Going from 2008 to 2009, the Cowboys overhauled their defensive starting lineup. Free agents Keith Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh, and Igor Olshansky took over at their respective positions. Former first-rounders Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, and Bobby Carpenter injected their youth into the lineup and were three of the team's most improved players.
The plan worked. Over the course of the regular season, the unit gave up just 15.6 points per game - good enough for second in the league. Throw out the two meltdowns against the Giants, and the Cowboys lost their three other games with the defense allowing just 17 points to Denver, 17 to Green Bay, and 20 to San Diego. It's hard to blame those three losses on the defense.
What happened to the offense in those three games? Well, Miles Austin had yet to "emerge" in Denver, so Tony Romo and Sam Hurd came up short when trying to tie the game late. In Green Bay, Romo was sacked five times and the fact that the running backs totaled a combined 11 carries had all of BTB in an uproar. At home against San Diego, Jason Garrett stuck with the run at the goalline and we all watched Marion Barber come up short.
The defense played well enough to keep these games within the offense's reach, but the offense just couldn't get over that hump to get those needed points. And in Minnesota, the offense's weaknesses were truly exposed. They moved the ball early, but came up empty in the points department. Next season, they will have to get over that hump.
Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips were extremely aggressive - both in free agency and the draft - on the defensive side of the ball last offseason. In the end of the year press conference, Jones stated that they will again be "aggressive" in finding talented players. Right after that, he began his little spiel on "stacking" and "unstacking" the running back position. Sometimes, it's tough to read between his words; nevertheless, he had offense on the mind.
This offseason, how much change can we expect to see in Dallas' starting offense? Do they need the same kind of overhaul the defense had last year?
If you dissect the offense in an aggressive manner, there certainly are adjustments that can be made to the starting lineup.
First, let's look at the running back position. Felix Jones has proven enough to start in place of Marion Barber. Sure, injuries have been a concern with Felix. Although, the same can be said of Barber. In so many words, Jerry Jones recently expressed his concern about Barber's injury history.
``We have had an injury issue there at the end of each of the last two seasons,'' Jones said. ``That may have something to do with the amount of time we can give the other backs. That could impact that decision.''
Calvin Watkins heard some of the same concerns about Barber.
There's a hot rumor the Cowboys are shopping Barber, but I was told that's not true. But the Cowboys owe Barber a $4 million roster bonus this spring, and he's scheduled to make a base salary of $3.8 million. Jones said money isn't a factor in determining whether Barber will be back in 2010.
"He had various nicks but not as bad at the end as the year before," Jones said. "I like where we are at the running back position. We still got him, and his injury is in the categories of nicks. But he was still able to get in there and help us at the end [of the year]. And we weren’t in that situation the year before, and that’s progress."
Quincyyyyy put up a FanPost for us to list players that the Cowboys have been seen talking to during the Senior Bowl. Yesterday, draftbreakdown.com blogged that they spotted the team speaking with Auburn RB Ben Tate.
Tate (5'11", 218) is a guy who is projected to be a mid-round pick. According to this profile, he seems more in the mold of Barber rather than Felix or Tashard Choice.
Very good size and bulk --- Decisive, powerful, downhill runner --- Has a little wiggle in the hole --- Good receiver out of the backfield --- Tough and durable --- Great program pedigree --- May still have some upside.
Does not have great vision or instincts --- Lacks explosion --- Isn't very shifty or elusive--- Struggles to get outside and turn the corner --- Not a big play threat --- Just an average blocker --- Ball protection issues.
Read into that what you will. This is, of course, all speculation...for now.
The rest of the Dallas backfield could remain the same. Obviously, there would not be any change at starting quarterback for the Cowboys. There could be a change at fullback if the team chooses to play John Phillips more there than Deon Anderson. Should such a change occur, then the Cowboys may need another tight end. And remember, Jerry Jones recently remarked that he would like to see Martellus Bennett get down to business.
"I think focus would be the word," Jones said of Bennett. "He will get a lot more tweets if he's a big-time ballplayer than he will off his creative ability."
