Predicting 5 Problem Spots for the Dallas Cowboys
After an aggressive free agency campaign and solid draft, the Dallas Cowboys' offseason should be labeled as a success. But just because they replenished the roster and upgraded the talent level, does that mean a few problem areas could still exist?
I think the answer to that question is a profound yes.
The Dallas Cowboys will have some problem spots that if not properly addressed or rectified during training camp could turn into an irritating blister for this team throughout the season. It's impossible to predict where injury can occur or attack a football team, but it's easy to spot where weaknesses and questionable depth still exist.
The Cowboys have done an admirable job of attacking their laundry list of needs this offseason, and although there will be some position battles for critical roster spots, a certain level of uncertainty still remains. It's Jason Garrett's goal to let the competitive process play itself out in addressing these uncertainties.
Let's take a closer look at some of these problem spots and how they might affect the Cowboys' upcoming season.
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2011 saw an end to the Andre Gurode era at center after a successful run and multiple Pro Bowl appearances. Was it the right move? Well considering that Gurode was picked up by Baltimore and Phil Costa struggled mightily at times, I think Jerry Jones could've kept him around for one more season.
Some may argue that by throwing Costa into the fire and taking his lumps in 2011, it might make him a better player for 2012 and the future. That may be true, but Costa will have to show major improvement, especially since the Cowboys did not address the center position in the draft or free agency.
It will be interesting to see how much Kevin Kowalski has progressed and if he can challenge Costa as a starter after making the 53-man roster last year. By being able to play guard and center, Kowalski might be more attractive and valuable to the Cowboys than Costa, and it could put him in jeopardy.
Watching Costa struggle in shotgun snaps last year was hard to stomach and it puts Tony Romo and the entire offense in compromising positions. The Cowboys have created some position flexibility along the offensive line and the addition of Bill Callahan may help Costa—but to put it simply, he must improve.
Phil Costa may be another addition to the list of undrafted free agent gems the Cowboys have been able to discover. But if he fails to show significant improvement and the Cowboys are unable to establish a capable replacement, this could be the problem spot Jerry Jones can afford the least.
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There's only one constant that remains every year when you talk about the Cowboys pass rush—and that's DeMarcus Ware. Unfortunately, Ware can't play all front seven positions and he can't do it by himself anymore if the Cowboys are going to be an annual playoff contender.
The return of Anthony Spencer will help the Cowboys pass rush and the fact he's looking for a long-term deal might provide some extra motivation for him. He has the physical attributes, but the time has come for Spencer to elevate his game. He not only needs to bring it on every snap, but he could also be the key to this defense.
The Cowboys committed draft picks to Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber in the hopes of improving their pass rush, but just how much can these rookies be counted on? The Cowboys will need both of these players and Victor Butler to be significant contributors in 2012. For Butler, it's time to prove that he's more than a backup or a special teams player.
The Dallas Cowboys need an all-hands-on-deck approach in addressing their pass rush and I still see this as not only a short-term weakness but a problem spot that not even the best secondary in football can fix.
As a result of this problem spot, keep an eye on a player such as undrafted free agent Adrian Hamilton. This small school sack-machine could be a dark horse type player that could steal a job.
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The Dallas Cowboys will return a core defensive line unit that consists of Kenyon Coleman, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Josh Brent, Sean Lissemore and Marcus Spears. While Ratliff is as solid and dependable as can be, it was hard to see him be as effective in 2011 as in prior seasons while he battled injury and wore down from constant double teams.
As a player getting into his 30's, the Cowboys need to look for other players to step up big time to support him. It's time for players like Josh Brent, Sean Lissemore, Jason Hatcher and possibly Clifton Geathers to either be part of the solution or be shown the door. Lissemore is a player who has not only shown improvement but has displayed versatility.
Josh Brent will have to show improvement this season to make the roster or be pushed by Robert Callaway. The addition of Tyrone Crawford at the end position should make players like Spears and Coleman worried and possibly expendable should they under perform.
In 2012, the Cowboys need to make a major statement on defense, and it all starts up front. The New York Giants continue to illustrate what an effective defensive line can do in transforming a defense from average to dominant.
Do the Cowboys have enough talent and depth on their defensive line? That remains to be seen, but it's up to Rob Ryan to pull every ounce of will out of that group. If some questions don't get answered during camp, then this could easily be a problem spot that could have a ripple effect on the defense.
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The departure of Laurent Robinson might be a bigger loss than most fans think. I wouldn't view him as irreplaceable, but the Cowboys better make sure they can find a third receiver capable of significant production.
With injury concerns to both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, this not only could develop into a problem spot for the third receiver position but the whole group as well. Danny Coale, Raymond Radway, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes and Kevin Ogletree are fighting for the three to four wide receiver roster spot. If you add highly touted undrafted free agent Saalim Hakim to the mix, then the competition is even more competitive.
The odds on favorite is fifth-round pick Danny Coale for the third receiver spot, but the Cowboys need to round off the bottom spots as well. This could be critical for depth, being able to play in a moment's notice due to injury and for having a constant flow of play-makers.
The position battle itself will be competitive and intriguing, but it also becomes critical to this team. The margin for error in making the playoffs will be slim, so having the right group of receivers becomes paramount.
The Cowboys have an extensive collection of talent to be able to minimize the problem. Let's hope they can completely eliminate the wide receiver position as a problem spot.
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With Tyron Smith and Doug Free set as the bookend tackles for years to come, I wish I had the same confidence in the event either of these players are injured for an extended period of time. The Cowboys depth chart at tackle consists of Jeremy Parnell, Levy Adcock, Jeff Adams and Taylor Dever.
Parnell is first on the depth chart to replace either side, but the rest of that group are undrafted free agents recently signed. I know the Cowboys were intent on fixing the interior line, but maybe tackle was an area of addressing as well during the offseason.
Maybe this was an area that had to be eliminated due to cap constraints or resources, but right now the Cowboys have untested depth at a critical and vital area. If the injury bug creeps into this position, then this will become a problem spot and a big one.
Parnell has prototypical size and athletic ability, but he's very raw and not battle tested. I'm sure Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett will be busy trying to create position flexibility along the offensive line, but adding a veteran to the mix would serve this team well.
The benefit of adding a veteran tackle would give this team some insurance it needs against a problem spot this team can't afford having. I'm sure Tony Romo would agree.