NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

OXNARD, Calif. – All of the backup tight end talk around the Dallas Cowboys has centered around Gavin Escobar. After all, Escobar was a second-round pick last year and the Cowboys added a new tight ends coach in Mike Pope to develop Escobar.

Hanna
But what about the guy who was the backup tight end last season, James Hanna? He started eight of 16 games. He caught more passes than Escobar (12 to nine).

“He’s in it,” coach Jason Garrett said of the tight end mix. “He’s battling for a role just like he did last year. For a lot of last year he kind of held Escobar off and played a lot of snaps for us. He’s a good football player. He can run, and I think both he and Escobar are getting better at ‘My hand is on the ground, physical, Y-type blocking.’ Coach Pope will really help guys in that regard. He’s in the mix. He’s someone we have a lot of confidence in.”

Hanna is on his third position coach in his three years in the league, going from John Garrett to Wes Phillips to now Pope. The teachings of the three are more different than Hanna imagined, from footwork to hand placement in blocking.

“Every coach is a lot different,” Hanna said. “They want us to do things differently, so I’ve got to adjust to that, but it’s still the same game.”

When he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, the Cowboys raved about his speed. Except for one game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (two catches, 45 yards) the Cowboys have not put him in position to use his speed. He has improved as a blocker, however, and has taken some first-team snaps in the running game when the Cowboys use two tight ends.

He has also developed into a valuable special-teams member.

“My view of it is I want it to be so that they have to play me, and hopefully Rich [Bisaccia] feels like he needs me because I can play on special teams,” Hanna said. “Hopefully I get my shots on offense, too.”

Dallas Cowboys hope youth serves

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
12:00
PM ET
OXNARD, Calif. -- These are not your father’s Dallas Cowboys.

And we’re not talking about the glory years set forth by Tom Landry, Roger Staubach and so many others and added to by Jimmy Johnson and the Triplets. We’re talking these aren’t your 2010 Cowboys, who preceded this three-year run of nothing but 8-8.

Of the 90 players on the current roster, only eight remain from when Jason Garrett took over from Wade Phillips: Tony Romo, Jason Witten, L.P. LaDouceur, Anthony Spencer, Doug Free, Orlando Scandrick, Dez Bryant and Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Lawrence
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsRookie DeMarcus Lawrence was 11 years old when Tony Romo and Jason Witten were rookies in 2003.
But dig deeper. The Cowboys have undergone a youth movement. Forty-six of the 90 players are in their first camp with the Cowboys. Only nine players are 30 or older. Forty-two were born in 1990 or later.

More than once in camp Garrett has said the Cowboys have gone from one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest over the past few years.

There can be good from coaching youth: they don’t have poor habits, they don’t suffer as many injuries. There can be bad from coaching youth: they don’t have the experience, and most of the time the knowhow, required to win at a high level.

“You have to be mindful of their experience and what they can handle, and you do that all the time with individual players, and the more individual players who are younger that you have, you might have to do that from a system basis as well,” Garrett said. “We’re mindful of that. It’s not the same playbook every year -- ‘Hey, here we go. This is what we’ve been doing forever. I’m handing down the 10 Commandments, the tablets from Mt. Sinai -- that’s not how it works. We have to understand our philosophy, our system of football and offense, defense and the kicking game. We also have to understand the 90 guys we have on our roster and what works best for them and how we can put them in the best light to be the best unit we can be.”

Though the Cowboys will not be offering remedial lessons on their playbook, the defensive scheme will be cut back in order for them to play fast. Jeremy Mincey could be the oldest defensive starter at 31. The next oldest starter would be cornerback Brandon Carr, 28.

“We had a lot of guys on our football team the last couple of years who didn’t practice during the week getting ready for a game, because they were dealing with injuries and they happened to be older guys,” Garrett said. “So it’s always been a younger man’s league. We’ve made that transition and we’re going to give some younger guys a chance to compete.”

