Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Cowboys Aren't Just Drafting for Special Teams This Year

With their 4th round pick the Cowboys have selected offensive guard David Arkin from Missouri State. Playing at a small school allowed Arkin to slip down to the middle rounds in the draft but many of the draft experts project him to be a starter down the road. He is big (6'5" and 300 lbs) and will probably put on more weight in the next few years. Not only is he a good blocker but he has a nasty attitude on the field that could help fill the leadership void if Colombo is cut this offseason.

In the 5th round the Cowboys finally made a move to address their deficiencies in the secondary. But they didn't take a safety with the pick, they went for cornerback Josh Thomas from Buffalo. Taking a player at this point in the draft usually doesn't net you an immediate impact player. He looks like he could provide some much needed depth at cornerback but it would be a surprise if Thomas develops into a starter.

In a bit of a surprise pick the Cowboys drafted a wide receiver in the 6th round. Again, you aren't expecting to find an immediate impact type of player here. But Dwayne Harris from East Carolina was the Conference USA player of the year. He looks to be more of a slot receiver since he is just 5'10" and lacks top end speed needed on the outside. Harris ran a 4.55 at the NFL Combine which isn't terrible but obviously not elite speed. This pick probably means that Sam Hurd could be allowed to leave via free agency whenever it finally starts.

With their first pick in the 7th round the Cowboys drafted a fullback. Shaun Chapas (6'2", 247 lbs) from Georgia taken with the 220th pick in the draft. I'm thrilled with the pick. Chris Gronkowski didn't do anything last year to make the Cowboys believe they had found their long term solution at fullback. Now there will most likely be a training camp battle for the fullback position.

And, finally, the Cowboys went offense yet again with their last pick in the draft. Bill Nagy (6'2", 302 lbs.) from Wisconsin will get his change to earn a roster spot in training camp. He can play guard or center so he has some versatility that will work to his advantage. Hopefully he can develop into a contributor in the next few years.

Looking back at the picks the Cowboys made there are a couple of glaring omissions. They didn't pick a safety or defensive lineman which means that both of those positions will have to be addressed in free agency. Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen could both be resigned to fill the hole at defensive end, but the Cowboys will probably look elsewhere for a new starting safety.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Two More Solid Picks for the Cowboys in Rounds 2 & 3

The Cowboys are on their way to putting together their best draft since at least 2005 after two more solid picks in rounds 2 and 3. They aren't going flashy, but they are picking solid players who can step in a contribute immediately.

In round 2, the Cowboys picked Bruce Carter. He'll fit in nicely at inside linebacker. While the Cowboys may not need someone to step in immediately at middle linebacker with Bradie James, Keith Brooking, and Sean Lee already there the two starters are getting up there in age. Keith Brooking has one season left with the Cowboys if he even stays with the team. Bradie James is starting to slow down. So it makes perfect sense to find another heir apparent in the middle of the defense along with Sean Lee. Carter is an excellent athlete but he is recovering from a knee injury which is why the Cowboys were able to land such a talented player all the way in round 2. Assuming he gets back to full speed he could be a long term starter.

The end of Marion Barber's time in Dallas may have come when the Cowboys picked DeMarco Murray in the 3rd round. The Cowboys now have three running backs on the roster and you can bet that all three won't be back next year. With Barber's ridiculous contract I would bet he'll be the odd man out. DeMarco Murray will fit in nicely with Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Choice will probably take over the short yardage/goal line role with Felix Jones starting. That makes DeMarco Murray the 3rd down/change up back. Murray is an excellent pass blocker and a great receiver out of the back field. I love the pick. Probably the best feature for Murray this season is his ability to return kicks. So the Cowboys can let Dez Bryant exclusively return punts and focus on wide receiver this year.

I'm waiting for the Cowboys to find some depth on the defensive line but I can't complain when they are not only addressing high need positions, but they are also filling the roster holes with players who can get on the field this year. I hope they continue finding guys who can help now and develop into starters down the road. Tyron Smith will most likely start this year. Carter and Murray both have the ability to become starters very soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Cowboys Go OT in Round 1

The mock drafts nailed it for the Cowboys in the first round this year. The Cowboys drafted Tyron Smith from USC with the #9 overall pick in the draft. It is hard to complain about a guy who is only 20 years old and was rated by many as the top offensive lineman in the draft. He is the type of player who could be a starter for 12-15 years on the offensive line.

Smith played right tackle at USC but most experts have projected him long term as a left tackle. So what does that mean for Dallas? I think they let Smith start at right tackle for his rookie year and keep Doug Free at left tackle. Depending on how quickly Smith develops at some point I would think the Cowboys will flip Free back to the right side and make Smith the starting left tackle for the long term. The Cowboys just can't risk having a rookie at left tackle who doesn't have experience on that side. Tony Romo needs to be protected and taking a risk by starting Smith immediately at left tackle would be a bad idea.

