Dallas Cowboys: Position analysis

Cowboys position series: Specialists

February, 25, 2010
2/25/10
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The last in a series looking at each Cowboys position group:

Players: P Mat McBriar (signed through 2011), K David Buehler (signed through 2012), LS L.P. Ladouceur (signed through 2012), K Shaun Suisham (restricted free agent),

[+] EnlargeMat McBriar
Kyle Terada/US PresswireThe Cowboys downed 38 of Mat McBriar's punts inside the 20.
What went right: The Cowboys dominated the field position battle on a consistent basis due to the kicking game.

Buehler proved that a fifth-round pick on a kickoff specialist can be a wise investment. He consistently boomed kickoffs into the end zone, with a league-high 29 touchbacks. The opponents’ average field position after kickoffs was inside the 23-yard line, which ranked second in the league and was an improvement of more than 6 yards from 2008.

McBriar was the only punter in the league to pin opponents inside the 20 more than half the time, doing so on 38 of his 72 punts with only three touchbacks. He ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in punting average (45.1) and net average (39.9).

What went wrong: Field goals were a season-long adventure.

The Cowboys were basically forced to cut Nick Folk after a span in which he missed seven of 11 attempts. His final kick as a Cowboy was a 24-yard attempt that clanked off the upright in New Orleans, leaving the door open for a Saints comeback.

Suisham, who missed two field goals in the playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, was better but didn’t solve the problem.

McBriar took some of the blame as the holder, resulting in Tony Romo taking over those duties, but it became clear that the kicker was the problem.

What’s next: The Cowboys told Buehler, who has a strong but erratic leg, to focus on field goals this offseason. He’ll compete with Connor Hughes, one of the kickers the Cowboys brought in for a workout after cutting Folk, for the field goals job.

The Cowboys would prefer not to use another draft pick on a kicker after selecting one in two of the last three years. They’ve hired ex-Cowboy Chris Boniol as a kicking consultant to work with Buehler and Hughes.

Cowboys position series: Defensive line

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
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Players: NT Jay Ratliff (signed through 2012), DE Marcus Spears (restricted free agent), DE Igor Olshansky (signed through 2012), DE Stephen Bowen (restricted free agent), DE Jason Hatcher (restricted free agent), NT Junior Siavii (restricted free agent)

What went right: Ratliff proved that his Pro Bowl campaign in 2008 was no fluke, earning a spot on the All-Pro team in his second full season as a starter.

Ratliff has established himself as one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the NFL. He's the rare 3-4 nose tackle that is also a force in the nickel and dime packages. His quickness and motor allow him to make plays that are well out of the range of most nose tackles, as evidenced by his seven sacks, 33 quarterback pressures, eight tackles for losses and four fumble recoveries.

Spears and Olshansky aren't part of the substitution packages, but they were major parts of the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing defense.

Olshansky, in particular, was dominant against the run. Coaches credited him with 76 tackles, which is a lot for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Olshansky, one of the NFL's strongest men, also made the inside linebackers' jobs a lot easier by consistently controlling the offensive linemen in front of him.

Olshansky and Stephen Bowen combined to more than make up for the free agency loss of Chris Canty at a fraction of the price the Giants paid the ex-Cowboy. Bowen proved that he can be an effective interior pass rusher in the nickel and dime packages. He only had three sacks, but his 35 quarterback pressures ranked third on the team behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

What went wrong: Not much, really.

If you want to nitpick, you could point out that Hatcher made a minimal impact. Hatcher underwent knee surgery during the offseason and wasnt 100 percent for most of the season. He didnt get much playing time, but thats partly because the other defensive ends did their jobs well.

What's next: All the restricted free agents should return, although none are likely to get long-term deals before next season.

Bowen's goal during the offseason and training camp should be to prove that he can be an every-down player. At some point, the Cowboys might have to decide between keeping the undrafted Bowen or former first-rounder Spears, but that's down the road.

Siavii did a decent job at backup nose tackle, but the Cowboys could give him some competition with a draft pick.

Watch for Marcus Dixon, who spent the last two seasons on the practice squad, to push for a roster spot.