In previous camps Garrett would be mindful of the legs of older players like DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Miles Austin, giving them “vet” days. Now the “vet” days will be fewer and might be far between.

DeMarcus Lawrence was 11 when Tony Romo and Jason Witten were rookies.

For Witten, the influx of youth could help in 2014 because most of the younger faces have not experienced the disappointment of not only the past three seasons, but the past six or seven.

“The urgency that you talk about and you want to play with, you’ve got to show that,” Witten said. “That’s what excites me every day is the leadership of this team. Our best players work the hardest and kind of set the tempo and the stage of what we want to be about. A lot of young players and obviously talented, and they’re going to help our football team (but) we’ve got to show them the way. And I think they’ll be huge assets for us.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- Dez Bryant has yet to hit his prime, so he playfully protests when asked about being the old head among the Dallas Cowboys' receivers.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/Gus RuelasReceiver Dez Bryant, a first-round pick in 2010, relishes his role as one of the Cowboys' veterans.
"I'm not the old guy!" Bryant said with a kid's goofy grin.

OK, Bryant is a little more than a year younger than Dwayne Harris. However, in terms of NFL experience, Bryant suddenly finds himself as the senior member of the receiving corps as he enters his fifth NFL season at the ripe old age of 25.

The leadership role rests firmly on Bryant's shoulders after the Cowboys cut Miles Austin during the offseason. Truthfully, Bryant has transitioned into that role over the past year due to his ability as much as his experience. It's only natural for young players, such as second-year receiver Terrance Williams or rookie Devin Street, to look to an elite talent to set the tone.

"There's a greater responsibility when you're the best player in the room," receivers coach Derek Dooley said. "People generally look up to guys that have been to Pro Bowls and made these great plays. You can either be an example in a positive way or be an example in a negative way.

"I'm really blessed to have a guy like Dez because he has an incredible work ethic on the field and an incredible desire to get better in his trade. All that does is spill down to the rest of the guys."

All old jokes aside, Bryant takes his responsibility as a leader among the receivers seriously. He helped build a brotherhood-like bond by frequently organizing offseason group dinners, when the receivers would typically shoot the bull until the restaurant closed and Bryant refused to let anyone else pay the bill.

Bryant radiates positivity, often going out of his way to praise the other receivers, publicly and privately. He carefully picks his spots to offer constructive criticism, too.

"He just doesn't talk just to talk," Williams said. "The times he does say something, people listen because it's something that can help us all out. The times he's coaching me, he's coaching the whole group. We all pay attention to the stuff he says, because when he talks, he means it."

More than anything, Bryant sets a tone with his approach to the game. He's attentive and engaged in the meeting room, a far cry from the kid who used to be frequently tardy and struggle to focus in film sessions. Bryant has always epitomized passion on the practice field.

"Dez sets the tone every day at practice," No. 3 receiver Cole Beasley said. "He just has so much fire in him. It pumps all of our receivers up and makes us want to work. That's what he does every day. He comes out here and works hard and pushes us to be better because he's such a freak."

Added Williams: "When you have somebody like that, you don't want to let that guy down."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Dez Bryant caught 11 balls out of the slot last season, which is nine more than he caught in 2012.

The Cowboys want him to catch a lot more from the slot this season.

 The Cowboys can finally expand Bryant's package of plays because they can move him around the formation and put him in the slot, where he doesn't have to deal with bump-and-run coverage.

Jason Garrett said the Cowboys would've liked to have done it in other years, but Bryant wasn't ready. His grasp of all the different positions wasn't good enough.

Now, it is.

There's a significant difference between playing outside receiver and one who is in the slot.

"He's grown as an inside receiver," Garrett said. "The trait and the qualities are different. I've been around a lot of outside receivers who looked like a fish out of water when they moved inside.

"If you picture an X receiver in right formation, there's no one outside of you. You're typically working against a corner by yourself or there's a safety rotating over the top. When you're inside, you have people inside of you and outside of you. You have a linebacker walked out, you have a safety coming down, and you have to have a feel for how to run the routes because there's a lot going on.

