When identifying yourself as a Cowboy's fan for the first time to someone who also is a Cowboy's fan, the first question that typically come's up is, "What did you think about them releasing T.O.?" Beyond being genuinly interested in your perspective, there is an ulterior motive in that question. The asker want's to determine what kind of Cowboy's fan you are. Are you optimistic, pessimistic, or realistic.
Personally, I try to be realistic about everything in life, but, admittedly, when it comes to my Cowboy's, the preverbial hope springs eternal. In all of the forum's I contribute to, I'm typically regarded as the homer; the guy who always expects the best from this team. With that in mind, despite the fact that the media and sport's analyst abroad have already wrote off the 2009 Cowboy season, I will make an attempt to shift the light from the Cowboy's good side and focus on what could go horribly wrong.
The first thing that comes to mind for me is conditioning. Considering the barrage of injuries the Cowboy's weathered last year and the now infamous December swoon the Cowboy's are known for (14 - 32 since 2000 in December), questioning the Cowboy's overall conditioning seems like a logical place to begin. So far, the picture that has been painted by Cowboy's staffer's and the kinder mediots, is that quite a few of the Cowboy's have been working throughout the offseason to make sure they are properly conditioned for the season. But isn't that the standard company line every offseason? The injury list is already stacked, and training camp doesn't start until the end of July. How does that happen? The broken, bruised, and busted I understand; but strains and pulls typically indicates improper hydration and/or stretching. In my mind, if a player is getting paid millions of dollars to play this game, he should futher understand that preparation for training is just as important as the actual training.
Coaching. You really have to wonder about the coaching situation. Making Wade Phillips the Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator is unprecedented in football. It sends the message that Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett are sharing the role of Head Coach or, the more accurate way of looking at it, Jerry Jones is the Head Coach. The thought is scary, but to hear him weigh in on strategy before, during and after games, really makes me wonder how much say he has in getting the ball to certain players. And if he does have a say in this, it's not hard to figure out what is truly wrong with this team, despite all of their collective talent.
Aside from the questionable dual role, I feel pretty confident in Wade's ability to make the Cowboy's defense rank top 10 this year. However, Jason Garrett's ability to make a T.O.less offense work is definitely a big question. Since the beginning of his tenure as OC, the pass first mentality has been evident. And, to be honest, to a certain extent, that approach based on previous personnel was justifyable. However, this year, the Cowboy's offense, despite the very few modifications to the starting line-up on offense, are now built for balance. Does Jason recognize this need? Can he effectively call plays designed to spread the ball over that trio of backs, duo of TE's, and that potentially clutch WR group?
The Offensive Line. Despite the catalog of failure that was the 2008 season for this group, very little was done to fortify the line. Enemy #1 amongst Cowboy's fan's is likely between Flozell Adams, notorious for False Starts and struggling with speed rushers, and Cory Proctor who seems to be physically and mentally inferior to the average defensive lineman. The Cowboy's added a few rookies, but it will likely be two to three years before any of them see extended playing time, barring another unlucky barrage of injuries. Therefore, regardless of the dangerous weapons, if Romo doesn't have adequate time to identify the open receiver and our running back's don't have time to accelerate or a hole to accelarate through, this team's offensive effectiveness will be marginal, at best. And, obviously, with a steady dose of 3 and out's you get an exhausted defense in the 2nd half.
Youth served. Another huge difference in the 2009 Cowboy's vs. the 2008 Cowboy's is average age. The Cowboy's lost quite a few starting veterans over the offseason, particularly on defense (Anthony Henry, Roy Williams, Keith Davis, Tank Johnson, Zach Thomas, Kevin Burnett, and Chris Canty). Add to that the fact that the Cowboy's drafted 12 rookies, and you have a team exceptionally younger than last year. With youth, typically comes a marked improvement in overall speed. But, speed minus experience can often lead to going fast in the wrong direction, ultimately, putting said youngster further from where he needs to be in a given play...and no amount of speed can fix that.
Special Teams. Special Teams has been quite possibly the softest spot on this team for the last few seasons. In response to that, Wade Phillips went out and got a Special Teams coach that is considered by many to be the best in the business. But, if you consider that he's brand new to this team and quite a few of the player's he will have to work with are also brand new to this team, if not to the league, how much improvement can we really expect? It'd be one thing if Decamallis was working with the exact same group of player's as last year, but the truth is, 10 of those 12 rookies are expected to play significant roles on special teams if they want to make the team. That could be a disaster in the making, regardless of how good the coaching is.
Romo. It happened with Jeff Garcia. Then, many speculated, the same happened with Donovan McNabb. No more T.O., no more impressive numbers. In two stops previous to Dallas, T.O. left a huge hole in otherwise pedestrian offenses, which led to the cliched theory that T.O. makes QB's better than what they really are. Will this prove to be true of Romo? Prior to T.O., Romo was an undrafted Free Agent 4th on the depth chart of a bunch of no-bodies and has-beens. But in 2007, the Romo to T.O. connection rewrote the franchise record book. In 2008, opposing defenses took T.O. out of the equation and the Cowboy's go 9 - 7 and miss the Play Off's. Coincidence? I hope so, but it is something to consider before assuming Romo's name will eventually find it's place in the Ring of Honor or Hall of Fame.
Obviously, there are question's about team-wide depth, overall wide receiver talent, last year's rookies stepping into starting roles, and the pandoras box of intangible questions about heart, chemistry and leadership. The truth is, another barrage of injuries could end this season like last year. If Roy William's is not, at least, consistent, the ground game will likely suffer significantly. And if Scandrick or Jenkins don't, at least, duplicate their last year's performance the defense will leak like a sieve. That is football. All the moving part's have to be functional, or the machine will not work. As for the immeasurable contribution of heart, leadership, and chemistry, this will likely be determined by how the team begins the season.
LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys
In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.
Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…
"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."
Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:
The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.
If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).
As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.
While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.
The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.
Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.
So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.
In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.
But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.
Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.
When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.
No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.
We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.
That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.
This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.
But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
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