Cowboys position series: Inside linebackers

February, 23, 2010
2/23/10
10:16
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The 10th in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys' position groups:

Players: Bradie James (signed through 2011), Keith Brooking (signed through 2011), Bobby Carpenter (signed through 2010), Jason Williams (signed through 2012), Stephen Hodge (signed through 2012)

What went right: Keith Brooking couldn’t have been a much better fit as a relatively low-priced free agent. He was the most productive ILB partner Bradie James has had and almost immediately became an inspirational leader.

There were questions about how much gas was left in Brooking’s tank after 11 seasons in Atlanta, but he proved that he could still play at a high level in Wade Phillips’ scheme. According to the coaches’ film, Brooking had 156 tackles, four sacks and eight passes defensed.

James, a defensive captain who consistently preaches accountability, had another solid season with a team-high 181 tackles, including five for losses. His sack total dropped from eight in 2008 to two this season, but that’s in part because Brooking blitzed more often than Zach Thomas had.

Former first-round pick Bobby Carpenter continues to be a punching bag for fans, but he at least made a significant contribution to the defense as a nickel/dime linebacker. There wasn’t a drop-off from Kevin Burnett, who filled that role before signing with the San Diego Chargers in free agency, to Carpenter.

What went wrong: The two rookies didn’t make any contribution, in large part due to injuries.

Fifth-round pick Stephen Hodge had to undergo knee surgery before the season and was placed on injured reserve. Hodge, who played safety at TCU, didn’t get enough reps during offseason workouts or training camp to make much of an impression due to the knee injury.

Third-round pick Jason Williams, the first player selected by the Cowboys in the 2009 draft, missed the first three games with a high ankle sprain and didn’t make an impact after he got healthy. He spent most of the season on the inactive list.

It was disappointing that Williams, a phenomenal athlete, failed to become a core special teams player. Coaches credited him with only two tackles on special teams.

The Cowboys knew that Williams would be a project when they drafted him, but he often looked lost during training camp. He has the talent to eventually be a starter, but he has a long way to go mentally to be prepared for a significant role.

What’s next: The Cowboys do not have a major need at inside linebacker. If they draft a player at this position, it’s because they think it’s a great value pick.

The starters are set for next season. There could be some competition for the nickel/dime role, but the young players would have to make a lot of progress to challenge Carpenter.

Cowboys position series: Outside linebackers

February, 22, 2010
2/22/10
9:45
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The ninth in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys' position groups:

Players: DeMarcus Ware (signed through 2015), Anthony Spencer (signed through 2011), Victor Butler (signed through 2012), Brandon Williams (signed through 2012), Steve Octavien (exclusive rights free agent), Curtis Johnson (signed through 2010)

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Anthony Spencer was arguably the Cowboys' best player during the second half of 2009 with eight sacks in the final eight games. He finished with 79 total tackles.
What went right: Spencer justified the decision to release veteran Greg Ellis by emerging as an impact player.

Spencer was sackless through 10 games, but he was a consistent force against the run (team-high nine tackles for losses) and arguably the Cowboys’ most dominant defensive player down the stretch. He had eight sacks in the final eight games, including the playoffs, serving notice that blocking schemes better also account for the guy on the opposite side of Ware.

Ware was an All-Pro again despite battling through an assortment of injuries that included a stress fracture in his foot, a chip fracture in his wrist, a strained neck and a sore back. He still didn’t miss a game, racking up 11 sacks, 45 quarterback pressures and five forced fumbles.

Ware’s performance in the win over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints ranks among the most inspirational in franchise history. Six days after being carted off the Cowboys Stadium turf into an ambulance with a neck injury, Ware had two sack-strips, including one that sealed the win.

What went wrong: The Cowboys were counting on one of their fourth-round picks to be a reliable pass-rushing specialist who could spell the starters. That didn’t happen.

Williams, out of Texas Tech, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. His power and quickness had given him a slight edge over Butler coming out of training camp.

Butler had three sacks in limited playing time, but he failed to earn the coaches’ trust. Wade Phillips, who usually goes out of his way to emphasize the positives about his players, did not hesitate to say he didn’t believe Butler was ready for a significant role.

What’s next: The Cowboys locked up Ware with a six-year, $78 million contract extension that includes $40 million guaranteed. While Spencer won’t get that kind of money, he also has a prominent place in the Cowboys’ long-term plans.

