You know me. I’m not one to shy away from controversy in the SB Nation blogosphere. I generally won’t hesitate to challenge your paradigms and force you to ‘man up’ when it comes to why you believe what you believe. I’m also probably more inclined – yes, I’ll admit it - to examine some of the not-so-positive aspects of all things Dallas Cowboys, while others (hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a homer, we need homers too!) tell you the future is bright and filled with nothing but 16-0 seasons and Blings this and every year. However, regardless of how some might characterize my rants, I’m no football Scrooge. In fact, as I do every year, I was only too happy to offer up some of the areas that make me puff out my chest when I think about the upcoming season.
It might surprise some, but there are a good many things that Dallas fans should feel good about coming into the 2009 opener. As someone who prides himself on being balanced, I was not going to miss my opportunity to talk about those things. So come on, grab a cold one and let’s consider the big-ticket items that should make all of our fans happy and our adversaries fearful…
All hail the cleaners! Jerry, Stephen and their minions should be applauded for sanitizing the Cowboys locker room. After all, it was pretty clear that there was some mildew around the showers and some crud along the baseboards. The air has been cleared, the new scent is ‘Autumn Romo Springs’ and everything has been laid out for Tony to ascend to the throne and fill the leadership chasm on this team. Distractions? No more Pac, Tank, Ellis and T.O. Nope, they all go bye-bye. To me, this is the most important philosophical change on this team since Deion Sanders came to Dallas. This team is going with guys who subjugate their own multi-million dollar egos to the overall goals of the team. When you couple this with the constant drama around Brett Favre and the zany goings-on in Denver, lots has happened to make Dallas a less appealing source of media fodder. Regardless of how this new ‘team-first’ dogma pans out on the field, isn’t it just great to finally have a roster chock full of guys that you not only like to see play, but that you actually LIKE?
The return of the Flash. Maybe I am making too much of this, maybe I need to calm down, but with T.O. gone, Felix Jones is the one true offensive game breaker on this team. He adds a dimension of electricity and excitement that no other Cowboys star on the offensive side of the ball brings with them. Not since Herschel Walker was here has a Dallas RB had his kind of long speed. Jones is a big play waiting to happen and his presence on the field will force opposing defenses to think twice about overload blitzes because of the price they’ll pay if he can get to the second level. If Redball can find ways to get the ball to Flash in space, we could see lots of him on Sportscenter and some big W’s against tough teams in December.
The brains behind the brawn. Kyle Kosier is back and, for those fans who derided him for being the smallest and weakest of the group (you all know who you are…but you probably won’t admit it), he is obviously the cerebral link on the Dallas Offensive line. Early returns look like the pass protection will be much improved in 2009 over the ‘jailbreak’ that was the abysmal 2008 performance, and that is critical to the team’s ability to conduct a more controlled, methodical attack. As I’ve said before, 2009 is Hudson Houck’s chance to be our hero, but we should also give credit where it is due and I think Kyle Kosier’s real value to this team has become abundantly clear. Welcome back Kyle!
The WB on Fox…huh? Relax, it’s not Warner Brothers, it’s Witten and Bennett. Dallas has what could be the most devastating one-two punch at TE the game has ever seen. With more NFC teams moving to a 3-4 alignment on defense, Telly’s emergence as a potential bookend stud to (the game’s best TE) Jason Witten could revolutionize how teams attack the 3-4 and force opposing Defensive Coordinators to go back to the drawing board. Both players have displayed tenacious blocking coupled with the ability to catch mid-range passes in the seams. Would it surprise anyone here if we saw the ‘WB’ become a household name by mid-season? This is truly one to watch in ’09.
No more free lunches. Beyond cutting Brad Johnson loose, it was good to see the team make some (long overdue) moves and find replacements for players (Roy Williams 38, Greg Ellis, Zach Thomas, Chris Canty and Isaiah Stanbust) and coaches (Bruce Read) who just were not doing their jobs well enough to warrant keeping them. It will be interesting to see how the new cast of characters like Igor Olshansky and Joe DeCamilis do in their respective roles. Regardless, this looks like a sign from the team that neither draft position nor coaching pedigree is an acceptable crutch for anyone to use for poor performance.
