The Dallas Cowboys now have three OTA sessions in the books. And nothing really significant has happened. That's a good thing, since last year started with bad news, but that has been happening to other NFL teams so far (knocks on wood, throws salt over his shoulder, wards off the evil eye). At this time of year, almost all NFL teams, or at least their fanbases, are optimistic about the developments of the offseason. A quarterback goes 10 of 13 in 7-on-7 drills, and people are engraving his Superbowl MVP trophy. The coaches know better, and the best take on the whole situation may come from Dallas' own Rod Marinelli.
"This is so early right now and we're in our underwear," he said. "We're rushing the air pretty good. So I feel pretty good about that part. But when you get in pads, that's when it counts.
"I see the movement and everything, and I like that. But, the air? It's struggling against us."
As a result, you don't get a lot of knowledge from the OTAs or even the minicamp. It's more of a feeling, a sense of how things may be leaning. After going through the coverage of what was seen and heard this week, these are the things I think are going on for the Cowboys.
Having healthy leaders helps. Tony Romo is in better shape to start the OTAs than he has been in years. Sean Lee is back after almost exactly a year recovering from injury suffered at the opening of last year's OTAs. And they make a difference. Not only do they perform at a high level, they seem to elevate the whole team just by being out there. Even the coaches seem to get a mental boost from the two.
The Cowboys are serious about trying to replace DeMarco Murray with what they already have on the roster. I think even the most doubtful were beginning to see that this was the way it was going, but the way things went in the practices, it looks like they may be able to pull it off. All of the veterans seemed to have some very good snaps. Joseph Randle probably has an edge over Darren McFadden as the starter at this point, but after what he said in an interview with Babe Laufenberg, Ryan Williams may become the fan favorite.
"You know what, any time my agent called me, I said ‘no.' I told him to decline every team, regardless of what was going on. I didn't care who called, where they're from, what they was offering; I wanted to be right here. Because you know what, it's bigger than that. Not many times you can go into an organization and you can fall in love with the coaches, you can fall in love with the system, you can fall in love with the trainers. Everything about this organization made me want to be here. I don't want to go anywhere else where I'm not happy. I don't want to go anywhere else where I don't like the coach. I don't want to go anywhere else where I feel like something is being said about me which shouldn't be said about me, because it's not right. I want to be right here."
The defensive line may be on track to become as good as the offensive line. Greg Hardy is just a beast and will pay immediate dividends when his suspension is over. Randy Gregory has already gotten good reviews from Tyron Smith. DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford look good. And (be still our beating hearts) Ben Gardner also caught the eyes of some of the media. It is starting to look like the rushmen are going to be very good and two deep at all positions.
The first pick is the real deal. While the running back situation and the controversy surrounding Hardy and Gregory have been keeping the spotlight off the first overall selection by Dallas, Byron Jones has at times been scintillating. He carries receivers all over the field and has shown hands that are wide receiver quality. Everyone is talking about what steals Gregory and UDFA La'el Collins were, but Jones is shaping up to be just as much a major triumph for Will McClay and company.
There may just be one real area with big question marks. The secondary, particularly safety, looks like the only place where there is a lack of quality depth. Everywhere else, there are good returning players and new additions that appear at this early stage to offer plenty of good answers. In today's salary cap environment, that is not only an acceptable situation - that is downright outstanding. Yes, there is some prejudice here, but this Cowboys roster looks to be one of the deepest across the board in the league. The cuts to get to the 53-man roster are going to put some very good football players on the street, and there are going to be several players currently with Dallas that are going to get their chance in another NFL city.
The confidence is palpable. Last season, the team heard nothing but how bad they were going to be. They proved all the naysayers were not just wrong, they were downright foolish. That chip has not disappeared from their shoulders. The team still has something to prove. This year, the players all believe in their ability to do just that. Almost all NFL teams feel good about themselves right now, but in Dallas, the foundation for that belief is definitely more solid than all but a very small handful of teams. And at this point, only the dreaded "I" word looks like it could derail things (say a prayer, sacrifice a goat, do nothing to irritate the football gods).
It is a long haul to the opening game of the regular season, but so far all is going well. The only thing the team has really beaten is that poor, overmatched air. But no other team has done any more. This year, optimism is the reasonable stance to take for Dallas fans. And Kool Aid is the drink of the day.