In this series, we look at the top 5 questions that are up in the air about the Cowboys offseason. Previously, at #5, we wondered how the Cowboys would navigate free agency and the lack of clarity due to the collective bargaining mess. Then we looked at Tony Romo's return from injury and the position coaches. Now, we discuss the progression of young players into stars.
2 - Which young player will make 'The Leap' in 2011?
Last year, we watched with pride as Doug Free blossomed into an elite run-blocking tackle. Dez Bryant, complete with lofty expectations, amazed us with his athletic ability and is a serious problem moving forward for defensive coordinators. Felix Jones' last quarter of the season showed that at his normal weight, he is what we hoped for.
As far as young players go, though, that's pretty much all we have to be confident in. What young players are going to step up in 2011?
To be an upper echelon team, you need have multiple players turn the corner and become key contributors annually. We generically hope that two rookies per class can perform that feat, and if you have two developmental players do the same, you'd think to be in good shape.
In 2009, the leap category was headlined by Miles Austin's unprecedented run starting in Week 5. We thought we had an additional pair of big impact players make the jump in Mike Jenkins and Anthony Spencer. Although Spencer did little to further his development and may have even regressed a little, Mike Jenkins was truly the surprise. He played at a level below what he did his rookie campaign, and one that didn't even resemble his stellar 2009. If you want to point the finger at the previous regime's scouting and/or practice habits, this is primary evidence. We need great play out of our first, second, and third year players. It allows roster moves you wouldn't otherwise make and keeps salaries low.
With only Austin, Free, Bryant and F. Jones, we don't currently have a large group of young stars ready to fill the middle of the spectrum as guys like DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, and Tony Romo, progress into being seasoned veterans. The Cowboys need an infusion of young production, not just talent.
Now, given Tashard Choice's limited-play - dictated by Marion Barber holding down the starting job - we could consider him a young guy about to make the leap. The Cowboys seem poised to make a change in the rotation (perhaps even releasing Barber), so Choice could explode in 2011 as a complement to Felix.
I'm very optimistic about Sean Lee. He seemed to really come on during the last stretch of the season, weeks 11 through 17, and has the perfect opportunity to swoop in for an aging Keith Brooking. I think John Phillips has a chance to be a low-usage, high-yield performer. I don't think it would happen, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Martellus Bennett moved. Josh Brent showed potential early in the year, then slowed down. Sounds like the perfect player for Mike Woicik and Brian Baker to get their hands on. Bryan McCann and Phil Costa are both players that, depending on how the draft and FA unfolds, could see an increased workload and responsibility.
Potential 'leap' players:
Who do you got as the young guns that will make the big leap for the Cowboys in 2011? Did we miss one in the above list?