The Dallas Cowboys are preparing of their 2013 dress rehearsal against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday. During that game we should get an extended look at the Cowboys first unit plus rotational players, minus some lingering injuries. After reading Rabble and OCC's reports from training camp and watching each preseason game at least a couple of times, here are five things that have got me excited about the Cowboys going into the season (in no particular order).
1. Doug Free - It's hard to believe that Free is listed on the positive side of the ledger, but that's where you have to put him. The Cowboys had too many perceived holes along their line heading into 2013, the pessimist would say those holes included everyone except Tyron Smith. They tried fixing one with draft-pick Travis Frederick (more on him below), but basically stuck with the status quo elsewhere. That meant after a paycut, Doug Free was expected to once again battle Jermey Parnell at right tackle. Fortunately for Dallas, Free turned that competition into a rout, and has looked like a new player out there. Actually like an old player, the Doug Free of a few years ago that had the team and the fans so excited. You have to be cautious because training camp and preseason games are nothing like the real thing, but if you evaluate based on what you see so far, the Cowboys may only have a few holes left on their offensive line.
2. Redzone defense - You've heard it before. Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 might give up a lot of yards, but they excel in preventing points from going up on the board. One aspect of this equation is winning the turnover battle, but another is redzone defense. The Cowboys don't have the magic formula in the redzone, plenty of teams play zone defenses there to take advantage of the shorter field, but somehow it seems like Kiffin's do it better. Maybe because they aren't changing up their regular scheme for the redzone, the team is very practiced in redzone defense since it's not much different. Maybe Kiffin has a few wrinkles and secrets that he employs. It's hard to say. But so far in the preseason they have had 10 defensive trips into the redzone and given up one touchdown, in the fourth quarter on a 4th down play. Preseason is vanilla, and they haven't exactly been playing powerhouse offenses, but the results are still worthy of praise.
3. Receiving corps - If the Cowboys offensive line can just keep Tony Romo upright, this receiving attack should brutalize defenses. It's not like this is new, the Cowboys passing offense has been pretty dang potent for a while now. But with the emergence of Dez Bryant at the end of last year, and his uncoverable stretch so far in training camp and preseason, the Cowboys attack goes to a new level. They have a true #1 beast. They also have a dynamic #2 in Miles Austin, who has stayed healthy so far. Don't forget about All-World Jason Witten. That's a tough top three for any defense to contain. But it goes deeper. Lance Dunbar in the short passing game could be huge, DeMarco Murray can also catch the ball out of the backfield. James Hanna (and maybe Gavin Escobar down the road) plus Dwayne Harris and Terrance Williams offer nice depth. Maybe even Cole Beasley in the slot. That is a ton of weapons for Romo to choose from, as long as he's not running for his life.
4. Travis Frederick - Now I'm running into crazy territory, two of my five positives are about the offensive line, the one big trouble spot for Dallas. But facts are facts, Doug Free is playing remarkably better, and Travis Frederick might be a worthy first-rounder after all. Forgetting the "controversy" over where and how Frederick was drafted, and looking at his play on the field, and you have to come away impressed. He's looked like a 5-year veteran from the start. Centers need to be smart, and Frederick is, his football IQ is very high. Plus, he's not being overwhelmed physically. He's been holding his own in preseason and there have been no issues with snaps to Romo. With Doug Free showing good form and Travis Frederick continuing his progress, fans can have hope of better days for a beleaguered offensive line.
5. Bruce Lee - The duo of Bruce Carter and Sean Lee at linebacker is only going to get better if they can stay healthy. This defense fits their skill-sets perfectly. Both have good instincts, they can diagnose a play quickly and then take action to stop the play. Carter's speed and tackling ability should serve him well at weak-side linebacker. Lee's ability to stop the run going forward, combined with his ability to cover going backwards makes him an ideal Tampa 2 Mike linebacker. These guys should be among the best linebacker duos in the game at the end of the year.
Those are just a few of the things that have more in an optimistic mood about the Cowboys 2013 season, but by no means all of them. What are your bright spots so far?
Later today, the doom and gloom article, things that should have Cowboys fans worried for the 2013 season.
More from Blogging The Boys:
- Cowboys: Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble
- Dallas Cowboys News & Notes: "Cowboys Can Compete With Any Team"
- Freeze Frames: Dallas Cowboys @ Arizona Cardinals, 1st Quarter
- Assessing The Cowboys Roster: Mid-Preseason Edition: Ranking Players, Regardless Of Position
- Can The Cowboys Fit The Pieces Together?