NFL fans across the nation are gearing up for what has become a summer tradition for many. NFL training camps are just two weeks away from starting on college campuses and practice fields in a neighborhood near you.
While I, like many, can hardly contain myself with excitement that we are approaching a new NFL season, many NFL clubs have questions that still remain unanswered.
Will Brett Favre come out of retirement again? How will Tom Brady’s knee hold up throughout the season? Can Eli Manning survive without Plaxico Burress? Are the Dallas Cowboys better without Terrell Owens?
The 2008 Dallas Cowboys were nothing short of a disappointment. Injuries dashed hopes of any type of Super Bowl run early in the season when Tony Romo broke his pinky finger and Marion Barber bruised every possible body part.
Owens was made the scapegoat for an underachieving offense as his numbers struggled without Romo calling the signals.
Rookie sensation Felix Jones was amazing before injuring his hamstring, hampering a potent one-two punch anchored by Barber.
But this season will be different for the boys from Valley Ranch.
Owens was released to go roam in Buffalo, safety Roy Williams couldn’t cover the deep ball, so he was allowed to walk as well, and stalwart linebacker Zach Thomas proclaimed after the season that he wouldn’t be back.
Not only are the Cowboys a different team, but they have a different look as well.
This season Romo is the unquestioned leader of an offense that has the potential to rank first in every statistical category.
Romo no longer has the shadow of Owens—or Jessica Simpson, for that matter—hanging over his shoulder in the locker room or in the media.
Jason Witten and second-year man Martellus Bennett are poised to become a potent receiving tandem as the Cowboys look to feature more two-tight end sets than in past seasons.
So what should fans watch for and expect from the Cowboys in training camp and preseason?
1. Can Roy Williams replace the production of Terrell Owens?
The quick answer is no. If you look at the stats for both players, Williams has only logged one 1,000-yard season in his short six-year career, and his career high in touchdowns is eight.
Compare that with Terrell and, Williams cannot hold a candle to his production.
However, Terrell has always had the presence of a great or at least good quarterback behind center. In San Francisco, he had Steve Young and Jeff Garcia. In Philadelphia he had Donovan McNabb, and in Dallas he caught passes from Romo.
Williams ran down the field for Joey Harrington and Jon Kitna. I felt for you in Detroit, Roy, so there really is no comparison.
No excuses for Williams this season about splitting catches or not knowing the system. He has had an entire offseason to prepare himself and to get acclimated to Romo’s passing tendencies.
I’m expecting at least an 1,100-yard season with eight touchdowns and 75-plus catches from Williams. Owens was able to do it when he stalked Texas stadium, so why can’t you?
2. With the departure of Greg Ellis, Chris Canty, and Zach Thomas, will the Cowboys miss their production?
Greg Ellis could still be a Cowboy—well, at least in theory—if he had accepted his role as a 33-year-old defensive end. He didn’t, so now he’s off to Oakland.
Zach Thomas was great last season for the Cowboys, logging 94 tackles and one sack. He was paired with Bradie James in the middle, and they both enjoyed great statistical seasons.
Statistically, Chris Canty only had three sacks and 37 tackles, but he used that leverage and bolted for the Giants and more money, which I can’t blame him for
But he was vital on the line for the Cowboys last year and had his best games against the Cowboys’ biggest foe in the beast.
The New York Giants.
So how does a team replace a combined 167 tackles and 12 sacks?
Youth is one answer. Anthony Spencer is finally getting his chance to start, as he will replace Ellis on the line and standing up. Spencer matched Ellis’ output in tackles with 34 but came up empty on sacks and interceptions.
Also, Spencer is only 25 years old and has three years of NFL service on his joints and muscles.
I don’t believe that the team will miss Ellis as much as Thomas or Canty. Ellis is on the downside of his career and only had maybe two good seasons left in him.
Thomas is just as seasoned as Ellis but seems to have more of an upside than Greg.
I’m sure team owner Jerry Jones and head coach Wade Phillips are not looking forward to seeing Canty twice a year now that he’s in New York.
He can be a monster on the line, as evidenced by his two-sack game against the Giants early last season.
Thomas is the type of player that you want and need in your locker room just because of the experience and leadership he brings. Maybe this season Thomas would have had a calming effect on a volatile locker room that has been tamed by Jerry’s son Stephen.
Stay tuned for Part II…