The Dallas Cowboys watched their Super Bowl hopes sail away on a ship full of Vikings last season. After losing the season finale the past two seasons by a combined 69 points will the Cowboys once again fall drastically short? Or could this be the first year the team whose stadium hosts the Super Bowl will also be playing in it? The Stars will need to align perfectly in Dallas in order to be playing come February. Heres a position-by-position breakdown of the Cowboys roster for the coming season.
As much as everyone else doesn't like to admit it, Tony Romo was very good last year. He finished 3rd in the NFL in passing yards and was one of only four starting quarterbacks to throw single digit interceptions. With the emergence of Miles Austin, the addition of Dez Bryant, and the old reliable Jason Witten, Romo may be in store for the best year of his career.
When we look past Romo on the depth chart, we have veteran Jon Kitna, and a very young former Texas A&M standout Stephen McGee. Even though Kitna didn't take a single snap in 2009, the Cowboys believe if Romo were to get injured that Kitna could step up and do well enough to keep them in games. And believe it or not, word out of Dallas is that the coaches are saying McGee reminds them alot of a young Romo. Romo is only 31, so McGee still has plenty of time to prove himself before his name is called.
The Cowboys might possibly have one of the most talented backfields in all of football. They have the bruising goal-line back in Marion Barber, the speedy home-run hitter in Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice is a combination of both. The problem is Barber and Jones have a hard time staying healthy.
Barber may have only missed one game last season, but knee and thigh problems limited his typical burst and tackle-breaking. The only way we could possibly see Barber going back to his Pro-Bowl caliber-like season is if the Cowboys use him as they did in 2007 as more of a closer. Barber excels at short-yardage and grinding out the clock.
If all goes as planned in Dallas, Felix Jones will be getting more of the first and second-down carries this season. Jones averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry last season and had four rushes of 40 yards or more. If he can stay healthy and is used in the starting role, don't be surprised to see Jones making his first Pro-Bowl.
My favorite guy in the Cowboys backfield is Tashard Choice. When called upon, this guy is just a down-right play-maker. I really believe Choice is the most talented guy in the Cowboys backfield and it will only be a matter of time before the Cowboys either 1) realize his talents and give him more carries, or 2) trade him away. Choice is just too good to be sitting at third on a depth chart. The best thing about Choice is that he knows how to take care of the ball. Can't argue against 156 career rushing attempts and he hasn't fumbled once.
The Cowboys receiving core is led by possibly the break-out player of the 2009-10 season in Miles Austin. After having minimal impact the first four games of the season, Austin got his chance to show off his skills against Kansas City week five. Filling in for Roy Williams, Austin had a record-setting performance. Amassing 250 receiving yards with 10 catches and two touchdowns, Cowboy fans were only seeing a glimmer of the light that Austin would bring to Dallas the rest of the season.
As we glance down the depth chart, it could be very interesting to see whether veteran Williams or rookie Dez Bryant will capture the second wideout spot. I just have a feeling that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is drooling over the thought of having such a speedster in Bryant line up in the slot.
I really beleive that Bryant is going to take alot of pressure off Williams, which just might let the former Longhorn relax and show us why the Cowboys spent two first-round draft picks on him.
At the end of last season the Cowboys were both estatic and dissapointed in the performance of their tight-ends. Although he hasn't seen near the red-zone touches fantasy football owners would like to see, Jason Witten had a great season. He ranked second in catches (92) and third in receiving yards (1,030) among tight-ends. In Witten's case, his strength is also a weakness. He is such an asset as a run-blocker that the Cowboys often resort to the running game in the red-zone which has equated to only 6 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
The dissapointment comes from the highly praised Martellus Bennett. Cowboys coaching staff was praising this kid during training camp and preseason last year, but when it came down to it he did nothing more than block in important games. The Cowboys still beleive he has all the physical attributes to be a great red-zone target, but the mental side of his game is what has the team worried.
The Cowboys decided to let long-time veteran Flozell Adams go. This leaves a huge hole in that left-tackle spot. Or does it? Doug Free has shown potential while filling in for Adams over the past two seasons. He isn't real explosive off the line, but has the quickness to engage and great athleticism for a lineman.
At the opposite tackle position is Marc Columbo. He has obviously reached the ceiling as far as potential goes, but he can still be productive. He has a really hard time containing bull-rushing defensive ends.
The Cowboys are good to great at the guard position. Obviously Leonard Davis has proven he is one of the most physical offensive lineman in the league. He does a great job of both locking on and smother defenders as both a run and pass-blocker.
Kyle Kosier is at the opposite guard and has shown that he can be effective when healthy. He is a bit under-sized at the position but he makes up for it with technique and effort.
Andre Gurode is the anchor and best lineman on the roster. He is very versatile and has started at both center and guard. Althought he isn't the most explosive rush blocker, Gurode is quick to recover laterally as a pass-blocker and reacts well to pressure.
When a team is playing a 3-4 defense, the nose-tackle has to be the anchor of the line. Jay Ratliff is all the anchor the Cowboys need and more. His stats (40 tackles and 6 sacks last season) might make you beleive he couldn't anchor a canoe. But the truth is Ratliff does a great job of forcing teams to run outside the tackles. He may not be a top-ten tackle, but he does what the Cowboys ask of him.
Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky are the starters on the outside for Dallas. As a pass rusher Spears does a good job containing the pocket and using strength to apply pressure, but doesn't have the quick acceleration to clear past the block with much frequency.
After releasing All-Pro defensive-end converted line-backer Greg Ellis in 2009, that opened the door for Dallas to sign Olshansky away from San Diego. It would be a reach to say he has exceeded expectations in Dallas but you also can't see he has been a dissapointment. He had 40 tackles and 2 sacks last season and Dallas is comfortable with the job he is doing
DeMarcus Ware leads a stealthy linebacker core. Ware has been one of the most consistent and productive linebackers in the league over the past three seasons. After a decrease in production as far as stats go (2008: 84 tackles, 20 sacks, 2009: 57 tackles, 11 sacks) in 2009, 2010 is looking much more promising for the three-time All-Pro selection. As the defense around him improves Ware will see less double-teams and more sacks in the future.
Opposite Ware is Anthony Spencer who had a break-out season in 2009. He still is a little un-disciplined at times after three seasons in the league. But he has shown potential to be a consistent contributor for Dallas in the future.
The biggest addition to the Cowboys roster last off-season was undoubtedly veteran Keith Brooking. He quickly became a vocal leader for Dallas and was a huge contributor on the field as well. At 34, Brooking may not be an elite linebacker anymore, he is definitely a solid starter and brings the veteran leadership that a very young Cowboys defense needs in order to make a run in the playoffs.
The most productive inside linebacker for Dallas has been Bradie James. He is excellent at attacking the line of scrimmage but can have lapses in coverage from time to time. He has a bit of trouble in man-to-man schemes but does a great job in combination coverages.
Veteran and two-time Pro-Bowl selection Terence Newman leads a young secondary that has potential to be one of the best in the league. Even at 31 Newman is still being considered a top-five cornerback in the league. Not only are the Cowboys loving his play on the field, but its what he is doing off the field they are even happier about. Newman has taken young backs Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick and turned one into a Pro-Bowler and the other into one of the most reliable slot-corners in the league.
In 2009 Jenkins and Scandrick rotated spots. During week 3 in a game versus the Carolina Panthers Jenkins had an interception. Since then, he's started over Scandrick and had 5 interceptions last season.
Scandrick excels when covering on an island, is very aggresive and a great open field-tackler. He still needs to improve his reactions time but has plenty of potential to be a solid second corner.
The safety position is one where the Cowboys are a little nervous. Minnesota's Brett Favre had a hay-day in the playoffs with Gerald Sensabaugh who literally seemed lost on the field. With the departure of Ken Hamlin, someone is really going to need to step up at the free-safety spot.
Dallas is hoping transformed corner Alan Ball will be able to have a smooth transition to the safety spot. Sensabaugh meanwhile needs to improve his reaction skills. He tends to over think instead of just reacting. He also struggled playing a deep zone in Cover 2 last season. This is the weakest spot on the Cowboys roster.
I'm not even going to talk about the punter position because Matt McBriar has proven he can punt the ball. The position many Dallas fans are worried about is the kicker. Just a few years ago it seemed they had finally found a long-term solution in Nick Folk who was selected to the Pro-Bowl as a rookie and had a stellar sophomore season missing only two field goals. But it went down hill, sharply, after that. In 2009 Folk missed 10 field goals, more than the previous two seasons combined and the Cowboys quickly decided it was time for Folk to go. After a failed experiment with Shaun Suisham at the end of 2009, all fingers are pointing to the kickoff specialist David Buehler.
Buehler is a "rookie" kicker in the sense that he has yet to have field goal try in a regular-season game. That is not the normal course of action for a Super Bowl contender. The 1997 Green Bay Packers, with Ryan Longwell, are the last team to reach the Super Bowl with a rookie kicker.
The Cowboys have described him more as a football player who kicks rather than a kicker who plays football. Buehler still has little experience under-pressure. In two seasons at USC, he was never asked to make a fourth-quarter kick with the game in the balance.