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Cowboys Mailbag: 3/31/10 (LB’s, Shawn Andrews, Pacman Jones)

We all want to see what sort of impact second-year ILB Jason Williams can have in 2010.

Q:  With all of the talk about a ball-hawking safety, why is there no mention of interceptions from linebackers?

John Coleman, Bassett, VA

A: You are right that the pass defense woes of the Cowboys always get pinned on the secondary, but the back four are not the team’s the only ticket to success.  The best defenses work as a single unit, particularly against the pass.  The success of the cornerbacks and safeties, for example, is so dependent on the team’s ability to rush the passer.  There is a humongous difference between covering a player for three seconds and doing it for five.

Having said that, the Cowboys obviously have one of the best pass-rushing groups in the league.  The play of their front seven, in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback, is about as solid as one might hope.

Unfortunately, the linebackers are not nearly as successful dropping into coverage as they are getting to the quarterback.  Remember, even Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are in coverage about one-fourth of all plays.  Further, Bradie James and Keith Brooking are excellent players and tremendous leaders, but they aren’t Pro Bowl-caliber pass-defenders.

The inside linebackers’ success in pass coverage could increase with the emergence of second-year player Jason Williams.  Members within the organization love his speed and athleticism.  He may take over for Bobby Carpenter in nickel situations next season and should be able to offer a bit more play-making ability inside.

Overall, you are correct in pointing out that a large component of pass defense is the play of the linebackers.  Teams attacked the Cowboys underneath (pass attempts less than 10 yards down the field) more than any other team in the NFL in 2009.  If the linebackers can step up their game and perhaps even force a few more turnovers, it should go a long way in aiding the Cowboys’ pass defense as a whole.

Q:  What is your opinion on signing Shawn Andrews to a low-guaranteed money but high-incentive contract?  If he ever stops acting like a headcase, this could be a low-risk/high-reward move.  Thanks and love the site.

David Leitner, Philadelphia, PA

A: You answered your own question by saying “if he ever stops acting like a headcase.”  Sure, Andrews is talented, but as we have seen with Roy E. Williams, so much of the game is mental.  If a player is not in the right place mentally, he cannot perform well physically.

Andrews has had some problems with depression and we truly hopes he can sort things out for himself.  A lot of times people dismiss those sorts of illnesses as less severe than ones with physical symptoms, but that is simply not the case, even for professional athletes (and perhaps especially for professional athletes).

You are correct in assuming Andrews, or any other veteran, would be signed to a low-risk/high-reward deal, but there are other types of risks than financial ones.  If the Cowboys only concerned themselves with financial risks and on-field play, T.O. and Pacman Jones would still be in Dallas.

Pacman back to Dallas? Don't hold your breath.

Q:  Why don’t the Cowboys bring back Pacman Jones?  I know most fans will disagree, but he is still really talented and hasn’t gotten into any trouble in a few years.  He could compete with Orlando Scandrick for the nickel job.

Bobby Doler, Louisville, KY

A: We actually recently raised this question to fans on Twitter and Facebook after watching Pacman during Cowboys’ training camp on Hard Knocks.  We received approximately 150 “Hell No” answers.  That isn’t an exaggeration.

We are not 100 percent opposed to the idea because of Jones’ return abilities.  Pushing Scandrick in the slot would be nice, but Pacman could really have an immediate impact on special teams.  He showed he still has some speed left after running a low-to-mid 4.4 at his private workout, and while he struggled on returns during his lone season in Dallas, Jones has the potential to be a dominant return man.

Having said that, now is probably not the time to sign a controversial player like Pacman.  The Cowboys are extremely close to getting over the hump and competing for a Super Bowl title, and any player that is potentially as big a distraction as Jones is probably not worth the risk.

Overall, the chances of the Cowboys actually bringing back Pacman are about the same as them signing me. . .so pretty good.


March 31, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowboys Mailbag: 3/22/10 (3-4 OLB’s, Taylor Mays, Marion Barber to Fullback)

Q:  Why does everybody look for college defensive ends to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense?  Why not move a fast 6’3”, 260lb guy to inside linebacker?

John Coleman, Bassett, VA

A: The reason 3-4 outside linebackers are generally college defensive ends has to do with the similarities between the positions.  Both 3-4 OLB’s and 4-3 DE’s are almost always rushing the passer.  They develop similar pass-rush moves and, although a 3-4 OLB rushes from a standing position, the general mindset of the two positions is equivalent.

3-4 OLB's like Victor Butler were generally 4-3 defensive ends in college because the positions require a similar skill set.

