Grading Every Dallas Cowboys Starter's 2012 Regular Season
The Dallas Cowboys evaluation period has officially started. With the end of the 2012 season arriving before anyone in the organization wanted, the Cowboys attention now turns to assessing current players on the roster.
We know who will remain, players like quarterback Tony Romo, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, and cornerback Brandon Carr. But what about those players who were marginal or just didn't have good seasons?
To start 2013 off the right way, let's examine the Cowboys starters from the launch of this past season to the end of it.
Oh, and Happy New Year!
Quarterback, Tony Romo: C+
Tony Romo was in the midst of one of his best Decembers on record. Before Sunday night's big loss, Romo tossed 11 touchdowns to just one interception.
He seemed to get the interceptions out of his system early in the season, and was in the process of leading his team toward the playoffs.
Romo was the engineer of the Dallas Cowboys three game, late season win streak. He played his heart out for the season, then Sunday night happened.
Romo had the worst game of his career. He tossed three interceptions, completed just 54 percent of his passes, and gained just 218 yards through the air.
But it's the interceptions that folks will remember. It is the fourth quarter pick he threw with the game on the line that he will be remembered for if the Cowboys never make it back to the playoffs with Romo at the helm.
As great as his season could have been, 28 touchdowns and 4,903 passing yards, it's the turnovers that people will remember the most.
Running Back, DeMarco Murray: C+
DeMarco Murray's season was cut short by a foot injury against Baltimore in mid October, but he returned in December to lead the Dallas Cowboys in rushing.
Even though he gave the Cowboys offense an extra pop, he never rushed for more than 100 yards once he returned from injury.
Murray's best output came against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 2nd when he totaled 83 yards, which was his first game back.
If Murray can ever remain healthy for the entire season, he's more than a viable option at running back for Dallas. Until he can prove that he's not injury prone and reliable, the Cowboys have to keep their options open at running back.
Fullback, Lawrence Vickers: C-
Lawrence Vickers didn’t have a terrible season, but it’s tough to judge a fullback by statistics. He only carried the ball three times for 11 yards and caught 13 passes for 104 yards.
Vickers did a decent job of blocking for DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner, and Lance Dunbar this season. I thought that he was more that serviceable for Dallas in 2012, but his salary makes him expendable.
Dallas isn’t in love with Vickers and could easily find another fullback to fill his spot.
Wide Receiver, Miles Austin: D+
Miles Austin has been a disappointment for the Dallas Cowboys since he signed a $54 million contract in 2010.
He's been injury prone, missed key games, dropped more than a few vital catches, and hasn't been reliable.
For 2012, Austin was knocked out of both Washington Redskins games, came up small against the New Orleans Saints by dropping two third down catches in the fourth quarter, and was just a regular guy for the majority of the Cowboys games.
He had his moments, like when he torched the New York Giants for 133 yards on nine catches, but those moments were few and far between.
Because Austin has a base salary of $6.7 million in 2013, Austin will return. So, next season is crucial for him if he wants to remain in Dallas for the long term.
Wide Receiver, Dez Bryant: B+
Dez Bryant literally matured before our eyes this season. There were questions about his ability to fully grasp the Dallas Cowboys offense, whether he was ready to take on a leadership role this season, and if he would ever live up to the hype.
2012 proved to be Bryant's breakout season.
For the season, he caught 92 balls for a career high of 1,382 receiving yards. Bryant was hot down the stretch as he notched two games of 145 yards and one with 224.
Against the New Orleans Saints, he averaged 25 yards a catch, caught two 58-yard touchdowns, and got his hands on nine catches.
He did all of this with a broken finger.
My only reason for not giving Bryant an A was that he did go missing early in the season. In the Cowboys game against the Seattle Seahawks in week two, Dallas lost by 20 points. Bryant had just three catches for 17 yards and he also disappeared against the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons.
He did have an injured hip when the Cowboys played Atlanta, but Dez didn't truly turn his season around until their first game against Philly in early November.
Bryant deserves a Pro Bowl nod for his season, and for 2013, I fully expect for him to duplicate his success.
Tight End, Jason Witten: A
Jason Witten is about as steady as they come.
