So what now?
The Cowboys have a well-paid cornerback who took a Molly, an owner who partied with a pair of Mollys, and a understudied son who partied with a busload of Mollys, not to mention the NFL head of officiating. Mix that stench with the aroma of a durian defensive performance, and you have fan hope draining like a Medieval bloodletting.
The annual Cowboys Camp Soap Opera has been in rare form. Amidst it all sits Jason Garrett and his staff, trying to implement a sense of football normalcy to a roster hopefully not built solely on offense.
The fun of Orlando Scandrick's suspension added to a host of defensive injuries and question marks as we nudge closer to the looming 49ers in Week 1. While Dallas' offense looks ready right now – and note that San Francisco is sorting through their own defensive woes and conundrums – the 11-plus Cowboy defenders that will compete on September 7th seem mysteriously concerning, unproven, and perhaps not even here yet.
If you want a bright spot, Anthony Spencer is fast-tracking to an early campaign return it appears, and by midseason, the additions of him, DeMarcus Lawrence, and perhaps Josh Brent, offer hope to what may be a catatonic initial pass rush. Generating quarterback pressure and reasonable run defense is, quite frankly, largely the determinant of 2014-season success.
Questions need answering if Dallas is to manage a representative defense. Certain musts must be met for this season to get out of the gate better than 1-3.
The much-neededs include:
- Rolando McClain has to be outstanding. He has the know-how, the physicality, the athleticism, and the pedigree to be the best player on the defense, even better than Sean Lee. He's everything the rest of the linebackers wish they were, minus the mood swings and inner demons. Nick Saban said McClain has his affairs in order and is ready to return, and Jerry promised to help him as he did Tyron Smith with the hauntings from back home. If McClain wants to be a force, he will be, I have no doubt. Big if though. You can't coach or fake desire.
- Morris Claiborne has to finally arrive. He sees his counterpart, Patrick Peterson, getting paid and glorified at every turn. He knows his career is dangerously close to journeyman waters, and if he doesn't get it done this year, that “big” contract he was expecting will be a shadow of Peterson's. He's beefed up, and I hope he's studied up, too. That Wonderlic score hangs over his unimpressive career like a stain on a blue dress. It's nut-cutting time for Mo. Now or never here.
- A pass rush must be fermented and harvested asap. The time for patience is gone. Bottle this up quick and serve it as Boone's Farm. Find 5-6 willing mad dogs and figure out a way to get to the quarterback, pedigree and promise be damned. George Selvie has to be even better. Terrell McClain has to beat out Nick Hayden. Tyrone Crawford has to be what we've heard about for too long. Henry Melton has to match his paycheck. Coleman, Bishop, Wilson – I don't care who – a couple of those blokes have to be young Jay Ratliffs. Then, this band of gypsies has to batten down the hatches until help arrives one by one from the M*A*S*H unit later on.
- Meanwhile, can someone get off a block? Those same Joes charged last paragraph have to be able to stuff a run, too. Linebackers, are you listening? Preseason means so little, but let's just say that San Diego thing needs to be quite the opposite of what the 49ers see four Sundays from now. I've seen more resistance at a brothel. (Actually, I've never been to one, but you get the point.)
That's it. The answers are few and simple. Much is in place, which is the shiny side of the coin.
Problem is, these answers aren't found on the dollar menu. Romo's sustained health and a drive-stopping pass rush sound too much like balancing the national budget and manning a mission to Mars. It does to me anyway.
I encourage ignoring the preseason-game fray and dismissing the Chicken Littles that muddy the message boards. I see exhibition games for what they are, just massive money grabs in dress-up practice drills. So little can be gleaned from them at all.
But this is Dallas, where every camp is a ticking time bomb. Every year in Ox-nerd, Jerry goes drunk-uncle-at-a-wedding with either Super Bowl predictions, glory holes, or stripper selfies on Twitter. It's always something. (How can he rightfully be upset with Scandrick, Brent, or anyone after his own escapades?) The track record begs for drama and encourages the salivating media to dogpile every miscue. You can set your August by it.
This should be a time for work and development. Instead, it's six weeks of breath-holding until Labor Day comes and goes.
I contend that this team has far more hope and promise than what camp has felt like so far. Too many good things in place for this squad not to surprise. Too many bad things other teams are dealing with that we pay less attention. Such is the sport of attrition that the NFL is.
But for the love of Pete Rozelle, can this team just focus on football from here forward, please? Can we catch a break on injuries until it's for real? Can we avoid TMZ and Deadspin, stay off the Twitter and reality shows, commit to our craft, and generally just be a boring football organization for a change?
Or is that just asking too much?