An inside linebacker does not rush the quarterback.  He may come on blitzes from time to time, but the primary goal of an ILB is not to sack the quarterback–it is to read a play and react by either stuffing a run or dropping into coverage.

Thus, the positional designation of a player is not solely determined by size and speed, but more so by skill set.  College defensive ends, although sometimes the same size as a 3-4 inside backer, rarely have the fluidity and change of direction to efficiently drop into ILB coverages.  Remember that speed is not everything.  Just because a college DE runs a 4.6 does not mean he has the quickness or the hips to play ILB.

3-4 outside backers, on the other hand, are almost always rushing the quarterback.  When they are not, they are very rarely asked to do anything but drop into the flat.

It is these differences in athleticism and mindset that make a transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 inside linebacker basically non-existent.

Q:  Why do you guys hate USC safety Taylor Mays so much?  He is an incredible athlete and even if he can’t play safety, the Cowboys could move him to linebacker.

Jeremy Frederick, Arlington, TX

A: We don’t hate Taylor Mays.  He is a hard-worker and a good kid.  We simply think he would be a poor fit in Dallas.  As you point out, he is certainly an incredible athlete.  Incredible athletes don’t necessarily win games though.  Good football players win games.

In our opinion, Mays does not properly translate his athleticism to the football field.  He was rather unproductive at USC, particularly the last two seasons.

If Dallas does make a change at safety, it will likely be for a “ball-hawk.”  Mays is a hard hitter and possesses great straight-line speed, but the last thing we would characterize him as is a “ball-hawk.”

Barber is capable of playing fullback once in awhile but a full-time switch is unrealistic.

At 230 pounds, Mays is also way too undersized to play linebacker in a 3-4 defense.  Further, why would the Cowboys want to invest a first round pick in a player who would take a few years to transition to a position he has never before played?

Q:  Is it possible for the Cowboys to move Marion Barber to fullback?  Deon Anderson might not be back, and it would allow two talented ball-carriers to be on the field together.  Thanks!

Alicia Packard, Tampa Bay, FL

A: Barber has lined up at fullback in the past, particularly in short-yardage situations.  The Cowboys don’t generally call traditional running plays (power, lead, iso) with Barber at fullback.  Quite frankly, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been rather predictable in these situations, either handing the ball off to Barber on a dive or faking the dive and pitching outside to Felix Jones.

There do seem to be some situations where Barber could be used effectively at fullback, particularly on pass plays (as he is excellent as both a receiver out of the backfield and in pass protection).

The problem is Barber has little experience being a lead blocker, so designating him as a true fullback is not an option.  He can be a “specialty fullback” (if there is such a thing), but utilizing him consistently in a Deon Anderson-esque role is not going to be successful.

Let’s just hope for these reasons that Deon Anderson returns to the team in 2010.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cowboys Mailbag: 3/18/10 (Rotating linemen, compensatory picks)

Might it be possible to substitute someone in for the big guy a few plays a game?

Q:  Why would the Cowboys not draft a LT prospect to rotate with Flozell Adams a few plays per game, and do the same with other OL personnel (Colombo/Free)?

John Coleman, Bassett, VA

A: Line substitutions have traditionally been limited to the defensive side of the ball, but we kind of like your thinking here.  Football has evolved into a sport of personnel packages.  The Cowboys bring in different packages of skill positions players on offense based on down and distance.  They do the same with the entire defense.

So why does the offensive line, on basically every NFL team, remain stagnant?  Our best guess is that you always want your best players protecting your quarterback.  It could be risky, for example, substituting a rookie for Flozell Adams in a 3rd and Long situation.

Still, there do seem to be situations where the idea makes a lot of sense.  The Cowboys loved what they saw in Doug Free last season, so why not rotate him with Marc Colombo at right tackle?  We graded Free as superior to Colombo in pass protection, so perhaps the Cowboys should consider substituting Free in during passing situations, just as they do with Tashard Choice.

These “linemen packages” do not necessarily have to tip the defense as to a certain play.  The substitution of Choice on 3rd down, for example, does not guarantee a pass.  Further, during situations such as 3rd and Long when the defense all but knows a pass is going to be dialed up, why not have your best pass protectors in the game?

The problem with substituting a rookie for Adams is that the veteran left tackle’s weakness is obviously pass protecting.  Trusting a rookie in 2nd and 5 is a bit different than 3rd and 10 on Romo’s blind side against the opponent’s best pass-rusher.  However, you could make the argument that he would still be better than Adams in pass protection at this point.

