NFL Nation: Henry Melton

Henry Melton, the Dallas Cowboys' key offseason defensive acquisition, said he’s ready for the season opener against San Francisco after not playing in the preseason.

Melton
Melton said his knee and his groin, which he tweaked during training camp, are fine and he expects to start Sunday against the 49ers. Melton said he’s not sure how much he will play against San Francisco but won’t be opposed to the coaching staff putting him on a play limit.

“I’m just going to go with the flow,” Melton said. “If they want to hold me to a certain amount of plays, I’m just going to listen to them.”

For the Cowboys to have any chance of having a solid defense this season, they need Melton to play well.

The 2012 Pro Bowl defensive tackle is capable of being disruptive against the run with his ability to penetrate, while also providing a good pass rush and collapsing the middle of the pocket.

That's especially important against a physical offense like San Francisco, which prefers to use its running game to control the game. Last season, the 49ers ranked third in the NFL in rushing attempts (505) and yards per game (137.6) and fourth with 18 touchdowns.

“The biggest thing for (Melton),” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, “is to get out there and practice and go against a live opponent. He was able to do some of that today.”

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.

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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 -- The Dallas Cowboys' search for a possible replacement for Sean Lee has led them to Rolando McClain.

In 2010, the Oakland Raiders made McClain the eighth pick of the NFL draft. It never worked out for him with the Raiders for a variety of reasons, including some of his misdeeds. It never worked out for him in two short stints with the Baltimore Ravens that led to him retiring twice.

But he doesn't turn 25 until July 14.

The Cowboys are looking at a low-risk chance for a high-ceiling talent.

“He sounds as excited about football as I've ever heard him,” said McClain's agent, Pat Dye.

McClain
If that holds up, then the Cowboys might have found the guy to man the middle linebacker spot that opened when Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May. The Cowboys mostly worked veteran Justin Durant at Lee's spot in the organized team activities and minicamp, but dabbled with rookie Anthony Hitchens and second-year linebacker DeVonte Holloman at the spot.

Durant is an outside linebacker masking as a middle linebacker even if the coaches believe he can play all three linebacker positions. Holloman started two games at middle linebacker last year as a rookie out of desperation. Hitchens, a fourth-round pick, has a lot to learn.

McClain comes with a better resume than any of them, but his off-field issues -- a number of arrests since being drafted -- are a concern. The fact that he retired twice is a concern, but Dye's words offer encouragement that McClain, who ended Jason Witten's preseason in 2012 with a hit in a exhibition game that led to a lacerated spleen, knows this might be his last chance.

“I see, and Rolando sees, the Dallas situation as a great opportunity given Sean's injury, and you're talking about a great franchise and a great organization,” Dye said. “I've described to any of the clients we've had through the years there -- Emmitt Smith, Dexter Coakley, DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking, DeMarco Murray -- that playing for the Cowboys in football is kind of like playing for the Yankees in baseball. Just an iconic franchise. With kind of what he's done going back to his time with the Raiders, I think that all of this has led him to a point where he feels like the game is too important to him to give up. He's just 24 years old. He's very talented. He's very bright. Tough. Competitive. There's a reason he was a top-10 pick at a position that is almost impossible to be a top-10 pick. Hopefully this situation will go smoothly.”

Patience will be required. McClain has not played in a game since November 2012, after he was suspended for two games for conduct detrimental to the team. He has not taken part in a full offseason program. He will have to learn a new defense and a new team.

The Cowboys have taken these sorts of chances on former high draft picks before. In 2005, they signed Marc Colombo, who was the Chicago Bears' first-round pick in 2002, after he suffered a serious knee injury. In 2006, Colombo became the Cowboys' starting right tackle and held the spot through 2010.

Asking that of McClain is too much. He's on just a one-year deal and the Cowboys believe Lee will be 100 percent in 2015, but this is a chance worth taking.

And it falls in line with how the Cowboys have conducted their offseason business, spending wisely if not exorbitantly on guys such as Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey, Anthony Spencer and Amobi Okoye.
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones is the eternal optimist, as we all know.

The Dallas Cowboys defense will be without DeMarcus Ware (offseason release), Jason Hatcher (free-agent defection) and Sean Lee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but the owner and general manager sees a defense that will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 when it finished last in the league in yards allowed.

Jones
Jones
Why?

"Because we were so bad last year, there's no place but up," Jones said.

