This time last year, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin was putting the finishing touches on his breakout year. The man from Monmouth, mysteriously overlooked by talent scouts coming out of high school and again when he became NFL draft eligible, was setting the NFL on its ear, ripping defensive backfields to shreds and leaving his own mark on the Cowboys' record books.
This time a year ago, Mike Jenkins was well on his way to his first-ever Pro Bowl. He had not only put to rest all argument over whether he or Orlando Scandrick was the best of the cornerbacks the Cowboys took in the 2008 draft, but had established himself as the best cover corner on the team.
This time last year, Anthony Spencer was establishing himself as a formidable counterpart to the NFL's best outside linebacker. Spencer had emerged as a run stopper that could pressure the quarterback. Putting the automatic double team on DeMarcus Ware would cost teams with Spencer on the field.
That was 2009.
In Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Austin burst onto the scene. He caught 10 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He had not been a starter prior to that outburst, but he was from that moment forward. He would finish the season with 81 catches for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was Pro Bowl and big contract bound.
In 2009, cornerback Jenkins snagged five interceptions. He officially recorded another 19 passes defended. He also recorded 45 tackles and four assists. Jenkins' play earned him a Pro Bowl berth and established him as perhaps the best cover corner on the team.
In '09, Spencer recorded only six sacks, but he always seemed to be a half-step away from another one. He put constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He also posted 50 tackles, 17 assists and grabbed an interception.
That was 2009.
This is 2010.
Austin, after 13 games, has 58 receptions for 826 yards and five touchdowns. However, he has not posted a 100-yard receiving effort since Game 7. He has caught a total of 15 passes in the past six games.
In other words, Miles Austin, the man Jerry Jones made the third highest-paid receiver in football, has all but disappeared.
Jenkins has but one interception and eight passes defensed in 13 games this season. He does have 46 tackles, mainly because he has been chasing down receivers that burned him. He has notoriously passed on a couple of opportunities to make a tackle, making what Chris Collinsworth derisively called "business decisions."
So far in 2010, Spencer has made 41 tackles, with nine assists and just three sacks. His play, like the play of Austin and Jenkins, has taken a noticeable step in the wrong direction, leaving the pundits and maybe the coaches scratching their heads.
2010 is easily the most disastrous, disappointing season in the 50 year history of the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was supposed to contend for the Super Bowl now has a better chance at a top five draft pick than a Super Bowl run. A much better chance.
Wade Phillips was obviously a big part of the problem.
Wade is gone.
Players like Austin, Spencer and Jenkins, however, remain. They were up-and-comers the Cowboys were counting on to play invaluable roles in the team's progress towards postseason success. Instead, they have shown themselves to be men with more promise than production. They have been a whole lot of buck for the bang.
It seems fitting the Dallas Cowboys are owned by Jerry Jones, the NFL's version of the crazy prospector. After all, so much of the talent on the field has proven to be little more than fool's gold.