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Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20

RJ Ochoa

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20 5

I hope that you started off your Monday morning with a nice shower, because I know we ended Sunday evening with a good one.

Quarterback Jameill Showers raised the eyebrows of Cowboy fans yesterday when he showed us his wheels. It was a lot of fun and more than anything it was great to have football on a Sunday.

20 days from now will be another Sunday, the one where the Cowboys host the Giants in the 2015 season opener (totally not a Friends reference there with the whole “the one” thing).

We’re going to stay on this Countdown To Kickoff today with that number in mind. So hands and feet inside the vehicle please, flash photography is permitted, let’s get going with the Greatest 20 in Dallas Cowboys History.

The Following Players Have All worn 20 For The Dallas Cowboys:

  • Richie Anderson, FB
  • Alan Ball, CB
  • Bob Bercich, S
  • Michael Coe, CB
  • Ray Horton, S
  • Jason Kaiser, CB
  • Bruce Livingston, CB
  • Darren McFadden*, RB
  • Jerry Overton, CB
  • Tyler Patmon*, CB
  • Willie Pile, S
  • Mel Renfro^, S/RB/CB
  • Derek Ross, CB
  • Allen Rossum, CB
  • Phillippi Sparks, CB
  • Ron Springs, FB
  • B.W. Webb, CB
  • Sherman Williams, RB

^Pro Football Hall of Famer

*Active player on the Dallas Cowboys roster

The 1964 NFL Draft gave the Cowboys three Pro Football Hall of Famers. There was Navy quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Roger Staubach. Of course the Dallas Cowboys sprinted away in world-record speed with the great Bob Hayes.

There is one other Gold Jacket owner who put a Star on his hat that year, though. When the Cowboys were on the clock in the 2nd round with the 17th overall pick they had a player in mind who they wanted, but he had an injury concern. In those days there were no time limits on draft picks so they figured, “let’s send a doctor to check this guy out!”

SIX HOURS LATER… the brain trust of the Cowboys collected $200 and passed go with the selection of the Greatest 20 in Dallas Cowboys History.

Mel Renfro

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20

The University of Oregon product was quite the, yes I know what I’m about to say, running back during his time in Eugene. Over his career as a Duck, Mel ran 269 times for 1,540 yards and 14 touchdowns… coupled with 41 catches for 644 yards and 5 more scores.

The 60s were a time in pro football where coaches put their finest athletes on the offensive side of the ball. Well, sweet action! We’ve got ourselves this offensive superstar and we put the best guys on offense… this is going to be awesome!

Safety First

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20 4

When Renfro arrived in Dallas there were already a few offensive playmakers. Frank Clarke was a starting receiver and the Cowboys had just traded for both Buddy Dial and Tommy McDonald. Coach Landry is one of the finest innovators in NFL History so, not wanting such athletic talent to sit on the bench, he devised a plan for Mel.

Coach Landry took this new offensive weapon and determined that the smartest thing to do was put him in the defensive backfield at safety. You see, Coach Landry was trying to put together a dominant defense and he figured that an athlete with Renfro’s skills could contribute there. After all the free safety position provided Renfro, who was blessed with speed like no other, with an opportunity to play the ball and get after it.

Landry was right. Renfro led the team in interceptions as a rookie with 7, but he also contributed to the team in the return game. Mel led the entire NFL in both punt and kickoff return yardage, with 418 and 1,017 respectively. Play like that and you get invited to the Pro Bowl, and this started a streak of 10 straight Pro Bowl nods for Mel Renfro.

Running Back To Running Back

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20 2

Mel Renfro was a very gifted athlete. He’d had a lot of success as a defensive back, but he still had a hankering for the side of the ball that does the point scoring. Renfro supporters around Dallas organized the “MOO Club”, an acronym that stood for “Mel On Offense” in hopes of Mel getting some shots at running back.

