NFL Nation: Jason Witten

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants scored a touchdown to take a four-point lead on the Dallas Cowboys with three minutes left in the game Sunday night. The Cowboys didn't even need two of those minutes to take the lead right back.

Romo
The kickoff was a touchback, setting Dallas up at its own 20-yard line, and quarterback Tony Romo opened things up with a quick 4-yarder to Dez Bryant on the right sideline. He found tight end Jason Witten for 5 yards on the next play, and then on third-and-1, running back DeMarco Murray scooted through the middle for 9 yards to get the ball to the 38. That got the game to the two-minute warning and bought the Cowboys time to talk.

"You just have to get yourself going, you have to get yourself started," Romo said. "Once you do that, it usually flows, and you just have to stay calm, stay in the moment and play each play by itself."

First thing out of the break, Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka was called for a neutral zone infraction, setting the Cowboys up with first-and-5 from the 43. Romo found slot receiver Cole Beasley for a 21-yard gain that for a second looked a little bit like the 45-yard catch-and-run touchdown Beasley had scored earlier. The Cowboys were in business at the Giants' 36-yard line with 1:30 left.

Romo took a shotgun snap and sat there in the pocket for what seemed like an eternity. The Giants were not blitzing, instead dropping seven into coverage and trying to get to Romo with only their front four. They could not, and he found Witten for 15 more yards. The next play went back to Bryant for 8 yards, and he went out of bounds at the 13 to stop the clock.

So on second-and-2 from the 13, Romo took another shotgun snap. This time, more than eight full seconds elapsed before Romo threw the ball. He did not have to leave the pocket. Kiwanuka explained after the game that part of the Giants' plan was to contain Romo in the pocket, since they consider him more dangerous outside of it than inside. But they still needed to find a way to get at least one pass-rusher through the Cowboys' offensive line, and they could not.

"Obviously, anytime you're afforded that amount of time with a couple of plays left at the end of the game, it's huge," Romo said.

Bryant got open in the back of the end zone and caught the game-winning touchdown. The Giants fell to 3-8 with their sixth loss in a row and were eliminated from the NFC East race with a week left to go in November.

Brandon Weeden prepares to start

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
4:25
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden has had the same routine for about two months: Practice with the first-team offense on Wednesdays and then go back to the scout team the rest of the week.

Weeden
It gets interesting now for Weeden as starting quarterback Tony Romo deals with a stubborn back that has raised concerns about his availability for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Weeden took the first-team reps in a walkthrough practice Wednesday and is expected to do the same the rest of the week, or at least until further notice.

“It's still a day-to-day type thing,” Weeden said. “I took the reps today and if he's [Romo] out there practicing great, if not then I will step in there and take each rep which has been good for the last seven, eight weeks. I've been able to take the reps on Wednesday which has been big for me so I'm going to treat it no different, if he's able to go that's the best thing. We'll have to see how everything plays out.”

Weeden was pressed to participate in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins when Romo went down in the third quarter when he took a knee to his lower back. He led the Cowboys on two scoring drives, which concluded in a Dan Bailey 21-yard field goal and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten. Weeden's scoring drives led the Cowboys to tie the score twice, but Romo returned for the final drive of the game and remained on the field for overtime.

Weeden finished 4-of-6 for 69 yards and the touchdown.

“He did a nice job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I thought he had poise and composure, ran the offense, handled himself in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, made good decisions, made good throws, led us on a couple of scoring drives. He really did a nice job. Not a real surprise.”

Weeden might take over the starting job if Romo is unable to play against the blitz-happy Cardinals, and that's something he's preparing himself for.

“It's just a different mindset, the uncertainty of you may play or you may not play for six, seven eight weeks whatever,” Weeden said. “You just don't know. You've got to approach it like you're going to play at some point, that way when your number is called, you're not caught off guard.”
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys best receiving threat was slowed down Monday night.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant finished with three catches for a season-low 30 yards and one touchdown in the 20-17 overtime loss to Washington. Bryant was targeted just twice in the third quarter, none in the fourth and once in overtime.

There were two plays Bryant should have made that appeared to be drops, including one in the end zone yet Washington doubled him with tight coverage from a cornerback and then used a safety over the top to prevent deep throws for a majority of the game.

