Remember the rest of the Dallas Cowboys? For what seems like an interminable time in this interminable year, the overwhelming focus of the fans and media has been on the eventually failed negotiations to sign quarterback Dak Prescott to a long-term deal. Now we know that he will play under the franchise tag this season as that multi-year contract has well and truly been kicked down the road, if not into the ditch. It seems like a good time to review the rest of the team and why the coming season (whenever it is played) should be an exciting one.
We can’t wait to see if this offense is what we think it is
While the team may have set itself up for some difficult contract decisions over the next few seasons, we have known Prescott was going to be lining up behind center since he signed the franchise tag. If only the season goes off as planned, we will finally get to see what the combination of known talent, rising players, and new additions can bring to the table.
It ought to be quite a feast. Yes, that was a poor Dad joke, as Ezekiel Elliott is getting his newest chip fitted for his shoulder. He thinks he is being disrespected because other running backs are getting placed ahead of him in meaningless preseason rankings. Whether such things are valid or not is not that important. Elliott just seems to like a little controversy about his on-field ability to fire himself up. Now he has it.
Of course, running backs don’t matter. Or so it is claimed. It is reasonable to wonder just how much Zeke will eat when Prescott will have Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and shiny new toy CeeDee Lamb running routes. Blake Jarwin is also expected to have an increased role this season with the starting tight end job his.
It is also reasonable to wonder just what Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy might be cooking up this year. With a strong arsenal of offensive weapons like this, there is room for some real creativity and variety. It’s a case where one shouldn’t be looking at who gets the biggest slice of the pie, but rather just how big that pie can be made. One of the great hopes is that Elliott will no be forced to run into loaded boxes, but will get handoffs with three wide receivers spreading the field for him. Meanwhile, he is someone who has to be accounted for on every offensive play, especially early downs, which should just make things better for the receivers. And maybe he can straddle both worlds by running patterns and having the ball thrown to him down the field instead of near or behind the line of scrimmage. Screen passes can be very effective, but that is reduced if it is about the only way the back gets work in the passing game.
And there is still a wild card in Tony Pollard, who just seemed to be scratching the surface last season even while making the only significant contributions of his draft class. He offers some good value as the lone back, but there are some really intriguing things that could be done with him on the field at the same time as Elliott.
Let’s not forget the offensive line. While it is going through a bit of a rebuild in a place or two, it still has two All-Pros in Tyron Smith and Zack Martin to anchor things, and La’el Collins could be in the same tier with them. It has been argued that he may have passed Smith already. The big question is who replaces Travis Frederick, but Joe Looney is capable of filling the center role while Tyler Biadasz is hoped to be a long-term answer. Connor Williams needs to solidify his grip on the left guard spot, but Connor McGovern also provides some insurance there, as well as being in the mix at center.
Usually the wide receiver is the exciting position to watch in camp, but with such limited access due to pandemic concerns and some silly restrictions on what can even be reported, parsing out how the line is coming together may be the most important thing this year.
The offense is intriguing, but what happens with the defense will be compelling
Moore provides some valuable continuity for the offense, but Mike Nolan not only has an opportunity to take the defense in a different direction, that is really his main function as the new defensive coordinator. We also should be very interested to see what Jim Tomsula will contribute as the line coach for Nolan.
And that defensive line should be very different from what we saw last season. Only DeMarcus Lawrence is a real carryover. Even veteran Tyrone Crawford is going to add a new element to the mix as he missed most of last season. Now the team also has Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Aldon Smith, Neville Gallimore, and Bradlee Anae to add. It puts some extra pressure on players like Antwaun Woods, but may be most challenging for Trysten Hill, who was disappointing last year, to be kind. The line is the most crowded part of the defense, and it may be one place where they have a hard time keeping all the players they would like.
The story at linebacker is really about how the duo of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch can rebound after a down season in 2019, when Vander Esch fought injury. If they can return to something like the form of 2018, watch out.
The secondary is also in flux, with the departure of Byron Jones in free agency a major and somewhat disappointing blow. Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown, and Xavier Woods are the main returning players, and like on the line, there are some important new names in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Daryl Worley, Trevon Diggs, and Reggie Robinson II. If you want a sleeper to watch, Donovan Wilson now has plenty of opportunity to show what he can bring to the table.
Hoping teams will be special
Given how badly they hurt the effort the past couple of years, the special teams under new coordinator John Fassel loom especially large this season. And there will be some real battles this year. We know that Kai Forbath has to beat out Greg Zuerlein to keep the kicking job. Chris Jones is seen by many to be on a bubble despite the team not having another punter set to be in camp.
Then there are all the rest of the teams jobs to be filled. Jeff Heath is no longer around. Many of these jobs will go to linebackers and defensive backs, which will shape the defensive depth. Luke Gifford, Francis Bernard, Chris Westry, and Darian Thomson are all contenders for ST ace roles.
Now that the oxygen is not all being sucked up by the quarterback concerns, or at least better, we have plenty to anticipate. Both camp and the regular season promise to be exciting and hopefully fun.
Let’s just hope things don’t get derailed by the real world issues still raging.