NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

OXNARD, Calif. -- Unless Tom Brady takes the NFL to court and is successful in appealing his four-game suspension, the Dallas Cowboys won't see the New England Patriots quarterback when the teams meet Oct. 11 at AT&T Stadium.

From a football perspective, that is absolutely good news for the Cowboys. They would much rather see Jimmy Garoppolo, provided he holds onto the job in camp, than Brady, the future Hall of Famer.

Dallas' Tony RomoAP Photo/LM OteroCowboys QB Tony Romo could see a new face at opposing quarterback when Dallas hosts New England on Oct. 11.

From a fan of the game perspective, it's bad news. This is likely Brady's one and only appearance at AT&T Stadium. With the scheduling the way it is, New England won't be back in Arlington until 2023. Brady might be a marvel but he won't be playing football at 46 years old.

It is special to see future Hall of Famers play in person, especially at a venue like AT&T Stadium, but the chances of seeing Brady are slim. It was special to see Peyton Manning play in Arlington two years ago with the Denver Broncos in one of the most memorable games of the 2013 season, a 51-48 Denver win.

Most fans won't look at Brady's suspension that way. They'll just see the benefit of playing the defending Super Bowl champion without their starting quarterback, which is perfectly understandable.

Just because Brady won't be at the game, doesn't mean there won't be a lot of storylines. CBS will still get the ratings. The Cowboys and Patriots are two of the most popular teams with outgoing owners in Robert Kraft and Jery Jones.

But the most intrigue will remain at the quarterback position. Garoppolo is an Eastern Illinois product, like Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. That's quite a feat for a small school.

The Cowboys could also be welcoming defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain back to the field after they each serve their four-game suspensions.

Like Brady, Hardy could take the NFL to court to seek further reduction of his suspension but a decision has not been made. Hardy saw his 10-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy reduced to four games by an arbitrator.

IRVING, Texas – Have you ever wondered what Tony Romo might be doing if he weren’t the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback?

Maybe he would be a golfer. Maybe he would be coaching football or basketball. Maybe a teacher. Maybe some sort of businessman.

The folks at DirecTV have a take on what Romo would be.

The commercial is part of DirecTV’s deal with Romo and Andrew Luck joining Peyton Manning and Eli Manning as pitch men.

Somehow, the alternative Romo is not what I pictured.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has spent a portion of his offseason channeling his frustrations using papier mache.

Well, no. Not really. That’s the activity of one “Arts & Craftsy Tony Romo,” the quarterback’s alter-ego in his new DirecTV spot. It’s modeled off of the famous Rob Lowe alter-ego ads and is part of a new, pre-football season ad campaign that also features New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and “Bad Comedian Eli Manning.”

What’s glorious about this is the disguise Romo puts on for it, covering up a swath of hair up and over the top of his head and replacing it with a scraggly beard. He’s got the just-tight-enough-to-make-the-viewer-uncomfortable jeans, the paint-stained apron, the glasses on a chain… If he walked by you on the street looking like this, you’d never know it was Romo. And yes, he put a cupcake on a brownie. And he’s calling it a crownie.

That’s right, Dallas Cowboys fans. You wanted your guy to play less golf in the offseason; this is what you get. Be careful what you wish for.

IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys wanted to truly compete for a Super Bowl this season, they had to have a happy Dez Bryant.

With the five-year, $70 million deal that ESPN Insider Chris Mortensen reported, Bryant should be plenty happy. And a happy Bryant makes for some happy Cowboys.

It's not that Bryant wouldn't have given the same effort if he had to play the season on the $12.823 million franchise tag, but he might have wondered what else he had to do to get long-term security from the only team he has known and the only team he has truly wanted to play for.

The Cowboys' offense would have been OK without Bryant. Tony Romo has made it work with receivers at all levels since becoming the Cowboys' starting quarterback. The offensive line would have been good enough to make things just good enough.

But Bryant changes the dynamic of the offense.

He can score from anywhere on the field. There are few receivers in the NFL like that.

As coach Jason Garrett likes to say, defenses know where No. 88 is on every play, and they do as much as they can to slow him down.

Without Bryant, those running lanes would have been smaller. The Cowboys can tout the offseason progress of Terrance Williams and the development of Devin Street, but they don't force defenses to keep the safeties deep.

Bryant does.

He keeps defenses honest. He will make life easier for Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar or whoever is running the ball behind the offensive line. Bryant makes life easier for Williams, Street, Cole Beasley and whoever else lines up at wide receiver. Bryant makes life easier for TE Jason Witten, who would have faced extra defensive attention without Bryant on the field.

Most importantly, he makes life easier for Romo.

