Brought to you by: Big Shucks
By Zach Walker
It’s that feeling… When you know that the good times are approaching. Those perfectly forever blue days in shallow September. The temperature is the ideal lower eighties and that familiar scent of autumn is reintroducing itself to your senses. Football season. Dallas Cowboys’ football is back. The expectations for this season are a mixed bag of potential greatness or falling shorter than what could be a building year off of the season that was 2016. We all have our own purposed variances that we’ve set for how special we think this team can be.
It starts in Oxnard, at training camp and the team on paper looks for a star showcasing season. On offense, the pieces are in place and are all set to show that last season was just a sample of things to come for every season. On defense, there are a lot more questions than answers, however the optimism about the defense hasn’t been higher since the DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis days. The kids on that side of the ball make this a high risk, high reward situation. The special teams, that’s the same level of consistency that we’ve all come to expect. I’ll go in depth through the Cowboys’ roster, give my outlook and roster projections.
Quarterbacks: Dak Prescott (1), Kellen Moore (2), Cooper Rush (PS), Zac Dysert
People and pundits can expect a “back to earth” for Dak Prescott. I’ll just clarify this for everyone way back in the cheap seats, a fall ain’t coming. Dak Prescott isn’t the sort of player to “rest on his accomplishments” type of character player. One doesn’t push a player of Tony Romo’s caliber into the booth then prop his feet up on the end table. He’s a worker bee. He commanded the respect from teammates and peers as a rookie, so crapping the bed isn’t likely a thing that will creep up on Dak. I was thinking the other day that Dak has a great mix of past Cowboys great quarterbacks. Tony Romo’s work, Aikman’s decision making, and an almost Staubach-ian image of moral cleanliness. Kellen Moore is the backup quarterback, and that’s how it’s going to stay. This offseason was littered with quarterbacks with game experience and rather than pick one off of the pile, the Cowboys are sitting with Scott Linehan’s understudy. The Cowboys have a pair of young quarterbacks for a camp battle for the third emergency quarterback. Cooper Rush from Central Michigan could be a Tony Romo starter kit, a player to sit a groom. However, Jameill Showers was that too, so was Dustin Vaughn, so keep the Cooper Rush undrafted dreams to a minimum, though we all will see a lot of Rush in the Hall of Fame game. Zac Dysert has relocated a ton of times and is likely a quarterback to push Rush along.
Running Backs: Ezekiel Elliott (1), Darren McFadden (2), Alfred Morris (3), Jahad Thomas
Realistically, it’s all about reeling Ezekiel Elliott back in. The Cowboys have to be worried about his decision making though I don’t see it as anything more than general ‘wrong place, wrong time’ and immaturity. The pattern is there and understandable to say that there could be a potential big-time problem around the corner. I know that there is a 2000 yard season from Elliott right around the corner, all of us should expect that, but if he continues to mess up and just do these stupid little things it’s going to cost him games eventually and that’s not something that the Cowboys can really bank on. But for the Cowboys, in terms of the corral of running backs, they really have still one of the top notch groups in the league. Darren McFadden is still around and he’s raring to go whenever he’s called upon and Alfred Morris… he’s still that same Alfred Morris capable of a 1200 yard season. So the Cowboys are pretty secure in terms of their running game, and none of those three are going anywhere, unless someone comes calling. Jahad Thomas is going to get a lot of touches in the preseason, because the other three don’t have anything to show anything in the exhibition season.
