2015 DALLAS COWBOYS: Trust in Dustin–QB Plans | All aboard the McClain train | Think OT-Reinforcing Romo’s wall | Free-Agency solutions | Offseason LB decisions | Combine notes

2015 DALLAS COWBOYS: Trust in Dustin–QB Plans | All aboard the McClain train | Think OT-Reinforcing Romo’s wall | Free-Agency solutions

Let’s take a closer look at QB Dustin Vaughan and DT Terrell McClain, analyze there impact last season and how each fits into the team’s 2015 plans.

Name: Dustin Vaughan | Position: Quarterback | Height/Weight: 6-5 / 235
Experience: 1 season | College: West Texas A&M

Key stat: While all of Vaughan’s stats come from the preseason, there are some interesting notes about the rookie who played collegiately at the Division II level. In 43 attempts in the preseason, he was not intercepted once, but his lack of mobility and/or pocket awareness was troubling, getting sacked five times.

Contract Status: Signed through 2016.

2014 Impact: Dressed in the Arizona game as the backup quarterback to Brandon Weeden when Tony Romo missed the game with a back injury. Other than that one game, Vaughan was inactive the remainder of the season. What was encouraging about Vaughan being on the 53-man roster the entire season is that he was able to not only stand on the sidelines during the home games and gain that experience, but go on the road as well, which can be very different in how you prepare for a game. Where Vaughan was also able to gain some experience was working each day on the scout team against this Rod Marinelli-coached defense. I remember Tony Romo taking the same route when he came into the league and how it helped him get his career started. From what I was able to see from Vaughan in regard to his game action in the preseason, it’s that when he plays, you see flashes of his ability and that is where he is going to need more work. As a quarterback it’s not about the flashes but being consistent down after down. When you watch Vaughan practice and play, there is no question about his arm strength, but there are questions about his mechanics and his accuracy. There are snaps where he doesn’t throw the ball the same way each time and that is an area where Wade Wilson and Scott Linehan can work with him to get better. As Vaughan feels more comfortable with the way they want him to throw, he can become more confident as a quarterback much like Romo did.

Where He Fits: It doesn’t take an expert to understand why the front office and coaches carried Dustin Vaughan on the 53-man roster the entire season — they like the player and would like to see him in their future plans. If there is one player that needs to have a big jump from one season to another, it’s Vaughan. In talking with people associated with the team about his work ethic and character, it is all high praise to go along with his physical tools. Vaughan is going to get plenty of opportunities — not only in training camp during practices, but in the preseason games, as well, to see how far he has come to put his name in consideration for that backup spot to Romo.

Writers’ Analysis:

Nick: The question the Cowboys must figure out with Vaughan is where the cutoff line is on the third day of the draft, regarding picking up another quarterback. I would say somewhere around the fifth round. My point there is, if you like a quarterback to take in the third, fourth, or fifth, you better know right away that he’s going to be better than Vaughan. After that, I find it hard to believe you’re going to get someone that will be worth the time that is already invested with Vaughan. That doesn’t mean you don’t acquire another rookie QB in free agency, but it seems likely the Cowboys will want to see what a full offseason will do for Vaughan.

DT Terrell McClain has a chance to an make impact

Name: Terrell McClain | Position: Defensive Tackle | Height/Weight: 6-2 / 300
Experience: 4 seasons | College: South Florida

Key stat: While he played in 13 games and was a backup for all of them, McClain tied for third among all defensive tackles with three tackles for loss. Only Nick Hayden and Tyrone Crawford – four each – had more stops behind the line of scrimmage than McClain.

Contract Status: Signed through 2016.