Q:  When will the NFL announce the compensatory draft picks for this year?  Do you think Dallas will receive anything better than a single pick at the end of the 6th round?  Thanks!

The Cowboys could have received a fairly high compensatory draft pick for losing Chris Canty had they not signed so many other free agents.

Edward Toerner, Lafayette, LA

A: Good question Edward.  Compensatory picks will be awarded at the annual NFL meeting, this year being held from March 21-24.

Unfortunately, Dallas does not stand to receive anything too worthwhile again this season in terms of compensatory selections.  These picks are based not only on free agents a team loses, but also those a team signs.

So while the squad could have benefited greatly from Chris Canty signing with the Giants (or even a little from Kevin Burnett signing with the Chargers), these losses are negated because Dallas picked up players such as Keith Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh, and Igor Olshansky.

Now, a team can still be awarded selections for losing better free agents (i.e. ones who sign for more money), so the Cowboys should be in line to receive a selection via that route.  The problem is that, without losing more free agents than they signed, the Cowboys cannot attain any higher than a 7th round selection for any players lost.

Further, salary is not the sole determiner of a player’s value (although it is the primary factor).  Playing time also counts some.  Remember, though, that Canty got injured and missed basically the entire season.

Altogether, don’t bank on the Cowboys receiving anything special here in the coming week.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cowboys Mailbag: 3/12/10 (Brandon Marshall, O.J. Atogwe, Jesse Holley)

Brandon Marshall is an incredible receiver, but signing him really isn't an option for Dallas.

Q:  Why is there not more talk of the Cowboys signing Brandon Marshall?  He received only a first round tender from the Broncos.  The Cowboys have a late first-rounder and Denver probably wouldn’t match an offer.  Marshall could take over for Roy Williams.

Jimmy D, Grand Rapids, MI

A: Marshall is certainly an incredible athlete and wide receiver, but the move just doesn’t make too much sense.  Sure, he could help the team, but at what price?  The Cowboys already have players on their own team they need to sign long-term, i.e. Miles Austin.

If Dallas signed Marshall to an offer sheet, they would be on the hook for three huge contracts to players at the same position.  That isn’t exactly business-savvy.  The uncapped year won’t a ticket to spend unlimited amounts of cash, as the Cowboys have already stated they are implementing their own cap.

Further, despite the opinions of most fans, the Cowboys are not really weak at wide receiver.  Austin is a legitimate number one, so our expectations for Williams need to be lessened.  Of course you would like to see your $45 million man play to his potential, but with Austin, Jason Witten, and the Cowboys’ running game, people need to realize that Williams’ upside is limited.

Lastly, the front office just spent last offseason ridding itself of players they deemed distractions.  We think locker room chemistry is overrated, but apparently the Cowboys’ brass does not.  That doesn’t help Marshall’s case.

Any chance of signing FS O.J. Atogwe hinges on the Cowboys' draft outcome.

The only wide receiver that may join the squad is probably a middle-to-late round draft selection who is versatile enough to return kicks and punts.

Q:  I have heard Dallas might be interested in signing Rams’ free safety O.J. Atogwe.  What are the chances of this happening, and what would the ‘Boys have to give up?  Do you think it is a smart move?

Anna Orr, Dallas, TX

A: Unlike a lot of the rumors circulating the internet, there is actually a realistic chance of the Cowboys signing Atogwe.  We wouldn’t call it an outstanding chance, but a possibility nonetheless.

Atogwe offers a trait the current Dallas’ safeties do not possess–ball-hawking ability.  Atogwe has picked off 15 passes the last three seasons despite playing for a St. Louis team that does not get thrown at a lot.

The issue for the Cowboys will be if they see Atogwe as a significant upgrade over Ken Hamlin.  Atogwe should receive a decent size contract, but the Cowboys may want to just invest a high draft pick in a free safety rather than one who is already 28 years old.

The good news for Dallas (which makes a deal more likely) is that they will not have to give up any picks to sign Atogwe.  The Rams are able to match any offer sheet Atogwe signs, but if they do not, they do not receive any compensation.

On June 1, however, Atogwe becomes an unrestricted free agent, meaning any team can sign him and St. Louis holds no right to match an offer.  It is likely teams will wait until then to offer Atogwe a contract.

Thus, for the Cowboys, the chances of signing Atogwe hinge on the path they take during the draft.  If they draft a safety in rounds one or two, Atogwe likely will not be in Dallas.  Should they pass on a safety in the early rounds, however, Dallas may just become the favorite to sign the 28 year old ball-hawk.

