It is the season of unbridled optimism. Well, it is for me. And I am always looking for things that will feed my growing hope for the Dallas Cowboys to have great success in 2012. I am, after all, the keeper of the Kool Aid around here.
The great thing is that it is not much of a stretch to find good signs for the team. The roster looks to be getting younger and more talented, there is a real sense that Jason Garrett's Cowboy Way is gaining traction, and even the most cynical of the beat writers that hang around Valley Ranch seem to be getting a positive vibe from the team.
This is the first week that the rookies will be working side by side with the veterans in strength and conditioning sessions and learning the playbook.
Rookies are back at Valley Ranch to take part in the offseason conditioning program with the veterans. On Tuesday and Thursday, the Cowboys will continue their on-field teaching sessions with the coaches. Safety Matt Johnson, a fourth-round pick, is not allowed to attend until Eastern Washington is out of school.
It's very exciting to see the new faces, both the rookies and the free agent signees, all working together. But it is also very good to see some old faces back and healthy after some problems last year.
OCC has already done his typically excellent job of looking at the numbers from last season, which you can link to in the Related article above. I happened to notice several articles today about players who are coming back from injury, and it was just one more thing to get me worked up about the coming season. So I thought it would be a good time to look at all the players coming back and what they may mean for the team.
Take the jump to read more - but don't hurt yourself.
The biggest name is DeMarco Murray, who saw his breakout rookie season cut short by a broken leg. In a call to ESPN's Sportscenter, he said about the leg, simply, "It's great." He sounds pumped up about the coming season. He also talks a bit about Tony Romo and his often disparaged leadership.
A little later he throws in a remark about how the players are competing with each other in the workouts. They can't actually go against each other on the field, but it sounds like they are already trying to see who can make the biggest strides in the offseason. Not a bad sign at all.
There is no doubt that a healthy Murray will greatly increase the chances for the team to have success. The ability to run the ball and control the tempo of the game is integral to Jason Garrett's offensive scheme. That ability took a triple whammy with Phillip Tanner also going down late in the year, and Felix Jones missing four games himself. OCC's argument that the Cowboys should regress to the mean and not have as many injury issues is one I certainly want to cling to. It will certainly help to have all three of the running backs ready to go. With only UDFA possibilities available as alternatives, the team needs to get these three back. When they were healthy, they were a very good trio of runners.
It is not just the players that lost games last year that hurt the Cowboys. There were players who never had a chance to compete due to injuries that happened before the season started. Raymond Radway is the most well known, with his three-seconds-to-go disaster in preseason, but he was not alone. Teddy Williams, who got a look at wide receiver last year before an ill-fated collision with coach Jimmy Robinson, is trying to come back, this time as a cornerback.
He said it made him a better pro. Being around Cowboys veterans like Bradie James, Keith Brooking and Terence Newman taught him much about staying focused in the NFL, where he is trying to make it after being a sprinter in college.
"I might have dealt with so much physically, but it didn't hurt me a lot mentally," he said last weekend at the Cowboys' rookie minicamp. "It taught me a lot. It helped me grow up. I got a lot of advice from the older guys who have been through the fire and been through those injury-prone years."
OK. Maybe he could have picked a better set of mentors. But it does look like he his coming in with a good attitude and will at least push some of the other players in the mix at corner.
Teddy is one of the longer shots this year. Another player coming back, safety Barry Church, seems to be much more likely to come in and contribute. He had a shoulder injury last year and missed a couple of games, but is one of the players who looks to benefit from the full pre-season.
"I thought I was always going to have limited range of motion, so I was frustrated watching everybody else out there," he said last week at the Cowboys' sponsor appreciation golf tournament. "I got back in the weight room, the training staff got me right. Now I'm ready to go. Having that full range of motion is key, especially at the safety position."
The secondary was another unit that was particularly beat up last year (although it is hard to point to a unit that wasn't banged up to some degree). Last year's best cornerback, Mike Jenkins, was playing hurt for much of the season, and it showed. He deserves a lot of credit for playing through the injuries, but if the overall health of the team can improve, maybe players will not be forced to go back on the field when they need more time to really recover.
In a way, this circles back to the argument of how badly the lack of an offseason affected the Cowboys. A high number of injuries is one of the results you can see from inadequate conditioning and training, and as Daryl Johnston observed in a recent interview, there were a lot of injuries in 2011 that may have been at least partly attributable to the lack of an offseason. Hopefully a full program with Mike Woicik and the expected regression to the mean will combine to help keep the team in better shape and lead to fewer missed games. There will, of course, be injuries. Last year, the problem was compounded because there was precious little depth at far too many positions. For the upcoming season, we can at least entertain some reasonable hope that there will be more capable backups for the starters, so when the inevitable happens, the next man can step up. And not limp up, like Jenkins, Tony Romo and others did.
Which is why it feels good to see so many of the hurt players coming back. Some of them are starters like Murray and Jay Ratliff and Miles Austin, some will be contending for starting jobs like Church and Bill Nagy, and others are just looking to be solid backups, like Williams. Even if some only serve to increase the competition for slots on the roster, that will be a contribution to the final product. Hopefully, the team will roll into the first game in New Jersey with everyone healthy. And then stay largely that way.