The starting outside linebackers are set for years.

The Cowboys are counting on the development of Williams and Butler, so they don’t believe that they need to draft an outside linebacker. However, the presence of last season’s two fourth-rounders won’t prevent the Cowboys from selecting another player at their position if they think it’s a good value pick.

Cowboys position series: Cornerbacks

February, 19, 2010
2/19/10
10:54
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The eighth in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys' position groups:

Players: Mike Jenkins (signed through 2012), Terence Newman (signed through 2014), Orlando Scandrick (signed through 2011), Cletis Gordon (restricted free agent)

What went right: The Cowboys had two cornerbacks go to the Pro Bowl.
[+] EnlargeMike Stamey
Matt Stamey/US PresswireMike Jenkins soldified his starting spot after a Pro Bowl sophomore season.

Jenkins emerged as a star in his second season after winning a competition opposite Newman. Jenkins consistently excelled in press-man coverage, usually with little help from the safeties, and gave the secondary a much-needed playmaking dimension. His five interceptions tied for the eighth most in the NFC.

Newman stayed healthy for the entire season for the first time in two years, earning his second Pro Bowl appearance. He had three forced fumbles and three interceptions. His most impressive performance came in the Week 3 win over the Carolina Panthers, when he held Steve Smith to four catches for 38 yards and returned an interception for a touchdown to seal the win.

What went wrong: Scandrick took a step back after an outstanding rookie season.

The New York Giants picked on Scandrick in his only start, and it took him about half the season to regain his swagger and focus. He dealt with the disappointment of losing the starting job to Jenkins professionally, but it affected his performance.

Scandrick, the slot corner in the nickel and dime packages, performed up to expectations in the second half of the season.

The Cowboys got away with having very little depth at cornerback. Alan Ball, whose primary focus was free safety, was the fourth corner.

What’s next: The Cowboys will have one of the top trios in the NFC again next season.

Cornerback is a draft need, but the Cowboys don’t need to use a premium pick at the position. Newman has at least two or three good years left in him. Jenkins and Scandrick could form an outstanding starting tandem for years to come.

Cowboys position series: Safeties

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
10:09
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video

The seventh in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: FS Ken Hamlin (signed through 2013), SS Gerald Sensabaugh (restricted free agent), FS Alan Ball (exclusive rights free agent), SS Pat Watkins (restricted free agent), SS Michael Hamlin (signed through 2012)

What went right: The addition of Sensabaugh solidified the secondary. His coverage skills were a major upgrade over Roy Williams and the rest of the strong safeties the Cowboys used in 2008.

[+] EnlargeGerald Sensabaugh
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesGerald Sensabaugh, playing with a broken right thumb for most of the season, had one interception, 10 pass deflections and made 66 tackles.
Sensabaugh’s playmaking ability was limited because he played most of the season with a cast protecting his broken right thumb, which caused him to miss only one game. He had only one interception but deflected 10 passes. The coaches felt comfortable putting Sensabaugh in man coverage against most tight ends and some receivers, allowing Wade Phillips freedom with his defensive play-calling.

Ball, a converted cornerback, proved that he can be a reliable free safety during his four-game stint as the starter when Ken Hamlin was injured. Ball is good in coverage, and he wasn’t a liability against the run despite weighing only 188 pounds.

What went wrong: The Cowboys simply need their safeties to make more plays.

That was Jerry Jones’ top concern at midseason. Nothing happened down the stretch to change that.

Sensabaugh was the only safety with an interception. Ken Hamlin, two seasons into a six-year, $39 million deal, didn’t create any turnovers and deflected only four passes.

A lack of turnovers is the only thing keeping the Dallas defense from being dominant. The safeties must be more opportunistic.

[+] EnlargeEarl Thomas
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTexas' Earl Thomas set a team record with eight interceptions this season.
That was a major reason why the Cowboys drafted Michael Hamlin, who holds Clemson’s career interception record with 14, in the fifth round. But he broke his wrist in the final preseason game and spent most of the season on the inactive list.

What’s next: The Cowboys have a decision to make with Ken Hamlin. Less than a fifth of his $5.6 million salary is guaranteed, so there is a strong possibility that he could be released.

