Despite the suffering I endured, I learned quite a bit about the little things in football. In a season where your expectations are marginal, you tend to not question all the bad things that can happen in a given season because you expected them. In 2007 my expectations were actually pretty low. Sure we were in the Play Offs the year prior, but we were all aware of our limitations at CB and so I felt are defense was going to get torched every week. My expectations came equipped with knowledge that this team was incomplete and could be exploited.
But in 2008, there wasn't a weakness to be found, for the exception of behind the QB and, hey, it's Romo, he doesn't get sacked. He's elusive. He's got a feel for the pocket. He knows how to avoid the defensive rush. Blah, blah, blah. CB was more than fortified with a healthy Newman and the additions of Pacman, Jenkins and Scandrick. Safety was manned by 2 Pro Bowlers. The LB's and DL had a decent rotation. It was going to be the return of the Dooms Day defense coupled with an offense that outscored every team in the league the year prior. My expectations, needless to say, left no room for any excuses for failure, for the exception of injury.
And then injuries happened, but still...I had questions. And a good many of those questions were answered by my incessant need to feed off all things Dallas Cowboy's football related in any sports site available. And believe me, despite all that I already knew about this game I love, I learned so much more than all my years combined in this season alone because of this failure to my expectations. What did I learn?
You can't buy a Super Bowl. My boyhood perception of how the Cowboy's played other teams was somewhat skewed. I felt, they didn't simply win. They man-handled their opponents. I'm not sure how I missed it, but in hindsight, those games were hard. Every one of them was a mountain for that team to climb. My memories of Emmitt Smith play out like a highlight reel. But not every run Smith made yielded yards. Not every game was won with Emmitt's feet. Irvin didn’t make the acrobatic catch to win every game. Aikman, in his time, wasn't considered a great quarterback with the likes of Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Phil Simms, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon and Boomer Esiason playing at that time. They were in fact fallible. And character, well, the undesirables were starters on that roster too. . But everyone played and played hard. They worked together. It wasn't exactly what you would call a great composition of talent, either. There were players playing above their station, as the Super Bowl MVP of 1995 might have indicated.
I learned about the power of belief. Belief is a strong word in the world of football. I watched the interview of Ray Lewis prior to the Baltimore game assured in my own belief that the Cowboy's would win having the stronger offense in a game that featured two very stout defenses. But after the interview, I had my doubts. Why? You could see that Ray Lewis believed. And since we all know that he is what makes that defense play beyond their individual reputations, I knew that entire defense believed too. And then, when I saw their offense play with that same sense of entitlement to the win in this game, absolute dread seeped in. And harder still about that game is the Cowboys repeatedly gave me hope in that fourth quarter, only to see those hopes crashed on a shore of missed tackles and missed opportunities.
It reminded of something I remember seeing throughout that successful 2007 season. Remember Romo’s smile? Sure I wrote several articles about the power of his smile and how the offense seemingly played better when he wore that on his face. But I never really delved in, I don’t think, into what that smile meant. But I think we all know that ultimately it meant he believed. He believed in the plays being called, the players that surrounded him, and his ability to do whatever he wanted with that ball without contention. A fumble here, an interception there, but the next time we saw him in the huddle, there was that infectious smile again saying something like “Hey, will get them this time.” And typically he was right. He generally always followed up a bone headed mistake with something to make you forget all about it.
Throughout the offseason following the draft and through the preseason I had a sliver of a doubt about rather or not this collective of talent could play as a team. But that doubt was constantly assuaged away with sports analyst abroad stating with utter confidence this Cowboys team was going to be a force to be reckoned with. Like no team I have heard about in the preseason in years prior, this Cowboys team was the talk of the town with their impressive role call at training camp. This highlighted by the Hard Knocks crews turned the Cowboys into the ultimate Hollywood team. And with that, I wondered what type of effect it would have on these Cowboys. But I wanted to believe what they sold us: That’s part of being a member of the Cowboys. You have to get used to that attention because the Cowboys are America’s team. I learned that no football team is bulletproof to distraction; no body is immune to acting different under the encouragement of the stage lights. These guys, million dollar contract or not, are just like any of us.