2014 Impact: Was one of those players that I was excited to see play during the 2014 season after what I was able to observe from his work with the Houston Texans the previous season. Got hurt in the preseason and I thought that set him back for his development as far as helping the team. Is a rotational one technique or nose tackle. Wasn’t as consistent playing this season as he was on tape for the Texans. There are times where his technique will come and go. Is one of those players that can really bring it when he is on but that wasn’t always the case. Plays with a big motor and effort but didn’t always transfer into his ability to rush the passer. There were snaps where he was good at collapsing the pocket.  Have seen him on tape be more disruptive in this area. Has the tools to be better. Was a little too up and down in the way he played. Thought he was much better in the running game where he showed more explosive qualities. He was a penetrating player with the Texans and flashed that as well during the season but needs to make it more of a consistent part of his game. Seemed the more opportunities that he received later in the season the better he played. Was one of those linemen that bought into what Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett were doing with him when it came to chasing the ball. There were plenty of times where you saw him down field working to make a tackle. Has a chance to really help this team if he could become more consistent in the way he plays down after down.

Where He Fits: Has the ability to play with some position flex as an under tackle or nose. Needs to have a good off season and better luck with his health. Has the physical traits to be a full time starter if he improves in a couple of different areas. Have seen him come off the ball as a pass rusher but needs to be more consistent doing it. There is some explosive quickness to his game but needs to make sure that is done down after down. Is the ideal fit for the position with his body type and ability for what these coaches are asking him to do. Flashes enough plays to make you believe you have something with him. Hard working player that can get better.

Writers’ Analysis:

Nick: The Cowboys were hoping for a little more out of McClain, who was either hampered by injuries or just didn’t get on the field as much because he was battling for playing time with guys like Nick Hayden and then Josh Brent. But don’t forget McClain helped turned a game around against the Giants when he made a tackle in the backfield and nearly stripped the ball for a turnover. That play led to a defensive stop in a tie game and the Cowboys eventually pulled away. Moving forward, I think the Cowboys would like to get Hayden back at a reasonable price but will be satisfied playing McClain at the 1-technique as the starter. Athletically, he teams up nicely with Tyrone Crawford and if he can stay healthy, he has a chance to shine in Marinelli’s defense.

2015 NFL DRAFT: Reinforcing the offensive wall around Tony Romo

IRVING, Texas – It’s one of the most well-documented aspects of the Dallas Cowboys rise to success – the unprecedented emphasis on the offensive line.

The Cowboys have spent three of their past four first-round picks – No. 9 overall, No. 31 overall and No. 16 overall – on offensive linemen. They’ve been rewarded with four combined Pro Bowl nods between Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in the past two seasons.

After all of that, don’t be surprised if they do it again on April 30. With uncertainty surrounding the futures of Doug Free and Jermey Parnell, it was reasonable to ask Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones if it was reasonable to draft an offensive lineman 27th in this year’s draft.

“It certainly is,” he said.

It’s not the most obvious need on the Cowboys’ roster, given the lack of proven pass rushers and cornerbacks. It’s hard to argue with the logic, though, given the credentials of their Pro Bowl trio. If the Cowboys lose one or both of their veteran tackles, they could further solidify the youth movement on their offensive front.

“You just wouldn’t have thought that we would have drafted an offensive lineman last year after your last two first picks, but it was obvious that he was the best player there for us,” Jones said.

That’s not to say it’ll come to that. Free has started 82 games for Dallas since he was drafted in 2007, while Parnell proved capable in seven starts last fall. It’s a safe bet that the Cowboys will negotiate with both when free agency opens March 10.

“Exactly, and of course we’re working with their representatives,” Jones said.

Given the needs at other positions, it’d be fair to wonder why the Cowboys wouldn’t just trade out of the No. 27 pick. It’s a similar situation to the one they faced last spring, when they wound up selecting Martin 16th overall.

“You could have said, ‘Why didn’t you trade down?’ First of all, we didn’t think we have the opportunity to trade down,” Jones said. “It was just the age-old deal, he was just better than anything we thought we could have gotten or any gain we could have gotten.”

It’s tough to predict how the first round will unfold, especially considering the Cowboys won’t pick until the tail end. It’s safe to say that scenario could once again play out this year, where a talented tackle could well be the best situation available.

FAN Q&A: Looking for solutions in free-agency

GARRETT STAGER | WILLIAMSPORT, PA | Interesting thought: Dallas could sign Mark Ingram and Reggie Bush for less than it would take to sign just DeMarco Murray, and both have past connections to the Cowboys, Ingram (2011 draft interest) Bush (Linehan). Thoughts?