Finally! A Sensible addition. Gerald Sensebaugh has the look of a very solid safety in both coverage and run support. For the first time since Brock Marion left town, it’s very possible the Dallas Cowboys won’t be known for ridiculous blown deep coverage against guys like Santana Moss, DeSean Jackson and others. The confidence that comes with having the right help over the top should give Newman and the two sophomore CB’s a big sigh of relief on play action passes and allow them to jump some routes that they shied away from in years past. That should mean more turnovers!
Who’s got his back? He plays on offense but doesn’t start. In fact, if he never sees the field on offense this season, it’s likely good things are happening for our Cowboys. However, if (God forbid) something happens and Tony Romo goes down, we finally have a QB behind him who isn’t over the hill, isn’t playing with a noodle for a right arm and isn’t going to force us to pair down the playbook to accommodate his physical inabilities. Yes, Jon Kitna may not make a single notable play this year, but if he has to, I think most people feel like he can. And that’s a feeling of security that we haven’t had in quite a while.
Chuck Howley would have loved this. Keith Brooking is not in his prime. He’s no longer the sideline-to-sideline force that he was in his mid-20’s. What he is, is nasty, tough and violent – three things not normally associated with Dallas’ defense. Brooking may turn out to be an even bigger addition to the Cowboys defense than Sensebaugh because of what he brings them…an identity. This is a lunch pail guy, the kind that you’d normally see playing in Chicago or Baltimore or Pittsburgh. Brooking doesn’t want to hit opponents, he wants to punish them. He’s a practice hard - play hard kind of player and could quickly become one of the emotional leaders of this defense. Having played for Phillips before and knowing what he wants to accomplish on defense is an added benefit because that familiarity will allow him to assume a more ‘front and center’ vocal role in the locker room. I’m thinking the over/under on concussions he causes in 2009 is three. Any takers?
Buehler? Buehler? Anyone? Buehler? How do you not just get all excited about this kid from USC? He’s an athlete, through and through. While I don’t know if our Special Teams coverage will be markedly improved this year or not, I do know that opponents will have a lot farther to run after kickoffs if they want to start their possession beyond the 25-yard line, which has been the case against Dallas for several years now. This guy could be worth 80 yards of field position per game! I hope this kid turns out to be my draft judgment error of 2009 (2008 was Bennett, assuming he continues to improve physically and mentally). In a pinch, this guy can play gunner, safety, LB, nose tackle and offensive coordinator. One thing: shouldn’t they play the Beatles’ Twist and Shout before every one of his kickoffs?
We must protect this house! Say what you will about the video screen being too low, Cowboys Stadium is the new yardstick by which all other sporting venues in the world will be measured. It is remarkable, both in scope and in grandeur. I’d like to think it can add a new dimension to the term, "home field advantage". D.D. Lewis said "Texas Stadium has a hole in its roof so God can watch his favorite team play." Well, Cowboys Stadium has a hole AND a 60-yard long HD video screen where God can watch instant replays too. Seriously, what better place to call home for America’s team and its fans? Come to think of it, what better place to begin a new Dallas dynasty?
After the sting of a bitter, season-ending blowout loss to an unnamed division foe, after dealing with a long off-season of heartache from last year’s season with ‘Super Bowl or bust’ expectations, we stand on the verge of finally being able to give grace to the past and look toward the future. Indeed, there is plenty to like and feel good about when it comes to the 2009 iteration of the Dallas Cowboys. So, let’s put aside our differences of opinion about whether we should have cut Isaiah Stanbust or whether Tony should be playing ‘hide the sausage’ with his new GF the night before the game. None of that really matters now. What does matter is that we all must unite under a single banner…one that connects us during the fateful journey ahead, a banner of hope for the sixth Cowboys Bling. Yes, it’s time to focus our collective POSITIVE energies and direct them toward our beloved team as they go into battle. They need us right now…let us not falter.