To play CeeDee Lamb on special teams or not, that is the question.
Is CeeDee Lamb going to be the primary punt returner for 2020? I think that’s one aspect of his game that would make an immediate impact in terms of an upgrade from last season. If I were an opposing team’s special teams coach, I would be terrified to see Lamb back there returning punts.— RILEY BREWER / LAKE STEVENS, WA
Rob: I think he’ll certainly be part of the conversation. Worth noting, though: As a top-three receiver, Lamb basically will be viewed as a starter. The Cowboys were always hesitant to use Dez Bryant on returns because they didn’t want to risk injury, knowing his value to the offense when he played here. But someone has to take over for Tavon Austin and Randall Cobb, and Lamb is as good at it as anyone on the roster.
Jonny: If I were to guess, I’d say yes. I’d agree that he’s just such a dynamic athlete with speed that it’s hard not to get excited just thinking about it. But I don’t think it’s guaranteed by any means. It’s one of those roles that is specific and unique, and the best football player is not always the best punt returner. So, I’m sure the Cowboys will give some of their other young players and even some of their undrafted free agents an opportunity in training camp to show what they can do in that role.
Cowboys have the stars, but some of the rest of the roster will need to up their game for 2020.
Joe Looney, Connor McGovern and Connor Williams: These offensive linemen are the primary candidates to replace retired center Travis Frederick. Fourth-round pick Tyler Biadasz could get into the mix, but with such little practice time, the impact of most rookies will be affected. Looney has the experience and started 16 games in Frederick’s absence in 2018. He did the job well enough and can communicate to the rest of the line. McGovern did not play as a rookie because of a pectoral muscle tear. McGovern played center at Penn State and the Cowboys drafted him in the third round in 2019 because of his position flexibility. His smarts and physicality were considered positive traits. Williams is coming back from a torn ACL and has never played center, but there are some who believe this could be his best position. The “losers” of the center battle will then have a chance to claim the left guard spot.
Blake Jarwin: By giving the tight end a $22 million extension the Cowboys clearly believe he is ready to replace longtime star Jason Witten. Jarwin made big plays as a secondary piece to the offense, but things change when you become the primary player. Jarwin’s growth will not be about his ability to make plays down the seams; it will be about what he does on third-and-6 in a key drive to move the chains as well as the improvement he makes as a blocker at the point of attack. As of right now, Jarwin remains something of a projection.
Zeke, still the man?
Ezekiel Elliott will still play a major role in the success of the 2020 season. This time last year, it was still in question on whether the front office was going to pay the All-Pro tailback or let him ride off into the Cabo sunset for a holdout. Either way, the deal was made, and Elliott is still the featured back who consistently makes the team better when he has the football.
Just because there is a new wealth of weapons around Dak Prescott and the passing game, doesn’t mean that the running game (specifically Elliott) is obsolete. Sure, his numbers could dip some with the upgraded receiving corps. But when it comes down to effectiveness in exhausting an opponent and putting a game on ice, there are few better than Elliott.
Some critics may say that backup Tony Pollard was more effective with his limited touches during his rookie season than Elliott was last year. And yes, the surface-level stats suggest that could be the case with Pollard’s 5.3 yards per carry (3rd in NFL) and Elliott’s 4.5 (17th). However, just 12% of Pollard’s 86 carries came with 8-plus defenders in the box while Elliott saw almost 20% stacked boxes in his 301 carries.
This new coaching staff can get Tony Pollard involved all they want, but the driver of the bus is, and will be, Ezekiel Elliott in 2020.
A few Cowboys defenders need to play better than they did in 2020.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB
Named a Pro Bowler after racking up an incredible 140 total tackles, seven pass deflections, and two interceptions during his rookie season, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch seemed destined for a stellar career in Dallas.
Unfortunately, the 23-year old played just nine games last season due to a neck injury, recording 72 tackles. After having offseason neck surgery to alleviate nerve issues, Vander Esch claims he feels as good as he ever has, even better than before the injury. And he’s ready to bounce back in Year Three.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
After signing a massive five-year, $105 million extension in early 2019, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence posted just 5.0 sacks last season. But his presence aided fellow pass rusher Robert Quinn in racking up 11.5 sacks which resulted in him signing a five-year, $70 million deal with the Chicago Bears as a free agent this offseason.
Entering his seventh season in the NFL, Lawrence understands his worth. Tank knows that his efforts don’t always impact the stat sheet. In fact, his play last season helped others boost their stats and Lawrence is fully confident his own sack numbers will rise.
Keep an eye on these players for 2020.
5. Jaylon Smith, LB
Speaking of pass rush, 2020 might be Jaylon Smith’s best season yet.
In 2018, Smith had an excellent year building off of his debut season in 2017. He totaled 121 tackles, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and four sacks. It’s the sacks that really highlight what Jaylon Smith can bring to the table. He’s an excellent rusher on the blitz.
By all accounts, blitzing is something the Dallas Cowboys want to do more of in 2020 and Jaylon Smith will thrive because of it.
Jaylon Smith is a good player, but when he’s asked to go forward on the blitz or to play the run coming downhill, he’s an excellent player. His speed and athleticism allows him to find holes in the blocking scheme to snake through and find the football.
Earlier this offseason, Mike McCarthy talked about prioritizing the rush and expressed a desire to have five or six rushers, including a designated rusher. This is where Jaylon Smith could really be useful.
If in base packages, the Dallas Cowboys are wanting to send a fifth or sixth rusher, Jaylon Smith needs to be one of the extra rushers. His power allows him to work through the middle of the offensive line, while his athleticism and speed make it difficult for those interior offensive linemen to move laterally with him on the rush.
The ‘93 Cowboys had to work to get back to glory.
1993 Dallas Cowboys
15-4, winners of Super Bowl XXVIII
While the ‘92 Cowboys rolled through autumn toward Super Bowl glory, their encore act hit choppy waters out of the gate. A thorny holdout by star back Emmitt Smith left Dallas 0-2 following ugly losses to the Redskins and Bills. The sour scent of crisis filled the air, but Emmitt returned just in time to help the ‘Boys eke out a 17-10 win over Joe Bugel’s Phoenix Cardinals in Week 3. The engine churned from there until a collapse in Atlanta was followed by a snowy Thanksgiving loss to Miami that left Dallas at 7-4. This set the table for a regular season finale at Giants Stadium with the Cowboys and G-Men both notched at 11-4. Making up for his two-game absence, Smith produced the most heroic game I’ve witnessed, ignoring the excruciating pain of a separated shoulder and bruised sternum to rumble through a proud Giants defense for 168 yards off 32 carries with another 61 yards and a touchdown off 10 grabs. The 16-13 win in overtime pushed the ‘Boys back on course to run roughshod over a legion of NFC ham-and-egger postseason clubs before dispatching Buffalo all over again in the Super Bowl.
What could a shortened preseason mean for the Cowboys? We discuss on the latest episode of Broadcasting The ‘Boys.
Make sure that you never miss an episode from Blogging The Boys by subscribing to the Blogging The Boys podcast feed!
Also make sure to subscribe to the official YouTube Channel from Blogging The Boys. We’ve got big plans coming there throughout the offseason and you don’t want to miss a thing!