Since he was looking to improve his offense anyway, Coach Landry decided that he would try Mel Renfro back at running back in 1966. That’s insane! Imagine that in today’s NFL game. Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints just pulls Kenny Vaccaro over at practice one day and says, “Dude let’s move you to running back.”

Renfro was injured in the opening game against the New York Giants which allowed the Greatest 30 in Dallas Cowboys History, Dan Reeves, to come in and show off what he could do running the rock.

While Mel Renfro ultimately ran 8 times for 52 yards and caught 4 passes for 64 yards, Coach Landry had seen enough. He decided that after his injury Renfro belonged back on defense and at safety… for a little while.

Cornered

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20 1

In his 7th season Mel Renfro underwent one more change. While he had dabbled in it a bit before, Renfro made the full-time switch to the cornerback position in 1970. Traditionally defensive backs are moved from corner to safety, not the other way around, but in 1969 the Cowboys gave up 22 touchdowns in 12 games and Coach Landry wanted somebody to stop that – somebody named Mel Renfro.

Mel Renfro led the NFL in interceptions during the 1969 season with 10 as a safety/corner hybrid, and this number dropped radically once he became a full-time cornerback. Once he was closer to receivers and blanketing them, quarterbacks became fearful of throwing his way.

While his interception numbers drop beginning in the 1970 season this is indicative of quarterbacks shying away from him. Mel Renfro was someone who teams refused to test because they knew that there was no way that they could beat him, he was just too fast and would close gaps so quickly that it seemed impossible.

#20: Mel Renfro

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20 3

Mel and I on the night before the last game at Texas Stadium

Over 52 career interceptions Mel Renfro covered 626 yards returning them. Both of these numbers are 1st in Dallas Cowboys Franchise History. Renfro was selected to 10 straight Pro Bowls from 1964-1973, and he was a part of both the Super Bowl VI and Super Bowl XII winning squads.

Mel Renfro is a member of both the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, Class of 1981, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1996. Today he joins our Countdown To Kickoff series as the Greatest 20 in Dallas Cowboys History.

Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 19 in Dallas Cowboys History is!


Want to share your opinions on who should be featured on our Countdown To Kickoff? Email me at rjochoa@insidethestar.com or Tweet @rjochoa.

Tell us what you think about “Cowboys CTK: Franchise Interceptions Leader Mel Renfro Takes #20” in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

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I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let’s roll.

@RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

Star Blog

Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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Months Later, it Seems Jaguars S Barry Church was Right

Kevin Brady

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Months Later, Jaguars Safety Barry Church Wa E

About five months ago, before the 2017 NFL season had even begun, former Cowboys safety Barry Church made comments which made Cowboys Nation scratch their heads. Now a Jacksonville Jaguar, Church said his current team was more talented than his former, the Dallas Cowboys.

At the time, many fans and writers alike laughed off his comments and chalked it up to typical preseason hype. Most people thought Church was crazy for suggesting a 13-3 team had less talent than the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team led by Blake Bortles.

Well, five months later, it’s become clear Barry Church was right.

Brian Chojnacki on Twitter

Jaguars safety Barry Church says he feels this Jags team has more talent than his #Cowboys squad last season. Dallas went 13-3. https://t.co/EcbxfUGsvy

This weekend the Jaguars went on the road to Pittsburgh, and came away with a wire-to-wire victory in January. The Jaguars were the more physical team from start to finish, and dominated from the opening kick off.

On the road.

Against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now the Jaguars are preparing to do something the Cowboys haven’t done in two decades: play in a conference championship game.

The Jaguars and Cowboys will be linked for the next decade or so due to decisions each made during the 2016 NFL Draft. And while it appeared the Cowboys pushed all the right buttons in 2016, it now looks as if the Jaguars are preparing to compete for AFC supremacy for years to come.

With their talented secondary, dominant defense, and physical rushing attack, the Jaguars have built their team in the mold of past champions.

The Cowboys have attempted to do some of the same, but it certainly looks as if Barry Church was correct in his preseason assessment of the two rosters.

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