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Inside the Star Talks Cowboys With Mickey Spagnola

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It was about this time two years ago when Lee and I created “A Cowboy Nation”. In the beginning Wow! The posts weren't so great, but over time we grew and they got better. Then last year I met Bryson at “Cowboys Nation” and together we created the site you see now.

I was born and raised in Arlington, Texas so being a fan of the Cowboys has been in my blood from the beginning, 36 years ago. A Cowboy Nation was started just to have an outlet for my joys and frustrations of being a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, nothing more and nothing less.

In December of 2004 my family and I moved to Houston, Texas to help take care of my wife’s mother after we lost my Father-In-Law to Cancer. Not being in the Dallas area around all my Cowboys friends is really what set these wheels in motion.

During my years of being a Cowboy fan there has been one person whom I have had a lot of admiration for, and just truly enjoyed when it comes to what is happening with the Cowboys. So a couple of months ago I reached out to him about the possibility of him participating in an interview with us.

I really never expected him to actually do the interview, after all he has nothing to gain by helping out a couple of guys he has never met, with a blog! But he gladly accepted the invitation, and now we are very proud to present to you our very first interview! With none other than long time Dallas Cowboy columnist Mickey Spagnola!

DCN (Inside the Star): As a professional sports writer, what is your process for reading the new outlets, such as blogs?

Mickey Spagnola:

Depends on their credibility. If they are creditable, I’ll check in, otherwise I don’t even bother, especially when blogs come from bloggers who don’t cover the team on a daily basis. I don’t consider blogs news outlets unless they are from a professional news-gathering outlet.

DCN (Inside the Star): When you write an article or blog post, or even answer Mick's Mail - what qualities do you really try to convey and emphasize to the fans? For instance, do you aim to be more technical, or freely opinionated? Is there a difference in your goals for your blog vs your newspaper articles?

Mickey Spagnola:

Tell the truth. Give people accurate information. No different. Blogs are just faster. More immediate, which you have to be careful of, because sometimes in the effort to be fast with information you do not take care to be as accurate as you should always be. Sometimes being first is not always best, which was one of the better qualities of newspapers in the days gone by because writers had more time to collect information than say the radio or TV.

DCN (Inside the Star): How is DeAngelo Smith developing so far? What do you think he needs to do to succeed at this level?

Mickey Spagnola:

Just learn the game. Gain more experience. I really like how athletic he is and how competitive he is. He already seems to be a quick learner, and I’d imagine he’ll be a huge contributor immediately on special teams.

DCN (Inside the Star): Of all the rookies this year, which one for each defense and offense do you believe will make the biggest impact in 2009 and why?

Mickey Spagnola:

I really don’t see a rookie making a huge impact on the offense this year, unless you want to count kicker David Buehler if he makes the team as a kick-off specialist. I mean if you don’t count Buehler, then only four of the 11 draft choices were offensive players, and one is competing to become the third quarterback and one is sort of a project offensive lineman. The other two, Jason Phillips and Manual Johnson, would seem headed toward the practice squad. On defense, well, that will depend on opportunity. None figure to be starters. Keep an eye on the outside linebackers, Victor Butler and Brandon Williams, if they have an opportunity to rush in passing situations and the DB’s on special teams.

DCN (Inside the Star): Coverage of the team seems to lead to the denigration of the chemistry of the team and that between Tony Romo and Roy Williams.  From what you see, is the chemistry getting stronger for the team?

Mickey Spagnola:

Chemistry always is strong when you win and before you play a game. I can say, though, the coaching staff has to be pleased with how hard these players have competed in the OTA and minicamp practices. When you compete hard, you tend to bond and when you bond chemistry improves and is strong enough for when things go bad, which they will at some point in a season for every team.

DCN (Inside the Star): What do you think would be the best possible rotation for our 3 headed beast of a running game?

Mickey Spagnola:

So the running game which gained one yard or less last year on nearly 30 percent of the carries already is a beast is it? That has yet to be proven. You are only a beast running the ball when the other teams know you are going to run it and you do run it successfully. My guess is Marion Barber will open and close and be used in short-yardage and goal line situations. You will see Felix all over the formations and on third downs and Tashard Choice will get a series here and there in the middle quarters. But have seen no evidence to suggest I’m totally accurate.

DCN (Inside the Star): Based on the draft, the free agent acquisitions of Keith Brooking and Gerald Sensabaugh, and the resigning of Miles Austin; which do you believe will impact the organization the most?

Mickey Spagnola:

Sensabaugh since that position has the most room for improvement. Remember, Zach Thomas wasn’t a liability out there last year, so if Brooking is at least a push, then that’s good. As for Austin, he can be, but again, how many snaps will he earn and how much do you want to count on from a guy with 19 career catches? But Sensabaugh, with his coverage ability should be a huge improvement over Roy Williams, especially since it doesn’t seem he needs to be substituted for on the nickel defense.

DCN (Inside the Star): There is a perception that you tend to write more fluff when writing about controversial players and issues, what do you say to that?

Mickey Spagnola:

Fluff is in the eye of the beholder I guess. My other guess is, if that’s accurate, just because I don’t take out a big hammer and bludgeon the subject away that could be the perception. But I do think I make my point in a more literary way. Plus, I’ve always valued being right more than being tough. Seems to me these days being tough but ultimately wrong is accepted more so than being fair and accurate.

DCN (Inside the Star): Is it difficult to manage calling things as you see them with regards to the coaching staff, players and decision making of the Cowboys, since you are employed by them?

Mickey Spagnola:

Not as long as I’m right. Not as long as I have all the facts and don’t buy into perceptions. No one here has ever, ever told me to change a story or take something down, so in my mind there would be no need to feel that way. Sometimes when you are around things and really know what’s going on then calling things as you see them means you see them far differently than the people who don’t really know the truth. Sort of like those stories at the end of the season on why the Cowboys charter flights were routinely taking off late. I was on those charter flights, so I knew that wasn’t accurate and when they did leave late I knew why. Sometimes it’s more difficult when your opinion stands alone. It’s easy to follow the crowd.

DCN (Inside the Star): How did you manage to end up as the top guy for the Cowboys and what is your official title?

Mickey Spagnola:

I was hired back when the Cowboys were trying to make their website something more than just a normal PR site as most professional team sites were back in 2000. And they decided they wanted opinions, meaning a columnist.

DCN (Inside the Star): Do you believe that the influx of youth is going to build a team that can contend for years to come?  If not, what is necessary to solidify the future?

Mickey Spagnola:

You can’t wait until you’ve grown old to get younger. Must be a constant process, and the Cowboys obviously have made a concerted effort this off-season to prevent growing old. The idea is to sustain goodness over a long period of time and avoid the inevitable down cycles that cripple franchises, as the Cowboys were in the late ‘80s and at the turn of the century.

DCN (Inside the Star): It appears as though the Cowboys are in the middle of making an organizational change in the way they look at players (looking more at their character issues). Do you feel that this is true? Or are they simply trying to relieve some of the scrutiny and will be back to collecting players that require team supplied body guards?

Mickey Spagnola:

Chances are the days of running a rehabilitation locker room are over for now. If you build from within, especially continually bringing in good, young players, then you avoid getting into situations where you become so desperate for help you take chances on guys with questionable character. If you already are a successful team, with a strong locker room, then you are better equipped to take chances on guys like Pacman Jones. But a team still seeking success is far too fragile.



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Tony Pollard is Just What the Doctor Ordered in Dallas

Matthew Lenix

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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.



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CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG

Kevin Brady

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Byron Jones

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.



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Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure

Matthew Lenix

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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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