"It has a lot to do with your feel as an athlete -- your vision, your instincts and your experience. You have to get in there and do it."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Defensive end George Selvie started every game last season, but he's still the same guy who spent the first few days of training camp hoping his phone would ring.

The Dallas Cowboys, desperate for bodies after a rash of injuries to the defensive line early in last year's camp, finally called Selvie. He signed a two-year, minimum-salary deal with nothing guaranteed but a plane ticket to Southern California.

Selvie
Selvie, who had three sacks and played for three teams in the first three years of his career, showed up to Oxnard believing that this could be his last opportunity to stick in the NFL. He made the most of it, recording seven sacks last season and returning to Oxnard as the starter.

Yet Selvie still feels like he has to compete for a roster spot.

"A lot has changed, but I've got to move forward and go with what I've got now," Selvie said. "I'm very blessed to be in the position that I am in right now. I'm just moving forward and trying to get better.

"I'm not a big-time guy. I'm not getting paid a lot of money. Even those guys are fighting to stay on the roster. If they don't perform, you can get cut. I'm definitely out here trying to get better and trying to fight for a job."

Selvie is fired up about the perception that the defensive line is Dallas' weakest link. He was reminded of that the other night as he watched television with some of his linemates. They were excited to see their pictures flash across the screen, only to then see the words "Biggest Question Mark in the League."

Selvie wants to prove that perception wrong. He wants to prove his performance last season wasn't a fluke. He wants to prove again that he belongs in NFL.

"People still don't give me credit for last year," Selvie said. "But that comes with the territory. I was a no-name guy. I came off the couch. I've just got to go out there and prove myself again. That's what football is all about. Year after year, you've got to come out there and prove yourself."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Left tackle Tyron Smith benefited tremendously from his daily battles with DeMarcus Ware, the best pass-rusher in Dallas Cowboys’ history, during the past few training camps.

It wasn't just the reps against Ware that helped prepare Smith to fulfill his Pro Bowl potential. Ware often worked with Smith after practices, offering tips on footwork and hand placement from an edge rusher’s perspective.

The Cowboys would love to see Smith form a similar competitive mentor relationship with rookie pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, the second-round pick drafted to replace Ware.

"One of the most underutilized resources in football are offensive guys talking to defensive guys and defensive guys talking to offensive guys," head coach Jason Garrett said. "That's with coaches and that's with players. I think it's important to understand the other person's mindset, what they're trying to get accomplished, both with scheme and technique. So any kind of communication that happens between those guys I think is really, really good, particularly with the younger players."

Smith typically isn't a man of many words, but he said, "I'll try my best to teach the new guy."

The Smith-Lawrence competition has gotten off to a slow start. One of the most highly anticipated one-on-one matchups in camp has been seen a grand total of once in the first two full-pads practices.

Lawrence is working with the second-team defense now, so veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey is the one matched up with Smith on a regular basis. Lawrence has been dominating backup left tackle Darrion Weems, but he got stonewalled on his one pass-rush rep against Smith.

Lawrence, who has set a goal of double-digit sacks as a rookie, eagerly anticipates more action against arguably the NFL's best left tackle.

"I look forward to it because he ain't doing nothing but getting me better," Lawrence said. "If I go against the best, then I know what to expect."

Garrett shot down a theory that the Cowboys are trying to build Lawrence's confidence by letting him compete against lesser tackles. It sounds as if Lawrence will see plenty of Smith.

"It's not like we're saying, 'OK, you're in eighth grade and you're going to go against this guy who is playing college football,'" Garrett said. "These are the kinds of guys he's going to face in this league and he has to understand the approach he needs to take. He's going to have some success at times and he's going to have some difficulties at times, but he's just got to keep going, keep playing."

