It's the offseason for the Dallas Cowboys, that time when a young fan's fancy turns to thoughts of draft picks and free agent signings. We all are hoping the team can find some vital pieces to correct the glaring issues and get the Star back into the playoffs where it belongs.
But most of the team that takes the field in 2012 will be veteran players. The success of the Cowboys will depend more on them, just as a factor of numbers, than it will on a handful of draft choices and free agents. That is why I have been giving a good bit of thought to who should be kept with the team, as well as who should go.
And this year, there is no lockout. This is the first offseason for Head Coach Jason Garrett, Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, and Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Woicik. Will this make a big difference?
Well, I sure hope so. There are an awful lot of things that need to be improved, and many people (like me) have stated that the team was hurt by the lockout. Some (like me) went so far as to state that the situation sucked. So, in the absense of the Great Suckitude, what do we hope will change?
Three things I am looking for after the jump.
One of the questions that was left in a sort of limbo was just how capable backup quarterback Stephen McGee is. I even wrote one of my early fanposts last summer about the problems the lockout caused for him and Jason Garrett. There is often a lot of angst about his total inadequacy as a quarterback after three seasons. But he has only had one full off season of work in those three seasons, and during the regular season, the backup quarterback (especially the 3rd stringer, which he has been most of his career) does not get a lot of snaps.
With Jon Kitna having done everything but tell people what he wants for the entree at his retirement party, JG needs to figure out what he is going to do for another backup quarterback, and also get an idea on just how much growth Stephen McGee is capable of. All indications are that JG5000 is taking a long view of things. That likely means that he is trying to figure out whether he needs to bring in another veteran quarterback who would offer experience but not a long term answer, or to look to acquire a young player. Does he need to look at investing a draft pick, or can he try to find the next Tony Romo in the UDFA ranks?
One way or another, the long term approach on this question is going to be heavily influenced by what Jason thinks he has in McGee. From the outside looking in, it appears that McGee has the physical talent, but there is still an obvious question as to whether he can handle the mental part of the game, having come from an option background in college. For 2011, the team more or less had to roll with him, because he at least knew the system and the team. I think the off season will be the key in determining whether McGee has a future with the Cowboys, and what his role will be. More importantly, it will help shape the path the team needs to take in the future for the inevitable day when Tony Romo is no longer the starter. And if McGee is not the person JG5000 wants handling the reins if Tony has to miss playing time, then the staff has at least a chance to find another solution by the start of the season.
Defensively, one of the things I saw over and over during the season was the confusion of the players. Rob Ryan uses multiple player packages, alignments, and movement to try and confuse the opponent. But too often, it was his own players who were befuddled and unprepared. There were certainly issues with the talent on the team, but the best players in the world are not much use if they are in the wrong place all the time.
After watching the same errors all season long, some of the readers here were calling for Rob to be shown the door after his first season. I thought that was rather silly, myself, since RR did come in and have to install his defense on the fly. And he had to roll mostly with players he inherited, since last year's draft was mostly oriented towards the offense.
That is all different this year, at least the part about installing his system. He has the offseason to teach his players what they are supposed to do, and it is assumed that he will also get some personnel upgrades to make things work better. The expectation is of course that the defense will make strides. If it doesn't, then discussions of whether Rob needs to stay in Dallas become pertinent.
If there is one optimistic hope that has surfaced again and again in looking at how to improve the team, it is what Mike Woicik should be able to do with the team after a full off season in his program. For those of you who are fairly new, or who missed this last summer, you might want to read over rabblerousr's pithy article about Mike's career in the NFL. The key thing: He is the only coach in the NFL to have earned six Super Bowl rings. Six. Three with the New England Patriots from 2000-2010. And the first three with the Dallas Cowboys during the glory days of the nineties. All as Strength and Conditioning Coach.
That, as they say, is one hell of a resume. And, as rabble observed, Mike just may be the most important factor in the future success of the Cowboys. How many times did we see offensive linemen getting pushed back into Tony's face? How often were the pass rushers not getting enough pressure on quarterbacks? How often did the players seem to be gassed more than the other guys late in the game?
If there is one prediction that I feel safe making, it is that the players are going to be stronger and have more endurance after Mike has a few months to work with them.
And think of what that opens up. We have heard that players like David Arkin have talent, but just need to learn the system - and get stronger. We saw Montrae Holland get cut for being out of shape - and come back to be a valuable part of the line after he dropped some weight and got himself into better condition. Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent looked pretty good, but could certainly look better with a little more muscle.
Then there is the thought of a stronger, more durable Tyron Smith. Or a more capable Sean Lee.
A lot of hope has been pinned on Mike around here. Now, we are going to see just what he can do. And remember, his contributions are not limited to OTAs and minicamps, but will affect the players' entire off season conditioning regimen.
This is why I think that the solutions to some of the Cowboys' problems are not in who they find in the draft or FA. I think some of the answers are already on the team. They are just not developed enough. Either they have not had the coaching they need to learn the position, they have not had the reps they need to allow them to react instead of think, or they have just not gotten the physical training they need to fully develop their skills. With a full off season to work with the team, I think quite a few of the players will come into 2012 and give us a better performance.
Which certainly will be better than all that suckage that was going on last year.