The NFL season is finally here, and Dallas Cowboys football is officially back.
The last time we saw the Cowboys take the field was in the Divisional Round of the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers. It was a brutal 19-12 loss that saw the Dallas' postseason hopes die after a dominant first-round win.
Despite winning 12 games for the second consecutive year, it was another disappointing year for the Cowboys. The playoff loss extended the team's championship drought to 27 years, so things needed to change for Dallas entering the year.
They mutually agreed to part ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and cut fan-favorite Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas also let go of tight end Dalton Schultz.
With those moves in place, the front office made plenty of splashes and surprises this offseason, too. The Cowboys traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore -- two veterans who should be impactful players in 2023.
Dallas came up short yet again last season, and if there is a championship window, now is the time to win. They have the talent on both sides of the ball to make a strong playoff run. However, specific things need to happen in order for a championship to be attainable.
These players in particular need to start off strong against the NY Giants.
3. Damone Clark, LB
Linebacker Damone Clark has had a very interesting start to his NFL career.
After an MRI at the 2022 NFL Combine revealed the linebacker had a herniated disc, he needed spinal fusion surgery to repair it. As a result, his draft stock plummeted. Once a top-50 talent in the draft, Clark eventually fell to Day 3 because of the injury.
The Cowboys were extremely happy to select Clark in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft following his offseason surgery. Dallas actually had a third-round grade on the linebacker heading in the draft.
Many people thought Clark had no shot to play any snaps in his first NFL season following spinal surgery. But, just weeks into the year, the rookie defied the odds and suited up for America's Team. He made his debut in Week 8 against the Chicago Bears.
Clark had some very strong showings in his rookie season, totaling 47 tackles in 10 games. He also forced two fumbles in back-to-back games in Week 12 and 13. The linebacker contributed just months after surgery, and Dallas was happy with his production on the field at just 22 years old.
Entering his second NFL season -- and his first full year -- Clark needs to step up for a Dallas defense that's relying on him. With the team releasing former 2021 fourth-round pick Jabril Cox and 2023 third-round rookie DeMarvion Overshown tearing his ACL in the preseason, there's little depth behind Clark at the linebacker position.
Of course, Leighton Vander Esch will have a starting role, and safety Markquese Bell has converted to linebacker to help with that. But there's a lot of young, unproven talent at that position.
With the season just days away, the Cowboys seem content with their linebacker group entering the year. They haven't shown interest in any free agent so far. Hopefully that's a sign that Dallas is expecting a year-two leap from Clark.
Either way, though, Week 1 against the New York Giants will be a nice test for the second-year player.