We are feeling rather optimistic here at Blogging The Boys with the return of our old friend Kegbearer and the two new writers Dave introduced earlier. As much as we will all miss the outstanding KD Drummond, things are looking up as we get ready for training camp and the new season for the Dallas Cowboys.
It is traditionally the time for optimism all over the NFL, but I think that fans of the Cowboys have several very real reasons to look forward to this season with anticipation. With activities wrapped up until the team arrives in Oxnard, here are some of the things I feel very good about, based on what I have seen reported the past several weeks.
One thing I noticed was that there was very little negative to report after that first disastrous day. The only player I can recall being singled out as having struggles was B.W. Webb, who is going to face more than one very serious challenger for his roster spot. Admittedly, helmets and shorts is not the optimal test of how well players do, but I really did not see much of anything bad being said by any of the beat writers, many of whom have been notably cynical about such things in the past. I am filing that away as a very good sign that the team has significantly improved the talent situation in several ways.
Of course, the OTAs could not have started much worse than they did with the knee injury to Sean Lee that is going to at least mean he misses most of the season. That was a terrible shame, because I have a belief that the rest of the defense is going to do something a little special this season. No, I am not predicting Doomsday III, but I think this group, under Rod Marinelli, will bring respectability back to the Dallas D.
Two defensive players in particular the team really needs to step up were reported as performing much better than they did last year. Morris Claiborne was, for the first time since he was drafted, fully healthy for the offseason work, and it showed on the field. Just the fact he was able to participate as much as he did could pay huge benefits and will hopefully let us see what the team saw when it spent so much to draft him. Perhaps more importantly, it appears that Marinelli is going to let him and teammate Brandon Carr focus more on press coverage, rather than forcing them into playing a lot of zone, which is not a strength for either.
Bruce Carter also may be out of the funk that he slipped into so often last season, which I initially doubted would happen. With Lee out, he is now the most talented player the team has at linebacker. His issues in 2013 never seemed to have anything to do with his physical skills, and everything to do with his mental composure. If he has truly licked that, then Dallas may be able to weather the loss of the best defensive player they had.
Of smaller impact, but still important, Kyle Wilber seems to be cementing his hold on a starting job. Finally playing in a position that looks to suit him, he can make his draft class look a lot better.
There are also some very promising young players in the secondary that may have a lot to do with Webb's tenuous situation. Sterling Moore, Dashaun Phillips, and Tyler Patmon all got nice reviews, but the one who really turned some heads was Terrance Mitchell. Kept from participating until the last few days because Oregon uses the quarter system, he stepped onto the field and was immediately effective, snagging at least one interception, breaking up passes, and just generally looking not only like he had been there all along, but probably better than a seventh-rounder should.
Of course, nothing matters as much as getting the defensive line into workable shape, and the Cowboys have gone heavy there. As OCC detailed with his look at a provisional depth chart for the defense, the team may be well on its way to having the attack in waves that Marinelli wants. They did not even get to see their biggest free agent signing, Henry Melton, in the practices. The second-round draft pick, DeMarcus Lawrence, looks to be what they hoped he would be, but two other players in particular made me happy. Terrell McClain looks like he was indeed misused in his earlier stops in the league. He showed position flexibility and that relentless motor needed for tackles in the Cowboys' iteration of the 4-3, and may turn out to be a great find for Will McClay and the scouting staff. Meanwhile, Tyrone Crawford played like he was just overjoyed to be healthy and on the field. Filling in for the nicked-up George Selvie, he shows that the Cowboys have some options at defensive end, and like McClain, he is also a player who might be used in more than one position as the season progresses.
The offense had lots of good things happening as well, but almost everyone already believes that it is going to be what carries the team if it is to finally get off that 8-8 plateau and into the playoffs. The line, which was good last year, just looks stronger. Scott Linehan is doing some very good things with what is shaping up to be a talented bunch of receivers, including putting last year's forgotten man Gavin Escobar into the thick of things. But it is the offensive backfield that I want to discuss briefly.
Running back is one of the hardest positions to get a feel for without contact, but the cast is looking very good. DeMarco Murray is, of course, coming off his best pro season and will hopefully put the team in the position of having to figure out what kind of deal they can afford to keep him. Lance Dunbar just needs to stay healthy. And the team may have another real free agent find in Ryan Williams. Plagued by injuries so far in his career, he is another player that may get a chance to emerge. Although a backup, he may turn out to be very valuable, given Murray's history of missing games. I will be watching him with a lot of hope that he is going to continue to show the promise he has so far.
In the NFL there is no position more crucial to the success of the team than quarterback. Dallas had one of the oddest bits of drama at the position as backup Kyle Orton staged an odd and difficult to understand holdout. But once again, the scouting staff may have come through. The team signed Brandon Weeden, a move that in retrospect indicates that they had a pretty good idea that Orton was going to be a problem, and Weeden looks like he is going to take the backup job. Dallas always liked his ability and arm strength, and though many frankly laughed a bit at his signing, he turns out to be a rather crucial pickup.
But the biggest story of all may be that Tony Romo looks healthier than he has been in a couple of seasons. Last year, I do not believe he was ever completely healthy. Perhaps he was close for the first few games, but after the tremendous shootout the team narrowly lost against Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos, he clearly lost some of his power. While the team kept him strictly limited so far int he offseason, he was obviously feeling very good. The story of him switching jerseys to try and sneak into some extra reps, which was quickly sussed out and shut down by Princeton educated Jason Garret, was covered more as a humorous incident than anything. I, on the contrary, think that it is very significant. It shows not just that he feels very good, but that he has the fire in his belly the team needs him to have. If we get the classic Romo back taking snaps, then Dallas may well be playing football into January this year.
I have always been accused of having a Kool Aid drinking problem. Frankly, that is accurate. But this year, there have been a lot of things driving my thirst. We still have a lot to learn about this team, but I am liking what I have picked up so far. All these things, and many others, just have fed my eagerness to see what the Cowboys do this year.
I think it is going to be a lot of fun.