Bryan: I would think that it would be more likely that they sign Mark Ingram than it would be to grab Reggie Bush – if they were to consider this at all. Jason Garrett was very interested in Ingram during that draft and still might see a future with him.

David: If Murray isn’t part of the plan going forward, then Mark Ingram is high up on the list of replacements that I think would work in Dallas. He reminds me a lot of Murray, not just in his running style but his career arc. He hasn’t been heavily used in New Orleans, he’s shown some fumble issues – but he did enough to reach the Pro Bowl in his fourth season. I think he would be quite successful running behind this line, and I think he’d be relatively affordable. There’s no doubt he’d be cheap compared to Murray, but I think Bush would be too expensive considering what the Cowboys would want from him.

TROY JUBINVILLE | ESSEX, ON | With A.J. Hawk getting released do you think the Cowboys might make a run at him? Might be cheaper than some of our own guys.

Bryan: You if have an opportunity – order the NFL Game Rewind and watch the Green Bay games from this season and tell me if you would like to have A.J. Hawk on your team. I will give you a little insight that the Packers took him off the field and started to play nickel even on early downs because he was missing tackles in the running game and was a huge liability in pass coverage.

David: As always, you have to step back and ask yourself why this guy is suddenly on the open market. He was a solid player for the Packers during his time there, but I think it’s probably fair to say he never quite lived up to the hype of going fifth overall in the NFL draft. Aside from name recognition, I don’t know what Hawk would bring to this defense that the Cowboys couldn’t get by simply re-signing their own – whether that’s Justin Durant, Rolando McClain or Bruce Carter.

DALLAS DILEMMA: Priority offseason linebacker decisions

IRVING, Texas –  With so many expected free agents, including two of the best offensive players in football, the Dallas Cowboys have plenty of questions to answer here this offseason.

Some of them will be answered here before the start of the free-agent signing period on March 10. Others might take a few more weeks, and perhaps after the draft.

The Cowboys face a dilemma at linebacker, a position that has Justin Durant, Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter all as unrestricted free agents come March 10.

Which free-agent linebacker should be the Cowboys’ highest priority to re-sign?

David: Each of the three free agent linebackers comes with a certain amount of risk. When I weight it all together, I keep coming to the conclusion that Justin Durant’s risk factor is the lowest for this defense. Yes, it’s true that he’s been unable to stay healthy, as he missed roughly half of the Cowboys’ games in the past two years. When he was healthy in 2014, though, he was one of this team’s best defenders. He notched 50 tackles in just six games. He’s also versatile, as he played well at both Mike and Will linebacker in 2014, and he spent time at Sam in 2013. There is some degree of risk with his injury history, but Durant said on Twitter on Wednesday that he had been cleared for the offseason program after tearing his bicep in October. His age, 29, combined with that injury history, should make him an affordable signing, too. Meanwhile, I expect that Bruce Carter is going to command a high price tag when you factor in his youth, his athleticism and his strong finish to 2014. There’s no denying Rolando McClain was a boost to this club last year, but he has injury history of his own – and he comes with off-field risk, as his recently-revealed drug test problems can attest. I think Durant brings the lowest risk for the lowest price, and he can work well alongside Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens – wherever the Cowboys need him to.

Nick: That’s a question that probably has a different answer now than last week before any news came out McClain reportedly failed a drug test. Regardless if he is facing a suspension, the Cowboys will have to figure out if they can trust McClain to not only be ready to play, but willing. Who knows, maybe his price tag drops immediately. But to answer the question, I’d say Bruce Carter. While, I’m sure the other guys are more enamored by Durant, I think the emergence of Anthony Hitchens lowers Durant’s value. Having a player who can line up at three different spots is important, but Hitchens now can do that and is much cheaper and younger. The return of Sean Lee can stable the middle, unless you want Hitchens there. So to me, I’d try to sign Carter back at a reasonable price, although I think he’s likely to go elsewhere considering he made enough plays that will get teams with plenty of cap space excited about the possibilities. By default, I’d say Carter, but wouldn’t break the bank on him.

