Dallas Cowboy Central Season Preview Part Four
Dallas Cowboy Central Season Preview Part Four
State Of The Team
Roy Williams - A standout at Oklahoma, Williams has already proved he was worthy of being picked eighth overall in the 2002 draft. In just two seasons, Williams has 171 tackles, seven interceptions, two touchdowns, and was named to the probowl in 2003. The sky is the limit for Williams, a hard hitter that is best known for instilling fear in grown men. While it is speculated that the Cowboys are playing him out of position, he was the best option on the team for the spot. Now that Darren Woodson may be sidelined for at least eight weeks, he may either shift back to his natural position of strong safety or he may remain at his former spot. His game is about aggression and that occasionally hurts him in coverage. This challenge has escalated due to him adding muscle during the offseason. It has yet to be demonstrated how this added bulk will affect his speed and more importantly, stamina. His strength and speed endurance could be key as he played virtually every defensive and special teams snap in 2003. Should he succumb to injury, the team would be in deep trouble as Dallas’ entire defensive gameplan in each game almost revolves around him. He now will face increased pressure to improve his coverage and playmaking abilities as he will be without a partner in Woodson.----------Grade - 9
Lynn Scott - After Williams, and the talent dropoff is considerable. Since joining the Cowboys in 2001 as an undrafted free agent, Scott has 31 tackles to his name in limited duty. Scott's real contributions come on special teams, where he has earned the reputation of being a smart, hard hitting player. He also sees the field occasionally in nickle and dime packages. Scott has really had to win his job every one of the four years he has been here, and this year he could have his stiffest challenge. This could be do or die, as he will may not be able to secure a spot on the practice squad. ----------Grade - 3
Steve Cargile - Yet another undrafted rookie free agent, Cargile will be a camp body for the Cowboys in 2004. Hailing from Columbia, where he was a wide receiver and quarterback, Cargile is 6'3", 205 lbs. It would be a shock if he were to make it until opening day. -----------Grade – Incomplete
For the Cowboys’ sake, Roy Williams must remain healthy, because much like the strong safety position, there isn't alot of promise behind the incumbent starter and this is exacerbated by the Woodson injury as Williams will be an even more vital part of the defense. Lynn Scott is an injury prone player who could fill in when needed, but not for a long period of time.----------Overall Grade - 6
Darren Woodson - The Cowboys all-time leading tackler (1,251) and 12 year veteran was a shoe-in for the starter position at Strong Safety. However, recent back surgery will force him to miss training camp and perhaps at least two regular season games and may even threaten his career. Woodson has been a main stay at the SS position for years and the injury may speed up the end of his Cowboy tenure. Still a very capable player, Woodson has proven to also be a very durable starter, playing in 177 of a possible 191 games. Using his size (6'1", 219 pounds) and speed (4.4 in the 40 yard dash) and combining it with excellent football instincts and hitting ability, Woodson was poised to have yet another good year in 2004. A back injury is nothing to sneeze at, but if anyone can recover and play well quickly, it is Woodson.----------Grade - 7
Tony Dixon - Considered by many to be a bust as a second round pick (56th overall), Tony Dixon was probably prepared to fight to retain his spot as Darren Woodson’s backup in 2004. Now, he is trust into a starting role. Since joining the team in 2001, Dixon has played in 40 games and has 74 tackles to his name. In 2002, Dixon started as SS for the last six games of the season, collecting 49 tackles, two sacks, and one interception. If Dixon is not able to elevate his level of play to at least marginal, the defense could fall apart.-----------Grade - 2
Keith Davis - After signing with the Cowboys in 2002 as an undrafted rookie free agent, Davis saw action in eight games for Dallas in 2002, but frequently moved from the practice squad to active roster and also was released and re-signed several times throughout the season. In 2003, the Cowboys allocated Davis to NFL Europe where he played with the Thunder. Davis had a very good season in 2003 with the Thunder, recording 61 tackles, 13 pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions. Davis will most likely challenge Tony Dixon for the starting Strong Safety spot with Woodson sidelined. -----------Grade - Incomplete
Tom Crowder - Another undrafted rookie free agent, Crowder will be hard pressed to find a job with the Cowboys this season. He played his college football at Arkansas where he also played Wide Receiver. His contributions will have to come on special teams, if at all.----------Grade - Incomplete
The injury to Woodson could have a devastating effect on how the Cowboys play defense, especially if he is not able to return to play. Without him, they will now be forced to depend on unproven players, none of which have shown much of anything in the NFL. Tony Dixon has to lay it on the line and step up to the plate. Davis is a favorite to win the backup job, but it is doubtful Crowder even makes the team.----------Overall Grade - 6
It is expected that an improved pass rush will allow the teams deficiencies at corner and hopefully briefly at safety to be minimized. That is a lot to be expected from simply shifting one solid player, adding another and hoping for the best.