The coverages Bryant faced Monday isn’t something new, just part of the deal that comes with being one of the playmakers on offense.

Bryant
Bryant
“Shading a little bit,” Bryant said of the safeties who were near him. “A little bit of [zone] and they did a good job.”

Normally when defenses employ tight coverages on Bryant it opens things for receiver Terrance Williams and tight end Jason Witten. Those two combined for 11 catches and 139 yards and one touchdown. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, the Redskins tied a season-high by sending five or more pass rushers on 60 percent of dropbacks against the Cowboys.

Yet with more defenders coming at quarterback Tony Romo it should have cleared things for Bryant one on one.

"We moved him around some," coach Jason Garrett said of Bryant."He made some plays in the game and obviously you get used to him making a ton of plays and making a huge difference."

Bryant's second-quarter touchdown catch was just amazing. He caught a short pass behind the line of scrimmage with one hand. The tip of the ball landed in the cup of his hand and after shaking a defender he carried safety Ryan Clark into the end zone.

Bryant didn't want to talk about the touchdown catch, instead focusing on the loss.

Garrett called the touchdown catch amazing.

"To make the catch that he made and then get in the end zone, it was a pretty special play," Garrett said. "But he gets a lot of attention and he always gets a lot of attention. He's got to fight through it."

On the final play of the game, Bryant was doubled and was able to scramble free with Romo moving out of the pocket.

Bryant was open for a moment near the Cowboys’ sideline but Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland stepped in front to knock the pass away.

“We let this one slip away,” Bryant said. “We have to look at ourselves in the mirror. As a team, we let one slip away. I’m scrambling and trying to get open and try to give him a target, guy did a good job on the ball.”

DeMarco Murray making history

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
10:30
AM ET
SEATTLE – Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray wasn’t around to speak with reporters in the locker room after another solid performance.

Murray’s numbers said everything about him. He rushed for 115 yards on 29 carries in the 30-23 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray now shares an NFL record with Jim Brown, and he can leave Brown behind next week against the Giants.
It was Murray’s 15-yard touchdown run, where he cut across the field, with 3:16 remaining that sealed the victory.

Murray has rushed for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games to open the season, becoming just the second man in league history to achieve that. The other is Jim Brown, who did it in 1958 for the Cleveland Browns.

Seattle had the best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing just 62.3 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry.

“We thought it was going to be tough sledding to run the football, but we had to be persistent with it,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Our guys did an excellent job.”

Murray has rushed for 785 yards after six games, the most in franchise history and seventh-most in NFL history.

Sunday was not easy. He had five carries where he gained 0 yards and four with just 1 yard picked up. This was a gritty effort by the NFL’s leading rusher.

“I think we just didn’t tackle well and a couple of times it was on our gap,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said. “They’re a gap running team they’re not really the blow-you-off-the-ball type of offense.”

Whatever the opinions are, the Cowboys rushing attack was solid. It gained 162 total yards, 52 from backup Joseph Randle on just five carries, in the victory and for the first time in the Garrett era, the running attack is leading this offense.

“We just stuck with it,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Coach [Scott] Linehan talked about that early, they are No. 1 in the league in rush defense.

"Those short runs can turn into long ones. We were able to a good formation and DeMarco has hard runs. I really think he has shown his maturity as a back, sticking with us and sticking with it and coming out on the back end on a couple of those late in the game.”
DeMarco Murray has gained 327 yards before he has even been touched this season.

Let that marinate.

Understand, Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing yards (546) and carries (99) isn’t putting up those numbers without the tight ends and receivers doing just as good a job as the offensive line creating running lanes.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys offensive line is creating holes for DeMarco Murray, and the receivers and the tight ends are blocking well at the second level.
On Murray’s 15-yard touchdown run that gave Dallas a 17-0 lead over the New Orleans Saints, he ran through a wide hole created by tight end Jason Witten sealing the edge and Dez Bryant manhandling the cornerback.

Murray was untouched, and Bryant was thrilled.

