With an extraordinary amount of roster adjustments and internal flux taking place inside Valley Ranch these past four months, much excitement and intrigue is building for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys.
Naturally the defense will experience an overhaul as marquee free agent addition Brandon Carr and high-profile draft pick Morris Claiborne enter to lock down the secondary. Add in free agents Brodney Poole, Dan Connor, and a draft heavily focused on defense and great defensive strides are expected to quickly occur.
Upon closer inspection across the line of scrimmage, the 2012 starting Cowboys offense will look vastly different from last season as well. The sheer number of replaced starters within the guts of the offense will undoubtedly form a new offensive identity.
Below is a position by position comparison to the 2011 Cowboys starting offense and the changes likely to be seen this coming season.
When identifying returning starters I’m excluding players who started for the Cowboys at a different position in 2011, or played on any other team last year. Position switches and team changes are important moves that result in new dynamics.
Instead this group will specifically consist of players who are returning to their exact same starting positions they occupied within the 2011 Dallas offense.
Tony Romo (QB), Jason Witten (TE), Miles Austin (WR), and Dez Bryant (WR) are the only true locks to start in the same positions they filled in last year’s lineup. Which is actually a nice luxury returning the field general and main skill players to their starting roles, with all four being very high quality players.
When the Cowboys invade New York on September 5th seeking payback against the hated Giants, the starting offense will be a drastically altered machine from 2011 in several key areas.
- OFFENSIVE TACKLES
It’s almost easier to name which starter along the offensive line will remain at the same position as 2011. It’s highly possible there won’t be a single player who does this.
Both the left and right tackle will be different from last year as a result of the position swap between Tyron Smith (new LT) and Doug Free (new RT).
- OFFENSIVE GUARDS
The right guard will certainly feature a new face as Kyle Koser has departed. Currently in OTAs, David Arkin is running ahead of massive rookie Ronald Leary. Even though Mackenzy Bernadeau will be back in the mix upon returning from injury, I still believe either Arkin or Leary lock down this spot.
Left guard seems to be new Cowboy Nate Living’s job for the taking. Unless Bill Nagy shockingly moves back to the guard battle and steals it from Livings, there will be a new left guard. However, Nagy is busy battling Phil Costa for his starting center position.
Which brings us to center and the Nagy-Costa-Kowalski faceoff. I’m going with Bill Nagy to take over, which is another position replacement from 2011. With Costa’s many wild snaps and lackluster performance in 2011, I believe former starting guard Nagy makes the greatest improvement and prevails here.
- OFFENSIVE LINE GROUP
When it all shakes out along the offensive line, the 2012 Dallas Cowboys will have a likely minimum of four positions with new starters in comparison to last year…LT, LG, RG, and RT.
Most likely all five starters will be in new starting roles from last year, with the center being replaced also. This would give Dallas an entirely revamped offensive line (by position) with Tyron Smith (LT), Nate Livings (LG), Bill Nagy (C), David Arkin or Ronald Leary (RG), and Doug Free (RT).
One thing is for sure, with so much all-out competition for starting roles, it will make this group noticeably better. And with each guy having a clean slate to impress their new position coach Bill Callahan, it should be a brutal training camp within the trenches.
Lawrence Vickers assumes the starting role at fullback taking over for 2011 starter Tony Fiammetta.
Let’s not forget Felix Jones began the season as the number one running back and started more games in 2011, while DeMarco Murray entered in relief before overtaking him. In essence, DeMarco Murray becoming the starter is a change from last year.
Add in the new fullback and Dallas fields a changed chemistry in the backfield. Instead of Jones and Fiammetta, the tandem that teamed up for the majority of starts last year, the Cowboys will now feature Murray and Vickers.
It’s also worth mentioning that the starters in often used sub-packages will be changes from 2011. When Dallas goes to a two-tight end formation for goal line, short yardage, and other situations, there will be a new player assuming the role of Martellus Bennett.
At the moment it seems to be either John Phillips or rookie James Hanna as the favorite. However, I wouldn’t count out one of the rookie free agents like Andrew Szczerba being used as the featured blocking tight end with his superior size at 6’7, 262 pounds.
It’s certainly no secret Dallas will often trout out a three wide receiver set. Laurent Robinson is gone from the roster which leads to another variation from 2011.
With the intense battle brewing to claim his role between Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Danny Coale, Dwayne Harris, and Raymond Radway, it’s anyone’s guess which player will come out on top. Regardless, there will be a new face occupying the 3rd WR position.
Come September 5th at MetLife Stadium in New York, the 2012 starting Dallas offense will present a dramatically altered appearance and attack from what the Giants faced in 2011. There could be as many as seven new players filling starting positions within the eleven slots. By ‘new players’ I’m referring to players who didn’t start the majority of games in 2011 at the same position they are filling in 2012.
And oddly enough all seven players would be in the middle of the offense, leaving Tony Romo as the only returning starter at the same position between the tackles. This type of mass flux within the middle of an offense will develop an entirely different chemistry as a unit, thus creating a brand new identity from that of the previous season.
While Cowboys fans are undoubtedly excited about the certain upgrade of their defense, it’s important not to forget the offense will be laying down its new identity in just as drastic of a manner. From where I’m sitting this looks like another critical step forward leading the team back to the elusive promised land known as the NFL playoffs.
One thing is for certain, the excitement of change is swirling in the air at Valley Ranch. For the first time in a long while that air is beginning to smell very fresh and invigorating on both sides of the ball.