Everybody is talking about Dez Bryant, but Miles Austin is pretty important for the team, too.
Well, we have three days of Dallas Cowboys training camp practices to analyze, one of them actually in pads. So obviously we know all there is to know about the team and how it is doing, right?
All right, I will be honest and state that we are just beginning to see how things will shape up for the team. About the only thing that is proven is that the cliche about the defense being ahead of the offense early in camp is holding very true for the Cowboys.
Despite the highly limited amount of data (which I am getting all second hand, of course), I think it is time to hand out some grades for the various units of the team. There are some preliminary conclusions to be drawn, and besides, Thursday was an off day and there wasn't much new to write about (that wasn't already well covered by my fellow writers).
I am handing out letter grades on this. No pluses or minuses yet because it is so early in the process. All grades are based strictly on how I see things right now, not how they may be if player A gets healthy or player B is beaten out. And all my grading is based on a solid analytical foundation - namely, my semi-informed opinion.
Check out the early marks after the jump.
Tony Romo is a solid top ten signal caller, and now he has possibly the best backup in the NFL in Kyle Orton. I think that is all you have to know, because I still believe the team is going into the season with just the two of them on the roster and an emergency quarterback on the practice squad. All reports from camp are that both Romo and Orton are throwing it well. More importantly, Romo is out there barking at his teammates when they mess up. Wow. Leadership? Hey, most of us here knew all along he had it, but extra credit is awarded for getting the media to notice.
Running Back: C
OK, before you get your boxers all knotted up, consider that the Cowboys only have one starter that has taken a snap in preseason. DeMarco Murray is looking to be right back where he was when he burst on the scene last year - but Felix Jones had to spend a couple of days in remedial running. He comes back, and the grade will easily go up one letter. But he isn't back until practices resume, so a single starting running back is only good for a C. The backup situation will also have to clarify a bit before this could be given an A, although I expect Phillip Tanner to keep his job.
Lawrence Vickers has caught a few balls and been vocal out there. This is a bit of a cautious grade, just because I haven't seen much else. I expect him to be fine, however.
Tight end: B
A couple of days ago, I fully expected this to be a C, but James Hanna seems to have had an epiphany that catching the ball is an important part of his job. Jason Witten is superb, of course, and John Phillips is capable. If Hanna keeps it up, this is the floor for the position. But if he returns to his old ways, this grade will slide. In a Jason Garrett offense, you need the tight ends. Probably three of them.
Wide Receiver: C
Again, two absolute studs lead the way in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. But after that, all is murkiness and shifting sands. I have seen at least four different names called the leader for the number three spot, and two players who should be in the middle of the competition, Danny Coale and Andre Holmes, have not seen the field. Coale is still trying to get back on the field from his broken foot, and Holmes was out there with Felix Jones after he messed up on the conditioning test. I think the third WR is likely already on the team - but until he emerges, this is just a passing grade.
Offensive Line: F
I sat and thought about this. I initially wanted to give them a D, but when I look at all the injuries piling up, and the repeated comments about how the defense was pushing them around, I felt the F was justified. I think this will improve quickly. While Tyron Smith and Doug Free got beaten, they also had some good moments as well. And the Cowboys are bringing in some veterans to work out as possible help in the interior. One of them is Montrae Holland. I don't have any rational basis for this, but if our beloved Lumpy gets signed back to the team, I will feel much better.
Defensive Line: A
If there is one unit that has seen nothing but praise so far, it is the defensive line. From all that I can tell, both from OCC's observations and from scouring the Twitter feed and articles from other sources, Dallas has eight or maybe nine NFL caliber players fighting for six or seven roster slots. Jason Hatcher is looking very good, as is rookie Tyrone Crawford, and Sean Lissemore is expected to have a greatly increased role. The only worry is that Jay Ratliff is still being held out as a precaution, and he will likely be limited throughout the pre-season, possibly practicing on alternate days. But I don't think we need to worry about Rat. The issue here is who will not make it because someone outplays them. Clifton Geathers? Josh Brent? Kenyon Coleman? Marcus Spears? Can Robert Callaway or even Ben Bass break through? It's a good problem to have.
Gee, this looks much the same as the D line. The big battle is over who will start next to Sean Lee on the inside, Bruce Carter or Dan Connor. They are alternating in camp, and both look like big, big improvements over last year. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer have their jobs well in hand, and from all reports Kyle Wilber has been terrorizing the offense, while Adrian Hamilton looks to have serious pass rushing talent and Victor Butler is putting in a good showing. The big question seems to be whether Orie Lemon or Alex Albright will be the last one in - Caleb McSurdy is eating their dust right now.
It's going to be tight, tight, tight on the defensive line and at linebacker this year. Great depth.
I may be a bit generous here. After all, Mike Jenkins is still not cleared to practice. Morris Claiborne is getting his baptism of fire trying to cover Dez and Miles, and it shows sometimes. But Brandon Carr is looking to be a real press corner. Also, the competition for the remaining slots is hot and heavy, and folks, after what we saw last year, the improvement already seems major.Just the lack of worry helps here.
I thought about just lumping the secondary together, but the corners just inspire so much more confidence than the safeties. Part of this is Gerald Sensabaugh still not able to participate fully. Part of this is Matt Johnson still missing out. And don't forget the third of the remedial running rascals. Brodney Pool. Good news: Barry Church is well on his way to putting a claim in for a starting job. Danny McCray, who is likely on the team as a special team ace, has also shown he is a fairly good safety. I think the full crew gets on the field, and this grade will improve pretty rapidly.
Not on results, because those are still largely unknown. But on how the camp is being conducted. The pace is rapid, teaching and coaching is going on constantly, and it seems that twice as much is being done in the same amount of time as was happening a couple of years ago. Mostly, there is no doubt about who is in charge out there. There is no guarantee that the way camp is being run will lead to greater success - but from everything I know, it really should.
I'm sorry. But between looking for glory holes, discussing what he wants to do to the Giants' tushies, and describing his parenting skills with Dez Bryant, this has been, well, vintage Jerry Jones. There are just too many microphones being held by too many people who want the next "OMG did he really say that?" moment, and Jerry has been all to willing to oblige. Honestly, I don't know if it is good or bad or just the result of some curse Tom Landry put on the team. I will admit I like the lightening rod aspects of JJ's personality, and so far none of this seems to have any negative effect on the team. And I have become largely numb to it all,
But seriously. Isn't this taking colorful and eccentric just a bit nuclear?
Those are my grades to this point. I'll be taking another look every week or so, and may do this regularly during the season, depending on the feedback I get. Right now, I just need to know how these look to you.