NFL Nation: Scott Linehan

Quick Take: Lions at Cowboys

December, 28, 2014
12/28/14
10:15
PM ET
» Wild-Card Round: Schedule » AFC: BAL-PIT | CIN-IND » NFC: DET-DAL | ARI-CAR


GREEN BAY, Wis. – Three things to know about Sunday's Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys wild-card playoff game at AT&T Stadium:

1. Familiar faces: Although the Lions and Cowboys didn’t play this season, there will be a lot of familiar coaching ties for Detroit on the sideline. Former Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan spent 2009-2013 with Detroit, including mentoring Matthew Stafford through the first five years of his career. He led Dallas to the No. 8 offense this season. The Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, was Detroit’s head coach from 2006-2008 and has coordinated the NFL’s No. 20 defense this season.

2. Calvin vs. Carr could be interesting: When these teams played last season at Ford Field, Dallas chose to single-cover Calvin Johnson with Brandon Carr for most of the game, and it resulted in a 14-catch, 329-yard performance from Johnson in a 31-30 Lions victory. How Dallas chooses to cover Johnson and Golden Tate could be one of the more intriguing matchups.

3. Dallas is hot right now: The Cowboys have scored 31 or more points in six of the past seven games, including more than 40 points in three of the past four. The Lions will also have to contend with the NFL’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, who finished the regular season with 1,845 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns. To put Murray’s season in context, the Lions gained 1,422 yards rushing as a team this season. Of course, Murray will also have to face the NFL’s top run defense.
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.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times last season where Mikel Leshoure knew he was not going to receive a chance. He had been banished to the bench even though his coaches said publicly there was a role for him somewhere on the Detroit Lions.

Leshoure
That role, it seemed, was an inactive one.

The Lions cratered to a 7-9 finish after starting the season strong, resulting in the firing of head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. In their place, the team hired Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

And one of the bigger beneficiaries of the move might be Leshoure, the former second-round pick out of Illinois.

“The new coaches just coming in here and they, knowing us, they got their own background of us and they give everybody a fresh chance, a fresh start and I feel like that’s what I needed,” Leshoure said. “I feel like it’s fair game now and I can go out there and compete.”

Leshoure still has a tough road to real playing time as the Lions have a lot invested in starting running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but Lombardi’s New Orleans Saints-based offense could provide Leshoure with at least a fraction of the chances he received in 2012, when he had 215 carries for 798 yards and 34 receptions for 214 yards.

Then last season, he had two carries all season.

“I don’t really get into what happened last year,” Leshoure said. “I felt a lot of it was out of my hands. It wasn’t anything I did as far as my part as far as discipline or anything like that.

“It’s just a coach’s decision and he’s gone, so I’ll just leave it at that.”

By leaving it there, he’s hoping he can pick up where he finished in 2012 instead of languishing where he was in 2013.
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.

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
10:00
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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 -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is not pleased backup quarterback Kyle Orton is missing this week’s mandatory minicamp, but he is taking a broader view of the quarterback situation.

“Well, I think candidly the way I look at it is it has really given us an opportunity, which we really needed to do, and that’s evaluate young quarterbacks or quarterbacks that might could fit in the picture for several years to come,” Jones said. “So I think that’s going to give us a chance to do that.”

Orton
Brandon Weeden has taken the first-team snaps the entire offseason with starter Tony Romo limited by December back surgery and Orton’s absence, and he has impressed the coaches and front office with his work.

But is it enough to where the Cowboys would feel comfortable with him as Romo’s backup and not the more tested Orton?

Jones would not discuss whether the Cowboys have told Orton’s agent that the team does not plan to cut the quarterback. If the Cowboys cut him, then they would not be able to recoup $3.4 million in signing bonus money. If Orton retires, then he would have to repay the Cowboys the bonus money from the deal he signed in 2012.

Jones said he has not had direct conversations with Orton, but the team has spoken with Orton’s agent, David Dunn, who also represents head coach Jason Garrett and passing game coordinator Scott Linehan.

Orton missed Monday’s physical, which subjects him to a fine of $10,930. By missing Tuesday’s workout he could be fined $11,575. If he misses all three days, then he would be fined $69,455. If he doesn’t show up for training camp, then he would be fined $30,000 for each day he misses. A $75,000 de-escalator has already kicked in Orton's contract for missing the workouts. With the fines and de-escalator, Orton's $3.25 million base salary would be reduced to $3.09 million if he plays.

“The bottom line is we’re just playing this as we move along on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis,” Jones said.

