Tag Archives: Doug Free

DALLAS COWBOYS INJURY UPDATE: Defensive end George Selvie is fourth player who underwent offseason surgery

MAXIMIZING MARINELLI’S MISFITS - Dallas Cowboys defense looking for pass-rush spark - George Selvie - 2013 2014 Dallas Cowboys schedule 2013 2014

Add George Selvie to the list of 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys players who underwent offseason surgery.

Selvie, who popped up on the injury report toward the middle of the season with a shoulder issue, went ahead and got surgery on the shoulder after fighting through the injury to play in all 16 games last season. He also battled back problems late in the year.

The defensive end still started every game for the injured Anthony Spencer and wound up with seven sacks, finishing second on the team in the category, after arriving with the team in training camp.

Selvie’s previous high in sacks was 1.5 his rookie year in 2010. This was by far the most productive season of his stint in the NFL. He also forced the first fumble of his career.

He’s among a handful of Dallas Cowboys to undergo offseason surgeries in an attempt to be ready as quickly as possible when the team reconvenes for offseason workouts.

Dwayne Harris tallied 354 yards and 1 touchdown on 22 attempts with the Dallas Cowboys in 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

In addition to Selvie, Dwayne Harris, and Caesar Rayford both also repaired their shoulders in the offseason, while tackle Doug Free cleaned up his ankle.

Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free agrees to a revised contact - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Other players are expected to get minor surgeries before the start of next season, including DeMarcus Ware. He hasn’t undergone a scope on his elbow, as he indicated was a likelihood after the season, but that plan could still change.

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BOYS BYE-WEEK BREAKDOWN: Rookie center Travis Frederick has stabilized the offensive line by playing beyond his years

BOYS BYE-WEEK BREAKDOWN - Rookie center Travis Frederick has stabilized the offensive line by playing beyond his years - Dallas Cowboys news - Dallas Cowboys 2013 schedule

Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line Breakdown

This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!

Top Performer: Rookie center Travis Frederick

From what we experienced last season with this Dallas Cowboys offensive line, there has been improvement with Ronald Leary at left guard, the contributions of Brian Waters on the right side along with Doug Free and the continued growth of Tyron Smith at left tackle.

But if you really want to focus where this line improved the most, it would be at center with Travis Frederick in the lineup. Drafted to be a starter since day one, Frederick has played with the skill and knowledge far above what many scouts around the league had projected him to be able to accomplish. Frederick has been steady in his approach and reliable in his execution. As a player, he is truly playing beyond his years in one of the most demanding positions along the offensive line.

For Frederick it has been a learning experience throughout this season from the time where he had to face Dontari Poe in Kansas City to Brodrick Bunkley and John Jenkins in New Orleans, Frederick has improved every week that he has had the opportunity to line up in a game.

What Travis Frederick has given this offensive line is something they have not had in recent seasons and that is stability in the middle. One of the reasons that this line can survive a loss like they suffered with Waters is because Frederick has been able to adjust to whomever he has lined up next to and for a rookie to be able to handle that says a great deal about his game. 

Need More From: Doug Free in the running game

It would be real easy to say this offensive line needs more from Mackenzy Bernadeau, and they do. But, they need even more from Doug Free. No disrespect to how Free is playing, because he has been the least of their problems on offense.

Where we need more from Free is on that right side playing next to Bernadeau. There are going to be matchups down the stretch where opponents are going to feel that going over him is a better option than trying to get by Tyron Smith. If you look at the upcoming games, there will be no break for this line in the types of pass rushers that they are going to face.

If this offense is going to get back on track, they are going to need Free to be at his absolute best. Though they were able to get away from the sacks in the Vikings game, where Free struggled against Brian Robinson, they might not be so fortunate against Justin Tuck or Clay Matthews. Free has done a much better job of playing with his technique and really that has allowed him to return to the type of player that we observed three seasons ago.

Where this offense also needs more from Free is in the running game. When he is really on his game and the ball is going to the outside, he can secure the edge and he has done a much better job with this, but like Jason Garrett says, there is always room for improvement.

Six-Game Forecast: It always comes down to what you do in the trenches

There is going to be a great deal of pressure put on this offensive line as they work through these final six games.

When this group gives Tony Romo time, we have seen that plays can be made. At times, they have been able to create opportunities when DeMarco Murray has the ball in his hands, so that has been a positive as well. As much as you want to say that the skill players on this team need to pick up their game, this offensive line is going to have to be the difference makers.

They have been getting consistent play from their tackles, the left guard and center are basically rookies, and they have been able to hold their own. They have to find a way to replace the veteran leadership of Brian Waters, but Mackenzy Bernadeau is not a terrible option. The starting five against the Giants this week are the same starting five that opened the season together in a victory that night.

This group has been more of a solution this season than a problem, and if this club is going to win the division, it’s going to be on their shoulders.

TALKIN’ TEXAS TRENCHES: Veteran Brian Waters gives Dallas’ young linemen a solid mentor

TALKIN’ TEXAS TRENCHES - Veteran Brian Waters gives Dallas’ young linemen a solid mentor

IRVING, Texas – If the phrase “perception is reality” holds true to form, the Dallas Cowboys are certainly hoping for that in regards to their new-look offensive line.

Recently, the perception of the offensive line hasn’t been that good. In reality, they weren’t, especially in the running game.

Now, with the addition of veteran Brian Waters, who practiced for the first time today, teamed with a first-round pick at center and an emerging young guard in Ron Leary, the perception of the entire offensive line is one that is vastly improved.

The Cowboys can only hope that becomes a reality.

Vice president Stephen Jones, who is the Cowboys’ director of player personnel, said he is hopeful the offensive line will go from one of the team’s weaknesses, to possibly a strength with the added experience and depth.

“Getting Waters obviously takes it from being a big, big question mark, but from not only being a question mark on the front end, but now we’ve got good depth,” Jones said. “You take a starter in Mackenzy Bernadeau and he may ultimately be a backup here. I’m sure he’s not going to give the job away. He’s been competing well. You know what we think about Phil Costa and Jermey Parnell gives you a solid eight there. We’re pleased.” 

And that’s not something the Cowboys have been able to say about the line in the last few years – even the last few weeks. There have been several questions, ones that still haven’t been fully answered.

While Travis Frederick looks the part and has played well in the preseason, Sunday night will be his NFL debut. The same goes for Ronald Leary, who has been battling to get back from a knee scope he had in mid-August. Leary practiced in full Wednesday and said he’s “definitely” playing Sunday against the Giants. However, it’ll also be his NFL debut.

Tyron Smith has been solid at left tackle and Doug Free has played well on the right side this preseason. But he certainly benefitted from Anthony Spencer’s camp-long knee injury that often had him battling the likes of Kyle Wilber and George Selvie, instead of a 2012 Pro Bowler who had 11 sacks.

So the question marks remain along the line. And they likely won’t go away with one game – regardless if Waters plays or not. From the sound of things, the 11-year veteran is not expected to suit up against the Giants. While he practiced some early with the second-team offense, the bulk of his afternoon was spent with trainers working on his conditioning.

It appears the goal with Waters is to have him ready for Week 2, which just so happens to be in Kansas City, a place he spent the first 10 seasons of his career, earning five Pro Bowls. Waters picked up a sixth Pro Bowl trip in 2011 when he signed a one-year deal with the Patriots. Similar to this situation, Waters joined New England on Sept. 3, 2011, eight days before the opener in Miami, where he played 85 percent of the offensive snaps. Waters was able to get five practices in before that first game, compared to just three this week. So getting him ready for the Chiefs makes more sense, although the savvy veteran in Waters wouldn’t let him look that far ahead.

