Rolando McClain arrives at camp, for now

July, 22, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Rolando McClain made the flight to Naval Base Ventura County on Tuesday, but the linebacker might not be around when the Dallas Cowboys open practice on Thursday.

McClain
McClain is due in Decatur (Alabama) Municipal Court on Friday after Judge Bill Cook Jr. declined to delay a trial stemming from charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Decatur Municipal Court Clerk Jessica Haggard said the case has been postponed three times since McClain’s arrest in April 2013.

The Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens agreed to a trade July 1 that sent McClain, who has retired twice in the last two years, to the Cowboys in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2016 provided McClain is on the 53-man roster for five games, or the 46-man roster for three games, and only if their pick is better than the Ravens' pick in the round. If it is, then the teams will swap selections. If the Ravens finish with a worse record in 2014, then there is no swap.

If McClain plays in 50 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014, then the Ravens would receive the Cowboys' sixth-round pick in 2015 and the Cowboys would receive Baltimore’s seventh-round pick that year.

McClain, who was the No. 8 pick in the 2010 draft by the Oakland Raiders, has not played since November 2012, but the Cowboys could look at him as a replacement for Sean Lee, who is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He could also be in the mix as a strongside linebacker.
OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys arrived at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Tuesday afternoon under clear blues and temperatures in the mid 70s.

It was far different atmosphere from the high-90s temperatures that greeted the players at Valley Ranch on Monday for the players who ran a conditioning test.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Tony Gutierrez/AP PhotoTight end Jason Witten was one of several Cowboys veterans who wanted to run a conditioning test before heading to training camp.
Barry Church and Travis Frederick said Jason Garrett canceled the conditioning test -- a series of sprints ranging from 40, 50 and 60 yards that need to be completed at different times depending on the player’s position -- but older players such as Jason Witten called for the test to be run anyway.

League rules prevented any coaches from being on hand because the facilities are closed down 10 days prior to the start of training camp.

“When coach said we weren’t going to have a conditioning test this year a couple of the older guys wanted to make sure that we had everybody in the right shape,” Frederick said. “Sometimes if you don’t do it, you’re not in the right shape and you’re not ready to practice. When you come out and practice as hard as we do and you do it as much as you do during training camp, that’s when it leads to guys getting hurt. A couple of the older guys wanted to make sure guys were in shape, so we did get together yesterday and do some stuff like that. Nobody was around, just the players running it, but I think it was a really good step for our team.”

The players kept the times and had to have been on the honor system. What’s unclear, however, is if those who didn’t run the test Monday will run it Wednesday in Oxnard before practices begin Thursday. Could peer pressure play a part in those who did not attend the Valley Ranch workout lead to them running it?

Safety Barry Church said it was a “camaraderie thing.”

“I feel like it’s showing the players are trying to make this team our own and go out there and have our own type of identity as a team and combine together to see what we can get accomplished here this upcoming season,” Church said.

In the past, the Cowboys have used the test as a barometer for a player’s readiness for practice. If a player was unable to complete the test, he started the year on the physically unable to perform or non-football injury list. Garrett has attempted to alter some of the training exercises to potentially combat the number of injuries the team has suffered the last two years.

“When the players get together and do something like that I think that it shows there’s a level of maturity,” Frederick said. “There’s a level of work and a level of expectations by the older guys, the guys that held it. When you go out and do something like that, that is really showing the team is ready to step forward and is a mature team. Coach says 'There’s no conditioning test,' we could easily just not do it. Everybody is like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s great. We don’t have to do it.’ But are you going to be ready? Are you ready to work? Are you ready to come out and practice as hard as we need to practice to make ourselves into the caliber of team we want to be?”

Rolando McClain's request denied

July, 22, 2014
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DECATUR, Ala. -- An Alabama judge has denied a motion from Dallas linebacker Rolando McClain to delay his trial because of training camp.

Decatur Municipal Court Clerk Jessica Haggard said Tuesday that Judge Bill Cook Jr. declined to push back the trial set for Friday on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. McClain's local attorney, Carl Cole, had filed a motion to reschedule because the Cowboys start camp on Thursday.

