I cannot say enough about the exemplary job the Cowboys organization has done this off season. The team has made a real effort to clean up the locker room and has taken steps towards changing the culture of the team. The Cowboys’ draft showed that the team is committed to improving its special teams play and overall depth. All signs point towards the Cowboys having a deeper, more focused unit in 2009.
While they have taken steps in the right direction, the Cowboys are still more of a work-in-progress than a finished product. This team still has holes, and will be asking a number of unproven players to step into significant roles. There are still a few reasons for Cowboy fans to temper their expectations for the upcoming season.
Here are a few reasons fans should be concerned about the 2009 Cowboys:
The Receiving Corps: In 2006, Roy Williams made the Pro Bowl after hauling in 82 receptions for 1,310 yards. That season is the only time that Williams has had more than 64 receptions, or more than 838 yards. That one aberrant year is also the only time that Williams’ health has allowed him to participate in more than 14 games. Now that Roy is the top wide receiver in Dallas, we are going to find out whether 2006 was an abnormality, or an example of what we can expect from Roy in the future.
As if Roy Williams is not a big enough question mark, Miles Austin and his 18 career receptions will likely be called upon to start on the opposite side. Austin definitely has the speed and physique of a top-notch NFL wideout, but has still only flashed. Patrick Crayton is Patrick Crayton. Isaiah Stanback is unproven and injury prone. The fact that the team did virtually nothing to bolster the position in the off season, and wide receiver becomes a major red flag for the Cowboys.
D-Line Depth: Chris Canty out, Igor Olshansky in. Okay, that will work. But what happened to that mammoth, space-eating nose tackle the Cowboys were going to get to give Jay Ratliff a break? There is not another nose tackle currently on the roster who can be trusted to give Ratliff a breather. The Cowboys have to be concerned at this point about coming down the stretch with a worn-down Ratliff. It would have also been nice if the team had drafted another end to compete for a spot in the rotation outside.
Growing Pains: The Dallas Cowboys drafted 12 rookies this season. The aim was to improve depth which is a good thing. But every rookie who makes this team will make his fair share of rookie mistakes. If 8 rookies make the squad, then that will be 8 players who will be learning on the fly to some extent. These rookies may eventually become much more reliable than the players they replace. In the meantime, brace yourself for the occasional bonehead play. It’s just part of the learning curve, and hopefully they can all get it out of their system by mid November.
The Division: The NFC East was arguably the best division in the NFL last season, and it does not appear to be getting any easier. Philadelphia finally went out and got Donovan McNabb some weapons. The Giants added some impact players (don’t forget Osi Umenyiora will be back) to an already magnificent defense. For the first time since probably Pee-Wee football, Washington quarterback Jason Campbell will work in the same offensive system for two consecutive seasons. As scary as it sounds, it looks like all four teams in the division have improved.
Tony Romo: Don't get me wrong. I am not by any stretch throwing in the towel on Tony Romo. You can't make a definitive judgement on any quarterback's career after only 39 starts. However, Tony Romo's big game failures are beginning to look less like coincidence, and more like a trend. Big games aside, Romo is going to have to take better care of the football all together. It really looks like this is the year that Tony Romo has to take the next step. Otherwise, we may see a significant spike in memberships to the Stephen McGee fan club heading into 2010.
All things considered, I think that the positives far outweigh the negatives with the Dallas Cowboys at this time. Still, with so many question marks, no one should be expecting the 'Boys to breeze through this season.