The Dallas Cowboys surprised a lot of people last year, including myself. Coming into the 2014 season, I had 0 expectations for the Cowboys, only because there were so many questions prior to week one. Of course many of those questions were answered after they finished 12-4 and was one catch away from reaching the NFC Championship Game, but like most teams, new questions arrive once the last game of the season is over.
The biggest question mark for the Cowboys this off-season was answered with a signature on a 5-year $70 million contract. Dez Bryant contract situations was one of the biggest stories in the NFL during off-season. So many rumors and speculations about both parties had many thinking that a deal was never going to get done.
Despite the media's approach to separate the two and manipulate public opinion, neither Dez or the Cowboys let that effect the situation. Contrary to popular belief, Dez was apart of all of the Cowboys Team activities and frequently appeared at the Cowboys facility. WHY? Because he is a team player. He wanted to assure his teammates that he was their for them. Dez knew that throughout this process, he could not lose the trust of his teammates, something other players often forget when going through contract negotiations.
With Dez signed and sealed until 2020, the focus now is on the dynamic of team.
Offensively, I don't expect many changes except for in the backfield. For me, the backfield is the Cowboys biggest question mark. Joeseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams, Lache Seatrunk, and Darren McFadden will be apart of training camp. Randle and Dunbar were spell backs for DeMarco Murray and together they combined for 442 yards on 80 carries, which was only 17% of the Cowboys rushing yards last season.
Randall will walk into Camp as the starter but his spot is not solidified. It is surprising to still see Randle on the roster after being arrested twice in a 5 month span, once in October 2014 for shoplifting and in February 2015 for Marijuana possession. In this era of professional sports, athletes are rarely giving three chances from one ball club, but the Cowboys see something in Randle that they feel is worth the trouble.
Despite Randle's off-field issues, he has not been suspended from competition this season but Greg Hardy and Rolando Mclain will miss some games. Mclain will miss 4 games for substance abuse and Hardy also will miss 4-games after his initial 10-game suspension for domestic violence was reduced. Once both return, expect the Cowboys defense to be top notch.
Hardy will help improve the Cowboys pass defense, which was ranked 28th in Sacks with, ironically, 28 sacks. Hardy played his entire career in Carolina but only played 1 game last season due to being on the commissioner’s exempt list for his domestic violence incident. In 2013, Hardy posted 13 sacks.
Rookies, DE Randy Gregory and CB Byron Jones, will also help the Cowboys improve their pass defense, which gave up 4,031 yards, one of seven teams that allowed 4,000+ passing yards. I need for one player in particular to step his game up, that player being Morris Claiborne.
I would like to see Claiborne have a breakout season this year. He only played in 10 games last season after a knee injury sidelined him but he has yet to make a major splash for the Cowboys since being drafted 6th overall in 2012. Some are saying that this is Claiborne's last opportunity to prove that he is not a bust. I don't want to consider Claiborne a bust, but he has not lived up to the 1st round expectations.
The Cowboys in the past couple of seasons have kept things simple. Last year they finally realized that running the ball will be the best remedy to keep quarterback, Tony Romo, from making costly mistakes.
I always said that Romo makes the worst mistakes at the worst times. Romo had his lowest amount of pass attempts since 2006, with 435 (213 in 2010 but only played in 6 games) which is thanks to DeMarco Murray 392 rushing attempts. I would still consider Romo a top tier QB in the NFL, but I do think you have to limit his mistakes, and one of doing that is by having a solid running game.
I expect Romo to have more attempts this season, depending on how well the committee of running backs can produce but the offense success depends on the big uglies up front which is still the best in the league. Other than the running game, I don't see many questions on the offensive side of the ball for the Cowboys.
It's not that simple on the defensive side.
Like I said between the players coming back from injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys defense could look different every week. The most sacks on the team was 6 while Bruce Carter, a linebacker, had the most interceptions with 5. Can their pass defense become at least above average? Despite them being one of the worst in the league in pass coverage, they still manage to win 12-games, but lightning don't strike twice.