McClain was with the Cowboys when they arrived in Oxnard, California, on Tuesday. He wasn't available for comment, and it wasn't immediately clear how the team planned to handle a possible trip to Alabama.

Dallas acquired the rights to McClain from Baltimore on July 1. He was the eighth overall pick by Oakland out of Alabama in 2010 but had retired and hasn't played since 2012.

Haggard says the case had been postponed three times since McClain's arrest in April 2013.

It was his third arrest in Decatur since 2011.

McClain has played in 41 games over three seasons.


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Weeden excited for camp, will miss son

July, 22, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys arrive at Naval Base Ventura County today for the long grind of training camp.

Weeden
The grind isn’t the same as it was even when Jason Witten and Tony Romo were rookies -- the collective bargaining agreement now limits practices and when and how the sessions operate -- but it is still a grind.

For some players, camp is broken up by the visits from family as their sons and daughters roam the field after practices.

This will be Brandon Weeden's first training camp away from home, so to speak. The Cleveland Browns practiced at their facility in his first two years. Weeden has heard the talk about the cool weather and setup of camp from his Cowboys teammates.

But he won’t be able to have the grind interrupted by a family visit. His wife, Melanie, gave birth to a boy, Cooper, almost three weeks ago.

“That’s going to be tough, being away but at the same time I’m looking forward to practicing somewhere else,” Weeden said. “I always heard about Oxnard and the setup and the fan base that travels and the people that are out there already who are Cowboys fans. I heard it's first class, top-notch. I’m excited about that part and the weather, getting out of that 100 degrees is always nice. But having the little man around would’ve been nice. I’m going to miss him and the wife, but I think that’s part of playing this sport. There’s adversity you’ve got to get over.”

Five Wonders: Barry Church's importance

July, 22, 2014
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OXNARD, California -- With Jerry Jones set to author the Dallas Cowboys' version of the State of the Union on Wednesday, let's get to wondering about some topics. Five of them exactly.
  • Church
    ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins has ranked the roster the last few years in terms of a player's importance to the team. It's something I've been thinking about lately and I wonder if we need to put Barry Church in the top five. Remember, this isn't a list of the best players. This is a list of the most important. In other words, if they lose this guy, they're done. The easy answer is to always put the quarterback at No. 1, and if the Cowboys lose Tony Romo for a long period of time, then they'd be done. But I think they could still function to a degree with Brandon Weeden. They did OK in 2010 with Jon Kitna as the quarterback. If they lose Dez Bryant, I think Romo can make the receivers better. Losing Jason Witten would be a major blow, but they can alter their style on offense. Losing DeMarco Murray would hurt, but they've been used to playing without him. If they lose Church, what do they do? Move J.J. Wilcox over? Go with Jakar Hamilton or Jeff Heath or Matt Johnson? There is not a proven performer at safety other than Church. A mini-wonder inside a wonder: I wonder if they'll be looking at safeties hard when teams start making cuts.

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  • I wonder if the Cowboys will continue coming to Oxnard in the future once they move their headquarters to Frisco, Texas. The new facility is scheduled to be open in 2016 and there will be an indoor stadium available to stay out of the Texas heat. Oh, and there would be enough seating to sell a ton of T-shirts, hats, hot dogs and sodas to make it all worthwhile too. The Cowboys are one of a handful of teams that still go away for training camp. The coaches like Oxnard because of the weather and proximity of the practice fields. Everything is self-contained. The Cowboys aren't able to do a lot of marketing because of league rules, but they can still get together with some Los Angeles big wigs and they see a ton of national media show up every year. Could Jerry Jones be happy enough to stay at home in Frisco for an entire summer? Perhaps. Setting up shop for the West Coast for just a two-week run doesn't seem worth it, considering the cost involved to get everything there.

