Friday, July 31, 2009

My Impressions from Training Camp

I attended my first training camp practice of the year today and I'll do my best to describe what I saw while I was there. One thing you'll notice, as I did early on, is that my camera takes horrible pictures. I posted a couple that came out ok, but there rest of them were too fuzzy to make out. Here are my quick thoughts from today. I am planning to go into more detail over the next few days on some of these topics, but I wanted to get everything down while it was fresh in my mind.

Roy Williams looks good. He is much quicker, faster, and confident then he appeared last year. He made some tough catches with defenders draped all over him. Michael Irvin was also giving him some pointers after a 10-yard comeback route on the art of the push off so hopefully he was taking notes (the picture to the right captures part of the discussion between Irvin and Williams).

Tony Romo looked very good. According to most media sources, Romo had been off to a slow start over the first few days. Today his passes were tight spirals and most of them hit receivers on target and in stride. He forced one pass during team drill that was intercepted but that was the only memorable mistake he made over the 2 hour practice session.

Jason Witten is getting better every season. He looked like an all-pro player today. He caught every ball thrown his way and did an excellent job blocking from what I saw. He lined up on one play at wide receiver during team drills and caught a 10 yard slant route that may have been a touchdown in a live game situation.

Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins both looked awfully good. Both players clearly have more confidence and seemed to be able to stick with any receiver throughout practice. Scandrick had some trouble with the size of Roy Williams, but most DB's would.

The rookie DB's have a long way to go. Michael Hawkins walked off the field with the trainers pretty early on, but DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens looked overmatched in one-on-one situations. I'm sure they'll get more confidence as camp goes on but they didn't impress me today. Michael Hamlin was the lone exception for the rookie DB's. He looked bigger than I expected and he made a nice interception during practice.

Gerald Sensabaugh has great coverage ability. Martellus Bennett couldn't beat him in man coverage several times during the team portion of practice. He'll be a major upgrade in coverage over Roy Williams.

Kyle Kosier looks good. He might end up winning the left guard job after all. I was leaning towards Holland before today but Holland looked fatter than last year to me and Kosier did a good job with the first team.

Martellus Bennett needs to focus on football. He spent his first 10 minutes on the field playing the crowd, dancing, and doing T.O. touchdown celebration impressions. Everyone else was stretching and warming up. There were several times when teams were transitioning from one drill to another and Martellus would be the last to arrive because he didn't hustle. His body language sends a bad message. But his natural receiving ability is easy to see. I think some focus from Bennett would probably fix is pre-snap alignment troubles.

Bobby Carpenter looks determined to make an impact. He made several plays during running drills and was very active all day. We'll get a better idea of his impact when preseason games get going since there is no tackling.

Terence Newman looks good. He got beat on a double move at one point, but he looks quick, confident, and prepared for the season. He worked with the receivers and caught passes from the QB's for one session of practice which I found interesting. Maybe they'll put him on the field as a deep threat this year from time to time?

Demarcus Ware looks great. He may have gained some muscle in his lower body but he was beating blockers off the edge all day long.

The defenders spent a lot of time on fumble recovery drills. That was good to see because an increase in takeaways would go a long way in helping the team win more games.

Matt McBriar is 100%. He booted several punts 70+ yards in the air.

Nick Folk is good to go. He kicked field goals and didn't seem to have any limitations.

Jon Kitna looked bad. He needs to pick up his level of play. He had numerous off target passes and forced the ball into coverage all day long.

Stephen McGee has talent. He was accurate and throws a good looking ball. It is hard to judge him until he gets some game action in preseason, but he looks like he has the skills to develop into a player.

Jason Williams got beaten badly a couple of times in coverage. He didn't looks as fast as I expected but he is obviously slow right now because he has to think before he reacts. His speed and quickness will probably be more evident when he gets more comfortable with his role in the defense.

Igor Olshansky is a beast. He looks like the big, strong guy that we were promised. I saw him beat a double team to get to the quarterback in the team session.

The three running backs all look good. Felix looks as fast as ever. All three running backs look ready to start the season right now.

Sam Hurd looked like the #3 receiver today. If I didn't know Miles Austin was expected to make an impact I wouldn't even have noticed him. Hurd made several tough catches. Austin did absolutely nothing to show me he is ready to break out this year.

Jesse Holley looked pretty darn good. I know he is in a fierce battle for the last receiver spot but he was impressive today. Holley, Stanback, and Ogletree all looked pretty even in their battle. Manuel Johnson looked very slow. Mike Jefferson was inconsistent throughout the day.

I wish I could say more about the offensive and defensive line but they mostly worked on the opposite side of the field from me.

Wade Phillips is running the defense and is pretty much completely removed from giving any input on the offensive side of the ball. Phillips ran the defensive drills on one end of the field while Garrett ran the offensive drills on the other side. It will be interesting to see how in-game big play decisions are made during the game when it comes to offense. It appears like Garrett has total control over everything on that side of the ball this year. During the team portion of practice Wade Phillips was very involved and animated while coaching the defense.

Joe DeCamillis was quieter than I expected. He does command the attention of the special teams players but I didn't see the screamer I thought I would see.

Keith Brooking didn't do anything to catch my eye.

David Beuhler is big, but he didn't do enough in practice for me to come to any conclusions on him. He does look big enough to contribute in other ways on special teams.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some Early Training Camp Thoughts

Things appear to be off to a good start at least from an injury standpoint which is my #1 concern after the endless injuries of last year. The passing game sounds like it is a little rusty which is usually the case at this point in the year. It is actually pretty amusing to see how much the fans and media overreact about the statistics produced by Tony Romo during practice. I don't have concerns about Romo's ability to get the ball to the open man. Three years of good/great numbers tell me that he will get the kinks worked out.

Roy Williams looks leaner and quicker early in camp. All of the receivers are out there working so that is a good sign. I think the receivers can get the job done but there is going to be trouble if anyone gets injured. The last thing the team needs is to bring in another head case. Matt Jones isn't the player the Cowboys need right now. Not only is he one dumb mistake away from suspension, but he is lazy and inconsistent. And just in case you haven't was Matt Jones' agent who called the Cowboys to try to guage their interest and they said they aren't.

