7 Reasons the Dallas Cowboys Should Be Optimistic Heading into OTAs

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 21, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 13:  DeMarco Murray #29 of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys formally start organized team activities tomorrow, and the biggest question surrounding that occasion bodes well for the team's chances of improving in 2012.

Dallas isn't sure whether Mike Jenkins, a first-round pick in 2008 and one of the team's top corners since then, will show up for the start of the voluntary phase of the offseason program because he's on the trade block.

That's right. The Dallas Cowboys arguably have too many quality cornerbacks.

Maybe the Mayans were right.

That's just the first of seven reasons why the Cowboys should feel confident that they can make a run in 2012. 


1. The Secondary Should Improve Dramatically

If it weren't for DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys would have been right there with New England and Green Bay in the conversation regarding who had the worst pass defense in the NFL last year. Ware and Rob Ryan's pass rush helped, but nothing could conceal that kind of abysmal play from the defensive backfield. 

Jenkins was mediocre, while Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick were terrible for much of the season as Dallas ranked in the bottom-10 against the pass pretty much right across the board.

This offseason, a fed-up front office cut Newman, gave $50 million to veteran shutdown corner Brandon Carr and packaged its top two picks to move up and take arguably the best defensive player in the draft, Morris Claiborne. Now they have the luxury to deal Jenkins, or they could keep him and Scandrick and have quite possibly the most talented group of corners in football.


2. Rob Ryan Has Time to Work This Year

It had to be painful for Cowboys fans to see Wade Phillips having so much success with his defense in Houston as Ryan's D struggled so much during his first year as coordinator in Dallas. But this year, the entire unit will have a proper chance to absorb Ryan's complicated and nuanced schemes. 

The lockout did a number on teams trying to make heavy-duty transitions on the run. This year, some of those teams will bounce back. Considering Ryan's pedigree and the personnel in place—as well as the fact that they actually improved considerably from an even uglier 2010 performance—expect Dallas to improve quite a lot on defense in 2012.


3. DeMarco Murray Has the Ability to Become a Superstar

You never know where you're going to find an all-world running back. Murray, who was passed on 70 times in the 2011 draft, emerged ahead of Felix Jones as the team's go-to back by midseason, and for a five- or six-week stretch was one of the most dangerous, productive and consistent backs in the league.

A late-season ankle injury cost him a 1,000-yard inaugural campaign, but Murray still amassed 1,080 yards from scrimmage despite starting just seven games. If he can stay healthy in 2012, Murray will make life a hell of a lot easier for Tony Romo and the rest of the offense.


4. Miles Austin Should Bounce Back

Austin admitted that he wasn't in top shape last year after failing to maintain himself from a conditioning standpoint during the lockout. As a result, he missed six games because of hamstring injuries. 

It's safe to say Austin wouldn't have made that admission unless the two-time Pro Bowler felt ready to perform like a No. 1 weapon again.


5. Tony Romo Is a Top-Tier Quarterback

The numbers support Romo as a top-five quarterback, but he's only won a single playoff game. At 32, he might finally have the mindset and maturity combined with the offensive and defensive support to lead a deep playoff run.


6. Tyron Smith Is Only Going to Get Better

At right tackle in 2011, the rookie No. 9 overall pick was a rock. With that in mind, the Cowboys aren't wasting any time and are moving Smith to Romo's blind side to start the 2012 season. Worst-case scenario: Smith struggles and they move him back to the right side. That's the beauty of having the talented Doug Free able to perform well in both spots. 

Romo has taken some beatings over the years, and his style sometimes gets him into trouble. That might never change, but at least the Cowboys have two tackles with the ability to dominate.


7. The New York Giants Didn't Get Better

It's accepted as fact that the Cowboys underachieved last year for the second time in as many seasons. Yet Dallas still finished the regular season just one game shy of the division champion and eventual Super Bowl winner, New York. 

And in the offseason, the Giants lost Aaron Ross and Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham and didn't exactly make a splash in free agency or the draft. Sure, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins probably got better, but the point is that the NFC East is wide open.