Dallas Cowboys

Former NFL coach Mariucci counts Cowboys as Super Bowl contender

NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci says the Cowboys are back as a legitimate championship contender.
NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci says the Cowboys are back as a legitimate championship contender. AP

Former NFL coach Steve Mariucci recently visited Dallas Cowboys training camp on assignment with the NFL Network. He likes what he saw, listing the Cowboys as a Super Bowl contender.

“Is pride too simple? Is tradition too organic?” Mariucci said. “There’s something about Dallas, and I think the fan base and this football team and ownership and front office, they feel they’re back. They’re back. It’s a legitimate feeling, because they are that talented again now, finally, after being .500 for how many years? They were a very, very average football organization for such a long time after the dynasty. But you know what? I think the general feeling now is they’re back. We’re back. You have to beat us. Good luck.

“There’s so much to be said about the mindset of a football team and an organization. I think Dallas has got it. They’re going to be right there. I think they felt like they should have beaten the Packers last year.”

Here are his five reasons the Cowboys will contend for the Super Bowl:

1. Let’s start with the quarterback. “You’re talking about the guy who in his career is the second-rated passer next to Aaron Rodgers. I wish [Tony Romo] would get more credit for that. He had a great year last year, led the league with completion percentage and passer rating. Start with the quarterback who is really matured into a great quarterback.”

2. The weapons surrounding him. “His BFF, Jason Witten, are you kidding me? Dez Bryant. Oh, yeah. Everybody would love to have those kind of guys. His supporting cast is terrific.”

3. The big guys on the offensive line. “They are the best in the league. In my mind, there is Dallas and there’s only competition for second best because they have six guys who are capable of starting for anybody. They are the reason that Tony’s protected. They are the reason they can run the football and play smashmouth if need be. They can protect the quarterback. They work well together. They’re all youngsters. Doug Free is the old man in the house at 31 years old. All these other guys, they just started shaving a couple of years ago. They’re going to be sticking around together for a long time. That’s scary for the rest of the league.

4. The coaching staff. “Start with Jason Garrett. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s not considered Troy Aikman’s backup quarterback. He is their coach. He is their leader. He’s been in this long enough to understand how all this works, and he’s really good at what he does, and he’s hired some really good, strong coaches. [Rod] Marinelli is as good as they get. Scott Linehan, he can sling it. He’s got to stay hopefully with the mindset he had last year — I’m going to play some smashmouth — even though the parts are changed back there with the runners. It’s a good staff.

5. You have to include Jerry Jones. “This is his baby. Every decision that’s made from where they have training camp to what they eat to who the coach is and who the players are is based on Jerry Jones. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Too many times in that span of mediocrity he was criticized for not hiring a general manager. Well, you know what? Things are falling into place now, and maybe he gets in the last laugh.”

Fight time

The St. Louis Rams don’t arrive until Monday. But the Cowboys didn’t wait that long to start fighting. Fullback Tyler Clutts took offense at a “shot” safety Jeff Heath put on him, and he let Heath know by starting a skirmish Sunday.

“I got a little frustrated with [the shot], and he was just playing fast and it was a competitive situation, so it was just both of us letting our emotions take control,” Clutts said. “We’re just as good a buddies when we walk into the locker room. It happens out on the football field. Like I said, it’s good to see feistiness. I’d be a little disappointed if some of that didn’t go on.”

Lance Dunbar, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Kyle Wilber were among those involved in a melee that didn’t last long. Dunbar even went in without a helmet.

“It just got very physical,” Dunbar said. “The offense was doing a good job of beating defense, and they got fed up, and you know how it gets when intensity gets high and you’re losing.”

Heath shrugged it off, saying he and Clutts already had made nice, much like Dez Bryant and Tyler Patmon did after their fight a couple of weeks ago.

“If you look at training camps all around the NFL, it happens pretty much on a daily basis, so it’s happened before and we treat it the same every time,” Heath said. “We do what we have to do and then after it we’re teammates again and I’ve already talked to him, so we’re good.”

Clutts was asked who would have won the fight between him and Heath.

“I’m not going to say I was a California state wrestling champion, but I’m also not denying that fact,” Clutts said. “I don’t know. I think if he would have gone to the ground, I would have had the advantage.”

He said it

“I remember my first practice with another team was walking right out across this field, we drove on the bus up from Thousand Oaks and [late Raiders owner] Al [Davis] was sitting here to greet us, and the Raiders were right here. He had this thing blocked off like Sing Sing, and it was high green walls to keep anyone from seeing in here. Of course, at 1-15 for the year, we didn’t have much to expose out here at the time. But the bottom line is: That was work against another team and I thought, ‘Boy, I like this about pro football, being able to have a practice against another jersey.’” — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on having joint practices 

Injury report

▪ LB Rolando McClain (right knee): PUP

▪ OT Chaz Green (hip): PUP

▪ LB Mark Nzeocha (knee): non-football injury

▪ OT Tyron Smith (biceps): Out until after San Francisco game

▪ CB Byron Jones (left shoulder): Day-to-day

▪ DT Terrell McClain (knee/hamstring): Day-to-day

▪ DE Kenneth Boatright (neck): Rejoined team; out indefinitely

▪ WR Dez Bryant (hamstring): Out until after San Francisco game

▪ ▪ WR Antwan Goodley (hamstring): Day-to-day

▪ CB Orlando Scandrick (knee): Day-to-day

▪ TE James Hanna (left knee): Day-to-day

▪ RB Gus Johnson (separated shoulder): Day-to-day

▪ CB Brandon Carr (right hand): Day-to-day

▪ LB Anthony Hitchens (foot): Day-to-day

▪ DT Tyrone Crawford (back): Day-to-day

Charean Williams, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @NFLCharean