Wide Receivers: Dez Bryant (1), Terrance Williams (2), Cole Beasley (3), Ryan Switzer (4), Brice Butler (5), Noah Brown (6), Andy Jones (PS), Lance Lenoir (PS), Brian Brown
It will forever be about Dez Bryant. Whether he misses practice. Whether he’s two hours late to the facility. Whether he’s 10 minutes late for a meeting. Whether he’s a minute late for anything as mundane as dinner reservations, it’s going to be news. The growth between Dez and Dak will definitely be something to watch for this season. The two of them didn’t exactly click through the first half of the season but as the year rolled on, Dak to Dez was a very potent duo. Terrence Williams got a pay day from the Cowboys and will be around for a while, and hopefully as his bank account grew, his skill set will follow suit. The Cowboys brought in a new weapon to push Cole Beasley and perhaps nail down the punt returner position. Get used to hearing the name Ryan Switzer, he’s going to be KING of August. Cole Beasley isn’t going anywhere, as his connection with Dak Prescott was deadly. Brice Butler could be pushed to the edge of the circle by rookie Noah Brown. Brown is also going to garner a lot of preseason attention. His frame is perfectly NFL-sized, and if he can rapport with any of the quarterbacks in camp, and have a decent exhibition season, he could be around for the regular season. The combination of Andy Jones, Lance Lenoir, and Brian Brown round out camp, and hopefully someone can pick up where Lucky Whitehead left off for kick return duties.
Tight Ends: Jason Witten (1), Geoff Swaim (2), James Hanna (3), Rico Gathers (PS), Connor Hamlett
The top of the order is locked down. Jason Witten will be around much longer than any of us mortals. Geoff Swaim has really developed into a pretty excellent tight end, pretty sweet for a seventh round pick. James Hanna is still recovering from his injuries?? I really don’t know, but unless Rico Gathers has made some strides, Hanna should be pretty secure for the regular season roster. I can’t wait to see where Rico Gathers is. Gathers is a major weapon in development. Six foot eight inch tall and two hundred and seventy five pounds, forged on the basketball court and having been shaped by coach Mike Pope into a potential matchup nightmare.
Offensive Line: Tyron Smith (1), Travis Frederick (2), Zack Martin (3), La’el Collins (4), Jonathan Cooper (5), Chaz Green (6), Joe Looney (7), Emmett Cleary (8), Dan Skipper (9), Byron Bell, Ross Burbank, Ruben Carter, Clay DeBord, Kadeem Edwards, Nate Theaker
Operators one through four on my list are guarantees, almost shoe-ins for All-Pro lists. The two biggest questions are: How is La’el Collins going to fit at right tackle? Is Jonathan Cooper the BEST option at left guard? The first question has a simple answer, and that Collins is going to be fantastic out on the end, and that running to the right side just got a hell of a lot smoother. The left guard situation is a more curious matter. Cooper was the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft and injuries have forced him to other teams before landing in between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. Being between those two must be as secure as standing in a bank vault. Chaz Green and Joe Looney are going to be first ups, and I believe Emmett Cleary and Dan Skipper will be the final back-ups for the offensive line. To say that I know how the offensive line depth battle is going to go is just insane, so I’ll be transparent on my ignorance.
Defensive Line: Taco Charlton (1), Maliek Collins (2), Tyrone Crawford (3), Benson Mayowa (4), Cedric Thornton (5), DeMarcus Lawrence (6), David Irving (7), Stephen Paea (8), Charles Tapper (9), Damontre Moore, Zach Wood (PS), Joey Ivey (PS), Jordan Carrell (10), and Randy Gregory (SUSPENSION)
I can’t wait for this side of the ball to start going. A healthy Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence. A confident Benson Mayowa and Cedric Thornton. The new hire of strong-man Stephen Paea. The sophomore season from stud Maliek Collins. A rested David Irving, though it’s from a suspension, I like having him join a few weeks into the season. Then the men in charge ordered some Taco from the draft. Charlton is going to be excellent. He’s an NFL defensive end straight out of the packaging. He’ll get the endorsements from teammates and coaches, but he’ll have his first real unveiling on Sunday night football on September 10. I’m hoping that Charles Tapper can recover and come in strong from his back injury that ruined his entire rookie campaign. Damontre Moore could be alright, or just continue to be a NFL floater. Young players Jordan Carrell, Joey Ivey, and Zach Wood could be preseason standouts, but are likely practice squad players. Then there’s that Randy Gregory, marijuana’s favorite player. Gregory is a true bust. Perfectly on par with Vernon Gholston. A true waste. An ironic burn of a pick.
