Dallas Cowboys Must Invest in Andre Holmes and James Hanna Now
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In particular, Andre Holmes and James Hanna look like guys who can create mismatches in the secondary. With Jason Witten out for a few weeks, it's time to develop these guys. Because when Witten comes back, there will some some intriguing possibilities.
Imagine this scenario:
Dallas is at your 20-yard line. They huddle up with Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, James Hanna and Andre Holmes as receivers, no backs in the game. What defensive package do you send out? A dime package, right? You're facing five receivers and no backs, so you need six defensive backs on the field.
Dallas lines up in a spread formation. But then they shift. The tight ends move into their traditional spots. They snap the ball and Austin swings into the backfield and takes the pitch on a sweep to the left. Guards pull, Tyron Smith levels your end, Holmes (at 223 pounds) levels one of your corners with a great downfield block, Austin scoots up the sideline for a touchdown.
Or in another scenario:
It's Hanna who becomes the runner. He's quick and powerful, and he weighs more than 250 pounds. Dallas needs three yards. Their initial package looked like they were conceding that they couldn't run on you, but now that you have a dime package out there, Hanna blows through your defense and picks ups six.
One final scenario:
Dallas sends out the same package, but puts Hanna in the backfield to start. Your safeties come up into the box, knowing that the dime package means they will be sorely needed in run support.
They have studied film and they know Hanna is a threat running the ball. But it turns out he's just there to block. Romo throws over the safeties' heads to Andre Holmes (6'4"), who leaps up over your third corner (5'10") and snatches the ball for a touchdown.
These are just a few examples of the problems that two tight end formations and tall receivers create for defensive coordinators. But the catch is that both the tight ends need to be versatile weapons, like New England deploys.
Back to the yawn-fest Monday night. One of the few bright spots was Holmes.
He led all receivers with three catches for 40 yards. Doesn't sound line much, but if you watched the game, you know that there wasn't much else to celebrate. Holmes had been impressing coaches during practice in the week leading up to the game, and he built on that with his performance in Oakland.
It's too early to tell if Holmes is ready to be a legitimate third receiver this season, but it's clear that he was the best they had behind Bryant Monday night. With all the talk that Cole Beasley had generated, he came up with goose egg on the night. In his one opportunity to shine, he failed to separate from his corner and missed a deep scoring opportunity.
Dallas never made it to the red zone last night, but Holmes clearly would have been the go-to guy had they made it. His 6'4" frame and leaping ability are custom-made for the end zone.
What Holmes needs now are reps, reps and more reps. Which is why it is critical to invest the time in him now. Camp is for teaching and developing players, but if you divide your teaching and development among six guys with potential, no one gets enough attention to leap forward.
Holmes has earned extra attention at this point. Dallas should go ahead and consider him a keeper and start getting him ready for the season. No other backup receiver has the attributes that this guy has. You can't coach a kid to be nearly 6'5" and 223 pounds with a sub-4.5 40 time.
NFL games are won by creating mismatches in the passing game. Holmes is your best mismatch opportunity not named Bryant, Austin or Witten.
The next mismatch that must be developed is Hanna. Reports from camp are that Hanna is better than he looked on film at Oklahoma. He is improving on his blocking and he's catching the passes that come his way. At 6'5", 250 pounds with a sub-4.5 40, Hanna is yet another mismatch opportunity.
While John Philips is a dependable, versatile veteran, he will never come close to the big-play potential that Hanna has. Phillips runs a 40 at 4.79 seconds. That doesn't mean that Phillips can't contribute this year, but he doesn't have the potential to take a pass to the house—Hanna does.
Ultimately, it comes down to putting as many dangerous weapons on the field as possible. When Garrett goes two tight ends, five of 11 players on the field have the potential to score (if Hanna is the second tight end): Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, James Hanna.
That's over 45 percent of your players. If John Phillips is in there instead of Hanna, that number drops to 36 percent. If you can increase your scoring potential by 10 percent in a given offensive package, you have to do it.
And actually, given that Hanna increases your options, that percentage is probably higher. Hanna can be moved around as an H-back. Philips has done that as well, but it's never been a realistic option to hand off or pitch Philips the ball in the backfield. He isn't quick enough. But with Hanna, that becomes an option, meaning it's one more thing defenses have to account for.
Although Monday night's game offered little entertainment, it made one thing clear: Investing now in Holmes and Hanna could pay huge dividends for the offense when the season starts.
Clearly I got over excited about Holmes and his potential. As it turned out, the guy looks like he needs much more development. He will no doubt be waived and may not make it to the practice squad. There are other teams that will be waiving receivers they would like to hold on to as well. Dallas may pluck one of them rather than try to stash Homes on PS. I stand by my thoughts on Hanna though. He looks like he could be a great role player eventually.
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