Dallas Cowboys: 5 Biggest Storylines out of the Preseason
Jerry Jones' team is coming off a hugely disappointing 2010-11 season and he will spare no expense in trying to return America's Team to its former glory.
It took Jerry eight games to finally decide Wade Phillips was not the right man to coach this team last season. The job was subsequently handed to former offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting Jason Garrett.
The team rebounded to go 5-3 in their final eight games with Garrett at the helm and showed some impressive signs of life heading into the offseason by beating, among others, the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles during Garrett's interim tenure.
The so-called red-headed genius's no-nonsense approach has carried over from last season and he has shown throughout training camp and the preseason that he is truly in charge of this team and will not hesitate to make tough decisions.
Garrett hired the enigmatic, energetic and entertaining Rob Ryan to be his defensive coordinator in order to fix a defense that ranked 31st in the league in points allowed last season and allowed the most points in franchise history.
Ryan's scheme is predicated on confusing opposing offenses, but oftentimes it has been the Cowboys players themselves who have appeared confused during preseason games. With the first game against Rob's brother Rex and the New York Jets fast approaching, they'd better get it figured out soon.
As the preseason comes to a close, let's take a look at the biggest story lines coming out of Cowboys camp for the 2011-12 season.
5. Kicking Carousel
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The Cowboys used four kickers at different points in training camp and the preseason and two of them made the final 53 man roster.
Shayne Graham and Dave Rayner were given opportunities in the preseason, but neither of them stood out enough to earn a roster spot.
David Buehler, who two seasons ago was purely a kickoff specialist, was given the full time place kicking duties last season.
However, Buehler struggled down the stretch last year and missed three field goals over the last five games of the season and an extra point which cost the Cowboys a game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Subsequently, Buehler will go back to being strictly the kickoffs guy for the 2011-12 season.
Dan Bailey won the job coming out of training camp and he will be the kicker for the upcoming year.
Bailey is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Oklahoma State, where he was one of the best kickers in the nation. Bailey was last year's Lou Groza Award winner as the best kicker in the FBS.
The Cowboys have not had a consistently dependable kicker since Nick Folk's first season out of Arizona. Dallas thought they had found a kicker for the foreseeable future, but Folk struggled mightily in his second year, and they eventually handed the kicking duties over to Buehler.
4. Overpaid Under Performers Are Shown the Door
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What do Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis, Marc Columbo, Marion Barber, Roy Williams and Igor Olshansky have in common?
They were all starters for the 2010-11 Dallas Cowboys.
And none of them will wear the star on their helmet during the 2011-12 season.
Each of these players had a contract that was no longer commensurate with their talent level or their production, and while Wade Phillips might have been okay with continually running them out there week after week, Jason Garrett clearly is not.
Gurode has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past five seasons, but his name recognition has far outweighed his production over the last few years.
Davis struggled so much at right guard last season that he was at one point replaced by Montrae Holland before Holland was injured and Davis returned to the lineup. As one of the highest-paid guards in the league, that type of performance simply was not cutting it.
Marc Columbo struggled to stay healthy, and to stay productive when he was on the field.
Having three older, highly paid and not very productive players on the offensive line is not what you want going into the season, so all three were released.
Marion Barber and Roy Williams were often the targets of anger from Dallas Cowboys fans over the last two years, and rightly so.
Barber never seemed to be the same back in a starter's role as he was in the days that he was backing up Julius Jones, and he never lived up to his big contract.
The trade for Williams was clearly such an abomination so quickly that fans and media alike were calling for him to be cut prior to last season, but Phillips gave him one more shot. He did nothing to show that he deserved to remain on the team.
Both Barber and Williams signed with the Chicago Bears after being cut.
Igor Olshansky was brought over to the team by Wade Phillips, and now that Rob Ryan is running the show, he no longer was guaranteed a starting spot. Olshansky was somewhat unsurprisingly cut this week as he under performed in the preseason and his contract severely outweighed his presumed role in the defense.
