It's early. The team has just done the OTAs, and we still have a long way to go until real football. Almost anything can happen. We really know very little about how things may eventually play out for the Dallas Cowboys.
So it must be time for some predictions! I will channel Carnac the Magnificent (yeah, dating myself again) and give you my thoughts on how I see things playing out, starting with the upcoming minicamp.
Kyle Orton shows - sort of. Cap'n Neckbeard will be there when minicamp starts, but will come up lame approximately three minutes and twenty-seven seconds into the first day of minicamp. Stephen Jones quietly shops him, but no one is really interested, and he is cut the first week of training camp. Brandon Weeden blossoms and has an excellent pre-season. While not challenging Tony Romo by any stretch of the imagination, he shows he is capable of helming the team in an emergency without things going totally to hell.
Hot seat time again - in the media. Jason Garrett sits at the top of every single list of coaches fighting for their jobs. And he stays there until Jerry announces a new contract for him around Thanksgiving - right after Dallas wins its ninth game of the season on the way to an 11-5 record and a playoff spot.
Offense has a banner year. Scott Linehan's approach seems to agree with just about everyone on the offense. Dez Bryant has a monster year, DeMarco Murray gets just over 1,000 yards rushing (and 400 receiving) only playing in 12 games (see below), Jason Witten has his typical excellent year, and a couple of offensive players surprise, as also noted below. The real reason is the offensive line, which is starting to look more and more like those Great Wall lines of the early 90s. Zack Martin steps in and is eerily reminiscent of a rookie from last year named Travis Frederick, Mackenzy Bernadeau earns the other starting guard spot, and Tyron Smith steps up from Pro Bowl to All Pro. With them leading the way, third and short becomes an automatic conversion and drives are extended when the team most needs to. While putting up the best numbers of his career, Romo gets through the year without missing a start - including two playoff games.
Defense is a mixed bag. The line comes together very well. Tyrone Crawford proves why the team drafted him, Ben Gardner earns a roster spot, DeMarcus Lawrence is the day one starter at RDE, Henry Melton proves to be a good investment, and although no one emerges as a 10+ sack player, the group gets production from every player. That includes Anthony Spencer, who surprises almost everyone with his recovery by making the 53-man roster and taking the field in week four. He goes on to get six sacks on the year in a LDE rotation with George Selvie, plus a fumble recovery he runs back for a touchdown.
Linebackers are a different story, as the team feels the loss of Sean Lee. DeVonte Holloman becomes the starting MIKE and plays well while Kyle Wilber has a solid year at the SAM, but there are issues with the WILL all season. Too many plays get through the linebackers.
The result is that the defense becomes feast or famine, sometimes shutting the opponent down with a timely sack, a solid stand, or a turnover, and other times getting burned. But overall, it is much better than the train wreck of last year, winding up fairly near the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. Which, combined with an offense that is top five in most areas, is good enough to keep the team playing into January.
Roster breakout (practice squad in parentheses):
QB - 2 (1)
RB - 4 (1)
FB - 1
TE - 3
WR - 6 (1)
OL - 9 (1)
DL - 9 (1)
LB - 6 (1)
S - 5 (1)
CB -5 (1)
ST - 3
Gavin Escobar - Under Linehan's playcalling, Escobar becomes a terror out of the slot and in the red zone. The 12 package is used a lot, but more times than not, Escobar winds up in a receiver position.
Ryan Williams - Murray misses four games, and the team does not miss a beat as Williams, who wins the top backup job over Joseph Randle (still with the team, but behind Williams on the depth chart), averages over 80 yards a game rushing during the stretch.
Morris Claiborne - Healthy for a change, and used in a way to maximize his strength, he at last looks like a first round draft pick. By midseason, he is actually getting the start over Brandon Carr, who is not having a bad year, but not as good a one as Mo.
Matt Johnson - OK, maybe not a breakout year, as he is somewhere behind Church and Wilcox on the depth chart - but he is on the field in 16 games this year, and gets his first NFL interception.
Terrell McClain - Melton looks pretty good, but McClain becomes the star inside on the defensive line. Ties for the team lead in sacks at 9 with Lawrence.
Earning their paychecks (when we were a little worried):
Doug Free - He not only has a very solid year, but emerges as a leader on the O line. Although you can't count him as a breakout, he will be very much worth considering for another two or three year deal
George Selvie - He gets five sacks and basically maintains his performance level from last year. No great strides, but not the drop off several predicted for him.
Bruce Carter - Continues to struggle at times. May not be with the team next season.
B.W. Webb - The light never quite goes on for him and he doesn't make it out of training camp.
Jeremy Mincey - Nagging injuries keep him from working out the way the team hoped.
Those are my predictions. Nothing too crazy, but probably on the optimistic side. What do you see for the season?