Going into 2009, the Cowboys will be looking for contributions from the usual suspects: Tony Romo, Marion Barber, DeMarcus Ware and Co.
In an effort to get younger (and generally cheaper) players on the field, the Cowboys have cut loose some talented veterans who appear to be on the downward trend of their careers. Players such as Roy Williams (the safety), Tank Johnson, Anthony Henry, Brad Johnson, Zach Thomas and of course Terrell Owens have all been given the boot, as the Cowboys will focus on getting younger alternatives to fill the voids.
The term “progress stoppers” has been bantered about a lot this offseason. GM Jerry Jones seems serious about giving young players more opportunity to compete for playing time and produce.
Even team leader Greg Ellis has recently been rumored in trade talks. Anthony Spencer was the team’s first round pick in 2007, and will now be given every opportunity to prove his draft status worthy.
Spencer won’t be alone. These five young veterans will look to step their game up and become productive players in their respective roles for the 2009 season.
For the Cowboys to make a serious playoff run, it’s paramount that these players develop into solid if not spectacular contributors.
Although fellow 2008 rookie cornerback Orlando Scandrick was lauded by many last year, his fellow draftmate and former first round pick, Mike Jenkins, steadily improved as the season progressed.
With Anthony Henry no longer manning the No. 2 CB spot, Jenkins will be given every opportunity to lock down the spot. The Cowboys like Scandrick in the slot and prefer to keep him there.
If Jenkins' offseason comments are to be taken seriously, it looks like he's improved his mental approach to the game to match his impressive physical skill-set.
Many believe Patrick Crayton will fill the role of No. 2 opposite of Roy Williams. However, I believe the Cowboys will look to Miles Austin to step up and challenge for that role.
It's taken many years for Austin to develop. He showed great promise last year in training camp, preseason, and onto the regular season.
With another season of development and more opportunity, I can foresee Austin having a similar impact to the passing game that Terry Glenn brought during his time in Dallas.
Anthony Spencer's time is now.
His excellent training camp last year warranted a larger role, but an injury limited him early on, not to mention having to play behind veteran Greg Ellis, who apparently the Cowboys had to placate by giving him the starting role.
Ellis has recently been rumored to be on the move. All signs point to Spencer being given the role of full-time starter. Barring injury, I foresee Spencer having a breakout season for the Cowboys.
He's not the tallest, quickest, fastest, or prettiest wide receiver you've ever seen, but you certainly won't find many that have worked harder at their craft than fourth year veteran Sam Hurd.
Many forget that Hurd was having a breakout training camp/preseason before suffering a high-ankle sprain running a reverse against the Vikings in the team's last preseason game.
With the recent injury to fellow WR Isaiah Stanback, Hurd's spot on the roster became a little more secure.
The Cowboys love his effort and what he does even without the ball in his hands.
Look for Hurd to put up career highs in receptions and yards this year.
What a turn around in public perception Bennett has made.
From training camp goof ball, to flat-out baller, Bennett is winning fans for his exciting play.
Bennett won't be asked to beat out perennial All-Pro Jason Witten, but it seems his playmaking ability might force Cowboys coaching staff to find a way to get him involved in two-TE sets.
Witten is certainly the present for the foreseeable future, but it appears Bennett might be the future.