There's no better way for a young player to learn than by facing elite competition in practice. Smith's success serves as proof.
OXNARD, Calif. -- First-round pick Zack Martin had a welcome-to-the-NFL moment on the first full-speed practice rep of his NFL career.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton exploded past the rookie right guard in the one-on-one pass-rush drill. In the blink of an eye, Melton got Martin to lean a little to his right, changed directions and ripped through with his hands to win the rep about as convincingly as possible.

"I just had to let him know that I'm here and it's going to be a long training camp," Melton said.

Martin has made it clear that he's ready for it. That first rep is the only time Martin has looked like a rookie during his first two days wearing pads with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys were confident that Martin, who set the Notre Dame record for games started with 52, could make an immediate impact when they drafted him with the 16th overall pick. He has done nothing to dispel that notion during his first couple of full-contact practices.

"I know there's a lot of expectations," Martin said. "Like I said in the past, I'm just trying to be consistent and show these guys that I can show up every day."

A couple of defensive assistant coaches offered high praise for Martin, saying he carries himself like a veteran on the practice field. He's held his own against Melton, a 2012 Pro Bowler, and has often dominated other defensive tackles.

"He's good," Melton said. "I purposely line myself up with him. He's coming on strong. If I'm working with him, he's making me better and I'm making him better. There's no one else better to work with."
OXNARD, Calif. -- Trying to figure out the truth from Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones can be difficult.

Take Johnny Manziel for example.

Speaking on NFL Network during Sunday’s practice, Jones talked about just how close the Cowboys were to taking Johnny Football with the 16th pick of the first round in the May draft.

Manziel
“Well first of all, I feel so strongly about Tony Romo,” Jones said. “That Tony Romo could have handled being on the same team with Johnny Manziel -- both quarterbacks. He could have handled that in spades. I thought, ‘Jerry make the same kind of decision that you made when you bought the Dallas Cowboys.’ Nobody thought it would work. They were busted. Cowboys were busted. Broke. Nobody thought it would work. Make a more of an unconventional decision here and basically take the risk. And I want you to know that almost as I was handing in the card, it was that close to put that Manziel card in, it was that close. And I looked over at my son Stephen, our oldest son is the chief executive officer, and I said, ‘I took the right pick.’ If I had made this kind of pick when I bought the Cowboys, I’d never have bought the team. That’s not how you get there.”

Speaking at a function in June in Arkansas honoring Jones’ former coach, Frank Broyles, Jones had this to say about how difficult it was to pass on Manziel:

"Well, it was,” Jones said. “Yes, it was. First of all, I couldn't believe he had fallen there. And secondly, we had spent a lot of time, I'd spent a lot of time. He's the kind of player that can be that kind of difference-maker. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a successful player. We have in Romo what I consider to be the better quarterback. But there's also the future, there's also insurance if you don't have him. If anybody could have adjusted to Manziel's style, we could have because we're a lot like that with Romo.”

And finally let’s revisit what Jones said at a news conference on draft night after the Cowboys took Zack Martin in the first round .

“As you well know in here, Romo, by contract as well as by commitment, is certainly the quarterback for the Cowboys for several years to come,” Jones said. “There is no moving around that. I don’t care who you draft, that’s the way it would have been. That was going through our minds from the get-go. That’s why we didn’t spend a lot of time at all in this draft considering Manziel.”

The next time Jones is asked about Manziel he just might say the Cowboys had his name on a card ready to turn in to the commissioner.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Throughout the offseason, Dallas Cowboys teammates, coaches and staff noticed a difference in Morris Claiborne.

On the first day of full-padded practices Saturday, Claiborne showed part of that difference for everybody else to see.

On his first snap of one-on-one drills against wide receiver Terrance Williams, he fought, clawed and talked back. On the second he pushed Williams to the ground, yelling, "Get Dez over here," which prompted some more talking with a perturbed Williams.

