Gather around for a story, everybody. Grab some snacks, preferably Teddy Grahams. Sour patch kids will work.
I went to a Dallas Cowboys game in 2007 and prior to saw some players arriving at the team hotel. Starting safety Ken Hamlin arrived to the hotel and people called him over to sign some autographs. A wide-eyed 17 year old in the crowd chimed up, “Hey Kenny!” Before this youngster knew, everyone was calling Kenny over. He started a trend!
Hamlin looked up from afar and with piercing eyes said, “My name’s not Kenny. Who’s calling me that?”
If this had happened at the NFL Combine I would have broken Chris Johnson’s 4.24-second 40-yard dash (set in 2008). The originator of Kenny was I, and I was nowhere to be found.
Ken Hamlin is one of the more accomplished Dallas Cowboys to ever slip #26 over his shoulders. As we continue our Countdown To Kickoff series with 26 days until the regular season, we’re going to find out exactly who the Greatest 26 in Dallas Cowboys History is.
If you’re reading this Ken, I’m sorry. Hopefully we’re still bros.
The Following Players Have All Worn 26 For The Dallas Cowboys:
Ken Hamlin had one of the more impressive seasons that anyone on this list has ever had in 2007. During his first year with a Star on his hat he recorded 5 interceptions and 45 tackles on his way to a Pro Bowl nod. It’s difficult for anyone to maintain that level of production over a long period of time, so unfortunately Ken falls just short today.
Preston Pearson Comes Up Close
Before we get to the Greatest 26, one guy deserves an honorable mention. Preston Pearson helped revitalize the Dallas Cowboys run game in 1975. He and the “Dirty Dozen” draft class from that year were a big reason why the Cowboys made it all the way to Super Bowl X.
What’s incredible about Preston Pearson’s presence in Super Bowl X is that – aside from Ralph Neely’s post-draft day trade to the Cowboys and the whole Houston Oilers fiasco – Preston Pearson was the only starter on the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl X squad, and one of two on the entire roster with Clint Longley, that was not drafted by the Cowboys. That’s insane!
Get Down With Number 26
1981 gave way to a new dynasty in the NFL when “The Catch” happened and the San Francisco 49ers made their mark on NFL History. The Greatest 26 in Dallas Cowboys History could not let Bill Walsh and Co. have all the glory though!
After a productive career at Rice University, the Dallas Cowboys signed undrafted free agent safety Michael Downs in 1981. Downs captivated the attention of everybody out at training camp.
When Randy Hughes suffered an injury to his shoulder in the preseason the confidence was high in Michael and he became just the third rookie in Dallas Cowboys Franchise History to begin the season in the starting role.
Downs delivered on his hype and during his first career game, a contest against the Washington Redskins at the legendary RFK Stadium – he picked off Joe Theismann.
Michael Downs actually intercepted 7 passes during his rookie year, a performance he would repeat during the 1984 season, as he marched his way to the All-Rookie team.
The 7 interceptions in 1984 would be a part of the greatest season that Downs ever put together in the Cowboy 26. Among his picks he put together 93 tackles and was deemed a member of both the All-Pro and All-NFC teams. He accomplished all of this while serving as a captain of a Cowboy team that finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
#26: Michael Downs
The 34 career interceptions by Michael Downs ties him with the Greatest 34 in Dallas Cowboys History, Cornell Green, for the fifth most in Dallas Cowboys Franchise History.
Downs helped the Dallas Cowboys remain at a competitive level in the 1980s when the franchise tapered off a bit from the decade before.
He accomplished an incredible amount, especially for an undrafted player, throughout a decade littered with neon and the San Francisco 49ers dynasty.
Michael Downs was a team captain, is tied for fifth in franchise history in interceptions, and among many other things he is the Greatest 26 in Dallas Cowboys History.
Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 25 in Dallas Cowboys History is!
Tony Pollard is Just What the Doctor Ordered in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys have what many believe to be the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott. However, you can never undervalue the importance of depth at any position. When the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft came around, the Cowboys added another weapon to the backfield by selecting Tony Pollard out of Memphis.
If you’re looking for a dynamic player maker with the ability to take it to the house at any given moment, Pollard is your man. The former Tiger averaged a touchdown every 13 touches in college. That’s an absolutely insane statistic when you think about it. He also tied an NCAA record with seven kick returns for touchdowns. Long story short, he can get you six points at the blink of an eye.
The versatility in his game is outrageous and undoubtedly the reason why he was drafted. In addition to running for 941 yards on 6.8 yards per rush, he also had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has to be salivating about the possibilities with his new toy. Having a running back that can not only carry the load as a runner but also line up at receiver keeps the defense honest. You never know what angle the offense is going to come from.
This has to be a sigh of relief for Ezekiel Elliott. Now, the Cowboys don’t have to overexert him and can bring Pollard in on third downs if need be. Not just to give Elliott a breather but to change the pace of the offensive attack. You can hand the ball off, throw it to him or run jet sweeps when he is on the field. This sets up a potential combo at running back that could be the leagues very best shortly.
