If you followed my Countdown To Kickoff series during the offseason then you were exposed to the Greatest Dallas Cowboys To Wear Each Jersey Number. If you started off at the beginning then there's a good chance you gave #95 a read. It belongs to one of the more memorable Dallas Cowboys of All-Time... Chad Hennings.
Chad is still up to great things in his life past the NFL. As an alumni of the United States Air Force who served for four years defending this great nation, Chad has a work ethic unknown to you and I. He's put that to great use as he's shared his life with the world through his three books:
- It Takes Commitment
- Rules of Engagement: Finding Faith and Purpose in a Disconnected World
- Forces of Character: Conversations About Building A Life Of Impact
Most recently Chad Hennings has partnered up with Crown Royal's Your Hero's Name Here program.
Your Hero's Name Here is a great chance to honor the heroes in your life. Soldiers, firefighters, and community leaders are all heroes to us. The project, and Crown Royal, give one winner a trip to the Brickyard 400 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July. Jeff Kyle was the winner in 2015 thanks to a nomination by his loved ones. Nominations? Tell me more!
It's simple. If you have a hero in your life that you want to honor, and we all do, go to the Crown Royal Website and nominate your hero. You can also visit Crown Royal on Facebook for more information. After all nominations are sent in five finalists will be chosen. The winner out of those finalists will receive naming rights to the Brickyard 400, just like Jeff Kyle who you can see, and a VIP experience at the race. Keep in mind that the other four finalists will also attend the race.
Chad was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down and chat with me about all of the great work Your Hero's Name Here is doing. He also gave some really great insight to the state of the current Cowboys and talked about his days strapping on the cleats as well as serving in the military.
Here's my conversation with Chad...
RJ: So Chad, tell me all about Your Hero's Name Here! What is it and what can Cowboys Nation do to help?
Chad Hennings: Your Hero's Name Here is such a great way to honor heroes in someone's life. There are firefighters, police officers, military members both active and retired that people have the opportunity to honor. All people have to do is go to the site (crownroyalheroes.com), nominate their hero, and that person is eligible to win a trip to the NASCAR Brickyard 400 race in late July.
It's a great opportunity to highlight those individuals that you deem to be a hero.
RJ: What interactions have you had with Your Hero's Name Here so far? What drew you into it in the first place?
It was really great to get an opportunity to do that. A lot of people rarely get to do that and it'll be impossible to do it in the future when the Cowboys move to their facility. Any time that we can hold up, embrace, and honor the individuals that serve I believe that we need to do it. In our current culture many responders have been seen in a poor light.
It's time to honor those heroes.
RJ: The NFL seems to be on board with honoring heroes as well. This Sunday is the official "Salute To Service" game across the league. What do you think about that, and what do you think it would have been like to have a game like that when you were playing?
Chad Hennings: The Salute To Service game would have been great for me! Back when I was in the NFL I was one of the only guys who had actually served and played. It's special for us as a country to acknowledge our military members and honor them for what they do on a day to day basis.
I've been there and I know what it's like to be in a foreign country and flying into combat. It's a lot of sacrifice and it can be very emotional and taxing. Military members have done that many, many times so to honor them is great.
RJ: You've been in the Air Force, had tours in foreign countries, and played in the NFL. What similarities would you say there are to being in the military and playing football?
There is a lot of preparation in the military. You're analyzing things like bomb film and what the enemy had that could hurt you. You have to put together a gameplan wherever you're going. Life happens in the battle area in the fog and friction of war, and you have to change your tactics. When you accomplish your mission you have to debrief.
All of those lessons translated extremely well to playing for the Cowboys. You have to evaluate your own practice film and figure out what you can do to improve your game on any given Sunday. Even things like adjusting your tactics at halftime... you have to constantly be adjusting in the military.
The camaraderie among teammates is similar, too. Obviously the biggest difference is that in the military you're putting yourself in harms way to a point where you're willing to give your life.
At this point it really hit me that I was talking to Chad Hennings. This is a man who is a part of the football team that I love, yes, but he is literally an American Hero. I got a bit nervous and fumbled on the next play.
RJ: Chad, being drafted in 1988... what was it like to play for the 1989 Cowboys and experience going 1-15?
I just about exploded in embarrassment. You're welcome, Cowboys Nation. Always here to entertain. Chad was extremely gracious about it and laughed it off. He's everything that you'd want him to be, guys. I picked myself up and continued!
RJ: Apologies! Well, surely you experienced some level of adversity. What's that like and how is a team like the current Cowboys handling it? What's going on in the locker room and how do you lead a locker room like that?
Chad Hennings: It's all a process - a belief in yourself. You have to rely on the hard work you put in during practice and in the weight room. You practice week in and week out. The older guys who have been there and tasted that success are relaying it to the younger guys. "Hang in there. Don't give up."
You have to continue to do what it takes to win games and ultimately that hard work will pay off. We faced some adversity in 1993 when we started off 0-2 after winning the Super Bowl the year before. People thought that the wheels had fallen off of the bus. You have to have a 'Don't Panic' mentality. Believe in one another. The veteran players are setting the example for the younger guys.
RJ: What's the mentality of an American Hero turned NFL player? Do you think you had an advantage in terms of mental discipline thanks to your military experience?
Chad Hennings: Well I had flown 45 missions before coming to the Cowboys. You have to be able to fail and take the opportunity to learn from some of the best guys, and you have to put that all together.
Flying in a combat zone and putting those lessons in on the practice field... there was so much carry over. You have to keep the main thing the main thing. You can't focus on the what-ifs like, 'What happens if you get shot down?'. If you focus on those things you'd never be able to accomplish your mission.
Do your job to the utmost ability that you can and trust one another.
RJ: How do you think the current Cowboys can put it together this season and on Sunday Night against Philadelphia?
Establishing the run game will open up Dez Bryant. It's not rocket science it's just doing the Xs and Os of going out and executing your gameplan. We have the talent - even without Tony Romo right now. We have the talent in guys like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten that can win.
RJ: With Darren Woodson going in the Ring of Honor last week, what's that like for you? Is it surreal to see names like his hanging up there and reflecting back on all of those incredible things that you guys accomplished together?
Chad Hennings: It's definitely surreal to see guys in the Ring of Honor. When you're in the heat of the battle you don't think of those things. I look back on those teams... and we were teams that just dominated on both sides of the ball. To look back on it now, it's special.
To point at the Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame names... it's something that I'm going to tell my kids, and their kids, and my nieces and nephews. I was fortunate enough to play with some of the best. Darren Woodson is one of the best, he's totally deserving of the Ring of Honor and I think he'll be the next guy for the Cowboys in the Hall of Fame.
RJ: Which current Cowboy reminds you most of yourself?
Chad Hennings is a hero himself. He's served our great country in combat and played professionally in its greatest game. He's someone who we all look up to for many different reasons.
We here at Inside The Star are very grateful to Chad for the time that he gave us. We're extremely proud of all of his great work that he's done in his after-football life. He is one of the finest men to have ever worn the Star.
If you have a hero in your life that you want to nominate then remember that you can Right Here. Make sure that you're following Chad Hennings on Twitter to stay in the loop with all of the great things that he continues to do to serve.
Warts And All, Dak Prescott Shows Why It’s Not So Easy To Move On
Dak Prescott was far from perfect Sunday night in Philadelphia. In fact, at times, he was downright bad.
Prescott missed two potential touchdown passes to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on fly routes down the sideline, and might have left points on the board when he badly missed Ezekiel Elliott in the flat in the red zone early in the game. Prescott continued to panic in the pocket a bit during the first half, and took an absolutely horrendous sack on what would end up being the Cowboys' first touchdown drive of the night.
All of this is true. All of this is indisputable.
Where things get tricky, however, is that while these flaws continue to show up in Prescott's game, so do his strengths. A particular set of strengths and skills that the can be highly valuable in today's NFL, especially if deployed correctly.
Beginning with the final drive of the first half, Dak Prescott played the type of football we've rarely seen from him over the last calendar year. He was comfortable in the pocket, seldom abandoning clean looks or running into sacks. He utilized his legs and ability to extend plays when necessary, and delivered some absolute strikes to help the Cowboys offense get into scoring range multiple times. Prescott also picked up some key third downs with his arm to answer Eagles' scoring drives, something we haven't seen from these Cowboys in quite some time.
Dak was far from perfect on Sunday night, but he did show why he is so hard to move on from. When the offensive line is clicking and Prescott can have that comfortability (that is all-too-rare in the NFL), he looks like his Rookie of the Year self. But, we all know that when things really break down, he isn't able to put the offense on his back the way the true "top" quarterbacks are.
I am a Dak Prescott fan. I'll make no mistake about it. But what do we call it when a quarterback is good enough to keep you competitive, can have wildly impressive plays/drives/games while also having wildly frustrating and bad plays/drives/games?
We call that quarterback purgatory. We call that the Cincinnati Bengals.
The only thing which separates Dak and Dallas from being in full purgatory mode, to be quite frank, is Prescott's youth. Because of that youth we can still hope that he can develop as a passer and quit being so gun-shy and timid to make tight window and anticipation throws.
But how long can a team truly wait before they become Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton losing by 30+ points at home?
It's a question which is tough for every team to answer. Dak Prescott is too good to easily replace with a random quarterback off the street, but it's hard to imagine he's good enough to get your team over the hump without significant help around him.
So, in the end, here we are. With the Cowboys at 4-5 fighting with an Alex Smith-led team for what will most likely prove to be a rather irrelevant division title.
But hey, it's always fun to win in Philly isn't it?
Leighton Vander Esch Is A Stud, And Should Be For A Long Time
The Cowboys took their fair share of heat for selecting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. But through just over half a season, Dallas is looking vindicated in their decision.
Vander Esch was arguably the best defensive player on the field during Dallas' 27-20 win in Philadelphia Sunday night, and made the two biggest defensive plays of the game as well. Finishing with a game-high 13 tackles, Vander Esch was all over the field in both run and pass defense.
The first of his two massive plays came in the first quarter. After the Cowboys offense stalled deep in their own territory, the Eagles looked to be in prime position to strike first with a short field. On Carson Wentz' first pass attempt of the drive, however, Leighton Vander Esch was there to intercept him and return the ball back 28 yards.
Those return yards proved key as well, giving the Cowboys the short field and an easy path to their first three points of the night. And with the way their offense looked early in this game, Dallas could use all the help they could get.
The biggest play of the game, though, came late in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles facing a third and short and down seven points, they absolutely needed a conversion to keep pace with the surprisingly hot Cowboys offense. Philadelphia tried to beat Dallas with a running back screen to the backside, inviting the pass rush and getting blockers out in front.
There seemed to be nothing but blockers and green grass ahead for the Eagles on this play, with "Next Gen Stats" expecting a 22 yard gain after the catch. Then, Leighton Vander Esch eluded two blockers and tracked down the running back for a loss of 3.
Leighton Vander Esch made a game-saving tackle late in the 4th quarter to preserve the Cowboys 27-20 win. Corey Clement was expected to gain 22 yards after the catch (gained 3), -19 YAC Below Expectation, the most yards saved on a pass play this season. #DALvsPHI #DallasCowboys https://t.co/0DF7jhPQzH
If not for this tackle, who knows how both that Eagles' drive and the game would have ended. Vander Esch saved the day for Dallas, and forced the Eagles into a tough fourth and long situation with the game on the line.
I know it is still early in Vander Esch's career, and even relatively early in this season as well, but it's become clear the Cowboys hit a home run with their 2018 first round selection. Vander Esch is fitting in beside Jaylon Smith with ease, and with those two athletic freaks together, the Cowboys look to have one of the brightest defensive futures in all of football.
Of course, there are now legitimate questions about what the Cowboys should do with their captain Sean Lee. But as of right now, it should be Leighton Vander Esch's job to lose.
Can Cowboys LB Vander Esch Do Enough to Win DROY?
At 3-5, there are very few positive things to point out when discussing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. One of those few things has been first-round rookie Leighton Vander Esch, whose play at linebacker has taken the league by surprise. Seen as a raw talent who could develop into an elite player with time as a prospect, Vander Esch's impact on the field has been immediate.
Through nine weeks in the NFL season, the Boise State product should definitely be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion. As much as Sean Lee's injury will hurt the Cowboys' defense, it will get the rookie more playing time and a big opportunity to put his name in the minds of NFL Honors voters.
Sean Lee will miss some time after re-injuring his hamstring for the second time this season. Earlier in the year, Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch were able to keep the defense from crumbling without their veteran captain. Even with all the offensive struggles, that should continue to be the case for the linebackers.
Vander Esch has only played in 65% of the Cowboys' defensive snaps, yet he's tied for ninth place in solo tackles in the entire league with 49. He's at 64 total tackles and two pass deflections and has been a magnet to opposing ball carriers every time he's been on the field.
He's the third highest graded rookie LB for Pro Football Focus. Most times, rookies find success like this by being rotational players or simply splitting snaps with other players. But as previously mentioned, Lee has already been out for a handful of games in 2018 and Vander Esch has lived up to the hype.
Simply put, Leighton's play as a rookie has already put Sean Lee's future on the Cowboys in question. With such an injury history and a two young studs ready to take over the reigns, Dallas could very well release Lee prior to the 2019 season.
Now granted, the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year will not be an easy one to win for Vander Esch. Fourth overall pick Denzel Ward has been an impressive cornerback for the Browns and fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb has been one of the best pass rushers on Sundays. Not to mention the NFL leader in solo tackles, Colts' LB Darius Leonard.
Despite a great start to his season, the Cowboys young LB will have to play way better for his name to be called when the Defensive Rookie of the Year is revealed at the NFL Honors event in February. There are some pretty big names he has to catch up with in order to make this happen.
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