Low and behold, the Cowboys were spotted talking to Garrett Graham, a TE from Wisconsin. From his profile, Graham (6-3, 234) looks to be a receiving TE and a potential red zone threat (tied for 5th in school history with 16 career receiving TDs).
Marty B had just 15 receptions on the year while "Cricket" had just one. Neither caught a TD pass.
Thanks to Miles Austin, the offense is set at one WR spot. Expect an open competition for the other one come training camp. If Roy Williams can't improve upon his performance from this season, there will be a new starter at the #2 spot. Patrick Crayton, Kevin Ogletree, and Sam Hurd are the incumbent backups that will compete.
The team recently worked out former Florida WR Chad Jackson and signed CFL WR Titus Ryan from the Calgary Stampeders. He is no lock to make the team, but brings a dynamic presence in the kick return game.
Here is Ryan's CFL profile.
It would be a surprise for the Cowboys to draft a WR with their first pick, but Jerry Jones has expressed wanting to get a more explosive return game. Nick Eatman thinks the Cowboys could use some more juice at PR/KR as well.
If a receiver is sitting there late in the first round, and he's got return skills to boot, why not. Same goes with a safety or cornerback. So you don't necessarily have to go out and draft a player specifically to return kicks. But it could be a great tiebreaker if you've got a War Room debate.
Most mock drafts have the Cowboys selecting an offensive lineman with their top pick. That makes sense considering both the age of the starters and how dominated they were by the Vikings.
In regards to offensive linemen, Idaho G Mike Iupati seems to be the star of the Senior Bowl practices. The DMN made it known that "the Cowboys contingent perked up" when Iupati weighed in. Scott Wright of Draft Countdown has the Cowboys taking Iupati in the first round.
A mountain of a man at 6-6 and 330 pounds, Iupati is a mauler in the run game but also pretty athletic and still has considerable upside. With the ability to play either guard or tackle at the next level Iupati would certainly be able to find a home and provide an upgrade somewhere along the Cowboy’s offensive line.
Safety continues to be a perennial problem in "Big D" so that is a possibility as well and don’t rule out a five-technique defensive end to groom in case they lose Marcus Spears as a free agent a year from now. As a darkhorse don’t completely rule out a wide receiver either.
He interviews Mike Iupati of Idaho here.
Mel Kiper projected the Cowboys will take Maryland OT Bruce Campbell. Here is Mocking Dan's profile on the 6'7", 310-lb. Campbell.
In Bucky Brooks' Mock draft 1.0, he has them selecting Iowa's OT Bryan Bulaga.
Flozell Adams' declining skills make it necessary for Jerry Jones to find a replacement at left tackle.
Matt Mosely thinks that the Cowboys already have their plan for the future set at LT: Doug Free.
The Cowboys will select Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, according to Brooks. He thinks the Cowboys need to find someone to replace left tackle Flozell Adams. But I believe the Cowboys have already identified Doug Free as the player who will replace Adams, perhaps as early as next season.
When looking at the needs of the Cowboys, those on offense look to be priorities. Sure, they can use another defensive back (they were seen speaking with Virginia DB Chris Cook) or defensive lineman. But the defense is arguably the most improved unit on this team. If Jerry Jones is not aggressive with the offense in free agency, he and Tom Ciskowki will be in the draft. If the Cowboys stick with the 27th pick, it could very well be used on offense.
Jones left open the possibility of taking an offensive player in the opening round for only the second time since 1998. Last year's draft will affect the process. The 2009 class was heavy on defense. That included the only two players who spent the season on injured reserve: defensive end Brandon Williams and safety Stephen Hodge. If they return as expected, Jones said, the Cowboys would have a glut on defense.
"That could affect our thinking," Jones said.
In summation, we can suspect that there will be some new faces on the starting offense to open the 2010 season. If the Cowboys aggressively approach the offensive side of the ball this offseason, there is the potential that five new starters will line up on opening day.
Possible new names at RB, FB, WR, OT, and OG could match the number of starters changed over on defense from the '08 to '09 season. Five new starters sounds improbable, but it's not impossible.