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?
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018
Coming into the 2018 season, loads of questions surrounded the Dallas Cowboys and the future of their roster.
Could their defense stay intact when the annual Sean Lee injury occurred? Was Kris Richard going to lead the Cowboys young secondary to places we thought they could be? And would Dak Prescott earn a contact extension and become the official franchise quarterback of America's Team.
Of course, there are tons of other questions that may have gone unanswered, but these three critical areas seem to find clarity in 2018.
Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit
The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.
When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.
Well, after their first full season together, it's easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.
What is fun to consider is that as good as Vander Esch was this season, Jaylon Smith might be even better. Both posses insane sideline to sideline pursuit ability, and are some of the surest tacklers in all of football.
Watching these two grow together will be a pleasure over the coming seasons.
Their Young Secondary Is Coming Together
Like their linebackers, the Dallas Cowboys secondary is a young group, who fans are excited to watch grow throughout the years. It seemed like more pressure sat on the shoulders of young cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie than of Smith and Vander Esch, however.
With Kris Richard joining the staff and making the decision to move Jones to cornerback full time, it was do-or-die for the former first round pick. Byron Jones answered all the doubters, earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but also First Team All Pro honors for his performance.
Opposite him, Awuzie had a rough start to his sophomore campaign. While typically right there in coverage, wide outs too often made contested catches over him. Over the final few weeks of the year, however, that changed and Awuzie played some of the best football yet.
Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis (in much fewer snaps) all had fantastic seasons as well, giving the Cowboys great hope and confidence in their secondary moving forward. They may need to add another safety during the offseason, however, though Jeff Heath remains more than just a viable option.
Dak Prescott Is Here To Stay
Whether or not you think it's justified, Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the future in Dallas. And he earned that right the back-half of 2018 and during the postseason. After a shaky start to his 3rd season, Prescott turned things around nicely, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 finish to the regular season.
Prescott played the best football of his young career down the stretch, and showed just how valuable he is both on the field and in the locker room. It seemed like every game he made 2-3 winning plays that put the Cowboys over the top that afternoon.
Dak is going to get a contract extension, and will be locked in as a Cowboy for the foreseeable future, and with the way he played the final 10 games of his season, I can't second guess this decision much at all.
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