The doom and gloom concerning the 2014 season for the Dallas Cowboys is everywhere. With the loss of Sean Lee following his knee injury on the first day of OTAs, many cannot see how the team can possibly hope to improve on the string of 8-8 disappointments, and there are predictions that they will have the first losing season of Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach. That could lead to his firing and another reset for the team. Add in the loss of Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware, and it starts to look like this could be a season to forget.
Allow me to offer a contrary opinion: I think this may be the most interesting season to watch for the Cowboys in recent memory. There is just so much going on.
The storylines are many.
- Who will fill the MLB position? The team is going to start off by trying to fill from within, with DeVonte Holloman, Justin Durant, and rookie Anthony Hitchens the apparent candidates. We can see if one of them shows the ability to handle the mental side of the job. (No one expects any of them to match Lee's superb physical skills.) If none of them are making the grade, then the team will have the option of looking for a free agent, or possibly trying to make some kind of trade. Hmm, I wonder if anyone out there with a workable MLB is in need of an experienced but somewhat disgruntled quarterback?
- Speaking of Kyle Orton, his strange saga will provide all the soap opera anyone could want. Will he report? Will he put his heart into playing if he does? And if he and the team part ways (my bet), how will Brandon Weeden do?
- Can Rod Marinelli and his assistants build a new defensive line? I am perhaps more optimistic about this than anything. The free agent signings, the players returning from injuries, the rookies - I think the Cowboys will find 8-10 players that will contribute more than anyone that played last year outside of Hatcher, Ware, George Selvie (who should be part of the solution) and perhaps Nick Hayden (also vying to be a contributor). Just getting four decent linemen out there at once will be more than the Cowboys had for the large majority of the snaps last year.
- Could Dallas start three rookies to begin the season? It is suddenly a real possibility. Zack Martin is a given starter, and based on the Travis Frederick experience, that could be a good thing. The Cowboys are building an offensive line that will be the foundation of the offense for perhaps another decade. DeMarcus Lawrence is taking first team snaps at RDE. And now Hitchens is in the mix to start as the Mike linebacker. Given the good reviews Devin Street is getting, this could become a truly significant draft class no matter what happens with the five seventh-round picks.
- Will Tony Romo return to his old form - and how will the back hold up?
- How good can this bunch of receivers be? The potential with this group of WRs, TEs, and RBs is tremendous. Now how well will they live up to expectations?
- Can Scott Linehan unleash the Kraken that the Cowboys offense should be? He has a really nice looking bunch of tools, now can he use them effectively? Given the questions on defense, the team needs the offense to put points on the board and control the clock.
- Can the defense do noticeably better than last year? I don't think this is all that hard to do, because they were so dismally bad last year. Once they get their roster figured out, then just a little bit of good luck on the injury front should be all they need to make the statistical train wreck of 2013 a bad memory. And if the O does its part, just being a middle of the pack defense may be all the team needs.
- Who among the veterans will step up? One.Cool.Customer and Joey Ickes have capably addressed that question here and here already, so I don't need to rehash them.
Now add in the fact that, at least in the eyes of most of the NFL world, the Cowboys have become more than a little bit of an underdog. Many just don't think they can possibly overcome the gutting of the defense, or that the offense will really perform, or that the free agents and rookies can make much of a difference. That alone makes me, at least, want to root just a little bit harder. (A little bit, because I can't pull a lot harder for this team than I already do.)
I have no idea how any of this will work out. I am optimistic about some parts of it, but I am not making a lot of bets on anything. But this is going to be a fascinating, even riveting year to follow the Dallas Cowboys. And I'm sure more storylines are yet to come. Come along and enjoy the ride.