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5 Positives for Cowboys Heading Into the Off-Season

Brian Martin

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5 Positives for Cowboys Heading Into the Off-Season

The Dallas Cowboys 2017 season didn’t quite end the way many of us would have liked. We would all prefer that they were still alive for the playoffs and making a strong push for the Super Bowl, but that just wasn’t in the cards for them this season. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good things that can be taken away from the way this team performed this year.

It’s a little difficult to focus on the positives right now after still hurting a little bit with how the Dallas Cowboys season ended.

All they had to do to keep their playoff hopes alive was beat the Seattle Seahawks a few weeks ago, but they decided to beat themselves instead. The pain is real, but only as long as we continue to focus on it.

I think it’s time to switch our focus to the future.

That is why I decided to put together a list of five positive things to happen to the Dallas Cowboys now that they are heading into the off-season. Please continue reading below to see my positive outtakes from the 2017 season. And as always, please feel free to use the comment section at the end of the article to voice your own thoughts and opinions on the topic.

Jaylon Smith’s Future

The Dallas Cowboys took a chance when they selected Jaylon Smith with their second round pick in the 2016 Draft. No one really knew whether or not he would be able to play again, but it looks as if that gamble is paying off after the year he had in 2017.

Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

If someone would’ve said to you that Jaylon Smith would play all 16 games and finish the year as one of the Cowboys’ leading tacklers before the 2017 season started, would you have believed them? Probably not, but that is exactly what happened.

Smith got out to a slow start, but he continued to progress throughout the year to finish the season with 81 tackles, one QB sack, and two forced fumbles.

The exciting thing about this is Smith said himself that he is finally starting to feel “elite” again, which should make him even better in 2018. He was nowhere close to playing at the top of his game this year, but he should be nearly 100% before the season starts next year.

The Dallas Cowboys could certainly use his play making ability at linebacker, especially with the uncertainty at the position heading into the off-season.

La’el Collins’ Move to Right Tackle

I’m not ashamed to admit I was a little bit skeptical with the Cowboys’ decision to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle. I believed Collins’ skill set better fit him as a guard in the NFL, but that he could survive as a RT.

But, he ended up playing above my expectations and really solidified the right side of the offensive line.

La'el Collins

Dallas Cowboys RT La’el Collins

What I really admired about La’el Collins this season was his toughness and availability. Like Tyron Smith, Collins was also dealing with a back injury that kept him out of practices towards the end of the season. But, he continued to battle through it and didn’t miss a game the entire year.

I commend him for that, especially since some players will shut it down after they receive an extension like he did this season.

It will be really interesting to see what the Cowboys do with Collins next season.

They can continue to play him at RT, but if they draft another tackle, they could kick him back inside to LG. His versatility to play either position could come in handy at draft time, allowing the Cowboys to take a guard or tackle if they choose to do so.

Dallas Cowboys Secondary Makeover

One of the biggest concerns for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2017 season was how they were going to replace all of their secondary after pretty much gutting it.

Gone were veterans Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and J.J. Wilcox. That’s a lot of people walking out the door with no clear answers as to who replaces them. Fortunately, the Cowboys addressed that need through the draft, and did quite well if you ask me.

Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys rookie DBs (Ron Jenkins)

With their second round draft pick, the Cowboys selected cornerback Chidobe Awuzie out of Colorado, and then followed that up in the third round by taking CB Jourdan Lewis out of Michigan. But, they didn’t stop there. They then traded up to take CB/S Xavier Woods and finished off by taking Marquez White in hopes of upgrading their secondary.

No one could have possibly imagined how well these rookies would play.

It took a little while for them to get going, due to injuries, but Awuzie and Lewis look like future studs at the CB position, and Woods proved his versatility is a valuable asset for the defense.

The Cowboys coaching staff couldn’t be happier with the way the rookie defensive backs played this season and should feel encouraged about the future of their secondary.

“War Daddy” DeMarcus Lawrence

No one in their right mind could have predicted the year DeMarcus Lawrence would have heading into the 2017 season. In fact, there were several people who had a hard time seeing him even make the final 53 man roster.