So there is that. The Cowboys made modest moves in free agency with the signings of Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. They re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is not likely to be ready to start training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round.

Mostly they are hoping for serious improvement from within.

The Cowboys finished 19th overall in defense in 2012. Injuries ravaged the defense by the end of the season, but that did not save Rob Ryan's job.

Last year the Cowboys made a scheme change, switching from the 3-4 under Ryan to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. They did not make serious personnel additions (Will Allen, Justin Durant) and were hoping not only for improvement from within but scheme flexibility from players drafted to play in Bill Parcells' or Wade Phillips' 3-4.

It seemed as if the Cowboys thought 2013 would be better because it could not be worse than it was at the end of 2012, but Jones disagreed with the assessment.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We're certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."
There isn’t a rush right now to get Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton on the field.

Melton
Training camp isn’t tomorrow and the first practice doesn’t begin until July 24.

The season won’t sneak up on anybody so while Melton does his rehab from a torn ACL, everything is on schedule.

Melton said his knee is doing fine and he expects to be ready for that first practice in late July.

“I think you’ve got to be smart about guys like that,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Obviously Henry’s a pro. He’s been to the Pro Bowl. He knows how to play the game. He’s also coming off a significant injury. I think everything our doctors say is he’s right on time.”

Melton reached the Pro Bowl in 2012 after compiling six sacks, third most in the NFL for defensive linemen, and causing all sorts of havoc. In a two-year stretch, Melton had 13 sacks in 29 games. Only Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (20 sacks in 32 games) had more.

The Cowboys, who will miss DeMarcus Ware (released and signed with Denver) and Jason Hatcher (free agent who signed with Washington), need a pass-rush presence.

Melton won’t be alone. George Selvie, Nick Hayden, DeMarcus Lawrence among others will contribute to the cause.

However, the Cowboys are looking for the Melton who reached the Pro Bowl in 2012.

After that Pro Bowl season, the expectations increased and he participated in just three games last season before the injury.

How he returns will dictate a lot for the Cowboys' defense and Melton’s future.

“Every week I get stronger and better,” Melton said. “We’re just focusing on getting my knee as strong as possible and aiming for preseason and all that. I feel like I could go out there and do some things during these OTAs. It’s something we talked about before. [But] we’re going to focus on training camp and get ready for the season.”
GRAPEVINE, Texas -- You can most likely scratch free agent linebacker Brian Urlacher off the Cowboys’ list of potential players to replace Sean Lee.

“No,” was Jerry Jones’ response Tuesday afternoon when asked if the Cowboys are working on a deal for Urlacher.

Lee is out for the season with a torn ACL and team officials are still determining when surgery will occur.

“We’re working through it,” said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president. “I mean obviously we’re not playing football games tomorrow and we’re not going to training camp tomorrow. We’re just taking a long hard look at anything.”

Replacing Lee will be difficult.

Fourth-round pick Anthony Hitchens, DeVonte Holloman (a 2013 sixth-round pick), and eight-year veteran Justin Durant are the in-house candidates to replace Lee.

The Cowboys are working with their current roster first to see if a starter can emerge for the 2014 season. If not, then signing a free agent is a possibility.

Linebacker Ernie Sims, who played with the Cowboys last season and is another possible replacement, signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday.

“Until we decide one way or the other what we’re going to do with players that are on our team we really hate to comment on things like that,” Stephen Jones said.

Urlacher, a 13-year veteran with the Chicago Bears, didn’t play last season but is open to returning for the right opportunity. Urlacher knows the 4-3 scheme because he played under it in Chicago with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

“Someone actually tweeted me something about it,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said when asked about his former teammate with the Bears. “I haven’t heard any truth behind (Urlacher playing) it but 'Lach' knows the defense and he would be a good replacement, I feel like he would fit in.”
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:

Henry Melton comes home

May, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- If you want to know who Henry Melton is, just ask his family.

They will tell you the Dallas Cowboys' newly signed defensive lineman is more than the stats he collects.

"A cool guy who likes to joke around and a real homebody, most of the time," Melton's sister, Kameshia Melton, said about him. "Just a real cool guy. We can hang out and chill for just hours and look at the computer and watch movies. He's a huge fan of 'Tombstone' and movies like that."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesSigning with the Cowboys was a homecoming for Henry Melton, who grew up in nearby Grapevine, Texas.
Growing up in Grapevine, Texas, Melton first put on football pads in the fifth grade and played running back in Pop Warner leagues all the way to high school.