“It’s a commitment thing -- it’s a mindset. If you want to block, all it is is a mindset. If you don’t block, like I said, it’s a mindset -- you don’t want to block,” Bryant said. ““I’m a wideout first, I like to catch passes, but this year I think I came a long way, you know -- not using the right techniques to block, to now, feeling good about it, adding that to my game a little better. I’m not saying I couldn’t block, I’m just a better blocker now.”

And that’s really why the Cowboys’ running game leads the NFL with 165.0 yards per game and ranks fourth with 5.08 yards per carry.

Play-caller Scott Linehan began talking to the entire offense -- not just the lineman and running backs -- about the importance of consistently running the ball this season.

Linehan told them the running game wouldn’t work the way it needs to work without every offensive unit doing its part. Besides, it’s the only way to run the ball consistently against defensive fronts designed to stop the run.

“We need the receivers to crack on linebackers and safeties and they’ve done a good job,” Linehan said. “A guy like Terrance Williams -- I don’t know how much blocking he did in the offense at Baylor -- but he’s really done a good job.

“It’s not always about getting a pancake block. Sometimes, you just have to get in their way.”

Contrary to popular belief, Linehan said quarterback Tony Romo was among the first players on board with the Cowboys making the running game the epicenter of the offense.

“Every quarterback wants to throw the ball and have the gaudy numbers,” Linehan said, “but Tony understands how easy the running game makes his job. Everything isn’t on his shoulders and it opens up the running game.

“We’re all about winning. This will help us win.”

So far, it has.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are under the spotlight again for issues on and off the field. On the field, the team is 3-1 heading into a Sunday afternoon clash against the Houston Texans (3-1).

Witten
Off the field, Grapevine, Texas, police confirmed that special teams player C.J. Spillman is being investigated in connection with an alleged sexual assault at the Gaylord Hotel. Also, defensive tackle Josh Brent, convicted in January of intoxication manslaughter for the December 2012 crash that killed Cowboys practice squad player Jerry Brown, was welcomed back to the team after he completed his sentencing.

Recently, coach Jason Garrett spoke to the team about conduct, especially when it comes to domestic violence. Tight end and player representative Jason Witten is mindful of the high standards the league and its fans want from players.

"I think in general you’re always hesitant to comment because you don’t know enough about any of those situations," Witten said. "Specific to the domestic violence cases, there’s no place for that in our game. And I think you’ve seen that with what the players’ association have done, and obviously the expectations are high. But at the same time, they represent those players and those players have got to learn from that and be accountable so it never happens again."

Witten was asked whether these incidents, particularly Spillman's, tarnish the reputation of the franchise, which has endured numerous off-the-field issues like several other NFL teams.

"I think they're two separate situations," Witten said. "Josh, he did serve his time and I was a teammate of his when all that went down, and it was a tragedy and to see Josh go through that and the process of coming back is great to see and we support him from that standpoint. I think with C.J. we just don't know enough. He's my teammate. I just found out about it earlier in the day. But as I said before, the expectations and standards for us is high, and it needs to be high. We'll see how that plays out and we respect him and he's been a great asset for our team and his interaction with us. He's a true pro."
MANKATO, Minn. -- The full details of Kyle Rudolph's five-year extension with the Minnesota Vikings are in, and if he plays well enough to earn all of the money in the deal, he'll be the sixth highest-paid tight end in the NFL.

Rudolph
According to ESPN Stats & Information salary data, Rudolph can earn a total of $18.5 million guaranteed, if he stays on the roster through 2017; his contract paid him a signing bonus of $6.5 million, and is set to pay him base salaries of $4.9 million in 2015, $5.65 million in 2016 and $5.15 million in 2017. Rudolph's 2015 and 2016 base salaries are currently guaranteed for injury only but would become fully guaranteed if he is on the roster on the third day of the 2015 and 2016 league years. Additionally, $1.45 million of Rudolph's 2017 base salary is currently guaranteed for injury but would become fully guaranteed under the same terms.

The tight end, who signed his contract extension Sunday, would also earn roster bonuses of $125,000 and workout bonuses of $100,000 in all five years of the extension. The deal is worth $36.5 million, but Rudolph can earn up to $40 million if he realizes incentives in the contract. He carries a cap value of $2,773,134 this year, and will not carry a cap hit of more than $7.175 million in any year of the deal.