The Texans in years past with David Carr under center taught us about how important the Offensive Line is, regardless of the other talent present on the field. But once again I made the mistake of believing irresponsible sports analyst who stated that the Cowboys OL are only second to the Browns, in terms of strength. Then, as the season progressed, I learned how he came to that determination; not through observation, but pure stats and a popularity contest known as the Pro Bowl. How effective were the passing and running games in the year prior? How often did the QB get sacked? Of these players, who went to the Pro Bowl? The first two questions could be answered naming one player: Tony Romo. He made both Jason Garrett and the Offensive Line look great in 2007! I was there; I saw it.
The last question answered itself over time. The Pro Bowl, unfortunately, take’s 1/3 of fans votes. And let’s face it, how many fans vote for players outside of their team? A huge bias is in place in the voting, and well, it pretty much has rendered the game to serving as an ability for a ‘popular’ player to petition for more money on his contract. But because some sport’s analyst from a credible source said my OL was great and I wanted to believe it, my questions of this assessment initially didn’t go very far…not until their performance demanded I do so. And to be honest, I was disgusted. Because I watched these players in the offseason and I saw that they thought very highly of themselves for all the recognition getting poured on them when any Cowboy faithful who watched the 2007 season should know these accolades were completely undeserved.
And so it is in the game football. Fans and analyst alike are not impervious to misleading concepts. As a fan I don’t watch every game and can’t expect a sport analyst to watch every game of the previous season for every team he decides to write an opinion on. But the ultimate lesson here, regardless of whose formula it is that measures performance, they are all based on stats which doesn’t always tell the whole story.
This leads me to my next lesson learned. The media is a monster; the worse kind of monster. Remember Aliens with Sigourney Weaver? The media is that kind of monster. You see, their pretty dangerous in their own right, but then their articles act like those spider-looking creatures with tails (or tales if you prefer) that plant little eggs in you which hatch and create more monsters. See the parallel? Then we get all these disciples regurgitating what was said by a previous reporter with an anonymous source and the epidemic spreads.
Which brings me to the last lesson.
In the wanning moments of that dreadful season, everyone had an opinion of who should be fired, who should be released, and who should change as a player or coach. I've offered my opinion on these drastic changes a few times myself. Some have even suggested the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones should fire the Cowboys GM Jerry Jones and have started a fund raiser requesting donations of $5 or more to put said request on billboards throughout the city.
Word? You think that might work? Sorry, I sense an epic fail in the making. Maybe if it was just a strange coincidence that both these individuals had the same name, just maybe, that would work. But we are talking about a wealthy man who made his money in oil. I’m sure he saw plenty of billboards suggesting he fire himself to save the environment and we all see how well he took that suggestion. He bought a football team with his earnings. He didn’t spend it repairing the environment or donating it all to some note worthy cause, though I’m sure he’s made a few contributions here and there that is not a drop in the bucket to his accumulative wealth; he purchased a football franchise to live out the ultimate Fantasy Football League and has been doing so now for twenty years.
So, write your letters. Sing your songs. Make your jokes. But know your role. As a fan, you are static. Your opinion does not effect change even if you have a plane with a huge banner circle Jerry Jones mansion. I have said it before: That is the rub of being a fan of anything in general; you share in the success and failures of outcomes you have nothing to do with as a spectator. It is a frustrating existence when your team loses. But the human condition forces us to believe that we can control all things, which is why we argue, debate, fight, and go to war. This concept in life is bigger than just the game of football. It affects everyone and everything around us. And when you broaden your view to see the big picture and all that it encompasses, such as the war, the suffering that surrounds us, the news filled with inhumanity in a world dominated by humans (irony intended), things like a losing season of your favorite football team seems so small. And that is the biggest lesson of them all…
Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch
Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?
Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.
While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.
For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.
Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.
“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”
Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.
The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.
If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.
Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.
Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.
If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.
Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.
A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.
In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.
When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.
While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.
After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.
