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.