Of all the tight ends in the NFL, only Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Jared Cook are scheduled to earn more guarantees in their current deals than Rudolph. Additionally, only Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Witten, Davis and Gates have deals with a higher yearly average than Rudolph's.
Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
AM ET
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 – Brandon Weeden's bid to be the Dallas Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback in 2014 got a lot easier when the club decided to release Kyle Orton.

Weeden
Barring something unforeseen, Weeden, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, will be Tony Romo’s backup. But Weeden does not look at the move as “weight off my shoulders.”

“Given the situation Kyle has been in in previous years in Dallas, he’s been the backup quarterback, so I think if he was there it would be one more obstacle I would have to kind of hurdle,” Weeden said. “But at the same time I can’t really get wrapped up in putting all of my attention on that. I need to do what I did in the [organized team activities] and continue to play well and get better. I think hopefully things will work out that way regardless.”

The Cowboys felt confident enough to jettison Orton, who skipped the entire offseason program and minicamp, in part because of what Weeden did in the spring. With Romo recovering from back surgery and being kept out of competitive drills and Orton missing, Weeden took all of the first-team snaps.

“I think the reps I got in the OTAs were kind of irreplaceable,” Weeden said. “If I was in a situation where God forbid something happened to Tony and I’m asked to play, those are the guys I’m going to battle with, so those reps I got were invaluable. I know I won’t get many of those in [training] camp, but fortunately I had 12 practices where I was able to get out with those guys. Now it’s, ‘Let’s get to work.’ I’m ready to get to California and get things rolling.”

Orton had the same benefit last year of taking all of the offseason snaps in 2013 as Romo recovered from surgery to remove a cyst from his back. When Romo hurt his back in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins, he was able to step into the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles and play well. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but a late turnover sealed the Cowboys’ loss.

“[Gavin] Escobar and [Jason] Witten are two totally different players. Dez [Bryant] and Terrance [Williams] are two totally different players,” Weeden said. “You kind of learn what certain guys’ strengths are and little nuances of what they do. That’s the thing more than anything. You kind of get a feel for what Dez likes on fades and all that stuff a certain way where Terrance might like it another way. You’ve got to learn what each guy likes. When you’re with so many new guys it takes time. You always want more time, but it’s nice to have the reps I did get there to get a head start.”

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» 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' decision to part ways with backup quarterback Kyle Orton has opened up a spot on the 90-man roster for training camp.

Orton
Josh Brent's name has come up as a possible fill-in, but sources say there is nothing new on that front. Brent remains at a treatment facility after he was released from county jail for his involvement in a 2012 car accident that killed his friend and teammate Jerry Brown.

The Cowboys have not ruled out the possibility of re-signing Brent if he wants to re-start his NFL career, but they have more pressing needs to fill with training camp starting next week.

At this point in the summer, finding players is difficult. With teams carrying 90 players, there are only so many available. The pool is not filled with stars. It’s filled mostly with guys you hope can get you through a few days of practice, limit the amount of snaps you give your regulars and perhaps develop into contributors.

Tight end remains a position of need. The Cowboys have Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna and Jordan Najvar. They need more of a blocker in the group, not only on the 90-man roster but perhaps the 53-man roster.

The Cowboys like to carry a high number of receivers and corners because of the amount of running they do in training camp. They have 10 receivers and eight cornerbacks under contract. Again, the idea isn’t to sign a name veteran to make the masses happy at this point. It’s about practice (said in best Allen Iverson voice).

The Cowboys could also gain a spot if Amobi Okoye is not fully cleared for drills. He spent most of the offseason with the team, working out, but he did not take the field as he attempts a return from a personal medical issue. Including Okoye, the Cowboys have 16 defensive linemen on the roster.

Cowboys' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Since Tony Romo took over as quarterback, the success of the Dallas Cowboys has mostly centered on Romo's effectiveness.

Romo
He has played well enough in the past three seasons to throw 90 touchdown passes and get intercepted 39 times, but the Cowboys have not been able to finish better than 8-8 and have missed the playoffs. They have not qualified for the postseason since 2009.

