With all the events of this long and grueling offseason and the response we've seen from the Cowboys' organization, it would be remiss to say that I'm confident this team is a contender. Suspensions have a lot to do with it but there are other things in there too that give me trepidation. For one, the blatant disregard to upgrade two key positions at defensive end and backup quarterback really make me nervous for this team. I've been criticized quite a lot for being overly optimistic in this forum but lately, I'll admit, my tone has certainly changed.
As we've gone through two weeks of practices and prepare for the first exhibition game, I can't be more interested in watching a preseason game. There are so many questions about this team that we hope we can at least get some ideas after watching them against someone else. Questions Like:
-Where is the pass rush going to come from?
We continuously hear that the Cowboys are going to let this play out with their younger rushmen but the truth is that guys have yet to even practice. Benson Mayowa (knee), Tyrone Crawford (back), Terrell McClain (toe), Cedric Thornton (sickness), Charles Tapper (back) and Maliek Collins (foot) have all missed time. Collins and Mayowa have yet to do anything that would signify they're close to returning though we hear they might be.
In regards to Mayowa, the Cowboys really like him. They like him so much that they didn't make a true push for any free agents, instead, they decided to make an offer for his rights that Oakland refused to match. However, the old adage goes: "You can't make the club from the tub."
We have seen the secondary playing with a lot more aggression which is certainly a sight for sore eyes but they need a decent pass rush to help them be what they want to be. If the quarterback has enough time, he's going to expose the entire defense. These things go hand in hand.
Jerry Jones is confident that this unit will be better than 2014? Which defense is he talking about in this assessment? Is it the defense that got 31 takeaways and was 2nd in the NFL in turnovers created? He can't certainly be talking about the defense that couldn't sack a one-legged Aaron Rodgers because I would certainly hope they are better than that. The reality is that this Cowboys' pass rush has been struggling for the better part of the last five seasons. Orlando Scandrick is the current Cowboys' career leading sack artist with 9.5 sacks.
For everything we've heard about what it takes to be successful in the Marinelli 4-3 scheme, rule number one has been ignored for far too long.
-Who is going to be the backup quarterback?
I've touched on this topic with regularity and some of my colleagues don't share the same worries as I when it comes to this position. Last night's preseason contests showed that there is a huge gap between the starting quarterbacks in this league and their understudies. That doesn't mean that you can just ride with anyone behind Tony Romo and be just fine.
If Romo goes down, there will be no excuses that will allow this coaching staff to keep their jobs. It's the staff that ultimately falls on the sword but the Jones' will need to accept their own faults in this backup mess. Kellen Moore was not going to be the right option even before he got hurt. Unfortunately for him, he got hurt and will miss the season. We get it, he's a smart player, Scott Linehan. However, just because you're smart doesn't make you good at football.
The Cowboy have Dak Prescott and Jameill Showers getting all the reps but neither of them has ever played a down in a real NFL game. Dallas needs a backup quarterback with some experience that can help the team if needed because they can't just cross that bridge when it comes, again. There is just way too much leaving things to chance that is really starting to bother me about this front office.
-How will this team recoup the losses of Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Rolando McClain?
DeMarcus Lawrence has been by far the best pass rusher out in practice and has even had some 50/50 battles with Tyron Smith. That's too bad that whatever momentum he's built will likely be lost as he serves out a four-game ban. It's hard for me to sit and start salivating over a pass rusher that is going to miss a quarter of the season. There's in-shape and then there's in football shape.
Randy Gregory is just a sad tale and the hope is that one of the many young guys will be able to provide a pass rush that will make you forget about him. The problem is that not a lot of players just have his type of ability to rush the passer. Nate Newton has repeatedly spoken about how Gregory was clearly a sight to see early in OTA's. It's just a pure shame that he's not smart.
Whatever you want to say about Rolando McClain, how much they paid for him or whatever. You must understand that this team is at a loss without him. Trust when I say that this team was counting on him and Sean Lee to pick up where they left off this season. He was going to be the starting middle linebacker, it doesn't really matter that they weren't paying him much, they have now lost his efforts on Sunday. That's huge. How is this team going to stop the run and is Anthony Hitchens the answer?
-Can this offense be as good as advertised?
Everyone and their brothers are touting this offense as one of the best in the league with Ezekiel Elliott in the fold. The Cowboys are being named the new version of the "Triplets" by pundits around the league before they have even played a snap together. We've seen some encouraging sights out at camp from Romo and Dez Bryant. Let's hope that they can get right back to where they left off.
However, this offense has so much vanilla written all over it that they need to freshen themselves up a bit. You have one of the best receivers in the league, you can't use the excuse, well he was covered. He's Dez Bryant, he's never covered. They must find ways to move him around the field in order to help everyone out. They have some real talent at wide receiver, yet they refuse to do anything exciting but run a reverse. Lucky Whitehead has a unique skillset and he was a pretty decent receiver too. Let's this guy loose sometimes and see what you got. Brice Butler is a burner, let him burn the house down. Terrance Williams has been the one guy that has really impressed me with his camp but we need to see him ramp it up.
When it comes to the run game, it's a bit concerning that Ezekiel Elliott has missed two weeks with just some soreness. I get it that soft tissue injuries can get worse and need extra precaution but Elliott needs to practice. Bryan Broaddus has stated that rookies sometimes don't know how to play through soreness and think that they are hurt. It was the same story with Morris Claiborne many moons ago, Elliott needs some work. He's not just going to step in and light it up. You couple that with Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar's injuries and you see the reasoning behind signing Alfred Morris. The Cowboys need their running game to be the focal point but the best guy is not practicing. Chemistry and continuity take the time to build. For now, we will see Morris, Darius Jackson, and a fullback get the bulk of the carries.
It's not pessimism because there is so much room to bring me back to the light; these are just legitimate concerns about this football team. It seems as though in most offseasons, this front office has a clear objective and they address everything in the room. This year it feels as though they are operating on a wing and a prayer. For a team that has been a symbol of mediocrity, that's too risky for this delicate bird.