Dallas Cowboys: Areas Of Confidence And Concern

Tom Pennington

As the Cowboys get ready to report to Oxnard for training camp, some aspects of the team make me feel pretty good. Others, not so much.

Have you ever wondered where we get the topics for our posts here at Blogging The Boys? Obviously, some are driven by current news about the Dallas Cowboys. Others come from our different writers playing to their considerable strengths, like OCC cranking out statistic-laden tables or Joey going back to the chalk . . . er, marker board.

Me? I frequently see somebody else's idea and figure I can add to the discussion.

Credit for this one goes to my old standby favorite read, Bryan Broaddus, who wrote an article about the top three things he trusts and the top three concerns he has going into camp. I thought it was a good idea with some nice conclusions (so click the link and read it), but I thought I would take a different slant. I decided to rank, from top to bottom, the things I feel most confident about the team down to the thing that makes me worry the most.

Starting quarterback. I think Tony Romo is the one player on the team that I do not worry about in any shape. OCC may take a little bit of the blame here for doing such a convincing job with his recent matched pair of articles about quarterbacks who post very good and very bad quarterback ratings. But for the past two or three years, Tony Romo has frequently carried this team. And I think this year, he doesn't have to do as much heavy lifting.

Linebackers. Let me see how I can explain the nuances of my position here.

Sean Lee. Bruce Carter. Butts will be kicked.

I am allowing myself to peer through the homer glasses a bit, but I still think Bruce Lee is one of the top two or three linebacking pairs in the league, and the team is trying very hard to surround them with quality as well. Justin Durant has an excellent pedigree to come in as the Sam, and as for the various backups, I think the best way to frame my optimism here is this: No Dan Connor.

Coaching. Yes, several of you will now go straight to the comments and chastise me for being a Jason Garrett apologist. But I am very excited about what is happening this year. For one thing, I see the Cowboys as having not only brought in some good people, but they now have more people involved in what is going on. Garrett now has Bill Callahan (and to some extent Romo) to help run the offense. And not only do I think Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli together is better than Rob Ryan, they may be better than any single defensive coordinator in the league. At one time, that was a fact in the NFL, and I think they can prove they still got it this year.

Wide receivers. Every where you look, there are articles comparing Dez Bryant to Calvin Johnson. Optimus Dez is seen by a wide consensus of writers as no worse than the second best receiver in the NFL. Pretty blasted amazing when you look back just a year at how many were wondering if he would ever live up to his potential. Meanwhile, Miles Austin and his hammies look to be ready to go this year. Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley seem to be the leading candidates to round out the corps, and if someone is good enough to break into the lineup, then it just means they are pretty damn good. I think this is going to be a real strength for the Cowboys.

Defensive line. I feel good about the starters, and am hopeful about depth. I do have one concern that Broaddus also voiced in his piece, and that is we haven't seen these guys in pads yet. That one technique is hard to play for a whole game. We have to see how Jason Hatcher can handle it. But DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, and Jay Ratliff should thrive, and it looks like the depth isn't too bad, either.

Tight ends. This is one area that I think could leapfrog up the list. You of course have Jason Witten leading the bunch, and I think the team is going to have three more real threats in James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, and Dante Rosario to join him. The only real question here is who is the starter with Witten in the 12 set.

Special teams. We almost never talk about special teams, and that is because we are just so comfortable with Dan Bailey, L.P. Ladouceur and Chris Jones. But special teams consist of a lot more than the three specialists. However, from what I could tell from the OTAs and minicamp, new coach Rich Bisaccia is going to have plenty of material to work with, even if I do think Danny McCray, the special teams ace for the past couple of years, may be on a real bubble.

There is a bit of a dividing line right about here. All the areas I have listed above are ones I feel generally positive about. As I said, I tried to order them from most positive to least, but it is not hard and fast, as I indicated with the tight ends.

Everything else represents an area that concerns me, and the farther down the list, the greater my concern.

General manager. This is actually a great improvement, because I just feel a little concern here. The Great Playcalling Kerfuffle proved that there is always going to be something with Jerry Jones, but this year, it has been mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing. I think we are seeing the Dallas Cowboys according to Jason Garrett coming into focus. And I am still clinging to my belief that Jerry is on board with his coach's vision. Keeping that going is the biggest reason I desperately want the Cowboys to get back to the playoffs this year, so the team can continue on the path it is on.

Secondary. Safety is still a big question mark. Consider that three of the main candidates to start, Barry Church, Matt Johnson, and J.J. Wilcox, have a grand total of three games starting experience. Safety is inexperienced, which automatically puts depth in question. Cornerback just lacks proven depth.

Running backs. DeMarco Murray has flashed, but durability is worrisome based on his history, and he has not been able to perform consistently for any long stretches. Part of that is the blocking of the big guys ahead of him, but the team needs some more performance from Murray and at least one reliable every down backup. Lance Dunbar is a change of pace back, not a replacement if Murray is out. Realistically, the team needs both Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner to step up this year, and whether they can remains to be proved. (Incidentally, I still am convinced there will be no fullback on the roster this year.)

Backup quarterback. This is the only position where having a backup is so crucial that it merits its own consideration. Before the OTAs and minicamp, I thought the team was in good shape with Kyle Orton. Now all I have is worry. Tony Romo made it through last season, but he was in bad shape by the end of the final game and may not have been able to go if the team had made the playoffs. Orton needs to find some mojo. Because there is one last area to worry about.

Offensive line. If you did not anticipate that this was going to be the biggest, baddest worry from the very first word of this article, I would like to welcome you on your first visit to Blogging The Boys. One day, I hope to be able to write that the O line is something to inspire confidence in Dallas fans. This is not that day.

Outside of Tyron Smith, the Cowboys will have to go with either an experienced player with some issues in their history or unproven players at all four of the other positions. Not a single starter besides Smith is certain. Travis Frederick offers some hope. So does Ronald Leary, but hope is not a winning game plan. The choice between Doug Free and Jermey Parnell is not reassuring. And Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau both were not on the field for the end of minicamp. I won't even go into the uncertainty about David Arkin.

That is the way I see the team stacking up in the interregnum before training camp. Here is hoping that most of the concerns and questions get answered before the New York Giants come to Dallas.

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