The odds increase if a free safety the Cowboys like is available in the first or second round. Their emphasis at the position is on coverage, so USC’s Taylor Mays might not be a good fit even if he slides to the 27th overall pick. Texas’ Earl Thomas would be a great fit if other teams shy away from him in the first round due to concern about his size (5-10, 197).

Ball will be back and has earned the right to compete for a starting job, whether Hamlin is on the roster or not. There are some at Valley Ranch who thought Ball performed better than Hamlin last season, but Phillips values Hamlin’s communication ability.

Watkins, a restricted free agent, has value because of his work on special teams. He’s had trouble staying healthy, but he consistently ranks among the team’s top tacklers on punt and kickoff coverage.

Cowboys position series: Center/guard

February, 16, 2010
2/16/10
11:46
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The sixth in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: C Andre Gurode (signed through 2012), RG Leonard Davis (signed through 2013), LG Kyle Kosier (signed through 2010), C/G Cory Procter (restricted free agent), G Montrae Holland (unrestricted free agent), C/G Duke Preston (restricted free agent)

Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLeonard Davis and Andre Gurode were two of the reasons why the Cowboys ranked second in the NFL in yards per carry up the middle.
What went right: Gurode and Davis were Pro Bowl selections again, although neither had their best seasons.

Kosier actually performed the best of the team’s offensive linemen, according to ex-Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus of ESPN 103.3. After missing most of the 2009 season with a broken foot, Kosier stayed healthy and was a stabilizing force for the offensive line. His ability to get out in space helped spring several big plays.

The Cowboys ranked second in the NFL in yards per carry directly up the middle, averaging 5.24 yards on 144 carries, many of which were lead draws. That fueled a dramatically improved running game.

What went wrong: This group gets some of the blame for the Cowboys’ short-yardage problems.

The Cowboys struggled running the ball behind both guards. They ranked 24th in the NFL behind right guard (3.32 yards per carry) and 19th behind left guard (3.76).

The interior line’s depth wasn’t tested this season, which was a good thing. But Montrae Holland, who was inactive every game and played sparingly the previous season, cost the Cowboys their 2010 fifth-round pick in a trade with the Denver Broncos.

What’s next: Interior offensive line is near the top of the list of Cowboys draft needs.

They need to find a replacement for Kosier, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. That might end up being Robert Brewster, the third-round pick who worked at right tackle last offseason but missed his rookie season with a torn pectoral.

But it’d be surprising if the Cowboys don’t address the guard position early in the draft. Idaho’s Mike Iupati would be a great fit, but he’s expected to be off the board by the time the Cowboys come on the clock at No. 27.

The Cowboys could also draft a center to compete with Procter, who made $1.54 million last season, as Gurode’s backup. This would be a good time to begin grooming an eventual replacement for Gurode, who turns 31 in March.

Cowboys position series: Offensive tackles

February, 15, 2010
2/15/10
10:35
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The fifth in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: Flozell Adams (signed through 2013), Marc Colombo (signed through 2012), Doug Free (signed through 2010), Robert Brewster (signed through 2012), Pat McQuistan (restricted free agent)

What went right: Free’s development was extremely encouraging for a franchise that had endured a horrible stretch of offensive line draft busts.

Free, a fourth-round pick in 2007, was impressive enough filling in at right tackle for Marc Colombo (broken fibula/torn ankle ligaments) in the final seven games that there was some debate about whether the veteran should have reclaimed the starting job for the playoffs.

Free isn’t as physical as Colombo, who is considered the line’s leader, but the younger tackle has good athleticism and never gives up on plays. His downfield block on Felix Jones’ long touchdown run in the regular-season finale – Free sprinted diagonally across the field and shielded a defensive back to escort Jones into the end zone – was one of the rare times a tackle gets featured on the highlights.

[+] EnlargeFlozell Adams
Scott Boehm/Getty Images Flozell Adams, 34, had six false starts and allowed eight sacks, which was tied for 14th most in the league this past season.
Adams has his flaws, but he’s still an outstanding run blocker who would start at left tackle for most teams in the league. The Cowboys averaged 6.3 yards per run behind left tackle, which ranked third in the league.

