NFL Nation: Terrance Williams

SEATTLE -- The fireworks some thought would occur in the matchup between Dez Bryant and Richard Sherman didn’t materialize Sunday.

Bryant, the talented Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, lined up against Sherman, the Seahawks' All-Pro cornerback, unofficially 48 times.

Of those snaps, 26 were running plays. Quarterback Tony Romo directed six passes toward Bryant with Sherman covering him.

He completed two, a 23-yard reception in which Sherman was penalized for tripping and a 16-yard back shoulder fade in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonDez Bryant made four catches Sunday, held in check somewhat by Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
Bryant finished with four catches -- one in the second half -- and Sherman was penalized twice and had zero pass breakups, but was strong in the run game as he made eight tackles.

“One of the best, arguably the best, and I had to bring my A-game today,” Bryant said of Sherman. “And I made some plays and he made some plays, but at the end of the day, we got the W.”

The Cowboys didn’t need much of Bryant to win on Sunday, however. Seattle’s game plan had him covered often by cornerback Byron Maxwell.

When Maxwell went out with an ankle sprain in the first quarter, everything changed. Seattle didn’t want to use second-year cornerback Marcus Burley on Bryant, so Sherman shifted from staying at left corner to a player who followed Bryant all over the field.

“You didn’t want to put the young guy in that situation, and that’s what you got to do sometimes in games like that,” Sherman said. “He’s a great receiver and you don’t want to give him the matchup they desire and you switch things up on him.”

Sherman played Bryant in a variety of ways, but mainly in man-to-man. There were times when Bryant tried stop-and-go routes but nothing worked on a consistent basis.

“Well, it’s interesting, because I had yet to see them move Sherman around, and so they kind of ended up having to, and I know they had the corner hurt,” Romo said. “But they tracked Dez and they hadn’t done that before. I don’t think they necessarily changed their defense, but that was a little out of character for them.”

Romo didn’t throw any passes in Bryant’s direction with Sherman lined up on him on first-and-goal at the 5 late in the first quarter.

Romo directed two passes at tight end Gavin Escobar and the Cowboys ran with DeMarco Murray. Maxwell almost picked off a Romo pass at the goal line. Romo went back to Escobar on the next play for a 2-yard touchdown pass, the Cowboys’ first score of the game.

The Cowboys' big plays on offense came from second-year receiver Terrance Williams (two receptions, 70 yards) and, of course, Murray, who rushed for 115 yards.

Bryant was a good decoy at times, but for all the hype about this special matchup, nothing magical happened, just mutual respect between elite players.

“I knew me and Sherman would be going against each other a lot,” Bryant said. “Like I said, I knew I had to bring my A-game. I feel like I could have done a lot better job, [but] we got the W, so that’s all that matters.”
ARLINGTON, Texas – As he ran into the Cowboys’ locker room after a convincing 38-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night, wide receiver Dez Bryant yelled, “We Dat!”

It was the direct opposite of the chant by Saints fans: “Who Dat?!”

Bryant finished with three catches for 44 yards and an 18-yard touchdown, his only catch in the second half.

Bryant
Bryant
The Saints played an aggressive defense against him. During one play inside the 20, two defenders manned Bryant. On a key third-down play in the fourth quarter, a linebacker dropped back in coverage underneath Bryant.

When Bryant saw one-on-one coverage in the fourth quarter, quarterback Tony Romo found him for a back-shoulder fade for the final margin of victory.

“I wanted a piece of the cake,” Bryant said. “You got to stay in the game. I did get a little frustrated, a little bit, but I want to make plays. They were cheating the safety up a little bit, but when I got the opportunity to score I did.”

Bryant’s Sunday night was unlike the past season’s 49-17 loss to the Saints, in which he didn't get any passes directed to him in the first half and finished with just one catch for 44 yards.

Bryant said he moved on from that game and focused on what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was trying to do against him Sunday.

