As the second week of Organized Team Activities get underway Tuesday, the Cowboys are still looking at a heap of questions that, while not the gut-wrenching type from last year, have reached far deeper into the teams' makeup than many wanted to see back in February.
The departure of DeMarco Murray in March hurt. Say what you will about historical data and the offensive line – lord knows that I have – but right now Murray is an asset of any team he plays for and losing him hurts. That new shade of green on his jersey is just a twist of the proverbial knife.
The Cowboys swiftly tried to quell any fallout in the wake of Murray's departure by signing Darren McFadden and bolstering an already stout offensive line with Chaz Green and La'el Collins in the 2015 draft, but those two guys are projected more at the depth level and don't really solve anything beyond the line's ability to withstand an injury along the way. Yet.
The plan in Dallas is Running Back by Committee (“RBC”).
McFadden, Joseph Randle, and Ryan Williams will be the answer in Murray's absence, but will it be the right answer? As The Ticket's Bob Sturm in Dallas/Fort Worth pointed out Sunday on Cowboys Cast, “In our heads we want a DeMarco Murray replacement and, in reality … this is probably a two or three man job.”
Retaining Murray would have been nice, had the value been there with three young Pro Bowl offensive linemen. Instead we've got to see if Randle, who Sturm rightfully says doesn't have the trust of Head Coach Garrett right now, can step up; if McFadden can finally dispel the perception that he was a bust; and if Williams, a young RB with a career already full of injuries who sat on the practice squad last year, can become the guy many people thought he would be out of college.
I think Sturm was right; it is a two or three man job, making up for the production we enjoyed so much last year, and even that still requires a bit more than just plugging a guy – or three – behind this offensive line.
I like these guys, and I think that Darren McFadden might prove himself more valuable than he ever was in Oakland, but these guys aren't just vying for starting order here. One of them has to stand out and become something of a workhorse for this unit to perform the way the Dallas Cowboys need to win games.
It's been harped on and beaten to death, already. The 2013 defense was historically bad. Heading into the 2014 season, all the talk was about if this team could overcome the apparent shortcomings on D and win some football games.
Now, prior the 2015 season, the surprising performance of a lot of underachievers and no-names from last year has us quite optimistic. But why? Anytime you have a unit that pulls together and exceeds expectations, you have to consider the chemistry between the players, and that chemistry changed with the departures of Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, George Selvie, Henry Melton, and Anthony Spencer. They're gone, which means five new guys have to get into the mix and that doesn't always happen right away, or ever.
Greg Hardy is a little polarizing right now, and probably will be until a game or two after his suspension ends, which will be when we finally see what he can do. DeMarcus Lawrence got some quality time in last year but now faces his first year of full participation in an NFL offseason program and could come out the other side any number of ways different than we expect (or hope). Randy Gregory looks good but is entirely new to the team, as is Damien Wilson, if he even makes the team. Byron Jones is the type of guy you count on to start in his first year, but he's another new piece that must be molded into the scheme and gel with the personnel on the defensive side of the ball.
Point being, you can't just plug new guys in – of any skill level – and expect them to have a positive impact on a team that was driven purely by effort, and not so much talent, the year prior.
I'm optimistic. I am an optimist when I'm at my best. But just under the surface lies a sleeping realist that likes to pop his head up from time to time and point out the obvious … don't count your chickens until they've hatched.