As the Cowboys look to end the drought in 2014, Romo will remain the central part to their success, but the core of the team has changed.

While Romo and Jason Witten remain, the core of the team has become players like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have transitioned from an older team to a younger team.

Starting next year, the Cowboys will be in much better salary-cap space. The days of the Cowboys setting the market on free agents might be over. They signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal in 2011 and have not received the payoff. They parted ways with DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin this offseason. They did not attempt to re-sign Jason Hatcher. For a team that did not hesitate to pay age often, the Cowboys have turned almost frugal.

They have drafted better and smarter. Three of their past four first-round picks have been offensive linemen. Their drafting will never be perfect but it has been better. They have found more role players after a disastrous 2009 draft. They are trying to build the roster from the inside out as opposed to outside in.

For the Cowboys to make the jump from 8-8 to a consistent playoff team, they honestly need to continue down the same path. Patience has never been one of owner Jerry Jones’ strong suits, but the team has shown a willingness to change its ways.

If they continue to build smartly and avoid the costly mistakes that come about in free agency, the Cowboys could find themselves beginning to open up another window of opportunity as Romo and Witten wind down their careers.
IRVING, Texas – After one of the Dallas Cowboys’ final minicamp practices, Cole Beasley took up a sliver of space on the field, running in quick bursts, cutting left and right over and over again.

“Just kind of working on my feet and pumping my arms at the top of routes,” Beasley said.

[+] EnlargeCole Beasley
AP Photo/James D SmithCole Beasley has been working to become a more well-rounded route runner this offseason.
It was tedious work on a June day that Beasley hopes pays off for him in September when the Cowboys’ regular season starts. In his first two years with the Cowboys, Beasley has 54 catches for 496 yards and two touchdowns. Last year he developed into a real threat in the slot as one of Tony Romo’s favorite targets, catching 39 passes for 368 yards and two scores.

At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, however, there are limitations to Beasley’s game that he has to overcome, which is why he spent that post-practice time working on his route running.

“Typically when you’re a smaller receiver, you have to win by more,” coach Jason Garrett said. “And so how do you do that as an outside receiver? You outrun guys. I’m thinking about a deep ball down the field. You can beat a guy by a yard or two when you’re a smaller guy and he still kind of has you covered because he’s a bigger guy and as the ball is coming in, he has an equal chance to make a play on that ball. Bigger guys outside don’t have to win by as much because they can fight for that ball when it’s up in the air. That’s how his size hurts him.

“What helps him out there is his quickness, his change of direction. He’s a very good route runner, and he’s able to kind of create the space that he needs as an outside receiver a lot like he’s able to do inside. His change of direction is really pretty unique, and he has a real good feel. He’s very quarterback-friendly when he runs his routes. We’re trying to give him opportunities in a lot of different spots. He’s most natural playing inside, but he’s certainly not a non-factor as an outside receiver.”

Beasley worked on the outside some in the offseason but most of his work was still from the slot. Wide receivers coach Derek Dooley said Beasley has expanded his route inventory. The Cowboys would like to move Dez Bryant around more in 2014. In order to do that, they need Beasley to be able to handle the outside.

“You don’t have as much space because the sideline is there,” Beasley said. “In the slot you kind of have a two-way go on a defender. You can’t just get way out or way in. Outside [the cornerback] can kind of use the sideline as his friend. You don’t want to get too close to that sideline because there’s no throw. It’s just a little different as far as releases go and stuff like that.”

By having more routes in his repertoire, Beasley will be more difficult to read.

“Even just being a slot guy you can still have more routes,” Beasley said. “To me, it’s all about opportunities. I didn’t have much opportunity to run that many different routes and they’re doing a good job of giving me more stuff just to see what I can do, what I can handle, what I can’t handle. I’ve just got to prove to them I can do the stuff. I believe I can, so it’s all a matter of showing them.”

In an offense with Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray and Terrance Williams, Beasley could have a prominent role.