“I don’t think it was anything personal,” he said. “I think the approach we took a long time ago during OTAs is, we know how good we can be and all we had to do was believe.”

Bryant's getting double coverage allowed second-year receiver Terrance Williams to make big plays. He had two touchdown receptions to go with his six catches for 77 yards. He was targeted seven times.

Romo completed passes to eight receivers. On the first scoring drive, which lasted 12 plays, five players caught a pass.

“I honestly feel, when you double me, you disrespect my wideouts,” Bryant said. “And [Williams] knew he was expecting the one-on-one coverage, and all week he knew he was going to get the one-on-one, and he had to take advantage of it, and that’s exactly what he did. He killed them.”
Three Thoughts
  • Garrett
    Garrett
    Coach Jason Garrett believes the annual conditioning test is important. He’s said as much many times. There is no way he canceled it, and let the players administer it without any coaches around to oversee it and make sure everyone passed.If that were the case, it would be like an open-book test and all of us could pass it. After all, which teammate is gonna tell Garrett which players flunked it. Actually, Garrett wouldn’t even want to put his players in that position.It’s not a huge story, but there’s something missing in this narrative concerning the players administering their own conditioning test.It probably has something to do with the team not being allowed to make the players do anything in the 10 days before training camp begins and a desire for the players to do the test at their Valley Ranch training complex instead of Oxnard.We’ll get answers Wednesday afternoon, when Garrett addresses the media for the first time.
  • You can’t possibly have any expectations for linebacker Rolando McClain, the eighth player selected in the 2010 draft. He’s now with his third team since the end of the 2012 season -- also the last time he played.He told the Baltimore Ravens a few months ago that he wanted to retire because his heart wasn’t in the game.The game is too tough and too physically demanding to persuade players to play. The Cowboys need players and McClain has talent, the question is whether McClain wants to work hard enough to play in this league.
  • Lance Dunbar had the best game of his career against Oakland last season -- 12 carries for 82 yards and one reception for 12 yards -- and displayed the change-of-pace skill set Garrett has talked about since he arrived two seasons ago.But he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during that game, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. In his third season, the Cowboys need him to be the playmaker they envision, or he probably won’t get a fourth year to show them.
Key stat: 736 yards receiving by third-round pick Terrance Williams ranked third among rookies. His 44 receptions ranked fifth and his five touchdowns ranked second.

You could easily argue Williams had the second-best season among the 28 rookie receivers drafted -- six in the first two rounds -- last year. Only San Diego’s Keenan Allen, taken two picks after Williams, had a better season.

He finished with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns.

Player to watch: DeVonte Holloman will probably start training camp as the backup to Kyle Wilber at strongside linebacker. He showed an ability in the preseason and in limited playing time last season to make plays. That’s an intangible quality the Cowboys must figure how to exploit, especially on a unit devoid of playmakers. He doesn’t have to start, but it would be nice if he forced the Cowboys to play him 25 plays a game.

Dallas Cowboys' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

The Kyle Orton watch is over now that the Cowboys released the veteran backup. The timing of it is a surprise, and Jason Garrett spoke optimistically all offseason about Orton’s return. Now the Cowboys turn their attention to Weeden as Romo’s backup. Weeden had a productive spring, running the first-team offense as Romo recovered from back surgery. The Cowboys haven’t kept a third quarterback since 2011, and Caleb Hanie and Dustin Vaughan will have work to do to crack the 53-man roster

RUNNING BACKS (4)


The last two spots could be up in the air. Randle, a fifth-round choice, will be pushed by free-agent pickup Ryan Williams in the preseason. Williams, a former second-round pick, was not able to stay healthy in Arizona. The Cowboys have given him a chance to win a backup job. Clutts did a nice job as a late-season pickup in 2013. He is more versatile than undrafted rookie J.C. Copeland, but I don’t think having a fullback on the 53-man roster is set in stone.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


I debated whether to go with a sixth, but later on you will see why I stuck with five. It is possible the Cowboys will look for a veteran in the final cuts if they feel limited by their depth because of injury, but I think they like the overall group. They will work their No. 3 receiver role on a rotation basis, but Beasley could emerge as a bigger threat on third down. There will be a lot of eyes on Williams, who takes over the No. 2 role on a full-time basis. Bryant is set for another Pro Bowl-type season.

