Dallas Cowboys: America's Team Is Back
"Get your ring fingers ready." With that single quote, head coach Wade Phillips has the media buzzing. His Cowboys team had one of its best seasons in the last 20 years last year, and it appears they are ready to put their first round exit behind them.
They have locked up their core of talented pro bowlers consisting of Terrence Newman, Marion Barber III, and Ken Hamlin for the next six years and had a fantastic draft. Felix Jones is set to have a great year teaming up with Barber. Cornerback Mike Jenkins was added to a secondary already loaded with talent, including Anthony Henry and recently acquired Adam Jones.
All this, in addition to the resigning of Terrell Owens and the drafting of TE Martellus Bennett, makes the upcoming season one that any Cowboys fan would anticipate to be one for the record books. It appears that anything but a Super Bowl win is flat out unacceptable.
The Cowboys entered this offseason attempting to achieve the three goals every team in the NFL looks at: improve weaknesses, draft high quality and high character players, and create competition at key positions. In most opinions, they have indeed accomplished these goals.
Take a look at the secondary. Behind Newman and Henry, they were sorely lacking depth at the cornerback position and safety was in flux due to the impending free agency market. Hamlin wanted a long-term deal, and Roy Williams was in the midst of one of his "worst" years in the league, a year in which he still turned in a pro bowl caliber year.
They addressed the corner position by drafting Jenkins and trading little to nothing for Jones, a No. 6 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Both, as well as Felix Jones, should add some much needed energy to a special teams unit that has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2006.
In addition to Newman, both possess the ability to become lock down corners for the Cowboys and stop teams from burning them deep because of their electrifying speed.
As for safety, Hamlin received his long term-deal—six years totaling $39 million with a $9 million signing bonus and $15 million guaranteed—making him one of the highest paid safeties in the league. In 2007, he turned in one of his better years, totaling 62 tackles, 15 pass deflections, and five interceptions which resulted in his Pro Bowl berth and lucrative contract.
Beside him is four-time pro bowler Roy Williams, one of if not the hardest hitting safety in the league. He totaled 115 tackles, five deflections, and two interceptions. He has changed his number and rededicated himself to the weight room and film room in hopes of erasing the ridiculous idea that he cannot cover the pass.
This tandem is one of the best in the league and will solidify the safety positions for years to come.
As for the offense, it can be summed up in two words: record breaking. That is exactly what they did all last year, setting team records in points scored, passing touchdowns, total yards, and tying a team record with 13 wins. Everybody returns from a unit that sent seven players to the pro bowl and has all of them returning to the team.
It all starts at the quarterback position. For the first time since the retirement of Troy Aikman, the team finally has stability at the quarterback position. Tony Romo turned in a career year totaling 4,211 passing yards, a 64.4 completion percentage, 36 touchdown passes against 19 interceptions, and a 97.4 passer rating.
These numbers would appease most, but he is dedicated to improving himself and leading the Cowboys back to the promised land. And he has weapons in every direction that he looks. At receiver he has perennial pro bowler Terrell Owens coming off one of his best years, Patrick Crayton coming off his best year as a professional, and Terry Glenn returning from injury.
Jason Whitten is back from what was the most decorated season ever turned in by a Cowboys tight end. He had 96 catches, second most by any tight end in NFL history for a single season, 1,145 yards receiving, and seven touchdowns which resulted in his fourth pro bowl berth.
At running back they return Marion Barber III whose 975 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns earned him a trip to Hawaii and a new contract. He could be one of the only players in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl without starting a single regular season game.
On the offensive line, they sent three players to Honolulu. With their average lineman being 6'5", 329 pounds, pro bowlers Lenard Davis, Andre Gurode, and Flozell Adams team up with Marco Columbo and Cory Procter to give the Cowboys one of the largest and most talented offensive lines in the NFL.
As if all this was not enough, their rookie kicker, Nick Folk, showed the league that he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. He finished fourth in the league and second in the NFC with 131 points as well as setting the franchise scoring record for kickers. He was the first Cowboys kicker since 1981 to make it to the Pro Bowl and the first rookie since Emmitt Smith did it in 1990.
Folk was thrust into the national spotlight in week five against Buffalo when in the waning seconds he not only nailed a perfect onside kick to give the Cowboys possession of the ball, he drilled a 53-yard field goal to win the game.
The field goal was negated due to the Bills calling a timeout before the kick in an attempt to ice the kicker. This turned out to be no problem for the rookie as he calmly stepped up and split the uprights with the next one with no time remaining to win the game.
All in all, the Cowboys had a year to remember last year and look to build on their success this year as they attempt to add another Lombardi trophy to their already crowded collection. All of this adds up to an upcoming year that Cowboys fans cannot help but be excited about.
As coach Wade Phillips' quote indicates, they have set the bar high for themselves and expect great things this year and in the years to come. In the famous words of receiver Terrell Owens, "Get your popcorn ready."
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