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Clarence Hill Jr. | Dallas Cowboys Writer, Ft. Worth Star Telegram

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence
The Truth Network Radio
August 17, 2023 5:49 am

Clarence Hill Jr. | Dallas Cowboys Writer, Ft. Worth Star Telegram

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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August 17, 2023 5:49 am

Dallas Cowboys writer Clarence Hill Jr. joins the show to talk about Zack Martin being back at camp, and how the 2023 Cowboys stack up in the NFC.


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That's slash audio. Oxnard is where we find Clarence Hill, who's covered the Cowboys for a long time for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. For Zach Martin, to be back in camp is a big relief for the Cowboys, Clarence, but what does he mean? What does it mean to have him back in camp? For the Cowboys, it means everything because, you know, this season is going to be what they hope it's going to be, and they have to protect Zach Prescott, they have to overhaul his running game, and Zach Martin is the best at what he does on the team since he's been on the team, and one of the best in the league, and certainly has already submitted himself as a Hall of Fame career, but what he's done at guard, so they need Zach back.

You know, that's important. One of the dirty little secrets about Zach's struggles and the struggles last year with the offensive line was mediocre pass blocking, and Zach is the best player on that team, on that offensive line, so yeah, they need him back. He didn't miss much.

He's a veteran. He didn't need to be here for the first three weeks of camp, but he'll be here in time to get acclimated and be ready for the start of the season. Well, let's talk about the offensive line then, and we'll work our way backward from there.

How does it look? With Martin on the line, what are the prospects for that group this year? Well, it looks much better, and I mean, you know, this is the line theoretically they hoped to have last year, you know, going into the season. They hope to have Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, and Tyler Beattage, and Zach Martin, and Terence Steele. You know, Tyron Smith, who also, you know, is going to be a candidate for Hall of Fame, he got hurt in training camp last year. They were forced to move Tyler Smith from guard to left tackle on the fly for the season opener. You know, their first round pick of a year ago, and then they kind of went whoever had left guard and created an issue throughout much of the season with that offensive line. And so now coming into this season, Tyron Smith is back left tackle and Tyler Smith is at left guard, and this is the line intact, and they're just crossing their fingers that there's no freak accident for the start of the season because Tyron was great.

And then he had, you know, hurt his hamstring in camp, and was out for the first 13 games of the season, so they feel good. They feel much better about the line going into the season. You got to understand that the schedule is going to be much tougher, and they face a lot of teams with great defensive lines, including the 49ers, the Rams, the Eagles, and the Cardinals, and the Giants, and the Jets. You know, they face a lot of great defensive lines, and so the Washington football team is a studs up front, so they have to have this offensive line intact.

That's line one for the initial success on offense. They get the offensive line intact, they've improved their receiver core, they think they should be able to move the ball. And for the first time in, what, eight years, there'll be no Ezekiel Elliott behind that line. Why are they so confident in turning to Tony Pollard as the feature back? Well, he was the best back on the team last year.

I mean, he had a breakout season, he was the leading rusher, he was the big playback, he was a pro bowler. They think he can handle more touches, he is healthy after being injured in the playoff game against the 49ers, he's good to go, ready to go, he has no limitations really in training camp. It's his time to shine, and Zeke with his salary, it's a financial thing. Tony was a free agent, and they had to put the franchise tag on him, but basically traded Zeke's $10 million salary for Tony getting a $10 million salary, and they couldn't keep Zeke at that same salary range. In the best of worlds, they probably would have tried to have him both back this year, but financially it just was not going to work. Especially with the evaluation running back and needing to pay Tony, you couldn't pay Zeke that type of money, and it was an opportunity to give Zeke a fresh start. But they feel good about Tony, and they feel good about the guys behind Tony that they're going to make this thing work. Clarence Hill is with us from Oxnard, California, where the Cowboys are holding their training camp, and he's been covering them for a couple of decades now for the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

He's been covering them for hours here on CBS Sports Radio. While we're talking about Zeke, what do you think he has left in the tank now as he joins the Patriots? Well, I think he has a lot left in the tank. I mean, he's certainly not the back he was when he first came. He was winning those two rushing titles. But the last couple of years, you know, when Zeke was healthy, he was productive, and people forget he scored 12 rushing touchdowns last year. A strong goal line back, Sean Shortyard is back. He still has a nose end zone, and with the knee injuries that really derailed his seasons the past two years. Being a backup to Ramondre Stevenson and spitting carries with him may actually make him more effective in the roles that they have for him. New England is the perfect fit for him because they're going to be a run-orientee with Mac Jones.

They want to run the ball, play defense, so they're going to rely on that strong running game with Stevenson and Elliott. I think it's a good situation for him, and I think he has a couple of years left in him. I don't think he's done.

