The Dallas Cowboys still have quite a few unanswered questions looming ahead of the 2017 opener against the New York Giants. It's understandable not everything is set in stone, but as a fan I think we all would like any concerns we might have answered.
Nearly all Cowboys fans, including myself, have high hopes for this 2017 squad. That has a lot to do with the fact they were a serious playoff contender a year ago and have a talented roster from top to bottom. But, even though this is a talented team, the unknown that still surrounds them is a little concerning.
Typically, concerns create questions and not all questions are easily answered. That is why I decided to share with all of you five of my questions that have yet to be answered. Continue to read below to find out the questions I would like to have answers to, and as always feel free to use a comment section at the end of the article to voice yours as well.
How will Ezekiel Elliott vs. NFL turn out?
All of Cowboys Nation has been living under the belief that Ezekiel Elliott was going to see some kind of suspension to start the 2017 season. But, I believe we were all caught off guard when the NFL in their infinite wisdom decided to slap Elliott with a six-game suspension, even though he was never legally charged with anything.
After learning of the length of the suspension, we all knew that an appeal hearing was obviously the next step. Well, that has wrapped up and we are now in the wait and see portion of this entire situation. But, unless the suspension is completely lifted, don't expect this to end anytime soon.
Ezekiel Elliott I believe is fully prepared to take this to the judicial system in order to clear his name fully. I don't believe he will except any reduction in suspension from the NFL, which means this is far from over. He absolutely wants to exonerate himself from any wrongdoing and that is completely understandable. His battle with the NFL may just be starting, but I'm sure all of us would love to fast-forward to see how this all turns out.
Who will start at left guard?
The Dallas Cowboys offense is pretty much set in stone across the board, but the one and probably only uncertainty is at left guard. The Cowboys coaching staff probably knows who will start Week 1 against the New York Giants, but from the outside looking in, no one has really stepped up and stood out above the rest.
If I was to guess who would start at LG on opening day, I would probably have to go with Jonathan Cooper. I believe Chaz Green has been the better of the two, but unfortunately he is unable to remain healthy and he can't be relied upon because of that. So, I think Cooper wins the LG starting spot by default.
Cooper hasn't looked terrible, but he hasn't played well enough to earn the starting job out right either. The wild card here is maybe Byron Bell. He has versatility to play guard or tackle, but both Cooper and Green have received more opportunities. It will be really interesting to find out who will lineup between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick to open the season.
Will the youth movement in the secondary payoff?
Arguably one of the biggest unknowns surrounding the Dallas Cowboys right now is how their made over secondary will perform with all of the youth they added during the off-season. No one really knows how the rookies will perform after the majority of them missed several weeks due to injuries.
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods have all missed the last few weeks of practice and preseason with injuries and have missed valuable repetitions to get up to speed. All three are expected to play big roles on defense this season, but no one really knows yet what they are capable of.
Unfortunately, it's not all about the rookies though. Jeff Heath is relatively unknown as a starter, which causes a little bit of a concern. Also, Anthony Brown might have played well as a rookie a season ago, but has he improved in his second-year? The Cowboys secondary will undoubtably have their ups and downs, but hopefully this youth movement pays off in the end.
What's holding up Zack Martin's contract extension?
I'm in no way concerned the Dallas Cowboys and Zack Martin won't eventually agree to terms for a contract extension. But, I am a little bit surprised it hasn't happened yet. In the past, the Cowboys have used training camp to finalize contract extensions with other players like Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, but as of yet haven't been able to with Martin.
I honestly believe a contract extension is coming soon and could likely be finalized before the 2017 season gets underway. But, what's the holdup? I think there is no time like the present for some good news, especially with all of this Ezekiel Elliott suspension appeal stuff still hanging over everyone's heads. It would provide a good distraction and lock up the best offensive guard in the NFL.
Is Jaylon Smith ready to start?
Aside from all of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension news, there probably hasn't been any bigger storyline than the Dallas Cowboys second year LB Jaylon Smith. Everyone was anxiously anticipating his return to the field with the hope that he would regain the form he once had at Notre Dame.
Smith was noticeably little rusty in his first preseason game, but the more repetitions he received, the more comfortable/confident he became. Because of the Anthony Hitchens injury last week, Smith could be looking to become the starting MLB as early as Week 1, but I'm just not sure his body is ready to withstand a full football game just yet.
The more likely scenario is Justin Durant will start the season at MLB and Smith will be worked into the lineup here and there. There's no reason to rush him into anything, especially considering he hasn't played in a meaningful football game in a year. He needs to reacclimate himself to physical contact and grow more comfortable with surgically repaired knee/drop foot first.
What are your Dallas Cowboys unanswered question concerns?
5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule
Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.
Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.
1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons
The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.
In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.
This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.
2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor
Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.
Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.
The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.
For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.
The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.
Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.
3. Revenge Against the Falcons
The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.
Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.
4. Running Through December
The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.
This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.
It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.
Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.
5. Thanksgiving Tradition
For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.
The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).
Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.
Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.
Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.
Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring
In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:
The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC
Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.
James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.
That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.
Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory
Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.
There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.
Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.
Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.
Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.
Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.
UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC
Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.
Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.
If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.
The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.
Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.
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