For a team that many had written off prior to the start of training camp, and that most had declared dead by the time they stumbled to a 0-4 preseason record, the Dallas Cowboys have experienced considerable success. They sit at 10-4 with two games remaining to be played and that is a far cry from the six wins that some felt that they would struggle to reach. There are plenty of reasons for the team's success, but a few stand out above their peers and deserve mention for the post season honors that are awarded annually. Let's look at a few.
Rookie Of The Year
Zack Martin - Martin has started all 14 games for the Cowboys, as a first-round draft pick should, but his contributions go much further than just turning in a starter-quality effort each week. The former two-time Notre Dame captain has earned the respect of his peers and has been recognized for his solid technique on the field. That technique has earned Zack a slot on this season's USA Football All-Fundamentals team where he joins players with names like Peyton Manning and Matt Forte. It is not just one group that is recognizing Martin's efforts either. The group that really drives the success of the National Football League, the fans, have recognized the efforts of the Dallas guard as well. Martin is currently third in the Pro Bowl vote.
The rookie award traditionally does not go to an offensive lineman, but if voters suddenly realize just how much Martin has done to finalize the Dallas offensive line rebuild, and how much impact that has had on the Cowboys success, then this should be the year.
Comeback Player Of The Year
Rolando McClain - Life was a mess for McClain both on and off the football field. On the field he was mired in a no-win situation with the Oakland Raiders where head coaches and football philosophy both changed quicker than the weather. Away from the game was not any better for the former #8 overall draft selection. Marital difficulties and legal issues plagued the former Alabama star. A move to the Baltimore Ravens seemed to provide a new lease on life, but that was short-lived. Rolando McClain was soon arrested for the third time in less than a year and a half. He retired from football to get his life straight. When the Cowboys lost Sean Lee for the season, the team was able to coax McClain out of retirement, and he has responded like the player the Raiders thought they drafted. Through 12 games played, he has accounted for 77 tackles, a pair of interceptions, as well as a sack and a forced fumble. He has become the intimidation factor on a defense that needed just such a force. He has also emerged as a leader among the players. Rolando makes sure that he holds both himself and his teammates accountable for their actions. McClain has finally found his niche in Dallas.
DeMarco Murray - There is little doubt that Murray will get serious consideration. Through 14 games he has rushed 351 times for 1,687 yards and 11 scores. Murray has also contributed 54 receptions in the passing game. Behind his efforts, along with those of his offensive lineman, the Dallas Cowboys have transformed themselves from an aerial circus where Tony Romo's right arm was the primary weapon into a physical, ball-pounding force that punishes opposing defenses at every opportunity. He leads the NFL in rushing and has an outside shot, even with an injured hand, to turn in a magical 2,000 yard season. By riding Murray's efforts the Cowboys have been able to control the clock and limit the exposure of a suspect defense. His impact on the team is measured far beyond yards gained and touchdowns scored; DeMarco Murray's efforts have contributed mightily to the only statistic that gets a team into the playoffs: games won.
Tony Romo - Murray is not the only player who should be discussed for the league MVP honor. His quarterback should be somewhere in the mix as well. With the running game now dominating the Dallas offensive philosophy, Romo has not put up the gaudy numbers that fans are used to seeing. He only has one game with over 300 yards passing this season, but for the first time, Romo has not had to reach that level of yards week in and week out. His role is now to lead the offense and make the magic happen when necessary rather than on every snap of the ball. He is closing in on his highest touchdown total since the 2007 season and possibly a career low for interceptions. Did I mention his completion percentage and quarterback rating are higher now than they have ever been? If that is not enough to earn him a place in the discussion, consider this:
Real talk... Dallas is 10-0 when Romo is healthy. Run tell dat.— CowboysHQ Drummond (@KDP10for10) December 15, 2014
Tell me again about Romo...
Coach Of The Year
Jason Garrett - His team was winless in the preseason, and was predicted to be what Washington is: the doormat of the NFC East. This was supposed to be the year that Jerry Jones finally figured out that his boy was not an NFL head coach. The Cowboys were going to be lucky if they won six games this season. Stop me if you have heard these doom and gloom projections, okay? Well, through week 15 of the NFL season, Jason Garrett has the Dallas Cowboys sitting at 10-4 and in first place in the NFC East. The team still has a chance to secure the top seed in the conference. How's that for making something special out of nothing at all? It seems that this process that we have been hearing about over the past few seasons has finally started to bear fruit.
With each win, Garrett is proving that Jerry Jones made the right choice years ago when he first tapped the red-headed backup quarterback as someone to keep his eye on. Garrett's team has embraced his "one day at a time, give every thing you've got on every snap of the ball" philosophy and it is stating to pay off for the Cowboys. Jason has made tremendous strides this season as a coach and there is much more to come, but for now it serves our purposes to say that he and his staff have done one helluva good coaching job this season. A deep run into the playoffs will just add icing on the cake.
Assistant Coach Of The Year
Rod Marinelli - Coach Rod has done more with less than most people could accomplish with the talent needed to excel. As the Cowboys defensive coordinator, Marinelli has worked wonders with a group that was referred to as historically bad last season. Almost from the start he was hampered by the football gods as team leader Sean Lee was lost for the season at the beginning of OTAs. Coach Marinelli remained undaunted by the task at hand. He has brought a "It's a man's game" and "It takes a hard man" approach to the Dallas defense. Although his charges may not have the talent level of some other squads, coach's approach has given the defense what it has needed to survive the test this season. As much as I credit Garrett with doing an outstanding job, I credit Marinelli even more. He has been more than equal to the task before him this season, and I look forward to seeing him with a influx of talent in the future.
Scott Linehan - Unlike Marinelli, Linehan has been blessed with an abundance of talent. His challenge has been to transform the offense from the Air-Garrett philosophy of the past into something that reminds us of what the team was capable of with Emmitt Smith. Coming from a similar pass happy background as Garrett, many were concerned that Linehan was bringing in more of the same thing. That has not proven to be the case. Linehan's game plans have taken advantage of the tools that he has at his disposal and the results are speaking for themselves. A new day has dawned for the Cowboys offense, and the lion's share of credit for that belongs to the former Lions offensive coordinator.
Granted, most of the awards, perhaps all, will go to men from other teams. Realistically, the only one that I can see possibly coming home to the Metroplex is the MVP award for DeMarco Murray and his amazing season. That does not mean that they others mentioned were not as worthy, it just means that there were other candidates who out performed them or that they were overshadowed by more glamorous positions.
Each of these men has turned in a performance worthy of recognition.