I admit it; I borrowed "Six Degrees" for the title and this article will have absolutely nothing to do with connecting people to others by virtue of who they know. I have a list of six things, and I used the Chicken McNugget bit during the season. Sue me.
I like to fancy myself as an even-keeled Cowboys writer. While I cheer and rant with unbridled passion during the game, I like to think of myself as someone capable of returning to neutral ground before I start analyzing things. Writing the post-game summaries over the last two seasons soon after live tweeting during the contests (shameless plug, go follow me) means I have to return to neutral quicker than before. However, during the off season... all bets are off!
Tis the season for unbridled optimism!
I have no problem stating that I think this is a playoff caliber team capable of competing with any rival in the league, right now, as constituted. Is it perfect? No. Would they be capable of stringing together three victories in a row against upper echelon teams? Not sure. But I like them, I like them a lot.
Calm down my Koolaid gulping brethren, this isn't that article. I'm saving that one for training camp. This is the "things could be great as long as these things don't happen" article. This is the "stuff I'm afraid of" article.
I've often stated that I don't see the point of fans living on the negative side of the tracks about things that are unknown and uncontrollable. Fandom is about enjoying your team and that seems rather difficult if every move that is made is greeted with a side eye.
Funny thing is, I've seen some of our more unconvinced BTB loyalists show an uncanny measure of hope for 2013. Heck, Mensa is on Twitter predicting a 12-4 season... let that sink in. Yet still, I feel the need to lay out my points of concern. So, here goes.
I have no concerns over Tony Romo. My concern is what's behind him.. and what's in front of him. Will the line be good enough that he never gets hit? Doubtful. Is Kyle Orton good enough to run things if Romo misses time? I'm afraid, very afraid.
I'd like to have a more capable arm in Oxnard than what the reports over OTA and minicamp. Even more? I'd like to have a more capable arm than Orton if something were to happen in the regular season. Granted, I've never been much of an 'Orton in Dallas' supporter, but I'd really hate to have reason to pull out the 'I told you so' elixir this year.
Yes, I'm on board with freeing up Garrett to be a walk around coach. I'm on board with the O-Coordinator being in the booth to have an All-22 view. But what happens if Callahan isn't good at it? For my money, I love Garrett's offense and don't think he was any worse at callings plays than whomever is responsible on many other teams. Not the best, but not putrid.
I guess Callahan only has to be as good as Garrett for this to be an improvement for the offense as a whole. It's not as if play calling offensive coordinators haven't been stripped of the responsibility before. See: Payton, Sean.
I was one of the vocal opponents trying to convince anyone that would listen that Dallas should not spend a first-round pick on a defensive lineman. I never thought that they wouldn't address the position at all during the offseason.
I love our starting four. In fact, I think Ware, Ratliff, Hatcher and Spencer already rates as one of the league's best foursome. Yes, I believe that having rush players rush all the time will make a difference in the pressure output of the group as compared to their days in the 3-4. Anthony Spencer rushed the QB 299 times in 2012. Some DEs rushed over 600 times, with the average at 500. But the depth along the line is already missing three players that the team wanted to include in their rotation. Brian Price, Rob Callaway; both gone. Anthony Hargrove didn't work out.
In addition, how much can we trust the performance of OTAs in singing the praises of Ben Bass and Kyle Wilber? I mean, I love Bryan Broaddus on a lot of subjects, but he's pretty dismissive of the fact that these guys are looking good against the Cowboys line. They were in shorts, both sides can't look promising. They can either both look inconsistent, or one can look good and the other be a concern.
I guess you have to choose which side you believe in more, but for me I'm worried about the depth along the line behind a group of players that will need to be spelled during the season.
Three out of the four top Cowboys safeties have started three games between them. Ever. Before last year's 400+, the fourth hadn't even totaled 400 defensive snaps in the previous four years. I know we all want to look at the potential of Barry Church, Matt Johnson and JJ Wilcox... but what if it's not ready by the regular season? There's a very real chance that's the case.
Wilcox has the best draft pedigree of all the safeties on the roster. He's played the position for one season, ever. I love the reports about his instincts at the position, but let's not pretend that this is a sure thing that Dallas has finally found the remedy to the safety problem. I like what they've thrown at it, but this has just as much chance as ending badly as it does in working out for the best.
We've all heard the multiple reports about how easy it has been for the Cowboys defenders to learn Monte Kiffin's defense. We all know that the majority of the defenders played a 4-3 in college. However, aren't we all just making an assumption that these things mean assimilation won't take some time? I think it's a pretty fair point to consider not everything is going to go smoothly, that not every player is going to be "assignment sound". Somewhat with the starters, but with backups, even less so.
The same way we talk about offensive lines not gelling until mid-season because of injury-ravaged camps, couldn't the same be a concern about a defense that is entirely different than the one these players have spent their entire professional careers in?
Oh, and you might as well throw in the fact that despite how much we poo-poo it, there is a real chance, no matter how minute, that the age of Monte Kiffin and his failure at the college level (including time away from the pro game) can't be explained away by saying that college guys just couldn't "get" his stuff. After all, it is easier to learn, right?
Here's my best case hope for the offensive line to start of the 2013 season. One first rounder playing a position for just the second season ever, including college. One first rounder playing out of position from where he was drafted. A fourth round pick raising his level of play after two extremely disappointing seasons. A fourth-year UDFA who showed flashes during the end of 2011 but has plenty of doubters and bad film to validate them. A second-year UDFA who didn't even look like he belonged on an NFL roster in 2012.
My hope for the 2013 starting lineup? LT Tyron smith LG Ron Leary C Phil Costa RG Travis Frederick RT Doug Free.
Do I really need to get into the nitty gritty about what could possibly go wrong here?
I know that as BTB has grown over the years, many of our readers love the environment because we don't dwell on negative storylines or make mountains out of molehills like other Cowboys outlets. What I hope is that folks understand the difference between pointing out potential pitfalls and focusing on sports versions of fear and hate-mongering.
Now, don't get things twisted. There are counter arguments to each of the above six caution points. Hell, I am prepared to make them myself. Back in my first front page article in December 2010, I alluded to me often taking both sides of the argument; this is one of those times.
That, however, doesn't mean that these aren't legitimate concerns for the 2013 Dallas Cowboys. These are all things that we simply will have to wait to see how things progress over the course of camp and into the regular season. Of course, health will play a major role in the teams ability to perform up to expectations, wherever they may lie for each individual watching the team.
So what do you think, BTB? What are your impressions of the six concerns above? Have any concerns of your own to add to the list?