Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant and 5 Players Ready to Break out
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With the 2011 NFL season currently in limbo over the 78-day-old lockout, questions are abound. Will the lockout end in time for training camp? How many regular season games will be lost? Will I get my season tickets refunded if there is no football?
Well, the sports world never sleeps. The Dallas Cowboys went 6-10 last season, which saw Jerry Jones fire a coach in midseason for the first time in the 20-plus years he has owned the team.
The Cowboys have talent on both sides of the ball, and look to make the nightmare that was last season a thing of the past and jump back into the running for the team's ninth NFC championship, and sixth Super Bowl championship.
Here are six Cowboys who I think will break out in the 2011 season:
1. Dez Bryant, WR
Dez Bryant in action
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There wasn't a more electrifying receiver and kick returner last season then Dez Bryant. Every time he touched the ball, he was a threat to score. After overcoming a slow start, Bryant recorded 45 receptions for 561 yards and 6 TDs.
Bryant was the source of much controversy during his time at Oklahoma State, and even after. He was in the spotlight for an issue in a Dallas mall, and he was also the subject of civil court proceedings in which he owed jewelers an astounding amount of money.
The 2011 campaign will be critical in the young man's development. With a healthy Tony Romo in the lineup, Bryant should challenge Miles Austin to be the Cowboys' No. 1 receiver like the man who wore No. 88 before him.
Projected 2011 stats: 81 catches for 1,200 yards receiving and 10 TDs.
2. Felix Jones, RB
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When one thinks of a running back, they think of a workhorse. They think of a player who will run the ball 20-plus times a game. A running back who can carry the load is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Felix Jones was drafted out of Arkansas, sharing time with fellow Razorback alumni and Raiders RB Darren McFadden. He has never been a featured running back, nor has he shouldered most of the carries in the backfield.
With Marion Barber's future being uncertain, the popular opinion is that Jones will become the featured back in Dallas, with Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray complimenting him. Jones has the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field.
His 76-yard touchdown run against the Eagles in a Wild Card playoff victory is an example of Jones' electric ability in the open field. He is equally explosive in the return game, as he returned a kickoff 98 yards in a victory over the Green Bay Packers.
The 2011 season, in my opinion, will be a telling sign as Jones will be the full-time starting tailback and he will look to quiet criticism of his durability and produce numbers from the position that haven't been seen since Emmitt Smith.
Projected 2011 stats: 250 carries for 1,200 yards rushing and 8 TDs
3. Anthony Spencer, LB
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Drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft, Spencer was to give the Cowboys a pass-rushing tandem that would make NFL quarterbacks quake with fear.
Defenses are often counted on to win games in the fourth quarter with a key stop. Last season, the Cowboys were a sieve on defense, as they gave up a franchise record 431 points and lost eight games by seven points or less.
Spencer was counted on to generate pressure on the opposite side of Ware, but often times you would see the scene above where he would over-pursue. One example of this was a loss against the Denver Broncos, and he was covering Knowshon Moreno in the flat and he let a game-clinching interception go through his hands instead of stopping the play in its tracks.
If Spencer's production does not match his big contract, then he will quickly fall out of favor with the team. If he does not produce in 2011, then a cheaper and more productive option could be found.
But of course, when you have the NFL's sack champion on the other side, getting worthwhile numbers is a difficult proposition.
Projected 2011 stats: 7.5 sacks
4. Stephen McGee, QB
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Stephen McGee was drafted out of Texas A&M to be a developmental quarterback behind Tony Romo and Jon Kitna. He was the third quarterback for most of the season until injuries to Romo and Kitna brought him into the lineup.
In action versus the Cardinals and Eagles, McGee flashed his potential in leading the Cowboys offense down the field and closing the season on a positive note against Philadelphia.
McGee is a strong-armed quarterback who has the potential to move outside the pocket. While Tony Romo is on the team, McGee will be fighting for the backup job with Jon Kitna. I believe that McGee could overtake Kitna and eventually become the Cowboys' No. 2 quarterback.
With more reps and increased playing time, McGee could develop into a solid backup if not starter. Teams are realizing that having a capable backup quarterback to win games if the starter misses extended time is a growing luxury in the NFL.
McGee will start the season as the third quarterback, but I believe he will supplant Kitna as the backup near the end of a rejuvenated Cowboys playoff run.
Projected 2011 stats: 150 completions for 500 yards and 3 TDs in relief time.
5. Tony Romo, QB
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Alright, Alright. If you're reading this your probably thinking, "Why is he on this list?" Simple: Tony Romo is going to breakout and finally silience his critics.
He ended last season hurt, and I believe he learned an important lesson seeing Jon Kitna take the team to a 4-2 mark in his absence. He learned that you shouldn't take so many chances, and sometimes just driving the bus is an easier route to winning games.
When Romo is at the top of his game, the Cowboys are scary for anyone. Romo knows how to buy time with his feet and he will make the play that you will be ready to put his bust in Canton, but then he'll also make a play that will make you be ready to run him out of town.
He is what makes the Cowboys offense go. When he is in the game, they have a different element. Cowboys fans should remember how many people we had at quarterback: Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, Ryan Leaf, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, an aging Randall Cunningham, Brad Johnson. It makes me shudder to see all the people that have failed after Troy Aikman retired.
Romo is the Cowboys' franchise quarterback. He will be the one that will give them the best chance to win each and every Sunday.
This will be a big year for No. 9.
Projected 2011 stats: 16 games started, 4,000 yards passing, with 30-plus touchdowns.