Later Claiborne was beat by Bryant on one deep ball, but he broke up a comeback to Bryant and a deep ball to Devin Street before cramps knocked him out of the final team session.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports"A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes," Morris Claiborne said. "For that, I feel like I'm a better person from it even though it might've hurt at the time."
“I’ve got a different approach just from football, from life period,” Claiborne said. “A lot of things happened in my life that you had to face and had to make changes. For that, I feel like I’m a better person from it even though it might’ve hurt at the time. I feel like I’m a better man after it and it’s carried over to football.”

In a span of only a few days last December he experienced the birth of his daughter, Madison, and the death of his father, Robert Owens. He alternated from joy with the birth of his second child to sorrow over the death of his father, who was 64.

He could not go to his escape on the football field because he was dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of six games last season. He used the word “funk” to describe what was happening.

“Life,” he said. “Not being able to play football because you’re injured. You got people saying this and people saying that, so now you’ve got so much pressure and you can feel it from coaches and players. You can feel that pressure and all of a sudden to go back and have somebody close to you taken away from you and you’ve got to deal with that too. It’s hard. Your family has changed so now you’re the head man in charge and everybody is looking at you now because the head man pretty much died. Then you have a baby. I couldn’t hide from it.”

Time has helped, and, in his mind, he speaks regularly to his father.

"Anybody can feel different, but that’s my belief,” Claiborne said of his conversations. “That’s my feelings.”

He also keeps a tangible part of his father with him -- a rubber Cowboys bracelet. Owens got the bracelet when his son was picked in the first round of the 2012 draft. The Cowboys moved up to the sixth pick to get Claiborne, whom they called their highest-rated defensive back since Deion Sanders.

Claiborne’s first two seasons have not gone the way he wanted, the way the Cowboys wanted or the way the fans wanted. It's not what any of them expected. He intercepted just two passes in his first two seasons. He battled through wrist, shoulder, knee and hamstring injuries. He missed a game with a concussion and busted lip as a rookie.

The confident player who roamed the LSU secondary was replaced by someone unsure of himself.

“I don’t need to really remind him or anyone the commitment we made and the commitment he made,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “He’s got a lot of pride. He’s certainly got some things you can point to the last couple of years. But if he can get out here and be the player, he has the skill level ... [He has to] work through just this kind of thing [in practice], have good things happen, get tired, have things go against him a couple of plays, if he can work through that, he’ll be an improved player and be the guy we want to have out there.”

At the first team meeting of camp, coach Jason Garrett highlighted Claiborne’s work in individual drills to the rest of the team.

“His approach mentally has been outstanding and I think it’s going to reflect in his play,” Garrett said.

One practice does not reflect a complete change, and Claiborne knows it. It’s about doing his job every day, which is something he learned from his father.

“I feel like I have something to prove to myself,” Claiborne said. “It starts with myself. I have to prove it to myself. I’m very comfortable where I’m at now.”
IRVING, Texas -- Examining the Dallas Cowboys' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)


Romo's health will be something that will be monitored throughout camp and perhaps it could force the Cowboys to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster as insurance. That would benefit Caleb Hanie, who joined the team in April, or undrafted rooke Dustin Vaughan. The Cowboys haven't kept three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster since 2011, but they don't want to get caught needing a quarterback if something were to happen to Romo and Weeden had to start. For now, however, the plan is to stick with two on the 53.

RUNNING BACKS (4)



Murray had a fumble on his second carry of team drills, but ball security has not been an issue for him in his career. Dunbar has shown up well. Randle's vision and quick feet give him an edge, to me, in this system. He makes it to the hole quicker than Ryan Williams, who is built a little more powerfully. Both players will have to work on pass protection. The fullback role remains in Clutts' possession. It's been too early to see much from the fullbacks.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)


These five remain unchanged, but Jamar Newsome bears some watching as camp goes on. He looks the part. He has decent speed and he has decent hands. It will be interesting to see how he handles the preseason games.

