The 2014 edition of the Dallas Cowboys proved to be much more successful than any pigskin prognosticators had projected. A team that was projected to finish worse than the 8-8 mark that they had posted for each of the three prior seasons fought its way to a 12-4 record, won the NFC East crown, and was within a few points of playing for the conference championship. That fact alone will generate excitement both within the organization and among the Cowboys faithful. The Dallas Cowboys have set the stage for the franchise to return to its rightful place among the elites of professional football.
Beyond the most recent success experienced under the Jason Garrett regime, the is even more reason for those who bleed blue and silver to find themselves giddy for the return of football. The Dallas Cowboys of 2015 appear to have made a series of moves that will put the squad on an even firmer footing for the upcoming season. The team did an excellent job of self-scouting to determine the area that most needed improvement, and then they followed through by taking positive steps to rectify the weaknesses they identified.
1. Improved Pass Rush
To get things started the team realized that the lack of a consistent pass rush was a primary concern. The front office invested significant resources in providing Rod Marinelli with upgrades to the Merry Band of Rushmen. Dallas signed premiere pass-rushing specialist Greg Hardy to serve as a catalyst to jump-start the pressure on opposing passers. He will likely be a stop-gap solution for a single season, and he will be limited by disciplinary action, but Hardy will provide a presence up front for the Dallas defense. He and second-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who finally came into his own as a pass rusher in the playoffs, will greatly contribute to a revitalized Cowboys front seven.
The Dallas front office was not content to stop there. The team cashed in on draft day as well when they invested a second-round pick on another pass rusher Defensive end Randy Gregory fell out of the first round due to concerns about his failed drug test at the NFL Combine. When he was still available the second time the team went on the clock, Dallas took a chance on finding their pass rusher of the future. With Hardy most likely on a one-year rental, Dallas secured help for both the short- and long-term need at defensive end and also put Gregory in a situation where he will not be under as much pressure to deliver while he is learning his craft. The tandem of moves should be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
2. Improved Secondary
The pressing needs of the defensive secondary were nearly as big of a need in Dallas as was the pass rush.The two areas work hand-in-hand to shut down opposing offenses and a good case could be made that secondary may have been an even bigger concern for the team. Both schools of thought have solid cases on which to build their arguments. Dallas was able to address this need as well. The Cowboys pulled the trigger on Byron Jones in the first round of the most recent draft.
The addition of Jones gives Dallas an athletic defensive back who is capable of playing multiple positions in the secondary. His physical skills were on display for all to see at the combine and he also brings a high level of intelligence to the backfield. Byron's flexibility as a player will give Marinelli the ability to mix and match his secondary to attain the best possible matchups throughout the season. His presence on the roster will also allow the front office an opportunity to move on from the calculated risks that were made at cornerback during the Rob Ryan era should either Morris Claiborne or Brandon Carr not be in the team's future plans.
3. Added Offensive Line Depth
The signing of La'el Collins as an undrafted free agent provided the team with an unexpected boon. Like Gregory he was a first-round talent who fell on draft day. Collins went undrafted due to legal concerns that have proven unfounded, and with his acquisition one the the league's strongest offensive lines became even stronger. He will likely move from tackle to guard in the professional ranks, but he also has the flexibility to fir in as the Cowboys right tackle should the need arise. Dallas now has not only a top flight starting five up front, but they have also added depth at a position that was recently an area of grave concern for the team.
The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2015 campaign as a much stronger team than they were twelve months ago. There will still be questions that will have to be answered, but all signs are pointing in a positive direction. Football is still a game that is controlled by the fickle whims of the football gods. Anything can and often does happen on the gridiron, but the team has made positive strides toward improving itself. That should give fans a positive outlook as the team heads to Oxnard in three weeks.
(For those who aren't drinking the Kool Aid, watch for my follow-up article with reasons to worry)