NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

videoToday's question: The Dallas Cowboys already had the best offensive line in the NFC East and have added La'el Collins, who would have been a first-round pick. How do the front sevens of the rest of the division match up with the Cowboys' line?

Dan Graziano, New York Giants: I'm sorry, but I think this division is about offense right now. The NFC East scored more points than any other division last season by quite a bit. In 2014, NFC East teams combined to score 1,622 points. The No. 2 division in that category was the AFC North, well behind at 1,509 points. The NFC East also allowed 1,590 points in 2014, which was more than any division but the NFC South, where every team finished under .500 and the four combined to allow 1,625 points. No one in the NFC East has an especially scary front seven, and no one's front seven should feel good about its chances against the Cowboys' offensive line. It is a dominant unit playing in a division in which no team finished in the top 18 in the league in defense last season. It should continue to dominate.

Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are pretty happy with their front seven and added linebacker Kiko Alonso to the mix (while subtracting Trent Cole). In their two games against the Cowboys last season, the competition up front went a long way toward telling the tale. The Eagles' front seven was very good in Dallas on Thanksgiving, and the Eagles won 33-10.

In the rematch in Philadelphia, the Cowboys were able to protect Tony Romo well enough for him to throw three touchdown passes to Dez Bryant. An improved secondary would have had something to say about that, of course, but the Cowboys' line did a better job of giving Romo time and space to work.

Collins looks like a worthy addition, but it would be hard to improve that line all that much. It's not like Collins is going to line up at tight end or as a fullback and give the Cowboys six dominant blockers.

John Keim, Washington Redskins: I like what the Redskins have done with their front seven, so they're better equipped. Washington had solid success versus Dallas up front in its first meeting last season, partly because of stunts and blitzes. The Redskins are quicker up front now with Stephen Paea and a healthy Jason Hatcher -- and a switch to a one-gap base 3-4 front. I'm curious to see how Terrance Knighton fares against himself, as he is listed at 330 pounds but is about 50 pounds heavier. The Redskins have more depth up front.

NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer assesses which rookies on the Cowboys could earn a starting berth this season.

[+] EnlargeByron Jones
AP Photo/LM OteroFirst-round pick Byron Jones should be a "starter" this season as the Cowboys' nickel cornerback.

Why Byron Jones could start: We could say simply: He’s a first-round pick so he better start, but then again, what's the definition of a starter? If you’re defining a starter as the 11 players announced to the crowd before a game, then Jones wouldn’t fit that definition.

If you want to define it the way the coaches define it, then Jones should be a starter, serving as the Cowboys’ third cornerback. Considering the Cowboys played their sub-package defense considerably more than their base defense last season, the nickel cornerback is far more valuable than the strong-side linebacker.

Jones showed this spring he was a quick learner. He played left and right cornerback and also played in the slot. He also took a few turns at free safety. His position flexibility opens up a number of possibilities for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. If the Cowboys are playing against a pass-catching tight end, he can use Jones, whose size and speed allow him to match up against bigger players. If the Cowboys play a team with multi-wide receiver sets, Jones can line up at cornerback.

They key will be making plays. If Jones can show in training camp over the summer that he can create turnovers, then there’s no doubt he will be a “starter.”

Why Randy Gregory could start: We have to once again go back to the definition used for Jones. The Cowboys will be in their nickel defense a lot, and Gregory could be among their four best pass-rushers. Plus, there is the Greg Hardy suspension to consider. As of now, the Cowboys won’t have Hardy for the first 10 games of the season, so Gregory will have to play more, if not under the traditional definition of a starter.

Starting doesn’t mean much with how Marinelli wants to play his defensive linemen. He believes in rotating eight or nine players each game to keep their snaps low and their effort level high in a bid to wear down opposing offensive lines.

With Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence and Jeremy Mincey, who led the Cowboys with six sacks last season, it could be tough for Gregory, the Cowboys’ second-round pick, to crack the top two. But Gregory showed in the spring he can get after the quarterback with some good work against All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith.

Gregory will likely be more of a specialist as a rookie than an every-down player. Listed at 235 pounds at the rookie minicamp, he is attempting to add bulk to his frame to get closer to 250 pounds. While that will take time, the Cowboys believe he plays bigger than he weighs. Add that to the speed he possesses, and the Cowboys believe he will be a major player on their defense in 2015.

