Watching the 2015 Dallas Cowboys was stressful.
I usually try not to tweet during Cowboys games. I don't like to overreact to things or have haste reactions. But this season, I couldn't stop. This team was particularly frustrating and I often times had to get out my frustrations by trying to figure things out with a community approach through Twitter.
My main problems were cosmetic. Just looking at the team, it didn't appear to be working. They were missing that "It" factor that made them so successful in 2014.
As the season went on I came to figure out what was different...
What went right for the Cowboys in 2014?
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys had a hunger unlike anything I've ever seen before, out of any sports team that I follow closely. That team played with determination. You could see the hunger in every single player, especially on the defense. They were a defensive unit that the mass-media was labeling as potentially a historically bad defense prior to the start of the season.
You could tell that the defense was motivated by this and what did we get? A defense that fought!
Any time there was a pass caught, you would see every defensive player flying to the ball. It didn't matter if you were a corner, defensive tackle, linebacker... EVERYONE flew to the ball. They hit hard and group tackled.
I remember, on Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden picked up on this and called the Cowboys defense "Unidentified Flying Objects." What he meant by this was that you didn't know the names of these players, but they flew to the ball.
Some of this defensive intensity that was missing comes from losing Orlando Scandrick's presence on the field.
Scandrick is without a doubt one of the most fiery players on the Cowboys defense. He likes to chirp and he leads the "fly to the ball" movement. Throw a screen in Scandrick's direction and forget about it.
What went wrong for the Cowboys in 2015?
This is where this article gets a little racy and debatable.
While I supported the Cowboys going out and getting Greg Hardy, and I thought it was a move that could potentially make the Cowboys a Super Bowl quality team, there were repercussions.
Disclaimer: I am not going to sit here and say Greg Hardy alone was the reason the Cowboys lost the group mentality as well as their fiery competitiveness. That would be completely unfair to Greg Hardy and to the Cowboys. There is no exact science to building a unit like the 2014 Cowboys had, or every team would be doing this. Cohesion is something that every successful team has and it is a key piece to successful football.
Now, when you add a big personality into a locker room, things change. This is just human nature. Even without Greg Hardy's baggage, he is an elite-level player and that changes things. Add to it the obvious baggage and its clear effects on team chemistry.
The bigger point that I am trying to make here is that when high quality players join a unit, you run the risk of other players getting even slightly more complacent.
There is a reason that the Cowboys have seen much more success with Sean Lee off the field rather than on the field. The Cowboys have done even worse when Lee and DeMarcus Ware were on the field, compared to off.
I'm not saying those players aren't good, because they are in fact great and elite players in the game today. The point is that the Cowboys have to carry that same intensity and level of effort with great players on the field that they do when they are off the field.
You can't expect Sean Lee's presence to mean you don't have to go 100 mph on every single play.
I get that players get tired. They are humans. It is human nature to try to find a break here and there. It seems pretty obvious to me that when elite players join this defense it makes other players think they now have protection.
No. Keep that intensity and work ethic and you reach even further heights.
How can Dallas replicate 2014's success?
Does this mean you should look away from players like Olivier Vernon or Mario Williams? I don't think it does. However, I want someone that is coming in hungry. The Cowboys need players that are going to motivate everyone around them. There can't be plays where anyone gives less than 100-percent.
This is the reason more and more teams are looking for youth movements. Young players are hungry. They haven't received their second contracts yet. The Cowboys defense still has a lot of these players on it and where they have players on second or third contracts, they have high work ethics.
I still prefer Olivier Vernon due to his age. Though I think Mario Williams would come in hungry. He would be returning to Texas only to join the other team there. He is coming off of a disappointing season in which he will have had to be cut in order to join the Cowboys in the first place. He would be returning to a scheme that makes him comfortable.
There also has to be more competition on the second level of the depth chart. If you don't want to give your all, it's okay, because someone behind you will and they will take your job from you.
Competition breeds success. The 2014 Cowboys defensive line was filled with players that didn't have name recognition and you could see these players fighting for playing time.
I am trying to build something new here.
While I think having great players is obviously important, I want to build a team filled with high motor players. A team filled with hungry players. A team of personalities that mesh well. A locker room that is a pleasure to enter into. I want a unit. I want a TEAM.
If that means I have to sign or draft a player with slightly less skill but a higher motor and is a better person, I will take that person every single time!
This is about team building. This is about assembling a group of men that are not just teammates, or people getting paid a lot of money, or people who want a Super Bowl... but a group of men that consider themselves brothers, and who want to share a Super Bowl with each other and fight for themselves and one another every single day of the week and on every single snap.
