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Good To Great: Which Cowboys Players Will Take The Next Step In 2015?

The Cowboys enter the new season with big expectations. As the team looks to take the next step towards something special, they will be relying on better performances from many of their players. What players will come through and make a bigger impact in 2015?

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With training camp underway, it is finally time to start getting a sense of whether expectations will come to fruition. The new toys will be on display. Some familiar faces will take on expanded roles. And the great veteran stars will continue shining. It's just a frenzy of elation with the jitteriness of a five-hour energy drink, only this drink lasts until February.

This year has a different feel. Last season, the Cowboys demonstrated that they are a good football team, belonging in mix of the top teams in the league. But it's time to be even better and there are a few areas that need to be cleaned up a bit to make that happen. While Jason Garrett expects everyone to get better, there are a few candidates where some meaningful strides could ascend this team to greatness in 2015.

Ron Leary

They say it all starts up front, so let's begin there. This team has built a strong foundation. Things may wobble on any given Sunday, but the groundwork will not allow this team to slide out of contention. The support systems are strong and plentiful and they can withstand disturbance. Whatever troubles fall upon this year's Cowboys, they will be met with a strong substratum of quality football that has been laid into place since the arrival of Jason Garrett. And there is no better evidence of the layers of excellence than the make-up of this offensive line.

Ron Leary has been touted as the weakest link on the line. Fair enough. After all, he's the only starter that wasn't drafted. He had his struggles early. And the line is just so full of excellence that someone has to be lagging at the bottom. But don't let that be misleading. Leary can play. He graded out as the fifth-best run blocking guard in the entire league last season by PFF. He's a run blocking stud.

(Chart from PFF subscription service.)

And he's still developing. Leary is only 26 and has only played two full seasons in the league. He sat out 2012 as he was still recovering from an injured left knee that caused him to go undrafted. But once he got healthy, he's been a reliable piece to this offensive line, starting in all but one of the games over the last two seasons.

The new addition of La'el Collins has made fans excited. I mean, who wouldn't be? Collins is a blue-chip draft prospect that has great potential. But Leary has developed into something strong on this line and the group has put together some nice chemistry. Last month, DallasCowboys.com noted that the Cowboys ran the ball 139 times in the direction of Tyron Smith and Leary, averaging almost five yards per carry.

"Me and T, we communicate real good, over the last two or three years of being with each other. We've got that down," Leary said. "Now it's just like little techniques, different things and trying to do things better - keep trying to do things better."

He is essentially entering his third season and an improved Leary could boost this group into an even stronger unit. Many say that DeMarco Murray had it good last year running behind that great Dallas offensive line, but Joseph Randle may have it even better because the 2015 version is going to be even stronger.

Orlando Scandrick

When you think about the Cowboys cornerback situation this season, there is a good list of players that fans have higher expectations for in 2015. For starters, just the addition of rookie Byron Jones strengthens the group. The mental maturation of what this kid has already shown puts him in a great position to contribute immediately. Then, there are players like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne who have struggled since joining the team in 2012. It seems like the same song and dance fans hear every year, "this will be his break-out season" but the notion of that happening now is just an afterthought. But...the opportunity is there to show some improvement. Not big improvement, but improvement nonetheless. With a stronger pass rush and better supporting cast in the secondary, better tools are in place for individual players to take a step forward.

And that brings me to Scandrick. If the defensive backs are able to show a rise in ability on the field, this could propel Orlando into something great. In past seasons, Scandrick has shown he is strong in coverage so quarterbacks have just looked for the better space that is often found in other parts of the secondary. What if some of that space closes up? What if QBs don't have the time to make those progressions? The answer is - Scandrick could get tested more.

The enhancement in defense may not be monumental, but it will be there. And with fewer holes, players like Scandrick will be given more opportunity to make plays.

Tyrone Crawford

Last season was Crawford's first year as a starter and he delivered. He was eighth in PFF pass rushing grades for defensive tackles, finishing right behind Ndamukong Suh. Despite playing in only 51% of the DT snaps, he made a strong contribution. He was the anchor of this defensive line. But as the 2015 season approaches, Crawford will have some help in the trenches. Greg Hardy will occupy a lot of attention. Second-year player DeMarcus Lawrence will be looking to make a bigger splash. And even rookie Randy Gregory could get opportunities to be disruptive.

This revitalized defensive line will create a lot more one-on-one matchups for the Cowboys pass rushers and this could mean big things for a player as skillful as Crawford. He may be inexperienced, but he still shows a lot of attributes of a seasoned veteran. He's one of those guys to works diligently to make himself better and his performance is used by Marinelli as an example for others about how to play. With Crawford being this good, this early - it's going to mean great things for him as he develops further.

Great things are expected from this team this season. For that to happen, it's going to mean some players are going to have to expand on what they have already built and prove they are capable of being even better.

What players do you think will take their game to the next level in 2015?

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