I know, training camp hasn't even started and already I am thinking about how I'm going to look back on the season once it is over. Face it, expectations aren't just high, they are in the stratosphere. I haven't met one Cowboys fan who doesn't think this team HAS to make a deep playoff run and contend for a title. I'm not talking about one playoff win here, I'm talking about drafting at #31 or #32 next year and there is only one way to get those spots.
This team comes in with a loaded roster and Super Bowl expectations. Dallas has experienced starters at all of the critical positions and some high-ceiling young players looking to make a splash.
Defensively, there will likely be some changes in terms of blitz packages now that Ware and company will have had a full season and two training camps to digest Phillips' scheme. Last year's defensive achilles heel, the defensive secondary (most notably, the #3 CB), has been addressed somewhat with the drafting of Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. Pac Man Jones' acquisition also could lead to some big plays in pass defense. Coupled with a healthy starting tandem of (the newly minted) Newman and Anthony Henry, the CB spot looks solidified. What remains to be seen is how Dallas will utilize SS Roy Williams in obvious passing situations, since opposing coordinators designed plays that isolated Roy on TE's and RB's who could easily separate from him. In addition, QB's locked in on whoever Roy was covering on critical 3rd downs and in the red zone with maddening success. That, coupled with some off-the-wall offseason comments from Williams, adds spice to the stew.
On offense, Dallas returns it's base personnel package from 2007 with one notable exception. It's likely that the new Jones is an upgrade over the old Jones since the old Jones was largely ineffective during the 2007 regular season. Tony Romo returns after a full season starting under center in Jason Garrett's multiple offense. Dallas also returns the NFC's top wideout in Terrell Owens and perennial pro bowler Jason Witten at TE.The o-line, with 3 pro bowlers from last year, comes back healthy and intact. One big change on the front wall is that Hudson Houck, position coach of the great Dallas o-line's of the 90's, is back, replacing Tony Sparano. While the running game should improve overall, questions remain at the #2 WR spot opposite T.O. Teams were able to slow the Dallas offense late in the season by doubling T.O. and forcing Tony Romo to look to the other side where Patrick Crayton was nothing more than servicable. This year, that player, whether it is Crayton, Terry Glenn or someone else, needs to make opposing defenses pay for single coverage on that side.
The kicking game looks solid with rookie phenom Nick Folk and Matt McBriar, although McBriar's inconsistency hurt them in some key situations. The return game, anemic at times last season, should be bolstered by the Felix Jones and Jenkins additions, to say nothing of what Pac Man could add there.
The Hard Knocks crew from HBO will be adding their training camp distractions to the mix (not a good omen for the Boys if you look at how teams who have been featured on this show have gone on to do during the season).
Finally, if last year was the season of Romo (which is what I called it...and it was), in that they went only as far as he could take them, 2008 is shaping up to be the season of Wade. Phillips has eight (count 'em) #1 picks residing on the defensive side of the active roster and it is time for him and his assistant coaches to deliver the stifling, pressure-oriented attack that he's been known for in his previous coaching stints. If Pac Man plays this year, Dallas could field nine #1 picks on defense..unheard of in the modern era. Regardless of unforeseen injuries or locker room issues caused by the bevy of big personalities in Dallas, Wade's job, his legacy in Dallas and the season with the highest expectations since the 90's with all of the triplets, rests squarely on his shoulders.
So there it is, out in the open now. Yep, I said it.
You should write it down because you heard it here first. 2008: The Season of Wade.