To start the year, Witten lacerated his spleen and many questioned if he would play the first game against the New York Giants.
Witten played, but was largely ineffective. He caught two balls, but was used mainly as a decoy.
As his spleen fully healed and he got back into football shape, Witten’s season started to come into form.
Witten is still the team’s top receiver after 10 seasons on the front line. With 1,039 receiving yards this season, Witten recorded his fourth career 1,000 yard season.
Left Tackle, Tyron Smith: C+
Tyron Smith's season wasn't bad, but he did have a little bit of a sophomore slump. Like every other Dallas Cowboys player, Smith battled through injuries.
He had penalties, like every other Dallas offensive lineman, and fell into bad technique at times as well.
Overall, Smith had a pretty good season. He didn't get Tony Romo killed, was still one of the more athletic tackles in the league, and still has a lot of room to grow.
As I see it, Smith will eventually morph into the Cowboys offensive line anchor.
Left Guard, Nate Livings: D+
Nate Livings was signed this past summer to give the Dallas Cowboys more depth at guard. The tackle position seemed to be set with Tyron Smith and Doug Free, but Dallas needed more insurance at guard.
As it went with the Cowboys in 2012, Livings dealt with injuries. He had a concussion, a hurt knee, a bum hamstring, and managed to hurt his hand.
Still, the 30-year old guard trudged through it all and played through the pain. For that, he deserves a lot of credit.
But the Cowboys offensive line was less than stellar. Against the Washington Redskins, they were blitzed off the field, and Jason Garrett never seemed to adjust to it.
That's not all Livings' fault, but he could have performed better this season, like the rest of the line.
Center, Ryan Cook: C-
Ryan Cook spent a lot of his time on the injury report. He was listed on the report eight times this season with a hurt knee and hamstring.
He started 11 games and played in 13 this year. What’s even better for Cook, he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys from the Miami Dolphins just five days before the season started, and he didn’t do a bad job this year.
For Cook, we have to keep his year in perspective. When the Cowboys traded for him, he was the Dolphins third-team center. Once he moved to the Cowboys, he was thrust into the starter role due to an injury to Phil Costa.
Center/Guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau: C+
Mackenzy Bernadeau played double duty this season. When Phil Costa and Ryan Cook went out with injuries, Jason Garrett called on Bernadeau to play center.
He didn't do a bad job and may actually get a shot to play the position full-time next season.
If he does, that will free up the guard position, an angle the Dallas Cowboys may take when they pick 18th in April's draft.
Right Tackle, Doug Free: F
Does Doug Free deserve at least a "D?" Free was so bad down the stretch that Jason Garrett rotated him out with tackle Jermey Parnell.
He looked slow, his footwork was sloppy, he was constantly beaten off the edge and Buccaneers defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn said Free can only block if he's holding.
The Dallas Cowboys have to upgrade the right tackle position during the summer. If they decide to stay with Free to give him another shot, there will hopefully be a renewed effort on Free's part to get better.
Left Defensive End, Marcus Spears: C+
Marcus Spears' impact for the Dallas Cowboys may never be fully defined by stats. He ended 2012 with just one sack and 25 tackles.
Take that against previous years where he has totaled 35 and 45 tackles, and it's been a bit of a down year for Spears.
He plays a large role in stopping the run for the Cowboys defense, but he couldn't do enough to get the Washington Redskins star running back off the field on Sunday night. Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards on the evening and wore the Cowboys defense down.
Spears will return in 2013, but like the rest of the squad, he has to play better.
Nose Tackle, Sean Lissemore: C-
Sean Lissemore was injured and moved positions as well.
Due to Jay Ratliff's absence and the situation surrounding Josh Brent, Lissemore was called upon to play nose tackle.
He wasn't terrible, but he struggled a little. The Dallas Cowboys simply had too many injuries to be competitive in some games, and Lissemore's season is reflective of that.
Right Defensive End, Jason Hatcher: B+
Jason Hatcher's season wasn't a wash. He notched four sacks and a combined 51 tackles.
With so many injuries, Hatcher did his best to make-up for what the Dallas Cowboys were missing.
