With everything that has been going on the past week, since free agency started, the picture in Dallas not only has changed, but has a whole new color scheme. The releases of Terrell Owens and SS Roy Williams drastically change both the offense and defense, and while one of those positions has been taken care of, for the most part, the safety position still needs help.
Since we last saw Darren Woodson and Roy Williams both back at safety, this team has struggled for consistency at the position, one that requires a fair bit of solid play, great athleticism, and quick thinking.
The release of Owens, merely a year after paying him almost a $13 million signing bonus on a new four year deal, without having seen any solid production from his replacement is a gamble. Albeit one that has been taken already, many fans are concerned about WR Roy Williams and the fact that despite joining the team in week 6 of the 2008 season, he failed to live up to even the number 2 position on the team after Dallas traded multiple picks for him, one of which being a first rounder, and resigned him to a lucrative deal.
But many people seem to forget one thing ... you can find transactions in the NFL where a player warrants a first round pick in a trade without deserving a value that high, but it's hard to say that when a first, third, and seventh round pick were all traded for one guy. Some may point to the near-infamous trade for Joey Galloway a while back, but that situation was different from the one Dallas and Williams are in.
Williams is younger, been stuck on a team that has now posted the worst season record ever, and he still managed to have 1,000+ yard seasons there. To make that deal even sweeter, we now have the quarterback on staff that helped Williams to stand out from the pack a couple of years ago. Sure, Kitna won't play a down, unless Romo is either injured or plays so badly that he's benched, but there's a lot that goes into the relationship on the field for a quarterback and his receiver.
Take it from Kurt Warner who said that he had to re-learn what open meant when he arrived in Arizona and saw Fitzgerald play. Imagine that, a veteran quarterback that led the Greatest Show on Turf to a Super Bowl not so long ago saying that he had to learn what it meant for his number 1 receiver to be open. It comes down to trust, also to experience and to practice, but most of all it means trusting your receiver to take care of business if you get it to him.
Last year, Williams and Romo didn't get a chance to build that trust. Either Romo was hurt and out or playing with that split on his hand, or Owens was making a stink about getting the ball more and his perceived notion that Romo and Witten were hooking up intentionally whenever possible. Whether that was true or not, the distraction it caused leaked onto the field during games, and it hampered the progress of Williams.
Now you might say that with Owens gone you won't have those problems anymore and that that should help, but it goes much deeper than that. You lose some major distractions with Owens gone, but you also make Williams the top guy, a guy who ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds at the 2004 combine. A big, physical receiver that knows how to win the jump ball and has always been a smart route runner. Any of this sound familiar?
He had the number 2 spot in Detroit, but not because he wasn't good enough to be number 1, but because that spot was already filled. He came to Dallas and found the same situation, until now. Now he's the guy that will be on the field every single offensive down, he'll get the practice reps, he'll be the guy Garrett designs the passing game around; he'll be the guy Romo will throw to aside from Witten, he's the new deep guy.
He won't draw double coverage, not at first, but if he can prove that he deserves it just for a couple of games, then he'll get it and free up everything else like Owens did. Then it'll be Jason Garrett's job to make the most of that situation, the defense sacrificing balance to put an extra guy on him. But they'll be doing that anyway because Witten still deserves the double-cover now. If Felix Jones is on the field, linebackers will be keeping a close eye on him just for being there.
It's just going to take time for Williams and Romo to get in sync with each other, and time is what we have right now with the off-season conditioning program scheduled to start in about three weeks.
Things have changed in Dallas; Marion Barber giving two interviews in one day should show that much. On paper it may look like we've taken away talent, but really we've just allowed the talent that's there to step up. We've taken away that constant nagging of the media, the constant speculation that the Dallas locker room is in shambles. That's a remarkable feat in itself, but we do have the talent, and barring any further injuries we've got a roster full of it and with a year of experience for most of these guys.
Things have changed in Dallas, and it's going to be some time for the direction of that change to be fully realized. It's a process that I can't wait to see.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
Cowboys’ Tight End Marcus Lucas with Huge Opportunity vs the Houston Texans
With only two preseason games remaining, opportunities to make a statement are growing thin. The Dallas Cowboys have very few spots on the roster available, especially at the tight end position where Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz appear to have the depth chart locked down. The problem is, Jarwin and Schultz have been dealing with injuries and missed the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams and probably won't play against the Houston Texans tonight.
Enter Marcus Lucas.
Marcus Lucas hasn't been a member of the Dallas Cowboys for very long, but he's already made an impact.
In his first preseason game with the Dallas Cowboys, Lucas caught four passes on four targets for 20 yards. His receptions went for two, seven, five, and six yards for an average of five yards per reception. He did have a holding penalty that cost the Dallas Cowboys 10 yards on a first down play that didn't go anywhere anyway.
