March 10th, 2015. That day means a lot to me.
I'm a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. Duh. Welcome to Inside The Star, where we write/talk/jibber-jabber about America's Team.
Every day of my life before March 10th, 2015 that fandom was something that I kept to myself, and then that day happened.
On March 10th, 2015 I got an email from Bryson Treece - Owner, Founder, and Managing Editor of Inside The Star. He was responding to an inquiry that I'd made about writing for his site. 522 days, 400 articles, 31 episodes of the RJOShow, and countless streams on OchoLive... here we are.
It's been one incredible ride, but it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't gotten a little bold. That first email I sent Bryson? I remember sitting in my apartment, my Mom in town for the weekend playing on her iPad, and I realized that I was ready to finally do something about this passion of mine.
In the last 522 days I've made more bold decisions. I've chosen topics that people hated, I've tried to make jokes that didn't land, and I actually tried to sell the idea that Matt Cassel could lead the Cowboys to the Playoffs in 2015. As I've grown and gained more experience, that boldness has become quite the thrill.
If you're a loyal Inside The Star reader (Hey! Love you!) then you remember me authoring our weekly Bold Predictions here. With the Cowboys back for 2016... so am I.
Every week, every single one, I'll be dropping my Bold Predictions for Cowboys/Whoever on the weekday before that game. I can promise you they will be bold, fun, and one incredible ride.
Tomorrow we watch the Dallas Cowboys play a football game.
Today we get bold.
Welcome to this week's Bold Predictions. Vamonos.
The Rams Are Referred To As "St. Louis" Three Times
Alright, I know what you're thinking. This is a Dallas Cowboys site so this doesn't make sense. JUST HANG ON I'M GETTING THERE.
This is the first Nationally Televised game of the 2016 NFL season. It's the Cowboys. With the NFL back in Los Angeles. ESPN's Monday Night Football is on the call. That means, thanks to a HOF-can't-paint-the-field fiasco, it's new MNF play-by-play man Sean McDonough's first swim in the big kids pool.
The pressure is going to be massive to make this game epic given the HOF Game's inability to paint (seriously guys, even the little kids pool swimmers know how to paint). McDonough is going to be:
- Trying to handle Jon Gruden.
- Mesmerized by the Dallas Cowboys.
At some point when Dak Prescott crosses the 700-yard mark (A Bold Prediction within a Bold Prediction! I'm already in midseason form!), McDonough is going to have a "doh!" moment and accidentally say Saint Lewis (More fun to type than St. Louis... even though I just did. I hate myself.) when he means Los Angeles. As for the other two? Jon Gruden is on the call. You can bank on this.
Darius Jackson Will Have Over 150 Total Yards
There's a rookie running back who's impressing folks out at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp and his name is not Ezekiel Elliott.
"Wut" -you probably.
When Darius Jackson was selected in the 6th Round my brain immediately thought of him as the Tashard Choice to Zeke's Felix Jones. I'm not at all contending that Zeke is destined for the same path as Felix because that would be
literally the worst thing in the world unfortunate.
What I'm saying is that Darius Jackson is impressing folks, and the Cowboys are taking things easy with Zeke. Given the variety of factors in the probability machine, me thinks that Darius is going to have an opportunity to feast like on the Rams like I do on Honey Bunches of Oats cereal. I LIKE IT OK.
Between straight up rushes, passes out of the backfield, and some use in the return game... Darius is about to do work.
A Referee Will Accidentally Place A Touchback At The 20-Yard Line
This offseason the NFL made some changes that we all need to remember:
- We all agreed to never speak of the 2015 Cowboys ever again.
- Dez still caught it.
- Touchbacks (from kickoffs, not punts) are now marked at the 25-yard line, not the 20 like they have been. Why? Cause.
I talked a lot on this week's episode of the RJOShow with Inside The Pylon's Chuck Zodda, a former collegiate kicker, about the ramifications that this could have on the 2016 NFL season. Now to be crystal clear we discussed the repercussions in terms of coaching strategies, we didn't account for mental lapses from referees.