Still, the Cowboys are in no rush to sign Atogwe.  If they do deem Ken Hamlin a liability, chances are they will look to draft a stud rookie safety before giving big money to a veteran.

Jesse Holley overcame long odds to make the Cowboys' practice squad, and he will have to do it again to make the 53-man roster.

Q:  What are the chances of the “4th and Long” winner Jesse Holley making the Cowboys’ roster?

Daniel Wagnor, Palmdale, CA

A: Very, very slim.  Holley isn’t a bad player, but there just is not much room.  Despite the notion that wide receiver is a weak link for the Cowboys, it is actually very deep.

The team generally keeps five wide receivers on the 53-man roster.  Austin, Williams, Crayton, and Ogletree are all basically locks to make the squad.

The odd man out, if there is one, would be Sam Hurd.  If Hurd makes the team again, it will be due to his special teams ability.  At a certain point, though, special team players have to step up into a positional role.  Hurd may be capable of doing that, but Jerry Jones may decide he wants a player with more upside.

To obtain that upside, the Cowboys also could draft a wide receiver fairly early in the April draft.  We don’t see that as likely, but if it does happen, Holley’s shot of making the roster is all but gone.  In a nutshell, although we like the guy, he will probably have to hope for an injury.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowboys Mailbag: 3/10/10

Q:  What is the Cowboys 2010 schedule?

Danny Cloyd, Upper Marlboro, MD

A: You will have to hold off on buying Dallas Cowboys tickets just yet because the 2010 NFL schedule has not yet been released.  However, the Cowboys do know their opponents and the location of their games.  Excluding the division matchups, the Cowboys will host Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Tennessee.  They will travel to Green Bay, Minnesota, Arizona, Houston, and Indianapolis.

The road opponents appear to be significantly better than those teams Dallas will host in 2010.  The Cowboys could be legitimate underdogs in five or six games next season, which is a rarity for America’s Team, particularly of late.

We see Baltimore OT Jared Gaither as a possible free agent addition, assuming the price is right.

There is one game for which you can already score tickets, as the Cowboys were selected to play the Bengals in the Hall of Fame game, the first preseason game of the season.  This means they will have five preseason games– extra snaps to evaluate the rookies and second-year players.

The official NFL schedule generally gets released around the second week of April.

Q:  The Cowboys have been inactive thus far in free agency.  Do you see them making any moves before the draft?  What about the Ravens’ tackle Jared Gaither?

Adam Reinhart, Erie, PA

A: If the Cowboys do sign anyone before the draft, it won’t be anything major.  Jerry Jones recently claimed that the team has a lot of players on their own team they need to lock up long-term before worrying about free agents.  We imagine the main focus is Miles Austin, with Gerald Sensabaugh also a priority to sign to a long-term deal.

If the Cowboys do sign a free agent to a big-time contract, we think you are correct about it being Jared Gaither.  Gaither is a supremely underrated tackle who gave up only six quarterback pressures in all of 2009 (as compared to Flozell Adams’ 42).  The Ravens placed a first round tender on him, but they seem fairly willing to deal him to make room for second-year player Michael Oher.

The Cowboys are highly unlikely to yield their first round selection for Gaither, but it is possible Baltimore could let him go for less.  If Dallas could obtain him for, say, their second and fourth round picks, then it is a real possibility.  However, don’t forget they would still need to lock Gaither up long-term.

There have also been rumors of Dallas being interested in Colts’ restricted free agent Antoine Bethea.  He too received a first round tender, but we believe Bethea has much less of a chance of joining the Cowboys this offseason than Gaither.

We recently detailed why Flozell Adams should remain a Cowboy in 2010, but the lure of a signing a player like Gaither without relinquishing a first round draft pick sounds enticing.

Dallas may take a look at UNC's Cam Thomas in the second round, a player who is a true 3-4 nose tackle.

Q:  I have seen you think the Cowboys might use an early selection on a college defensive tackle who would transition to defensive end for the Cowboys.  Do you believe the team might draft a true nose tackle as a backup to Ratliff?  Do you think moving Ratliff to defensive end in certain situations might justify such a selection?

Justin Shoemaker, Exton, PA

A: Drafting a true nose tackle is not out of the question.  The Cowboys cannot be satisfied with their depth at the position (Junior Siavii is the primary backup), and a lengthy injury to Ratliff could have extreme consequences for the defense.

If they do address nose tackle in the early rounds of the draft, it would likely be either Tennessee’s Dan Williams (projected late first), Alabama’s Terrence Cody (projected early second), or UNC’s Cam Thomas (projected late second).  All three of those players are over 330 pounds, with Cody weighing (a lot) more.