“He’s going to be a much better player than he was last year,” Dooley said, “and he was really valuable to us last year.”
Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it, we discuss:
If you want to see Part 1 of the mailbag, click here. And this will be our last Twitter mailbag for a few weeks thanks to some vacation.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: Since Romo is such a golf guy, let's use a golf analogy: he's on the back nine. I don't know how anybody could think otherwise. He is 34. He is coming off two back surgeries. He is in his eighth year as a full-time starter. Just because he is on the back nine doesn't mean he can't play at a high level. I know the odds are stacked and thirty-something quarterbacks haven't won a lot of Super Bowls here lately, but I'd take my chances he's on Holes 12 and 13, if you will. He still has football in him, provided he can stay upright. I do think Romo is smart enough to adapt his game as he gets older. If you allow me to carry on with other sports analogies, here's another one: fastball pitchers can develop into multipitch guys over the years. Romo has done a lot on his own with some improvisation and ability to buy time. I don't think you'll see him run around as much as he did when he was younger. I think you'll see him pick and choose his spots. I believe he did some of that last year, which is one of the reasons his sack total was so high. He was willing to take the sack -- not necessarily the big hit mind you -- and move on to the next play rather than take a risk of a hit or a poor throw. @toddarcher: Conventional wisdom says DeMarco Murray because when he gets 20 carries in a game, the Cowboys win. I hate that stat. If it really means what it says it means, then Murray should get the ball on the first 20 plays of every game. We all know it doesn't work that way. But I'm also of the opinion that the running back position has been devalued. I think the Cowboys could get by without Murray. Would they be as good? No, but they would not be lost. To me, if they lost Jason Witten, then they would be in trouble. Witten has been a mainstay. He does everything. The passing game has missed receivers over the years, but Romo has been able to throw for more than 300 yards in game whether he has Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson or Dwayne Harris playing big roles. Without Witten, I don't know that that would continue. And in the running game, Witten can set the edge. He's not a blow-them-up blocker, but he can displace defensive ends and linebackers to allow backs to pick holes. On defense, I really didn't have a candidate, but if I did, I'd probably go with Barry Church. I don't know what they would do at safety without him. The defense would take a different look, for sure. @toddarcher: If you're talking left defensive end, then sure. If you're looking for a pure right defensive end, then no. But he has position flexibility. He can move inside if necessary as well. The left side has to be a stronger player at the point of attack. He is that type of guy and he has some good pass rush to him, but not to the point where you can say he would be a DeMarcus Ware type. He can be a Greg Ellis type. If he does not play well, then the Cowboys' defensive line will struggle. They need him to have a good year. I think the expectations have been raised on the kid from comments by guys like Jason Hatcher and Tony Romo. People need to remember he didn't have a sack in 2012 and he missed last year. There will be some growing pains, but the potential is definitely there. @toddarcher: He has done a better job. He appears to be playing more confident. Now, does that mean he is a shutdown corner worth the No. 6 pick in the draft? I don't want to go that far from watching football in helmets and jerseys in the spring, but it sure beats the alternative. He is as healthy as he has been, which plays a part into the confidence. He's not thinking about injuries out there. His comments at the end of the minicamp were encouraging. He was going to take a few days off here and there between now and training camp but he planned on staying on the grind. That's good news. He knows how important this year is to him. The Cowboys need him as much as anybody else on defense to be successful. As I said, I like what I've seen but I still think Orlando Scandrick will be the starter Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. To win that job from Scandrick he will have to knock out the champ, if you know what I mean. @toddarcher: Yes, there is. If you want to take a look at the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, look at Article 4, Section 9. It's about forfeiture. If I had to bet when Kyle Orton shows up at training camp it would be either July 27 or July 28. Once he misses six practices, the Cowboys can come after the prorated amount of signing bonus in 2014. So in addition to the fines he induced in the offseason -- $69,455 for missing the minicamp, $10,930 for missing the physical -- and the $75,000 de-escalator in his contract for missing too many workouts, Orton would be fined $30,000 for missing camp. So let's say he misses a week, costing him $150,000. You're looking at about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators, which brings his base salary to just under $3 million. I think for 17 regular-season weeks and a month of preseason, Orton would be OK to make that kind of money and then walk away from the game. It will be interesting to see how this goes when the Cowboys get to camp. They have remained patient, to say the least, while Orton has been silent. 

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Roster Advisor

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 12/18
Saturday, 12/20
Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22
WEEKLY LEADERS