Though Lucas has bounced around NFL practice squads, he's never really found a home. After going undrafted in 2014, Lucas was signed by the Carolina Panthers in May of that year but wasn't able to stick on the 53-man roster and was released and placed on the practice squad. In 2015, he was on the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears practice squads. In 2016, the Panthers brought him back in the summer after the Bears released him from their 90-man roster. That September after cut-down day, the Seattle Seahawks signed Lucas to their practice squad where he spent all of 2016. From 2017 to the end of 2018, Lucas spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks again, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was with the 49ers in 2019 before joining the Dallas Cowboys about two weeks ago and will get an extended run in these final two preseason games.
At Thursday's practice, Lucas was the only tight end available with Jason Witten getting a rest day and Jarwin, Schultz, and fellow Tight End Cody McElroy dealing with injuries.
With Jason Witten getting a day of rest, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Codey McElroy injured, the Cowboys have one tight end practicing today: Marcus Lucas, who has been with the team for about two weeks.
It's possible that Lucas may get an extended amount of playing time tonight with an opportunity to show the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL that he's ready to land on a 53-man roster. With likely only Jason Witten being the only other tight end active for the game against the Houston Texans, Lucas will get a lot of playing time. If his last preseason exposure is any indication, he'll get the chance to display his receiving prowess.
At 27, Lucas likely has few opportunities left to make his mark for an NFL franchise. On a team that proclaims the "next man up" as a battle cry, after Witten, Lucas is the next man up for tonight and depending on his performance could make the Dallas Cowboys front office or another front office around the league take notice.
Depending on the long-term health of the Dallas Cowboys' tight end position, Lucas may find his path to a roster spot simply dependent upon the health of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Though a job may not come with the Dallas Cowboys, tonight is an extremely important audition for his next suitor. How he performs tonight could land Marcus Lucas a job after the Dallas Cowboys trim the roster to 53 next week.
They say "preseason games don't matter," but to Marcus Lucas, this might be the most important game of his career.
Don’t Forget Special Teams Value in Cowboys Roster Decisions
Building a 53-man roster in the NFL is a complex formula, requiring balance between numerous positions on each side of the ball. But what often gets overlooked in our analysis as outsiders is special teams, and that's a huge factor for many of the Dallas Cowboys players hoping to make it past final cuts.
Some players have survived in the league by being just good enough at their listed positions but excelling in special teams roles. You may think of former Dallas safety Bill Bates, who was personally responsible for a special teams player being made part of the annual Pro Bowl roster. A more recent example would be Keith Davis, who was an adequate safety but a special teams ace for several seasons.
To be sure, someone is going to be on this 2019 Cowboys more for their special teams value than their actual offensive or defensive ability. Who might he, or they, be?
One candidate is veteran Cornerback C.J. Goodwin. He is considered an exceptional talent in coverage on punts, which is probably the only reason he's still in the NFL today. At age 29, Goodwin has never really emerged as a consistent contributor on defense.
Young players like Donovan Olumba or rookie Michael Jackson, if not already superior cornerbacks to Goodwin, have far more upside to keep on the roster. But
considering how little they may get on the field anyway as the fifth or sixth corners, you can see why special teams value becomes so important. It may be the only time you actually see them in the game.
If the Cowboys don't want to lose a young prospect but can't let go of Goodwin's special teams ability, it may prompt them to go long at the CB position. But that means taking a roster spot from some other position, and thus the balancing act continues.
Another player to watch in this discussion is second-year an Running Back Jordan Chunn. He doesn't have Alfred Morris' experience or maybe Mike Weber or Darius Jackson's rushing talent, but he has been showing up on the special teams units.
Yesterday, Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus called Chunn "a better Rod Smith" in analyzing his chances of making the roster. If you don't recall, Jaylon's older brother was a solid RB but a standout special teams player in his few years with Dallas.
As we just mentioned with the 5th/6th CB slots, the third running back is not a guy you expect to see much on offense. That will be especially true this year as Dallas will be struggling just to give rookie Tony Pollard the touches he deserves as the number-two RB.
Given that, special teams play becomes vital for the value of whoever is behind Zeke and Pollard on the depth chart. If Jordan Chunn is superior to his competition in that regard, it could negate whatever he lacks as an actual running back.
This same conversation can be had throughout the roster. It's why Noah Brown might make the team over more traditionally gifted receivers, or why a certain linebacker or safety might be more valued than others.
We make the common mistake of referring to "both sides of the ball" when we talk about football teams. There are three sides; special teams can't be underestimated. It will certainly play a part in how the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster this season and in years to come.
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