Is this easy to accomplish? It is the hardest thing to do in the NFL. People like Greg Hardy will always intrigue you. People like Noah Spence and Randy Gregory will intrigue you. Quite frankly, I can see a way you can add these types of players and still make my vision work. If you have a player who you truly think made a mistake and uses that as fuel to become the type of player and person I am looking for... then I'm all for it.
While I have no power and I don't want to pretend like I do, I think this is exactly what Jason Garrett is looking for and is why I admire him so much. Jason Garrett gets it. Few coaches in the league do. Jason Garrett understands that it takes a group effort to attain success and he understands what it takes to build that type of group effort.
If the Cowboys can combine my philosophy for the defense and the philosophy I prescribed for the running attack yesterday, that gives the Cowboys an offensive and defensive identity. That is what leads teams to succeed.
I'm ready for 2014 on steroids (Not literally).
Cowboys Twitter Tuesday: Addressing the 2019 53-Man Roster
For the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL, and the NFL fanbase, the waiting game for the start of training camp has begun. As Tom Petty says, "the waiting is the hardest part." The Dallas Cowboys go open training camp in about five weeks. The first preseason game is 53 days away and week one is less than three months away at this point. It's so close we can taste it.
Each week, I'll gather questions from you the Cowboys Nation community. Each week, we'll hone in on a specific topic based on your questions. So whether it's roster related, salary cap focused, or you have a fantasy football question, don't hesitate to send it to me on Twitter.
This week, we're going to take a look at the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster.
@john9williams Who contributed to last year's team that won't make this year's team?
The 53-man roster will be one of the more debated topics over the next couple of months as the Dallas Cowboys get ready for training camp and the preseason. Every year there are surprises and we should expect the same this year. The Dallas Cowboys have incredible depth through the roster and so there will be at least one name that doesn't make the final 53-man roster who had an impact in 2018.
To answer Jesus' question, I think the easy answer is one of the wide receivers be it Noah Brown, Allen Hurns, or Tavon Austin. This might be a hot take, but I'm going to go a different direction and say guard Xavier Su'a-Filo.
In 2018, Su'a-Filo started eight games for the Dallas Cowboys and though he started out strong for them midseason, his play tailed off before he was injured allowing Connor Williams to regain his starting spot at left guard. The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff loves position flexibility, especially along the offensive line. Su'a-Filo, though he's a solid backup guard option, doesn't have the ability to play multiple positions along the line like his teammates.
Connor Williams can play guard and tackle. Connor McGovern will get snaps at guard and center, and to hear him talk, he can play tackle as well, though that's probably a bit of a stretch. Joe Looney, the Dallas Cowboys starting center for 2018, has the ability to flex out to guard if you need him to.
Because the Dallas Cowboys will have difficult decisions to make at wide receiver and defensive line, they can afford to go light along the offensive line because of the flexibility of players like Williams, Looney, and McGovern.
@john9williams #CowboysQuestions do we extend Dak before game #1? How many WRs on 53?
I'm gonna leave the Dak Prescott question for another day and address the wide receiver question as several people asked about that position group in particular.
The wide receiver group is a really deep group. With Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and Allen Hurns, it features three guys who've had at least one 1,000 yard season in their career. Michael Gallup is an ascending player. Tavon Austin is a really nice punt returner and offensive puzzle piece that can take the top off the defense with his downfield speed. I think four of those five are locks to make the roster.
According to Jeff Cavanaugh from 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, the team really likes Allen Hurns and his ability to play inside and outside in the formation. He's solid veteran depth at a low cost.
Then if you include Noah Brown's ability as a receiver and as a blocker, I think you have a very versatile and dangerous group in the passing game. Though the coaches really like Brown's ability to block in the run game, if they don't use him in the passing game, it tips their hand to the defense that the team is going to run. If they're going to keep him on the roster, they have to use him. It's a waste otherwise.
Brown and Hurns to me are on the roster bubble at wide receiver. Talented players like Cedric Wilson, Devin Smith, Jon'vea Johnson, Jalen Guyton, and Reggie Davis have all stood out at one point in time or another during OTAs and minicamp and will make the decision difficult for the coaching staff.
In my most recent roster projection, I had the Dallas Cowboys keeping six wide receivers; Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Being a team on the verge of contending for a Super Bowl, I think they go with veterans who can help them win now.
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That'll do it for this week's edition. Make sure to get your questions in via Twitter, or you can leave them in the comment section for next week's post. Also, don't forget to check out Inside The Star's newest podcast, Cowboys Weekly featuring Managing Editor Bryson Treece and Senior Writer Jess Haynie.
Does Darius Jackson Have A “Puncher’s Chance” Of Landing On Final Roster?
Remember Darius Jackson?
The sixth round running back was an instant fan favorite of Cowboys Nation, as the fanbase hoped Dallas had found the explosive RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott they needed in the very same draft. Jackson, however, had an up-and-down preseason in 2016 and ended up being waived from the team to make room for Darren McFadden later in the year.