Jason Witten is the best tight end in football no matter how delusional Chris Cooley has become about himself. Cooley's videos were pretty stupid but I have to admit I did chuckle at them. I don't know why he acts surprised that he is catching some flak for putting stupid stuff like that on the internet. I personally don't care what he says or does. It is interesting that no one seems concerned about his focus since he appears to have time to film silly skits like that. If he were a member of the Dallas Cowboys that video would be leading off SportsCenter.

Kyle Kosier is working with the first team at left guard. I am very interested to see how the left guard battle plays out. I'm guessing that Kosier will remain on the first team until the preseason games start. I was really impressed by Holland when he got on the field last year but I might have a skewed memory of him since he was replacing Cory Proctor, one of the worst Cowboys' lineman in recent memory. I'd like to see the Cowboys keep both Kosier and Holland.

If all three running backs go into the season at 100% then I can't name a better group in the NFL. Jason Garrett has to be loving the options he has right now after dealing with injury after injury at running back last year.

I am heading to camp tomorrow to see how things look in person. I'll be sure to post an entry on my impression of training camp when I get home.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let's Get It Started

All of the picks are signed (except Brewster who is out for the year). Everyone is ready to go. There definitely a different vibe when you listen to Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips talk about the team. They both seem to be making an effort to keep expectations reasonable, but there is a confidence under the surface that tells me they both still believe this team is built for a deep playoff run.

Time will tell how everything plays out but I noticed during yesterday's opening press conference that Wade Phillips seems to be taking a better approach to practice. They will start with special teams every day for a few reasons. Joe DeCamillis is going to be getting everyone fired up but it also sends the message to the team that special teams are no longer an afterthought.

Wade Phillips still isn't exactly a fiery guy, but he definitely has a more serious and determined tone in his voice. I'm sure it will be mocked by the media but at least he is trying. I'm not convinced he is the right guy to deal with everything that comes with being the head coach of the most publicised team in American sports. He is the coach of my team and I have to hope that the team can find a way to succeed with Wade as the head man.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Just Say No to Michael Vick

It was just announced about an hour ago that Michael Vick will be conditionally reinstated to the NFL. He is currently a free agent so he is free to sign with the highest bidder. Jerry Jones has stated on the record several times that the Cowboys will not be signing Michael Vick.

I bring up the issue because I know the "bring Vick to Dallas" comments are already piling up. I don't want that guy on my team now or ever. Look at the picture to the right and tell me he isn't such a bad guy. Those are Falcon fans he flipping off. I doubt he could handle the scrutiny he would face as a Dallas Cowboy. The Cowboys just spent an offseason eliminating distractions and he would be the ultimate distraction coming off of his suspension. Jerry Jones, please don't do something stupid!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 10 - Linebackers

And finally we arrive at the linebacker position in the lead into training camp. In some ways this looks like an excellent group but in other ways I see several unknown factors. Demarcus Ware is the best pass rusher in the league. Bradie James is a solid player, but Anthony Spencer and Keith Brooking have something to prove. And how can we forget the former first round draft pick, Bobby Carpenter, who is probably down to his last chance to prove he isn't a bust this season. My #1 concern is the depth at outside linebacker. Let's look at the linebackers one by one.

Demarcus Ware - No concerns here. He is quite simply the best player on the defense and possibly the best defensive player in the league. I just pray he stays healthy leading up to the regular season.

Anthony Spencer - His time has arrived. It is time to prove he was worth the first round pick the Cowboys used on him in 2007. He was starting to edge Greg Ellis off of the field on a regular basis last year, but this year he will need to show he can rush the passer to keep defenses from focusing on Demarcus Ware. He needs to prove that he can stay healthy after getting banged up a couple of times last year. I want to see him showing that he is a force to be reckoned with during training camp and preseason.

Bradie James - He is a very good middle linebacker. I don't think he will ever be great, but Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme really seems to suit James. I like the fact that he tries to step up as the vocal leader of the defense, but I think he should share the role with Demarcus Ware. I just want to see him continue the gradual improvement he has shown every year in the current defensive scheme.

Keith Brooking - He was a dominant player a few years ago and had his best seasons in Wade Phillips' defense in Atlanta. The talk is that he has lost his pass coverage ability. He'll have to prove he can still do least on first and second down. I like the fire and tenacity he brings to the table and I hope his attitude is infectious. I want to see if he looks comfortable in the defense in training camp because the defense needs him to be ready immediately.

Bobby Carpenter - This is a hard one to evaluate for me. I know this guy can play because he was very good as a rookie against Atlanta (spying Michael Vick) and in the Seattle playoff loss. Ever since Wade Phillips came on board it seems like Bobby has been in the dog house. With Kevin Burnett now in San Diego this is Bobby's best and last shot to prove himself. He'll be the nickel linebacker unless he completely bombs during camp and the preseason. I want to see him succeed, but he is going to have to earn his time on the field.

Victor Butler - This is where things start to get a little dicey. Butler is a rookie out of Oregon State who is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker. With Ellis now gone Butler is one of the rookies who has to be ready to play by the time the regular season starts. He is going to have to get himself up to speed quickly with hard work and intense studying. The Cowboys need him for depth right now so he gets no grace period to get ready.

Stephen Hodge - He is one of the lucky rookies who won't be forced into action immediately on defense. He will be making the transition from safety to linebacker but he will be expected to make big contributions on special teams while he learns the ropes during his rookie year. I hope to see hustle and great tackling out of him during special teams play heading into the season.

Jason Williams - Jason is coming out of a gimmick defense in college to play in a conventional defense. He has to basically learn everything there is to know about playing middle linebacker. He is an athletic freak so he should be great on special teams. He also has great pass rushing ability so I would expect him to be on the field at some point during the season on passing downs. I hope he looks comfortable in camp but I expect to see him making a lot of mistakes as he learns the ropes. He could be a great player down the road if he is willing to work.