I don't think he's washed up. Certainly he's not the superstar bell cow he was, but he can be very productive. Again, smart back, team player, great for the passing game, great blocking back. He does a little bit of everything, so I think that it'll be a good fit for him with the Patriots. Alright, so the big question mark around the Cowboys, the play calling. No, Kellen Moore, he's now with the Chargers. Mike McCarthy takes over the play calling, and we've heard about more freedom for Dak Prescott.

What have you noticed to this point in Camp Clarence? With Dak, it's more about mixing in the West Coast offense. They're going to be, again, they're tying the receiving routes for his seed. They're going to try to get the ball off quicker to help them make quicker decisions. They want to improve the protection. One thing I talked about earlier, protection was bad last year, and that's Mike McCarthy. His main thing was improving protection and showing up the protection up front and the blocking schemes up front. And there's a blocking scheme so Dak can make quicker decisions and make better decisions and hopefully eliminate some of those turnovers of past years. But it's about getting the ball off quick.

The West Coast scheme, you know, three steps down, get the ball to the back, get the ball to the receivers, and take your shots down field. You talk to Mike, Dak has mastered his offense. He's very comfortable in what they're doing and what he's asking to do, and I look for him to have a big year. This is the first year Dak has been healthy, you know, in the offseason, you know, since going before that horrible ankle injury. He's had a clean offseason to focus nothing but on football, no rehab. He should have his best season. We know Mike McCarthy has received the vote of confidence from Jerry Jones multiple times.

They did win a playoff game last year and got to the divisional round. But what type of pressure is on McCarthy, even as he takes on more responsibilities in 23? Well, I mean, clearly the pressure's on him. You know, it goes without saying that he was brought here to not get the Cowboys to the playoffs. Jason Garrett did that. He was brought here to get the Cowboys to the NFC Championship Game and possibly the Super Bowl.

That's why he was brought here. He was a champion. He's won a title before. That's why they had him replace Jason Garrett, and they have not done that. Yes, he's had back-to-back 12 win seasons, which is nothing to sneeze at. You know, no one's won more games. The only person that's won more games in the regular season the past few years than Mike McCarthy is Andy Reid.

You know, and so that's nothing to sneeze at, but again, the golden dollars is to get to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. And that's why you're getting rid of Kellen Moore. I mean, you put the onus on yourself. When you're fired off in the corner, they make yourself the plate caller.

If you're going to go down, you're going to go down doing it your way. And so there's pressure. Yeah, there's a lot of pressure. I mean, they're saying all the right things, and they believe Mike McCarthy can take it to the next level.

But if they don't get it done, they take a step back. We all know that Jerry will make a move as he has in the past. Clarence Hill is with us from Dallas Cowboys training camp.

It's after hours here on CBS Sports Radio. The receiving corps has had a bit of turnover. What do you see with the group that they've got now on the field? Well, I think the question mark was last year. I mean, you know, you get rid of Amari Cooper, and it was C.D.

and a bunch of maybes. We can't recount that one of the worst receiving corps is in the league. You know, Noah Brown was essentially their number two receiver last year. Michael Gallup was coming off an injury, and he's running third or fourth string in Houston this year. You know, you bring in Brandon Cooks, you have a healthy Michael Gallup. This receiving corps is much better, much more capable than a receiving corps last year that also played a role in a number of stacked interceptions.

A lot of those interceptions was bad routes, miscommunications, kick passes off their heads, they go to other teams. That was all part of it, and Brandon Cooks, I mean, he's been on a number of teams, but he has 4,000-yard season, or 6,000-yard season with four different teams. He's been productive everywhere he's gone. He can still run. He's a perfect complement to C.D.

Lamb with his speed. This receiving corps is much better. It's going to help Dak Prescott. Certainly does help if they've got another year of experience under their belt. So then, as much as the offense gets a lot of the attention for obvious reasons, it kind of looks to me like the defense could end up being the strength of this team. What stands out about this group with a lot of returning veterans?

That's just it. When you go back to the Tony Romo era, the defense was always the weak link. It was always their Achilles heel. They've had great offenses, even in Dak Prescott days, they had great offenses, and they had to make up for a poor defense or a suspect defense. But this defense is the best part of this team in any hopes they have of having success.

Because this defense is going to be one of the best units in the league led by Micah Parsons, who has been great NFL defensive year runner-up his first two seasons of the league. And to be honest, he didn't know what he was doing. He was just learning as a pass person. He should be better this year because he's kind of learning and he's kind of honing his skills as a pass person.

Just think, everything he did as a pass person, it was on the fly with sheer athleticism. This year, he's really matured. He has really studied pass-driving skills and done different things in the offseason. And he's having a hell of a training camp. He's been the best player on the field day in and day out. I recognize him on the offense.