TIGHT ENDS (3)


Witten remains near the top of the game at his position. His total catches were down last year, but his touchdowns were up. Escobar’s role figures to expand, especially as a No. 3-type receiver. Hanna has the inside track on the third spot, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be looking for more of a traditional blocker, especially if they want to get away from the fullback spot to open up a role elsewhere.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The top six are set, with Bernadeau or Leary fighting it out for the left guard position and the loser becoming the top backup on the interior. Parnell is in the final year of his deal, and if Weems develops, I wonder if the Cowboys would look for a trading partner. They have invested a lot in Parnell in time and money for him to be a backup, so it would be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking. Weems had a decent offseason. Clarke gets the nod as the No. 9 guy right now, but veteran Uche Nwaneri could work his way into the mix.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

I think the Cowboys will go heavy here, especially considering what happened last year and the numbers they have thrown at the position this year. Four of them are rookies -- Lawrence, Gardner, Bishop and Coleman. I believe Anthony Spencer and possibly Amobi Okoye will start the year on the physically unable to perform list, so they don’t make this 53-man roster with the idea that they join the team after the sixth game of the season. Wilson garnered the last spot over a 2013 starter, Nick Hayden, but there will be a few players in the mix for the final few spots, including Ben Bass.

LINEBACKER (7)

Carrying seven linebackers might be a little heavy, but I have special teams in mind when it comes to Will Smith. He benefits from having only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Cowboys spent the offseason telling us games are won and lost up front, so carrying an extra offensive or defensive linemen could get in this mix as well. McClain gets a spot only because of his experience. Backups of Holloman, Hitchens and Smith would be tough considering their youth, and I can see the Cowboys looking for veteran backup help around the final cut dates.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr and Claiborne have to play exceptionally well for this defense to have a chance, and they might have to do it without much help from a consistent pass rush. Scandrick is coming off his best season, and Claiborne will have to beat him out to reclaim the starting spot. Moore can play inside and out. Mitchell showed in his limited offseason work that he can make plays. Last year’s fourth-round pick, B.W. Webb, will have to fight for a spot. Based on his offseason work, he did not make the cut for this roster.

SAFETY (5)

Church is the only player without questions. The Cowboys are projecting the other four with their biggest bet on Wilcox. He enters camp as the starter, but he could be pushed by Heath and Hamilton. Dixon will be more of a special-teams threat if he is to make the roster. Hamilton showed some playmaking in the offseason. No Matt Johnson? Not right now, especially after he couldn’t practice -- again -- for most of the offseason.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Perhaps Cody Mandell can push Jones, but Jones is the more consistent punter and has a good rapport as a holder for Bailey. Ladouceur remains one of the best long-snappers in the game. This group won’t change during the summer unless there is an injury.
IRVING, Texas – 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.”
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.”
IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys are to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, they will need younger players to grow up in 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboys' quarterbacks had 375 completions last year.

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

There will be opportunities for Williams to show 2014 will be a breakout season.
IRVING, Texas -- 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:

Dallas Cowboys draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
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.
Well, the NFL draft is finally here. And we have a preview of what the Dallas Cowboys might do over the next three days.

The picks, the picks, the picks: The Cowboys have 11 picks, tied for the third-most in the league this year and the team's second-most in the last 20 years; the Cowboys had 12 picks in 2009. The seventh round will be interesting for the Cowboys because they own six selections in the round. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said there's a value in those picks either via trade or just by selecting a prospect.