  • Tyron Smith would also be a tough player to lose. He's one of the best left tackles in the NFL. But my wonder isn't about Smith's value on the field. It's his value off it. He should get a contract extension that would make him one of the highest-paid tackles in the NFL. What I wonder about is how long that deal will be. Smith is only 23. He doesn't turn 24 until December. The Cowboys have locked up his services for 2015 by picking up his fifth-year option. They know they're not going to lose him, but I think they would like to go beyond five or six years on a new deal for Smith. I wonder if they could look at a deal as long as nine years for him. Crazy? Heck, he'll still be 31 by 2022 (how crazy is it to read 2022, by the way?). Locking Smith up to that long of a deal will require creativity and a lot of guaranteed cash, but tackles can play a long time. Smith would have a chance to cash in again at the end of that deal. Flozell Adams was 32 when he signed a six-year deal in 2008 that guaranteed him $15 million.

  • I've been asked this a few times on chats and on Twitter: Who leads the Cowboys in sacks? I don't have a good answer. I think I've said Henry Melton once and perhaps Jeremy Mincey. Maybe even DeMarcus Lawrence. I've jumped around because I don't know how anybody would know the answer. But I wonder how many sacks the leader will have this year. The last time the Cowboys did not have a defender with at least eight sacks was in 2002 when Greg Ellis had 7.5. The fewest sacks to lead the Cowboys in the Jones era is six, when Shante Carver did it in 1997 and Kavika Pittman followed it up in 1998. The Cowboys have one player on the roster with a double-digit sack season and Anthony Spencer, who had 11 in 2012, is likely to start the year on the physically unable to perform list. I think the over/under is seven and I don't know if I'd take the over.

  • Every year there are surprise players in training camp. Last year, wide receiver Eric Rogers had a good run, but it was undrafted safety Jeff Heath who made the biggest move in earning a spot on the 53-man roster. A couple of years ago it was Ben Bass, who has become something of a legend for his good work in the summer only to see it end because of an injury in his first two seasons. I wonder if we'll be talking about running back Ben Malena and safety Ryan Smith as the surprise players this summer. Malena is super quick. He's smart. He can play special teams. Lance Dunbar can play special teams, but they'd prefer to limit his work there with the role he'll play on offense, so that could make Malena the only back with special teams' ability. Smith did a nice job in the spring and was under the radar (in other words, we didn't talk much about him) unlike some guys like a Davon Coleman.

Cowboys' trio part of new core

July, 22, 2014
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OXNARD, Calif. -- They came to the Dallas Cowboys a year apart: Dez Bryant in 2010, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray in 2011.

The trio represents what the Cowboys hope is their bright future, not a continuation of a three-year run of mediocrity.

Jason Witten and Tony Romo are entering their 12th seasons with the organization and serve as the team's leaders. It befits their accomplishments, tenure and status, but the Cowboys have slowly changed their core.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDez Bryant, left, and DeMarco Murray celebrated 22 combined touchdowns last season but not a trip to the playoffs.
Only eight of the 90 players on the current training camp roster were on the team when Jason Garrett took over as interim coach in 2010. Bryant is the Cowboys' most dynamic player. Smith is their best player, regardless of position, taking that spot over from DeMarcus Ware. Murray is one of the most important.

In January, all three played in their first Pro Bowl.

"I think for all those guys, there's not harder workers and competitive guys than the guys you just mentioned," said Witten, whose nine Pro Bowls have been topped in team history only by Hall of Famers Bob Lilly, Larry Allen and Mel Renfro. "But I think for anybody, you do it [make the Pro Bowl] once you want to stack a bunch of these together. It gives you confidence that you can do it. These guys are elite players. They are ingrained in this system. They are committed to help turn this around. They want to be the best players they can be, but also help this team compete for a championship."

The Pro Bowl is a validation of individual talent. Witten would give up his Pro Bowls for playoff success. When Smith, Murray and Bryant met with Garrett after their Hawaii trip, they "said the same thing to me: ‘That was great, but we want to be in the big game. We want to be one of those teams,' " Garrett said.

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Which Cowboy is the one to watch at training camp?