It’s funny how things can change in a short amount of time. Now nobody wants to see the talented defensive end leave Dallas.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Lawrence couldn’t have chosen a better time to break out than in his contract year. He was arguably the best DE in the entire NFL and will likely want to be compensated as such. It’s unlikely that will happen since he has already had two back surgeries in his NFL career, but he should and probably will be handsomely rewarded, eventually.

Fortunately, the Dallas Cowboys hold all of the cards right now.

They can try to work out a long-term extension that benefits both parties, but the more likely scenario is they designate him as their franchise player. It’s doubtful another team will try to snatch him away if he’s franchised, which means Lawrence will be back for at least the 2018 season.

Taco Charlton’s Progression

With their first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected defensive end Taco Charlton out of Michigan.

That selection didn’t go over too well with a lot of Cowboys fans. Nearly everyone wanted them to take T.J. Watt instead. That unhappiness continued throughout the season because of the way Watt played.

Taco Charlton

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Taco Charlton was constantly bashed for his lack of impact by a lot of fans, but he continued to improve as the season progressed and finished 2017 strong.

Charlton wasn’t a starter like Watt was with the Steelers. He was relegated to backup duty and didn’t receive a lot of playing time. But, I find it encouraging that Charlton ended his rookie season with similar stats as the same player Cowboys fans continuously compare him to.

Taco finished his rookie season with 19 tackles, three QB sacks, and one forced fumble. For comparison, T.J. Watt finished his first year in the NFL with 54 tackles, seven QB sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception.

The big difference is Watt probably had nearly double Charlton’s playing time. So, maybe the Cowboys scouting department was right about Taco all along. I know I’m excited to see his progression next season.

What positives do you like about the Cowboys heading into the off-season?

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Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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8 Comments
  • Ethan Chazin

    May I borrow your “Rose colored glasses” for a moment? One can easily point to the fact that for Jaylon Smith he sat out an ENTIRE season so that was a lost season’s worth of #2 pick playing time. Next, he is great at attacking plays and driving forward to run support BUT often looked completely lost and esp so in space and covering receivers IN HIS SECOND SEASON! Next, Taco Charlton. He saw limited time b/c the coaching staff so limited potential. He has shown ONE move and it is blidnfaith to assume he progresses like we did for collins and brown. Next La’El collins looks like a true nfl RT starter. Okay, what about Bell and Green? How are our back up swing tackles and guard? What happens if Zack Martin goes down? Why do we go from winners to losers the minute Sean Lee goes off the field? What makes us think Tank or David Irving can be our ONLY 2 reliable pass rushing specialists? what about Thornton, Mayowa, Demonte moore, tyron crawford? Marinelli’s top 10 defense? Do we not know what to do with Byron Jones? Okay, for one season they hit the top 10 defense ranking, but what happens when other teams finally scheme against our pure Cover-2? Why don’t we have a huge run stuff DT? I mean…the list goes on and on and on and I have not even begun to address the offense. I no longer will allow writes to blow smoke up our a-s. PT Barnum Jerruh & family can no longer snake oil me.

    • Kevin Black

      Just FYI, since Smith was on IR all year last year, he did not accrue a year of eligibility, which means after the 2019 season, he will be a restricted free agent, not a full FA. So there is one small silver lining in his redshirt year beyond the lost season. The fact he was on the field at all is a pretty big accomplishment. Once he gets on the field next year, we will see what our #2 pick got us.

      • Ethan Chazin

        Hey Kevin, I agree jaylon is an amazing story and may return to his dominant former self BUT my point is the front office must stop taking these risks because they fail as often as they succeed and this team refuses to use free agency so every round 1-4 pick must be optimized. And round 1-2 picks must become starters that is an absolute MUST

        • Kevin Black

          I would agree with you, but in the case of Jaylon Smith, the two players they would have taken instead of him went right before Dallas picked. They wanted the DE from Oklahoma State, Emmanuel Ogbah, but he got drafted by the Browns so Dallas thought they could get Kevin Dodd, but he got taken by the Titans. Dallas tried to trade out of the spot as they didn’t have anyone else there they thought was worth the pick value, they firmly believed they could have gotten Jaylon later as long as it was before the Patriots. Unfortunately, you have to have a trade partner and no one was willing to offer anything. Dallas was pretty much forced to pick and Jalyon was the next one on their board.

          At that point, you stay true to your board. It was a risk, but an acceptable one based on the situation at hand.

