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Dallas Cowboys Offseason 2016: If The Cowboys Are To Be Successful, Who Has To Step Up?

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Which Cowboys' players have to step up in 2016 to make sure another disaster doesn't take place?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a long offseason for everyone given that it realistically began on Thanksgiving after the Cowboys' went winless without Tony Romo and then tragedy struck again when he played on Turkey Day. We all know that Tony Romo is the pulse of this team and when you lose him and your All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant, things are going awry, to say the least. There has been a lot of things the organization has said to its fans over this offseason. They've committed even further to their offensive philosophy in drafting Ezekiel Elliott. They've let us know that they will not overpay for free agents and will not tolerate volatile behavior that disrupts the locker room. They've essentially done everything possible to convince us that last year was an anomaly that should be thrown into the waste basket.

Still, with all that has been or has not been done, the answers won't come for another few months. We know how important it is for guys like Romo, Elliott, and Bryant to start hot, heck, you may as well lump the majority of the offensive players in there. However, we ask, who are players that just have to step up and make an impact. It can be any player on the team that you feel if that guy plays well enough, this team will be in great shape. Who does this team need most and what must they do? I'll start with a few examples and leave the rest to you in the comment section.

Sean Lee, WLB

The other day my colleague, Danny Phantom, talked about how Sean Lee could take the defense to the next level. He couldn't be any more correct in that assessment. Lee was robbed of the 2014 season and when you see how selfless this guy truly is for the betterment of the team, it makes you want to root for this guy even harder than you have before. He has become a nice fit at weakside linebacker and 2015 saw him make his very first Pro Bowl, his response:

"No. I mean you want to win," Lee said. "I’d like to play 16 games and for us to get on a roll and really have a shot in the playoffs and be competing for a championship. Last year, going into the year, we thought that was the position we were going to be in. Unfortunately, we weren’t. How we respond from that…. We know we have the guys. We know we can be in that position, but we have to battle adversity and get back on track."

When the Cowboys first made their switch to the 4-3 scheme, a lot of discussions were had about which positions would be catalysts for the success of the team. I don't know if there is a more important position other than 3-technique as the Will. Lee played in 14 games last season and was outstanding. Now, he has to take another step as the leader of the defense. When Marinelli's scheme is at its best is when everything is being filtered through to the best players and usually that means Sean Lee will be directly involved. Lee has 12 career interceptions, this defense can be really good if the linebackers are making plays on the ball. I mean, Bruce Carter had five picks in 2014, it can be done.

Randy Gregory, RDE

So we've heard rumblings of how special he has looked in practice. That matters very little because in the backs of all our minds is the reality that he's gone for a quarter of the season. It's great that he's getting reps in shirts and shorts, that he's showing speed off the ball, and delighting some of the media members. Truth is, he's got a long way to go to regain favor in the eyes of his supporters. We know that he's a special pass rushing talent, it's the reason the Cowboys were so willing to pounce at pick 60 after most teams passed twice on him. I'm not concerned with anything else but how he performs on the field. So he lit up a few guys in preseason work last year, who gives a rip? Marinelli has a plan:
"I’m training him like it’s his opening season. I’m going to grind on him, he needs the work to get better. He’s getting a lot of looks and he’ll continue to get that"
All of the ill-feelings will subside if Randy Gregory proves to be anything special on the field this season. All that talent will not help him if he doesn't get it between the ears. It reminds me of the line that Al Pacino told George Clooney in Oceans 13. "You're half-smart Danny Ocean, why don't you get full-smart?" The Cowboys have put their trust in Gregory to learn from his transgressions, he must show them a return on their investment. If Gregory can show the speed and push off the edge, that's going to be the only success anyone cares about. The success that will surely lead to the Cowboys feeling a lot better about their future on defense.

La'el Collins, LG

Anytime you make the highlight reel as an offensive lineman, it's safe to say that you have done your job. Collins was a very good player in his rookie year but he also had some technique issues at times that got him into trouble in passing situations. It's nothing that he can't fix, it is just part of the rookie learning curve. Collins is a vital young piece to the offensive line and could be an All-Pro like his counterpart Zack Martin. He admits that he has plenty of room to grow:
"A bunch of them," he said. "When I look at it, I look at maybe a play on second down where I could have held my blocks longer and made it better for us in the third-down situation, things like that that can help the team win. Those small things, things like that I’m going to be really focusing on that I don’t make those mistakes next year."
The Cowboys like to run from both sides of the line but have really liked what they have gotten out of the left side. Even when Ronald Leary was the starter, they had a lot of success running to the side of their most athletic tackle. Most of the Cowboys' offensive linemen have shown to be excellent road graders, but Doug Free isn't the young man he once was. It's important for Collins to keep progressing and making dynamic blocks like we saw in 2015. He said himself that he wants to "help the Cowboys' offensive line become the best in history." Those are strong words, he must deliver even more in 2016.

With that said, who are some Cowboys' players that you believe have to step into a role as a catalyst for the success of 2016?