Who will Dallas pick in the first round? The mock drafts are in, and here's what people are saying.
  • Todd Archer, ESPN: Zack Martin, tackle/guard, Notre Dame
  • Calvin Watkins, ESPN Dallas: Martin
  • Mel Kiper, ESPN: Calvin Pryor, safety Louisville
  • Todd McShay, ESPN: Martin
  • Peter King, MMQB: Timmy Jernigan, defensive tackle, Florida State
  • Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Jernigan
  • Rob Rang, CBS Sports: Jernigan
  • Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Cowboys trade up for Minnesota's pick and draft Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald at No. 8
  • Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Anthony Barr, linebacker, UCLA
  • Bucky Bucks, NFL Network: Barr
  • Charley Casserly, NFL Network: Barr
Will they draft a quarterback?: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones ruled out drafting a quarterback in the first round because he didn't want to invest the money and value of a first-round pick on someone who is going to sit behind Tony Romo for at least two more seasons. Cowboys officials believe Romo is in his prime despite coming off his second back surgery in less than a year. If the Cowboys draft a quarterback, it will happen in the middle rounds.

What are the needs?: Defense, defense, defense. Yes, the Cowboys signed three defensive linemen and two quarterbacks in free agency, but finding an edge pass-rusher in the 4-3 scheme is important. If the team doesn't believe it has a free safety on the roster, getting somebody there helps. The starting wide receivers are Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, and there are no expectations the team will sign a veteran. Cowboys like some of the receivers in this year's draft and might spend a midround pick on one. The interior of the offensive line may need an upgrade, and that's where Martin comes in. He could be drafted to play guard and then move to tackle in his second season.

Trades in the first round: The Cowboys have made a trade in the first round the past two drafts. Last year they traded down to eventually select center Travis Frederick, and then they got Williams in the third round. In 2012, the Cowboys moved up to get cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick overall.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have signed three defensive players in free agency, but that does not mean they have fixed the woes on that side of the ball in the offseason.

Among the national visitors to the Cowboys next week for pre-draft visits are UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence and Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, according to sources.

Teams are allowed 30 national visitors leading up to the draft. They do not work out, but they meet with coaches and scouts and are put to the test mentally. The Cowboys can have an unlimited number of players work out at their Dallas day session on April 17 that includes players from local colleges or who played high school football in the area.

Donald has been linked to the Cowboys since an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl in January. He met with coaches at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February and will come to Valley Ranch as well. Donald might be the perfect fit as a 3-technique in Rod Marinelli’s defense.

The Cowboys signed Henry Melton as a free agent, but it does not take them out of the bidding for Donald, who had 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles last season. Melton’s contract is essentially a one-year deal. If he does not perform at a high level, the Cowboys can walk away from the final three years of the contract by not exercising the option.

Barr had 23.5 sacks in his last two years at UCLA and was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick. He played mostly linebacker, but his ability to rush the passer has some teams wondering if he can be a full-time defensive end. It is possible he could play strongside linebacker and move to defensive end in passing situations.

Shazier has phenomenal athleticism and can cover tight ends and running backs. With Bruce Carter in the final year of his deal, Shazier could provide excellent insurance or perhaps force Carter to move to the strongside linebacker spot. Shazier had 143 tackles last year for Ohio State and 44.5 tackles for loss in his career.

Lawrence led the Mountain West with 10.5 sacks in 2013 and had 20.5 tackles for loss. At 6-foot-3, 251 pounds, he is more of a defensive end than outside linebacker with long arms and deceptive strength.

Ward is one of the top safeties in the draft and could be a first-round pick. He had 95 tackles, seven interceptions and 10 pass deflections last season, but he is also coming off foot surgery. The Cowboys have not looked at the veteran safety market in free agency for somebody to play alongside Barry Church. They have said they like what they have in last year’s third-rounder, J.J. Wilcox, as well as Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson, who has yet to play in his first two years because of injuries.