But Melton had to look up to his big sister, who played volleyball and basketball and ran track in high school.

"I had to talk my daughter into playing sports," said Melton's mother, Cinithia Melton. "I thought it was the quickest way to make friends. Once we saw her play, we knew she was a natural-born athlete, so he had big shoes to fill."

She got a scholarship to play volleyball at Auburn, and Henry stuck with football and hoped to play at only one school: Texas.

"He's a Texas kid," said Kameshia, who is two years older than Henry. "He had all these schools recruiting him all over and he just wanted to play for Texas."

Melton got the scholarship he wanted to play at Texas, and after two seasons at running back, he was moved to defensive line.

He utilized his size -- now 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds -- and became an NFL player. His uncle, Ray Crockett, Cinithia's brother, played 14 years for three NFL teams.

So Henry Melton gets his athletic ability naturally.

In four NFL seasons, Melton has 15.5 sacks, including six in 2012. But the 2009 fourth-round pick of the Chicago Bears played in only three games last season due to a torn ACL.

Melton will be limited when organized team activities (OTAs) start Tuesday at Valley Ranch. The work ethic he applies while recovering from his injury was established by his mother.

When Melton's father left the family, Henry needed guidance, and he got it from his mother.

He learned about working hard and being loyal. When he was in high school, his mother would drive him and his sister to a volleyball match in the middle of the week and to football games on Fridays.

Driving to Auburn, Alabama, to see Kameshia was a grind for Cinithia, so Kameshia transferred to the University of Arkansas at Monticello after two seasons.

Melton understood the importance of family.

It was just the three of them.

When Melton had the chance to play in his hometown after he became a free agent this spring, it was an easy decision to make. Melton had a bond with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and could see family members more often and not just in the offseason.

"I'm excited to come back home and work with Rod [Marinelli] and get back to my Pro Bowl form," Melton said. "It's a great group of guys there."

The Cowboys have the expectation that Melton can replace the departed Jason Hatcher, who signed a free-agent contract with the Washington Redskins.

Melton played his best football with the Bears under Marinelli, who helped him reach the Pro Bowl in 2012.

Marinelli is excited to have a former pupil join a revamped defensive line that's looking to improve a pass rush that lost not only Hatcher but also DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys' franchise leader in sacks. Melton understands the pressures placed on him but knows he's got his family in his corner.

"Growing up, he was an athlete," Cinithia Melton said. "Everything was about football and baseball. He was that kind of kid, and he loved football and baseball. When we moved back to Texas [from California], he wanted to make sure he could play football. And when he found out he could, life was grand."
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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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

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 -- With a rookie minicamp out of the way and the organized team activities starting next week, it's time for the award-winning Five Wonders.

Away we go:
  1. Free
    When the Cowboys picked Zack Martin in the first round, the assumption was that he would (or could) move to right tackle in 2015 with Doug Free in the final year of his contract. I wonder if the Cowboys look to extend Free's contract this offseason. Free is set to make $3.5 million in 2014 as part of a re-worked deal he signed last year. The final two years of his contract void after this season, which means he will count $3.98 million against the cap if he's not a Cowboy in 2015. That's not a reason to keep him. He rebounded with a decent 2013 season and he just turned 30. The Cowboys need to be sensible with a new deal and we've spent the offseason talking about not paying age, which was part of the reason why they said goodbye to DeMarcus Ware and never really tried to keep Jason Hatcher. But tackles tend to play longer. Flozell Adams played his best after he turned 30. This isn't to predict Pro Bowl success for Free; just an example. As for Martin, it was interesting to hear Jerry Jones reference multiple times the importance of being stout in the middle of the line. Keeping Martin at guard might make sense.

  2. By signing Ryan Williams to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money this week, the Cowboys have opened up the competition behind DeMarco Murray. I wonder if they can keep four tailbacks. They did the last couple of years because Phillip Tanner was able to play on most of the special teams' units. Williams' injury history would seem to keep him away from special teams. Lance Dunbar covered some kicks and punts last year, but he had a difficult time staying healthy. Joseph Randle will have to work to be a special teamer. If the Cowboys don't keep a fourth tailback it would allow them to go heavier at tight end or offensive line or even carry a third quarterback, depending on what Kyle Orton decides to do this year. It would also open up a potential spot on the practice squad for a tailback as well.

