With the start of Dallas Cowboys training camp right around the corner on July 24th, let’s take a look at the 5 players whose performance will go a long way in determining how successful of a season 2014 will be. We all know the offensive line will be a strength of the team. We also know that wide receiver Dez Bryant will be one of the premier players in the league. However, in order for the Cowboys to break through this 8-8 mediocrity, these 5 players will need to excel.
5. Safety J.J. Wilcox
The second year safety had some growing pains to work through last year as a rookie. It seems more and more nowadays people in the media and fans in general expect all rookies to dominate the league by the end of their first year. This just isn’t realistic and people have to be cognizant of the fact these young players need time to grow. Wilcox flashed plenty of potential as a first year player. He is a versatile and athletic safety that brings a bit of nastiness to his defense.
If he can continue to learn the game and put himself in better position on the field, he could be the missing cog in he secondary to solidify this defense. I firmly believe he is going to step up and develop into the player the Cowboys thought they drafted.
4. Linebacker Bruce Carter
Two years ago when linebacker Sean Lee was sidelined with an injury, it was Bruce Carter who stepped up and got the Cowboys fan base for a future with this young and talented player. Fans envisioned him teaming up with Lee to firm a dominate linebacker duo which would bring the Doomsday back to the Cowboys defense. Then last year Carter regressed in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s new scheme.
With Lee out for the season with another injury and a full year under this new scheme, Carter needs to revert back to the player he was in 2012. A linebacker who flew around the field with reckless abandonment and tireless pursuit of the football. From early accounts at the mini camps, it seems Carter is determined to get back to that form. If he does, the defense will undoubtedly improve.
3. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence
The Cowboys brass and their fans have high expectations for Lawrence. As I have previously implied (see my comments for J.J. Wilcox), I am of r mindset that rookies need time to grow and not all of them can come into this league and dominate.
I don’t expect Lawrence to come into the NFL and catch fire. If he can contribute 8-10 sacks, it would go a long way in affirming the Cowboys decision to move up in the 2nd round to draft him. It would also exceed future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware‘s sack production (6) from last year. Lawrence needs to be that disruptive force Ware used to be in order for the defense to upgrade its 2013 performance. Additionally, if he can help the defensive line improve it will lessen the burden put on defensive backs Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, and Orlando Scandrick.
2. Running back DeMarco Murray
As fans we have been screaming for a few years now that the Cowboys need to be more balanced offensively. How many times has head coach Jason Garrett commented after excruciating losses that the team should have run the ball more?
Murray showed last year that he can be an elite running back in the league when healthy. He rushed for 1,121 yards with an astounding 5.2 average per carry. That mark led the league for all running backs who carried the ball more than 200 times.
With the continuous improvement of the offensive line as evidenced by the drafting of Zach Martin, the running attack can have a huge impact on the team’s success. Not only will it help take some pressure off quarterback Tony Romo, but it can help control the time of possession and keep the defensive unit on the sidelines.
1. Quarterback Tony Romo
This is a quarterback driven league so you can safely say for any team they will go as far as their QB can take them. It is a sure bet Romo will continue to be a solid starter for this team as long as he is healthy.
He has proven to be a player that will keep the Cowboys in a lot of games and single-handedly win some in dazzling fashion. At the same time he has the propensity to be the single cause for some heart breaking losses. If new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan can bring balance to this attack by utilizing the running game more, and the offensive line can protect Romo, he has the opportunity to cut back on the mistakes that have haunted this team in the past.
If these 5 players can play at a high level this year, which I believe they all have the ability to do so, the Cowboys will go a long way in proving their critics wrong. Dare I say, they could even break past 8 wins.