Why La'el Collins could start: If not for an unprecedented set of circumstances before the draft, there is no way Collins would be with the Cowboys. He would have been a first-round pick -- perhaps top 15 -- and not an undrafted free agent.

But the Cowboys were able to capitalize on Collins’ fall out of the draft and sign him to a three-year, fully guaranteed contract as an undrafted free agent.

After initially opening up as a right tackle in organized team activities, the Cowboys have put Collins at left guard, where he will compete this summer with Ronald Leary, who has started the last two seasons at the position.

While Collins has first-round talent, he is not walking in as a Day 1 starter the way Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin -- actual first-round picks -- did in their rookie seasons. He will have to earn it. Collins is more comfortable on the left side since that's where he played at LSU. His strength and athleticism will help in his bid to win a starting job, but Leary will not go down without a fight and the Cowboys will not just give the job to Collins.

IRVING, Texas – There might be a feeling of more to come when the St. Louis Rams practice against the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California, in August, with the possibility of franchise relocating to Los Angeles in the future.

Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said several times he wants an NFL team in Los Angeles.

“With the initial focus groups and the initial looksies, the Rams are a very popular team in southern California,” Jones said. “And so one of the reasons why it was attractive to us to work against them was they have that good flavor. It is certainly not a reach at all to say that fans remember the Los Angeles Rams, and that is not a reach. So that makes them a good partner to practice within the Los Angeles area.”

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
AP Photo/Gus RuelasCowboys owner Jerry Jones thinks it's natural to practice against the Rams in Southern California.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters on Tuesday the practices with the Cowboys, which will be Aug. 17-18, are not tied to the team’s possible move.

“The two are not related,” Fisher said. “The Cowboys have practiced against somebody just about every year there. The facility is such that it welcomes another team. So we talked to a number of teams besides the Cowboys about working together with them and Cowboys is really the only one that worked out.”

The Cowboys practiced against the Oakland Raiders for two days last year in Oxnard with a brawl erupting that included some fans along a fence. They have practiced against the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos in recent years during training camp.

“We’ve tried to do this as much as we can when the logistics work out during training camp,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “You grind away in training camp. Day after day after day, you’re working against each other. And we try to create as many competitive situations as possible. We think that’s good for our team. But anytime you start playing the preseason games or have an opportunity to go against somebody else in a practice setting, I think you can really benefit from it. It’s a good way to evaluate your team collectively and individually, and there typically are some good matchups there. If you remember the practices we had last year against the Raiders and in previous years against the Chargers, the energy level just naturally just gets a little higher. The competitive spirit gets a little bit higher.

“I just think that’s a really good thing for your team and it’s a great way to evaluate a lot of different things. So we’ll have a good couple of days with those guys after we play that first preseason game and hopefully it will benefit both teams.”

IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox underwent a procedure on Monday that he hopes cures chronic plantar fasciitis in his right foot that has bothered him since his rookie season.

Wilcox said he had a platelet-rich plasma treatment to help stimulate recovery in his foot, which is why he is not taking part in the Cowboys minicamp this week. He said if the Cowboys had practice next week, he would be on the field. He doesn’t anticipate it being an issue when training camp starts.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Wilcox
James Lang/USA TODAY SportsJ.J. Wilcox battled a foot injury all last season.

“The first OTAs, I couldn’t even walk off the field,” said Wilcox, who started every game at safety last season. “I’ve been battling that for a year and a half. Me and (head athletic trainer Jim Maurer) decided the professional, business opinion was finally to get it fixed and try to do something different this year because we did as much as we could last year. So this year we just took a different route that we think is the best route.”

Tackle Chaz Green, the Cowboys’ third-round pick, had hip surgery on Wednesday that will likely have him start training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Green limped off the field two weeks ago in the OTAs and had been rehabbing on the side.

He battled injuries at Florida, but the Cowboys viewed him as a possible swing tackle this year behind Doug Free and Tyron Smith. The missed time will hurt his development, but it opens up possibilities for La’el Collins to get some tackle work in addition to guard. Darrion Weems, rookie Laurence Gibson -- who is rehabbing from finger surgery -- and John Wetzel will also be in the mix.

“We thought we could practice through that but then when we looked at it, rather than take a chance on it being still there and lingering or exacerbating it in training camp, we thought go ahead and get it [done],” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “It could limit him and will limit him early in training camp, but whether or not he’s a PUP situation for the year or not remains to be seen on his rehab. It’s very possible for him to come back and be a part of this team.”