We highly doubt the team will draft a true nose tackle in the first round, though, because the projected impact of that player would be very limited with Ratliff an every-down starter.

Your suggestion of moving Ratliff to defensive end might combat this problem, but would not be worth the risk.  Ratliff was formerly a defensive end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 and his performance was mediocre.  His quickness and athleticism are what allow him to flourish at nose tackle.  He is also powerful enough to be excellent against the run despite his 305 pound frame.

Thus, the earliest we can see Dallas obtaining Ratliff’s backup is the second round.  Cam Thomas is the most likely option there, but it is more likely the team will address the need a few rounds later with a guy like UCF’s Torrell Troup or East Carolina’s Jay Ross (who we had the Cowboys selecting in the seventh round of our first mock draft.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cowboys Mailbag 3/5/10

Marcus Spears' second round tender was a bit surprising, but he is still likely to remain in Dallas.

Q:  Why did the Cowboys only give Marcus Spears a second round tender?  Don’t you think another team will give up the pick and sign him?

Terry Hardwick, Memphis, TN

The Cowboys actually gave Marcus Spears an original pick tender.  However, should another team sign him, they would only have to give up a second round pick, so you are right about that.

There are a few things the Cowboys could be trying to accomplish by not giving Spears a higher tender.  First, perhaps they think no one will sign Spears long-term.  NFL teams treat draft picks like gold.  When the Cardinals are trying to trade Anquan Boldin for a third-rounder, you get an idea of how valuable teams consider their draft picks to be.

Second, the Cowboys may plan to match any offer that Spears gets from another team.  If Spears gets signed long-term, the Cowboys have seven days to match that exact offer.  They have to be careful with this, however, as a team could sign Spears to a deal that contains a “poison pill”– a component of the contract that the Cowboys would be unable to match.  For example, if the contract said that Spears could only play “X” amount of games in Arlington, Texas, then the Cowboys would obviously be out of luck.  Offers containing “poison pills” are very rare and considered dirty.  There would also be no reason for Spears to sign such a contract, unless he really does not want to come back to Dallas.

Moving Flozell Adams to guard is a possibility, but more so in 2011.

Lastly, the Cowboys could actually be content with Spears leaving.  We doubt this is the case, but if they have enough confidence in Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, and Igor Olshansky, they may see Spears as expendable.  This would make defensive end a high priority in the draft, increasing the likelihood of the Cowboys selecting Jared Odrick or Brian Price in the first round.

Q:  Is it possible to move Flozell Adams to guard?  He has struggled in pass protection but excelled in run blocking, so maybe it could help his production.

Allen Barber, Oakland, CA

You know, we actually are not fundamentally opposed to the idea.  You have to be careful switching players’ positions, but Flozell may actually be a candidate to make the switch to guard.  As you pointed out and we showed in our Offensive Line Grades, Adams was still productive in the run game.  Moving him to guard might help him utilize his strength and hide his lack of quickness in pass protection.

The most obvious potential problem is that guards are asked to pull a lot more than tackles.  Does Flozell still possess the quickness needed to pull and make a block in the open field?  Perhaps he has been dominant in run blocking because, at left tackle, he is generally matched up against the defense’s smallest lineman, something that would never happen if he was playing guard.

Still, we think Adams has the strength to hold his own inside.  Further, Leonard Davis has shown that a 355 pound man is capable of moving around well at guard, so Adams shouldn’t be ruled out.

Practically, however, a move cannot be made at this time.  First, the Cowboys are already searching for depth at tackle.  This is probably Adams last season as the starting left tackle, and who knows if Doug Free is capable of playing well on the left side.  We already think Free’s right tackle play, contrary to popular belief, was only slightly above average.

As much as Earl Thomas would help the Cowboys' secondary, he will probably get selected too high for Dallas to even have a chance to trade for him.

Second, the Cowboys already have two solid guards.  Adams would have to take Kyle Kosier’s job, but Kosier played extremely well last season, yielding just one sack all year.  If a move to guard is in Flozell’s future, it would likely come next year, when Kosier is a free agent and the team has had a full season to groom either Doug Free or a rookie as Adams’ successor at left tackle.

Q:  Do you see the Cowboys trading up to draft Texas safety Earl Thomas?  We need a new free safety and Thomas is a ball-hawk who looked great at the Combine.

