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For The Cowboys, What A Difference A Year Makes

While we are always hopeful about how Dallas will do here, there is a big change in how the rest of the NFL world sees the Cowboys compared to what they thought just twelve months ago.

Lead the cheers, Rowdy!
Lead the cheers, Rowdy!
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Do you realize that there are now just ten days until the Dallas Cowboys kick off training camp in Oxnard? While the Greg Hardy appeal process and the Dez Bryant contract drama were at times painful and anxiety-inducing, they did have the effect of making the days of waiting for football's return go faster (well, at least for some of us). It has been a very eventful and often absolutely wonderful year for Cowboys fans. And this year, the view the larger NFL world has of the Star has been turned on its head.

It was grating at the time, but now we can look back on the predictions of doom for Dallas last year and laugh. With extremely few exceptions, pundits and fans alike were convinced that a fourth 8-8 season for the Cowboys was about the best they could hope for. Six wins was a common projection, and many felt the team would only muster three or four. Now the team is the defending NFC East champion, and most see them as having a very good chance at repeating. While many still see the loss of DeMarco Murray as a problem, there were many other offseason moves that look to improve things for the team. And none of our division rivals are without issues. A freak firework injury and other personnel questions for the Giants, a chaotic and confusing series of moves orchestrated by Chip Kelly for the Eagles, and the guys with no trademark just being themselves all raise questions about whether they have gained or even kept up with Dallas. (Although in all honesty Washington may be the most improved team in the division now that they apparently have some adult supervision in place.)

Although the many memes are not fully vanquished, they have taken serious blows. Last year, Jerry Jones was still seen by many who don't follow the team as intensely as we do as being an impulsive, autocratic general manager who was in over his head. Now he has a nice award as NFL Executive of the Year hanging in his office, and the moves in free agency, the draft, and the recently concluded Dez Deal may give him a real shot at repeating. However, it is probably slim since the position of the team is so much stronger to start this time around. One of the moves so many expected Jones to make in 2014 was to finally show Jason Garrett the door. Now that seat that was seen as one of the hottest in the league every one of the first four years of his tenure is not only cool, but nicely padded and ergonomically fitted to him. The talk that Scott Linehan would run the ball effectively was scoffed at by many. Instead, the team pounded the ball down the throats of most of their opponents, leading to offensive player of the year recognition and a huge payday for the main beneficiary of all those running plays. Rod Marinelli was believed to have an insurmountable task in trying to improve a defense that people absolutely knew would be the worst in the league. He managed to make it respectable and now has a whole bag full of shiny new toys to play with, along with returning players who are expected to contribute greatly.

The offensive line gained recognition as one of the best in the league. Declarations that they are the top unit may be a bit premature, since there are definitely areas to improve. But the unit is young and certainly has plenty of capacity to continue to develop, and they just got better with the steal of La'el Collins after his bizarre and costly incident during the draft. Truly the foundation for everything the Cowboys will do offensively, the offfensive line may be dominant for years to come.

There most important function (and one that you can be sure will be emphasized in camp) is protecting Tony Romo. He is fully healthy heading to Oxnard, which is very different from last year. His still healing back was seen as not just an issue. It was predicted, with attitudes running the gamut from poorly concealed glee to outright glee, as the eventual downfall for him and his team. He stated before the season that he thought his best play was still ahead of him. The guffaws were loud from the doubters, but he went on to confound them by having arguably the best year of his career to date. Now there are not many who will question his ability. Nothing proves that more than the recent NFL East roundtable discussion at ESPN where he was the unanimous choice to be the division MVP. Quite a change from this:

No, I most certainly have not forgotten.

The only lingering question is the running back situation mentioned above. But that is also a question that was present in 2014. At the time, Murray had never played a complete season without injury, and he was seen as almost as fragile as Romo. His record-setting year was one of the most surprising things in the NFL in 2014. There is at least reason to hope that the same coaches, a healthy quarterback, a happy and motivated star receiver, and that line will lead to a running game that, while unlikely to be as dominant, will still be more than serviceable.

So the Cowboys have gone from expected cellar-dweller to being mentioned widely as one of the three top NFC teams, right up there with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. It is all good, right?

Well, not exactly. Personally, I don't like being a front runner. And we should all know that preseason predictions are often horribly off. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am still pounding the blue Kool Aid and have extremely high hopes for the team. I just prefer to be under the radar. It is more fun being the underdog and rising up to maul teams that were expected to have their way with you. There is a bit of a perverse pleasure in tearing up arguments based on misunderstanding of personnel and scheme. And while it is fun being part of the large contingent of fans of America's team, it is also satisfying having haters out there so that they can be vanquished, driven before us, and we can hear the lamentations of their women (or significant others, to be all modern and stuff). Fortunately, there will always be some of those, especially in the environs of Philadelphia. So while things are not perfect (at least in this guy's view), they are still very, very good right now.

Even better, it is almost football season.


Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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