IRVING, Texas – A year ago, Dustin Vaughan might have felt like he was on a reality show in his quest to make the Dallas Cowboys.

As the quarterback enters his second season, he sees improvement in all aspects of his game with his hopes going beyond whether he will be voted off the Cowboys’ island.

“I think for any guy coming in as a free agent, there’s a lot of that survival mode: 'I just want to be here tomorrow and be here tomorrow and be here tomorrow,'” Vaughan said. “Now I’ve developed to where my thought is to have a role on this team, whatever that looks like, whatever that is. I’m going to try to find that role and fill it the best way I possibly can.”

The Cowboys effectively redshirted Vaughan last year, keeping him as their third quarterback behind Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden. He was active for only one game, when Romo was out with two transverse process fractures.

[+] EnlargeDustin Vaughan
AP Photo/Matt StrasenIt was only the preseason, playing against third-stringers, but Dustin Vaughan showed enough potential to make the team last summer.

The Cowboys saw enough of Vaughan in the preseason to keep a third quarterback for the first time since 2011. His statistics were modest -- 22-of-43, 212 yards, one touchdown, 73.0 passer rating -- against other teams’ backups to the backups, but he showed promise when things didn’t go so well, just the way Romo did in 2003.

That’s not to say he will one day be Romo or even surpass Weeden, but the Cowboys wanted to continue to develop him. During the regular season, the third quarterback takes few snaps. Romo gets almost all of the work with offense and Weeden takes almost all of the scout-team snaps, which is why Vaughan's offseason work this spring has been so important.

“He’s getting a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident,” quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said. “He’s handling himself better. He had his best day (Tuesday), really threw it well and handled all the situations. He’s usually playing with younger players and they’re not always doing the right things. It can be tough for a young quarterback, but he’s come on and made progress.”

Vaughan remains a projection of sorts because practice is, well, practice. But he feels different. He showed up with a big arm from West Texas A&M, where he only had two different pass-protection schemes to call.

The Cowboys’ offense is much more advanced and Vaughan had to make a bigger leap than major-school quarterbacks.

“I’ve definitely grown as a quarterback, as a student of the game but also on the field, being able to apply the things I’ve learned in the classroom,” Vaughan said. “I’ve improved a whole lot from where I was, but I still have a lot of room to improve.”

Vaughan’s time to shine on the field this year will be in the preseason games. He showed last year he was worth developing. Now he has to show he is worth more than that.

“I think he’s gotten a lot better,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. It’s a huge jump for anybody. I told our team the other day, you could be a four-time All-American, a four-time All-SEC and walk in here and it’s a huge jump. It’s a huge transition for a rookie to come into the National Football League. And then you kind of go even further when you’re talking about guys going from smaller-school situations and then particularly at that position. So, a long way to go for him right at the outset, but he’s worked very hard. It’s important to him. He wants to be a great player.

“He needs to play. He needs to play at practice and play in preseason games. That’s going to make his biggest growth. But he’s certainly a different player than he was a year ago.”

IRVING, Texas – When Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams looks back at the 2014 season, he doesn’t like what he sees.

It’s not so much the statistics – 37 receptions, 621 yards and eight touchdowns – but what he wasn’t doing when he wasn’t getting the ball thrown his way.

“It’s a constant battle whenever you go out there and you know you can do more stuff than what you’re capable of,” Williams said. “Sometimes I went 90 instead of 100, and it bit me in the butt sometimes and sometimes it didn’t. It’s kind of hard whenever you’re going out there and some games you don’t get a pass. It’s just a constant battle with me just talking to myself, and I got tired of just watching myself on tape from last year. It’s just one of those things now that I know I’m not going to do that anymore.”

That’s a mature answer for a player only entering his third season, but it goes to the serious-minded approach Jason Garrett has often talked about regarding Williams.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Al Bello/Getty ImagesIn Dez Bryant's absence from the offseason program, Terrance Williams has taken a leadership role with the Cowboys' receivers.

“He’ll take coaching,” Garrett said. “He’s a determined guy, and you see that every day. That’s why he’s had the success up to this point in his career. He listens. He wants to get better. And he’s certainly done that this offseason. He’s setting the pace for our offense in so many ways. Just watch him practice. He finishes everything. He’s 40, 50 yards down the field after a catch, simulating as if he’s running in for a touchdown. He runs back. He’s in the next play and going.”