The linebackers should continue to be a strength if competition helps and Nguyen can remain healthy as he did last season.
The Dallas Cowboys' secondary is young, especially at the edges. The only area where this team has any sort of experience is at its core, with the safety position. That experience will be damaged if Woodson misses significant time or even has to call it a career. On the perimeter, only one man has played as many as five years, and he did so as a third-down specialist. This group is being guided by another youngster, secondary coach Mike MacIntyre (formerly of Ole Miss) under the supervision of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.To review the offseason, the Cowboys lost Mario Edwards to free agency, the talented veteran going to Tampa Bay. Dallas, meanwhile, added three rookie corners, in or immediately after the draft. They got another through Donald Mitchell's return to full health. But, most notably, the Boys did not acquire Troy Vincent, Antoine Winfield, Bobby Taylor, or any of the other high-priced veterans floating around in free agency. So now, what they have is a proven commodity on one corner and plenty of nothing on the other. Head coach Bill Parcells and Zimmer are banking on some sort of quality emerging from that quantity, which includes young holdovers Jemeel Powell and Andrew Davison, neither of whom has lit the place on fire so far in their brief careers.
Billy Cundiff – Cundiff has developed into a solid kicker who appeared to come of age in the Cowboys’ second game of the year in the OT win over the Giants. He made 23 of 29 field goals in 2003, a very respectable ratio and made clutch kicks without crucial misses. He is similar to other Steve Hoffman pupils as he could appear solid at times, but he could also turn the way of Lin Elliott and Tim Seder and struggle. If the offense struggles to score touchdowns, any decline from Cundiff will hurt.----------Grade – 5
Mat McBriar – McBriar is a strong-legged candidate out of the University of Hawaii who is projected to be the Cowboys punter in 2004. He is inexperienced, but spent almost a year learning from Hoffman, which should be a benefit.----------Grade – Incomplete.
Ryan Flinn – Flinn will compete with McBriar, but he does not have the advantage of prolonged exposure to coaching at the professional level. He has acceptable leg strength and above average size and might challenge McBriar if he can be consistent.----------Grade – Incomplete
Special Teams Analysis/Prediction
Bill Parcells is almost maniacal about special teams and it shows at nearly every turn. Despite Bruce DeHaven’s title, Parcells has his hands all over this unit. He leaves the kicking portion to Steve Hoffman, but the return and coverage units are his baby. Nearly half of the team’s 2004 draft choices were devoted to the return game, which needs to improve over last year’s production. No less than six or seven players will be competing for the punt and kick return duties. It will be interesting to see which players are able to step up and win the chore. The coverage units should continue to be solid as most the team’s backups will be expected to be proficient in that area.
Despite the team’s surprising playoff appearance last season, it is a stretch to almost expect a repeat performance. The team appears to have improved in some areas by addition and some by subtraction. The talent level is better and the coaching should continue to be superb. What is now lost is the element of surprise as the Cowboys will not be able to sneak up on anyone as they did over the first quarter of the season in 2003. Rookies, unproven vets and a small core of stars will have to respond to the challenge. Parcells will have this team prepared, but he also will need a little of the luck he received last season if this current group is to continue the trend his teams have enjoyed in the second year of his previous stops in the NFL.
Top 5 Questions for the Dallas Cowboys?
1. Will Quincy answer the call? - Whether you believe Carter is the answer or just a really stupid question, nobody can deny that the best case scenario for success this season lies in Quincy taking it to another level. If he fails to do so, the Cowboys will take a step backward and have to start this whole QB grooming process over again.
2. The right side of the OL - How this unit gels will have a heavy influence to the success of the offense. Adding center to this mix gives us three big time question marks at the most critical area on the field. We can only hope that we hit the lucky trifecta.
3. Can we bring the heat? - It wouldn't be fair to expect our back seven to duplicate last season's performance with, once again, no consistent pressure on the QB. Whether it be Greg Ellis, La'Roi Glover or Marcellus Wiley, somebody has to make frequent visits into the opponent's backfield.
4. Special Teams - A heavy emphasis was put on this area over the offseason. Too many times, the Cowboys lost the battle of field position last season due to the shoddy punting and a mediocre return game. With an offense that figures to be no better than average, this must change if we seriously want to contend for the division title.
5. Hunter or Hunted? - Even with improved pass rush, Pete Hunter will have his work cut out for him earning respect in the NFL as a legitimate starting CB. The measurables are there, now it's time for Hunter to start turning potential into production.