Cowboys Q&A: 'Ask BTB' UDFA Hype And Fighting Feathery Foes

Facing off against the Eagles has proven to be a stalemate in recent years. What needs to change to return the sweep from last season?

In honor of the great questions we've received, and so you don't have to read over 4,000 words in one sitting; we're going to divvy up the responses throughout the week. Don't forget, the mailbox is always open so keep sending those questions in!

You can send an email directly to me at KDP10For10@gmail.com. If you have a quick, short-winded question, feel free to Tweet me @BloggingTheBoys. Use the hashtag #AskBTB so I know not to answer it directly on Twitter and give you a chance to be published in one of these articles. Remember to include your BTB handle in your correspondence!

Hey KD,

I was just wondering: what ever happened to Saalim Hakim? I remember he was a huge deal around the UDFA signings, but now it appears he's not even in the running for a roster spot?

Thanks, Genxswordsman

See the answer to this and more after the jump...

Hey KD,

I was just wondering: what ever happened to Saalim Hakim? I remember he was a huge deal around the UDFA signings, but now it appears he's not even in the running for a roster spot?

Thanks, Genxswordsman

rabblerousr: He was in fact a huge deal, and the Cowboys paid top dollar to secure his services: a $10,000 signing bonus, the most they offered any of their UDFAs. That said, they weren't basing this number on anticipated immediate production; rather, they were betting on his tremendous upside. Why? He's a rare athlete. Hakim is clearly the best athlete among the Cowboys' UDFA receivers, and he may well be the best pure athlete on the team. He has been timed as fast as 4.23 in the forty, and is quick and powerful, bench pressing 225 pounds 20 times.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether any of this raw athleticism will translate to NFL success. Hakim didn't play football until briefly attending Palomar College, a Junior College in San Marcos, CA., before transferring to Tarleton State, where he played only one fairly undistinguished season. So, he's not coming in with anywhere near the experience that, say, a Cole Beasley is. As a result, we shouldn't expect anything from him in 2012, and certainly shouldn't see him as a legitimate candidate for a roster spot; instead, we should think of him as a version of Teddy Williams, a deluxe athlete who the Cowboys can stash on the practice squad, grooming him in the hope that he can develop a game to match his raw ability.

Tom: I think the answer on Saalim Hakim is what didn't happen - he did not show much, or at least enough to get noticed. The feedback from the writers who attended OTA and minicamp practices as I interpret it is that Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley did very well, Kevin Ogletree hasn't hurt himself, and Dwayne Harris and possibly Tim Benford might be in the mix, while Raymond Radway didn't look fully recovered. (Just FYI, they also said Dez was a beast and Miles was looking good as well, but that wasn't the focus.) Hakim not getting mentioned would seem to mean he isn't expected to be one of the top competitors. (I do not recall any word on him being injured and missing practice.)

KD: We've got to remember that offseason rosters aren't constructed with only the current season in mind. They aren't constructed with only best-case scenarios in mind either, and that is something that a lot of fans refuse to consider it seems. For instance, the thought of only rolling with receivers with no NFL snaps behind Austin and Bryant. Sure, that sink or swim philosophy sounds good when you have two healthy #1 receivers, but what happens when one gets hurt and you have to start Danny Coale? I digress, but you get my point; roster building is done to cover multiple needs and levels.

Now, I'd venture to say that Hakim received a huge (UDFA terms) bonus because of the competition to get him into the offseason program, not because of the intent to have him play in 2012. Sure, there was hope that he would come in and wow, but we're only talking about $10K which is nothing in the professional football world. The problem is, there was so much interest, he stands a good chance of being plucked off the practice squad which is where he is almost guaranteed to end up.

There haven't been many mentions of Hakim since the scramble when he was signed, and unless Jason Garrett reached an agreement with all of the local media (yeah, right) you'd have to assume it's because he didn't turn heads in practice like Holmes and Beasley. He still has training camp though, but the odds seem a lot longer for him.

The real question that I had was about our nemesis the "ugles". Why did we get such a beat down from them last year? Was it scheme, like their wide 9? Personnel? Conservative play calling on our part?

See, it boggles my mind that we could keep up with almost everyone, including the Pats, but we had serious lapses with the eagles. I hate them; I really do. And I know that if we want to make it to the playoffs this coming year, we are going to at least have to split the two games with them this year. I know, I'm the king of the obvious.