The Cowboys have opened up a second window of contention in Romo's career with their 12-4 finish last season and their recent personnel acquisitions. Romo, who turned 35 in April, is coming off his best season. He threw 34 touchdown passes with nine interceptions and led the NFL in Total QBR, passer rating and completion percentage.

At the scouting combine in February, owner and general manager Jerry Jones related a story from the famed Cowboys bus at the Super Bowl about a conversation with Romo in regards to what the team needed to do with RB DeMarco Murray.

With Stephen Jones and Garrett within ear shot, Romo told the owner, "Jerry, see Stephen, he's got himself about 25-30 years of this ahead. Jason, coach, maybe something similar to that. Me, I'm three to five. You're three to five. We got to stick together. It's now for us."

The Cowboys didn't move much to keep Murray, who left for the Philadelphia Eagles, despite Romo's plea.

By signing Bryant to this type of deal, the Cowboys showed they needed him more than Murray, and they've shown everybody that the time is now for them to compete for a Super Bowl.

IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant is among the most physically-gifted players in the NFL. He can do things on the field few others can do.

He is also extremely prideful.

As the hours tick away on Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys being able to reach a long-term deal, Bryant has reinforced how serious he is about sitting out of training camp and possibly missing games.

Here is what he tweeted not too long ago:

Bryant wants a deal with long-term security. The Cowboys are not willing to set the receiver market, despite what Bryant has accomplished the past three years.

Both sides have an argument.

Getting to that resolution by 4 p.m. ET Wednesday will be difficult but not impossible.

If they are unable to agree to a deal, then it will be up to Bryant to uphold his tweet.

Given his pride, there is no reason to doubt him, even if it could cost him $754,000 a week once the regular season starts.

IRVING, Texas -- Time is closing in on the Dallas Cowboys' July 28 flight to Oxnard, California, for the start of training camp.

Now that the Cowboys know Greg Hardy will miss the first four games of the regular season (provided he does not take the NFL to court), they will have to put a plan in place for him to be ready for his debut, Oct. 11 against the New England Patriots.

A year ago the Cowboys knew they would not have Orlando Scandrick for the first four games of the regular season after he violated the league's substance abuse policy. That suspension was reduced to two games when changes were made to the policy.

Scandrick took his normal turns during training camp with the first team in practice. He also didn't play in the first preseason game but he started the final exhibition while most of the other starters sat. Perhaps the move was made at that time knowing he would be out of action for a month or perhaps the Cowboys were thin at a few spots and just needed him for a few snaps.

With Hardy, things are a little different.

He played in one game last season. He was inactive for the second game and moved to the commissioner's exempt list for the final 14 games of the season.

During the upcoming training camp practices, Hardy needs to get as much work as possible. He needs to work inside and outside to help get rid of the rust that has to accumulate from missing so much time. His work in the offseason program helped but was not enough.

And in the preseason games, he needs to play. Maybe he doesn't need to play every game, but he needs to get time against various offensive linemen. The two days of practice in training camp against the St. Louis Rams will also help.

There is a balance Jason Garrett and the coaches have to walk with all of their regulars during training camp and the preseason. How much work is needed and how much is too much?

With Hardy having missed 15 games last year and, as of right now, missing the first four games this season, the Cowboys have to give him more work than they would normally. They can't afford to have a four-game suspension turn into a six-game suspension of sorts because he won't be ready to go immediately.

IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys signed Greg Hardy, they did so with a pay-as-you-play plan.

Now that Harold Henderson has reduced Hardy's suspension from 10 games to four, we can start mapping out the salary-cap implications of the deal that could have paid Hardy as much as $13.1 million if he played in every game in 2015.

Hardy's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said he will confer with the NFL Players Association and Hardy's attorneys about seeking a further reduction through the court system.

But based on what we know now, the maximum cap figure this year will be $10.626 million if he hits on all of his incentives. If he doesn't hit any incentives, he would count $8.822 million against the cap in total.

Hardy has already collected $1.311 million in a workout bonus. His $750,000 base salary will be roughly $573,521 this year if he misses four games. If he is on the 53-man roster for 12 games, he will earn $6,937,500 in roster bonuses. He can earn up to $1.804 million through incentives if he gets 14 or more sacks.

He can earn $500,000 with eight sacks, $1 million for 10 sacks and $1.4 million for 12 sacks.

Hardy's current cap number is $2.639 million. Only two of the 16 per-game roster bonuses count toward the cap at present because he was on the Carolina Panthers' 53-man roster for two weeks last season before he was moved to the commissioner's exempt list.

The Cowboys will not receive a cap credit until the suspension starts prior to Week 1. Once he is on the 53-man roster for two games, then they need to account for $578,125 each week for the roster bonuses.

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.”