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.
How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?
There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.
Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.
Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.
With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?
To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.
Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.
Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.
In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.
Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?
Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.
The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.
Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.
If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?
We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.
But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.
Once again, at least it is for now.
Is DE Kony Ealy At Risk Of Not Making Cowboys Final Roster?
As training camp approaches and we draw closer to the 2018 NFL season, fans are beginning to get excited for new faces, old stars, and new beginnings for the Dallas Cowboys.
One player which has been a bit forgotten about over the last few months, and even overlooked when he was first signed back in April, is defensive end Kony Ealy. Of course, some of this overlooking is justified, as Ealy's career has been filled with more valleys than peaks thus far.
With a fresh start in Dallas, though, some expect Kony Ealy to rekindle his career, and look like the player he was during the Panthers' Super Bowl 50 loss just a few seasons ago. The problem is, that game looks like the outlier and not the norm over his professional career.
Originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers, Ealy has had a shaky start to his career. Now joining his third team in the same number of seasons, it's certainly fair to say he hasn't lived up to his second round draft selection.
At 6'4" and 275 pounds, however, Ealy fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive end in the Cowboys' scheme. While he isn't the explosive pass rusher that other players on the roster are (and can be), he could provide solid rotational depth across the defensive line.
With fellow former second round pick Randy Gregory gaining reinstatement to the NFL this week, Ealy could struggle to salvage any real playing time with the Cowboys at all. Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Taco Charlton all feel like locks to make the team.
Then there is 2018 day three pick Dorance Armstrong and former fourth round pick Charles Tapper providing competition as well.
Tapper and Armstrong are unproven, but have the athletic profiles to become solid edge rushers at the professional level. For both, especially Tapper, health is of the upmost concern going forward. If Tapper can remain healthy, he has a real shot of making the team and having his impact felt as early as 2018.
That "if" has been a serious one thus far, however.
When the Cowboys first signed Kony Ealy back in April, I really believed he could provide solid and cheap depth along their defensive line. Now in July, I still have those beliefs, but it's become fair to question if he will even find himself on the final 53-man roster based on the competition around him.
Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin’s Footsteps?
Connor Williams has yet to play a single snap the NFL, but there are already some pretty high expectations for the rookie Guard. That's because he will be sandwiched between two Pro Bowl players in Center Travis Frederick and Left Tackle Tyron Smith. But, it's the Dallas Cowboys third Pro Bowl offensive lineman Williams should try to emulate and follow in the footsteps of.
Yes, I'm talking about Zack Martin.
Zack Martin's career couldn't have gotten off to a better start coming out of Notre Dame. He hit the ground running as a rookie with the Cowboys and put together a dominating performance his first year in the NFL, earning his first Pro Bowl bid as well as being named to the All-Pro team. He continued to play at a high level ever since and has not only turned into the best player at his position, but continued his Pro Bowl streak every season since entering the league.
To ask, or even expect Connor Williams to have the same kind of immediate success as Zack Martin is probably a little unfair, if not impossible. The kind of success Martin has had already in his career is almost unheard of. But, that's not to say Williams isn't going to try to follow in Martin's footsteps and to become the best player he can.
The footsteps I think Connor Williams should try to follow as it pertains to Zack Martin is how well he made the transition from a collegiate Offensive Tackle to an NFL Guard. I think that should be Williams' main focus right now with training camp coming up.
Williams will be inserted into the starting lineup as the Cowboys new Left Guard. It will be a new position for him after playing mainly Tackle at the University of Texas, that will require an entirely new mindset and technique. But, it's in transition I believe he can make rather smoothly.
Connor Williams should benefit from Zack Martin's similar transition from college OT to an NFL OG. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the rookie shadowing Martin throughout training camp to soak up as much knowledge as possible. It's probably the best way for him to jumpstart his career.
Now, I fully expect to see some growing pains from Williams throughout the 2018 season. It's to be expected from any rookie, especially one transitioning to a new position. But, I do believe he will not only be an upgrade at LG for the Cowboys, but will make the entire OL even better.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what kind of player Connor Williams ends up being this season.
Do you think Connor Williams can follow in Zack Martin's footsteps?
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