So, why did we lose so big to them last year, and have we done enough to get some revenge this coming season?

DonKnotz

Coty: The first loss to the Eagles is what I'm assuming you're asking for, because the second was a throw-away game. I think of that game as a catastrophic example of all the dominoes toppling over into a big disaster. First, offensively, Tyron Smith met Jason Babin, who utterly destroyed the young rookie with veteran pass rush moves from a wide set. Tyron's footwork improved as the season went on, but Romo was feeling heat quickly as a slow drop step allowed Babin the freedom to come clean. As many of us point out, the Eagles defensive ends are fairly bad against the run, and Murray was tearing things up, but the sudden 21-point deficit forced the Cowboys to pass, which made the pass rush and lack of protection a major factor.

Defensively, Rob Ryan accepted the blame for a terrible gameplan. He was afraid to get beaten deep (this is with an injured Jenkins but relatively healthy and effective Newman, if I recall) and played his safeties 2 deep about 30 yards off the ball. The idea was to have the corners play the inside routes, and count on Sean Lee being huge in coverage over the middle once again. Unfortunately, Lee injured his wrist on Mike Vick's helmet and left the game early. This left James and Brooking to cover the middle of the field that was left open by the deep safeties.

Finally, although DeMarcus Ware had a huge game, Jason Peters spent all game bulldozing our defensive line creating a huge hole inside Ware for McCoy and Vick to scamper through.

rabblerousr: I, too, will concentrate on the first contest, at Philly, as the second game was of little consequence, making it difficult to assess fairly. In many ways, the first Eagles game was a perfect storm, with the following factors contributing to the blowout:

First: the Eagles were coming off a bye, during which they had an opportunity to regroup and refocus after a shocking 2-4 start, with three of the losses by a touchdown or less. Andy Reid is notoriously successful in the weeks after byes; the Eagles are 13-0 in his tenure in such games. Clearly, the man is deadly when he has an extra week to gameplan an opponent.

Second: in their first six games, the Eagles weren't losing due to an inability to move the ball; Philadelphia's offense had been potent, averaging 441 yards a game and, going in, the Cowboys were clearly worried about their cadre of fleet skill position players. They had every right to be afraid; since shutting down DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant in the 2009 season finale and the subsequent playoff blowout, the Eagles wideouts had dominated the Cowboys' corners. With Terrence Newman a year older, this match-up problem was only likely to get worse.

Third: because Jackson and Maclin are so fast and they didn't trust their corners in single coverage, Dallas was going to have to play two deep safeties all game, unless their defensive line began to dominate the line of scrimmage. The problem with this strategy is that it asked the Dallas ILBs to cover a lot of territory. There was no way creaky old run-stuffers like Keith Brooking and Brady James were going to be able to cover that ground. So, it was imperative that the pass rush force Vick to make quick throws, before the middle of the field opened up.

Fourth: anticipating this, Andy Reid installed a bunch of plays designed to take advantage of the Dallas defense's over-aggressiveness, particularly OLBs DeMarcus ware and Anthony Spencer's tendency to rush upfield at the snap, playing pass before run. In his excellent "11 for ‘11" series, Bob Sturm recently revisited one of these, a zone-blocking fold play, in which the Philadelphia line blocked to the strong side, leaving TE Clay Harbor to trap an unblocked Ware. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy scooted through a hole that was made gaping because 1) Ware overpursued and 2) OT Jason Peters Absolutely crushed DE Marcus Spears. Philly ran the same play three times for 77 yards.

Looking at what transpired, there are two explanations: One, everything came together for the Eagles, and we aren't likely to see the planets align in such a fashion again any time soon. Two, the Eagles' offensive personnel is so much better than Dallas' defensive guys that we are likely to see similar blowouts in the near future. I think this offseason's rebuilding has been driven in no small part by the memory of the debacle in Philly. Consider the root problems: Corners who needed deep help (and were poor at press man coverage), and plodding ILBs who couldn't cover RBs and TEs on crossing patterns. In bringing in Dan Connor, Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne, as well as the increased health of Bruce Carter, they have done much to address these issues. However, Dallas DEs Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher had their backsides handed to them in that contest. The question remains: has Dallas done anything to remedy that, or will the Eagles' OTs have their way with them again? We'll see...

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