This pick probably means that Marc Colombo's days in Dallas are numbered. But I'm sure Colombo had a good idea this was coming. I wouldn't be at all shocked if he retires and commits to his music career full time. Free Reign might be the priority these days for Colombo anyway but I'll still be sad to see him go. He was the guy on the offense with a nasty attitude. Someone else will need to step up and fill that role. The Cowboys will need a new leader on the offensive line.

I'm thrilled with the Tyron Smith pick. I would have liked it even better if the Cowboys would have found a way to trade down a few spots before making the pick. But from the sound of it, the Cowboys couldn't find a trade partner willing to give them enough value to trade down in the draft. I'm not going to complain about getting a 12-15 year starter. It is a nice blue collar type pick. Addressing the offensive line in the draft was past due.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Perfect World First Round Prediction

We all know that just about anything can happen when Jerry Jones is running the war room on draft day. But there seems to be a pretty decent consensus forming that the Cowboys would prefer to trade out of the #9 spot. It isn't that there isn't anyone available. The problem is that the players that seem to fit best for the Cowboys will all be off the board by the time they pick or picking the next best on their draft board would be a reach at #9. So a trade down makes sense. Of course that is all assuming the Cowboys can find someone willing to make the move up in the draft.

With that said, I tend to agree with the draft gurus and predict a trade out of the #9 spot for the Cowboys. The Dolphins always seem to be willing to work with the Cowboys when it comes to trades. So a trade down to the #15 spot makes sense. The Cowboys could pick up a 2nd or 3rd round pick with the trade down and still get a top tier player at tackle which is what I think is the #1 priority for the team on draft day.

Anthony Castanzo from Boston College fits the Cowboys need on the offensive line perfectly. He has 54 games of starting experience for a big time division I program. He could step in immediately at right tackle if the Cowboys decide to unload Mark Colombo or he could start inside at guard for a season or two if the Cowboys think they can milk another season or two out of Colombo. Castanzo is a mauler in the running game and he could get the job done pass protecting on the right side. I'd like to see the Cowboys see if Colombo has anything left before cutting him loose but Colombo may not ever be the guy he was a few years ago after all of his knee injuries.

Now this is where I think the Cowboys will make a surprise move. While some might think the Cowboys will be content to sit back and wait for their 2nd round pick I think a trade down gives the Cowboys the ammunition they need to trade back into the latter part of the first round. And with the needs the Cowboys have it would make perfect sense to give up a pick to move back up to get another player who can make an immediate impact next season.

The Patriots are sitting at #28 and they love to trade down as much as Jerry Jones does. It would make perfect sense to get back into the late first round to get a defensive end since the defensive line is in a state of flux thanks to the delayed start to free agency. The Cowboys will have some options with this pick since so many defensive lineman are projected to go late in the first round. I don't have a specific player in mind here but you can count on one of the top defensive ends slipping a little more than the gurus are currently predicting. There are always a few surprise picks every year that allow some of the better players to slip down a few more picks that everyone originally thought. The Cowboys need to find a guy who can step in as an impact player at defensive end.

So my perfect world scenario has the Cowboys trading down to pick one of the top tackles (Castanzo) and then trading back into the latter part of the first round for a defensive end. Will it happen? Probably not, but I think it would be the best case scenario for the Cowboys. By addressing two of the top need positions so early in the draft the Cowboys could then get serious about getting a safety in the second round.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The 2011 Schedule Is Out

Finally there is some actual football related news to talk about with the Dallas Cowboys. The 2011 NFL schedule was released today. I'm operating under the assumption that both the owners and the players aren't dumb enough to let the labor dispute force any games to be missed. With that said, trying to analyze the schedule and determine a win-loss record before free agency and the draft is completely ridiculous.

At least in years past you could have a general feel for the roster make up since the bulk of free agency would have been completed at this point. But this year we are still looking at the exact same roster that finished the season in January. So I'll just focus on the schedule in generalities and save the win-loss predictions for a later date.

The first thing that is noticeable about the schedule is that it seems much easier than the last few years. Part of that comes from the fact that the Cowboys are playing a third place schedule. But it doesn't hurt that they are playing the AFC East which features the Bills and Dolphins along with the Jets and Patriots. And playing the NFC West doesn't exactly strike fear into the Cowboys. I count six games out of the division right off the bat that are very winnable games regardless of the final roster make up for the Cowboys: the 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, Dolphins, and Bills.

There was a writer who I won't name with the Dallas Morning News who was throwing around the ridiculous notion that the Cowboys are no longer a ratings draw because they aren't going to be nationally televised in any preseason games. Seriously? Like anyone really cares about preseason games outside of the hardcore fan base. With the regular season schedule out you see the Cowboys in five prime time games: three Sunday night games, a Monday night game and a Saturday night NFL Network game. Clearly the NFL schedule makers know the Cowboys bring in the ratings whether they are coming off a 6-10 season or a 13-3 season. And they will play in what could be the biggest regular season game of the year in terms of ratings when they go to the Jets on September 11.

