Cowboys sign WR Dezmon Briscoe

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys signed wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe on Monday, bringing the total receivers on the 90-man roster to 11.

To make room on the roster the team released defensive tackle Chris Whaley.

Briscoe, a Dallas native, had not played in a regular-season game since 2012. He has been with the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins.

Of his 43 career catches, 35 came in 2011 with the Buccaneers when he finished with 387 yards and six touchdowns. He was on injured reserve last year with the Redskins.

The Cowboys like to bring a high number of receivers to camp because of the amount of running required at the position and do not want to tax the group as a whole

Cowboys' Tyron Smith a tough matchup

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
2:00
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' Tyron Smith is considered one of the best left tackles in the NFL despite only two years on the job.

Smith played right tackle as a rookie in 2011 and moved to left tackle in 2012. The transition wasn’t always smooth, but Smith was named to the Pro Bowl last year and a second-team All Pro. The Cowboys clearly believe he is a building block, picking up his fifth-year option for 2015 and wanting to sign him to a long-term deal, perhaps sometime this summer.

ESPN Insider Field Yates believes Smith is one of the top-10 nightmare matchups among offensive players in the NFL. Yates’ list is based on “rare physical specimens,” so it doesn’t include guys like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.

Smith was the only offensive lineman listed, checking in with guys like Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and Adrian Peterson.

Here is what Yates had to say about Smith:

9. Tyron Smith, LT, Dallas Cowboys

It takes a certain type of offensive lineman to even be considered for this list, but Smith is rare. As one NFC defensive coach said, "He's a freak athlete, and strong. He has great recovery and a great punch." Smith stands 6-5 and 318 pounds, and has the athleticism to neutralize speed/quickness rushers and the strength to hold up against power rushers. What's perhaps scariest about Smith? He's just 23 and will start his fourth NFL season in 2014.


My first NFL job was covering the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 1990s. In talking with former Bengals coaches, scouts, players there was no player more revered than Anthony Munoz. He might be the best tackle to ever play the game.

I remember a coach telling me that when they would go over the game plan for the upcoming week they would simply erase the defensive end or linebacker on Munoz’s side because they knew he wouldn’t be a factor.

Smith isn’t in that category yet but he is getting there. Maybe soon the Cowboys coaches will feel the way with the players lining up against Smith as the Bengals' coaches did with Munoz.

Rod Marinelli wants habits formed in camp

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Every day in practice, the defense opens practice the same way. The players run over bags at full speed with coaches on either side, hollering encouragement.

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants his defense to be fast and furious. The drill might seem monotonous, but Marinelli is trying to perfect habits.

Head coach Jason Garrett has called Marinelli a great speaker and his speech on habits is at the top. Marinelli said it is more than an oft-repeated coaching mantra: you are what you repeatedly do.

“It’s also the day to day grind of this thing and that’s what you have to be able to teach,” Marinelli said. “The habits are easy to understand in a classroom setting. It’s a whole different world when you’re come out there in the heat, in the pads and you’re trying to be able to keep doing the same things over and over but better.

“Tedious repetition of the simplest movements every single day. That is tough to do. That is really tough to do but that’s what you shoot for. In this system it’s really important because we’re based so much on fundamentals. The standard is us as coaches. We have to set the standard in terms of that because you see over the course of the year your drill work can start going downhill a little bit. You can’t allow [bad habits] to creep in on you. What happens is you get guys starting to get beat up and they can’t practice as well. ... It sounds incredible but you lose them quick. You’ve just got to stay on them.”

Marinelli wants his guys to enjoy the grind, no matter how difficult.

“If we do it day to day, reps, reps, reps after reps, then it’s like branded in us and we do it in games,” defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. “It’s great. I believe in it. I know all the players believe in it.”
video

Michael Smith, Jemele Hill and Darren Woodson explain why you can't blame Cowboys QB Tony Romo for Dallas missing the playoffs four straight seasons.

Garrett enters his biggest season -- again

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
10:00
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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.
IRVING, Texas -- Before the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California, for training camp on Tuesday, the players in the area will be able to take the team’s conditioning test at Valley Ranch on Monday.