  3. The Cowboys have made adding defensive linemen to the mix an offseason priority. They want to throw numbers at the position. The Cowboys want to mix the snaps around to keep players fresh. I wonder if Henry Melton or Anthony Spencer can come even close to cashing in on their playing time incentives. Both players have to get healthy first, but Melton is further along in his rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament than Spencer is in his return from microfracture surgery. Melton and Spencer can earn up to $1.5 million apiece depending on certain play-time percentages. Melton can earn $250,000 for 50 percent play time and up to $750,000 if he reaches 70 percent. He has never played more than 60 percent in a season. Spencer' play-time incentive levels are 65 percent ($250,000), 75 percent ($500,000) and 85 percent ($750,000). If he starts the year on the physically unable to perform list, then he would be lucky to hit on the lowest threshold.

  4. I wonder if Jason Garrett's decision to scale back one day of the rookie minicamp because of the number of players who were hurt or were slowed by dehydration is a sign that he will be more compromising in his practice schedule throughout the year. The Cowboys have studied how other teams go about their practices and have dealt with injuries, but the general conclusion is they are doing the right things. Too many players suffered hamstring injuries the last few years. The Cowboys installed ballet bars outside the locker room to help with stretching pre- and post-practice, but I've maintained Garrett needs to cut back on his practice time. You don't want to leave your best work at Valley Ranch during the season. The Cowboys are one of the teams that use GPS devices on players to measure how much they practice, distances traveled and other pieces of information. If the numbers indicate a player has reached a threshold, then they need to rest that guy so as to not risk it. He can call it an adjustment to the new collective bargaining agreement that has shortened the offseason conditioning program. Who knows, it might just work. And it beats the alternative.

  5. On the list of position battles, punter will rank low on the list, but I wonder if undrafted Cody Mandell can push Chris Jones this summer. Mandell averaged 47.1 yards per punt last season at Alabama with a 42.1-yard net average. He had 14 punts of more than 50 yards and 15 ended up inside the 20. He had six touchbacks. Jones will go to camp as the leader without question. He averaged 45 yards per punt and had a 39-yard net average. He had 30 punts inside the 20 and just six touchbacks. He also developed into a reliable holder for Dan Bailey, which cannot be overlooked. And another aspect gives Jones an edge: he's left-footed.
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.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Statistics can be deceiving.

The Chicago Bears clearly looked beyond LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson's modest career collegiate numbers (12 career starts, 85 tackles, five tackles-for-loss and one sack) when drafting him at No. 51 overall.

They obviously believe the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Ferguson will add fresh legs to an already decent rotation at defensive tackle that includes veterans Jeremiah Ratliff, Nate Collins and Stephen Paea. Because the Bears are so high on Ratliff at three-technique, general manager Phil Emery didn't have to necessarily find a Week 1 starting interior defensive lineman in the draft.

After Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan were taken off the board, Ferguson was the next best option in the Bears' mind.

He can stop the run. Ferguson had 58 tackles in 2013 when he was named honorable mention All-SEC. Not to be redundant, but the Bears are determined to find players that thrive in run support.

Word is Ferguson still needs to develop better interior pass-rushing skills.

"You always need to work," Ferguson said Friday night. "I need to improve on pass-rush and my spin move. But one thing I always bring is my heart and my competitive nature. [I'll do] whatever it takes and for however long it takes to win."

Second-round picks are expected to contribute in Year 1, but Ferguson has the luxury of working on his technique with veteran Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni until he's ready to be thrust into a starting role.

Ferguson told reporters at Halas Hall he had a positive meeting with Pasqualoni when he visited the Bears before his pro day.

"[Pasqualoni] has a great personality and he brought me to the office and we were talking ball for a long time," Ferguson said. "He asked me if I can play that two-technique, can I do it? He said that's what the Bears want me for. He showed a lot of interest."

Pasqualoni was an important hire for the Bears in the offseason. With more than 40 years of coaching experience, he is the perfect person to coach up younger defensive linemen that may possess above-average traits, but have yet to garner above-average success.

The Bears are counting on Pasqualoni to refine Ferguson's pass-rushing technique; just as Rod Marinelli did with Israel Idonije, Henry Melton and Corey Wootton before the veteran coach departed for Dallas after the Chicago Bears fired Lovie Smith.

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