Bryan: For the fan that follows this team, I am sure if you took a poll of who would be the most important linebacker to sign this offseason, I am sure Rolando McClain would get the majority of the votes. As much as McClain meant to the success of this defense in 2014, I have a feeling the players and coaching staff would say that Justin Durant was the best linebacker they had on the squad. As good as McClain and Bruce Carter were at times, there were plenty of inconsistencies in their games and with Durant there were not as many of those issues. It was clear when you watched Durant play that he was in charge of the defense and the other defenders looked in his direction not only for leadership but his playmaking ability. When it came to creating turnovers on this defense, there was none better, because he was always around the ball. You see a player with high football intelligence and that is so important when you are playing defense. Durant gives you the flexibility to play him at all the linebacker positions, but his best position I thought was Will. He is an older player that has been banged up at times during his time in Dallas, but he is as physically and mentally tough as they come, which is why I would resign him.

2015 SCOUTING COMBINE NOTES: Rise and Fall prospects

The NFL scouting combine has come and gone, here are some of the players who helped themselves, followed by a handful of others who didn’t have the best outing in Indy, and will look to improve their stock at their school’s Pro Day.

Players who helped themselves:

Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

Although he doesn’t quite play this fast on tape, White put any speed questions to rest with a 4.35 40-yard dash and 1.55 10-yard split. As the best “attacking” wide out in this class, he also displayed his high-pointing skills during receiving drills and showed why he’s the top receiver prospect for several teams.

Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

After playing the 2014 season in the 225 pound range, Beasley arrived in Indianapolis at 246 pounds and produced an impressive 35 reps on the bench press. And despite the added weight and bulk, he didn’t lose his quickness with impressive times in the 40-yard dash (4.53), vertical leap (41-inches) and 3-cone drill (6.91).

Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Waynes entered the week as the top cornerback prospect on several draft boards due to his height (6-1), length (31-inch arms) and natural cover skills. But few thought he would register the fastest time among cornerbacks in the 40-yard dash (4.31), showing the speed that will bolster his case as a top-15 pick.

Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut

Although he hasn’t seen the field since an October shoulder injury, Jones set a new NFL Combine record with a 12-feet-3 standing broad jump, an astounding number that also bested the former world record (12-feet-2). A high character player, Jones created buzz at Lucas Oil Stadium and has teams going back to the tape.

Players who hurt themselves:

Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan

A former tight end, Funchess moved outside to receiver in 2014, but a 4.70 40-yard dash has some questioning whether he has the speed to stay there. He failed to establish himself as receiver or tight end over his career and might be stuck in WR-TE limbo as a tweener target who lacks a natural position.

Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke

A natural slot target, Crowder is quicker-than-fast so his 4.56 40-yard dash wasn’t too alarming, but his 1.74 10-yard split and 7.17 3-cone drill, which measure short-area burst and change of direction, were among the worst at the position. The times don’t match the tape, making it tough to figure out.

Rob Havenstein, OT, Wisconsin

A physical run blocker at right tackle, Havenstein was responsible for a good chunk of Melvin Gordon’s yards at Wisconsin, but even for a slow-footed mauler, his times were lower than expected with a 5.46 40-yard dash, 1.86 10-yard split, 8.28 3-cone drill, 8-feet-0 broad jump, 28.5-inch vertical and only 16 reps on the bench press.

Paul Dawson, LB, TCU

Dawson is highly thought of in scouting circles because of his instincts and diagnose skills as both a run defender and cover man. His athleticism was considered average, but he wasn’t able to hide his lack of speed during the 40-yard dash in Indy, running a disappointing 4.93.

Chris Hackett, FS, TCU

On tape Hackett showed questionable speed and transitional skills, struggling to recover after initially beat, even by tight ends. And his slow 40-yard dash time (4.81) at the Combine matches the game film, running the worst time among all the defensive backs.

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