It seems like each day now after browsing Cowboys camp updates I find myself asking, “What am I missing here?”. Is there some sort of allergic reaction Jerry Jones will suffer from if he purchases insurance against disaster? Dallas gingerly headed into training camp with two huge, crucial question mark areas that needed to be solved…interior offensive line and wide receiver depth.
The team is now moving beyond the mid-point of training camp, and little has been solved in these crucial areas. Instead the potential solutions have become even less certain at center than most expected. The guard positions are finally beginning to look up as Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau work back into the practice fold.
Their absence may have even done some good as younger players received an extensive introduction into the guard position on the NFL level. But where in the world is the serious commitment to solving the center fiasco before Sept. 5th?
After the San Diego game, the third and fourth wide receiver slots looked to be less shaky as Keving Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris, and Cole Beasley all showed they seem to be stepping it up to contend. At the very least noticeable progress is being made there. Yet in my opinion the Cowboys are no longer merely looking for a 3rd, 4th, and 5th wide receiver to fill out the final roster.
The Cowboys seem to be blatantly ignoring the need to locate a very capable, dependable center by whatever means necessary. Several injuries cleared the way and provided Phil Costa an easy opportunity to lock down his starting role. Then Costa hurts his back and joins the wounded. Now reports are coming out that Costa will begin effectively working back into practice around August 27th. Am I the only one that realizes this date precedes only one remaining pre-season game (2 days later), and is a mere 9 days before the season opener in New York?
So Costa has a gimp back, which is a known nagging injury, and 9 days to show he can handle the fierce Giants defensive line? And who is the replacement if he can’t go, David Arkin? A guy who didn’t make the gameday roster last year at his natural position, much less is only two weeks into learning the center position for the first time ever. Bernadeau now seems to be an unlikley replacement by Week One as he is fresh off injury and working his way back at his natural guard position.
This is it Cowboys management, these are your choices? A beat-up Costa that everyone already doubts his unproven ability to handle his own, or a completely unproven player and complete novice to the extremely difficult position in general. Have they already decided to just forfeit great play from the center, and hope the guards will help make up the difference? There are certain aspects of the center position the two guards can do nothing about to provide help. And why would you even want your guards flanking the center, they have their own business to handle.
Without an outside addition to the center position within the next two weeks, Dallas is playing Russian Roulette with a half-loaded, double-barrel shotgun. Expecting to challenge for the NFC East title with such a disregard for a huge cog in the offensive engine is beyond me. I didn’t agree when they ignored it in the off-season, and I’m lost as to what the excuse is now. Hoping for the best with feeble preparation and a gross uncertainty is a recipe for disaster.
Even if Costa comes back and plays respectable, management must understand a back injury is a nightmare for an offensive lineman. Costa’s availability down the line this season should be a serious concern. Make a move here Dallas, you tried the stubborn approach laced with denial…and you lost the bet so far. Get out the checkbook and buy some insurance before a hole is dug in the regular season that is too deep to climb out of.
WIDE RECEIVER DEPTH
It was very encouraging to see Kevin Ogletree step up during quality minutes against the Chargers. In my eyes he has locked down the third spot heading into the opener. Dallas already gave him the advantage when camp began due to experience. In the last game it’s my opinion that he did enough to reaffirm their preference in starting him in that role, at least for the first week or two. Personally, I’d like to see more after three years of marginal play, but I was relatively impressed and eased by his recent quality play.
While the younger guys still have more to prove before locking down a roster spot, Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris, and Cole Beasley all looked like they are ready to make a serious run at the final roster. And I’m certainly not forgetting the fresh return of Danny Coale. While the other youngsters may have shown flashes of promise last Saturday, by no means did they dominate enough to eliminate Coale from having a solid chance to unseat one of them if he plays very well the next two games. It’s still a very fluid yet encouraging pile-up behind Ogletree.
