This week's assignment is to pinpoint the 5 biggest disappointments and the 5 biggest surprises of 2010. This may require that I bend the rules a bit to fit my needs as it is deemed appropriate. I would simply say that "biggest disappointments" would be limited to those who I had great expectations for. It would be impossible for Alan Ball to disappoint me because my expectation level for him was very low. Conversely, it would be impossible for DeMarcus Ware to surprise me, because I have grown to expect excellence from him. Let's see where this takes us:
5 Biggest Disappointments of 2010:
1. Mike Jenkins, CB - Perhaps he is what he is and we should just stop jumping to conclusions about but what he can be. After the 2008 season, he appeared to be the 2nd best CB from that draft (after Orlando Scandrick). Then, in 2009, he played with such confidence and excellence that it sure looked like his place in Honolulu (or wherever the Pro Bowl ends up) was in cement for years to come. Something happened this season, and I cannot tell if it is a result of what happened to the defense or a cause of what happened to the defense. Either way, Mike Jenkins no longer appears to be anything more than an average CB in the NFL without much swagger and belief in what he is bringing to the table. The position requires confidence, but how can you have confidence when you go through a rash of big plays and penalties.
2. Anthony Spencer, LB - Mike Jenkins and Spencer are on the exact same page. To rate one higher than the other is actually unfair. They are both 1st Round picks. They are both young and should be getting better. They are both supposed cornerstones of the unit moving forward. And yet, how many games this year have we not seen an impact of note from Spencer? When Greg Ellis was on the opposite side of DeMarcus Ware he always delivered and benefited from the double teams on the other side. But, Spencer just cannot get to the QB often enough, save for a month and a half back at the end of 2009. 3 sacks in 14 games for Spencer is a major disappointment. His play against the run is admired across the league, but that should not be the calling card of an outside edge rusher in a 3-4 defense.
3. Marc Colombo, RT - There is no doubt that Marc Colombo has been a solid and steady performer for the Cowboys since finding him on the scrap heap and starting him at Right Tackle since 2006. The RT revolving door was an issue to worry and address for several years prior to that, and they finally found a solution. However, he blew out his knee at Green Bay last year, and it just hasn't been the same since. He is a real fighter and there is no doubt his effort level is high, but I absolutely feel that we have not seen him healthy since that injury. They rushed him back last year in the playoffs, but right from preseason this year, you just get the impression that he is playing without full use of his bad leg. Either way, this is a league where nobody takes it easy on you if you are injured, and the right side of the line has been a target all year long. Quickness has exposed Colombo and Leonard Davis all year, and you would think that both are subject to being replaced.
4. Terence Newman, CB - At some point, a corner that is known for his speed is going to lose it. The Cowboys drafted Terence out of Kansas State at a rather advanced age, as he turned 25 years old the week before his professional debut. He absolutely has given the Cowboys elite service, but seeing him beaten deep repeatedly this season gives one pause about his future. He has never been the most physical corner, and to see DeSean Jackson run by him like he was standing still almost makes you hope he is also injured worse than we think. Either way, cornerback has been a position that has underperformed all season long.
5. Andre Gurode, C - Andre has never struck me as an elite Pro Bowler, but the Pro Bowl process is such that he has gone to the last 4 Pro Bowls. I have always thought of him as a solid performer who may be a beneficiary of the Cowboys high profile. Regardless, he has been thought of as one of the very best players on the Cowboys OL, and this season we have seen too many botched snaps, too many moments where the protection calls have been off, too many holding penalties, and too poor a push from the interior of the offensive line. I think Gurode is a fine football player, but he needs to take 2010 personally so that his 2011 returns to his previous form.
And, for equal time and some positivity:
5 Most Pleasant Surprises of 2010:
1. Dez Bryant, WR - I know, I know. He was a 1st Round pick so everyone expected him to be good. But, this good? Especially after basically sitting out all of 2009 at Oklahoma State with his suspension? Especially after missing all of the preseason with his injury? No way. I had no idea he was going to be that good and that electric. There is no question that heading into 2011, the single-most unstoppable force on the Dallas Cowboys offense is Dez. That really says something about this rookie. He has franchise WR written all over him.
2. Doug Free, LT - Admittedly, he has conceded 4.5 sacks and committed a team-high 10 penalties. But, he is playing Left Tackle in the National Football League where he has faced the likes of Mario Williams, Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Osi Umenyiora, Trent Cole, Brian Orakpo, and the very best edge rushers in the league. He has had an encouraging year. At no point this season did he look like he needed serious help or replacement. At no point did the battle look too big for him. I really admire his 2010. He may not be the best Left Tackle in the league, but he has had a great year to build upon.
3. Jason Garrett, Head Coach - I have certainly written plenty on the topic already so I won't belabor the point, but I am not sure very many people expected the Cowboys' interim coach to instantly have control of the Cowboys sideline and troops like he has. It seemed with the flick of a switch that he has instantly had command of the entire team in a way that Wade Phillips seemed to never desire. I really am not sure he is the right man for the job (for further explanation, see one of the many, many essays on the topic in the last month) but I don't feel there is any more he could do to show he is a capable choice if he is chosen.
4. Bryan McCann, CB,KR - Surely, it has been a rough season for the Cowboys if I am pointing out a part-time kick returner and an emergency defensive back has been one of the 5 biggest surprises of the year. But, there is no question that he had a significant impact on the season and you could make the case he won 2 games for the team by himself. Think about it. In a 5-win season, a guy who wasn't on the roster until November and is making the absolute league minimum salary won 2 games (in a row). An unforgettable introduction to the franchise from a guy who appears to have a high probability of either an awesome play of either the positive or negative variety. But, his most admirable trait to me is his willingness to try to make a play. I love that from an unheralded guy trying to play in the NFL.
5. Jon Kitna, QB - Again, based on expectation levels, we were always going to compare Kitna to Brad Johnson. And unlike 2008 when Romo was injured, 2010 did not see a dramatic drop off in QB play during a 10 game stretch in which he was forced to step in. I have gone to great lengths to point out what he cannot do, but let's not forget what he can do: show off great leadership and the ability to make a key throw at a key moment. He is no Tony Romo but he is also no Brad Johnson. I am more than happy to welcome Kitna back in 2011 as the backup if this franchise elects to go in that direction. After this stretch, why wouldn't they?