As many of you probably already know, when it comes to representing Cowboys Nation, I fall well on the optimistic side more times than not. While the four-win 2015 season certainly drained my optimism a bit, I've had no issues with the way this team has gone about trying to remedy 2015 by preparing for a resurgence in 2016.
In place of the flashy signings that fans were begging for, they've put more of an emphasis on re-signing their own talented guys. Morris Claiborne, Kyle Wilber, and Rolando McClain will all return to a defense that welcomes back Orlando Scandrick alongside a full strength Tyrone Crawford.
Cedric Thornton was brought in from the rival Eagles to upgrade the 1T defensive tackle spot, which will only further improve the production Rod Marinelli gets from Crawford on the defensive line along with the likes of David Irving.
Sticking with the defense, the one area of concern that fans can legitimately worry about is the defensive end position. While a combo of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory is certainly exciting, Gregory will miss the first four games of the year due to suspension - leaving the team to plan for a future that does not involve their 2015 second round pick.
In the absence of Gregory, the Cowboys starter across from Lawrence would currently be Ryan Russell. Russell may be a guy that someday develops into a solid piece of the defense, but for now is an unproven starter.
That said, did we really want to pull a New York Giants and give Olivier Vernon $85 million? The 12-4 Dallas Cowboys of 2014 got 6 sacks from Jeremy Mincey and 3 from George Selvie - while both created constant pressure. Mincey is still a free agent that could return to Dallas, along with Jack Crawford.
A defensive end rotation of Lawrence, Gregory, Mincey, and Russell is not going to take the league by storm, but if paired with a rookie like Joey Bosa or Ronald Blair, this unit could certainly get the job done for the Cowboys.
A big part of the reason that I have faith in this defensive line is thanks to the style of offense that the Cowboys will hope to play in 2016. As we all just learned the hard way, this team is centered around Tony Romo. With Romo back, the offense can once again dominate games and more importantly take the lead early in games.
The Dallas defense is, from a tactical standpoint, built to play with the lead - and that is hopefully what they will be doing a lot of this season. After forcing offenses to play catch-up against them, the Cowboys defensive line can get after quarterbacks like they did in 2014 without that superstar presence.
This will be a very refreshing site to see on defense, as opposed to the way opposing offenses were able to completely control the game against the Cowboys this past year.
Of course, the team's off season on the offensive end has not gone without some exciting moves either. Earlier today, Lance Dunbar agreed to a one-year deal to stay in Dallas for 2016. While Dunbar played just 4 games in 2015 before a season ending injury, the limited time he saw with Romo at quarterback led to some explosive plays.
If Dunbar can stay healthy for 16 games, pairing him with Darren McFadden at running back behind Romo will allow the Cowboys to get back to their dominant, clock-killing, smash mouth football ways while simultaneously opening up the passing game for a healthy Dez Bryant and Co.
With the draft quickly approaching, I hope Cowboys Nation can collectively begin to gain more hope for 2016. Will McClay along with Stephen and Jerry Jones know what they are doing, and want nothing more than a Super Bowl in the coming years for veterans such as Romo and Jason Witten.
I'm not guaranteeing that Super Bowl 51 will be the time for the 'Boys to raise the Lombardi, but I'm optimistically ready to watch them try to play their way to Houston and prove a lot of people wrong - some Cowboys fans included.
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.
Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line
The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.
Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.
Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.
Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp
What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.
The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.
Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.
To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.
Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.
If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.
Cowboys LB Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week Against Eagles
You already knew that Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker, had a great night last Sunday in Philadelphia. Apparently the rest of the football world agreed, and now he's been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The award is the first of what could be many for Leighton, who has emerged as a defensive leader for the Cowboys. He's been playing more in the absence of veteran Sean Lee, who has been battling hamstring issues all season.
THE. WOLF. HUNTER. Congratulations to #DallasCowboys rookie LB @VanderEsch38 on being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week! → https://t.co/XeSTt2tIpX
This is the second Player of the Week award for a Dallas Cowboys this season. Kicker Brett Maher won the Special Teams version in Week 4 after going 4-for-4 and hitting a game winner over the Detroit Lions.
The Defensive Player award hasn't gone to a Cowboys since Week of 2017, when DeMarcus Lawrence put up three sacks against the Arizona Cardinals.
Leighton's recognition is also well-earned. He led Dallas with 13 tackles and an interception in a pivotal road victory against a division rival. In what was arguably a "must-win" game for the Cowboys, their first-round pick stepped up and stood out.
A few more games like this, and Vander Esch could be in the running for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. But even above personal accolades, Leighton's play could help the Cowboys make a push in the NFC East.
If nothing else, he's making that first-round pick look smarter every week.
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Things have not gone well for Dak Prescott this season. His play has been up and down and he hasn't given the team or Cowboys Nation much reason to believe that he's the future at the quarterback position for the Dallas Cowboys. Speaking to 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas today, Legendary Dallas Cowboys Quarterback, Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Roger Staubach offered support for the Cowboys current quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Staubach had this to say when asked about Dak Prescott.
Roger Staubach on @1053thefan said #Dak is a part of the problem with the #Cowboys offense, but he is not the problem.
Roger Staubach didn't start in the NFL until the third year of his career and thinks that's a good time for the quarterback to make the jump. At this point, we are 40 games into Dak Prescott's NFL career and we can see some of the things that he's good at as well as some of the things that he struggles with.
As Staubach points out, Dak Prescott has the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback, even if his play hasn't been what you'd want at the position. Roger admits that Dak shoulders some of the blame for the offensive woes of the last 16 games, but realizes that there are many reasons for the Cowboys offensive failures this season.
Roger Staubach believes that the Dallas Cowboys can win with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback despite some of the flaws that have crept up over the last 16 games. He's not wrong.
Staubach's pretty accurate in his assessment that there's been more good than bad. If you look at the first 24 games of Dak Prescott's career, he was really good. Through the last 16 games, he's struggled at times. So technically there's been more good than bad. The problem is that over the last 16 games, there's been more bad than good. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and lately Dak hasn't done much. We can debate all day on how much of the struggles Prescott's faced are on him, but everyone should be willing to admit that some of the struggles are on him.
It's plausible that the confidence in Prescott that Jerry Jones has comes from Roger's belief that the Cowboys can win games with Dak Prescott at quarterback; and they have. In Prescott's career, the Dallas Cowboys are 25-15. Though wins are a team stat and not a quarterback stat, it just goes as evidence that Dak Prescott can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League.
Dak has some flaws, but the offense and its play caller haven't helped Prescott much this season. We should be critical of Prescott because he has a big pay day coming, if you believe Jerry Jones. While Dak has some flaws, he also has some traits that can make him a good quarterback in the NFL with the right coaching situation behind him. 2018 may be running out of time for the Dallas Cowboys and their playoff prospects, but the Cowboys have time before they have to make a decision on Prescott.
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