Speaking on WWLS in Oklahoma City last week, backup quarterback Brandon Weeden said Jason Witten made the request that players take the test on Monday. The players have to run 20 sprints of either 40, 50 or 60 yards and within different time frames depending on position groups. Skill players have to run 60 yards in eight seconds. Linemen have to run 40 yards in six seconds and those in between have seven seconds to cover 50 yards.

After 10 sprints, the players get a three-minute break.

If a player does not complete the conditioning test, then he could start the year on the physically unable to perform list. Once he passes the test, he will be eligible to practice. Last year, a handful of players, including Jay Ratliff, did not pass the test. Ratliff remained on PUP and was eventually cut last October in a nasty divorce.

For those players not in the area or meeting the team in Oxnard, they will take the conditioning test on Wednesday. It’s not clear if newly-signed players like Rolando McClain, Uche Nwaneri and Dallas Walker will be required to take the test immediately since they joined the team after the offseason program ended.

The Cowboys are scheduled to land at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Tuesday afternoon and will sign autographs for the military and their families before heading to their headquarters at the River Ridge Residence Inn.

The Cowboys first practice will be Thursday.

Tony Romo, Jason Garrett, Jason WittenGetty ImagesWith head coach Jason Garrett basically still learning on the job, veterans Tony Romo and Jason Witten must use their influence to get the Cowboys back into the playoffs.

It has been 6,750 days since the Dallas Cowboys' most recent championship.

It has been 1,655 days since their most recent playoff win.

And it has been 1,660 days since they most recently finished an NFL season with a winning record.

Since the Cowboys last ruled the NFC East, in 2009, 18 teams have won division titles, including every other NFC East team. Four others have made the playoffs.

Folks, that's 22 of the league's 32 teams that have been to the postseason since the Cowboys most recently did so during their 2009 campaign.

Ridiculous.

The Cowboys arrive on the West Coast on Tuesday for training camp in Oxnard, California -- about an hour's drive northwest of Los Angeles - and the players and staff will be filled with the usual optimism for this time of year.

After all, every team is undefeated and sees ways it can contend for a championship.

For the Cowboys to end the longest playoff drought since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, this team must learn how to win. Clearly, that's easier said than done, as Mama used to say.

So much of winning in professional sports is about confidence -- and unwavering confidence, at that -- because there's not much difference in talent between the best teams and the worst teams.

Take a look at this Cowboys roster, and tell me who knows how to win at the pro level. Hardly anyone.


(Read full post)


Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

July, 19, 2014
Jul 19
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • The middle linebacker battle.
  • The belief in Rod Marinelli.
  • The win total.
  • The Gavin Escobar touchdown total.

If you want to read Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: Well, it will start for real next week when the Cowboys get to Oxnard, California. Justin Durant enters as the front-runner, for sure. Perhaps Rolando McClain gets in the mix if he shows up in shape and wanting to play football. Maybe DeVonte Holloman or Anthony Hitchens get in the mix, too. But Durant has the inside track for the job. The coaches like what he did last season and believe he can handle the spot. He is athletic enough. He is smart enough. Is he Sean Lee? Of course not. But he's not a poor player either. He doesn't have a lock on the job, but he is the closest to figuring out which key to use for that lock. Last season he had a difficult time staying healthy -- so did a lot of defenders -- so that could be worth watching this summer.

@toddarcher: It's a little bit like what Bum Phillips said about Don Shula: "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n." So I think Marinelli will make a difference over what Monte Kiffin brought to the table. I saw where Brian Urlacher said the Cowboys will run more Cover 2 this season with Marinelli in charge. Actually, the feeling I get is they will run more Cover 3 and put pressure on the cornerbacks to perform. We will see more Barry Church in the box. We will see more pressures. Now "more" is a relative term. They won't become a gambling defense when Marinelli preaches "fundamentals," but I think you will see a more aggressive defense. I believe Marinelli has a better feel for what he doesn't have on defense and will coach accordingly.

@toddarcher: I understand the pessimism. I do. But they had the worst defense in the league last season and went 8-8. They had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17 with the worst defense in franchise history. If Marinelli -- see answer above -- can make them a tick better, then why can't the Cowboys compete for a playoff spot again? That is the Cowboys' view. It's an optimistic view for sure. But they have an offense that ranked near the top of the league in points last season and I believe will be better this season. (Note: As long as Tony Romo is healthy.) I believe they will stay on the field more with a better third-down offense, which will keep the defense off the field. I believe we will know what type of season the Cowboys will have early on in the year. They need to get off to a fast start with three of the first five against the Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans, and six of the first nine at home. If they can come out of the first five weeks at 3-2 if not better, maybe a surprise Week 1 win vs. San Francisco, then they will be in the race.