The Cowboys start the season with back to back road games. Traveling to the Jets with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 fueling the Jets and their fans is going to be very tough. And that is followed up with a trip all the way to the other side of the country to play the 49ers. That will make for a difficult start to the season.

The Cowboys finally won't be finishing the season against the Eagles. The Cowboys have finished the season out against the Eagles for the last three seasons. This year they get the Giants in the season finale. I like the fact that the NFL is trying to put division games on the final weekend because there are usually playoff spots and division titles at stake. Bring on Eli Manning and the Giants. Maybe the Cowboys can clinch a division crown and knock the Giants out of the playoffs in the final game of the season. That would be sweet.

The bye week comes in week 5 this year. While I'd like to see the bye week come a little later in the season I'm not going to complain about week five. The bye week will give the Cowboys a week to recover from the first four games and an extra week of preparation for a road trip to New England. I can't complain about the Cowboys getting a bye week before taking on Tom Brady.

The more I look at the schedule the more excited I get. But, like I mentioned before, it is way too early to start putting win-loss predictions out there. I have a feeling my prediction will be extremely optimistic based on the schedule but I have to see how the roster concerns are addressed in free agency and the draft first. The schedule sure looks favorable for the Cowboys. I haven't been able to say that for a few years.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

No Training Camp Circus This Year

I don't how or why it happened. But there won't be a repeat of the traveling circus during this year's training camp. And that is good news no matter how you look at it. The Cowboys will spend three weeks in San Antonio to start training camp this year before returning to Dallas to finish out the preseason.

Last year the team went from San Antonio, to Dallas, to Oxnard and back to Dallas again during camp. Throw in the fact that they also played in the Hall of Fame game meaning they got five preseason games instead of the usual four and it is easy to see how the team was mentally fatigued before the season even started.

I'm not saying that training camp last year is the excuse for everything that happened last season, but it certainly didn't help.

I have to believe that Jason Garrett had some input on the training camp schedule this year. Jason Garrett is trying to instill focus and professionalism after Wade Phillips allowed the team to slip into disarray with his lackadaisical approach. And you know Jerry Jones believes in Jason Garrett and takes advice from him seriously.

This year I think we will see a lot less of a show during training camp and a lot more hard work. Without the added travel and camp relocation it should make for a much more effective camp. Of course this is all assuming that everything gets worked out with the new CBA before the start of training camp.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Come On, Dez!

This offseason has been excruciating to deal with. I am so disappointed in both the players and the owners right now that it makes it difficult to get excited about the draft. I know how I am hoping the Cowboys will prioritize the draft. But everything is moving so slowly right now that it is difficult to find much to write about let alone get excited about. I've taken a break for a few weeks from my roster analysis because there isn't much to talk about. But the Dez Bryant news has really become too much to ignore.

Dez is 22 years old and his maturity level seems to be on par with a 14 year old. I was really trying to give him the benefit of the doubt when the whole sagging pants incident went down. But then the stories starting coming out about other problems that have been swept under the rug until now. Cutting in line at the Apple store and getting kicked out of a restaurant due to a loud fight inside the restaurant with a girlfriend are just two of those stories. At that point I really started to wonder if I had read Dez wrong when I saw him deal with the media in such a respectful manner last season.

But then the lawsuits for unpaid bills started. And we aren't talking about a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid jewelry bills. I know it is Dez's money and he can do what he wants with it. But we are talking about nearly a million dollars in jewelry. Does he have any idea how quickly the money faucet can turn off for him? A football player is always one play away from the end of their career. Someone needs to remind him of that. I know he is young and thinks he has it all figured out. But he needs help before he ends up bankrupt before his career even ends.

I can actually let the unpaid bill issues go because if Dez is dumb enough to go broke so quickly that is his right. But the behavior in the public eye in unacceptable. Dez seems to have the belief that the rules of society don't apply to him. The cutting in line is ridiculous to me. Doesn't he realize that he is a big star now? Half of the people in that line were probably Cowboys fans. I'll bet he lost a few fans when he decided he was more important than the other people patiently waiting their turn.

I really didn't think that anyone could be more immature than Martellus Bennett a couple of years ago. But Dez is taking immaturity to a whole new level. He needs to get his head screwed on straight before it is too late. And, more importantly, Dez needs to remember that he represents the Dallas Cowboys at all times. People are looking for a reason to bring him down. The worst thing Dez can do is give all of those people ammunition to get him.

I have lost a great deal of respect for Dez as a person. As a player, I know he is unbelievably talented. I just hope that the recent string of incidents will serve as a wake up call that it is time to grow up. I want to be a Dez Bryant fan. But he has to earn the right to be a fan favorite by being a great player AND a great person. Fortunately Dez is young and it isn't too late to turn things around. I really hope he becomes the person we all want him to be.