Coming off a 12-4 season and having won a playoff game maybe pleased some of those that didn't see it coming, but for this team, their goals are much higher. In the NFL, there is a thin line between being 12-4 and 4-12. It takes a lot to gain the momentum, but it takes so much more to keep it.
No promises are ever given and a year in the NFL is both long and grueling, but to keep coming back for more is even more of an intense task. I keep thinking back to that episode of Talkin' Cowboys where Mickey Spagnola spoke about keeping the mojo going. He said that good teams believe that "special players" allow for them to up the ante if you will.
A "special player" can be multiple things but in this case it's a player that can excite the entire squad. In Mickey's words, it's someone that puts forth such effort and determination that it's infectious to the entire team and pushes them to new heights. The last thing you want is a sort of complacency and blind arrogance sinking in and a rude awakening come gameday. This Cowboys squad is both youthful and peaking at the exact same time, they are within striking distance.
When Spags asked for a special player, I'm not sure he could see what he was bargaining for. The Dallas Cowboys have quite a few special players that are drawing excitement among the coaches and teammates. Let's run down a list of them and what the buzz is around those guys.
Greg Hardy, RDE
There is not a single player that fits the "special" category this offseason more than Hardy due to everything that comes with the one-year rental. At this point, Hardy's style of practice and relentless motor has been catching the eyes of all the current crop of Cowboys. This is the exact thing that Mickey was talking about. Sometimes just having a proven player come in can really vault the entire team. While Hardy tries to deal with his off-the-field issues, his teammates are corralling around him on the field. From Jeremy Mincey making music with him to even the Senator himself, Jason Witten, everyone has been impressed:
"I’ve been really pleased how he’s approached it and how he goes to work and what kind of teammate he’s been," Witten said. "The day he got suspended, the next day he’s in there working out, so I think that’s kind of the mentality he has, what kind of work ethic (he has) and what he’s trying to prove in Dallas."
Hardy's camp has appealed the 10-game suspension that was levied about a month ago, and they will get their hearing in eight days. With all the surrounding controversy issued toward Roger Goodell, as pointed out by Tom Ryle, it could have a very positive effect for Greg Hardy in 2015. The majority of the guys closer to the action see this being in the 2-6 game range in the end. Hardy has a long way to climb but his overall demeanor is exciting for a team that desperately needs a pass rush.
Sean Lee, WLB
Often a forgotten piece of the puzzle due to his injury history, but having Lee come back will be huge for the entire look of this revamped Dallas defense. Nobody can argue the instincts and ability that Lee possesses, folks inside are extremely excited about his return to lineup. The move for Sean Lee to the WILL position is garnering even more excitement. Lee and the rest of the organization believe that he will now be taking less of the wear and tear while giving himself the opportunity to finally stay on the field. The thought that he was playing on a partially-torn ACL since he entered the league was scary. The body will overcompensate for the injured area, making it more likely to suffer other injuries because of it.
This defense will have their captain back and that sends rays of positive energy throughout the locker room. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus can't say enough about Lee's return:
"That’s where you build your defense, your under tackle and then your Will linebacker," Eberflus said. "That’s where we start. Those are the two guys that make the whole thing go. That’s the engine of the defense. We’re excited to have [Lee] there."
"A few years back, before we went to this defense, he played Will linebacker, so we were in a lot of under front and he was playing behind the three-technique and we kind of saw what his capabilities were there," Eberflus said. "So if you marry him to the three-technique, he’s going to be more of a run and hit guy and I think that’s what his instincts and his natural abilities sort of lean that way.
"He’ll be really successful at that position."
Byron Jones, CB
Jones was the talk of the rookie mini-camp where he had an interception and locked down just about every receiver around. We all know that it's rookie mini-camp for crying out loud, but you have to start somewhere. Byron Jones is a freak of nature type athlete that can really help bolster a secondary that needs more fire. Barry Church, spoke to a local radio show about Jones:
"I definitely see him out going up with the receivers for contested balls and bringing them down. He can jump with the best of them. He just seems like he's super athletic and willing to learn. I'm excited for him."
Mass-Live beat writer Kevin Duffy, hoping the Patriots would draft Jones, echoed many of the same sentiments:
"No player at this spot offers his potential; based on combine numbers, he's the best athlete at corner in years and he has the smarts to pick up complicated schemes. He might not be a finished product yet, but Jones has the tools to be a No. 1 corner, and no cornerback available at No. 64 overall will fit that bill."
Though some thought that Jones' selection would spell a possible divorce with Brandon Carr, it seems as though Carr believes otherwise and is just planning on being a Cowboy and helping the young rookie:
"He's a sponge right now," Carr said. "Rookies come in with a clean slate. They come in humble. They come in ready to learn, ready to go out there and compete. That’s all you can ask for. He's a guy that works hard. He does his best each and every day and tries to get better each and every day."
DeMarcus Lawrence, LDE
Though none of us have seen him just yet, but there are reports of Lawrence at anywhere from 265-275 pounds now and looks the part of a 4-3 rush end. Before the additions of Greg Hardy and now Randy Gregory, almost all the pressure was on Lawrence's shoulders. While eyes will still be on 2014's second round selection, Lawrence has got to be a bit relieved that he'll have some help.
The Mothership's own Rob Phillips spoke about the feeling inside Valley Ranch about Lawrence's upcoming campaign:
"Lawrence’s strong finish, coupled with his full offseason strength and conditioning program at Valley Ranch, have the Cowboys excited about his upside in Year 2."
"Lawrence figures right into their plans working at left or right defensive end in a rotation that will include veteran Jeremy Mincey, Gregory, and Hardy when he’s eligible. Lawrence could also move inside to rush from the tackle position in certain sub-packages."
"Right now Lawrence is using the voluntary workouts to strengthen his legs, his power and his explosiveness off the ball. He was solid against the run as a rookie, but a quicker first step will make him more dynamic as a pass rusher."
This locker room seems to be stronger than ever, no wonder folks like La'el Collins and Randy Gregory are excited to be in Dallas. Then the elder statesmen such as Tony Romo and Jason Witten are convinced they can play "another 4-5 years." Anything is possible, the sky is the limit...these are cliches that are being tossed around the ranch right now. However, you can't help but be excited to get the year started when your team has strengthened their weakness but also their strengths. Sometimes a few special players is all it takes to get the ball rolling so to speak. Dallas has done a tremendous job in building their roster for 2015, the hope is that everyone is as excited as they were with their vision.