Devon Douglas, Weatherford, TX

Earl Thomas did excel in Indianapolis, and we listed him as one of our “Combine Winners.”  Most surprising about Thomas was that he weighed in at 208 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than his college weight, yet still ran a 4.44 forty-yard dash.  Thomas is certainly on the Cowboys radar.

Unfortunately, he is on a lot of other teams’ radar too.  We think Thomas is going to go very early in the draft, even more so than people are expecting.  We talked to a scout who said multiple teams have Thomas ranked ahead of the “consensus” top safety Eric Berry.  There are also rumors that Houston will not let Thomas get passed them if he drops to pick #20.

If that is the case, the best case scenario for Jerry Jones would be to trade up to pick #19 if Thomas somehow drops there.  Even though we see that as very unlikely, it would probably cost the Cowboys their 3rd and 4th round picks to make that move (according to the NFL Draft Value Chart).  That is a steep price to pay, particularly with so many talented safeties projected to be on the board in round two.

Thus, unless Thomas drops into the 20’s, the Cowboys are highly unlikely to make a move for him.  It should really be a moot point, though, as we see Thomas as a potential top 15 pick.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cowboys Mailbag: 3/1/10

Curtis Johnson played DE for the Colts before Dallas signed him as an outside linebacker.

Q:  The Colts waived Curtis Johnson right before the 2009 season started and Dallas claimed him.  All year long it was reported that he was trying to heal from an injury to his leg, so he was inactive for much of the season.  But, the Cowboys still kept him around.  Is he that special?  He must be for them to go short all season long while carrying him on the active roster.  Can you give us some insight into this player?  Thanks!

Edward Toerner, Lafayette, LA

A: Johnson was undrafted in 2008 before signing with the Colts.  Dallas claimed him one day after Indianapolis released him last season, so they obviously had a lot of interest.

Johnson is undersized for a 3-4 outside linebacker, even though he played defensive end for the Colts.  He has been working to add a little bulk, and he has the right body frame to be able to add some quality weight.

The key for Johnson will be if he can maintain his speed after adding the weight.  He ran a 4.60 forty-yard dash coming out of Clark College, so if he stay in that 4.6-4.7 range, he has a chance to be a special player.  He will likely have to be a pass rush specialist to start, particularly because he doesn’t have much experience playing in a two-point stance.  Even if he only rushes and never drops into coverage, it can be a difficult transition from 4-3 defensive end to rushing from a stand-up position.

The other problem for Johnson is the depth Dallas has at outside linebacker.  Of course Ware and Spencer start, but the team also drafted Victor Butler last season.  Still, things can change quickly with an injury or two, and the Cowboys obviously see enough potential in Curtis to keep him around.

Marion Barber may get his bounce back by returning to the "closer" role.

Q:  When Marion Barber became the full-time back, I read that the coaching staff was trying to tweak his running style in order for him to take less punishment since he was getting the bulk of the carries.  Do you think this has anything to do with his performance since becoming the full-time starter and is he still trying to run “smarter”?  I say set the Barbarian loose!

Justen Coulsen

A: We detailed the decline of Barber’s 2009 production in our Running Back Grades segment, but it is unlikely that his struggles are due to a change in running style.  The coaches wanted him to avoid unnecessary hits in situations where gaining any further yards is highly unlikely.  You always want your players to give 100 percent on each play, but sometimes going down on purpose or running out of bounds on a dead play is the smartest decision.  In a way, this is truly giving 100 percent, because a player is implementing his intelligence to make a decision which is smart for both him and the team.

Quarterback slides are another example of this.  Sure, quarterbacks could get another yard or two by not sliding, but that isn’t the smart play.  Running backs are a bit different, but sometimes it is best for the team for Barber to just go down.

If there is a part of Barber’s running style that has contributed to his decline, we believe it is the league’s crackdown on stiff arms to the head of the defender.  A few years ago, using jabs to the defender’s head was a big part of Marion’s game.  Since this move has been made illegal, Barber’s production has decreased, although we can’t be completely sure how strong the two are correlated.

Overall, though, Barber’s struggles are probably due to a variety of factors.  Perhaps a return to the “closer” role Barber performed so well in during the days of Julius Jones may serve him well.

Q:  How much do teams alter their draft boards based on Combine numbers?

Fred Jennette, Phoenix, AZ

Golden Tate's 4.42 forty could propel him into Round One.

A: This really varies based on the team.  The Oakland Raiders are well known for taking players who excel at the Combine, i.e. Heyward-Bey over Crabtree.  Other teams don’t pay any attention to the Combine workouts unless a particular number really jumps out.

