Heading into the 2012 season, there are four key players that need to emerge as new leaders and assume the vocal leadership roles on this team. Not saying others cannot contribute and follow suit. However, these are the guys who have what it takes to step out of the shadows of their own performance goals and extend their motivation and applicable criticism to other players.
Now that Sean Lee has established himself as an intense, highly capable centerpiece of the defense, he has the needed credentials to step into this new role. In his first year with meaningful starter snaps (and second year with the team), Lee took over the top spot as leading tackler. From the inside linebacker position he also tied for the team lead in interceptions. It’s undeniable now that Sean Lee has earned his stripes to speak up. His intensity and consistency on the field make him a perfect candidate to become more vocal and lead.
It’s a little trickier of a situation for Brandon Carr to step right in as a leader in Dallas. While he certainly has the resume of superb play in the NFL, he also is a new face on the landscape. In many cases it can be more difficult to speak above players that have been with the team longer.
However, this case is slightly different. Brandon Carr is the diamond of the free agency haul. The Cowboys unloaded a ton of cash betting on his top-flight production. This provides a player with a trump card when stepping in with the new team. The money devoted his way says he is expected to elevate the defense to new heights. And part of being a key player of this magnitude is leadership.
In a secondary previously void of almost any leadership, it’s Carr’s role for the taking. The new secondary absolutely needs a guy with dominating confidence that stretches his influence beyond his own performance. The book on Carr is that he has zero lack of confidence in his game.
This high level of surety is the exact attitude the revamped secondary needs to carry as a whole. It’s time to expect to shut any opposing team’s passing game down as a group, and not just attempt to hold your own as an individual, as was the previous model in Dallas.
Just as Sean Lee has gained the respect of his teammates following his first year of heavy starting snaps, Tyron Smith has also proved to be a strong player against some of the best competition in the league. While it may take some adjusting to the tackle swap over to the left side, Smith needs to understand he is the star player on this Cowboys line. An offensive bunch that will be in great need of a leader.
Every other starter across the line will have huge question marks needing to be answered through his 2012 performance. It’s the right moment going forward for Smith to motivate and hold the rest of his fellow linemen accountable for their play. With everyone else focused highly on merely accomplishing their own goals, which will be a monumental task for them, Smith has the level of skills and ability to also keep an eye on the production of his guys in the trenches.
This may be an odd choice to expect leadership from, as Dez Bryant has had his fair share of difficulty raising his own performance to match his potential. Not to mention he’s suffered from serious bouts with maturity as a professional. However, this is the year Dez Bryant gets his footing in the league and turns the corner. With a full off-season learning from WR Coach Jimmy Robinson, this will be the season he acquires a better grasp of what it takes to succeed at his position.
With so much youth and inexperience being counted on beyond Bryant and Miles Austin, the wide receiving corps is aching for a true leader. While Austin is a very good player when healthy, he also doesn’t seem to have the intense, vocal demeanor to run the show. Some players don’t have that personality and that’s fine. Yet Dez Bryant is loaded with emotion and passion, not to mention All-Pro ability. All Dez has to do is harness his advanced ability and intense passion, and focus it in the right direction. If he can mature beyond his first few years with the team and realize he’s desperately needed to lead these young receivers, there is no doubt he’s the right man for the job.
NEW LEADERS STEP FORWARD
None of these mentioned players has been known as a vocal leader in Dallas up to this point; be it from inexperience or other understandable reasons. However, expecting strong leadership to emerge from players that have already directed this team in previous years is not the answer. Veterans are either highly noticeable leaders or not. And while Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and a few others have lead the other players in the past, it’s often merely by example.
To take the next step, this limited form of leadership is simply not enough. The Cowboys must have new, aggressive leaders step forward and be the voice of a team that expects to win each time they step on the field. These type of guys will constantly have a voice and hold no fear when demanding consistent, energetic effort in practice and on gameday.
Sean Lee, Brandon Carr, Tyron Smith, and Dez Bryant all have the proven production to assume such roles, and now’s the time they evolve into team generals who influence the rest of the soldiers. After all, once a level of swagger and confidence begins to spread throughout a club, it’s one of those rare, contagious intangibles that begins to will a path to victory when close games lay in the balance.