One of the things that I am really liking about this offseason for the Dallas Cowboys is how they seem to be taking a whole bunch of pieces and putting them together to make a better team. It reminds me of the old Six Million Dollar Man (who would come in at $1.263 billion in today's dollars, since he was a government program). I especially appreciate how the different parts appear to fit together in a complimentary way. Part of that is the talent upgrades that I think the team has accomplished, and another part is that, with one notable exception, the attitudes of the players seem to be just about perfect.
There are three players that the team got in free agency that have popped up in the news lately. Brandon Carr, Dan Connor and Lawrence Vickers all look to play significant roles for the team this year, so I thought it would be worthwhile catching up on what is going on with them.
Of the three, Carr does look to be the biggest factor, since he is the presumptive starter at left cornerback. As has been well documented here, the number one priority for the Cowboys in the offseason was upgrading the secondary, and signing Brandon was, at the time it happened, considered to be a major step in that direction. No one knew, or for the most part ever imagined, that Dallas would also manage to get Morris Claiborne. Claiborne, while having tremendous talent and upside, is facing the double whammy of having to stay on the sidelines while he rehabs from ligament surgery during the OTAs, and just being a rookie who has yet to play in the NFL. But Carr is working to bring Pick 6 up to speed.
Though he is new to the secondary, Carr is the veteran of the team's cornerback corps. He has taken first-round draft pick Morris Claiborne under his wing. Claiborne, who is rehabbing from wrist surgery and has yet to take the field, and Carr are expected to be the team's starting corners for at least the next five years.
"I see some similarities from when I first came out," Carr said of Claiborne. "I don't think this game is too big for him right now. Just from talking to him, his mentality, he's excited to get back out here, get his rehab cranked up in training camp whenever they release him to play. He comes and asks me questions. I try my best to answer. ...We talk about anything. I kind of give him some of my experiences, some little veteran tips on how to play certain routes and what to expect with certain releases with certain receivers."
Looks like we got a player and a mentor in Carr. Given the rather different approach to the situation taken by another Dallas cornerback, this appears to be what we used to call a force multiplier back in the service.
More free agent goodness after the break
While Carr has been front and center at the OTAs, and is already considered to have one of the starting positions locked down, ILB Dan Connor has been limited to rehab work like Claiborne, in this case due to the epidemic of shoulder surgeries that went around Valley Ranch (I had no idea that kind of stuff was contagious). This resulted in second year player Bruce Carter getting the first team repetitions - and a lot of very favorable notice. In one sense, having Connor off the field may have helped the team in the long run, as Carter was able to do a lot of catching up after missing most of his rookie season recovering from his own injury.
But this does not mean that Connor was in any way a wasted acquisition. First off, he is still going to be competing for the starting role next to Sean Lee. And no matter who winds up listed as starting, there are likely to be many opportunities for both Connor and Carter to contribute. You can never have too many weapons.
Out of these practices due to a shoulder injury, however, Connor has been left to watch Carter shine from the sideline. At some point before the season, they'll still be battling for the top job next to Sean Lee, but no matter who wins, both players will play, according to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
"Dan Connor is a damn good football player, so he's going to find a role in here too," Ryan said. "Whether it's starting or playing, it doesn't matter to me. We're going to play our best players. We're in a fortunate situation to have three damn good players there."
A college teammate of Connor's at Penn State, Lee isn't worried that the newcomer is falling behind in the defensive installation. However, Lee stressed the importance of cohesion between he and whoever emerges as the Mike linebacker.
"Dan can pick up a defense like that," Lee said. "Dan's extremely smart. He's got unbelievable instincts, so I'm anticipating, when he comes in, he'll pick it up pretty quick. I don't think that'll be an issue."
The way I see it, the Cowboys may have three starting quality players at ILB, which is insurance against that word that begins with "i", and flexibility for Ryan in calling his defensive schemes. Like Carr and Claiborne, Connor and Carter are complimentary players more than they are competitors (and very alliterative as both a group and a concept). With DeMarcus Ware and the underappreciated (in my opinion) Anthony Spencer, this could be an incredibly exciting bunch of linebackers to watch - sandwiched between a defensive line with one established star (Jay Ratliff), a player who had a bit of a breakout year in 2011 (Jason Hatcher), and another player who is being projected to breakout (Sean Lissemore); and a secondary that looks to be way better than the matadors and low hurdles that passed for defensive backs so often last year.
I'm getting myself all excited again.
Another player that is a lock to start for the Cowboys is fullback Lawrence Vickers. But then, the team is only expected to carry one fullback. None the less, this guy just looks like a real banger at his position, which is exactly what is needed, and I love the way he approaches the game, as this video (pointed out by Deztroyer) illustrates.
And if you need any other reason to pull for this guy, then consider this.
Vickers is still in the early stages of his grief recovery process following the death of his father last month. Lawrence Vickers Sr., a lifetime Cowboys fan who worked as a chemical engineer in Houston, died of lung cancer in early May.
"He died before he got a chance to come see me here, so I hold that dear to my heart," Vickers said. "All this means something to me. I'm a passionate person, and you'll learn that. When things mean something to me, I take it and I run with it, and I'm going to run with this."
We're pulling for you, Lawrence.