That's what we're doing today - assuming a referee is going to have a whoopsie moment. Think about muscle memory for a second. My fingers are permanently fixated to hold my iPhone, you're telling me it's impossible that referees won't just walk out to the 20-yard mark out of habit? Get outta town!
Pay attention on Saturday. We're gonna see a referee come up five yards short and then we're going to laugh. Man, it's going to be awesome.
There Will Be A "New Triplets" Reference
Hey did you know that the Cowboys have an amazing quarterback, running back, and wide receiver? And did you know that they had this same tripod in the 1990s? AND did you know that people called that trio "The Triplets"?! I bet you didn't.
Tony Romo, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dez Bryant have some lofty expectations and big-time legacies to live up to as a threesome. My fellow Staff Writer, cycling aficionado extraordinaire, Sean Martin recently took a stab at projecting their 2016 stats if you're into that sort of thing (you should be because there's some high-quality math in there).
People think this is the second coming of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Honestly it's pretty difficult not to get all hot and bothered over that though, whoa I need to cool off.
8 (Troy) + 22 (Emmitt) + 88 (Mike) = 118. 9 (Romo) + 21 (Zeke) + 88 (Dez) = 118. The math checks out.
It's easy to make this connection. Considering that Romo, Zeke, and Dez won't play if at all on Saturday, when they're shown by cameras it'll be on the sideline in sweats.
Imagine the trio, the three best friends that anyone could have, chomping on flower seeds. Pondering life. Envisioning glory. Wondering why the NFL lets the Eagles be a real team.
Now cue the broadcast panning in on them saying, "There's the 'new' Triplets!". Bam.
Dak Prescott Will Throw A Left-Handed Pass
I TOLD YOU WE WERE GETTING BOLD THIS SEASON.
Tony Romo has had to do a lot of things as the quarterback for America's Team. Last year, in a contest against the Miami Dolphins, he added a new trick to his repertoire when he went full-out southpaw against the 'Fins. (By the way, if there is not a group of Miami fans known as Dol-fans then they have really failed as a fandom).
Thanks to an injury to an actual southpaw, Kellen Moore, the Cowboys are now relying on 4th Round Draft Pick Dak Prescott to earn the role of backup QB/clipboard holder/Romo heir/job that disappointed us game after game last season. Dak, hailing from the SEC's Mississippi State, is of pretty high pedigree and a lot of people think he can make some moves at the NFL level.
Well I think he's making some moves... left-handed. Yea. That's right. Calling my shot. LET'S DO THIS THING.
Dak's going to be in the game. The Rams are going to rush. He's going to scramble. He's going to throw it left-handed. It's going to be completed. We're going to reference Romo doing it. It's going to be beautiful.
Does Darius Jackson Have A “Puncher’s Chance” Of Landing On Final Roster?
Remember Darius Jackson?
The sixth round running back was an instant fan favorite of Cowboys Nation, as the fanbase hoped Dallas had found the explosive RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott they needed in the very same draft. Jackson, however, had an up-and-down preseason in 2016 and ended up being waived from the team to make room for Darren McFadden later in the year.
Jackson has bounced around the league a bit since then, joining both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers at different points. He's back with the Cowboys, however, looking to fight his way onto the team's final roster.
But does the fourth year running back have more than a puncher's chance to do so?
The Cowboys spent much of the 2019 NFL Draft rebuilding their running back depth. First, they drafted Memphis back Tony Pollard hoping to find a versatile and dynamic threat to compliment the workhorse that is Ezekiel Elliott. Then, in the seventh round, Dallas took another Ohio State running back in Mike Weber who fits more of the "traditional" running back form.
So with two new touted rookies behind the veteran Elliott, and fullback Jamize Olawale more than likely having a roster spot as well, there doesn't seem to be room for Darius Jackson on the Dallas Cowboys.
That didn't stop him from competing at OTAs, however. DallasCowboys.com named Darius Jackson one of their top ten "head turners" from the OTA practices, and considering that Mike Weber is banged up at the moment, Jackson will certainly have his opportunities to fight for that spot.