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    29%
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    39%
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    7%
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    14%

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That's why during special teams' portions of spring practices, Bryant caught balls from the Jugs machine off to the side. It's why Murray worked on hand placement on a blocking sled during the same period of practice. It's why Smith was one of the last to leave the field.

"There are levels of desire to be great, and you want guys to come in every day who want to be great and who demonstrate that each and every day," Garrett said. "We talk about that a lot, this desire to be a Dallas Cowboy playing in the National Football League. It's not about the guy that wants to put the jersey on, walk through the mall and send the hats to his family and friends and tell everybody you're a Dallas Cowboy and you're playing in the NFL. You need to demonstrate it each and every day. If you really, truly want to be great, you have to come to work every day with that mindset. Everything you do, take full advantage of it to try to make yourself be the best player you can be, and hopefully part of a team that can be the best they can be."

Smith prefers to be in the background, like most offensive linemen. He is considered by many to be one of the best left tackles in football. He will be paid handsomely by the Cowboys sooner rather than later. But he views his accomplishments differently.

"I just feel like it's not there yet," Smith said. "I feel like I've got a long way to go. You've got guys that are eight-time Pro Bowlers and things like that. I'm still at the beginning stage. I have a long way to go."

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports"What makes Tyron great is his consistent ability to dominate every play," Mackenzy Bernadeau said of Tyron Smith, above.
His linemates are not as shy.

"What makes Tyron great is his consistent ability to dominate every play," Mackenzy Bernadeau said. "Just his athletic ability for his size, his strength and his hard work, so when you're at that level and can do that consistently at such a young age, that's what makes Tyron great. And he works hard. He's well deserving of all he's getting."

Smith helped Murray to his first 1,000-yard season, finishing with 1,121 yards in 2013. This year Murray hopes to become the first Cowboys rusher since Emmitt Smith in 2001 to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The Cowboys are 11-0 when he gets 20 carries in a game.

Bryant's athletic ability was on display the minute he arrived. The rough edges of his game have been smoothed during his four years. He is the only Cowboys wide receiver with back-to-back 90-catch seasons. In the past two seasons, no receiver has more than Bryant's 25 touchdown catches.

As he enters his fifth season, Bryant is now the most senior voice at his position.

"My little saying that I go about it is you've got to love and respect the job you do," Bryant said. "If you do that, you're going to dominate. I love my job. I'm doing a better job of respecting it. That's what you do."

Because of the Cowboys' past, Smith, Bryant and Murray are matched against Hall of Famers like Allen, Rayfield Wright, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett, and Ring of Honor member Drew Pearson.

They combined for 36 Pro Bowls, but more importantly, they were part of the Cowboys' five Super Bowl titles.

Winning drives these three.

"Yeah, that's it," Murray said. "That's the result, just straight winning. Yards, all that crap doesn't mean a thing. If we're winning, at the end of the day, that's what you play for."

Is hope all the Cowboys have?

July, 22, 2014
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OXNARD, California -- In Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column, he spoke about the hope surrounding the Buffalo Bills and how every team in the NFL has hope when training camp begins.

Even the Dallas Cowboys, coming off three straight 8-8 seasons, having lost Sean Lee, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware and with a defense filled with questions, have hope.

But as I read King's Fine 15, in which he ranks the best teams in the league, I wondered if hope is all the Cowboys have.

The Seattle Seahawks checked in at No. 1. The San Francisco 49ers were No. 3. The New Orleans Saints were No. 4. The Indianapolis Colts were No. 5. The Philadelphia Eagles were No. 8. The Chicago Bears were No. 9. The St. Louis Rams were No. 10. The Arizona Cardinals were No. 11.

All of those teams appear on the Cowboys' schedule.

That's nine games against King's Fine 15.

King will be the first to tell you his predictions don't always ring true. Personally, I think he's too high on the Rams and possibly the Bears and Cardinals, too.

So much will change between now and the regular season, good and bad, for every team.

Hope is alive, for now.