TIGHT ENDS (3)



The Cowboys added Dallas Walker before coming to camp, but he is more about saving the legs of the top three guys. There is a clear gap from Hanna and Walker and Jordan Najvar. I believe the Cowboys will still be looking for more of a blocker as camp goes on.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)


Nwaneri takes the final spot over Brian Clarke from the first projection to open camp. This will likely flip flop throughout camp and the preseason. A lot of it will depend on injuries among the top eight linemen and cost. If a younger player emerges, like Clarke or Ronald Patrick, then they could win that last spot. Leary is battling a hamstring strain that has kept him out the first few days of camp, so Bernadeau is getting the jump on the left guard position with the first team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

Sticking with the same 10 players for now. Gardner injured his shoulder in the first practice and could need some time to heal before he gets back to practice. That could hurt his chances and help somebody like a Ben Bass or Caesar Rayford. Coleman could be the latest of the Cowboys' undrafted finds. He is active but before we get too carried away we need to see how he performs against better than backup competition.

LINEBACKER (7)

I don't like carrying seven linebackers right now, but I'm sticking with it. McClain took second-team middle linebacker snaps, which was surprising considering he was not with the club in the offseason. The Cowboys will give him every chance to show his potential and are hoping the talent is there. He made a tackle on his first snap in team run drills, shaking off a block and bringing down the runner.

CORNERBACK (5)


Carr has not been at camp as he tended to his ailing mother. Claiborne came out as fired up as he had been in his first two years on the first practice. He knows the importance of the season. For now I've got five corners, but I'm going to look to see if it is worth keeping a sixth. Tyler Patmon and B.W. Webb would be in that mix.

SAFETY (5)

Dixon gets the final spot, but he would be out if I do go with six corners for the next projection. And he also needs to watch undrafted rookie Ryan Smith. He's splitting time on the third team with Dixon right now. This spot won't shake out until the preseason ends.

SPECIALISTS (3)


No change here. Not sure there will be a change all camp.

Cowboys Camp Report: Day 4

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
10:20
PM ET
OXNARD, Calif. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Dallas Cowboys training camp:
  • Tony Romo averaged just 7.2 yards per attempt in 2013 as the field shrunk on the Cowboys. Through two padded practices Romo is looking to get the ball down the field. On the first play of team drills he connected with Dez Bryant on a deep ball after Bryant left cornerback Morris Claiborne. In seven-on-seven drills he led Terrance Williams for a big gain with Williams out-jumping B.W. Webb for the completion and getting his feet down before he went out of bounds. In team and seven-on-seven drills Romo completed 13-of-17 passes. He was intercepted for the first time in camp when Devin Street slipped, allowing Sterling Moore to make the pick.
  • DeMarco Murray showed a burst of speed on a run up the middle of the Cowboys’ nickel defense that had running backs coach Gary Brown oohing and aahing. After seeing the hole open in front of him, Murray accelerated through the line untouched and then received some down-field blocking help from Bryant. Later in third-down drills, Murray caught a Romo dump off for a first down working his way through cornerback Orlando Scandrick for the pickup.
  • Injuries are always a worry early in camp and the Cowboys lost Matt Johnson (hamstring), Terrell McClain (ankle) and DeVonte Holloman (dehydration), and it could have been worse. Safety Jeff Heath jammed his right wrist while attempting to tackle Lance Dunbar on a run. He was examined by the medical staff and was able to return after a tape job. Bruce Carter left briefly during one-on-one drills with a sore knee but he returned and said after practice he was OK.
  • There could be something of a rotation in the battle to be the Cowboys’ third running back. Ryan Williams took the third-team snaps over Joseph Randle, who took that work on Saturday. Williams showed great patience on a screen pass from Brandon Weeden in third-down drills. He nearly came up with a Dustin Vaughan throw on a wheel route after beating linebacker Dontavis Sapp down the sideline, but the pass was just out of his diving reach.
  • Dan Bailey made five of six kicks in his first live work of training camp. Bailey made kicks from 34, 38, 41, 44 and 48 yards. His one miss came from 51 yards in which he hooked the ball left. An interesting note with the first-team field goal protection team: center Travis Frederick lined up as the left wing. Normally that position has been reserved for a tight end or defensive lineman. And for some reason the Cowboys keep Witten on the field goal unit as the right wing.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Head coach Jason Garrett pretty much guaranteed an elite performance by Dez Bryant during Sunday’s practice.