It has turned into a game of chicken between the sides. The next deadline comes when the Cowboys travel to Oxnard, California, for training camp on July 22. According to the collective bargaining agreement, if Orton misses the first six days of training camp, he would have to forfeit up to 15 percent of his yearly signing bonus proration. After six days, he would forfeit 1 percent of the proration for each day, maxing out at 25 percent. There are further penalties if he continues to sit into the regular season.

“As you know this game is for sure one thing, and that is when somebody is not here, somebody else steps up,” Jones said, “and that’s what we’ll be doing with our roster.”
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten didn't need to be at Monday's organized team activity.

His son had surgery in the morning, and the OTAs are voluntary. Plus, Witten has a resume complete with nine Pro Bowls and a Dallas Cowboys' franchise record 879 catches.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Tony Gutierrez/AP PhotoVeteran tight end Jason Witten takes part in Dallas Cowboys' team drills during Monday's OTAs.
But once he knew his son was fine, Witten drove to Valley Ranch and showed up a little late for the workout. While teammates went through individual drills, Witten warmed up off to the side. By the time team drills began, he was ready.

He wanted to be there not just to improve as a player under the early June sun, but to show his teammates how important the game is to him.

"This time of year you go back to the fundamentals," Witten said. "As an offense you run the basic plays and as an individual player you go back to the basics of what the fundamentals are and it's going to allow you to be better. I've taken a lot of pride in doing those really well. And this time of year you can tighten it up even more."

Playoff success fuels Witten more than catches. Only Tony Gonzalez has more catches by a tight end in NFL history, but Witten would trade it all in to win more.

That's why he won't miss an offseason workout, an OTA or a minicamp practice. That's why he will fight the coaches who want him to take a day off in training camp next month.

He is on his sixth position coach with Mike Pope taking over for Wes Phillips. He is on his sixth playcaller in Scott Linehan. There is a new energy brought by changes with coaches who see things a little differently.

"I think with Scott it's been neat to see just his ideas and his view on things," Witten said. "Obviously I've got a lot of respect for him and the success he's had in this league, so being around him is good. Then obviously coach Pope, new ideas and new ways to kind of dive into my world and make me a better player. That's been really good and coming to work every day in finding ways to even be better than what you've done before."

From the outside, Pope and Linehan had a great appreciation for Witten. Now on the inside, the appreciation has grown.

"You think of tight ends and he's like the first guy that comes to my mind as far as the position goes," Linehan said. "He's an every-down player. You don't see that so much. There are a few guys in this league that never come off the field at the tight end position. He's been kind of the one that set the standard, set the bar, so to speak, in this league the last 10 years or so."

Where Linehan would need two, sometimes three tight ends to handle the role in previous spots, he can use Witten in the slot, on the line, in pass protection, as the front-side blocker or as the back-side blocker in the run game and even some fullback.

"He knows everything that you would ask a tight end to know but more," Linehan said. "I mean he's like a quarterback at tight end. He knows all the nuances of the run game. He knows the protections better than anyone. I just think so much of that is him making it that important. ...You can tell he made it his business to know as much as he needed to know."

Witten uses the other tight ends in the league, such as Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Vernon Davis, to push himself to continue to be at the top of his game.

"I want to try to compete with those guys the best I can," Witten said.

Witten turned 32 last month. He is entering his 12th season. He knows the years are running out, but he thinks more about his hand placement for a block than he does retirement at this point.

"I think more than anything you get in that routine, you feel confident in what you can do and how you can practice and prepare," Witten said. "I'd rather leave it all out there than say I still had some gas in the tank."
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.
IRVING, Texas -- When Scott Linehan walks out on to the practice fields at the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch facility, he can still remember what it was like in 1987.

Part of what was then a state-of-the-art workout area remains today. The camera booths at either end of the field are still in place, too. There are more neighborhood houses in the background, but the feel remains.

[+] EnlargeScott Linehan
Tim Sharp/AP PhotoNew to the team himself, passing coordinator Scott Linehan assists the Cowboys' rookies during minicamp on Friday, May 16.
Linehan was an undrafted free agent out of Idaho in 1987. He was among the cast of thousands Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt brought in for a look. A shoulder injury, however, kept him from showing what he could do. The Cowboys flew him out to Thousand Oaks, California, for training camp and while he did put on a helmet he was cut before he could put on pads.

Twenty-seven years later, Linehan is now the Cowboys' passing game coordinator. He will not put on pads when the Cowboys go to California -- this time to Oxnard, not Thousand Oaks, but his importance to the success of the Cowboys in 2014 cannot be understated.