In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder Stand Out in Cowboys Practices
With Left Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Defensive End Taco Charlton rehabbing a shoulder and foot injury, and Right Defensive End Randy Gregory currently suspended indefinitely, there have been plenty of snaps at defensive end for other players to make a name for themselves in the offseason training activities (OTAs) and this past week's minicamp. The two players that stood out above all others on the defense were defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder.
You might be asking yourself, "what does it matter? DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the starters. Why should we care about a couple of backups."
First, the backup defensive ends for the Dallas Cowboys will play. After DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the leaders in defensive end snaps in 2018, Randy Gregory got 44% of the snaps on defense and Taco Charlton saw 39%. Dorance Armstrong, who played sparingly as a rookie, saw 26% of the snaps. The defensive ends that make the 53-man roster are going to get playing time.
Secondly, there's no guarantee that DeMarcus Lawrence will be ready for week one. Tyrone Crawford, who was the starter at right defensive end in 2018, could miss week one if the NFL deems his offseason altercation is worthy of a suspension. That leaves a whole lot of potential snaps at the left defensive end spot if either of those two guys misses week one.
Dorance Armstrong, the Dallas Cowboys fourth-round pick from 2018, caught the eye of several observers from the media and finished his offseason with a strong minicamp.
"These coaches have to be happy with what they’ve seen from Dorance Armstrong during these practices. Armstrong has been mainly filling in for DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side, but on Wednesday he switched over to the right. There were several snaps where he was a handful for Cam Fleming to handle. Armstrong started off well last season before hitting the rookie wall. He physically looks bigger and is also now equipped with the knowledge of how he has to prepare to play at a high level the entire season. Keep an eye on Armstrong to make that jump from the first to second year."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Armstrong had a really nice training camp as a rookie and as Broaddus notes, tailed off during the regular season. Reports are that he's added size this offseason -- as most players do between their first and second year -- and if all the reports are correct, could be a breakout player in the making.
Kerry Hyder is another intriguing player and one of the more underrated offseason acquisitions by the Dallas Cowboys front office.
Coming from the Detroit Lions, where they used Hyder as a nose tackle in Matt Patricia's 3-4 alignment, he was played severely out of position. In 2016, playing primarily as a defensive end, Hyder recorded eight sacks for the Lions. In 2017, he suffered a torn achilles which kept him out all of that year.
Now with the Dallas Cowboys, he gets to return to his more natural defensive end position. And he's making some noise in these offseason practices.
D-Linemen never get any shine during OTAs, so today is for them. With Tyron Smith & La'el Collins sitting out today, Dorance Armstrong & Kerry Hyder absolutely wrecked practice. Murdered it. I legitimately don't think Dak would've gotten a single throw out if sacks were allowed.
Of course not playing against the starting tackles in Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will allow players to shine a bit more, but let's not forget that Cam Fleming started in the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots before signing with the Dallas Cowboys. Connor Williams, who has been getting snaps at tackle as well, is no slouch as a former All-American for the Texas Longhorns.
Here's what Bryan Broaddus had to say about Kerry Hyder in one of the previous OTAs his "Scout's Notebook" from May 22nd.
"I have to be careful with my love for veteran defensive linemen, but Kerry Hyder looks like a different man playing at end instead of head-up tackle. The coaching change in Detroit did him no favors last season. Having to play in a spot where he had to fight blocks all day to now working on the edge in space is a good thing for him. It appears that Hyder has his quickness back, but he also has some pass rush moves in his tool belt. I thought maybe they were going to use him as an under-tackle, but putting him back at end might be his best shot at making the roster."
Bryan Broaddus - Dallas Cowboys.com
The Cowboys found a really good player in Kerry Hyder. He's capable of playing some 3-technique defensive tackle if needed as well as on the edge. He has a good motor and is able to make plays in the running game.
With the emergence of Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong this offseason, it puts Taco Charlton behind the eight ball as the team heads to Oxnard. If they continue to play well, it's a real possibility that Charlton could be a gameday inactive during the regular season, especially if Randy Gregory is reinstated.
However they end up being deployed, this group of defensive ends will cause fits for opposing offensive lines. They've been aiming for waves of pass rushers for Rod Marinelli's defense and for the first time since becoming defensive coordinator, he looks to have just that.
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