Brandon Williams - Here is another rookie who needs to be ready to provide depth at outside linebacker immediately. He is also transitioning from defensive end in college but, like Victor Butler, he has no time to waste. He needs to be ready to play in game 1 so I expect to see a focused, hard working player in camp.

There are a few other players at linebacker on the roster, but these are the players most likely to make the team and get on the field. I am very concerned about the depth at outside linebacker, but I think the starting set of linebackers looks good. The most important thing to me, as it is with the entire team, is that I see better tackling this preseason. I hope the coaches put an emphasis on wrapping up rather than trying to throw shoulder into someone or arm tackle.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 9 - Safeties

Safety was a problem for the Dallas Cowboys all season in 2008. Whether it was injury (yet again) or just poor play, the defense gave up countless big plays due to mistakes at safety. Ken Hamlin returns as a starter, but there will be someone new on the starting defense with him. Gerald Sensabaugh was signed as a potential starter and several players were drafted. It will be very important that the depth and the overall play of the safeties improve this season. I'll be watching closely to see if the Cowboys have finally found the answer at this position.

Ken Hamlin - Hamlin had a down year last year. I'm sure part of it was due to the fact that he was constantly trying to compensate for poor play from Roy Williams or Pat Watkins or Courtney Brown or Keith Davis...or whoever happened to be out there with during the game. I think he was forced to go against his aggressive nature due to the injury problems. I want to see him back to his 2007 form in training camp. Not only does he need to do a better job breaking on the ball but I also want to see improved tackling.

Gerald Sensabaugh - He looks like the early front runner for the starting job. From what we are being told by the coaches and media it looks like Sensabaugh is going to be a free agency steal. He came to the Cowboys on a cheap one-year deal so he'll be out to prove himself and in order to earn a long term, high paying deal. I want to see him matched up on the tight end since isolated Roy Williams became such a popular tactic over the last few years. I also want to get a look at his speed, quickness and general awareness in the passing game.

Michael Hamlin - Hamlin is 6'2" and about 215 pounds so he brings some excellent size to the table. He looks like a guy who can develop into a starter but he'll need to contribute on special teams this year. I've heard a few media members talk about his potential but we'll all have to wait and see how he looks in training camp and the preseason. My concern about this Hamlin will be his speed and quickness. Size is great, but he has to show the ability to stay with the faster receivers during camp.

DeAngelo Smith - He played a lot of cornerback at Cincinnati, but he is going to be moved to safety with Dallas. He does have some experience there, but his ability to cover man-to-man is going to give him a great chance to develop into a solid player. He will also be expected to play on special teams. I am excited to see what he can do with his speed and quickness at the safety position.

Pat Watkins - Pat was another injury casualty in 2008. He is a very good special teams player but hasn't shown much during his time on the team at safety. He has been given a lot of playing time and I'm afraid that he is what he is at this point. He can be counted on to do a good job on special teams and fill in at safety in a pinch. He just needs to stay healthy. I want to see if the coaches have improved his tackling technique during the offseason so his injuries will be less frequent.

Courtney Brown - I don't know if he will make the team. He is small and looked out of his league in his brief time last year. He is going to have to show some big-time improvement to make the final roster.

The Cowboys went out of their way to give themselves options at safety. They didn't land a big name, but I have to believe that one or two of the new guys will show the ability to get the job done. Sensabaugh might end up being the best safety on the team if what I'm reading from the media proves to be true. Let's just hope the injury bug doesn't hit this position like it did last year.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 8 - Cornerbacks

The top three cornerbacks on the roster heading into training camp look very good for the Cowboys. After that, there is a lot of unproven youth at the position. Terence Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins are the top three players. There will be a battle to fill out the rest of the depth chart. Alan Ball and Mike Mickens look like the best bet to make the team but there will be a few other players fighting for a job as well. I want to take a quick look at what to expect from each cornerback in training camp.

Terence Newman - This is an easy one. He is one of the best in the NFL when healthy, but the last two years have left serious doubt that he is durable enough to be counted on for 16 games. I just want him to make it to the regular season healthy. We all know what he is capable of on the field, so he doesn't have anything to prove to me during training camp except that he can stay healthy.

Mike Jenkins - By the end of last season Jenkins was starting to show some of the ability that made the Cowboys draft him in the first round. There are concerns from some people about his toughness, but I'm really not too worried about that. I just want to see more confidence in his game. Jenkins started the season a little tentative, but after yet another Cowboys' injury he came back as a much more aggressive player against the pass. I want to see him challenging receivers at the line during training camp and showing the ability to knock down passes thrown in his direction. He has to step up his game this season.

Orlando Scandrick - Scandrick was a surprise last year being a fifth round draft pick. After showing some tremendous talent last season he will have much higher expectations heading into this season. I completely agree with Nick Eatman of on this one. It will be harder for Scandrick to impress us this season because we now all believe he is talented. Last season it was easier for him because there were very low expectations for him. Just like Jenkins I want to see tight coverage and passes being broken up. We all know he can do it, but this season he'll be expected to be a big time player.

Alan Ball - I think Ball was a forgotten man this offseason with all of the talk about Jenkins and Scandrick. He didn't get much playing time but when he was forced into action against Tampa Bay he was very good. He has got to be ready to play when teams go to a four receiver set. Ball is going to have to earn is playing time by beating out Mike Mickens during camp.

Mike Mickens - I believe we are going to look back at the 2009 draft in a few years and view Mickens as the steal of the draft. He slipped all the way to the seventh round due to an injury, but he appears fully healed heading into training camp. From what I have heard about this guy he absolutely has the talent to play at the NFL level. I'll be interested to see what he can do during camp. I hope to see some quickness and a knack for getting between the receiver and the ball. I have high hopes for Mickens.

