By the way, a brief look at the weather forecast for this week will demonstrate my weather issues with a camp in Texas:
And yes, you can make the case the Alamodome proper is a nice cool place to watch football, but isn't there more to a football camp then practice? Where is Malibu?
Sorry about me.
Anyway, once I get done complaining about spending the week inside as the asphalt cooks around us, I am watching my first practice of the 2009 season. It is a bit of a different feel for many reasons, not the least of which is that it certainly appears to be team that does not quite have the swagger it did last year. Let's just say they have been humbled quite a bit. If you are following the daily 2008 redux on this blog, you know why.
Last year was an extremely humbling experience. This team can survive, but they need this training camp pretty badly to get back on the horse and remember how to ride. I love the fact that they are humbled. I also love the fact that nationally they are flying under the radar. Things are quiet. People seem reserved. Work appears to be the focus. And yes, the circus has left town.
I plan on writing about my observations from a week at practice every day this week, but let's start with my thoughts on a couple key items down here in camp:
* First, as I review where things went wrong last year, I think many of us forget how ordinary this defensive backfield has been. In 2008, Newman was hurt; Jenkins was awful; Hamlin was disappointing; Williams was hurt; Watkins was Watkins; and the defensive backfield was a mess. Yes, Orlando Scandrick was a nice find, but there were too many times last season where the opposition was quite comfortable throwing on the Cowboys. Pac Man Jones brought almost nothing and was an utter waste of time. And now, Scandrick and Jenkins are your 2 and 3 CB's, and Gerald Sensabaugh has been brought in to start - despite the fact that his former team seemed happy to see him leave, and the Cowboys only spent 1-year and less than $2 million to bring him in. The defensive backfield may be better, but we certainly won't know for a while. Unproven is an understatement, and Newman can't stay healthy for 16 games anymore.
* Speaking of health, I think it is more than fair to ask if the team can stay healthy. In 2007, they had one of the healthiest teams in the NFL, but last year they had Romo, Barber, Felix, Witten, Austin, Kosier, Newman, McBriar, and several other key parts all injured or at least dinged up pretty badly. Here is the deal, you can put any team together you want, but the bottom line is in this league, you need the luck of good health. Players will get injured, but if the wrong guys get injured - you are screwed. Teams do not have depth that can replace key parts anymore. And last year, whether we like to admit it or not, this team does have a legitimate health excuse to explain quite a few aspects of their decline.
* I have both Martellus Bennett and Miles Austin on big years. I am not one who thinks the offense is going to be dramatically worse this year without the head clown, Terrell Owens, out of the mix. There is no question that this team has no way to replace the very top-end WR that Owens was. Roy Williams should do well, but I don't anticipate record breaking years like Owens put up in his time here. But, the combination of skill players this team offers has more than enough to remain a very dynamic and productive offense. Felix Jones is a huge weapon, too. I will focus more in the next few days on the health situation of the skill players in 2008, but for now, just know that if you have Felix for 14-16 games rather than 6, I think you will see just how much better Marion Barber's production will be.
* I know we have talked about this quite a bit, but the Offensive Line must stay healthy. Kyle Kosier's injury last year exposed the shallow pool this offense has on the line. If Flozell Adams gets hurt, as frustrating as he is, you don't want to know what is behind him. Despite spending 9 picks on Offensive linemen from 2003-2008, none of them are in the starting group, and none of them appear to be proper reserves. Scary, but true. The offensive line is painfully thin.
* Another focus is the special teams. I am hopeful that Joe DeCamillis has a better plan than Bruce Read did for the Special Teams. The truth is that last year the special teams were horrible. No touchbacks. Coverage was generally weak. Punt return was beyond weak. And of course, special teams lost the Arizona game and played a big part in several other losses. You must get production on special teams to compete in this league and the Cowboys were beaten badly last year.
I know talk about Romo and Barber and Garrett and Ware is more exciting, but these several items are all on my sports mind this morning as we witness some practice to start a new year.