“I’m just going to think about the Giants right now, take it one game at a time,” Waters said (video | audio). “Obviously, I have a great amount of affection for the Kansas City program and organization, but right now our focus is on the Giants.”

Despite his experience, Waters said he can learn a lot from Frederick, who was eight years old when Waters completed his first training camp.

“I have a lot of experience, a lot of game-time experience,” Waters said. “If those guys need me, in any way, form or fashion, I think I can offer some insight on different ways to do things and different players that I’ve played against. But this center is young and smart. He’s not going to need much help from me. I’m probably going to need more help from him than he’s going to need from me.”

While Frederick seemed to appreciate the compliment, it sounded like (video | audio) he’s prepared to do the bulk of the learning in this new-formed relationship.

“I don’t think I’m teaching him anything. Really all I’m doing is helping facilitate the switching of terminology and things like that, and even at that, it’s not a whole lot,” Frederick said. “He obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s got the playbook and will have probably by (Thursday), have it all done. The things you learn from playing in the NFL for 10 years, I have no idea. But those are the things that I can learn from him, and I think those are harder to learn and they take more time and they take somebody that’s been through it all to help you if you want to get it faster than they got it or faster than it takes you 10 years down the road. I think the things that he’s teaching me are more important.”

Whether Frederick is helping Waters learn the system, or Waters is helping Frederick learn the ropes of being an NFL lineman, they’re going to lean on each other.

More importantly, they’re likely going to give this offensive line a possible edge that we haven’t seen around here in a while.

Now that would be quite a reality check.

JASON GARRETT PRESS CONFERENCE: 2013 Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants–Veteran OG Brian Waters

JASON GARRETT PRESS CONFERENCE - New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys preparation - The Boys Are Back blog 2013
Jason Garrett Press Conference 9/4/2013 (Duration – 10:44)

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media as his team continues their preparation for opening night with the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Garrett discussed:

  • Brian Waters visits on Monday and Tuesday
  • History with Brian Waters
  • Vetting Waters with film and actual workout
  • Impact of being off for a full NFL season
  • Domino effect of linemen by bringing in Waters
  • Evaluating Waters current condition at Valley Ranch
  • Competitive nature of the team’s roster spots
  • Track record of backups given playing time after earning it
  • Scouts and support staffs impact on finding viable players
  • Veteran presence will help younger players
  • Missing training camp in New England,
  • Ron Leary recovery and practice
  • Route running importance in this system
  • Spencer factors into recent defensive signings
  • Romo’s game-planning role this week

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POSTGAME SCOUTING REPORT: Mackenzy Bernadeau, Tyron Smith, and rookie Travis Frederick were outstanding

TEXAS 2 DEFENSE - Starters continue to excite in 24-18 preseason win at AT&T Stadium - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Some thoughts from the radio booth at AT&T Stadium:

I am looking forward to getting back to Valley Ranch on Sunday and taking a look at this game film from Saturday night for a couple of different reasons. I am interested to see if Doug Free was better at guard in the game or did he struggle to the point that this experiment proved that he just needs to stay at right tackle.

I do know from my seat that Mackenzy Bernadeau and Tyron Smith were outstanding on the left side. There were plenty of plays where Smith, Bernadeau and rookie Travis Frederick did a great job of getting the down linemen for the Bengals turned at the point, which created lanes or cut them off so that the ball could work backside. Where this offensive line had success was in its ability to get hats on hats controlling the front. It was an impressive showing for the left side of the line, despite having just started working together on Monday. With this kind of play, it might be something these coaches would like to consider going forward, moving Ronald Leary to the right side.

DRESS REHEARSAL REVIEW - Tony Romo believes the starters on the right track

As a whole, the offense was able to out-tough a defense that prides itself on being a physical one. Whether it was point-of-attack blocking by the line or the wide receivers on the edge, I really thought that they took the fight to the Bengals. These backs drove the ball hard front-side but when they saw the opportunity to cut it back, they made decisive cuts and finished the runs.

As the game wore on, in the broadcast booth, Brad Sham, Marc Colombo and I were wondering why DeMarco Murray was in the game in the second half after seeing action in the first. But what we learned from head coach Jason Garrett after the game was that Murray put the ball on the ground in the first quarter and he wanted to remind Murray how important it was for him to protect their ball. When Murray returned to the lineup, it was clear that Garrett’s message did not fall on deaf ears.

Garrett and this staff have run a tough camp. They have had physical practices and tonight their work paid off against a Bengals club that is not use to being knocked around the way they were.

Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout

POSTGAME WRAP-UP: Jerry Jones – Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys preseason game

POSTGAME WRAP-UP - Jerry Jones press conference–Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys preseason game

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: Special Teams Not A Concern

Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones talks to the media following the 2013 Cowboys preseason win over the Bengals. (Duration – 3:45)

  • Thoughts and planned strategy regarding the preseason Special Teams units
  • Parnell/Free right tackle experiment
  • DeMarco Murray benching by Jason Garrett
  • Tanner’s effort and inspirational value to other backs
  • Randle cuts and instincts
  • Postgame interview ends, short.

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POSTGAME VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS – Cincinnati Bengals vs. Dallas Cowboys
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IN THE TRENCHES: Cowboys experimenting with Doug Free at right guard

IRVING, Texas — Dallas Cowboys starting right tackle Doug Free took some snaps at right guard in front of the media during Wednesday’s practice.
Free has never played guard in the NFL, college or high school and said the biggest challenges are “the proximity to them (defenders) and the angle to the quarterback.”

The Cowboys have a shortage of interior linemen in the late stages of training camp because of injuries to left guards Ronald Leary and Nate Livings. The team tried to sign two veteran offensive linemen and were rebuffed by Brandon Moore, who elected to retire, and Brian Waters, who didn’t accept the Cowboys’ contract offer.

There’s a chance Free will start at right guard in Saturday’s fourth preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday with Mackenzy Bernadeau getting snaps at left guard. The Cowboys are keeping Free on the right side so he can maintain a right-handed stance.

“It’s too early to tell,” Free said. “I don’t know anything.”

What the Cowboys do know is that Free can physically play the position despite a body type (6-6, 325 pounds) that is more suited for a tackle.

“This isn’t quite so, so new,” coach Jason Garrett said. “But there are differences. You play out in space more as a tackle. You play in a phone booth more as a guard. You might take more direct heat on you, guys bull rushing you more inside. So length is important to be able to keep those guys off of you. Sometimes you play against those (defensive tackles) that are up the field, length is important there. That feels a little bit playing like tackle.”

Of course, the Cowboys could also go back to Bernadeau as the starting right guard if and when Leary or Livings returns from minor knee surgeries.

“I thought Doug did a really good job moving inside,” center Travis Frederick said. “He’s such an intelligent player, been in the league for several years, just knows his way around, so it makes it pretty easy for him.

“Obviously there’s going to be a few things here and there, just the feel of how much help you’re going to get. The things I’ve talked about switching from center to guard, it’s the same from guard to tackle. You pretty much know what the guard is doing. In his case, he certainly does, and he knows what everybody is doing, so it makes it easier for him assignment-wise.”

