There are officially 61 days until the toe meets the ball at AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys will host the New York Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Tank Top Tuesday! It is my sincere hope that your eyes are grazing this with your guns fully out thanks to the weekly holiday. Grab the sunscreen and a couple of Capri Suns so we can lay out in the sun and quibble over the Greatest 61 in Dallas Cowboys History.
The Following Players Have All Worn 61 For The Dallas Cowboys:
- Jim Cooper, OT
- Kelvin Garmon, OG
- Allen Green, K/P
- Bill Nagy, OG
- Nate Newton, OG
- Blaine Nye, OG
- Duane Putnam, OG
- John Wetzel, OT
If I had to do a power ranking of the Top 5 Fried Chicken places I'd probably go:
- Popeye’s (the Cajun fries PLUS the biscuits? Dude.)
- Kentucky Fried Chicken (the chicken skin is magnificent)
- Golden Chick (tender-mania)
- Bush’s Chicken (although that drive-thru is crazy the first time)
- Chicken Express (all about dat sweet tea, boss)
So if you’re still with me you're probably either wondering what in the world I’m talking about or hating me because now you’re starving.
I bring up the glory of fried chicken because the discussion for the Greatest 61 in Dallas Cowboys History revolves around some dudes who are all about meat and potatoes.
Blaine Nye was one of the earlier Cowboys as he was selected in the 5th round of the 1968 NFL Draft… as a defensive tackle.
Like a lot of future great offensive linemen, the Cowboys flipped Nye to the other side of the scrum and Nye became an offensive guard. Nye lined up at right guard specifically, directly next to Pro Football Hall of Famer and the Greatest 70 in Dallas Cowboys History, Rayfield Wright.
He was a staple on some great Cowboys teams that traveled to three Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl VI, and earning himself a trip to two Pro Bowls. You’ve undoubtedly heard about the “Zero Club” that consisted of Cowboys who wanted to avoid the limelight. Blaine Nye was the founding member of this group and prided himself on his hard work.
Nye’s work attitude and disposition can be best exemplified by the fact that during his NFL career, which you now know was incredible, he earned two master’s degrees.
Everyone has different paths in getting to the NFL, and offensive lineman Jim Cooper was no different.
As a 6th round draft pick in 1977 he wasn’t exactly the rookie that everybody was most excited to see… in fact he was cut after training camp. Fortunately for Jim, and for the Cowboys, he was re-signed during the pre-season and worked his tail off to become a master of the offensive line.
Cooper would become the most versatile offensive linemen in the era of Four Irishmen and a Scott as he served backup at every role until replacing Rayfield Wright at right tackle in 1979.
He was part of an elite offensive unit and did the 61 proud, but there’s still some more meat left on this bone.
In terms of paths to success, the one that Nate Newton took is certainly unique.
His pro football career started as an undrafted free agent on the 1983 Washington Redskins squad (they would later go on to lose Super Bowl XVIII). Fortunately for Nate, the 80s were a time where the United States Football League existed and he was able to score a gig with the Tampa Bay Bandits.
The USFL would eventually fold and in 1986 Nate was in need of a chance… when along came the Dallas Cowboys.
One of the first things that happened to Nate was that he scored a sweet nickname. As Newton outweighed the famed Chicago Bear, William “The Fridge” Perry, “The Kitchen” seemed fitting.
Newton started out at the left guard position in 1987 and struggled a bit until the arrival of Jimmy Johnson in 1989.
Johnson challenged Nate to monitor his playing weight and moved him to the right tackle position where Newton excelled. Johnson moved The Kitchen back to left guard in 1992 after the emergence of Erik Williams in an effort to have the best five offensive linemen on the field. This unit became one of the greater offensive lines in NFL History, becoming known as The Great Wall of Dallas, and paving the way for Pro Football Hall of Famer and the NFL’s All-Time Leading Rusher Emmitt Smith.
Nate Newton was an instrumental part in a line that helped the Dallas Cowboys win three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Newton is regarded as one of the greatest linemen to ever wear the star and he is appropriately the Greatest #61 in Dallas Cowboys History.
Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 60 in Dallas Cowboys History is!
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 long 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 gain of just 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.
Dak Prescott/Carson Wentz Is No Rivalry, And There’s Only One Side To Blame
It feels like an eternity has passed since 2016, yet somehow, it was only 2 seasons ago.
The Dallas Cowboys were riding high, en route to a 13-3 season and an NFC East crown. They had drafted the league's leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the previous draft, and believed to have found their franchise quarterback over 100 picks later.
Up in Philadelphia things weren't going as smoothly, but they were certainly on the upswing. After trading up to select Carson Wentz in that same 2016 draft, the Eagles also believed they had their quarterback of the future.
Cowboys/Eagles. Dak/Wentz. A debate between two hated rivals which began in 2016 and seemed like it would go on for the next decade. It was almost too perfect.
Countless articles and blog posts were written about the birth of a quarterback rivalry which would span for the foreseeable future. Which team had the better draft haul in 2016? Which team was better set up for the future behind their young quarterback?
The two met for the first time on Sunday Night football back in 2016, and for much of the night neither was very good. They both looked like rookies, but at the end of the game Dak Prescott was the one who came through in the clutch, throwing the game winner in overtime to Jason Witten. The rivalry was born, and the Cowboys had the upper hand.
Fast forward to today and things are much, much different. Prescott and Wentz have only really played each other one other time since that first match-up, a game which the Eagles dominated and Dak Prescott threw 3 interceptions.
The other two games have been meaningless and ugly, two adjectives which could describe every Cowboys game the past calendar year.
Simply put, there is no rivalry. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have not held up their end of the bargain since that first match-up in 2016. Prescott's play has fallen off considerably, as he has fallen victim to just about every piece of lazy analysis Eagles fans gave during his miraculous 2016 season.
Doug Pederson has become the anti-Jason Garrett, quite literally making his name off being aggressive on critical downs and refusing to punt on fourth and short in plus territory. The Eagles front office has become the anti-Cowboys, going after pricey trade targets and free agents to ensure they are making the most of their young quarterback's rookie contract window.
The Cowboys have failed just about everywhere that the Eagles have succeeded. And, Dak Prescott has failed just about everywhere Carson Wentz has excelled.
Maybe things will turn around this Sunday for Dallas, and if they are able to win, they'd still be very much alive in the division race. But all of that seems highly unlikely. There is no longer a Dak/Wentz rivalry. There's barely even a reason for Eagles fans to have Dak Prescott on their radar.
Let's hope Prescott and the Cowboys can begin to change things this Sunday.
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