Linebackers: Sean Lee (1), Anthony Hitchens (2), Kyle Wilber (3), Justin Durant (4), Jaylon Smith (5), Mark Nzeocha (6), Damien Wilson (?!?), John Lotulelei
The linebackers are a pretty familiar group. Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, and Kyle Wilber have all been around here for a while, and I understand that the Cowboys just signed Durant, but he’s been here before. The mystery is where former golden dome standout Jaylon Smith is. How healthy is he? How much can we expect to see of him in the preseason? How much could the Cowboys actually bank on him down the line? Man, I was expecting for his knee to have been firing and the Cowboys to have stolen a late arriving all-star. I have been binging on his workout videos just hoping that those can translate to tackles and interceptions on future Sundays. “They say” that once a player has a true injury, a scary season ender, that they must establish a new 100 percent. I’m hoping that Jaylon can find his new 100 and bring it to the fold of the corps, because with Damien Wilson’s (let’s say mess up) the Cowboys really need a hero. Mark Nzeocha can be that hero. He was having a great training camp last year before an injury ended his progress. This might be the focus of a first round pick in the coming NFL Draft.
Secondary: Orlando Scandrick (1), Nolan Carroll (2), Byron Jones (3), Jeff Heath (4), Anthony Brown (5), Chidobe Awuzie (6), Robert Blanton (7), Xavier Woods (8), Jourdan Lewis (9), Kavon Frazier (10), Marquez White (11)
Does anyone realize that Orlando Scandrick has been a Dallas Cowboys for ten years?! That he’s also, only 30 years old! He’s either a young-old man, or the oldest-young man in the league. He’s Orlando Scandrick. Nolan Carroll brings in another veteran to ease the young bucks along, and not toss them straight to the dogs. Byron Jones is a top ten free safety in the league, and I’m pretty darn confident in that analysis. Jeff Heath is the incumbent at strong safety, and I think Heath could be a low-end Eric Weddle-type of safety. Long gone are the days of Calvin Johnson catching NFL records on Heath. That was his rookie season, a while ago. Anthony Brown was a fantastic player in his rookie season, and a year seasoned can only improve him. Robert Blanton was brought in for veteran depth, so that Kavon Frazier isn’t asked to do too much. The rookies make this the most intriguing group on the entire team. Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, and Marquez White. All of them were the kings of their teams, and now they are the future of the Dallas Cowboys. My anticipation from this bunch of youth is extreme. I’m talking purely drunken fandom, blindly fighting on their behalves.
Special Teams: LP Ladouceur, Chris Jones, Dan Bailey
As reliable as oxygen, these three are always there. Don’t anyone out there forget, Chris Jones won the team a game last season. And Dan Bailey does that on, seemingly, every other game. The man who’s had the number 91 on lockdown for twelve seasons is LP Ladouceur. He’ll be in a camp battle with former SMU Mustang Zach Wood, but WILL stave off the upstart, because he’s the embodiment of consistency. This group is set.
This season is going to be great, and the camp battles will make it an “all eyes on” August, it definitely doesn’t hurt having that fifth preseason game.
Preseason Schedule – All Times Central
8/3 @Cardinals 7:00 p.m.
8/12 @Rams 8:00 p.m.
8/19 vs Colts 6:00 p.m.
8/26 vs Raiders 7:00 p.m.
8/31 @Texans 7:00 p.m.
Regular Season – All Times Central
9/10 vs Giants 7:30 p.m.
9/17 @Broncos 3:25 p.m.
9/25 @Cardinals 7:30 p.m.
10/1 vs Rams 12:00 p.m.
10/8 vs Packers 3:25 p.m.
10/22 @49ers 3:05 p.m.
10/29 @Redskins 3:25 p.m.
11/5 vs Chiefs 3:25 p.m.
11/12 @Falcons 3:25 p.m.
11/19 vs Eagles 7:30 p.m.
11/23 vs Chargers 3:30 p.m.
11/30 vs Redskins 7:25 p.m.
12/10 @Giants 3:25 p.m.
12/17 @Raiders 7:30 p.m.
12/24 vs Seahawks 3:25 p.m.
12/31 @Eagles 12:00 p.m.