Still, the odds suggest that Darius Jackson will not be with the Cowboys come the Fall of 2019. Though he entered the league with some fanfare for a day three pick, his production has been more fitting of his draft grade than of his fan hype.
Jackson hasn't been the explosive player/receiving back that they're hoping Tony Pollard will be, nor has he been the every-down type backup runner that they seem to hope Mike Weber will be.
In the end, the Cowboys-Darius Jackson story is likely to close during this year's training camp.
Cowboys Camp: Strong Safety Battle One to Watch
When the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp in late July, they'll have most of the roster settled. On paper, they're a team that doesn't have many holes on the depth chart.
They've added depth at every position and added playmakers on both sides of the football. On defense, there appears to be only one position where the starter heading into training camp may not be the starter come week one. Strong safety.
Veteran Safety Jeff Heath is currently running with the first team defense through the offseason portion of practices. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson were added to the strong safety depth chart featuring Heath and special teams ace Kavon Frazier.
While most teams would be excited about having a returning starter at the position, Heath's 2018 left a lot to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, Heath missed 19 tackles on the season, which was second in the NFL. It seemed that Heath became more interested in attempting to strip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands than actually making the tackle, which became increasingly frustrating as he forced only a single fumble all season long. Though he had a lot of missed tackles, Heath did finish 15th in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops," which are defined as a "play that results in a loss for the defense." Heath was third on the team in total tackles with 85 and tied with Jaylon Smith for third in tackles for loss with six.
The biggest competition for Heath at strong safety will be veteran George Iloka.
Signed to a one-year contract after spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Iloka comes to the Dallas Cowboys adding depth at free safety behind Xavier Woods. He also creates competition for Heath at strong safety, which should help Jeff Heath raise his game and get more consistent with his tackling. Iloka has experience and brings good size and length to the secondary, which should help them defend tight ends in the passing game.
Because of his injury, Kavon Frazier could see his playing time evaporate heading into 2019. If he's unable to get healthy and make an impression early, Frazier could miss out on the 53-man roster when the team makes their final roster cuts.
The player that stands to benefit the most from Kavon Frazier's injury, and the one I'm most interested in watching in the Dallas secondary the rest of the preseason is sixth-round draft pick, Donovan Wilson. The rookie from Texas A&M has made several plays in the secondary that stood out during OTAs. Here's what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had to say about Donovan Wilson during last week's minicamp.
"I haven’t written much about Donovan Wilson since rookie minicamp, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention a nice play he had during the two-minute drill. Kris Richard came with a blitz, which forced Cooper Rush to throw “hot” to Dalton Schultz. Wilson, from several yards away, saw Schultz look up and drove on the ball, arriving at the exact time it hit Schultz’s hands. With his left hand Wilson was able to drag the ball away, knocking it to the ground."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Wilson will be a player to watch in training camp. The Cowboys have had success finding defensive backs in the late rounds of the draft. Anthony Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2016 and Xavier Woods was a sixth-round selection in 2017. Now Wilson, with his aggressive and physical demeanor will have an opportunity -- this year or next -- to carve out some playing time in a secondary that needs more players who can create turnovers.
Strong safety is one of the few starting spots where there is actual competition for the incumbent starter. Pretty much every other position has returning starters locked into the starting lineup or, in Travis Frederick's and Robert Quinn's cases, a significant talent upgrade that makes them day-one starters.
The competition at strong safety should help everyone be better for the Cowboys in 2019. If Heath is able to hold off Iloka and Wilson to remain the starter, then he will have once again earned it. With the depth they have this season, including two guys who won't be liabilities in pass coverage, the Cowboys have options if Heath misses tackles in 2019 as he did in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys Shouldn’t Add a Veteran Backup Quarterback
With offseason training activities and minicamps coming to a close, now begins the wait for July 27th and the first day of training camp practice in Oxnard, California for the Dallas Cowboys. In my nearly 20 years following the Dallas Cowboys, this is the deepest and most talented roster I can remember the Cowboys taking to training camp.