@toddarcher: Escobar had two touchdowns as a rookie last season and played little, so I guess it is possible, but I would also point out the other playmakers on offense that will be more featured than him: Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray. I know people look at what Scott Linehan did with Joseph Fauria last season with the Detroit Lions and believe Escobar could be a red-zone threat like Fauria, who had seven touchdowns among his 18 catches. Possible? Yes. Probable? No. Bryant will be the biggest red-zone threat. Witten should be No. 2. And the better red-zone teams run the ball into the end zone, so that puts Murray in the mix. To me, if Escobar gets you 30 catches and five touchdowns, that is a good season for him in his second year..

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
3:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • Where the offense needs to improve the most.
  • Where the Cowboys are headed as an organization.
  • Where Dan Bailey ranks among kickers.
  • Where Terrance Mitchell fits.

Away we go:

@toddarcher: To me this is the biggest area in which the Cowboys need to improve. They converted just 35 percent of their third-down opportunities. The Cowboys scored a lot of points (27.4 a game) but they couldn't stay on the field. That was surprising, although I realize the more you score, the less plays you run. But that was the lowest percentage by far since the Cowboys adopted Jason Garrett's offense. The lowest before last season was 39.4 percent in 2011. In 2012, they converted 43.9 percent of the time, which was the highest in Garrett's era. Last season's offseason focus was improving in the red zone, and the Cowboys did that. This season the improvement has to come on third down. That is the money down for offense and defense. That is where there could have been some disconnect in Bill Callahan not knowing the offense as well. Scott Linehan won't have that issue this year. It must be better in 2014 for a variety of reasons, but mostly to keep the defense off the field as much as possible.

@toddarcher: Well, I know I'm a lot more optimistic than my guys at ESPN Insider, who had the Cowboys at No. 28 in their future rankings. A lot of it is the offensive line with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. A lot of it is Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray, too. If people really want to look at the Cowboys, then they will notice how they are operating differently. I realize they were under cap restrictions to a degree this offseason, but I'm taking Stephen Jones at his word that the day of doing huge free-agent deals for players they don't know will largely be over. Will there be exceptions? Sure, but the Cowboys have realized you just don't get the right return on those investments. I think the drafting has been better lately after Wade Phillips' tenure. A lot of their success, however, will come down to Romo. He has a better line to help him. He has a better play-caller, in my view, this year, in Linehan. He has guys like Witten, Murray, Bryant and Terrance Williams, too. What he doesn't have is much of a defense. That is the hole here. They need a lot of guys to have career years to be a solid defense. In general, I think the arrow is pointing up to a degree. This isn't the 2007 Cowboys by any stretch, but these aren't the 2000-02 Cowboys either.

@toddarcher: Don't sell the question short. It's an important one, especially with how close every game in the NFL seems to be. Well, at least the ones the Cowboys play. The Cowboys know how important Bailey is, which is why he was signed to a seven-year extension in the offseason. I'm not going to pretend to know the ins and outs of every kicker in the NFL, but I would put Bailey in the top five. He is clutch at the end of games. He is clutch in the middle of games. His kickoffs have improved a lot.

@toddarcher: If I had to guess, I would say some teams didn't like Mitchell's speed. He was in the 4.6s at the scouting combine. He was better at his pro day. The Cowboys had him ranked higher than the seventh round, so they were glad to get him. He was unable to do much in the offseason because rules prevented him from being around until Oregon got out of school, but he quickly made an impression. I'd warn you to not get too carried away on what happened in June. It was encouraging, but to pencil him in as anything more than the fourth cornerback (and I think he's battling for the fifth right now) would be a mistake. He will take some bumps, but the Cowboys like his confidence, and that is what a cornerback needs a lot of..

Cowboys have built league's best O-line

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
2:01
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A few weeks after the 2012 season, Jerry Jones said something in his postseason, “state of the Cowboys” press conference that I haven’t forgotten. Dallas had just finished what felt like its 10th consecutive 8-8 season. The blame game roulette was just getting started, and for most people, the ball had already landed on the Cowboys’ offensive line. The 1,265 rushing yards for Dallas’s offense were the worst in franchise history, and the per-play numbers weren’t much better (they finished 24th in rushing DVOA). Still, Jones wasn’t convinced that’s where his team needed the most help.