The teams which consistently draft the best seem to not overreact to workout numbers.  Generally, these teams will rank players into tiers based on their game film.  The film is used for about 90 percent of the evaluation.  They will then move players around within a tier based on their numbers.

For example, if the Cowboys have both Golden Tate and Mardy Gilyard graded evenly, they may move Tate ahead of Gilyard based on the drastic difference in their forty-yard dash times.  Thus, the Combine creates no drastic changes on a team’s board, but simply sorts out the order of players within the same tier.  Game film will always rule, as it should.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cowboys Mailbag: 2/25/10

The Cowboys may sign CFL kicker Sandro DeAngelis, Canada's all-time most accurate kicker.

Q:  What are the Cowboys going to do about a kicker?  Are they going to draft one or let Buehler do all of the kicking?  People continue to blame Romo for everything, but he can’t do it all.  He isn’t Chuck Norris.

Amber Leigh Hartman, Southlake, TX

A: Actually Chuck Norris had a tryout in Dallas yesterday, so we’ll see if the Cowboys decide to sign him.  The NFL likely won’t allow roundhouse kicks, though, so it is unlikely he will be effective.

In all seriousness, the Cowboys absolutely must make upgrading the kicker spot a priority this offseason.  It is unlikely that they either draft a kicker or let Buehler kick full-time, though.  Sure, it would be great to have Buehler kick field goals and not have to use two roster spots on kickers, but he is just nowhere near where he needs to be, in terms of accuracy, to step in be counted upon.  Drafting yet another kicker, to us, also seems improbable, because the uncertainty that comes with a rookie kicker would probably be too much for Jerry Jones & Co. to take.

Kickers are like fine wine in that they generally get better with age, so expect Dallas to sign a veteran.  They may be close to doing so, as they worked out the CFL’s most accurate kicker, Sandro DeAngelis, last Friday.  DeAngelis connected on 42 of his 49 career attempts in five seasons with the Calgary Stampeders.

After the tryout, DeAngelis said, “I’m pleased with [the audition], but you really have no idea what they’re thinking.  They don’t exactly jump up and down or anything so you don’t have a gauge of where you stand.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

Let’s keep our own fingers crossed that Dallas fixes the kicking situation in 2010.

Q:  Do you see the Cowboys making any big trades before the season?

Safety Ken Hamlin and other vets may get released, but don't expect them to be involved in any blockbuster trades.

Joe Michotti, New York, New York

A: Probably not.  They may try to get a late round pick or two for players that might not be around anyway, such as Cory Procter.  The big names that many of you are screaming for the Cowboys to trade, such as Ken Hamlin, Marion Barber, and Flozell Adams, just have contracts that are too heavy for another team to take them on.

Remember, trading for a player is kind of like drafting one.  You always want to receive value.  When you trade for a guy that has a terrible contract, it is like drafting a player three rounds to early.  The risk-to-reward ratio just isn’t there, and there is no reason to make the deal.  Sure, the player may be talented and could help your team, but your squad could be improved even further be spreading out the cash to fill multiple needs.

Even in the upcoming uncapped year, teams are unwilling to overspend.  Most organizations have set their own spending limit and, because of the uncertainty of the salary cap in coming years, are treating this season no differently than any other.  Thus, the contracts that come with Hamlin, Barber, and Adams are a barrier to completing a trade.

If the Cowboys want to part ways with any big-money veterans, they will likely have to release them.

Next:  An interview with Cowboys’ LB Jason Williams

February 25, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mailbag: 2/22/10

Q:  I noticed a majority of the passes thrown to Kevin Ogletree were screens and they worked rather well.  Do you think he’ll have a bigger role on the team next season?  What’s the word within the coaching staff on him?

Justin Coulson

Kevin Ogletree has an outside chance of becoming a starting WR in 2010.

A: The Cowboys did utilize Ogletree well on smoke screens, particularly when they anticipated a blitz against the Eagles.  Ogletree has tremendous run-after-catch abilities, and Jason Garrett did a terrific job getting him the ball in situations he could handle.  Don’t forget Ogletree was an undrafted rookie, so the Cowboys were smart in giving him simple plays where he could use his athleticism without thinking too much.

Ogletree has more to his game than we saw on the screens, though.  The comeback route he ran against the Saints comes to mind, where he pushed the defender vertically, got him to turn his hips, made a sharp cut, came back to the ball and made a toe-dragging catch at the sideline.  Textbook.

Ogletree will have a tough time cracking the starting lineup, though, because Roy Williams will be given every chance to win the starting job.  The coaching staff loves Ogletree, but Jerry Jones is still convinced Roy can be a #1 type wide receiver.