Of course, there are areas of weakness, especially when you compare them to other position groups. Unfortunately, there isn't always a simple fix to said area of weakness. If you're looking for one area of complaint, you could point to backup quarterback.
Cooper Rush and Mike White have a combined three regular season attempts between the two of them. I wouldn't hold that against them though, because the reason they only have three attempts between them -- and really it's just Cooper Rush has three attempts -- is because Dak Prescott has been such a durable quarterback that those other guys aren't getting into games.
The only time Cooper Rush has appeared in a game was during lopsided wins against the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.
The reports coming out of OTAs and minicamp are that Cooper Rush and Mike White haven't had very good practices. Reports of interceptions have a portion of Cowboys Nation concerned about the quarterback position after their franchise quarterback.
Those reports can offer some insight into how things are going, but they should hardly be taken completely at face value. Remember what Allen Iverson said, "We talkin bout practice." Just like we shouldn't get too hyped about what Dorance Armstrong or Dak Prescott are doing in practice, we shouldn't overreact to some bad practices by your backup quarterbacks. Remember, they're largely throwing to guys who are undrafted free agents and are likely to be released when the team trims their roster to 53.
So much of where the concern about the backup quarterback position comes from is because of the recent history this team has had with losing its starting quarterback to injury. Tony Romo missed games in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. That's six out of 11 seasons where he was the starting quarterback heading into training camp in which he missed at least one game in a season.
Dak Prescott hasn't missed a start since his sophomore season at Mississippi State in 2013. That's five straight seasons between college and the NFL that Dak Prescott has been available for his team. In 2013, he was splitting snaps with the Bulldogs senior quarterback, but since 2013, has been available for 88 of his team's 90 games. Dak's started 51 straight games for the Dallas Cowboys in three seasons and has the strength and durability to continue to do just that.
Dak Prescott isn't Tony Romo. According to DallasCowboys.com, Dak Prescott measures at 6-2, 238 pounds. That's huge for an NFL quarterback. Romo was 6-2, 230. Romo, however, never looked as strong or thick as Dak Prescott. He always looked more slender playing the quarterback position and his durability was a concern. So far in Dak's career, durability hasn't been an issue, therefore the quarterback position is less of an issue.
The recent history of 2015, when Tony Romo went down and the season went with it, has many leery of going into a season with unproven commodities. But in that 2015 season, they had "proven" commodities at the quarterback position and those players went 2-11 in the starts that Tony Romo missed.
The free agent quarterback market doesn't look all that enticing at this point in the offseason. And that should be obvious. Any quarterback that was worth signing is already on a team. What you're left with is a who's who of bad quarterback options that wouldn't give you much more confidence in that Rush or White if necessary.
- Matt Cassell - Been there, done that.
- Brandon Weeden - See above.
- Mark Sanchez - See Above.
- Brock Osweiler - Miami, Denver, and Houston did that, chose to go another direction.
- Derek Anderson - not a terrible option, but not necessarily better than what you have.
- Josh Johnson - Pass.
- Geno Smith - The New York Giants didn't want him. Very Hard Pass.
There isn't a free agent quarterback that makes sense. They're either old descending quarterbacks or young retreads that have been through a few different organizations and haven't been able to find a landing spot. Let's get into training camp and the preseason and see what Mike White and Cooper Rush do in a game-like situation before making a definitive evaluation.
With Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna as Dak Prescott's main coaching influences in 2019, there's no need for a veteran backup quarterback to "mentor" Prescott at this point in his career. Moore was always considered a very smart player that was viewed as a future coach. Kitna was one of the better backup quarterback options during his career and has spent time coaching in the high school ranks. Dak couldn't have two better guys in his ear during the week or on gameday. A veteran quarterback doesn't really add anything to what these two already bring.
The Cowboys are content to see how the backup quarterback battle plays out between Mike White and Cooper Rush. Let these guys get as many snaps as they can in training camp and the preseason and if, for some reason, neither guy steps up and you feel like you need to add a veteran, then go grab Mark Sanchez since he knows the offense and has a good relationship with Dak Prescott.
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