There's no other way to say it: The Dallas Cowboys underperformed in 2011. More than a couple players who were reasons for playoff hopes became frustrating headaches during the regular season.
With 2011 marking yet another disappointing season for Dallas, the Cowboys will need to finally play as good as they've looked on paper the past few years. The offseason has been a productive one, with several position upgrades made through free agency and the NFL Draft. Now it's time to turn that impressive offseason into a playoff-bound season.
If the Cowboys are going to come out on top of the ever-difficult NFC East and make noise in the playoffs, they're going to need these five players to bring their best all season long.
I can't think of another Cowboys player that made me rip the hair out of my head more than kicker Dan Bailey last season.
The rookie kicker made 87 percent of his kicks last season and was one of the more steady kickers this team has had in some time, but with two more victories, Dallas would have been in the postseason. Bailey needs to find a way to cure his fear of being "iced" by last-second timeouts because opposing coaches are going to pull that stunt on him a lot this year.
If the now second-year player can do that, then the Cowboys have finally found themselves a reliable kicker.
This time last offseason, word from Valley Ranch was that Kevin Ogletree was being groomed to become Dallas' next slot receiver. That didn't work out as planned.
Ogletree didn't impress during training camp and the preseason, leading to Laurent Robinson being signed and ultimately taking the job from No. 85.
The Virginia alum needs to do what he was unable to last season and step up his game for this squad. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Dallas is at its best on offense when opponents need to respect three of its receivers in the passing game.
It's time for Ogletree to step up and become a relevant player on this football team.
When the Dallas Cowboys spent a first-round draft pick on Anthony Spencer five years ago, they thought they were adding yet another dynamic linebacker to their corps.
The former Purdue standout has yet to record more than six sacks in a single season and received the 'Boys' first franchise tag in several years this offseason.
Dallas is giving Spencer one last shot to earn the star on his helmet, but by drafting Kyle Wilber and Caleb McSurdy, the team is letting its veteran know that other options are being explored.
Bottom line: This is a make-or-break season for Spencer with the Cowboys, and he knows it. Time for him to finally live up to his first-round draft pick status.
The Cowboys needed to upgrade their secondary in a big way this offseason, and they did exactly that by bringing over Brandon Carr from Kansas City via free agency.
Carr was Dallas' most expensive and most important signing during free agency, and he needs to prove to this die hard fanbase why he was worth so much of Jerry Jones' money.
The former Chiefs cornerback was on my list of hopefuls the 'Boys would sign, and I think he'll fit in with his new squad. But there is no room for growing pains. After back-to-back underwhelming season in Big D, the 2012 team needs to live up to the hype, and it can't do that if Carr underperforms.
Carr makes this list not because I don't think he was a phenomenal talent for KC or that he won't function well in Rob Ryan's system, but because this team can't succeed if the secondary continues to be troublesome.
I know that Miles Austin's 2011 season was plagued by injuries, but that could be due to him not being in shape heading into last year.
Austin admitted to ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins he wasn't in the best shape heading into 2011, saying:
"I feel like last year, I wasn't prepared for the season in the way I should have been condition-wise, even though I looked and felt like it at the time."
Dez Bryant is still early in his career and Austin needs to continue being the No.1 receiver for the Cowboys, but to do that, he needs to stay healthy.
Dallas was able to be mildly successful in the Monmouth graduate's absence last year, but they need him to be in the lineup as much as possible for 2012 if they want to live up to their potential.
Quarterback Tony Romo and Austin have a chemistry, and that's something that leads to clutch completions and first downs on the football field.
Injuries aren't something one can help happening, I get that. But one way to minimize the chances of them occurring is keeping fit, which I don't doubt Austin has and will spend much of this offseason doing.