Speed, quickness, and agility are all wrapped up in the Tony Pollard package. The Cowboys now have a running back that can line up at multiple positions if need be. Also, this prevents a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the body of Ezekiel Elliott. This combination has all the potential to set the NFL on fire in 2019.
CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG
Coming off what was clearly the best season of his career thus far, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones underwent surgery to hopefully fix a nagging hip injury.
While he earned both his first All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2018, his first season as a full-time cornerback, Jones still has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Some still criticize him for his lack of interceptions, and there's no doubt his stellar play slowed down a bit towards the end of the year.
I'm willing to wager that the slight decline had a lot to do with his hip troubles, but nonetheless he must come up with his elite level play once again to earn himself a nice contract somewhere in 2020.
Oh, did I forget to mention it's also a contract year for Byron Jones? As it is for so many important Dallas Cowboys, it seems.
So when will Byron Jones be able to return to the Cowboys' lineup? Well, the initial date reportedly set by Jones and the team was late July, giving him a chance to practice and play a bit before the season opener in September. But, according to the Team Site this week, that date may be pushed back a bit, and we might not see Byron Jones until that season opening game against the Giants.
"As for Jones, all along the Cowboys have been targeting his return for the season opener, but hopefully at that. So, don’t expect to see much of Jones in training camp, and if so, certainly no more than individual and walk-through drills." - Mickey Spagnola
Ultimately, as long as Byron Jones is good to go when the regular season starts, that's all that matters, but the fear of rust when Jones returns is a real one.
It's tough to go from no live football straight to the meaningful games, but if anyone would be able to do it it would be the guy with the freakishly athletic traits. The guy who can get out of the bed in the morning and set athletic records at the Combine.
And, of course, that guy is Byron Jones.
Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure
When the 2016 NFL Draft came around the Dallas Cowboys were in search of the heir apparent to Tony Romo. Unfortunately, coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, Romo would find himself on the shelf again after suffering a broken bone in his back during a preseason game against the Seahawks. However, the Cowboys had an ace in the hole, in the form of Dak Prescott who they drafted in the fourth round.
The idea was the groom him for a few years before taking the keys to the car so to speak from Romo, but fate had another idea in mind. Prescott would be thrust into the starting lineup against one of the Cowboys most hated rivals to start the season, the New York Giants. Added to that, was the pressure of living up to Romo's stellar resume as the franchise's all-time leading passer. After struggling in a tough 20-19 loss, no surprise there for a rookie quarterback, Prescott began to take flight.
Over the next eleven games he wouldn't suffer a single loss as the Cowboys were sitting pretty at 11-1. What made this streak more impressive was the efficiency of Prescott. He threw 19 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions over that span. In the process, he set an NFL record for the most passing attempts to start a career without an interception with 176. This broke the previous record held by Tom Brady of 162. It didn't stop there, as he also set a rookie record for completion percentage (67.8), was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys would finish 13-3 and win the NFC East. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the franchise only winning two postseason games in 21 years, Prescott was definitely under the microscope. After the offense struggled to produce points in the first half and fell behind 21-3, Prescott lead a furious comeback. Helping the team storm all the way back to tie the game at 28 and again at 31. He finished with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first playoff start against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Even though the team lost 34-31, Prescott proved how much of a gamer he was as he basically went yard for yard and point for point with one of the NFL's elite signal-callers. It was clear the Cowboys were in good hands going forward.
2017 started off well as the Cowboys were 5-3 and firmly on pace for another playoff run. Unfortunately, All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott lost his fierce battle with the NFL over domestic violence allegations, and Dak along with the offense struggled. After a 9-7 season and falling one game short of a Wild Card berth, the pressure on Prescott heading into the next season was immense.
Once 2018 came about Prescott had more pressure than ever with Elliott back for a full season. After a slow 3-4 start the Cowboys traded for Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, providing the team with it's first true number one receiver since Dez Bryant. Putting even more expectations on Prescott to turn things around, and boy did he ever.
He would complete 71.6% of his passes in the final eight games of the season, and the Cowboys won seven to finish 10-6. Now, with another division title under his belt, came a playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning Quarterback Russell Wilson.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were hanging on to a 17-14 lead. They faced a 3rd and 14 inside the redone with just over two minutes left. After dropping back a few steps, Prescott scrambled for 16 yards setting up a first and goal from the one-yard line. The team held on for a 24-22 victory but here's why that scramble was so important.
If the Cowboys don't convert that 3rd and long that would've set up a field goal attempt. Assuming it would have been successful, that would've only put them up 20-14. Giving Seattle a chance to more than likely win with a touchdown and an extra point or two-point conversion. Prescott essentially won the game with that 3rd down run. Proving once again there's no situation he can't handle.
He's set an NFL record for completion percentage in the first three years of a quarterbacks career at 66.1 percent. No quarterback has won more games than him since 2016 except Tom Brady. No one has more game-winning drives than him since he entered the league. His 13 primetime victories are tops in the NFL over the last three seasons. Simply put, Dak Prescott is a winner and doesn't fold under pressure, instead, he embraces it. There are no bigger lights in the NFL than the ones that shine in Dallas. With those lights come huge expectations and pressure, and it's clear this young man is made of the right stuff to handle it.
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