Cowboys sign WR Dezmon Briscoe

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboys' Tyron Smith a tough matchup

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

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

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

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

Here is what Yates had to say about Smith:

9. Tyron Smith, LT, Dallas Cowboys

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


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

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

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

Rod Marinelli wants habits formed in camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garrett enters his biggest season -- again

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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Jason GarrettAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherJason Garrett enters his fourth full season as Dallas' coach searching for his first playoff appearance.
IRVING, Texas -- This is the biggest year of Jason Garrett's coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys.

That's after 2013 was the biggest. And 2012. And probably 2011, even if it was his first full year as a head coach and the offseason was shortened because of a lockout. This is Dallas, after all, where winning is a birthright, even if those fans born after Jan. 28, 1996, have never seen their team make a conference title game.

But now we mean it. This year -- 2014 -- is the biggest in Garrett’s coaching career.

Basically we mean it because there are no more options for Garrett. He is not under contract for 2015 with the Cowboys. He is in a contract year the way Dez Bryant, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are.

The good news for Garrett is that the outside expectations have never been lower in his run as the Cowboys’ head coach. The offseason predictions, which are often ludicrous anyway, have the Cowboys tumbling from 8-8 to 5-11 or worse.

The bad news is that he has a defense that has a ton of questions at every level. Pick a defensive lineman and there is a question. Pick a linebacker and there is a question. Pick a defensive back not named Barry Church or Orlando Scandrick and there is a question.

On offense things look much better, provided quarterback Tony Romo is able to come back from back surgery to play at a high level. To some that might be a huge "if" considering Romo’s age (34), but the general feeling is that everything will be fine with the quarterback, who had 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts in 2013. Add Bryant, Jason Witten, Murray and an offensive line that should be this franchise’s best since 2007 and you can see the offense putting up yards and points this season.

That is where Garrett has to hang his hat if he wants to be the Cowboys’ head coach or another team’s head coach in 2015. And he can’t really hang his hat in the room, because he won’t be in the room as much as he has been.

One of Garrett's themes of 2013 was that he was entering what was the biggest year of his coaching career and unable to do what he does best -- run the offense -- because Jerry Jones gave those duties to Bill Callahan. Garrett won’t be running the offense in 2014 either, but neither will Callahan. Garrett at least has his guy, Scott Linehan, running it this season. So that is a slight bonus for Garrett.

The better news for Garrett is that if he makes the playoffs, he can control his future.

Looking objectively at what he has done since taking over as the full-time coach, there have been positive signs and mistakes that have cost the Cowboys games. The general direction of the team is better than it was when he took over. Troy Aikman said this offseason that if Garrett is not back in 2015, then the next coach will benefit from the foundation Garrett put down.

There aren’t many people outside of Valley Ranch giving the Cowboys a chance to compete in the NFC East in 2014. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the division last season and had the worst defense in the league. If they are a tick better on defense this season, can’t they contend? When did the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins become such juggernauts?

If the Cowboys made the playoffs, would Garrett become a hot commodity again? Would teams look at the big picture of the mess he inherited, how he kept the team competitive in a retooling if not rebuilding mode and how he worked with owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and view Garrett differently than he is viewed now?

Perhaps, and that would put him in a position of leverage.

Garrett will not address his future no matter how many times he is asked. He gives the same answer about keeping his focus on being the best coach he can be each and every day. Jones has been patient with Garrett and he doesn’t mind that the coach is in a lame-duck status. Jones wants to see the Cowboys reap the rewards of working through some of Garrett’s missteps made because of inexperience in his first three seasons.

This week Jones will be sitting next to Garrett and will be asked about the coach’s long-term status. He will profess faith in Garrett, extoll what he has done in his first three seasons and talk about the potential payoff coming in 2014.

If it doesn’t come this season, then all bets are off.

That is why this year -- 2014 -- is the biggest year of Garrett’s coaching career.
IRVING, Texas -- Before the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California, for training camp on Tuesday, the players in the area will be able to take the team’s conditioning test at Valley Ranch on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

The Cowboys first practice will be Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ridiculous.

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

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

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

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

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


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Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

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

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

If you want to read Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

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

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

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

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

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