Editor's note: This story first appeared on Dallasnews.com on May 5, 2017.
Let's end the week the way every week should be ended....With your Cowboys questions! After all, what is more top of mind on Cinco De Mayo?
Here we go -
Q: What were some of Dak's biggest weaknesses last year? Will it take years of game experience/tape study to improve in these areas or do you expect huge improvements by this year itself?
This is a very deep topic and one that will be very difficult to fully explain and even to articulate in this space. But, Dak Prescott had the type of rookie season that has almost no real statistical targets to point at that would make you think he needs to be better here or there. His stats are absurd from Year 1 and they happened without him risking danger too often. That doesn't mean he was conservative, it means that he did a veteran's job at letting the defense tell him where to go and played the mental game very, very well.
He had 23 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. He had 8 yards per attempt. He completed almost 68% of his passes. All of those numbers would be impressive for any QB in the league - let alone a rookie. If you wanted to get greedy, you would love to shove the touchdowns over 30 and the yards over 4,000 (he had 3,667), but to do either, you would have to move the meter more to pass than last year where this team wanted to run the ball because of its strength there. This team does not depend on its QB to do everything. That is good. It might cause you to lose some "which QB is better" debates with your buddy, but that doesn't matter. If your QB can provide these numbers as a rookie and as a 2nd option on the play-sheet, you have a chance to win the whole thing.
Now, what happens in Year 2? Teams try to sit on his strengths and make him face his weaknesses. But, again, this offense is designed to make the defense pick its poison. When it chooses to defend Zeke, it allows the passing game to exploit that. As long as Dak continues to do well with his mental decisions - which he seems very sharp at doing - he should operate from an advantage. The biggest weakness is what happens if they fall behind. Are they able to remain patient? They did very well in that playoff game once they fell way behind. They stayed in their game. Can Dak possibly duplicate his rookie line? That is a fascinating question. You know in NFC East locales, they are figuring out right now how to deal with Dallas. I wonder what their best ideas will be. The Giants seem confident that they have the plan. But, you better have the personnel to do that if you are another team.
Q: Marquez White, Joey Ivie, Noah Brown or Jordan Carrell -- who interests you the most?
I will say my interest is with Marquez White the most. While I haven't been able to grind out too much of his college football tape at this point, I will tell you that history indicates that defensive backs can fall through the cracks in the draft process quite frequently. So can wide receivers, by the way, but in this case, I will doubt Noah Brown will get a whole lot of opportunities to show what he can do. But, White? How far is he from a chance at a roster spot and a significant amount of playing time? Not far. I assume he is down the line right now, but we know how performance and health can shake things quite a bit over 6 weeks of training camp and preseason. So, there, I will tell you White is my "pick to click". As for Ivie and Carrell, they can both get opportunity, but they both seem to be playing for the same spot, which is back up interior defensive line. That spot is not terribly high-profile, so although they can really contribute, you asked about my interest level. Fixing the secondary is their plan that interests me, and now I believe they are in pretty good shape to do so.
Q: Which of the Cowboys' draft picks was the most questionable?
The only one I question is Taco Charlton. That doesn't mean he won't be solid and useful. That simply means that they will be targeting the same spot next year in Round 1 if he is not the edge guy they are looking for. I believe he is a very strong 3-down, run-stopping DL guy who will add to your rotation. I don't believe he is a lead pass-rusher on a contending NFL defense. I hope that makes sense. If he is your 3rd or 4th best rusher, you are fine. If you want him to be your best threat at getting to the QB, I don't see it.
I understand what they say about TJ Watt being a better fit in a 3-4. That is true. But, on passing downs in a league where teams are in nickel 70% or more, I want a guy with twitch, bend, and explosion coming off the edge. Watt was far more a candidate for that. For instance, DeMarcus Ware was "better in a 3-4" scheme. But, he also had 138.5 NFL Sacks and could play in any scheme. I am not saying Watt is that quality, because he isn't. But, saying someone fits better in a different scheme doesn't mean he can't play in yours.
I believe now that they were on Takk McKinley and Charles Harris before either of these two. Then, they took Taco as a solid pick over Watt as a risky projection. That is a reasonable outcome, but if you ask which pick I find questionable, it is the idea that in 12 months, they will still be targeting a legit edge guy with twitch, bend, and explosion to get around the edge.
Q: Seems hard to understand the defensive philosophy for the Cowboys. We didn't mind completely starting over in the secondary but not much to hang our hats on the d-line either. Is Rod Marinelli that good or are we in for a LONG year with this unit?
For me, the reason they started over in the secondary, it is because they could. In 2012, they tried a massive secondary rebuild with $50 million on Brandon Carr and a huge trade up to get Morris Claiborne. In 2016, they had a chance to walk away from both of them and they exercised that opportunity. Had they been at the crossroads with the defensive line, they might have done the same thing there. But, DeMarcus Lawrence is next season. Tyrone Crawford could be next season. If they decide to walk away from those, you know the draft will be to go get our "war daddy" and "edge rusher" and rebuild the defensive line in 2018.
Is Rod Marinelli that good? Well, he certainly has legions of smart football people that swear he is. I would like to see him put a defense out there that isn't a band of overachievers trying to out-perform the projections that they are poor. I would love to see a Marinelli defense here that is the power of the team, but since the franchise put most of their eggs into offense (which, by the way, is what many good teams do), we are always handing Marinelli a roll of duct tape and wishing him well. And he seems to enjoy that.
Q: Stephen Jones said the Cowboys had Chidobe Awuzie rated higher than every other CB available after Round 1, a group that includes Kevin King. Thoughts on that?
I don't think that is true. The Cowboys were very interested in Kevin King with their pick at 28. He was the choice if they didn't take Taco Charlton. So, they didn't think Awuzie was better than King. It makes for good copy, but any revision to that is not consistent with my findings. If you tell me they liked Awuzie better than Teez Tabor or Quincy Wilson, I believe you. But, they had King as a real debate point at #28, so I will reject that premise. Awuzie is very nice. He isn't perfect at all, but he is a great player to get at #60. I am very excited.
Q: OK, so what holes are now left for the Cowboys to address?
Great question. Their depth chart looks very nice to me. We still have to sort out the competitions at right tackle (I have assumed La'el Collins will be there at the end) and free safety (Jeff Heath vs Xavier Woods with a possible appearance from Kavon Frazier). Then, seeing if Jaylon Smith can take over the spot that has been occupied by mostly Anthony Hitchens and Rolando McClain the last few years. After that, your best defensive line - is Taco Charlton really a candidate to defeat NFL left tackles (I retain my doubts) - and just trying to get through camp in one piece. The depth and the quality of your starters look as complete as just about any year I have seen, but, of course, we are not going to know if a bunch of young players in the secondary can deal with a real NFL aerial attack until Eli Manning shows up with Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Odell Beckham, and rookie TE Evan Engram to put them to the test in Week 1.
If they get lit up for 34 points and 325 yards passing, we can start the season with the normal levels of panic and despair. But, for now, I like what the 22-man lineup looks like along with the key reserves that are available. Pretty talented squad.