2012 was a career year for the 7th year man out of Grambling State, and hopefully for Dallas, 2013 will be even better.
Left Outside Linebacker, Anthony Spencer: A+
11 sacks and 95 total tackles all were career highs for Anthony Spencer in 2012.
He had a fantastic season and will be a hot commodity this summer. He wants a long-term deal with the Dallas Cowboys, but Dallas may not be in a position to offer the money he's looking for.
Spencer was one of the Cowboys bright spots this season and came up large when Dallas needed him to.
Left Inside Linebacker, Dan Connor: C-
No Sean Lee or Bruce Carter in the middle meant that somebody had to step up.
Dan Connor was brought in this past summer to compete with Carter for the starting position in the middle. He lost out and Carter turned out to be a heck of a 'backer.
When Carter was lost for the season with a dislocated elbow, Connor stepped up and played his position.
He ended the year with 57 tackles and no sacks. It was nothing spectacular from Connor, but serviceable.
Right Inside Linebacker, Ernie Sims: C-
Like Dan Connor, Ernie Sims was brought in for injury duty.
43 total tackles and one sack was a decent season for Sims. I thought he played pretty well considering the circumstances, and Rob Ryan's oh so complicated defensive scheme.
Sims had a concussion that slowed him down for the season's last three games, but overall, did his duty this year.
Right Outside Linebacker, DeMarcus Ware: B+
DeMarcus Ware had a down season this year when it came to sacks. He was still in the double digits, but he only had 11.
He was hampered by a bum elbow and hurt shoulder, so he was slowed considerably.
Considering the season and what he went through, Ware still played through the pain and put many a quarterback on their backs.
His snap count was cut in half on Sunday, and because he wasn't at full strength, the Dallas Cowboys suffered.
Cornerback, Brandon Carr: B-
Brandon Carr ended the Pittsburgh Steelers game with an interception in overtime a few weeks ago. Outside of that, there aren't to many highlights for Carr.
He did have three picks, which is about par for the course for him over the past two seasons. Carr did have the most interception yards of his career this year, which is nothing short of a plus.
He did his work quietly, slowing down receivers and swatting many a pass away.
If Rex Ryan returns next season, Carr should be a step better in his system.
Cornerback, Morris Claiborne: C+
Morris Claiborne went through his fair share of growing pains this season. He had a nasty cut on his lip against the Cincinnati Bengals to go along with a bump on the head.
He only missed one game this year, but had one pick and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Not sure what Dallas Cowboys fans expected from him, but I would say he had an average season.
Claiborne also struggled against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, failing to shed key blocks and get an arm around Alfred Morris.
Still, Claiborne played well enough.
Strong Safety, Danny McCray: F
Danny McCray probably received his fair share of hate mail this season. According to one stat, he was ranked as one of the league’s least effective safeties.
McCray, along with the rest of the Dallas Cowboys secondary, was destroyed against the New Orleans Saints.
He saw the ire of many Cowboys fans after the Pittsburgh Steelers game where McCray gave up 124 yards through the air.
He did his best to fill in for the injured Barry Church, but he had his fair share of struggles in 2012.
Free Safety, Gerald Sensabaugh: C-
According to a report on ESPNDallas.com, Gerald Sensabaugh's displayed toughness earned him a lot of respect with his teammates.
He played 15 games this season, didn't score an interception, but recorded 58 total tackles.
He struggled through calf and leg injuries this season, and like so many of his teammates, played through the pain.
Hopefully the Dallas Cowboys will see a healthy Sensabaugh in 2013.
Kicker, Dan Bailey: A+
Any guy who makes 93 percent of his kicks and has a few game winning field goals deserves an "A."
Dan Bailey is Mr. Automatic for Dallas and made a career high five field goals of 50 or more yards in 2012.
Punter, Brian Moorman: D-
Brian Moorman's season was up and down. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, he averaged a paltry 33 yards per punt, but he was able to muscle his way to a 51 yard per kick average versus the New Orleans Saints in week 16.
I'm not a member of the Dallas Cowboys front office, but Moorman wasn't the defensive punter the Cowboys were looking for when they signed him.
He didn't help the defense out during tight spots, and for that, he'll probably be released.
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