Friday, August 12, 2016

DMN Cowboys Mailbag - Aug 12

A little bit of history will be made tomorrow night at the L.A. Coliseum, but for the most part the game will likely measure up against other preseason openers around here -- which means it won't take much more than 30 minutes for you to wonder why you were so excited to see a preseason football game.
The Cowboys seldom risk a player in the preseason -- especially the opener -- so don't expect to see any of Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith or Ezekiel Elliott in the game. That will ramp up as the month goes on, but on Saturday, we can finally see Jameill Showers connect with Andy Jones and wonder if either will make the squad. It's NFL football, but we still must wait another month for the good stuff.
Meanwhile, let's answer your questions and discuss whatever is on your mind right here, right now:
Q: With current state of defense can it really be said that Cowboys are best team in NFC East?
For me, I think the Cowboys will be able to compete for this division. We should understand that this is likely the weakest division in the NFC and the margins are very tight. Yes, Dallas seems to have a collection of what could be the finest offense in a league where that decides things in the regular season quite a bit. Washington is much better than I think people believe (especially now having added Josh Norman, as well as an interesting draft class) and New York has spent a ton to close the gap. Philadelphia is almost certainly going to be out of the mix, but you know how August predictions can go sometimes. The Cowboys' defense is not great and just like the offense, a single injury in the wrong place can really destroy things. That said, I do think that this defense can make the case for average. If they can play average defense, and I think they can, then this offense can put them in the range of 10 wins. It is all about the takeaways, and given that they were up at 31 in 2014 and 11 in 2015, I am going to play the average in 2016 and assume they can split the difference at about 21. That would make them incredibly more competitive.

Q: What are the signs of encouragement fans should look for in the first preseason game?
Well, it is the first preseason game, so relax your bar a bit. The Rams will be trying to impress the world in their L.A. debut and the Cowboys will be hiding their best players on the sidelines. But, it is fair to say you would like to see some flashes from the young players who need to impress. Byron Jones at safety, David Irving at defensive end, and hopefully a major step forward from Brice Butler and types like him who need to grab a roster spot by the scruff of the neck. I have a list of things I am looking for, but that will mostly start with seeing these draft picks -- unfortunately, Zeke, Jaylon Smith (of course) and Maliek Collins won't be out there. So instead, we want to see Charles Tapper, Dak Prescott, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson and maybe even a little from Rico Gathers. Obviously, Andy Jones is also in that mix and keep an eye on defensive tackle Rodney Coe. I don't know what you are going to see as far as massive signs of encouragement. Let's just look for kids to make impressions. It is the first preseason game. Just get through it.
Q: What's your best guess on how the Leary situation plays out?
That he is kept all season as an insurance policy and that there is a decent chance he is forced to play and maybe play a lot. The Cowboys have had uncommon health on their offensive line in these past few years and that won't continue forever. Most teams have to find a sixth and seventh offensive lineman to play a lot during seasons and the Cowboys likely will have their chance at some point.
Q: How risky is it for the Cowboys to wait this long before signing a vet QB to back up Romo? Seems like people like Prescott and Showers but haven't seen anyone say they are ready to get snaps in an actual game
I think this is where we look at these first two preseason games and watch Jameill Showers closely. I hope you read the piece I wrote about him this week and the conflict of how he plays and what Jason Garrett looks for in a backup. I think he has an opportunity here, but we should not assume the leash is long. If Showers plays well, he may keep getting chances. If his composite results of the first few games are not good, then the shopping for a vet will commence in earnest. I like him plenty, but it may not be a great fit. As for Prescott, I still believe the plan is to keep him away from the field all year, and therefore they will use this preseason as a taste for him. But, then they will relegate him to third string all year if they can.
Q: On a scale of 1-10 how worried should fans be about Zeke's injury?
I would give it a 1. Not at all. This is preseason precaution. They plan on giving him 300 touches, I am sure. It is a long year. Pace yourself.

Q: Have you seen anything encouraging from the Cowboys' pass rush in training camp?
Sure. But, we have to proceed with the understanding that their best pass rusher, by a good margin, is DeMarcus Lawrence. He won't be back until October because of his suspension. But, if you read my breakdown of David Irving, you know what I think of him. I think Tyrone Crawford will be back this year. I think Benson Mayowa will be very good on the edge. I think Maliek Collins can be solid. This team won't be powerless and Rod may use more linebacker pressure this year. Look for some more A-gap pressure up the middle from Sean Lee and friends this year. We have seen glimpses of that in Oxnard, for sure.
Q: Position we are pleasantly surprised by, and position we are surprisingly disappointed by at year's end? I'll hang up and listen
Well, I bet that D-line might get better reviews than they are getting previews. So let me go with them. I really think Lawrence will be a beast when he gets there and I don't understand how little love Cedric Thornton is getting right now. He will make a real difference.
On the down side, I am worried about wide receiver. I am fine with Dez and Cole Beasley, of course. Terrance Williams is in a contract year and he needs to have a big one. Other than that, I don't see much of anything. They need some kids to emerge. Devin Street, Brice Butler and friends all need to decide who is going to be an NFL contributor in a hurry. They need to demonstrate hands, separation and dependability with the quarterback. And it needs to happen quickly.
Q: Which current RB do you see gone when Dunbar returns? Morris? DMac, Jackson, Smith?
McFadden. I am not sure he makes the 53 without Dunbar, to be honest. They need running back help that can play special teams. That is Jackson and even Morris. McFadden is not a great fit here, despite his fine 2015.
Q: Does Tapper start game 1?
I highly doubt it. He has a chance to be a contributor, but if he is starting Game 1, then we have some real issues with others. If I were to guess the opening-day front four, give me Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton inside with David Irving and Jack Crawford outside. Not great, but dependable veterans and decent depth behind them. Tapper should be part of that.
Q:  Which totally fixable issue that the Cowboys failed to address will destroy their season this year?
That seems a bit of a pessimistic viewpoint, but the totally fixable issues that were not addressed would have to be going to get a backup quarterback you felt great about, continuing to depend upon Rolando McClain in the middle of your defense when he has proven to you repeatedly that he cannot be depended upon, and over-investing in a running back when that wasn't a weakness on the team -- on any level -- when the Nos. 4 and 34 picks could have both been placed on instant blue-chip starters on your defense for Day 1. In fact, Jacksonville picked behind you in each round and took Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack -- two players who will start for them in Week 1 and will add top talent to their defense (we assume).
That said, I have never been a general manager and they didn't ask me to be. But you did!
Enjoy football. It is back. Sort of. And we can discuss the events of Saturday night with a Monday morning dissection.

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