I think the cornerback position is in good shape heading into the season. I wasn't sad to see Anthony Henry go because I was sick of watching him allow passes to be caught in front of him on a regular basis. The tipping point for me came when he couldn't cover a one armed receiver (Derrick Mason) in the Ravens game. The big question mark is the health of Terence Newman. If he can stay on the field then the pass defense should be better this season than last year. I don't really care who wins the starting job across from Newman because Jenkins and Scandrick will both be on the field most of the time with so many teams running three and/or four receiver sets on most plays.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 7 - Defensive Line

The Cowboys appear strong on the defensive line heading into training camp. At least in terms of starters. Depth is another story, but there are some players with experience providing some depth. Marcus Spears, Igor Olshansky and Jay Ratliff will definitely be the starters. Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher should provide veteran depth at defensive end but there is concern about the depth at tackle. Here is a quick look at each position heading into camp.

Defensive End - Igor Olshansky was brought in to replace Chris Canty and I think the transition to Olshansky will be seamless. I am interested to get a good look at Olshansky at training camp because I haven't seen him play very much. I know he is big but I want to see his strength and quickness. Marcus Spears had a very good season last year but most people don't notice because they try to judge him based on statistics. In Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme the defensive end needs to be a run stopper and Spears is starting to excel at that job. I want to see that he is still motivated to prove that he was worth a first round pick several years ago. Jason Hatcher was drafted as a project several years ago and has shown flashes of dominant play when given an opportunity. I hope to see him making plays in camp that force the coaches to give him more playing time during the season. Stephen Bowen is solid and should continue to provide depth but he will have to fight for a roster spot with Marcus Dixon. Dixon is a sleeper to steal a roster spot after getting a year to develop on the practice squad. I'll be watching him closely during camp to find out if he looks ready for the big time.

Defensive Tackle - Jay Ratliff is a pro bowler and is extremely active against the pass. He is primed for another stellar season. There is no concern about his preparation for the season from me, but I am concerned about the depth behind him. It appears the coaches are pegging Junior Siavii to fill the backup role. Siavii has the size but very little NFL experience. If he can eat up blockers with his big frame then he will probably win the job, but Tim Anderson from Ohio State will be trying to take the backup role from him during training camp.

Defensive line really looks like a position of strength for the defense. I think the Cowboys will be improved against the run this season partly due to the defensive line. The only worry I have about the line is the depth, but it looks like the Cowboys have plenty of players with the ability to fill in when needed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jesse Holley Joins the Team

Congratulations to Jesse Holley. By winning the 80th spot on the roster on the 4th and Long reality show he has at least given himself a shot at making the team. His chances of making the final roster are very slim but at least he gave himself a chance. You can say what you want about giving a roster spot to the winner of a reality show but he showed me that he really wants to make it in the NFL by battling through the tough drills on the show. It was actually nice to see someone earn a chance to make the team. I'd rather have someone like him who has earned a chance than someone who is full of potential but has no heart or desire.

So what does he bring to the table as a wide receiver? The first thing you notice about him is his size. He is 6'3" and weighs 215 pounds. The next thing I noticed when I first saw him was his physique. His 215 pounds are almost all muscle. He supposedly runs a 4.5 40-yard dash so he has good speed to go with his size. And finally, with his basketball background, he knows how to use his body to make the tough catches in traffic. He'll need some injuries to some of the receivers ahead of him to get a real shot to make the roster. His ability to make the tough catch might get him some attention from the coaches during camp.

As a special teams player it looks like Holley would primarily contribute as a coverage player. He didn't show the quickness during the show that would lead me to believe he could be a good returner, but he was forced to go through a lot of coverage drills that showed he had the ability and desire to excel on special teams. He is going to have to be an unbelievable special teams player in addition to anything he does as a wide receiver to have any realistic chance to even make the practice roster.

I'll definitely be interested to see how Holley looks against NFL-caliber talent during training camp. It will be hard not to pull for him at least a little bit after seeing all he had to go through to get a chance to compete for a job.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 6 - Special Teams

The special teams was, quite simply, a complete disaster last season. Kickoff and punt coverage were terrible, big punt returns were nearly nonexistent, and kickoff returns became very average once Felix Jones was injured. I think every fan is probably happy to see a coaching change this offseason. Joe DeCamillis is being hailed as the savior of the special teams. I hope he is. A lot of what ailed the special teams last season can be cured with greater intensity and desire from the players. I think Joe DeCamillis can get everyone motivated to excel on special teams. There will be a lot to watch during training camp when it comes to the special teams unit.

Kickers - Normally there would only be one player to worry about here, but the Cowboys drafted a kickoff specialist/special teams ace which will probably result in two kickers being active on game day. I was initially upset by the draft pick for a kicker, but David Beuhler is much more than a kickoff specialist. He will also probably end up contributing on other coverage units as well because he is big, strong and athletic enough to help out in other ways than just kicking. As long as Nick Folk is fully recovered by the start of training camp it would take a miracle for a change to occur at kicker. Folk is a great kicker who has a knack for making the pressure kicks. I'll be watching Folk closely to see if his injury is fully healed. I am also very excited to see what exactly Buehler will bring to the table on special teams. His kickoffs in college were consistently through the end zone so hopefully he can continue to do the same at the NFL level.

Punter - Matt McBriar is one of the best punters in the league without question. He was another of the seemingly endless injury casualties last season. His foot is fully healed and now he has a metal plate on the top of his kicking foot that might even make him better than he was before his injury. From what was reported about his work during OTA's and other offseason work he is ready to go. I'll be watching him during camp to see if his leg looks as strong as it did prior to his injury last season.

Kick Returners - Felix Jones was off to a great start on kick returns last season before, guess what, another season ending injury for the Cowboys. He will most likely be back as the lead kick returner and is a threat to take it the distance whenever he touches the ball. Teams will be forced to directional kick and will probably accidentally kickoff out of bounds many times this season out of fear of a big return by Felix Jones. Isaiah Stanback is a pretty dynamic returner as well but he'll have to stay healthy to make the team. If Stanback doesn't make the team then there will be several players competing for the role of second returner. There are so many options here I don't want to name them all. The important thing here is that Felix Jones is ready to go all out on returns. If he can do it for 16 games then we'll see major improvement on kick returns this season regardless of who stands next to him on returns.