With Dez Bryant not taking part in the offseason program, Williams has become the leader in the room. He is the first receiver in the pat-and-go line. He is the first receiver in line for the individual drills. In the workouts earlier in the spring, he was the one leading the group.

Garrett has noticed. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has noticed. More importantly perhaps, Tony Romo has noticed.

“He’s obviously had the ability to be explosive right after a catch,” Romo said, alluding to Williams’ 16.8 yards-per-catch average, “and I think you’re seeing him now get his route-running to another level, and that’s exciting to see.”

Williams’ growth is similar to Bryant’s growth. When Bryant arrived in 2010, he would make the most athletic receptions ever seen but he needed to improve the mundane parts of the position. Once he did that, his numbers skyrocketed and he had Romo’s trust.

Williams is trying to get that same level of trust.

“I’ve just really been paying attention to what he’s been telling me and just looking at sometimes when we pull up the old stuff, I’m not being myself,” Williams said. “I got tired of just looking at myself sometimes taking off plays. It’s one of those things to where I just really blocked it at. If he throws me the ball, he throws me the ball. If not, I’m just going to continue to do my job each and every play now.”

In the first half of the 2014 season, Williams had 25 catches and six touchdowns. In the second half of the season he had more than two catches in a game just once and had two games without a reception. It wasn’t so much what he wasn’t doing as it was the increased role Cole Beasley and Jason Witten had in the passing game to complement Bryant.

Bryant will be a constant focus of opposing defenses, as will Witten. Beasley figures to get more attention this year as well.

That could leave more opportunities for Williams.

“I just try to find ways to make myself better,” Williams said. “I think there are plenty of times where I can get better whenever there is corner’s press or behind my back and stuff like that. The most part is just trying to take the load off of Dez and Witten most of the time. I think now that the more confidence I got with Tony, to now he knows if he sees press with double teams on Dez and Witten that he’s got somebody who is not going to take off a play.”

IRVING, Texas -- Darren McFadden continues to rehab a strained hamstring on the side during Dallas Cowboys' organized team activities, but he hopes to do more at next week's minicamp.

"It's definitely frustrating, man," McFadden said. "You always want to be out there taking plays and getting reps, but it's one of those things I'd rather sit out now instead of push it and have something linger on me."

The Cowboys signed McFadden to a two-year deal not long after losing DeMarco Murray to the Philadelphia Eagles. McFadden spent his first seven years with the Oakland Raiders and had just one 1,000-yard season and played 16 games once (2014).

The Cowboys are looking at McFadden, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams to replace Murray. Williams has been slowed the past two weeks with a sore knee and did his rehab on the side with McFadden.

McFadden has gone through individual work the past two weeks but he has not taken part in team and 7-on-7 drills. If he doesn't fully take part in next week's minicamp, he will have five weeks to get 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp.

The Cowboys arrive in Oxnard, California, on July 28 and will have their first practice July 30.

"I love being in camp," McFadden said. "It's the start of something that you really have to build on. So you want to get out there and work hard. It's going to be an exciting place. It's an exciting atmosphere, so I'm definitely looking forward to it."

IRVING, Texas -- The offseason is a great time to try things. Just don’t call it experimenting when you mention it to Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.

“For some reason, I don’t like the word ‘experiment,’” Garrett said. “It’s more just, ‘Let’s get guys opportunities to do this and see what they can do,’ and I guess you could say that is an experiment. But that seems a ... little bit frivolous, (that) we’re putting this potion into this potion into this potion into this potion.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Carr
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCornerback Brandon Carr is one of several Cowboys players being moved around to different spots during offseason workouts.

Maybe there isn’t a secret sauce the Cowboys are trying to perfect, but they are, at least, moving players around a little bit.

Brandon Carr has played left cornerback since the day he signed with the Cowboys in 2012. This offseason, he has been taking turns at right cornerback with Orlando Scandrick playing the left side. Generally speaking, the opponents’ top receivers line up against the left cornerback. If Scandrick is the Cowboys’ best corner, then why not have him line up against the best receiver more often?

What complicates the issue is when Scandrick moves into the slot in three-wide-receiver sets. The Cowboys are giving first-round pick Byron Jones some work inside to see what he can do, which potentially could allow them to leave Scandrick outside.

On the defensive line, the Cowboys are using Jeremy Mincey at defensive tackle in pass-rush situations. He led the Cowboys with six sacks last season, lining up mostly at right defensive end. He played some tackle in 2014, but with the acceleration of DeMarcus Lawrence in his second year and the additions of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory this offseason, Mincey is getting time to work inside.