I look for him to have a big year and really finish and finally be the defensive player of the year. But yeah, this defense is special. It's not just Parsons. It's DeMarcus Lawrence and that secondary. You bring in Gilmore to go with Diggs and that cornerback duo as good as it is in the league. And that safety trio is pretty salty as well.

They really feel good about their defense and this is what's going to lead them. And if Leighton Vander Esch can stay healthy and be on the field the entire season, he's also one of those players that can make a huge difference. Yeah, he's the quarterback of the defense.

He calls the play and gets everybody lined up. And he's actually been healthy and surprisingly healthy considering what we thought about him a couple years ago. And he played well last year and he's been clean in his training camp. And so yeah, they feel good about their linebacker going deep with the line. Remember, they signed Maisie Smith or drafted Maisie Smith from Michigan in the first round to help show up their run defense. It was there if there was a weakness last year of on this defense, that their ability to stop the run was the one reason why they got no sack of Maisie Smith in the first round to help show up their run, because people would rather run against them than pass and face that pass rush with Micah Parsons. So, you know, if they get that run defense shored up, you know, that pass rush is going to lead Micah Parsons is going to get to the quarterback.

I will tell you this, Clarence, you are the first of any of our NFL reporters or insiders that I've asked a question about a kicker. There's a guy that is new for the Cowboys and Brandon Aubrey, the only one who's in camp. How confident are they in this brand new guy? Yeah, you know, it is one thing to go with Brandon Aubrey. They like him and they give him every chance. Obviously, you know, there's still veteran kickers out there and guys they could go to, you know, and they can always pull that lever. They want to give him every chance to pull D.K.

out of the job. But you're talking about a guy named Brandon Aubrey. Yes, he kicked the last two years in the U.S. of L. But he's never kicked before. He played soccer in college, played soccer growing up. You know, he even started doing football after his soccer career was over. He was in the U.S. of L. and certainly did a good job in U.S. of L the past two years. But he remains an unknown, you know, and he's been solid in practice.

He did miss a real goal in the first Christmas game. Again, they're going to give him every rep and every opportunity to win the job. They like his ability to kick off and all that good stuff. But for the life of me, I just don't understand. For the team that you want to have and the season you hope to have, that you would leave with the chance to kick them.

Because the games are so great you are. And we know, you know, even last year with the Chiefs, I mean, they had to win a playoff game on their kicker. As great as Pensacola Homes is, you know, you still need your kicker to make plays and be able to rely on your kicker to do some things. Right. And I just don't understand leaving with the chance to kick her with so much on the line.

Cool. We'll see if that turns out to be the Achilles' Heel. Last year, three teams from the NFC East make the playoffs. If you look at the moves that have been made, you think the division will be as strong or will we see a drop-off?

No, I think the division is strong. I think Dallas is better than they were last year. They're more talented than they were last year. Now, they may not have a better record because the schedule is much tougher for the Cowboys and the Eagles. They're more talented. And certainly we know the Eagles are talented and they got those wonderful draft picks to show up for some of the guys they lost.

And you think you know Hertz is going to be even better in his second year in command. No, I don't see a drop-off in the division. I think the Giants have gotten better. I think Washington has gotten better.

There will not be a drop-off. And I think there's a good chance that three teams again will make the playoffs at the NFC East. One thing, you know, it's easy to say the Eagles should be favorite. I think the Cowboys were also a favorite last year, you know, coming off the year before. The Eagles should be favorite coming into this year. But it must be noted that no team is repeated in NFC East since 2004. It's been a lot of turnover, real competitive, always a lot of drama in the division too.

But Clarence, before I let you go, you've used the word hope a couple times. So what is the hope for the Cowboys in 2023? Well, the hope is Super Bowl.

With this team, with the talent they have, with being experienced and being in the playoffs in back-to-back years, with the NFC that is as wide open as it's ever been, you know, and you love Jalen Hertz and what he's done. But there is no Aaron Rodgers out there. There is no Tom Brady out there. There's no Big Bad Wolf at quarterback.

You can't beat this guy, right? You know, it's wide open. You know, all because, you know, so even the 49ers, I mean, you know, who's scared of Brock Purdie, so to speak? You know, and they have a great defense, great offense, great head coach and all of that stuff.

But it's as wide open as it's ever been. And if you don't make the move this year, if you don't do it this year, when are you ever going to do it? Because it's there for the taking for the Cowboys. They went 12-5 last year and are looking to build on that this season. A lot of hope and promise.

You want to find Clarence on Twitter, at ClarenceHillJR, Cowboys writer since 1997, now with the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Do you ever get tired of it or do you love the rat race? Well, I mean, every job is a version of hell, as you know. But, I mean, I get paid to watch football. I get paid to do this, you know. You get paid to talk football.

How can you get tired of it? Well, we always appreciate having you on the show. Thank you so much for a couple of minutes. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-24 01:52:16 / 2023-08-24 02:00:25 / 8

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