SportsNation

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Discuss (Total votes: 9,331)

"If you’re going to have a guy … that can handle a porous offensive line, it’s Tony [Romo]," Jones said. "Tony has some of the best percentages operating behind pressure situation of anyone in the NFL. If there were a place theoretically that you had to have a weakness with Tony Romo at quarterback, that might be a place to have it. You just can’t have it all."

You can’t have it all. But there’s no rule saying you can’t draft offensive line help. Up to that point during Jones’ time as owner, Dallas had drafted one offensive lineman in the first round: Tyron Smith. And even that took until 2011. All Smith -- still just 23 -- has done is turn into one of the five best left tackles in the league. Jones may have three Super Bowl rings thanks to one of the best offensive lines ever, but it was never a position on which the Cowboys were willing to spend. Well, some time between that press conference and now, that changed.

Read the full story here.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Dallas Cowboys' roster.

Defensive line

On the roster: George Selvie, Terrell McClain, Henry Melton, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey, Nick Hayden, Ken Bishop, Davon Coleman, Ben Gardner, Amobi Okoye, Martez Wilson, Dartwan Bush, Chris Whaley, Caesar Rayford, Ben Bass

Locks: Selvie, McClain, Melton, Lawrence, Crawford, Mincey

Inside track: Spencer, Hayden, Bishop, Gardner, Coleman, Bass

Need help: Wilson, Coleman, Bush, Whaley, Rayford,Okoye

How many fit? The Cowboys needed 20 defensive linemen last year because of injuries and a revolving door of newcomers who mostly struggled. The Cowboys opened the year last season with 10 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster and ended the year with that many, but the only constants were Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware, Edgar Jones, Hayden and Selvie.

Selvie
Ten seems to be the right number again in 2014 as the Cowboys plan to attack with numbers if not known commodities. Spencer and Okoye could be candidates to open the year on the physically unable to perform list because of injuries. Hayden started every game last year, but he is not a lock to make the roster. Selvie had seven sacks last year but he is not a lock to start. Crawford did not play last year because of an Achilles’ injury. Melton is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. McClain had a productive spring but can he carry that over to a full-time role?

The Cowboys gave up their third-round pick to move up for Lawrence, and he will fight with Mincey for a starting spot. He looks the part, but he has a lot to learn. Going against Tyron Smith might be a good thing. The Cowboys are betting that Mincey will be able to find a niche as a quality pass rusher.

Bass is entering his third training camp. He has flashed ability but hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his first two years. Gardner, Bishop and Coleman could be viewed as a part of the future as the line gets the overhaul the offensive line began in 2011. Rayford looks the part but has to have a good preseason to earn a spot. Wilson has some pass rush to him.

Losing Ware and Hatcher and possibly not having Spencer until the seventh game of the season, this group does not have high expectations. Rod Marinelli kind of likes it that way, but he has to somehow coax pass rush out of players who have yet to do it on a consistent basis.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers
Offensive line

Training Camp Battles: Safety

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
12:00
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With the start of training camp coming next week, we review the five biggest position battles with the Dallas Cowboys. Our series concludes today.

Safety

The favorite: J.J. Wilcox

The contenders: Matt Johnson, Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton

Outlook: Wilcox took over the starting job early in the 2013 season and held it until a knee injury cost him three games in the middle of the season. Heath took over the spot and was overmatched in too many games, particularly in pass coverage. Wilcox never regained the starting job but in offseason workouts, he worked with the first-team defense. Johnson hasn’t played in two seasons due to a variety of injuries and missed offseason workouts this spring with hamstring troubles. Johnson's time with the Cowboys is running out. Hamilton has some range and could steal a roster spot. The key for any of these safeties is special teams play and this is where Hamilton and maybe Heath come in.

Who wins?: Wilcox is the better safety here because he's a good tackler and has improved in pass coverage. The Cowboys like their safeties to be interchangeable, but Wilcox will perform more at the free safety position.

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.
Constructing a 53-man roster is a difficult process, piecing together 10 positions groups and matching up present needs with future production of older and younger players. This week we take a look at constructing the Cowboys’ roster.