"Kind of nostalgic for me to be out here for this one," Linehan said after the first day of last week's rookie minicamp.

Unlike last year's playcaller, Bill Callahan, Linehan will have a free hand in running the offense. Callahan called plays for Jason Garrett's offense and the coach was involved in the playcalling process down the stretch last season, relaying the plays to the quarterback in the huddle.

Linehan will have no middle man. This is his offense. Most of the verbiage will remain the same, since he and Garrett ran similar systems, but there will be changes.

"It would be a disservice to not continue a lot of the great things that Jason and Bill and the guys have implemented here in the past few years," Linehan said. "Then as the timing fits for us ... we get through our OTAs to start to mesh some of the things that make sense."

Not surprisingly, Linehan did not agree with the assertion that the Cowboys have too many voices on offense with Garrett, Callahan and even quarterback Tony Romo, whose involvement in devising game plans will continue in 2014.

"That kind of expertise in one room?" Linehan said. "To have a staff with the qualifications I feel we have is truly a strength."

In 2005, Garrett's first coaching job came under Linehan with the Miami Dolphins. They remained tight over the years and their friendship played a big part in why Linehan came to the Cowboys.

Garrett said they share similar convictions in attacking defenses with the running game and passing game, getting the ball to their playmakers and playing to the players' strengths.

Linehan once directed one of the NFL's best running games with the Minnesota Vikings when Randy Moss was at the top of his game. Steven Jackson had a 1,500-yard season with the St. Louis Rams when Linehan was head coach.

But his most recent five-year run with the Detroit Lions has many convinced Linehan is a pass-happy coordinator, even moreso than Garrett. From 2011-13, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, threw for 14,655 yards and 90 touchdowns with 52 interceptions and Calvin Johnson caught 302 passes for 5,137 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Before 2013, the Lions did not have a running game rank better than 23rd. With the addition of Reggie Bush, Detroit had the 17th-ranked rushing offense.

"Between our first and second back we had almost 1,700 yards rushing," Linehan said. "That was as good as they have done in 10 years. You just lean to your personnel."

The Cowboys will still lean to the pass with Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. But DeMarco Murray is coming off a 1,100-yard season and Zack Martin became the third offensive linemen to be picked in the first round by the Cowboys in the last four years two weeks ago.

"You start with running it effectively," Linehan said. "You achieve balance in the NFL by playing good football throughout three quarters, gaining that lead and then you've got a lead going into the fourth quarter. The teams that run the ball the best, that run the ball balanced, generally are getting a lot of their damage done in that late third, early fourth quarter. You get behind the score then you say you want to do (run the ball). You don't want to abandon it, but you're going to lean toward throwing the ball a little more. So that's to me, I think, the thing with the offensive line, that's a no-brainer. This is a great young front. Added a great piece to it. It was already an offensive line that was really meshing and playing well. We don't have to have this certain look to run the ball. We feel like we can line up and say hey, if they're going to drop guys into the box, we still feel like we've got the guys that can get it done. And then that helps everything. That opens everything on the outside of the field."

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.”

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.”

Dallas Cowboys draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
5/10/14
7:46
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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.

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.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Garrett has always been an offensive kind of guy.

He played quarterback. He coached quarterbacks. His reputation was made as the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 2007-10. He continued to call the plays as head coach from midway through the 2010 season to the end of the 2012 season. With Scott Linehan on the staff in 2014, Garrett is out of the offensive game planning.

Garrett
Garrett
In his make or break year, the former quarterback will spend most of his time with the defense in 2014, according to Jones.

“The thorough indoctrination in that will really advance his cause being the head coach,” Jones said.

Because of his offensive background, Garrett could not give up all of the responsibilities. His trust in Linehan helps make that easier this year, so now he will spend time with Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin.

“Jason with Monte and the staff over there that we've got and his capability of understanding anything that we want to put down there, plus … with an offensive perspective on defense, the way he would attack the defense, his focus on defense is going to make him better.”

The transition to walk-around coach that Jones has talked about before with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells would seem to be complete.

“He's the boss,” Jones said. “The deference to him is critical by his coordinators of Monte, so he can have the knowledge, the experience with those guys that he wouldn't get if he were a graduate assistant or if he were one of the assistants. He can sit there and ask the total picture or he can ask the specifics of a picture. This is all predicated that you've got to have an intelligent, capable person to do what I'm talking about. In Jason, we've got it.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Garrett has a contract that runs out after the 2014 season, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones sees Garrett as the coach in 2015 and beyond.