In recent history, the Cowboys have shown a preference for selecting players who visited Valley Ranch before the draft. Last year, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, Wilcox, B.W. Webb and Joseph Randle were among the pre-draft visitors they selected. Since 2005, the only top picks not to visit the Cowboys before the draft were DeMarcus Ware (2005) and Morris Claiborne (2012).
IRVING, Texas -- Two veteran wide receivers went off the market Monday when Nate Burleson and Jason Avant signed with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

Both were linked to the Dallas Cowboys by the media (hello, that's me), but sources indicated the Cowboys had some interest in Burleson, who played for their new passing game coordinator, Scott Linehan, with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys just were not willing to pull the trigger on a deal now, continuing their patient approach in free agency.

Could it mean the Cowboys are as content at wide receiver as owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said?

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams, a 2013 pick, started as the No. 3 receiver and also showed he could handle the No. 2 role. Is Dallas hoping for a repeat in the 2014 draft?
With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys are set at the top two spots. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would settle in as the No. 3 receiver, splitting the job depending on role. Harris has more big-play ability. Beasley is better in the quick-game routes.

I've long said the Cowboys do not need a true No. 3 receiver over the years because they have tight end Jason Witten, and the running backs have always figured prominently in the passing game.

The best performance by a No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys in the past five years has been Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. But mostly the Cowboys need their third receiver to catch anywhere from 30 to 40 passes a season. Kevin Ogletree did that in 2012 with 32. Technically Roy Williams might not have been the No. 3 receiver in 2010, but he caught 37 passes. In 2009, Patrick Crayton caught 37 passes for 622 yards and 5 touchdowns.

So you’re looking for a No. 3 receiver to catch two or three passes a game when you look at the options available in how the Cowboys have constructed their offense.

But what if Bryant or Williams gets hurt? And there will be injuries. Can Harris be a No. 2 receiver and excel outside? Maybe for a few games. Beasley is just a slot receiver because of his size. That is why I thought Avant or Burleson would have been good fits. Other options remain, such as Earl Bennett and even Miles Austin, but that would be a long shot.

However, if the Cowboys were not willing to make a play for a free agent Monday, they're not going to get into the market Tuesday.

Last week, I wondered whether Gavin Escobar could be an option as the third receiver. The Cowboys like his athleticism and saw in glimpses his ability to make plays. His touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale was an eye-opener. With the way the tight ends are used these days, Escobar has more receiver skills to him than tight end skills. He needs to get bigger and stronger to be an on-the-line tight end, but that part of his game will never be his strength. His strength will be working the seams and his ability to go get the ball.

But here is a thought: This is considered one of the deeper drafts in memory for wide receivers. Could the Cowboys be looking for their No. 3 receiver, who could be the No. 2 receiver, in the early to middle rounds of the draft?

Williams, a third-rounder last year, caught 44 passes for 736 yards and 5 touchdowns and showed he could handle the No. 2 role when Austin missed games with a hamstring injury. Williams' development played a part in the release of Austin.

If a Mike Evans fell, or if a Marqise Lee is there in the first round, could they be targets? It sure seems as if the draft is the Cowboys' preferred method to find their No. 3 receiver.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- If the Dallas Cowboys go into the 2014 season with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams as the starters at wide receivers, team executive vice president Stephen Jones is all for it.

"They were pretty good last year," Jones said. "I think there was some proof of that; we’re very confident."

Last season, Bryant and Williams combined for 18 touchdowns and 26 receptions of 20 or more yards. It was also Bryant's coming-out party, as he earned his first Pro Bowl berth with 93 catches for 1,233 yards. Williams, in his rookie season, had 44 catches for 736 yards.

The Cowboys released Miles Austin, saving $5.5 million as a post-June 1 cut, and that means the team will go with younger receivers in addition to Bryant and Williams. Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris are also on the depth chart.