He did a lot of it in Jacksonville and actually played all four spots along the front. Mincey's versatility can allow the Cowboys to create more favorable matchups with their pass-rushers.

On the offensive line, rookie La'el Collins played right tackle during the first organized team activity open to the media. Last week he lined up at left guard.

Eventually the Cowboys will want to pick a spot for Collins and Jones to give them to best chance to succeed as rookies.

“You don’t want to (move guys around) too much,” Garrett said. “You do want to get guys comfortable. But there is some value in doing that throughout your team.”

IRVING, Texas -- On Wednesday the Cowboys had their second of three organized team activities open to the media, so let’s empty the notebook with some observations made during the session:

  • If they handed out MVP of the day trophies, then it would have gone to running back Lance Dunbar. He caught four passes from Tony Romo in the two-minute drill work to close the first-team’s work in practice and had the linebackers on skates in seven-on-seven drills. Perhaps this really is the year the Cowboys use Dunbar more.
  • The Cowboys have not used a dime defense -- six defensive backs -- very much since moving to the 4-3 scheme two years ago, but they were in it a lot on Wednesday. The Cowboys had veteran Orlando Scandrick and rookie Byron Jones working the slots with Brandon Carr and Tyler Patmon working outside with safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox covering the deep part of the field.
  • With DeMarcus Lawrence not taking all of his normal snaps, Ben Gardner saw more time with the regulars in the nickel defense at left defensive end. While he wasn’t as noticeable Wednesday as he was in the first open OTA, he has a fan in Rod Marinelli.
  • In the special-teams portion of practice, the focus was on punt return. So who is taking over for Dwayne Harris? Cole Beasley, Lucky Whitehead, Wilcox and Nick Harwell took turns returning punts on Wednesday.
  • Reggie Dunn will have a tough time cracking the top five receivers this summer but he did a nice job of angling inside on a red-zone route to give Brandon Weeden a chance to put the pass to the far pylon. With Robert Steeples unable to get on top of Dunn, the receiver was able to reach out and make a nice grab for a touchdown. There was a lot of savvy to Dunn’s move.
  • One of the knocks on Terrance Williams has been that he has mostly been a body catcher. That came back to bite him on an end-zone throw to Tony Romo. Instead of using his hands to pluck the ball and score a touchdown, he let it get to his body and it fell to the ground.
  • The catch of the day belonged to tight end James Hanna. In seven-on-seven red-zone drills, Hanna outjumped Steeples and withstood some pressure from Danny McCray to come down with the acrobatic catch while falling to the ground.
  • In the matchup of the No. 1 offense and defense in the two-minute drill, the defense one when Romo was unable to connect with Antwan Goodley down the sideline while covered by Patmon. In a “normal” situation, Romo wouldn’t have been throwing to Goodley and I doubt he would have taken such a big chance on fourth down when he needed less than 5 yards for a first down. Earlier in the drive, Romo connected on a fourth-down throw to Devin Street.
  • Mental mistakes will kill a team. Working with the first team, left guard La’el Collins had a false start on a Romo hard count that saw the rookie get replaced by Ronald Leary for a snap. Last week Collins worked exclusively at right tackle. This week he was at left guard.
  • Sometimes it’s good these players aren’t in pads. Scandrick would have lit up Dunbar on a checkdown in the two-minute drill. Instead Scandrick pulled off and the offense had to go with just a short gain.

IRVING, Texas -- Randy Gregory could not make it through his first rookie minicamp practice a couple of weeks ago because of a case of dehydration.

The Dallas Cowboys' second-round pick made a much better impression during Wednesday’s organized team activities in his work against All-Pro offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

[+] EnlargeRandy Gregory
AP Photo/James D SmithCowboys rookie Randy Gregory hopes working against All-Pro Tyron Smith in practice will help his development.

Gregory used the hint of his speed to get Smith to believe he was going to the tackle’s left, only to dip underneath to get a pressure on quarterback Tony Romo.

Gregory, who had 17.5 sacks in two seasons at Nebraska, could not hide his smile when asked about going against Smith after practice.

“I think we had a pretty good battle,” Gregory said. “He did a good job, but I think I won a couple there. I know I won a couple there. He may not agree to it. The important thing is he made me better. Hopefully I’m helping him out, and when it’s all said and done we can both help out the team.”

