Cowboys Banking on Health and Youth in 2012
With the Salary Cap how it is and the Talent Pool draining by the day, fans are wondering how the Cowboys plan on fielding a better team then the one that went 8-8 last season. Once again, the Cowboys had a chance to win the division and make the play-offs, but could not get the job done. We couldn’t make stops when we needed to and our offense could not get the ball in the endzone enough. Changes were made to both the Offense and Defense, from role changes amongst coaching staff to changing defensive schemes. Changing schemes usually mean bringing in new players that match that scheme. And considering the record of last years team, you would think that an influx of talent is going to be needed to improve this team. Partly, you are right. But the Cowboys might be banking on just acquisitions to make their team better.
The second week of Free agency is among us, and so far the Dallas Cowboys have not made a splash. Teams like Miami (Five free agent acquisitions worth $135 Million, $63 Million guranteed) and and Kansas City (Six free agent acquisitions worth $103 Million, $38 Million guaranteed) are trying to win free agency by signing as many players as they can with their cap room. Some teams are over spending for unproven talent while others are finding good value in this buyers market. With the Dallas Cowboys struggling getting contracts in order and gaining flexibility with their salary cap, they will look to health and youth for main contributions in the 2013 season.
Sean Lee, Barry Church, Bruce Carter, Kenyon Coleman, Orlando Scandrick, Phil Costa, Chris Jones (All Starters), Danny Coale, Orie Lemon and Caleb McSurdy all made their way to the Injured Reserve list. Loosing six starters and four Linebackers total was brutal. Our Defense never recovered and looked suspect all season. With Sean Lee out, DeMarcus Ware (Recovering from Shoulder surgery now and was close to having elbow surgery) and Jay Ratliff hurt (Ratliff missed 10 games last season due to ankle injuries and hernia surgery), and continuous dissappointments in the secondary, the Cowboys was ranked 19th in yards per game.
There were four games that the Cowboys lost by less than six points last season. Those games might have had a different outcome if we were not stricken with the injury bug. Do you not think having up to seven starters back on your roster wouldn’t sway a Victory? How much production could we have gotten from a healthy D-Ware? Barry Church had a great off-season and came into training camp ready to prove that he was the answer at Safety. He was off to a good start, but tore his Achilles in the third quarter of Week 3. At one point in the season, we had to start the backup backup Safety. The Cowboys leaned on Veteran free agent pickups Dan Connor, Ernie Sims, and Charlie Peprah to patch up this Defense but it was not enough. Not only are Sean Lee and Bruce Carter quicker, stronger and faster players, they are also some of the best tacklers in the NFL. (PFF has Lee ranked 6th and Carter ranked 15th among LBs in Tackling Efficiency)
Another reason why the Cowboys will have an improved team is youth. Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford, Cole Beasley and James Hanna all saw the field in their rookie season. Claiborne was picked on early, but got better and better and the season went along. He was given opportunity to improve and battle through his mistakes and became a stronger corner. Brandon Underwood was a player signed to the Cowboys last season that will also get a chance to make this team. Tyrone Crawford and James Hanna will be in the rotation at their respective positions. They shown flashes last season, Crawford especially, but will need to have a bigger impact this year with so many question marks surrounding depth and play making ability. Crawford needs to get better at providing pressure and continue to improve at stopping the run. Being in the 4-3 will allow Crawford more room and allow him to use his motor more. James Hanna and Cole Beasley played limited roles last year, but should see their production increase. The Pair of Phantoms have been broken up leaving Dwayne Harris as the third WR penciled in for Training Camp. But Cole presents an intriguing option to be used in the slot. James Hanna has slid into the second spot on the depth chart. James Hanna was the only Cowboys receiving threat returning that did not drop a pass last year. This is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed. He has a ton of work to do to get better and improve his overall game, but he is a remarkable athlete that can bring a different dynamic at Tight End. Using him and Witten at the same time might open up some mismatches. No huddle and pre-snap motions can be utilized at greater efficiency with Hanna blocking better and continuing to develop.
Caleb McSurdy, Danny Coale and Matt Johnson never got a chance to show what they could do in their rookie season. They all suffered injuries that prevented them from playing. Caleb McSurdy is a consistent tackler who works hard and plays football the right way. He has a great mentality and plays with good fundamentals. Danny Coale suffered two injuries that were costly. He has the speed, size and hands to be a productive Wide out, but injuries derailed this train before it left the station. Hopefully, he can have a coming out party for the Cowboys and at least compete for the fourth or fifth WR spot. With Miles coming off of a season that was plagued with Hamstring injuries and Kevin Olgletree in Tampa Bay there is a need for someone to step up and deliver. Why not Coale? Tim Benford, undrafted player from last season and Carlton Mitchell, player that was signed to a future contract are also players that you can add to the list of potential Olgetree replacements.
Matt Johnson showed promise and had many buzzing about what a steal he was, but never could get over a nagging hamstring injury. This is good news, because it seems like all of the athletes on the team have hamstring issues. Hopefully Johnson can come back strong and play like he know he is capable of. He proved he can be a play-maker, a leader and a ball hawk in college. Not only is he smart, but he is also tough. He runs like a running back and plays football like a linebacker. Johnson has vowed to work hard until he makes “Cowboynation proud!” I hope he pans out. Early indications are putting him as our Starting Safety in Kiffins Cover 2 alongside Barry Church.
A player that got healthy during the season was Kyle Wilber. Wilber was drafted to play outside LB in the 3-4, but he played in a 4-3 and 3-4 system in college. How much he picks up in the 4-3 will determine how much success he will have. Like Hanna under Witten, Wilber has Sean Lee to lean on, but Lee and Carter will have to adjust to the 4-3 as well. But if Lee and Carter’s work ethic and mental approach can rub off on Wilber the Cowboys will be better for it. Wilber will get every opportunity to gain the starting job, but Alex Albright and resigned LB Ernie Sims will get looks if Wilber is not able to step up. Either way, Wilber will be in the mix for us at linebacker. Albright himself is just in his third season. He has been reported as having off-season hernia surgery, but should be ready to compete.
What about Defensive Lineman? With the Cowboys moving to a 4-3 and releasing Spears, depth is needed on this line. Maybe the Cowboys have already signed some players that could help them out here. Nick Hayden and Brent Price are big Defensive Tackles that could both stop the run and pressure the quarterback in College. Hayden is on his third team and is trying to find a place to showcase his talents. Price has the talent to be a starter on this team. If he is hungry and focused, Dallas could be the place of redemption for him. He is an amazing talent and when his motor is on, can not be stopped. Only time will tell if he is ready to answer the call. Ben Bass and Rob Callaway will also be in the mix. Both were on the practice squad and were called up during the season. The Cowboys like what they bring to the table and could see playing time this year. None of these players have been in the league for more than three years.
Other young players that could provide an impact this year are Sterling Moore, Cornerback, Ronald Leary, Guard, and Jeremy Parnell, Tackle. A player that I am keeping an eye on is Tight End Andre Smith. He is an all around player that works hard and makes the most of his talents. Indeed, while the Cowboys have not been players in this years Free Agency, they just might have some players on this team right now that will impact the 2013 season. With any luck, the injured players and unproven young talent will be enough to make this team better and possibly get us back into the hunt.