Offensive line

Smith
On the roster: Tyron Smith, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell, Ronald Leary, Darrion Weems, Uche Nwaneri, John Wetzel, Josh Aladenoye, Brian Clarke, Andre Cureton, Darius Morris

Locks: Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free, Leary, Parnell

Inside track: Weems, Nwaneri

Need help: Wetzel, Aladenoye, Clarke, Cureton, Morris

How many fit? The Cowboys had 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster to start last season and through attrition ended with eight on the final 53-man roster of the season. Eight seems too light, but the Cowboys have carried just seven to the game for the past few seasons. Ten might seem like too many but finding offensive linemen can be tricky and the future has to be factored in with Free and Parnell entering the final year of their contracts.

As the Cowboys head to Oxnard, California, for training camp, I believe nine is the magic number. The top six are without question Smith, Bernadeau, Frederick, Martin, Free and Leary. The Cowboys could have their best line since 2007 when Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis made the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys invested three first-round picks in Smith, Frederick and Martin. Free rebounded with a solid 2013 season. Bernadeau and Leary are good enough to win with.

The questions are with the backups.

With Parnell entering the final year of his contract, could he be trade bait late in camp provided Weems shows he can be the swing tackle on game day?

There would be some salary-cap benefit, saving $1.5 million, especially if Parnell isn’t viewed as a starter in 2015 or beyond. The Cowboys could choose to extend Free’s deal, which could make a Parnell move possible. It’s all predicated on Weems, who had some good moments in the offseason.

The interior depth is a little in question. The loser of the left guard battle between Bernadeau and Leary becomes the top backup with Bernadeau serving as the backup center. Nwaneri has a lot of experience. Clarke could be a guy worth grooming for the future after what he showed as well. Wetzell might have some position flexibility as well at tackle and guard.

The series:

Quarterbacks
Specialists
Running backs
Safeties
Wide receivers
Cornerbacks
Tight ends
Linebackers

Church chimes in on D's question marks

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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Safety Barry Church is as close as it comes to a sure thing on a Dallas Cowboys’ defense that has a whole bunch of question marks.

What does Church expect from some of the most prominent question marks around him? He provided his answers during a Tuesday appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM.

Church
 On J.J. Wilcox: “Just an explosive playmaker. Those are the words that come to my mind when I think of him. This whole offseason, he was all over the place -- getting interceptions, locking up tight ends -- so I feel like he’s going to be a big playmaker for us on the back end. I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table this season.”

On Bruce Carter: “Definitely with the loss of Sean Lee, it’s time for him to step up and be that focal point of the defense, and I feel like he’ll be able to do that. He’s making a lot of the checks out there. He’s the head of the huddle for the defense, so I feel like this offseason really generated a lot of confidence for him, and I feel like going into the season that’s going to work for him. He’s going to get better and better as the season progresses.”

On Morris Claiborne: “To me, he’s had the best offseason out of anybody in our secondary and anybody on our defense. He’s turned his body around. He’s completely focused. Before, I would have to give him the check for the defense a couple of times. Now, I’m just like, ‘Boom, here’s the call,’ and he’s ready to roll. ... Now you’re starting to see some of the productivity he can bring to our defense.”

On Brandon Carr: “I expect him to live up to that contract, and I know he will. He’s been putting in a lot of work this offseason. Me and him especially have working on our footwork drills, man-to-man drills and lifting together and running together. I feel like he’s got just a whole new focus going into this season. He wants to, like he said earlier in one of his interviews, take over the league. I feel like he can be one of those top-3 corners in the NFL. I feel like he’ll show everybody this year. I definitely have the faith in him to live up to that contract, and I know he will.”

On DeMarcus Lawrence: “Definitely, it’ll take some time. DeMarcus Ware, he’s a one-of-a-kind guy. It’s definitely going to take more than one year to replace a guy like that, but DeMarcus Lawrence has got the talent. He’s been out there working against one of the best offensive tackles in the game in Tyron Smith every day in practice. He’s taken a couple of lumps from him, but he’s definitely won some of those battles, too. That definitely shows me that he has the talent, and he has the will to do it. We’ve just got to see what he can do when the pads come on, but I definitely see a productive guy in DeMarcus Lawrence.”

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