Smith was willing to give Gregory one victory in pass-rush drills, but just one.

“He’s a swifty kid,” Smith said. “He’s pretty quick, a different type of rusher. He’s going to be pretty good.”

The Cowboys used Gregory as their right defensive end in the nickel defense on Wednesday. Depending on what happens with the appeal of Greg Hardy’s suspension, Gregory’s role could be greater, at least early in the season.

When Smith arrived to the Cowboys, he had daily battles against DeMarcus Ware, who became the Cowboys’ all-time leader in sacks. Smith credited part of his development to his work against Ware. If he could stop Ware occasionally, then he would be able to hold up against any other pass-rusher in the NFL.

Gregory hopes the one-on-one work with Smith, considered one of the best tackles in football, will benefit him as he starts his career.

The Cowboys certainly hope so, too.

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith is one of 24 non-quarterbacks every team in the NFL would want.

At least that's how ESPN Insider and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik sees it.

Dominik offered an Insider pieceInsider on the players every team would consider signing as a free agent. He had some criteria: no major durability concerns, no character red flags and the player must be able to play in any scheme.

[+] EnlargeTyron Smith
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTyron Smith enters his fifth season with the Cowboys and has already been to two Pro Bowls.

Here's what he wrote about Smith, one of the two players from the NFC East:

"He's a dominant tackle with an elite combination of power and athleticism who can play on either the left or right side."

After signing a 10-year deal last summer for $110 million, there is no chance of Smith having the chance to sign with another team unless there is an unforeseen slip in play that would take him off this list. And when the 10-year deal expires, there remains a good chance the Cowboys sign him to another deal since tackles can play into their late 30s at a high level.

Smith is entering his fifth season. He has been named to the Pro Bowl the past two years and figures to become a staple at the NFL's all-star game.

And he doesn't turn 25 until December.

Crazy, isn't it?

Smith has been so good so quickly that he now has college players attempting to emulate his game. Chaz Green talked about it after the Cowboys drafted him in the third round. La'el Collins, whom Smith hosted during his Southern Cal recruiting visit, also said it.

Smith has become the standard that is usually reserved for older players.

"It kind of goes by quick," Smith said. "I have a long way to go myself. I am almost there. Not almost there, but I got a long way to go."

Collins has been around Smith for only a few weeks and is more impressed now that he is up close with Smith than having to watch him on film.

"It's incredible because I know how hard it is," Collins said. "It's not easy at all. A guy like that you can tell he's done this thing a thousand times over and over and over. I just feel like if I can continue to work the same way he works and put the time he puts in and everybody on the offensive line [puts in], I think it's going to help us out a whole lot."

IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys begin their second day of organized team activities on Wednesday, Dez Bryant not surprisingly remains working out on his own instead of at the voluntary sessions.

"He's working on the business part of his contract, working through this franchise player tag," coach Jason Garrett said. "We've been in communication with him. He's been in communication with his teammates. He seems to be in great shape whenever we've seen him but he's not been here."

Bryant has yet to sign the franchise-tag tender, which would guarantee him $12.823 million this season, in hopes of signing a long-term deal by July 15. If the Cowboys and Bryant are unable to reach agreement by then, he will have to play the season on the tag.

Bryant has been at Valley Ranch a handful of times this offseason to meet with coaches and work out, but he has not taken part in the official voluntary offseason program. The June 16-18 minicamp is mandatory, but since Bryant is not under contract, he is not obligated to be there.

The Cowboys and Bryant's agents have not had meaningful discussions toward a new deal this offseason.

With Bryant missing, the Cowboys have been able to look more at Terrance Williams and Devin Street as outside receivers and on Tuesday signed A.J. Jenkins, a former first-round pick.

Linebacker Rolando McClain is also missing after undergoing right knee surgery recently, but Garrett said the attendance at the offseason program has been outstanding.

"We believe in practice. We believe in our offseason program. We believe in meeting with the players," Garrett said. "We think all those things that we do to get our team ready helps everybody, individually, collectively and so they're missing that. Both those guys have been with us before, so I think they understand our systems of football, but it's better for guys to be here than not be here. But we understand that it's voluntary. We have a clear idea of where we are in the calendar year and we're very fortunate that we have the attendance we have really throughout our football team. We make great strides at this time of year individually, the younger guys, the guys returning and some of the new guys in laying the foundation."

Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Greg Hardy will miss the team's OTA session Thursday to attend and participate in the appeal of his 10-game NFL suspension, according to league sources. The appeals hearing is scheduled before Harold Henderson in Washington, D.C.

Hardy's argument is expected to be that he should not be punished since domestic violence charges against him were dismissed with prejudice when the alleged victim could not be located to testify, with prosecutors suggesting Hardy may have reached a financial settlement with her.

If the NFL is permitted to punish him, Hardy's representatives from the NFLPA will contend that discipline should be limited to two games under the NFL policy in effect at the time of the alleged incident.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued the 10-game suspension and said it was justified under either league personal conduct policy because of aggravating circumstances. While the league conducted its own investigation following the charges being dismissed, including looking at alleged victim photos, it is Hardy's contention the investigation was limited.

IRVING, Texas – Teams in the NFL like to have it both ways when it comes to their world of non-guaranteed contracts.

If a player is underperforming, then they will ask that player to take a cut in pay. If a player is outperforming his contract, they like to say a player is under contract.

In agreeing to a new deal with cornerback Orlando Scandrick on Friday, the Dallas Cowboys showed they are willing to work with one of their core players who is expected to be around for the long term.

The Cowboys didn’t have to do anything with Scandrick’s contract. They could have enforced the $500,000 de-escalator in his deal for not taking part in 90 percent of the offseason program. They could have said he’s under contract.

But they were willing to add a year to his deal with some more money up front to make sure one of their defensive leaders is happy.

Does this mean every player unhappy with his deal will get the same treatment? Absolutely not.

Does it have anything to do with Dez Bryant’s contract? No.

The Scandrick and Bryant deals are vastly different. Bryant’s deal is more complex in terms of the amount of money he will receive and where he will rank among the highest-paid wide receivers. With Demaryius Thomas (franchise tag), Julio Jones and A.J. Green in roughly the same boat as Bryant, the Cowboys aren’t sure where the wide receiver market will take them in the future.

In order to buy themselves some time, they put the $12.823-million franchise tag on Bryant. If need be, they can put the tag on him again in 2016 and Bryant will pull down roughly $28 million over the next two years. There is no doubt the Cowboys want Bryant for the long term, but finding the way to get there is more difficult.

Does this have anything to do with the team not paying DeMarco Murray? No.

The Cowboys drew a line in the sand on Murray – four years, $24 million, $12 million guaranteed. The Philadelphia Eagles’ offer buried their offer and Murray had to take it. I believe the Cowboys might have been penny-wise and pound-foolish in their thinking in allowing the NFL’s leading rusher to walk, but the complexities of a deal for a running back are different than a cornerback.

And with a quick look at the value of the deal, the Cowboys still appear OK financially.

Scandrick’s new deal averages $4 million a year through 2019. There were deals in free agency this year for cornerbacks not as good as Scandrick that averaged $6 million a year.

By re-doing Scandrick’s contract, the Cowboys kept the player happy and showed his teammates that they are willing to work through tricky situations.

IRVING, Texas -- Through the years the Dallas Cowboys have been able to coax productivity from early-round draft picks that did not produce at previous spots. Linebacker Rolando McClain (first round, Oakland Raiders, 2010) is the most recent example.

On Thursday, the Cowboys worked out two former first-round picks and two former second-round picks at running back and wide receiver.

The most curious workout was Felix Jones, one of the Cowboys’ two first-round picks in 2008. The Cowboys made no attempt to re-sign him when his contract expired in 2012 after he struggled with his health and production. Jones played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 and was out of football last season.

The Cowboys also worked out wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. After failing to catch a pass as a rookie, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs and caught 17 passes for 223 yards in two seasons there.

Word of Ben Tate's visit circulated early Thursday morning. He was a second-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2010. Daniel Thomas was the Miami Dolphins' second-round pick in 2011, nine spots before the Cowboys took DeMarco Murray. In 52 games with the Dolphins, Thomas (6-foot, 225 pounds) ran for 1,480 yards and 10 touchdowns on 409 carries.

The Cowboys also worked out wide receivers Kris Durham, Tommy Streeter and B.J. Cunningham. Durham played for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for two years with the Detroit Lions with his best season coming in 2013, when he caught 38 passes for 490 yards and two touchdowns. He caught four passes for 54 yards in a win against Dallas that year.

The Cowboys also worked out former Arkansas running back Ronnie Wingo Jr.