This year, the Dallas Cowboys have been relying on a complete team effort to get to their 7-3 record. There have certainly been standouts for the team, including DeMarco Murray, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Rolando McClain, plus some great collective work by both lines. But the real theme for the team has been having everybody step up. That makes this week's GMC Playbook video question from Marshall Faulk a little hard to answer.
(If you have trouble playing the video, here is the transcript: "When you're GMC Professional Grade, you perform at a high level day in and day out, whether you're being noticed or not. As we enter the latter part of the season, who is your team's unsung hero?")
On a team that has seen as much unselfish play as the Cowboys have had, and where one player after another has stepped up to contribute at key times, there are not too many players on the roster who fit the "unsung hero" description.
But I think there is one. A player that has been in on a lot of plays this season (199 snaps), who has quietly gone about doing his job, and who, if you pay attention, has done that job quite well. He is the forgotten tight end of the Cowboys, James Hanna.
Hanna has only been targeted twice this season, and has one reception for seven yards. Even Gavin Escobar overshadows his production as a receiver. But Hanna has 55 more offensive snaps than Escobar. Why would he get more snaps?
Blocking. Over and over, the entire Dallas offense is praised for how well everyone is working to open lanes and clear a path for DeMarco Murray and the other running backs, and Hanna is one of the of the players throwing those blocks. This represents a great improvement in this area for him. He was criticized as a poor blocker in the past, and many thought this might lead to him losing his place on the roster. Instead, he has now become the seventh offensive lineman for the running game (with the inestimable Jason Witten serving as the sixth, of course). Part of the credit must go to Mike Pope, the Cowboys tight end whisperer/soaker in ice water, but mostly this is the result of a player putting in the work and effort to improve a weak area of his game to become an asset for the team.
And it is the ultimate unselfish role. He is not being lavished with praise, as all the offensive linemen are. (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin are all number one in the current Pro Bowl fan vote at their respective positions, while Doug Free is number four among tackles and Ronald Leary is number six among guards). He just lines up when called on, and goes out and gets in front of defensive ends and outside linebackers who are trying as hard as they can to go around or through him. It is the ultimate blue-collar, do-what-has-to-be-done attitude that Jason Garrett has been working so hard to instill in this team. It is the attitude Romo has when he plays with broken transverse processes in his back, or a punctured lung. But it is just as important with Hanna. If he is not willing to do his usually overlooked, under appreciated job, then many times running backs would not get as many yards, or a rusher might disrupt Romo passing. Hanna is not the greatest at his job, but he must be doing well enough in the eyes of the coaching staff to keep using him. And the results speak for themselves.
Hanna is not the only player on the team who is getting very little praise while working his butt off to help the team. But he probably does more with less notice than anyone else on the roster. He is a real unsung hero for the Cowboys.