Still, expect Ogletree to continue to improve and, with a good camp and Roy Williams’ meltdown, he does have an outside shot at becoming a starter.

Q:  If the Cowboys cut Ken Hamlin and the Cardinals cut Antrel Rolle, do you see Dallas signing Rolle, or will they wait until the draft to address the position?

Bryan D. Cornelius via Facebook

FS Antrel Rolle will likely be a free agent by week's end, but don't expect Dallas to sign him.

A: The Cowboys are very unlikely to sign Antrel Rolle.  They will be perfectly able to sign Rolle, as their Final Eight status does not limit their ability to sign players who were released, but Rolle is getting cut for a reason.  He does make some big plays, but he also gives up a lot of the same.  Say what you want about Ken Hamlin, but he does a good job of keeping the ball in front of him.  Sometimes having a free safety whose name is not called a lot can be a good thing.

Many draftniks are projecting the Cowboys to draft a free safety in the first round, but we don’t see that happening either. Ken Hamlin is unlikely to get released, and the Cowboys have a rookie in Michael Hamlin behind him who didn’t play last year due to injury.

Alan Ball also gives the team a lot of versatility in his ability to play both cornerback and free safety.  He could even compete for the starting job in camp.

If pressed, we would guess that the Cowboys opening day starters at safety will be the same as last season.  This may not be what a lot of you will want to see, and we know we are in the minority concerning this issue, but we see the Cowboys likely to address other positions in free agency and the early draft.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mailbag: 2/18/10

Marion Barber will almost certainly be a Cowboy in 2010.

Q:  Do you think Marion Barber will be with the Cowboys in 2010?

Cynthia Evans via Twitter

A: Yes, we fully expect Barber to be in Dallas this season.  While Barber was arguably the least effective running back on the roster this past season, there is really nowhere for him to go.  His contract makes him impossible to release, and there really would be no reason to cut a player that makes up one of the best running back groups in the NFL.

Three quality backs is certainly a luxury, but by getting rid of Barber, or any of the running backs for that matter, the Cowboys would leave themselves dangerously thin at the position.  Running backs frequently get injured (particularly Felix Jones).  If Dallas had only Choice and Jones on the roster and one of them got hurt, all of a sudden there is a huge problem in the backfield.

In having this three-headed ball-carrying monster, the Cowboys not only provide each back with adequate rest during games, but they also protect themselves from this injury scenario.

Q:  In your study of Romo’s audibles, you claimed that Tony checked out of 79 plays on the season.  How do you know when Romo is calling an audible, and how do you know it is not a dummy call?

Tony Romo's "Kill" calls were not dummy audibles.

Timothy Grant, Grand Rapids, MI

A: The majority of Romo’s audibles (75, to be exact), were “Kill” calls.  During these checks, Romo is simply alerting the team to disregard the first play called in the huddle and run the second play (Garrett often calls two plays).  There is really no reason for Romo to yell out a fake “Kill” audible because the defense does not know either play that was called.  In having the exact same verbiage, just one word, there is nothing for the defense to pick up on.

If Romo was frequently calling the play at the line of scrimmage, such as the way Peyton Manning does, there would be a use for dummy checks.  Teams might pick up on the meaning of a certain term, thus making it useful to yell that term during a dummy audible and run a play the defense is not expecting.

There is, of course, a possibility that Romo’s four non-“Kill” checks were dummy calls, but with such a small number (four), it is just very unlikely.  Further, such a small sample size would do little to skew our results.

Free agents such as Karlos Dansby are unlikely to land in Dallas because of the league's "Final Eight Plan."

Q:  Do you see Dallas making a big splash in free agency this offseason, particularly with the uncapped season?

Robert Stanford, El Paso, Texas

A: The Cowboys won’t spend much money in free agency because they can’t spend much money in free agency.  The league’s new Final Eight plan limits the ability of teams advancing to the divisional playoffs to sign free agents.  According to the league’s official explanation:

“For the four clubs that lost in the Divisional Playoffs, in addition to having the ability to sign free agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial parameters.  Those four only will be permitted to sign one unrestricted free agent for $5.5 million (estimated) or more in year one of the contract, plus the number of their UFAs who sign with another team.  They also can sign any unrestricted free agents for less than $3.7 (estimated) million in year one of the contract with limitations on the per year increases.”

Thus, Dallas is very limited in the impact they can make in free agency.  They will have to rely on their 2010 draft picks and their injured draft selections from last year to improve the team’s roster.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Mailbag | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment