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.
PFF Ranks Cowboys Run Defense 13th In The NFL
The Cowboys duo of young linebackers took the NFL by storm in 2018.
Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and former second round pick Jaylon Smith played well above expectations, as for the first time in years Dallas did not face a significant drop off in defensive production when Sean Lee was out and injured.
These young linebackers are the cornerstone of a run defense which should be among the league's best going forward, and Pro Football Focus agrees. Well, somewhat agrees.
PFF ranked all 32 run defenses heading into the 2019 season, slotting the Cowboys 13th overall. Better than half the league, but not quite top 10.
PFF's reasoning behind this ranking certainly makes sense, as they credit the young linebacker duo without mentioning much of what will be in front of them helping to stop opposing running games.
"The Cowboys’ run defense begins and ends with the league’s best young linebacker duo. Leighton Vander Esch ranked third in run-stop percentage as a rookie while Jaylon Smith checked in at 29th."
The playoff loss in Los Angeles has left a bad taste about the Cowboys' interior defensive line in a lot of mouths, but I do think they've improved the unit this offseason. Signing Christian Covington and drafting Trysten Hill was a nice start to do so, but having Maliek Collins healthy and Antwaun Woods back for a full season will also go a long way.
Interestingly enough, two of the Cowboys divisional foes came in ranked above them on this list. Washington was slotted as the 12th best run defense, while Philadelphia was placed at number 8. Both teams' units deserve respect, of course, but this further highlights how difficult it could be to run the ball in the NFC East this season.
While I hate simply throwing this term around, analytics suggest that passing is what wins games in the NFL. Passing and stopping the pass, I should say.
With strong run defenses in their division, the Cowboys will need to maximize their passing game efficiency if they want to repeat as NFC East champions.
3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season
Amari Cooper changed life for the entire Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018. Finally, Quarterback Dak Prescott has the number one option at wide receiver he's desperately needed since his rookie campaign. Now, after half a season and multiple playoff games under his belt in Dallas, Cooper is set to have a monster year. Here are three specific reasons why.
Head Coach Jason Garrett has established a certain way of doing things in Dallas since taking over in 2010. His constant search for the RKG or "Right Kinda Guy" as he puts it has the culture in the locker room at a very positive and productive place. As criticized as he is, justifiably or not, he has his team all on the same page. This is something Cooper has been trying to find since he entered the league in 2015. An organization with the right mindset in order for him to perform and maximize his skill set. After being traded to Dallas, Cooper opened up in November about being unhappy during his days in Oakland.
"I wasn't really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday} night, I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don't know how to feel about it," Cooper told Yahoo Sports.
This may seem small to others considering these players make millions of dollars right? Well, it doesn't change the fact that they're human. When you feel unappreciated you don't play to the best of your abilities. Shortly after the trade, Cooper talked about how he's been different since putting a star on his helmet. "I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder. Not that I wasn't passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it," Cooper said. A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Cooper and the Cowboys.
2. The other weapons around him
The Cowboys aren't just Amari Cooper or bust at the wide receiver position. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb provide more challenges for defenses on a weekly basis. Gallup has firmly locked down the number two spot on the depth chart. It took a while for him to establish chemistry with Dak Prescott, as they would misfire on several big plays during the first half of the season. Nonetheless, by seasons end things started to pick up, and he finished with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he scored a touchdown in the Cowboys Wild Card win over Seattle. The next week against the Rams he performed well even in defeat, with 6 receptions for 119 yards. He's got speed, size, and versatility. Now with a full season and two games of playoff experience under his belt, I look for even more production from Gallup, as a possible breakout star.
Randall Cobb is a much-needed upgrade in the slot for the Cowboys. Unlike former receiver Cole Beasley, Cobb can line up inside or outside. Giving new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore a bigger bag of tricks at his disposal. Now, he can lineup Cooper inside or outside and play with a plethora of different looks, keeping defenses off balance because of the uncertainty of how the Cowboys will attack through the air.
Then, of course, there's Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion is the tone-setter on offense and dictates how defenses will attack. With Cooper being such a threat in the air you basically have to pick your poison. 8-9 man fronts against the run can make you vulnerable to play action down the field or quick slants with Cooper's exceptional route running. The more productive Elliott is the more honest it keeps opposing defenses, opening up more opportunities in the passing game. Averaging 101.2 yards per game for his career, second all-time to Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Elliott can make create even more opportunities for Cooper in 2019 with a full season of playing time together.
Amari Cooper is currently looking to sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Preferably, both sides would like to get this deal done before the season starts considering he's in the last year of his rookie contract that is set to pay him 13.9 million in 2019. However, it isn't just a new deal that motivates Cooper heading into the new season.
"It's kind of a weird situation, just being that I've never been in this situation before, talking about a contract. But also, I'm under a fifth-year option, so I'm not too familiar with it. I really don't ask my agent many questions. I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect and then the contract," Cooper said.
Being motivated by earning respect is a very mature approach from Cooper. Now, add that to the fact that I'm sure he wants to firmly put his name alongside Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas as the best receivers in the game, you have a fully motivated number one option heading into the new season.
Amari Cooper has already made three pro bowls, but now there's another level for him to reach. In just nine games last year with the Cowboys he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. Also, he caught another 13 on 18 targets in the playoffs for 171 yards and a score. He's in the right culture, he has a number of other weapons around him and he has multiple reasons to be motivated heading in the new season. With a full offseason of building chemistry with Dak Prescott, I see Cooper taking that leap to the All-Pro level in 2019.
Is La’el Collins Playing For A Contract On A Different Team?
How good is La'el Collins?
This is a question that Cowboys fans have disagreed on since his rookie season. Collins, who originally joined the team as their left guard replacing an injured Ronald Leary in 2015, moved out to right tackle in 2017, starting all 32 games there the last 2 seasons.
Collins' play has been somewhat up-and-down, as should be expected when a lineman not only switches from guard to tackle, but from the left side to the right side as well. Still, he's been a solid right tackle and a stable presence for a Cowboys offensive line which has struggled with major injuries at other positions over the last couple of years.
While Collins has not been the "elite" level player fans had hoped for when signed after the 2015 draft, he's been a solid player nonetheless. Dak Prescott has faced more pressure from the right side of the line than the left, but a good portion of that pressure has to do with him struggling to sense pressure from that right side.
The Dallas Cowboys seem rather undecided about La'el Collins' future with the team themselves, though. Dallas went out and draft guard Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft, starting the whirlwind of rumors that McGovern will be the starting left guard in 2020. This would kick second year player Connor Williams out to right tackle, allowing Dallas to let Collins walk without too much worry.
While this is well and good on paper, on the field the transition will likely not be as smooth. We've already seen how tough it is to move from left guard to right tackle in just one offseason, even if you were a college tackle once upon a time. Connor Williams could face these same struggles, despite possibly even anticipating the change a year out.
Regardless, La'el Collins is now in a contract year and is playing for that new deal come 2020. Dallas may not be looking to extend him, mostly due to the plethora of new deals they'll be handing out to other players, but he will be a hot commodity come free agency if and when he hits the open market.
Collins could very well be playing for a new contract elsewhere this season, as his days in Dallas look to be numbered.
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