“Jason should know and I know that he knows that the plan here is and has been for him to be long term,” Jones said, “and long term certainly being beyond this year as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys.”

Jones
Jones
The Cowboys have posted a 29-27 record with Garrett and have finished the last three seasons with 8-8 records, missing the playoffs with Week 17 losses to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.

“It should be a frustration for me to be sitting here with Jason Garrett having been the head coach for three and a half years and having been here (seven) years and be 8-8 the last three years,” Jones said. “So I'm just saying that's a careful evaluation. Does that mean I don't want Jason? I think I want us to have the opportunity and that's why he's staying, to have the opportunity to benefit from this experience over the period of time.”

Garrett isn't the only coach in the final year of his deal. Passing game coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli are signed through 2014. Jones said some coaches have deals past 2014 and beyond.

“There are millions of people that are getting up this morning and walking out and working and if things don't go well for them this year will not be where they want to be next year,” Jones said.

Jones said the incentive is there for Garrett to perform.

“He's got a high tolerance for ambiguity,” Jones said. “He does. That's very important with this situation.”
INDIANAPOLIS – A year ago, coach Jason Garrett's mantra was that the Dallas Cowboys needed to run the ball more and run it better in 2013 than they did in 2012.

The Cowboys ran it a lot better with DeMarco Murray rushing for more than 1,000 yards and earning a Pro Bowl spot, but they did not run it more.

In 2013, Dallas ran it 336 times for 1,507 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. The season before, they rushed for 1,265 yards on 355 carries with eight touchdowns.

On Thursday Garrett said the Cowboys must run it more in 2014, however, the new playcaller, Scott Linehan, ran the ball even less than the Cowboys when he was the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions.

"Scott's been around teams that have run the ball really well, if you look at his track record back to Minnesota, they were a top five rushing team," Garrett said. "All those years when they had Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss, they always ran the ball very, very well. You like to get to a point where you can do that, where you have that kind of balance. You can be really productive in the passing game, but you can control the game by running the football."

As head coach of the St. Louis Rams, Linehan had Steven Jackson rush for 1,528 yards but the team finished ranked 17th in the NFL in rushing. In three years as the Vikings' coordinator he oversaw the NFL's ninth, fourth and second ranked run offenses form 2002-04. In five years with the Lions, Linehan's rush offense's best finish was 17th.

With a developing offensive line, highlighted by first-round picks Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, and Murray, Garrett said the Cowboys simply have to trust the running game more.

"We're stronger up front than we've been in the last few years, and hopefully we can continue to add to that, control the line of scrimmage more," Garrett said. "The best teams in the league are able to do that, and we're hoping to be able to do that, have the kind of balance we want for our team."
IRVING, Texas -- When the Detroit Lions released safety Louis Delmas and wide receiver Nate Burleson on Thursday, most of the attention of Dallas Cowboys' fans went to Delmas.

It makes sense. The Cowboys need safety help. Delmas is young, though a bit injury prone. He had a career-high three interceptions in 2013 and was set to make $5.5 million in 2014.

Burleson
Burleson
When considering any free agent, you always have to factor in cost. There will be a team with more cap space than the Cowboys willing to pay Delmas more. I wouldn’t expect the Cowboys to be huge players in the free agent market.

To me, however, Burleson makes more sense.

Let’s go with the premise that Miles Austin will not be around in 2014. We have talked about that a few hundred times already. The Cowboys have Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams ready to be their top two wide receivers. They like Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley, but both of those players have limitations. They could look at a receiver early in the May draft, like they did in selecting Williams in the third round, but most of the time receivers don’t hit the ground running. Williams and Bryant did, however, hit the ground running in their rookie years.

To me, adding a veteran receiver makes sense should the Cowboys lose Bryant, who has had back troubles no matter how minor they have been, or Williams for a good stretch.

Burleson caught 39 passes for 461 yards and a touchdown in nine games last season. He suffered a broken forearm in a car accident when he was attempting to stop a pizza from sliding off the seat. He suffered a broken leg in 2012.

Burleson’s defense of Calvin Johnson last year came at the expense of Bryant before the Cowboys and Lions made some headlines, but it meant little.

He is 32, which might be too long in the tooth, but the connection with Scott Linehan, who is the Cowboys’ new passing game coordinator and playcaller, is interesting.

Burleson and Linehan spent five years together with the Lions, and Burleson caught 194 passes for 2,083 yards and 12 touchdowns.

His price might be a lot more palatable to the Cowboys, especially compared to what Delmas should get.

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