Jackson has bounced around the league a bit since then, joining both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers at different points. He's back with the Cowboys, however, looking to fight his way onto the team's final roster.
But does the fourth year running back have more than a puncher's chance to do so?
The Cowboys spent much of the 2019 NFL Draft rebuilding their running back depth. First, they drafted Memphis back Tony Pollard hoping to find a versatile and dynamic threat to compliment the workhorse that is Ezekiel Elliott. Then, in the seventh round, Dallas took another Ohio State running back in Mike Weber who fits more of the "traditional" running back form.
So with two new touted rookies behind the veteran Elliott, and fullback Jamize Olawale more than likely having a roster spot as well, there doesn't seem to be room for Darius Jackson on the Dallas Cowboys.
That didn't stop him from competing at OTAs, however. DallasCowboys.com named Darius Jackson one of their top ten "head turners" from the OTA practices, and considering that Mike Weber is banged up at the moment, Jackson will certainly have his opportunities to fight for that spot.
Still, the odds suggest that Darius Jackson will not be with the Cowboys come the Fall of 2019. Though he entered the league with some fanfare for a day three pick, his production has been more fitting of his draft grade than of his fan hype.
Jackson hasn't been the explosive player/receiving back that they're hoping Tony Pollard will be, nor has he been the every-down type backup runner that they seem to hope Mike Weber will be.
In the end, the Cowboys-Darius Jackson story is likely to close during this year's training camp.
Cowboys Camp: Strong Safety Battle One to Watch
When the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp in late July, they'll have most of the roster settled. On paper, they're a team that doesn't have many holes on the depth chart.
They've added depth at every position and added playmakers on both sides of the football. On defense, there appears to be only one position where the starter heading into training camp may not be the starter come week one. Strong safety.
Veteran Safety Jeff Heath is currently running with the first team defense through the offseason portion of practices. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson were added to the strong safety depth chart featuring Heath and special teams ace Kavon Frazier.
While most teams would be excited about having a returning starter at the position, Heath's 2018 left a lot to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, Heath missed 19 tackles on the season, which was second in the NFL. It seemed that Heath became more interested in attempting to strip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands than actually making the tackle, which became increasingly frustrating as he forced only a single fumble all season long. Though he had a lot of missed tackles, Heath did finish 15th in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops," which are defined as a "play that results in a loss for the defense." Heath was third on the team in total tackles with 85 and tied with Jaylon Smith for third in tackles for loss with six.
The biggest competition for Heath at strong safety will be veteran George Iloka.
Signed to a one-year contract after spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Iloka comes to the Dallas Cowboys adding depth at free safety behind Xavier Woods. He also creates competition for Heath at strong safety, which should help Jeff Heath raise his game and get more consistent with his tackling. Iloka has experience and brings good size and length to the secondary, which should help them defend tight ends in the passing game.
Because of his injury, Kavon Frazier could see his playing time evaporate heading into 2019. If he's unable to get healthy and make an impression early, Frazier could miss out on the 53-man roster when the team makes their final roster cuts.
The player that stands to benefit the most from Kavon Frazier's injury, and the one I'm most interested in watching in the Dallas secondary the rest of the preseason is sixth-round draft pick, Donovan Wilson. The rookie from Texas A&M has made several plays in the secondary that stood out during OTAs. Here's what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had to say about Donovan Wilson during last week's minicamp.
"I haven’t written much about Donovan Wilson since rookie minicamp, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention a nice play he had during the two-minute drill. Kris Richard came with a blitz, which forced Cooper Rush to throw “hot” to Dalton Schultz. Wilson, from several yards away, saw Schultz look up and drove on the ball, arriving at the exact time it hit Schultz’s hands. With his left hand Wilson was able to drag the ball away, knocking it to the ground."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Wilson will be a player to watch in training camp. The Cowboys have had success finding defensive backs in the late rounds of the draft. Anthony Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2016 and Xavier Woods was a sixth-round selection in 2017. Now Wilson, with his aggressive and physical demeanor will have an opportunity -- this year or next -- to carve out some playing time in a secondary that needs more players who can create turnovers.
Strong safety is one of the few starting spots where there is actual competition for the incumbent starter. Pretty much every other position has returning starters locked into the starting lineup or, in Travis Frederick's and Robert Quinn's cases, a significant talent upgrade that makes them day-one starters.
The competition at strong safety should help everyone be better for the Cowboys in 2019. If Heath is able to hold off Iloka and Wilson to remain the starter, then he will have once again earned it. With the depth they have this season, including two guys who won't be liabilities in pass coverage, the Cowboys have options if Heath misses tackles in 2019 as he did in 2018.
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