Punt Returner - It has been a long time since the Cowboys had a real threat returning punts. Terrance Newman has some great ability to return punts but has been so fragile in recent seasons that his returns are few and far between. Patrick Crayton doesn't muff many punts but he almost never gets more than 10 yards on a return. He is solid, but will never put fear into the coverage units. Mike Mickens flashed some return ability in college so I'm sure he'll get a chance to return some kicks during camp and in the preseason. Hopefully Mickens can be an upgrade as a returner but Crayton will win the job by default if no one proves to be capable of being trusted with the job. I'm hoping to see someone with some big play ability during camp but I'm not holding my breath.

Kickoff/Punt Coverage - To me a lot of this is simply about heart and desire. The infusion of youth on the roster will probably add a lot of desire because there are a lot of players who are hoping to make the roster by excelling on special teams. The competition will help spark some intensity. Joe DeCamillis will also be ending the directional kickoff tactics employed last season so Beuhler will be free to kick the ball deep. That should result in a dramatic improvement in opponent's starting field position. I also hope to see improved tackling. I would love to see players actually doing some real hitting and tackling during training camp.

The special teams has no where to go but up after their poor performance last year. I expect to see improvement across the board on special teams. I think a renewed focus on the coverage and return units will result in shorter fields for the offense and more stops for the defense with more field to defend. Special teams probably cost the team 2 games last year so any improvement is going to make a big difference in the outcome of the 2009 campaign for the Dallas Cowboys.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 5 - Offensive Line

This is the biggest area of concern on offense and maybe the entire team going into this season in my mind. While a lot of blame was placed on Romo and the defense, the offensive line may have underachieved more than anyone last season. As with nearly every other position last season, injuries or really one injury may have been the main reason for the struggles of the line. When Kyle Kosier went down with a foot injury early in the season Cory Proctor took over at left guard. His play was terrible and had an impact on the play of the entire line because they were forced to give Proctor extra help. I'm going to look at what I expect at training camp from the offensive line position by position but there really is only one spot yet to be determined, left guard.

Left Tackle - Flozell Adams is the unquestioned starter here. Last season was definitely below average for Flozell, but part of his struggles were injury related and part, I believe, were due to the poor play of the left guard next to him. Flozell is getting up in age but needs to play for a few more years due to his salary and the fact that the Cowboys have essentially no depth behind him. It is hard to judge the offensive line in training camp, but the preseason games should show us if he is ready. I think he'll be better this season, but I think we'll continue to see a false start from him in nearly every game.

Left Guard - This is the one position where there will be a fight in camp. Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland will be vying for the starting spot. There are several factors at play here including salary and age. I wouldn't be surprised to see Kosier cut or traded if Holland beats him for the job. Supposedly Kosier helps out Flozell during the game by serving as an on-field coach, but Holland sure looked good in his short time on the field last season. I could see either guy winning the job, but I am giving Holland the edge due to injury concerns with Kosier. Whoever wins the job will undoubtedly be an upgrade from the left guard play we saw last season out of Proctor.

Center - Andre Gurode is considered to be one of the best at his position in the NFL. My only concern about him continues to be the shotgun snap. I don't know why he has such a hard time with it, but I really hope he has improved his snaps over the offseason. That is really the only thing I'll be hoping to see in camp out of Gurode. Depth here is somewhat of a concern since Proctor is probably the backup, but I think Proctor's lack of size and strength would be less of a concern at center.

Right Guard - Leonard Davis is an absolute beast when he is playing at the top of his game. The problem is that he is inconsistent with his run blocking. I can't remember his man getting to the quarterback last season, but he didn't move his man back on running plays as much as he should with his size. I'll be watching to see if he is moving his man backward on runs during camp but we won't really be able to judge how he looks until the real games start.

Right Tackle - Marc Columbo is just a solid player. He isn't dominant or flashy, but he usually gets the job done and does it with a nasty attitude. He seems to be one of the emotional leaders on the offense. I'd like to see him settle into the role of being a more vocal leader for the offensive line. He was one of the main reasons that the Cowboys were able to beat Tampa Bay last season without Tony Romo. Depth is a concern here too since there is no one behind Columbo with any significant experience. Robert Brewster was drafted for depth so he'll be someone to watch develop during training camp and preseason.

The offensive line is my may determine more than anyone else how the Cowboys peform in 2009. The Cowboys have huge guys with household names manning several positions but they need to play up to their reputations this year. If they can get a better push on run plays and do a better job protecting Romo we will probably see a much more consistent performance from the entire offense this year. If they play like they did last season then it is going to be difficult for the Cowboys to make much noise in 2009.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 4 - Wide Receivers

This is going to be one of the positions to watch in training camp. Roy Williams is the #1 receiver without a doubt, but things are up for grabs after that. Sam Hurd, Miles Austin, and Patrick Crayton are all going to be vying for the #2 role so it will be great competition between the three of them. The fifth receiver spot is also going to be a fight. Isaiah Stanback is probably fighting for a place on the team with Manuel Johnson. There will also be a couple of other guys like Julian Hawkins and Mike Jefferson trying to make the team. Injuries are going to play a major factor is how well this group can perform.

Roy Williams - This is beating a dead horse at this point, but I really would like to see Roy and Tony Romo firing on all cylinders. There were timing issues and injury problems for both players last year that hampered their ability to develop any chemistry but this offseason has provided the time needed for that. Roy has been working hard and has shed some weight so I am expecting him to look leaner and quicker. I hope they have worked together enough that Romo trusts Williams to get the ball in traffic because one of Roy's greatest assests is his ability to go up and make the tough, high catch in traffic.

Patrick Crayton - Crayton is the forgotten man in the offense. He has done nothing but produce consistent numbers from the #2 receiver position over the last few seasons, but this year is going to be different. Crayton may face more standard coverage schemes rather than the single man he usually had to beat while T.O. was here. I know some people have concerns about his hands due to one play in the playoff debacle two years ago, but he actually may have the best hands on the team. I want to see him finding ways to get himself open during training camp.