So yes, the depth part is looking slightly solved with Ogletree making a stand and the youth movement showing promise during live action. However, there is an absolute black cloud on the horizon when observing the two main starters at receiver. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant have shown without a doubt that they still cannot be counted on to stay completely healthy. Furthermore if the regular season was already three weeks in, both guys would have missed games.
What this tells me is simple…Dallas is no longer trying to find a third wide receiver who can threaten strong defenses, they are now auditioning for two guys who have the ability to be first-option factors in regular season games. Has Kevin Ogletree shown enough to give me comfort if starting next to Dez with Miles on the bench? Absolutely not. Beyond that, I’d also like to feel confident that Holmes or Harris (or whoever) would be a dangerous third wide receiver to fill in when Ogletree likely relieves a starter. And there’s no way anyone can feel great about this as of now.
Compounding the uncertainty, let’s not forget Jason Witten is legitimately banged up, making the importance of the depth at wide receiver even more critical. If a starting wide receiver were to miss a game at the same time Jason Witten had to be held out, I’m sorry to say, the strength of the substitutes would cause real problems for the Cowboys offense.
How am I certain of my desire for Dallas to make a play for a wide receiver with proven experience that’s not on the roster now? When Jordan Shipley came avaliable I almost popped a blood vessel thinking of how fast Dallas should make a play for him. 600 yards and 3 TD’s in his first season was a Godsend compared to the choices Dallas is working with beyond the unstable stars Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. And great kick return ability was a huge bonus.
Shipley claimed to be 100% off injury, yet even if Dallas made a play they would have lost out to the Tampa Bay claim with higher priority. What upsets me to no end and reinforced Dallas’ lack of vision at the position, was that Jerry didn’t place a claim on this talented player. Those who question his health, pay attention to Week 3 when Tampa Bay visits Dallas. Watch who the Bucs trot out in the slot for Orlando Scandrick to attempt to stay with. Even though it’s a moot point, Shipley is a young, talented, proven player well worth a claim and management showed no desire for it.
There is no way to say it nicely, Dallas has to wake up and get some insurance or even replacement parts. Address the center and wide receiver position each with an experienced, best quality available player, please. Costa or Arkin at starting center are not the needed answer to form a division champion team. Not even close.
Yes, depth at wide receiver is looking relatively better, yet the problem here has now far exceeded depth. This dilemma has to be viewed as a contingency for one of the starters being absent. Something has to be added here to find the talent and experience needed to plug such a huge hole.
Maybe I’m completely off base here in regards to the current lack of addition. By this I mean, maybe Dallas is waiting for final cuts to find the best possible fits. And that would be the most fruitful approach when seeking the best players available. However, on the other hand, this mold only fits the receiver position well. Grabbing a center after final cuts on August 31st leaves Dallas in a tough spot.
Unlike 30 other teams, the Cowboys will only have 4 days left after final cuts to practice before opening kickoff. I’m assuming anyone added at center besides Andre Gurode (already familiar with offense) won’t be prepared to play quality minutes against New York in a starting role. If the right guy is found, that may be a reasonable exchange. If a player slightly better than Gurode is snagged, to me it was a waste of time to wait so long and almost like sandbagging any attempt to be the best you can be for the Giants.
Let’s not forget one very important reality…opening night in New York could decide the entire season. When the smoke clears at the end of the regular season, handing the opening game to the Giants could be the difference in who gets a playoff berth.
Dallas should exercise all means of immediately securing the best starting unit possible for Week One. At the moment they are just not doing this as they avoid locating a better solution at center like the plague.
It’s time to move beyond stubborn pride and open up the eyes to outside alternatives. If the worst case scenario hits, and this is very likely at center, Dallas will have no worthy answer for the Giants defensive line. If the center is overmatched, Demarco Murray is as good as stiffled. And even worse, Tony Romo will be at serious risk of injury. It’s time to insure these outcomes aren’t probable before the plane lands in New York. This is exactly the type of situation where General Managers earn their paycheck. Where is the Dallas G.M. hiding when he’s now so sorely needed?