3. Dez Bryant Is a Superstar in the Making
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While Miles Austin and Jason Witten are currently quarterback Tony Romo's favorite targets, it's becoming more and more clear every day that eventually Dez Bryant is going to be the best player on the Cowboys' offense.
If Bryant can step up his game this year, the Cowboys may have the best triple-threat of receiving options in the entire NFL.
Bryant's huge, strong hands and ability to go up and snatch the ball out of mid air at its highest point already make him a credible deep threat.
His strong lower body and incredible quickness make him nearly impossible to bring down in the open field, and thus he is a threat to score for anywhere on the football field.
Bryant had a strong rookie campaign last season, catching 45 passes for 561 yards and six touchdowns in just 12 games. He also returned two punts for scores.
Dez had seven catches for 80 yards in three preseason appearances and has been working hard at developing a rhythm with Tony Romo that he didn't really have last season.
The off the field troubles of last season are now behind him and he is focused on getting better. He no longer has problems showing up on time or paying attention in meetings, and he knows the playbook and what routes to run on any given play.
Bryant has as much talent as any wide receiver in the league, and he's going to be scary good when he puts it all together.
2. Offensive Line Re-Shuffling
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Only one member of the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line will start the 2011-12 season in the same place that he ended last year.
Left tackle Doug Free is the only returning member of the offensive line who will be playing the same position this year.
Left guard turned right guard Kyle Kosier is the only other returning starter from last year.
Kosier was moved from the left to right side to aid the transition of rookie right tackle Tyron Smith.
Smith was the Cowboys' first round pick out of the University of Southern California and is the youngest player in the NFL this season. The thought is that Smith will eventually move to left tackle and protect Tony Romo's blind side, but trusting a 20-year-old rookie with that job is not something Jason Garrett wanted to do.
The Boys will start another rookie along the offensive line as former Wisconsin Badger Bill Nagy will begin the season as the starting left guard. Nagy was hurt in his junior year at Wisconsin and eventually lost the starting center job and spent most of his senior season on the bench. Dallas snapped him up in the seventh round of this year's draft and he earned the right to be a starter in training camp.
Second year man Phil Costa replaces Andre Gurode as the starting center, and for all intents and purposes, he's basically a rookie as well. Costa appeared in two games last season, but still has negligible game experience coming into the season.
The Cowboys entered last year with one of the oldest and most experienced offensive lines in the NFL and this season's line couldn't be further toward the other end of the spectrum.
Being that protecting Tony Romo is a top priority, it's going to be interesting to watch how the youngsters perform this year.
1. Felix Jones Is Ready for the Big Time
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Felix Jones was the unquestioned star of the preseason for the Dallas Cowboys.
Jones carried the ball 14 times for 99 total yards in three preseason contests while also catching four passes for 34 yards.
Felix showed great burst and some of the breakaway speed that he didn't have last season. Jones bulked up in order to handle a bigger load of carries coming into the 2010-11 season and it adversely affected his performance.
The fourth year running back out of Arkansas is a big time home run threat and he showcased the ability to break the big play again in the preseason.
However, he also showed some improved power, especially in the game against the San Diego Chargers where he ran over Eric Weddle on his way to a 22 yard gain.
Primary backup Tashard Choice barely saw the field in the preseason and rookie DeMarco Murray missed some time with injury as well. Undrafted rookie Philip Tanner also made the team, but most of his contributions will come on special teams.
Felix is going to be a focal point of the offense this season and it will be important to get the ball in his hands 15-18 times per game.
While the Cowboys backfield has been a true time share for a few years now, it's looking more and more like it will be Felix as the lead horse and then everyone else filling in behind him in the upcoming season.
Jason Garrett will have to show more of a commitment to the running game than he has over the last few seasons to keep defenses off balance, and Jones looks more than ready to handle the increased role in the offensive scheme.