"We're not saying we will rule a veteran out, but right now we’re obviously comfortable," Jones said. "And we’ll see what happens in the draft, and at some point if we feel like we need to supplement the group, then we’ll look at it."

IRVING, Texas -- Earlier today my guy, Calvin Watkins, brought you a post that says the Dallas Cowboys are rebuilding.

I don’t want to say Calvin is wrong, but, well, um, well, I don’t agree with that premise.

Romo
It’s not a rebuild the Cowboys are going through. And if you want to call it a rebuilding job, what exactly are they rebuilding from? They have won one playoff game since 1996. Teams that rebuild at least go to conference title games or Super Bowls -- and win Super Bowls.

I just don’t think you rebuild when you have a franchise quarterback that will turn 34 in April and is only in the second year of a six-year extension.

What the Cowboys have done the last few years -- and I wrote about it -- is re-tool. The departures of DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin and Jason Hatcher are more evidence that the Cowboys are re-tooling. With Tony Romo, the Cowboys still need to win now. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said as much at the NFL scouting combine.

He doesn’t have time to wait three or four years to rebuild with Romo as his quarterback.

What the Cowboys are doing is changing their core. While Romo and Jason Witten are still the focal points of the team because of their play, status and production, the core of the team has moved on from guys like Ware, Jeremiah Ratliff, Austin, Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo, Bradie James and Terence Newman in recent years to newer players.

The core now is Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Orlando Scandrick, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams and Barry Church. They would love guys like Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford and Gavin Escobar to join this list but they have not proven they can play yet.

The Cowboys have to maximize what they have left with Romo and Witten but not to the point where they are left in salary-cap shambles for when the “new guard” is in their prime.

Rebuilding, to me, is starting over. The Cowboys aren’t going to start over with Romo and Witten and they’re not exactly moving back to ground zero either.

What they are doing does not guarantee success or even something better than 8-8, but they are in the process of passing the torch, so to speak.
IRVING, Texas -- On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said stripping down the team and going through a complete overhaul is impossible in large part because of the salary cap.

If you look at the roster, however, the Cowboys have undergone a slow-rebuild -- if not a one-year overhaul -- the past few years with the idea that they can still make the playoffs, which would fall into Jones’ “compete for a Super Bowl,” credo by definition.

Ware
Spencer
The 8-8 finishes the past three seasons have prevented the Cowboys from making the playoffs, but the roster overhaul has happened and the cleaning up of the cap, as Stephen Jones likes to call it, is in midstream.

The offensive line has been remade since 2011 with only Doug Free remaining. They have invested in three younger cornerbacks, although they have yet to see the payoff in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. They have two younger receivers to build around in Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams.

The rebuilding of the defensive line has to start this offseason, especially if DeMarcus Ware does not return.

The Cowboys have gotten younger. They have seven players under contract for 2014 that will be 30 or older by the time the season starts. Only Tony Romo, Free, Jason Witten and L.P. Ladouceur are guaranteed to be around this season. There are cap questions around Ware and receiver Miles Austin, and quarterback Kyle Orton has to decide whether he wants to continue to play.

Free agent defensive linemen Jason Hatcher (32) and Anthony Spencer (30), and guard Brian Waters (37) will be allowed to test the market and sign elsewhere.

The Cowboys have 27 players signed past 2014 who finished the year on the 53-man roster in 2013. Only 10 have significant financial commitments, including Austin and Ware, who could be gone before this coming season. Players such as Carr and Mackenzy Bernadeau could be part of a recycle in 2015.

Bryant and Tyron Smith stand to see steep pay increases over the next 12-18 months, with their contracts expiring over the next two seasons. Perhaps the same could happen with running back DeMarco Murray, who is in the final year of his deal.

Rebuilding is not a word Jones will use. Reloading does not apply to a team that has one playoff win since 1996.

Maybe retooling is the more apt description.

But will that guarantee anything more than 8-8?

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