As I ride the motorcycle through the Arkansas Ozarks during my annual Labor Day trip, I have plenty of time to contemplate what we learned about our (America’s) favorite team during the preseason.
Quarterback: Tony Romo is ready. Stephen McGee is not an NFL quarterback. I would have cut him on Friday, instead of waiting until Saturday. Rudy Carpenter, would have been a candidate for the practice squad, but there were not enough openings. Kyle Orton will get the job done if he has to fill in for Romo.
Running back: DeMarco Murray is ready and Felix Jones looked better the game against the Rams. There is a place for Jamize Olawale on this team due to his size and versatility. I’m glad they found a spot for him on the practice squad. Phillip Tanner did not get a chance to show us much in the preseason. I guess he made the team due to last year’s performance. Lance Dunbar looked good against the Dolphins and will have a chance to develop on the practice squad. I have concerns with whether Lawrence Vickers really is an upgrade over Tony Fiametta, but I hope so. At least he should be available when needed.
Receiver: Miles Austin’s hamstring issues could be an ongoing problem that will never be completely resolved. Perhaps the angst over who would be the third receiver was overblown. Between Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley, we’ve got it covered. The Andre Holmes/Raymond Radway experiment is over. The Cowboys really wanted a big receiver to emerge, but the smaller guys were just better. Looks like Holmes will get another shot next year. Danny Coale didn’t get much of a chance, due to untimely injuries, good thing there was room on the practice squad.
Tight ends: Jason Witten will be ready to play, when cleared to do so. John Phillips is better than most people realize. I am impressed with his ability to get open and his one handed catches. James Hanna can make some big plays from the tight end position. I am looking forward to seeing if he has any kind of significant role this year.
Offensive line: Injuries have really set us back, but the starters are healthier now. It’s a shame we won’t know if this line is good enough until we face the Giants. The salary cap allowed us to sign mid-level free agents instead of stellar players at that position. Of interest to me is whether David Arkin, or someone else, can beat out Phil Costa at center. The issue with Costa is strength and those short arms, not desirable traits for an offensive lineman. Ron Leary will get another year to develop on the practice squad.
Defensive line: We have depth. Jay Ratliff is a great player, but if he can’t play the first game or two, his backups will get the job done. I am looking forward to seeing the development of Tyrone Crawford and I’m intrigued by Ben Bass, another addition to the practice squad.
Linebackers: Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware are ready. Bruce Carter will play more downs than Dan Connor. Anthony Spencer and Victor Butler, as a designated pass rusher, will get more sacks this year due to better downfield coverage.
Cornerbacks: Brandon Carr is the real deal and Morris Claiborne will have a short learning curve early in the season that will lead to him being a true ball hawking shutdown corner. Orlando Scandrick will be an adequate backup and for Carr and Claiborne and will do a good job in the slot. Mike Jenkins will struggle, once he is able to play, because he is so far behind. Mario Butler made great strides in the offseason and preseason. Versatility in being able to play corner or safety made him a definite keeper.
Safeties: Gerald Sensabaugh is worth the extended contract he signed. Barry Church made great strides in the offseason, which allowed the Cowboys to cut Brodney Poole early on. With better coverage from the corners, they will both be in position to catch more interceptions. Mana Silva shows potential.
Special teams: Dan Bailey is ready. I would like to see Dwayne Harris handling most of the punt returns, with Dez Bryant used in a situational role. Felix Jones should handle kickoff returns. Chris Jones will be an adequate punter, but won’t be confused with Matt McBriar in his heyday. Danny McCray will stick around due to his accomplishments on special teams.
The big question as we go into the 2012 season is the offensive line. We have what we need in place at every other position to make a playoff run.
Can’t wait until Wednesday, go Cowboys!