Now, clearly, the excitement of preseason football does not last more than a short while as everyone quickly realizes that teams have a main objective of getting nobody hurt this early in the game and therefore you will spend much of the preseason watching guys ranked between 30-90 on the training camp rosters playing for those final 20-25 roster spots (of which most of them are already earmarked for certain players), but beggars cannot be choosers.
You have waited months for the return of our league, and for now, it is what we have. And that will be a look at your 2013 Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Let's get it on.
Now to your emails (Sturm1310@me.com):
Your perspective on things Nate Newton is saying about the OLine - Bryan Broadus also has been writing about the O-Line! Both have said good things about Doug Free, Kevin Kowalski and David Arkin. What are your impressions of how they are doing. Livings and Bernadeau really scare me. And, I know that you say that taking Tyron Smith over JJ Watt was ok in your book.
But, I have been thinking that Watt is a keystone player kind of like a keystone species. A defensive player like Watt has an effect on the whole defense and offense(in giving them the ball back more and in better position). Whereas Offensive tackle cannot impact the game as much with outstanding play. Mike Lombardi who I think is the GM of the Browns now said in one of his blog posts that you have to evaluate why you did not pick a person like Watt. Like to know what you think….
Thanks for all of your hard work…you are pretty much all I read since Lombardi went to the Browns! - Bob Woodyard
Well, there is quite a bit to what you are saying Bob, so let me start with what Nate Newton and my buddy Bryan Broaddus are saying from training camp. First of all, if you wanted 2 guys who know a ton about offensive line play and football in general, I would nominate both of them. I am not as aware of what Nate is saying, but I consider Broaddus a must follow on Twitter and a guy I speak with on a regular basis. He has helped me and taught me a ton about how to watch and analyze football for the last decade or so and I owe him plenty for his time and effort.
Now, remember, while most of the media and fan-base rate a player on a simple scale of 1 or 10 (meaning, a player is usually either great or a bust - see: Dez Bryant, 2012), both of those guys operate on the ability to look at each player from a standpoint of whether or not they can help the 53 man roster improve. I join them in trying to look at how each piece fits and how each player develops from where they were when they arrived in the league to where they are going. Fans and media want to know about fantasy football implications and about superstars and how Tony Romo compares to Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.
I contend that it is not our efforts to follow the NFL like that, and I believe Broaddus has as little interest in fantasy football as I do - which is very little.
What was the point of saying all of that? Well, it is that we need to learn to translate what is being said about players. For instance, is a reserve player who has never played a snap, like David Arkin, looking better than David Arkin has ever looked in a Cowboys uniform? Yes. We think so. Does that mean he is ready to vault all the way to the starting lineup? That is extremely doubtful. And that is the nuance that you have to follow camp with. The league may operate in the headlines that either a player is a starter or he doesn't matter, but the fact is that teams need a total of 61 players (53 + 8 man practice squad) that they squat on and try to develop all at the same time while rating the rest of the league's 1900 players and those on the outside looking in.
So, you have a dossier of all of these players based on the requirements for the 9-11 offensive linemen you can keep. Is Ronald Leary now prepared to step up to be a #7 after spending last season as a #10? Sure. Is he ready to be a #3 or #4? That is where preseason will tell us more than practices in Oxnard.
I just feel it is necessary to remind people that 52 weeks ago, people were saying very glowing things about Arkin - including everyone on the Blue Star Network which airs the preseason games - and then when the season was played, he never was even worth activating. Similarly, a few years back (I believe 2010) we were scolded by the broadcasters on the Blue Star Network for underrating Robert Brewster's prospects. He was cut a few weeks later.
The point is that players are propped up this time of year and sometimes it means they are now on their way to making the team (which we often forget is a major, major accomplishment for many players) and sometimes it means they are ready to start 1,000 snaps this year against the best players in the NFL. It is just important to remember that there is a significant difference there. Which means, when a player is being complimented for his play in a practice in late July or early August, to remember the many rungs in the ladder before we think a guy is ready to emerge from nowhere to being the opening day starter at guard or anywhere else.
Meanwhile, on JJ Watt versus Tyron Smith, back in January I spent 2,000 words hashing this out as far as I could. It is clear that JJ Watt is a beast and a man amongst men. It is also true that there is some question how much better Tyron will ultimately get. I still think it is a very complicated decision that will impact things more and more if Watt is considered a Top 5 NFL player and Tyron is an under the radar left tackle.
I am also one who enjoys a good 2nd guess, but since I felt strongly about Smith in 2011 on draft day, it would be awful hypocritical to reverse field now that Tyron is still only 22 years old.
It does make you wonder about taking the best player available and ignoring need on draft day. It also makes you wonder how he fell all the way to #11 in what might go down as a very solid draft.
You speak for many Cowboys fans and I just want to focus on the one thing that jumped out at me from your email of great frustration: I don't think I can undersell the importance of a coach naming his own staff. Anyone at any level of coaching in the NFL aspires to move up the ladder someday. This means that there is a team agenda and a personal agenda for each coach. If he does not feel a link of loyalty to the guy who hired him, then he is crazy. But, what if his superior did not hire him? What if he was hired by the big boss and the head coach was simply given who would serve under him?
This leads to fractured agendas on the staff. This is one of Jerry's most egregious errors in judgement through the years, in my opinion. He made Chan Gailey and Dave Campo assume most of their assistants, and after Bill Parcells left, made Wade Phillips assume a staff that he was not familiar with. Heck, Jason Garrett was hired before Wade was in 2007, so turnabout is fair play, I suppose when it comes to Garrett suffering from disloyalty or at least separate agendas when it was his turn to be head coach.
I have always believe that a head coach must be given the right to either approve or hire all of his assistants without any sort of pressure from above. It leads to assistants feeling beholden to the head coach and therefore when they look in the mirror, they know what is expected of them to have the back of the HC when he is not there. They are much less likely to undermine the HC to the players in positional meetings and certainly would not consider grumbling up the chain of command to Jerry about what Garrett might be doing wrong.
I think I have said this a number of times, but let me say it again. Football is the sport that most resembles the military in the structure of command or authority. If you undermine it, you risk the pyramid of command crumbling - which it has here a number of times in different ways (Ray Sherman, Brian Stewart, John Garrett, Rob Ryan). Name a head coach, and then, like most high school coaches, give him the right to go find the staff he deems fit to serve under him.
So, 2011 and 2012 draft picks who have not broken out yet, but I think are candidates to do so this year?
Well, the list is short, and shorter because of Tyrone Crawford's injury. But, the 3 I really like from last year that did not have much in 2012 would be Ronald Leary, James Hanna, and Matt Johnson. I absolutely loved Hanna by the end of last season in the flashes that we saw. He is a matchup nightmare and even though they took Gavin Escobar, these things have a way of working themselves out to getting talented players on the field.
The other 2, Leary who I profiled here back in May of 2012 and Johnson who I did the same for here both represent players who really interest me quite a bit. For Leary, his technique and awareness were not ready for the NFL last fall and for Johnson, his hamstrings were a nightmare. If they have taken strides, we should start to see them in these preseason games and they, of course, are both players at positions of extreme thinness. Hit on either of them and there will be big celebrations in the front office.
Look for them to emerge in these preseason games and we will visit about the performances on Monday in this same space.