  • Kevin Black

    FYI, the scouting department wanted Watt. It was the coaches banging the table for Charlton.

    • Datschu

      GOod season, bad season, 8-8 season… wash rinse repeat…. and even in their “good” seasons it’s stil a one and done in the playoffs… you can bank on it in vegas Vegas and come up roses every season… I am growing TIRED of the team not being able to string together consecutive successful seasons… anyone else?

      • Kevin Black

        I don’t disagree. But seeing as they had such a good season last year and that included a turnover at the most important position, I’m willing to give them another year to prove it.

        It appears they are going to be getting a lot of new coaches anyways. The special teams coach asked out of his contract so he could join Gruden in Oakland and we’ve chosen not to extend contracts to Wade Wilson and Joe Baker. Add in our TE coach Looney who is retiring and that’s a pretty significant turnover in the coaching department.

  • Steve

    What does everyone think of the Kellen Moore move (QB Coach)?? I believe we needed some coaching changes because we NEED some different ideas and some different perspectives! I really believe we need to 1st rfa tender Irving, sign long term/ Franchise tag D-Law with the latter being a prove your gonna continue to stay healthy and if he does give your war daddy what he deserves! Sign Anthony H and I know it may cost us but he is so versatile playing all 3 linebacker spots and plays thru nagging injuries and stays on the field for all 16 games, leader in the locker room as well. With the draft I have thought between a Wr or DT in the 1st. If M Hurst is at 19 we should take him and that would solidify our D and with all our rookies making some strides forward next year it’s hard not to be excited for our D…. Offense we need a Wr/TE maybe Gathers breaking out, but we also need a swing tackle in the mid rounds to depend on with Smith’s health and Collins being able to play gaurd then we could move him around possibly!

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Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

The Dallas Cowboys clearly had a specific role in mind for Ryan Switzer when they drafted him 133rd overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Come to find out, that role didn’t include being involved much on the offensive side of the ball, at least not as a rookie.

After watching the way the Cowboys utilized Ryan Switzer in 2017, it’s pretty obvious the sole purpose he was drafted was to improve the special-teams play in the return game.

They clearly didn’t envision him being a part of the game plan on offense, despite the continuous outcry from fans.

Like most rookies, Ryan Switzer didn’t really get off to a fast start, and took a while to get used to the speed of the NFL. But, once he calmed his nerves and regained his confidence, he proved to be an upgrade in the return game.

Switzer ended up ranking third in kickoff returns, averaging 25 yards per return in 2017 and 12th in punt returns with almost 9 yards per return.

He also became the first Dallas Cowboys player to return a punt for a touchdown since 2013. He accomplished this against the Washington Redskins, in Week 13 when he took an 83-yarder to the house.

Surprisingly enough, using Ryan Switzer solely as a return specialist wasn’t enough for a lot of Cowboys Nation. A lot of fans wanted to see his talents utilized more on the offensive side of the ball as well, but were only left disappointed.

Ryan Switzer

Dallas Cowboys WR Ryan Switzer

Getting Switzer involved in the offensive game plan just wasn’t in the cards in 2017.

He only managed to catch six passes for 41 yards and rushed four times for 5 yards. This isn’t exactly what Cowboys fans envisioned after hearing Switzer was opening a lot eyes in training camp and organized team activities (OTAs). That was the main problem.

He was hyped up so much heading into the season that fans expected to see him involved much more on offense.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, had something else in mind, but I doubt that’s the case for the upcoming 2018 season.

I really think we’re going to see an increased role for Ryan Switzer next season.

The Cowboys coaching staff should have a much better understanding of his strengths and weaknesses now that he has a year in the system under his belt. And, they’ve seen firsthand how explosive he can be with the ball in his hands.

What the Cowboys coaching staff will have to determine this offseason is just how big of a role Switzer will have next year.

Should Switzer take Cole Beasley‘s job?

Cole Beasley, like the rest of the Cowboys receivers, had a down year in 2017. We shouldn’t assume that his job is safe, especially with someone like Ryan Switzer waiting in the wings. But, is Switzer ready to take over full-time?

Tough decisions will have to be made eventually, but such is life in the NFL.

Will Ryan Switzer see an increased offensive role in 2018?

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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