Bryant
Bryant
Garrett made sure to get under Bryant’s skin the previous afternoon, throwing another log on the Pro Bowl receiver’s competitive fire. The head coach loudly provided some intentionally inaccurate color commentary after Bryant got wide open but was overthrown on a pass during 1-on-1s, barking that cornerback Orlando Scandrick had kicked Bryant’s butt on the rep.

“I had my reasons for saying what I said, and so, Dez Bryant’s going to be ready to go today,” Garrett said before Sunday’s practice. “Trust me.”

Not exactly a bold prediction, but it proved to be true.

Bryant actually got off to a bit of a slow start in 1-on-1s, as cornerback Morris Claiborne had pass breakups on their first two reps. Claiborne would have been called for holding on a curl route, but he made a nice play to bat away a deep ball on the second throw.

That didn’t sit well with Bryant, who responded in spectacular fashion, torching Claiborne on a slant-and-go the next time they matched up.

Claiborne was toast as soon as Bryant made the double move, having bitten hard on the slant. Claiborne was at least 15 yards behind Bryant as he caught the pass and sprinted into the end zone.

In team drills later in the practice, Bryant put another highlight on the reel at Claiborne’s expense, burning him on a go route for what would have been another long score.

Claiborne had taunted Terrance Williams during 1-on-1 drills Saturday, shouting that they better bring Bryant over to compete against him.

Be careful what you wish for, especially after the head coach has been talking trash to the No. 1 receiver.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 4 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1) It was one play, just about as meaningless as can be, considering it was the first day players wore pads, but Morris Claiborne wanted to establish a tone.

Claiborne
First, he locked down Terrance Williams, forcing an incompletion. Then he jumped up and started woofing. Eventually, the players were separated.

It was the first time since he arrived that we’ve seen that type of feistiness from Claiborne.

Hey, whatever it takes. He’s been the epitome of a bust his first two seasons, allowing 70 completions in 117 attempts with only two interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

For a guy who was supposed to be the best defensive player in the 2012 draft that’s not nearly good enough.

Jason Garrett said he’s improved significantly during the offseason. It’s time for him to take it to the field.

Better secondary play is the fastest way for this defense to improve, since their pass rush remains suspect.

Smith
2) The Cowboys are moving closer to a long-term agreement with left tackle Tyron Smith, who’s going to deserve every nickel of whatever he gets.

Smith is man-handling the defensive ends on this roster, the way DeMarcus Ware used to destroy tackles, including Smith, during training camp.

Smith is only 23, so don’t be surprised if he signs a deal that’s nine or 10 years long. When he does, it’ll be interesting to see if Dez Bryant can continue to ignore his contract situation and play well.

After all, the club has already taken care of Sean Lee, who was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Bryant was the Cowboys’ first-round pick.

3) Kyle Wilber spent his first two seasons bouncing around between outside linebacker in the 3-4 and weakside defensive end.

Injuries last season created some playing time for him at strongside linebacker and the Cowboys suddenly found a player.

Wilber has the strength to hold the edge and consistently force running plays inside, in part because of the time he spent at defensive end, and he made several important plays for the Cowboys last season.

He finished the season with 44 tackles and two sacks, while starting six games.

34

The Cowboys were tied for 25th in the NFL with 34 sacks. Only five teams had fewer.

Their sack total was 10 fewer than the average 2013 playoff team.

Teams that don’t get many sacks often say they’re overrated. Well, they’re not. Pressure is good, but sacks are a momentum-changer and usually result in a punt at the end of the drive.