Miles Austin - This is the guy that the team seems to be expecting a breakout year from. The biggest factor is going to be health. Last year when Miles was healthy he looked like he had potential to be a very good receiver, but unfortunately, he seemed to be hurt more than he was healthy. The fact that he missed time during OTA's this summer doesn't fill me with confidence on the injury front. I want to see that he is operating at 100% and that he has a firm grasp of the entire offense since he has primarily played in spot duty during his first few years. He has the potential to win the #2 role, but he is going to have to pry it away from Patrick Crayton.

Sam Hurd - The injuries of last season made most people forget how good Sam Hurd was beginning to look. During the preseason last year Sam was starting to establish himself as a guy who found the open spot on the field and made the tough catches with defenders around him. If he is healthy then it will be hard to keep him off of the field during the season because he always seems to find a way to make plays when he gets the chance. Again, I'll be hoping to see him functioning at 100% in camp and continuing his improvement that he has shown over his first few seasons. I think it will be hard for Sam Hurd to win the #2 role due to his lack of speed, but if he makes enough plays he might steal the job from Crayton and Austin.

Fifth/Sixth(?) Receiver - In my mind this is the last chance that Isaiah Stanback gets to show that he can actually remain healthy long enough to get a real shot on the field. He has amazing athletic ability but it has gone to waste for two years because he seems to be continually injured. Manuel Johnson looks like a quick, little guy who could win a roster spot due to his ability to get open on short routes from the slot position. He'll have to show that he can make plays on special teams as well if he wants to make the team. The rest of the receivers hoping to make the team are going to have to come out of no where and make the coaches notice them because they probably won't get too many legitimate chances to make plays during camp and preseason. There is still a chance that Jessie Holley from 4th & Long will be the 80th man so that could be interesting to watch if he can hang around for a few weeks. I would love to see Stanback on the field showing his athleticism but, at this point, I won't be at all surprised if he gets injured during the first few weeks of training camp.

The key for this group is going to be health. Two of the top four receivers have trouble staying on the field so there is going to be a serious problem if Hurd and/or Austin get hurt again this season. This group is full of potential but that can be a dirty word in the NFL. If several of these guys don't step up this year then the passing game is going to have serious problems moving the ball.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 3 - Tight Ends

Another position with no concerns heading into the season is tight end. Jason Witten is arguably the best all-around tight end in the NFL, Martellus Bennett is developing into a well-rounded complement, and John Phillips was drafted for depth at the position. The plan appears to be running more two tight end sets to get Bennett and Witten on the field together as much as possible. It certainly makes sense considering how talented they both are. There really isn't going to be much of a battle during camp but here is what I will be looking for.

Jason Witten - There isn't much that Jason needs to work on to improve his game. What makes him great is that he believes he still has a long way to go to be a complete player. He will be working hard a striving for perfection in every aspect of his game. I hope his work ethic and desire rubs off not only on Bennett and Phillips, but also the rest of the team. I would like to see Jason stepping into more of a leadership role this year during training camp. In my mind it is up to Tony Romo and Jason Witten to be the leaders of the offense this year.

Martellus Bennett - I'll be very interested to see how Bennett performs during camp this year. I know he has great talent as a receiver but my bigger concern is whether he can handle sealing off the end of the line on runs out wide to his side. If he can do the job then Felix Jones is going to be a dangerous weapon in the double tight end set because the defense won't be able to cheat to one side of the field. I am also very anxious to see if Bennett is ready to put in the hard work needed to make the most of his talent. I'm no fan of his off field antics, but I can ignore that stuff if he is working hard like he should be. I know he is very young but I am worried that he is more concerned with being the cool, funny guy than being a great football player.

John Phillips - I haven't seen much of this guy except for the few highlights I could find on YouTube. Most of the scouting reports rated him as a good receiving tight end, but a sub par blocker coming out of Virginia. He is going learn very quickly how important his footwork and technique are for blocking at the NFL level. I hope that the coaches and especially Jason Witten can get him going in the right direction. It will be interesting to see if he can develop into the blocker the Cowboys will need him to be. He is also going to be expected to contribute on special teams, so his hustle and desire are going to be exposed. If he develops into even a decent player then the Cowboys have absolutely no concern, barring injury, at the tight end position heading into the season.

Heading into the 2009 season, the Cowboys are set at tight end. With Jason Witten and Martellus Bennet the Cowboys have the best tandem of tight ends in the NFL. I hope that Jason Garrett can find ways to get both of these guys involved in the offense because they are both capable of making big plays.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part 2 - Running Backs

Heading into camp this is another position that is the deepest it has been in years. Marion Barber III, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice are all going to battle for carries but Barber and Jones will probably receive the bulk of the carries. At fullback the Cowboys have Deon Anderson returning but he will have to compete for his spot on the roster with several rookies.

Marion Barber III - Barber was reduced to a mere mortal late last season after his dislocated toe but appears to be back to 100% heading into camp. What is going to be interesting is how the Cowboys split the carries among all three running backs. Barber has always been at his best when the Cowboys are in short yardage situations and late in the 4th quarter when the Cowboys are trying to close out the game. Last season he was given the starting role and seemed to lose a little of his explosiveness as the season wore on. I'm guessing that Jason Garrett will give Felix Jones and Tashard Choice more carries earlier in the game to ensure that Barber is fresh for short yardage and 4th quarter situations. It will be hard to see what the plan is during camp but I would like to see Barber back to his old form running tough with a chip on his shoulder. The offense needs the spark he gives them when he breaks tackles and runs over defenders.

Felix Jones - It seemed as though Jason Garrett was just starting to understand how to use the talents of Felix Jones in the offense when he went down with what turned out to be a season ending hamstring tear in the Arizona game. I want to see Felix Jones running smooth on his healed hamstring and surgically repaired big toe. Those two injuries are a concern because Felix is a special player primarily due to his explosive speed and quickness. I hope to see the offense running more plays designed for Felix Jones both running the ball and catching the ball out of the backfield.

Tashard Choice - Choice was quite a nice surprise discovery late last season. He filled in nicely after both Barber and Jones were injured. I hope the Cowboys plan to give him some carries every game so that all three backs can stay healthy. In camp I don't think we'll really know how much he is going to be used during the regular season but how he does picking up blitzing defenders will probably be a major factor in how much he is on the field when the season starts.

Deon Anderson - The fullback is not used much in the offense for the Cowboys. With the plan for an increased use of the two tight end set it is going to diminish the role even more. Deon Anderson will have to win the job by not only being the superior blocker but also excelling on special teams. I think Anderson will win the job due to his knowledge of the offense but the competition is going to be good for him.

If all three running backs can stay healthy this season the Cowboys will have one of the deepest, most talented trios of running backs in the league. There is going to be more of an emphasis on protecting the ball this season which, to me, translates into an increased load for the running backs. The biggest factor in how much the running game will be utilized will be the offensive line because it is clear that all three backs are capable of making big plays if the line can do their job.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Training Camp Preview - Part I - Quarterbacks

The Dallas Cowboys start training camp in about 2 weeks so today I am starting a roster preview series leading up to training camp. Many of the positions are settled but there are a few positions with starting spots up for grabs. Every day or two I plan on taking a look at a different position on the roster. In my first part I am going to look at the quarterbacks.

This is obviously one of the most settled positions going into camp. Tony Romo is the clear starter with Jon Kitna backing up and Stephen McGee filling the number three spot on the depth chart. Since everything appears to be pretty well settled what should we look for during training camp out of these three players?

Tony Romo - Tony Romo is a pro bowl caliber quarterback with the potential to be an MVP candidate if the team can put together a great season. Right or wrong, Tony Romo's value is going to be measured by the success of the Dallas Cowboys late in the season and hopefully deep into the playoffs. With the departure of T.O. it is critically important that we see the development of chemistry between Romo and Roy Williams. They need to be on the same page especially on broken plays that require on-the-fly adjustments. Those type of plays tend to be where Romo is at his best so Roy needs to understand where to be so Romo can find him. Outside of that I am hoping to see Romo throwing great looking passes after getting his throwing hand healed up in the offseason. I would also like to see Jason Garrett demanding perfection from him after all we have heard this offseason about doing things "exactly right".

Jon Kitna - I think the Cowboys pretty well know exactly what they are getting in Jon Kitna. He is a solid player who can get the job done if Romo goes down with another injury this season. Kitna took an unbelievable beating as the quarterback of the Lions but he always got back up to play on. He is tough and he still has a decent arm. I would like to see him display a good understanding of the offensive system. I really hope that there is very little dropoff during training camp when he steps in to run the offense. That would give me extreme confidence in the quarterback depth heading into the season.

Stephen McGee - The only way Stephen is going to see an significant, meaningful playing time this season is if everything falls apart due to injuries at quarterback. I want to see if McGee's arm looks as good in practice as many of the players and coaches have been saying since he was drafted. I also want to see him go through his progressions on the plays and show he can find the second, third or even forth option on a play. It is going to take him some time to get up to speed, but time is on his side. In one to two years he needs to be ready to take over the backup role because Jon Kitna is no spring chicken.

Overall, this is the best the quarterback position has looked since the days of Troy Aikman. I am excited the Cowboys have depth this season so the offense won't go in the tank if Romo goes out for a few games again. I think Jerry Jones learned a valuable lesson last season about quarterback depth. I hope we don't see anyone but Romo behind center during the season, but everyone will sleep better knowing all is not lost if Romo goes down.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

ESPN Is Thankful for Greg Ellis

Greg Ellis made some outrageous claim yesterday about Demarcus Ware hiding from the coaches during the game so that Ellis could get some playing time. The big problem with this story is the fact that Demarcus Ware was on the field nearly every play last season. ESPN won't let a little thing like the facts get in the way of a good story.

Demarcus Ware did an interview on Sirius NFL Radio this morning and went out of his way to avoid throwing his friend and former teammate under the bus while at the same time denying the ridiculous claims made by Ellis. It is nice to see that Demarcus Ware is trying to avoid making Ellis look like a fool, but I would have preferred a straight denial on this one so the ESPN's of the world would just shut up.

Greg Ellis was unhappy with his role in the defense ever since the Cowboys made the switch to the 3-4 scheme when Parcells came on board. Thank goodness he kept stupid comments like this one to himself while he was still with the team. I'm certain that ESPN will be running with this story for weeks and will still be mentioning it deep into next season regardless of the indisputable video and statistical evidence that proves how much Demarcus Ware was on the field. I always regarded Greg Ellis as a classy player but he has tarnished his legacy over the last few years with his incessant whining and this last shot just seals the deal in my mind.

Update: I just read that Greg Ellis is also throwing his former teammate, Anthony Spencer, under the bus for the big run at the end of the Ravens game. I am truly saddened that Greg Ellis is losing what little credibility and respect he had with me every time he opens his mouth. And he was considered the leader of the defense last year?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

10 Things I Hope to See at Training Camp

The training camp schedule came out today and got me excited for the start of the season. Unfortunately I will only be able to make it to training camp in San Antonio for one day this year, but I am hoping to come away from my time there with a positive outlook on the season. I am already optimistic that this season will end in at least one playoff victory, but training camp will be very telling in terms of the new players and new team attitude. Here are some of the things that I hope to see:

1. Roy Williams looking dominant and on the same page with Tony Romo. We all know how important this one is to the hopes for this season.

2. All the receivers healthy and competing for playing time. I am especially hopeful that Sam Hurd and Miles Austin will be 100% by the start of training camp. I am comfortable with the current set of receivers but the team cannot afford to lose one or both of these guys this year.

3. Felix Jones flashing his amazing speed and quickness. He will be the gamebreaker for the offense this season so it is vital that he is back to his pre-injury rookie form.

4. Tony Romo throwing darts and looking decisive. This is a little harder to judge in a practice atmosphere, but I hope he is back to his old form after an offseason to get his pinkie, back, and ribs healthy.

5. Bobby Carpenter playing like a guy who belongs on the field. This is it for Bobby. Either he earns playing time this season or he is permanently labeled a bust and is probably on his way out at the end of the season. I think he will get it done if given a real shot during the season.

6. The defensive backs playing tight coverage and battling receivers for the ball. I am hoping that the soft zone we saw so much last season will be used a lot less now that we have three and possibly four or five guys capable of playing tight man to man coverage. I really want to see if all of the rookies are capable of playing at the level the Cowboys need them to play.

7. Anthony Spencer getting the job done against the run and rushing the passer. His performance is a key factor for the defense.

8. Wade Phillips looking more authoritative and involved as a coach. I know this is hoping against all odds, but he has got to assert himself more this season. I don't want to see that lost, dejected look on the sidelines when the going gets rough this season.

9. Jason Garrett demanding great execution from the offense. I saw him at training camp a couple of years ago and I came away very impressed, but he is under the gun after last season. I expect that he will do everything in his power to get the offense rolling.

10. More emphasis on special teams. This goes without saying, but last season proved how important special teams can be. I am excited to see the intensity of Joe DeCamillis.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Don't Get Carried Away Worrying About the Wildcat/Razorback Offense

It seems like every time I read something about the offseason work the Cowboys are doing I read something about the current fad in offensive schemes in the NFL, the Wildcat (also known as the Razorback). The media seems to be in love with the idea of this attack probably mostly because there is a catchy name attached to it. For one game last season the Dolphins made the Patriots defense look foolish, but after that the results were pedestrian at best.

When it was a surprise to defenses the offense was extremely successful. As soon as defenses started preparing during the week the results instantly dropped off. So now teams have had an entire offseason to prepare. You can't expect great results on a consistent basis when the defense knows how to defend against your attack. And it takes the most dynamic player in the Cowboys offense, Tony Romo, essentially out of the play. That doesn't seem like a very sound offensive strategy to me. Although any plays that involve Felix Jones need to be considered as part of the attack. But you don't take the ball out of Romo's hands too much or you lose the big pass play threat.

Two to four plays a game at most might end up incorporating the Wildcat/Razorback offensive attack. But that doesn't mean the entire offense is going to be restructured for this attack. My guess is that you will see it used from time to time, but only as a change up or surprise attack similar to a flea flicker play. The Cowboys do have some players who might make the scheme successful, but it should only be utilized on a very limited basis.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jason Witten - Part 4 - All Around Nice Guy

This is my final entry in my series on Jason Witten. So far I have mentioned all of his on-field attributes that make him the best tight end currently playing in the NFL. What sets him on another level in my mind is what he does away from the football field. Most people know that there are charity events that the players are required to attend, but Jason Witten goes well beyond what is required or even expected for a player of his status.

I have to admit that I am very biased on this topic. A couple of years ago my father-in-law ran into Jason Witten in the Galleria in Dallas on my birthday. He was out shopping by himself for his wife. He agreed to call me to wish me a happy birthday and spent a good 10 minutes talking with my father-in-law. I unfortunately missed the call but he left me a voicemail which I now have saved on my computer. That was a priceless gift and it cemented Jason Witten as a great guy in my mind. It was a lot to ask of him because he was on his own time away from the team but he graciously went along with the request. I know other players might do the same if asked, but a good number of them would not.

Jason Witten's Score Foundation is what sets Jason apart from most players off-field charity work. He works tirelessly on his own time to do special things for children and families in need. It might be a special event for them, monetary contributions, or construction projects but you can bet that he is there when things are happening with his foundation. It isn't like he puts his name on the foundation and doesn't get his hands dirty running the events. He is at all of his events and he always makes the kids who are there feel like a million dollars. He is just a genuinely good person.

Jason sets an example both on the field and off that every player not only with the Dallas Cowboys but in the entire NFL can follow. He is a great player, a great leader, a great family man, and a great person. Some people like Jason understand that they are privileged to be in the NFL and go out of their way to take advantage of their situation through off-field work. The guys who don't get so involved have to be inspired by the work he does.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jason Witten - Part 3 - Toughness

This is part 3 of my series on Jason Witten. Today I am going to focus on the toughness of Jason Witten. Over the next few days I'll post new parts to this series. I am certain that he is the best tight end in the NFL right now. He may go down as the best tight end in NFL history when his career is over. Hopefully this will open the eyes of anyone who doubts how good this guy is in every way imaginable.

Anyone who watched Jason Witten battle through numerous injuries last season knows how tough he is. He played through a separated shoulder that needed surgery all year long, broken ribs, and a severely sprained ankle near the end of the season. Each one of those injuries individually would have kept 9 out of 10 players out of the lineup, but he suffered from all three injuries at the same time near the end of the season and continued to not only play but perform at a high level. I don't know if any of you have ever had a rib injury, but the pain just doing normal breathing is nearly unbearable but somehow he was on the field taking hits to his ribs while they were injured.

Long before last season's injury struggles, Jason proved how tough he was as a rookie in 2003. On October 5 during a game against Arizona, Jason took a big hit that broke his jaw. He had surgery the next day on his jaw which required three steel plates to be inserted to stabilize the jaw. He missed the game the next week against Philadelphia, but returned to action less than two weeks after surgery against Detroit on October 19. That was the only game Jason has ever missed due to injury. I was sold back then on his toughness, but ever since then he has only done more to add to his reputation as a tough guy.

While playing through injuries can be a great show of toughness, it also sometimes causes a liability on the field because there is a tendency to protect the injury during the game. Not with Jason. He plays hurt, continues to take hits, and puts himself in harms way with no regard for his injuries. He didn't short arm passes over the middle with broken ribs last season even though he was exposing his ribs to defenders ready to lay big hits directly to his midsection. His toughness is the stuff of legend and he really deserves to be mentioned along with some of the tough guy legends from the 60's and 70's.

The best part about what Jason does to battle through injuries is that is sets a tone for the rest of the team to follow. How can you take yourself off the field when you have Jason Witten out there playing with broken ribs, a separated shoulder needing surgery, and a sprained ankle? Remember last season against the 49ers on November 23 when Jason was playing with broken ribs and he took a vicious hit from Nate Clements? He was on the ground for a few minutes and had to be helped off the field. With the game in hand he had every opportunity to call it a day, but there he was playing deep into the 4th quarter. You think we need more leadership on this team? Maybe more guys need to follow Jason Witten.