NO VANILLA EXTRACTION: Now is not the time to show all of the Dallas Cowboys offensive cards

Dallas Cowboys - Opening ceremony - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

OXNARD, Calif. – There’s vanilla.

         And then there is Dallas Cowboys double-secret ultra-vanilla.

         That’s exactly what we saw Friday night from that Cowboys offense in a 19-17 preseason game No. 2 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

         Not surprising to say the least.

         Generally, teams do not like to show much of anything they are planning new for the upcoming season in a mere preseason game, especially just the second of what will be five for the Cowboys this summer. And that’s doubly true when playing an opponent they will be facing at some time during the regular season.

         So no way was head coach Jason Garrett going to give the Oakland Raiders any hint of what might be coming down the pipe during the 2013 season from this Cowboys offense, even if the two teams won’t meet until Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium, Game 12 of the regular season. Not an entirely new offense, granted, but one with two tight ends becoming the base set and now Bill Callahan calling the plays.

         And, of course, with quarterback Tony Romo having a little more say in game-planning and the implementation of some new plays he’s partial, too. Instead of the 11th-year veteran having to “draw those plays up in the dirt,” which he could have Friday night quite easily (since a good portion of the O’s field is consumed by the A’s infield).

         There likely was some great anticipation on everyone’s part to see just how all this would work with the first-team offense making its 2013 preseason debut. The first-team offensive line was allowed to work during last Sunday’s Hall of Fame game. You know, Romo and Jason Witten and Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray and them finally out there playing together.

         There would be Witten and James Hanna, maybe some Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, too, showcasing these two-tight sets we’ve been witnessing here during training camp practices. Then, too, some of these new pass plays that have become a staple of camp workouts. Oh boy.

         And what?

         Nothing. As vanilla as you can get.

         Oh, the Cowboys ran some two-tight sets, but for the majority of the first-team offense’s two series (and even when Kyle Orton was in there running things behind the first offensive line with backups galore at running back and wide receiver). The Cowboys, of all things for everyone anticipating a hard-charging running attack, seemed to be in three-receiver sets more than anything.

         They weren’t about to expose much of anything, and from my understanding only did so with a couple of plays just to help keep a couple of drives alive to create more reps for some of the younger guys. Secrets are secrets, and no sense putting too much on tape for the Giants to start going to school on at this early date.

         In fact, for all those readily jumping to conclusions about this perceived “new” Cowboys offensive philosophy following that first preseason game in which they ran the ball 34 times and threw it only 21 – you know, see there that Bill Callahan, he’ll emphasize the run more – well, surprise, surprise, in this game against the Raiders the Cowboys ran the ball only 20 times and threw it around 32 times – the very reason no one should draw undeniable conclusions from these practice games.

         Talk about holding the play-call sheet over your mouth to prevent lip reading.

         But having said all this, the Cowboys still piled up 171 yards of total offense in the first half with Romo and Orton totaling three series, scoring on two of them and likely would have scored on all three if not for a blocked 26-yard field-goal attempt Mr. Automatic, Dan Bailey, surely would have made.

         OK, can hear the grumbling in the background already. While that all might be true, you’re screaming, same ol’, same ol’ with the Cowboys offense, three penalties inside the Oakland 30 turned potential touchdown drives into field-goal attempts. The nerve of that Witten to get caught holding, or for potentially first-time starter Ronald Leary to false start and Hanna to do so also.

         And as Garrett said afterward, bemoaning the penalties, the blocked field goal and the game-turning fumbled punt by rookie B.W. Webb, “We’ll continue to harp on that.”

         But did you see, or you should have seen, the ease in which Romo hooked up with Bryant three times for 55 yards; with Austin on slants twice for 22 yards; Orton with Cole Beasley twice, the second for a 15-yard touchdown.

         And guess what? Of the 32 attempts, only three times were tight ends targeted, and only one of those Witten. That ain’t going to happen, Witten targeted just once in a game. Please.

           Just look at the first-half stats alone, a half the Cowboys had a 10-6 lead, for what that matters. Romo and Orton were a combined 12 of 14 for 140 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one sack, finishing with a QB rating of 132.1. Bryant, Austin and Beasley finished the game combining for eight catches on eight targets, totaling 126 yards and the Beasley touchdown.

         And for the most part Romo and Orton had the time of day in the pocket behind what most perceive as a worrisome offensive line. Hmmm, while the Cowboys are keeping their eyes open for fortuitous opportunities to enhance that crew, particularly at guard, maybe what you saw Friday night isn’t all that bad, from left to right Tyron Smith, Leary, Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free. Especially since, unlike the other four, Bernadeau was playing for the first time after returning from injury.

         Maybe their main problem up front is really who is playing behind these guys, especially at tackle since with Jermey Parnell injured (hamstring) and veteran Demetress Bell still trying to get in shape, there isn’t much to write home about. As Jones said after the game, making a move up front “would be determined by the opportunity” available, meaning he’s not necessarily desperate to sign just anybody at this moment.

         Romo did get sacked once, but did you see how long he had in the pocket before everything collapsed? And he did have Austin wide open in the end zone, but explained later, on that particular play that Austin was his third read and by time he got there, Austin was covered and pocket time had expired.

         “I don’t want to get away from here without talking about the offensive line,” Romo said. “There were a couple of times I had all day and we had a sack, an incompletion on those two plays, so that’s going to help us a lot if we’re able to do that.

         “That’s different. I know what it’s like to play behind that, and having that ability like they did tonight would be a huge bonus for us.”

         So with three more preseason games to play, another five training camp practices this week, resuming Sunday evening, there is time to clean things up while still playing peek-a-boo with play-calls and offensive intentions.

          And oh, by the way, if now your concern is the ability to run the ball more efficiently, at the conclusion of the first half, when the first-team offensive line retired for the evening, the Cowboys had run the ball six times for 36 yards with Murray, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, a 6-yard average following last Sunday night’s 5-yard mark.

          “It was good,” Romo said of what took place in the team’s first three offensive series. “We did what we’ve been doing in training camp and moved the ball real well. We were holding back on a lot of our stuff, red zone stuff and some other things. We would have liked to have scored a touchdown, but we got hurt by penalties more than anything, and that aspect of it is just going to hurt you no matter what.

          “So we have to avoid that [and] stress that this week, and we’re going to make sure that stops.”

           But probably not the double-scoops of vanilla approach.

Courtesy: Mickey Spagnola | Columnist

Editors comments: I don’t have a problem with being vanilla with the starters on their first few series this preseason. You come out and keep it simple … basic. The same philosophy deployed with this new 4-3 scheme, also applies to the offense this early in the year. The veterans might not need that as much, sure. But these new roster additions and young rookies do! The beauty of this offensive roster is that they can afford to come out and execute basic runs and passes. See if the opposing defenses can stop that first. With so many Cowboy players wielding star power, it’s a challenge for most defenses to handle them man-for-man. You sprinkle in wrinkles, after you get the basics down … ditch the butterflies, and execute these base plays with precision.

I believe the week-one emphasis (and success) of Dallas’ running attack (in the Hall of Fame game) showed coaches what they needed to see. However, if you think back, there was very little to see (or grade) in the passing game in week 1. The coaching staff needs to grade and develop these young offensive linemen in run and passing situations. I think that’s why we saw more pass (and consequently more pass blocking) in the second preseason game. Expect more balance going forward.

The Romo and Orton led drives were successful. The running game is still on pace. Kiffin’s starters have grasped his base defense … his rookies are coming along. Callahan’s starters are showing rust, but promise. Both of these games were more about weeding out the roster, than going for the kill. I do want to see Callahan/Garrett go for the throat once the regular season starts. They have the weapons to make a statement, and they should.

Friday night, Oakland played their starters longer, and did less with them. The Cowboys will host the Raiders later on … rest assured, we’ll see the full arsenal. Garrett is baking that vanilla cake first. He’ll add the icing later.

TRAINING CAMP SCOUT REPORT: Dallas Cowboys veterans making strides in new scheme

TRAINING CAMP SCOUT REPORT - Dallas Cowboys veterans making strides in new scheme - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

• Hope you had a chance to catch the TRAINING CAMP ON-DEMAND segment from Tuesday where we featured the one-on-one drills with the wide receivers and cornerbacks. If you did, you saw a show from Dez Bryant. Through three days of camp, this is not unusual for Bryant, who has been nothing short of spectacular in the manner in which he has gone about his business. The route running along with the sheer physical strength that he has played with has made him difficult to defend. In our video, he was matched against Morris Claiborne on each one of his reps, and, to Mo’s credit, he didn’t take himself out or away from working against Bryant.

Every rep that the two went at each other was intense, where technique went out the window and it came down to the sheer will of who was going to make the play. When you are battling Bryant, you might be in position in the route like Mo was several times but just his ability to adjust while in route makes him so dangerous.

It wasn’t that Claiborne was struggling to fight Bryant, but more like Bryant can physically beat you up as he is going down the field, then find the ball no matter where it is in the air and this is something that NFL cornerbacks are going to have to deal with when they line up across from Bryant the entire season.

Dez being Dez - Dez Bryant made three spectacular catches in the teams 1-on-1 portion of 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp practice - The Boys Are Back blog

VIDEO CLIP – Dez being Dez – Dez Bryant made three spectacular catches during 1-on-1 portion of Dallas Cowboys training camp practice – Click HERE to watch (Duration – :37)

• Continuing my thoughts on Morris Claiborne, I was very interested to see how he would respond to playing against the run in this new scheme off the edge, especially with pads on. I have addressed this situation plenty with both he and Brandon Carr on what is expected of them on the outside. From my observations, there were several plays where the ball was spilled to the outside and Claiborne had to step up and make the play.

Like his battles with Bryant, he could shy away and hide but instead he stepped up and forced DeMarco Murray to the sidelines and out of bounds when Murray tried to plant a stiff arm in his face. Later in the Team Run period, he again stepped up off the edge playing close in a tight formation and handled Lance Dunbar for a short gain in the open field. For Claiborne, this has now become his responsibility full-time because soft corners don’t win in this scheme.

The physical matchups against Bryant and having to successfully play the run are part of the gig. His first day in the pads showed that he understands the task ahead.

2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp - Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Jason Witten, Will Allen - The Boys Are Back blog

• Another player who is off to a nice start in camp is Doug Free. In the first day of pads, I thought he did a nice job of showing up and handling the position with some nice technique. In just watching him play, you can see that his confidence level is much better as well. With each rep, he has been on point with how his hands and feet have to work together. His sets have put him in positions where he looks stable and solid.

I have yet to see the problems he has struggled with when a defender goes from speed to power on him. He is playing stronger at the point and when he has to sit down on a rusher, he has been able to do so without giving much ground.

In the running game, he has shown the ability to adjust in this zone scheme with the front side reach and backside cut off. When the ball has been run to his side, he is not late or struggling with his technique.

He has played with good quickness and has been able to finish his blocks or tie up his man. Still plenty of practices to go for Free, but so far he is heading in the right direction.

2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys training camp - DeMarco Murray running in pads - The Boys Are Back blog

• It was a good learning experience for Barry Church on Tuesday on how to play safety as the single high guy in this scheme. In the 7-on-7 drill, Church was in the middle of the field when Dez Bryant went on a “9” route against Brandon Carr up the field. Church reacted well to the route to help Carr but the angle he took to the ball was too deep and behind Bryant who once again went straight up for the ball at its highest point.

Bryant was able to make the catch but Church would have had a shot at the play if his angle was more to or in front of Bryant, instead he goes sweeping by him with no chance at the ball. On Monday, we observed Will Allen playing the same route to Miles Austin correctly and in position for the interception.

Later in the period, Church was able to show a nice drive and reaction to a ball that was thrown in front of him to Gavin Escobar up the field to deliver a big hit on the rookie tight end. For Barry Church, every day is a new experience when it comes to techniques that he is going to have to learn coverage-wise. He has the physical ability to handle the job but he just needs the experience of reading and positioning himself in routes to make those necessary plays.

JUNE 1ST CAP REPORT: Dallas Cowboys working with $5.5 million in the coffers

dallas cowboys wide receiver cole beasley (14) catches a pass between defensive back brandon carr (39), linebacker bruce carter (54) and linebacker sean lee (50) - the boys are back blog

When the Dallas Cowboys released defensive end Marcus Spears in March, he was designated as a post-June 1 cut, giving the Cowboys $2 million in salary cap space.

Well, the team gets that extra money now, and, added up the savings with the pay cut tackle Doug Free accepted, the team picked up $5.5 million in savings.

The Cowboys can use this extra cap space to take care of middle linebacker Sean Lee, who is entering the final year of his contract, and maybe even outside linebacker Bruce Carter. The team can also make moves to secure the services of wide receiver Dez Bryant or grab another free agent.

It’s doubtful the Cowboys extend Bryant and Carter right now considering each has two years left on their deals.

But Lee seems to be a logical choice and talks could happen during training camp and continue through the season.

DON’T WRITE HIM OFF, JUST YET: Doug Free spent the spring putting in time for training despite the uncertainty about his future

DON’T WRITE HIM OFF, JUST YET - Doug Free spent the spring putting in time for training despite the uncertainty about his future - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING, Texas – The question of whether Doug Free will be a Dallas Cowboy has mercifully been answered – what about the question of what to do with him?

Free agreed to a new, smaller contract last week after an offseason of speculation brought on by a forgettable 2012 season. The former $8 million offensive tackle severely underplayed his four-year contract from 2010 after a move to the right side of the line, and the result was an uncertain few months of contract re-negotiation.

Throughout that time period – a rare case of an offensive lineman being a team’s most-discussed asset – offensive line coach Bill Callahan said Free never strayed away from his dedication to the job. The 29-year-old spent the spring reporting to Valley Ranch and putting in time for training despite the uncertainty about his future.

“I’m really proud of the way Doug has handled everything that has transpired in the offseason,” Callahan said. “He’s been very positive, he’s been forthcoming, he’s been hard working and he’s not let the business side affect the playing side, which I think has been tremendous, so in that regard I just have the utmost respect.”

That much has been made evident by Free’s presence at events like the Reliant Home Run Derby and last week’s Cowboys annual golf social. Even in the midst of speculation about his future, Free made enthusiastic team appearances alongside team favorites like Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Sean Lee.

Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan said RT Doug Free never strayed away from his dedication to the job - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

“I’m proud of what he’s accomplished, to maintain his focus and still go out and practice and work and keep his focus as a pro just speaks volumes for me,” Callahan said.

It will be interesting to see how that professionalism translates to the playing field. Free is the logical starter at right tackle for 2013 at this point, although it’s important to remember that he was basically platooning with backup Jermey Parnell by the tail end of last season. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett touched on that when discussing his excitement at bringing Free back.

“We were rotating those guys in almost series by series,” Garrett. “Doug ended up playing a lot more snaps each game than Jermey did, but I really think that was a positive situation for both guys and for our football team. Jermey responded well to it, and Doug responded well to it.”

That seems to be applicable all over the offensive line, as the Cowboys boast plenty of depth but not many established starters. Returning a veteran like Free to the competition is something Callahan said should benefit the line in the long run.

“We like the fact that everyone has been here in this system for at least two years now,” he said. “(Continuity) is important but we also want to make sure we have the right guys playing. We like how the progress has gone so far and I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen.”

Free should probably be considered the favorite to retain his old role at the outset of training camp. But it’s clear from the coaches that his presence is a valuable one regardless – especially at his new discounted value.

“He’s a veteran player,” Garrett said. “He’s been a good player for us on the left side and the right side, and he’s got some position flex. He’s smart. He’s a leader.”

ROSTER RESOLUTION: Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free agrees to pay cut (updated)

dallas cowboys right tackle doug free - the boys are back blog

Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free has agreed to a pay cut that will allow him to remain with the team.

Free’s new deal calls for him to receive $7 million over two years, but only his $3.5 million salary in 2013 is guaranteed.

Free was scheduled to make $7 million in 2013 as part of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2011.

Free struggled out of the gate last season, prompting the Cowboys to force him to split time with Jeremy Parnell.

RELATED: Tackle Doug Free agrees to pay cut to stay with Cowboys

dallas cowboys rt doug free 2012 - the boys are back blog

The impasse between the Dallas Cowboys and maligned left tackle Doug Free is over.

Free will remain with the Cowboys as he has agreed to a pay cut as part of a new two-year contract that will pay him $7 million in 2013 and 2014, per multiple sources.

Only his $3.5 million salary in 2013 is guaranteed making it essentially a one-year deal.

Free was scheduled to make $7 million in 2013 as part of a four-year, $32 million deal he signed in 2011.

He has started 48 games with the Cowboys  but struggled mightily last season _ so much so that he forced to share snaps with Jeremy Parnell.

The Cowboys have been clear that they wanted Free to return to the team in 2013 and continue to compete with Parnell at right tackle. But they were also clear that they weren’t going to pay him $7 million to do so.

If Free hadn’t agreed to a pay cut, he would have been released.

In the end both sides got something out of deal as it was unlikely Free would have gotten $3.5 million guaranteed for next season on the free agent market, especially at this late date.

The Cowboys were able to clear salary room to so they could possibly pursue other free agents or even give one of their players a contract extension.

RELATED: Doug Free reworks contract to stay with Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free agrees to a revised contact - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

The Doug Free saga is over.

The right tackle has agreed to a substantial pay decrease in his final two seasons to remain with the Dallas Cowboys.

Free was scheduled to make $15 million in base salary over the next two seasons — $7 million in 2013 and $8 million next season. That total has been reduced to a total of $7 million, meaning the offensive linemen will make $3.5 million in base salary in each of the next two seasons.

The $7 million figure this season made Free the league’s highest paid right tackle. This restructured contract falls in line with the current market.

Tyson Clabo, the former right tackle from Atlanta who graded out much higher than Free last season, signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Miami earlier this month.

The Cowboys had kicked the tires on Clabo along with right tackle Eric Winston in free agency in case a deal could not be reached with Free. The club held the threat of a post June 1 cut over Free’s head. But the longer this dragged on, the more clear it became that the Cowboys preferred to keep Free and avoid the salary cap hit that would have been forced to absorb in 2014 by releasing him.

Free gave up seven sacks and was hit with 13 penalties last season. His grades in the run game were poor and he finished the season splitting snaps with Jermey Parnell.

RELATED ROSTER NEWS:

Dallas Cowboys sign defensive end Anthony Hargrove

In other news, Dallas signed defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who missed last season because of an eight-game NFL-imposed suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

To make room for Hargrove on the 90-man roster, the Cowboys cut recently signed guard D.J. Hall, a Texas State product.

Editors comment: Click HERE for more information on this signing.

ROOKIE MINI-CAMP UPDATE: Jerry Jones undergoes eye surgery | Doug Free contract discussion | More

Jerry Jones undergoes eye surgery - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING – Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday he’s recovering nicely from recent surgery to repair his left retina.

Jones, 70, had the surgery Wednesday.

“It’s fine, it went very well,” Jones said while wearing dark glasses as he spoke with reporters at the team’s rookie camp (click HERE or on the photo above to watch video).

“I just had a little surgery and I got that done Wednesday so it’s going to work good. It’s more retina work. Actually don’t know when it was injured, but probably could have been as much as 10 to 15 years ago. It had me where I wasn’t hitting the curveball like I know I can.”

It’s the second time in three years Jones has said publicly he’s undergone surgery. In 2010, he underwent surgery for an undisclosed illness he said wasn’t life threatening.


Jerry Jones: I’d like to keep Doug Free (Duration – 11:45)

Jerry Jones talks about the teams situation with Doug Free, and also Tony Romo’s expanded role in the Dallas Cowboys offense.


RELATED TO ABOVE VIDEO: Jerry Jones would like to keep Doug Free

The Dallas Cowboys want right tackle Doug Free back, but it will have to be at the right price.

“I’d like to keep him,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday. “We think that Doug Free can be an important part of the team. He’s been here. We know him. We think that with what we’re doing in other parts of our offense, certainly in the offensive line, that this will bode well for him. So we think he can really be an asset to us.”

Free would not talk about the Cowboys’ request for a renegotiation at a team charity event Wednesday. But Jones confirmed the Cowboys have asked Free to take a pay cut from the $7 million salary he is scheduled to make. (Free currently is slated to count $10 million against the salary cap.)

“It’s no secret that we’re trying to renegotiate the contract,” Jones said. “But I think it’s a wrong assessment to say that anybody’s saying ‘take it or leave it’ or we’re at our wit’s end or those kinds of things. That’s just not the way I see it going.”

Though Jones said the sides still are talking, the ball is in Free’s court to decide his future.

Free had a team-leading 13 penalties, including five holds, and allowed seven sacks. He played better late in the season when he played in a rotation with Jermey Parnell.

Although the Cowboys likely would go after a veteran tackle — Eric Winston is the biggest name still on the free-agency market — if they move on from Free, Jones said Parnell is ready to take the next step.

“When you say the next step, if that implies is he getting better, yes,” Jones said. “I think he is getting better. I think his arrow so to speak is going up. I feel good about where he is and the ideal place for the Cowboys is on the right basis is have them both.”


RELATED TO ABOVE VIDEO: Jerry Jones clear about Travis Frederick

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is not hiding his wishes for first-round pick Travis Frederick.

He wants him to start. He expects him to start.

“We want him to come in here and contribute immediately,” Jones said Friday as the Dallas Cowboys started a three-day rookie minicamp. “Jason says it right when he says there is competition, but certainly, there ought to be a spot for him on that offensive line. We think he has the combination of skill and mental to play immediately.”

It makes sense Jones wants Frederick to play immediately. The Cowboys were criticized for not getting enough in return in a swap of first-round picks with that eventually resulted in the selection of Frederick with the 31st pick.

And, Jones does not often burn first-round picks on linemen. But this is the second time in three years the Cowboys have done it – they selected tackle Tyron Smith in 2011, and he started from the first game.

“One of his No.1 traits and assets was his ability to mentally cover a lot of ground,” Jones said of Frederick. “We should get him ready to give us some position flex between guard and center.”

SETTING THE BAR: Doug Free’s price tag should hinge on incentives or escalators

dallas cowboys right tackle doug free - the boys are back blog

IRVING, Texas – Whether Doug Free is a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 or not, Baltimore might have come up with the price tag on whoever plays right tackle for the club this season.

The Ravens re-signed left tackle Bryant McKinnie to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $7 million, according to The Baltimore Sun. The maximum part of the deal comes in at a $3.5 million if he hits on incentives or escalators in the deal, so the actual average of the deal is less than that.

The Cowboys can use the McKinnie deal in their discussions about a pay cut for Free or in potential talks with unsigned vets Eric Winston or Max Starks (or any other semi-legitimate tackle available now). None of them are going to play worse than Free did in early 2012.

If we are to believe Stephen Jones, then Free is the Cowboys’ top choice to play right tackle in 2013. He knows the offense and should be better in the second year under offensive coordinator/line coach Bill Callahan. He played better in the final month of last season when he split time with Jermey Parnell.

Parnell’s only start came at left tackle on Thanksgiving when Tyron Smith was hurt and unable to play because of a short week of preparation. Over the last few weeks, the Cowboys – well, Jerry and Stephen Jones at least – have made it clear that it is time they start using younger players sooner, the way other teams across the league do.

The Cowboys picked up Parnell off New Orleans’ practice squad in 2010 but he was inactive for the 12 games he was on the Cowboys’ roster. In 2011, he played in six games but never took significant snaps.

The Cowboys gave him a $1 million signing bonus before the 2012 draft, hoping he could continue to develop from basketball player at Ole Miss to tackle in the NFL. He was active for every game last season but struggled early in the year when he was asked to play as the No. 3 tight end in short-yardage and goal line situations.

The Cowboys lived with Free’s struggles for the first 12 games before finally relenting and putting Parnell at right tackle on every other series.

Free is scheduled to make $7 million this year. Clearly the Cowboys will not pay that and Free has to know there is not another team in the league that will pay him that. The question is whether he would be willing to take a cut to $3 million or so. The Cowboys’ question is whether they would offer Free a chance to earn back some of the money through incentives.

Winston is on record he is seeking $3-4 million to play. If that’s the case, then that’s too rich for the Cowboys and most likely a lot of teams. But McKinnie’s deal would seem to help the Cowboys get their price on whoever they want to play right tackle this season.

DALLAS COWBOYS BREAK: Team options when it comes to right tackle Doug Free

VIDEO - The Draft Show with Bryan Broaddus and Ed Cahill - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

Cowboys Break: What To Do With Free? (Click HERE to play video or listen)

Join Bryan Broaddus and Ed Cahill as they discuss the Dallas Cowboys options when it comes to Doug Free in the coming weeks. (Duration – 59:56)

2013 NFL DRAFT: Random pre-draft and post-draft tidbits

Jerry Jones and Tony Romo on sidelines - The Boys Are Back blog 2013

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys still haven’t come to a final decision with right tackle Doug Free.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the two parties need to get something resolved, but they haven’t heard an answer back yet about whether or not Free will accept a pay cut.

“We want him,” Jones said. “We’d love to have him here. I think he’d love to be here. Now the question is, it’s got to work for him and it’s got to work for us.”

Free agent veteran tackles Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston are still available for the taking if the Cowboys choose to make a move after a down year for Doug Free, who ended up splitting time with Jermey Parnell.

“He wants to play better than he played,” Jones said. “I think he’d be the first to tell you that. I think he played better toward the end.”

The Cowboys have thrown around the idea about moving him to guard, but as of this point that doesn’t appear likely.

Editors comment: I’d like to see Doug Free’s agent and the Dallas Cowboys work out a new contract that has incentives that allows Free to keep his money with productivity incentives while allow the Cowboys to reduce his salary cap numbers with lower productivity. The current contract can have a lowered cap number, while providing substantial incentive dollars if Doug Free returns to form.

Tony Romo offers pre-draft opinions

Much was made of the tidbit, revealed on Friday,  that Romo himself came to Valley Ranch to evaluate Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams ahead of their eventual selections.

Apparently, Romo visited with both Jerry and Stephen Jones for about an hour during the tight end meeting room late Friday afternoon.

But Jones was quick to point out that Romo hasn’t been hard to find this offseason.

“Make no mistake about it, Romo has been all over this place,” Jones said. “He hasn’t been in here every day in this draft room, but he has been all over this place back here with the coaches. He’s in the building; it’s not much effort to bring him in.”

Editors comment: I believe we’re going to see a major transformation within Tony Romo and the organization beginning this offseason. Expect him to be much more involved in “all things” offensive. He’s reached a point in maturity and experience were his input can really help with aspects seen on the field and those decision made behind closed doors.  

The Wilcox factor – The More You Can Do …

For three seasons at Georgia Southern, J.J. Wilcox played running back and receiver. Not until late August did he get the chance to move over to defense.

Less than a year later, he’s a third-round pick of the Cowboys (80th overall) with a shot to compete for a starting job.

Wilcox said he believes switching positions didn’t hurt his chances of becoming a higher pick, but probably enhanced them. And more importantly, will allow him to compete for a spot.

“It doesn’t make you limited. You come in and the team can use you anywhere,” Wilcox said. “ I think it helps out a lot with ball skills, foot work, hips and dictation that you need to be a good safety such as good route running and understanding how the receivers run their routes and how they come out and what their stems are, and stuff like that. Playing offense for three years helped me out back at safety this year and hopefully this will transfer over to the NFL and I’ll become one of the best safeties in the NFL.”

Despite not playing the position until his senior season, Wilcox said he always eyed the safety spot.

“I always wanted to be a safety. I had love for the game from day one,” Wilcox said. “Some of my favorite players are from the safety position and I grew up watching the Cowboys. It’s just a blessing to just put a star on the side of my helmet.”

Editors comment: The local media has had their eyes on J.J. Wilcox for quite some time now. He is very highly regarded in local football circles. I think we can expect big things from Wilcox on the field and locker room. He is a smart diversified player with great leadership qualities.

CONTRACT RISK VS REWARD: Recent extensions yield poor performance from players

dallas cowboys olb anthony spencer contract - the boys are back blog

The Dallas Cowboys are in talks with defensive end Anthony Spencer regarding a new contract.

Salary-cap space isn’t a problem now; currently the team has a little more than $5 million to play with. But previous contracts are the issue.

The Cowboys don’t want to get caught with another bad contract for a player that becomes average after he signs it.

Starting right tackle Doug Free signed a four-year, $32 million deal with $17 million guaranteed in 2011. After two seasons, Free moved from left tackle to right tackle and has struggled mightily. He had to share playing time with Jermey Parnell late last season, and his play eventually improved. But overall, Free has struggled. And while a source said recently his status with the Cowboys was “secure,” there are strong indications the Cowboys will ask him to take a pay cut. If Free declines, he most likely will be released.

After his breakout season when he took over for Roy Williams, wide receiver Miles Austin cashed in and signed a seven-year, $57.1 million contract extension with $18 million guaranteed.

The year he signed the contract, 2010, Austin picked up 1,041 receiving yards. He’s failed to reach that total since and has battled hamstring injuries each of the last two seasons and has been surpassed by Dez Bryant as the best receiver on the team. This is a critical season for Austin in terms of his health.

The Cowboys value Austin’s skills, but are frustrated by his inability to remain healthy over the course of the season. He also failed to catch a pass in both games against NFC East rival the Washington Redskins last season.

Guard Mackenzy Bernadeau signed a modest four-year, $11 million free agent contract last season with the Cowboys. He’s undergone three surgeries since signing the deal. Bernadeau filled a need and the Cowboys got younger at the position. And while his contract isn’t as bad, the team might have been able to do more with that $11 million.

Looking at these contracts, you could make the argument that the Cowboys made mistakes in giving them. At the same time, Free and Austin were coming off good seasons the year they received them but have been inconsistent since.

When the team moves forward with Spencer, the goal is figure out if that career-high 11 sack season was the sign of things to come or just a man playing well in a contract year.

LINEMAN IN LIMBO: No guarantee that right tackle Doug Free remains in 2013

dallas cowboys tackle jermey parnell (78) and cleveland browns defensive end frostee rucker (right) battle in first half - the boys are back blog

PHOENIX – Starting right tackle Doug Free‘s status with the Dallas Cowboys is secure for now.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones didn’t dispute that Monday afternoon; however, he did say that “it’s not guaranteed” that Free will return in 2013.

Free didn’t lose his starting job last season, but he shared playing time in the last four weeks with Jermey Parnell.

“I think he improved last year,” Jones said of Free. “Whoever knows what caused [the struggles], ’cause Doug is one of our hardest workers, a leader in the room. Obviously, when the competition level got going there he responded well with probably his best games near the end.”

Jones was also complimentary of Parnell.

“We like Parnell a lot,” he said. Jones later added that the Cowboys “need tackles. You have to have more than two tackles.”

dallas cowboys right tackle doug free - the boys are back blog

The NFL draft will dictate what the Cowboys could do with Free. Jones said there are moving parts revolving around the position and if the Cowboys draft a tackle they believe can either start or become the swing tackle, Free could become a post-June 1 cut, saving the team $7 million.

ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys

america's team - dallas cowboys helmet 2012 - the boys are back blog

No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.

The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.

Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:

QUARTERBACKS

Tony Romo – B

This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.

He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.

Kyle Orton – I

He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.

RUNNING BACKS

DeMarco Murray – C

A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.

Felix Jones – C

Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.

Lance Dunbar – B

Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.

Phillip Tanner – C

Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.

Lawrence Vickers – C

Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.

Continue reading →

IN THE TRENCHES: Doug Free, Jermey Parnell respond well to rotation at right tackle

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) gets called for a facemask as he sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Doug Free (68) and Jermey Parnell (78) responded well to a rotation at right tackle. They alternated series Sunday in the win against the Bengals.

After Free played the first series, Parnell came in at right tackle for the second series. It became clear when Free was not receiving treatment for an injury and came back in for the third series that the Cowboys were trying to work in Parnell.

“Well, we just wanted to give Jermey a chance,” Garrett said. “He has done a good job. He played a few weeks ago when Tyron was out and showed that he can play in this league. We tried to give him some snaps in practice. He responded well to that. Doug responded well to it.”

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) passes to Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant vs Cincinnati Bengals 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

The NFL report said Free played 58 snaps and Parnell played 15, plus four on special teams.

Parnell played without a penalty, as he did in the Thanksgiving Day start against Washington at left tackle in place of Tyron Smith. Free had one holding penalty in the Bengals game.

“So we just felt like in that situation, it was justified,” Garrett said. “We started Doug. Then we put Jermey in there, and we kept that rotation going throughout the ballgame.”

BATTLE IN THE TRENCHES: Cowboys encouraged by Jermey Parnell’s progress; may work into right tackle spot

The Dallas Cowboys are going to think about Jermey Parnell at right tackle down the line, now that they’re encouraged by the way he bounced back from a rough start to the season.

Dallas Cowboys tackle Jermey Parnell (78) and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (right) battle in first half - The Boys Are Back blog

Playing as the third tight end, he missed a block on a key short-yardage situation in the season opener against the Giants. In the same role, he had a false start at Baltimore in the fourth-quarter drive that could have tied the game for the Cowboys, and he had a holding penalty against Cleveland that made the Cowboys settle for a field goal in the first half.

But he played cleanly in his only start, at left tackle in place of Tyron Smith on Thanksgiving against the Washington Redskins, and it reinforced the Cowboys’ faith in him.

“We’ve tried to use him a lot in the three tight-end situations all year long,” coach Jason Garrett said Thursday at his press conference at Valley Ranch. “That might not sound very significant, but it’s really significant for a guy who hasn’t played very much to go out there in those critical situations. And to be honest with you, early on in the year, he didn’t handle it very well. But we felt it was important to persist with that, keep giving him chances. He’s gotten better and better just in handling the situation, the snap count, his assignments, their adjustments. He improved, and I think it helped him when he played when Tyron was out.”

But left tackle appears to be manned with Smith. Right tackle might open up if the Cowboys decide to move on from Doug Free.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to play him,” Garrett said of Parnell. “He does get work in practice, and we’ll talk about that right tackle spot.”

EDITORS COMMENT: The thought of Parnell being worked into the right tackle spot may inspire Doug Free to play more consistently. Competition makes every player better.

BATTLE IN THE TRENCHES: Jason Garrett wants Doug Free to keep fighting, line got better later in the game

Dallas Cowboys RT Doug Free 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he did not consider benching right tackle Doug Free in Sunday night’s game against the Eagles.

“No. Just keep battling in there,” Garrett said, asked if the team considered replacing Free after halftime. Free gave up a sack and a half, had a holding penalty and had another holding penalty negated by offsetting penalties as he struggled with Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham.

“Doug’s been a good player for us,” Garrett said. “The strength of their defense is those defensive ends. They can really rush the passer. They get in those ‘Wide-9’ techniques and really come after the passer and they present some problems. Doug just has to keep battling. I thought as the game wore on, he played better.”

Garrett said the Cowboys as a unit protected better in the second half. Quarterback Tony Romo did not throw an incompletion in the second half.

“I thought our line battled as the game wore on,” Garrett said. “In protection, I thought the run blocking was fairly consistent throughout, and over time, you wear them down a little bit. But it’s a very good defensive front. They put a lot of different pressure on  you. Those guys did a good job up front. Tony was very efficient.”

BREAKING DOWN THE WALL: Tackles, right side of line, Felix struggle protecting Tony Romo

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) looks up at Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) after getting sacked - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Browns took down quarterback Tony Romo seven times Sunday after averaging just 2.2 sacks per game entering Cowboys Stadium.  They would have finished with eight sacks had defensive back Sheldon Brown not been penalized for illegal contact in the first quarter.

Every sack that counted occurred after left tackle Tyron Smith left the game with an ankle injury, which could keep him out for an extended period of time. Unless Kevin Kowalski works in at center or one of the centers can return from injury to allow Mackenzy Bernadeau to shift back to guard, this is the likely starting group again Thursday against the Redskins.

Eight different Browns players recorded at least half a sack, and none of those players had more than two sacks on the season at the time. Romo still threw for 313 yards despite, not because of, the amount of time he had to throw.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo (9) scrambles away from the pressure of Cleveland's Jabaal Sheard - The Boys Are Back blog

With the Cowboys’ offensive line in a state of flux, it would be easy to simply blame the entire group for the constant pressure from the Browns’ defensive line and linebackers.

But that’s not the reality. Every play, only one or two players missed their assignments.

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker pulls down Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

There were a few trends in the sacks. Four of them occurred in the second half or overtime, when Romo threw the majority of his passes. Five of them occurred in shotgun formation. They weren’t always the fault of the backups, though rarely could guard Nate Livings be pinpointed as the problem.

Both tackles struggled and Doug Free was partially responsible for four of the seven sacks, but no one lineman can shoulder the entire blame. Sometimes, the sacks weren’t on the offensive line at all.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo sacked seven times vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Here’s a breakdown of the seven sacks on Romo:

First sack (9:53 left in second quarter):

On a third-and-12, Romo sets up in shotgun with Jason Witten and Lawrence Vickers to either side of him. Romo sends Kevin Ogletree in motion and the receivers all go deep. They’re all 30 yards downfield before any of them get open. Backup tackle Jermey Parnell gets burned inside by Juqua Parker and doesn’t get any help in the backfield, as Witten and Vickers both ran routes. Romo could have dumped it off to Vickers to avoid the four-man rush, but he didn’t have much time to think before Parker hits him.

Second Sack (5:07 left in second quarter)

It’s the first offensive play since allowing the sack on the previous drive, and again the only routes run fewer than 10 yards were by Vickers and Witten, who were both covered. Dez Bryant ran a deep in, Miles Austin ran a go route and neither of them were open. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard got outside of tackle Doug Free, forcing Romo to move up in the pocket. John Hughes worked around Bernadeau and right guard Derrick Dockery was too late to help. Even if the receivers did get open, Romo wouldn’t have had time to deliver a pass before Hughes got to him.

Third Sack (1:51 left in second quarter)

Later on the same drive, the Cowboys faced a crucial third-and-10 while trailing by 13 points at the Browns’ 41-yard line. In a three-receiver set, Romo took the shotgun snap with Witten and Lance Dunbar to either side of him. Everyone got their blocks except for Free, who Sheard went right around. No receiver got open and Romo was hit before he could even begin his escape attempt. The Cowboys had to punt after driving 32 yards.

Fourth Sack (6:08 left in third quarter)

The Cowboys put themselves in prime position for their first score with a second-and-6 on the Browns’ 19 yard-line. The play was busted from the get go as running back Felix Jones moved left and Romo faked right on what appeared to be a play action pass. Jones couldn’t get over to his right to help in blitz pick up against incoming linebacker Kaluka Maiava and safety Usama Young. Free was also slow to get to Maiava near the line of scrimmage. Romo had some choice words for Jones afterward, as the Cowboys were forced into a third-and-long. Parnell was called for holding on the next play, and the drive resulted in a field goal.

Fifth Sack (7:21 left in fourth quarter)

The sack occurred immediately before Bryant’s go-ahead touchdown reception, and again, it happened at the Browns’ 19-yard line. Romo looks to his left in the shotgun with three receivers on the outside. Had the throw been there, the protection was good enough initially to get a pass off. After his pump fake, he was toast. Free’s man got free inside, forcing Dockery to help. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, the lineman Dockery was blocking initially, went right around Free, who stayed on his man. Rubin then took down Romo on a wide open shot, though the Cowboys salvaged the drive shortly after.

Sixth sack (5:10 left in fourth quarter)

This was the sack most people will remember, causing the Cowboys’ lone turnover of the day on Romo’s fumble.

On a first-and-20 on the Browns’ 28-yard line, Austin got inside his defender down the middle of the field, while Bryant beat his man on a go route by about two or three yards. By the time any of those routes opened up, Romo was in the process of being sacked and stripped.

Seven Browns defenders stayed near the line of scrimmage, matched by seven Cowboys blockers. Parnell didn’t block anyone on the play.  Livings stayed with defensive tackle Billy Wynn, while Parnell let defensive end Frostee Rucker move inside untouched on a stunt. Bernadeau was ready for such a move, but he let Rucker go straight by him. Rucker forced the fumble on Romo, allowing linebacker Craig Robertson to corral the football.

Seventh sack (13:53 left in OT)

Nobody was within 10 yards of Witten down the middle of the field on a first-and-10 pass at the Dallas 40-yard line. Romo could have hit the tight end to get near field goal range had he had a split second longer, but the Browns beat Free on the blitz for the sack. Sheard, the defensive end on Free’s side, crashed inside on the play and was picked up by Dockery. The blitzing linebacker, Robertson, then blew past Free on the inside to get to Romo. 

These sacks don’t include Robertson’s takedown of Romo in the first quarter after Jones failed to pick up the blitz, as Brown was called for illegal contact on the play.

In addition to Free’s troubles, Dockery and Parnell each had their share of issues in their first extended look of the year and Jones was shaky on a couple blitz pickups. The same crew of linemen will most likely face Washington on Thursday.

The Redskins aren’t one of the best teams in the league at reaching the quarterback, but then again, neither were the Browns.  Offensive line coach Bill Callahan might be the busiest man in Dallas with a short week and limited time to figure out what to do to ensure Romo won’t be gobbled up on Thanksgiving Day. 

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker (95) pressures Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

PENALTY PROBLEMS PERSIST: Stephen Jones – ‘Whatever we’re doing is not working’

Dallas Cowboys penalty flags - The Boys Are Back blog

For the fourth time this season the Cowboys committed 13 penalties in a game.

Oddly enough, the league’s second-most penalized team improved to 3-1 in those contests with a 38-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

It’s unrealistic to expect more wins if that trend continues and Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones address that topic on Monday.

“We’ve got to stop the penalties,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “They’re inexcusable, yet we continue to have them. They kept drives alive for the Eagles a couple of times by being offsides. That’s just unacceptable.”

Morris Claiborne, Jason Hatcher, Josh Brent and Anthony Spencer combined to go offside six times. Claiborne was also flagged for holding twice and pass interference once. John Phillips had two false starts, Doug Free had another and Orlando Scandrick was called for holding.

In the end, the 13 penalties cost the Cowboys 75 yards and raised their season average to 8.2 penalties per game. Only the Washington Redskins (8.3) average more penalties per game.

While dissecting the problem, Jones said the Cowboys coaching staff has to do more to find a solution before the penalties end up costing the club a chance at the postseason.

“I know [Garrett] wants to do more. We talked about it,” Jones said. “We addressed it after the game. He’s going to get with Rob [Ryan] and we got to do more because whatever we’re doing is not working. They pulled [Jason] Hatcher out of the game after his second consecutive offsides, but it’s got to be more than that.

“Somehow we got to get focused. For some reason, the guys continue to make those mistakes and at some point that’s going to cost us a game that may cost us our season.”

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of the Cowboys’ 74 penalties this season.

Week 1: 13 penalties for 86 yards in win at Giants.

Week 2: 5 penalties for 47 yards in loss at Seahawks.

Week 3: 13 penalties for 105 yards in win over Buccaneers.

Week 4: 2 penalties for 10 yards in loss to Bears.

Week 6: 13 penalties for 82 yards in loss at Ravens.

Week 7: 6 penalties for 43 yards in win at Panthers.

Week 8: 2 penalties for 10 yards in loss to Giants.

Week 9: 7 penalties for 50 yards in loss at Atlanta.

Week 10: 13 penalties for 75 yards in win at Eagles.

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