You must rush the passer and put quarterbacks under duress, or it’s hard to force turnovers and win games.

The Cowboys are counting on defensive Henry Melton, who missed the last 13 games with a torn ACL, to provide pressure up the middle. He has been a terrific pass-rusher, and they need him to command double teams to help other players get to the quarterback.

Player to Watch: Gavin Escobar

The Cowboys wasted Escobar’s rookie season. Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson.

It’s dumb to ask a tight end who should excel at working from the slot and creating mismatches with his size to be the same type of player as Jason Witten.

Escobar can help this team by making plays downfield and giving Tony Romo one more vertical threat.

He caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He can be a playmaker, if Scott Linehan gives him a chance to do it. If not, he’ll be a wasted pick.
OXNARD, Calif. -- Cole Beasley wants to prove he’s more than just a slot receiver after feeling like he’s been pigeonholed in his NFL career.

“That comes with being 5-8 and 175 pounds,” Beasley said.

 The Cowboys plan to give Beasley every opportunity to prove he can make plays as an outside receiver. It’s not just about expanding the role of a receiver who emerged as a significant contributor in his second NFL season, catching 39 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. If Beasley can do more than just play in the slot, it opens up possibilities for the Cowboys coaches to create mismatches with their most dangerous weapon.

For the first few seasons of his NFL career, the Cowboys featured Dez Bryant solely as the X receiver, keeping his role as simple as possible. They moved him around some last season, and he’s mentally prepared for much more of that entering his fifth year, often working out of the slot in three-receiver sets with Beasley outside.

“I think there’s really no limit on what we can do with him, and I believe that,” receivers coach Derek Dooley said. “We started moving him around last year, and that’s the only way to continue to get him the production that he needs to get because defensive coordinators are too good. If they know where he’s going to be, it’s going to be a long Sunday.

“So the sky’s the limit. It’s a matter of repping. To your point, moving him into the slot, we’ve got to figure out what Cole’s role is, so that’s what we’re working through right now.”

It’s a challenge that Beasley embraces.

“I’d just say [I am] more confident after being in the last two seasons and getting some time to actually play,” Beasley said. “Knowing I can do it and knowing how good I can be, that really excites me. I wouldn’t say I’m a different player. I’d just say with more opportunities, I’ll get better and better.”
OXNARD, Calif. -- In some ways Lance Dunbar still carries himself as an undrafted running back from North Texas.

It doesn’t matter that this is his third training camp with the Dallas Cowboys. It doesn’t matter that he already has a role as the third-down back. It doesn’t matter that he could be a core player on special teams.

Dunbar
“I wouldn’t say I like it that way better, but it kind of pushes me, made me work harder, made me the guy I am today,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar is not established the way DeMarco Murray is established. He had just 30 carries last season and caught just seven passes before suffering a knee injury last Thanksgiving against the Oakland Raiders. But it was what Dunbar did in that game -- 12 carries, 82 yards; one catch, 12 yards -- that has many intrigued about his role in 2014.

“This league has kind of evolved into a two-back type league, meaning two marquee backs instead of that one bell cow,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That was the case in this league for a number of years, but very few teams have that one guy who is going to get it 25 times a game. We want to make sure DeMarco Murray gets his touches. We play well on offense, we play well as a team when we hand him the football so we’ll keep trying to do that, keep trying to get him the ball in the passing game too. But anybody who has followed our football team the last couple of years sees that Lance Dunbar can contribute and he continues to get better and better.”

Dunbar’s recovery from knee surgery went better than anybody could have expected. He was not limited in his offseason work and there won’t be any rest in training camp. Garrett said the scores Dunbar put up on tests – benching, squatting, change of direction drills, vertical jump - this spring were better than they were a year ago.

“I couldn’t feel sorry myself,” Dunbar said. “I had to do it myself to get better each and every day. I just pushed myself and I came back stronger and a better player.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider