After the disappointing 4-12 debacle that is the 2015 season, it shouldn’t be that hard to field a team this year that will show improvement. But fans won’t be satisfied with just an improvement. We want bigger and better things. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but are our expectations reasonable? Fans are excited for what this season could bring, and for good reason. If you look up and down this roster, there’s a lot to be cheerful about as the team showcases some new players and welcomes the return of some old ones. The Cowboys have a legitimate shot at something great this season and here are the reasons why:
The Big Three
When the Cowboys lost Dez Bryant for a period of games, it hindered what the offense could do. When they lost Tony Romo, it crushed it completely. After being a top five team in points scored in 2013 and 2014, the Cowboys sunk towards the bottom, finishing 31st with an unpleasant 17.2 points a game.
But that’s over now. Let’s just pretend it was all a bad dream. Instead, focus on the mesmerizing return of the team’s two biggest offensive playmakers. Bryant is seen by some as the team’s most talented player and Romo is clearly the most important. But the Cowboys first-round draft pick could end up being both of those things before too long. Yeah, I’m getting ahead of myself, but Ezekiel Elliott is going to be an explosive addition to this offense and a return to the top five in points is looking very favorable.
Interior Defensive Line
It wasn’t too long ago that the Cowboys had Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher in the middle of the defensive line. Granted, they both weren’t great at the same time. Ratliff was a beast in 2009, but by the time Hatcher came along, Ratliff had gotten hurt, moved to Chicago, and changed his name to Jeremiah. Since these veterans left, the interior line of Cowboys have gone through some growing pains. But in the last few years, they’ve gone from rags to
riches not too shabby at the defensive tackle position. Players like Drake Nevis, Landon Cohen, Frank Kearse, Ken Bishop, and even the super reliable, air-guitar hero, Nick Hayden, are gone. Later gators.
The Cowboys have a great DT in Tyrone Crawford. Some fans don’t see it that way, but he shows up on the tape even though the stats aren’t always there. Last year, he played with an injured shoulder, which limited just how great he could be. With a healthy wing, he should be a force to be reckoned with this season.
The defense also got a boost by the free agent acquisition of Cedric Thornton. While some of the other teams went on a shopping frenzy to pick off the top name defensive free agents, the Cowboys quietly inked a good run stopper. The team also drafted Maliek Collins in the third round, but a recent foot injury will delay his progress. And while Terrell McClain is often pushed aside because of his ability to stay healthy, he plays well when he’s on the field.
When you’re the best around, it’s hard to get better. But the Cowboys will do just that. The progress of La’el Collins will help this unit become even stronger. It’s not limited to just Collins though, as Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick are all 25 and keep getting better with every snap. But Collins growth should be the most substantial and it will just be the icing on the cake for what is already a scrumptious offensive line.
The Cowboys didn’t draft Jalen Ramsey. They didn’t sign Janoris Jenkins. In fact, the team did next to nothing when it comes to adding players to the mix in the secondary. So how can they be seen as an improvement? Well, a big reason is the return of their best defensive back, Orlando Scandrick. Having a player of this caliber back on the field will help lift the secondary.
Another enhancement to this group will come in the form of second-year player Byron Jones as he moves to his permanent home at safety. J.J. Wilcox will slide down to a reserve role and let the kid take over. Jones had the difficult task of having to learn so much as the coaches moved him around between corner and safety. He has the talent to play both and is smart enough to pick things up, but allowing him to settle in a spot where he can excel will help him get more comfortable and make more plays for the defense.
While Morris Claiborne was playing cornerback last season, his contributions will not be anything new. However, his responsibilities will be reduced with Scandrick back in action. Claiborne isn’t a favorite of many fans, but he has some skills and can be a solid contributor for this team, especially if he’s put in more manageable situations. I know it’s a song you’ve all heard before, but get ready for more pre-season Mo hype as he awes observers in camp.
The Cowboys still have a lot of work to do when it comes to figuring out their defensive end situation. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory may come back in game five and provide the team with some solid play. The Cowboys could also catch a break and have one of their many under-the-radar candidate’s step up and surprise people. If the Cowboys edge rushers can just get to the point where they are serviceable, they have enough other things in place to make this a contending team again. True to Jason Garrett form, this team continues to get better.