What went wrong: Let’s start with the end. The Minnesota Vikings’ defensive ends made the Cowboys look awful in Dallas’ lopsided playoff loss. Colombo, who rushed back from injury for the playoffs, clearly wasn’t 100 percent as he got dominated by Ray Edwards.

Adams, 34, is showing signs of age. He’s always had a lot of false starts (six this season), but he was penalized several other times because he had to make up for being beaten by quicker foes. He allowed eight sacks, which was tied for the 14th most in the league. Colombo, 31, also wasn’t as effective as he was the previous season before he was injured.

Third-round pick Robert Brewster, who could end up moving inside to guard, basically lost a year of development. He has yet to put on shoulder pads as a pro after missing the entire season due to a torn pectoral suffered while lifting weights during the summer.

What’s next: Free’s development prevented tackle from being a desperate draft need, but it’s still a top priority. The Cowboys must prepare for a future without Adams and Colombo.

It will be interesting to see if Free is given a legitimate chance to earn a starting job, either at left or right tackle. His performance as Colombo’s replacement merited that kind of opportunity.

Adams is likely to return despite his big contract and declining talent. He is still valued around Valley Ranch, although this could be the longtime left tackle’s final season with the Cowboys.

Cowboys position series: Tight ends

February, 11, 2010
2/11/10
11:48
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The fourth in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: Jason Witten (signed through 2012), Martellus Bennett (signed through 2011), John Phillips (signed through 2012)

Jason Witten
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesPro Bowler Jason Witten caught 94 passes for 1,030 yards.
What went right: As usual, Witten went to the Pro Bowl. He’s arguably the best all-around tight end in the league.

Witten caught 94 passes for 1,030 yards and played a key role in a running game that ranked seventh in the NFL. He had trouble making plays down the field early in the season, but that changed when Miles Austin forced defenses to use more man coverage on Witten.

John Phillips performed above expectations as a rookie, allowing the Cowboys to use some three tight-end packages, occasionally with him lining up as a fullback. He proved to be a solid blocker, and he responded when Martellus Bennett’s concussion opened up a larger role, catching three passes for 40 yards in the win over the New Orleans Saints.

What went wrong: Bennett’s poor production was one of the offense’s biggest disappointments.

The second-year tight end, who has phenomenal physical tools, appeared to be a budding star during training camp. But Bennett’s numbers (15 catches, 159 yards, no touchdowns) represented a significant drop from his rookie season despite a significantly increased role.

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones made it clear at the end of the season that Bennett needs to be more focused. Bennett has star potential, but he won’t be a reliable target until he stops dropping passes and starts running precise routes.

What’s next: With Witten in his prime and two young backups, the Cowboys are set at this position.

The hope is that Bennett will mature enough to blossom and Phillips will continue to improve. If that’s the case, the Cowboys will have the league’s best tight end trio.

Cowboys position series: Wide receivers

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
3:38
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The third in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: Miles Austin (restricted free agent), Roy Williams (signed through 2013), Patrick Crayton (signed through 2011), Sam Hurd (restricted free agent), Kevin Ogletree (signed through 2011)

What went right: Miles Austin saved the season by morphing into a Pro Bowler.

Austin didn’t make his starting debut until the fifth game, seizing the opportunity with a franchise-record 250 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He finished as the NFC’s leader in receiving yards (1,320) and 20-plus-yard catches (21) and ranked second in touchdowns (11).

All Austin did was produce like Terrell Owens in his prime without any of the drama. Austin’s emergence gave Tony Romo a much-needed big-play threat, which opened up the middle of the field for tight end Jason Witten to work.

Patrick Crayton wasn’t pleased to be demoted, but he produced well as a No. 3 receiver. He actually had more yards than Roy Williams, which we’ll discuss more in a moment.

The Cowboys believe they’ve landed another undrafted gem in Kevin Ogletree, who beat out Isaiah Stanback for a roster spot and earned playing time as a rookie. Ogletree showed speed, quickness and solid hands in his limited opportunities.

What went wrong: The Roy Williams trade appears to be one of the worst in recent NFL history.

Williams’ biggest contribution was bruising his ribs against the Denver Broncos, opening up a spot for Austin the next week. The $45 million man was an epic failure during his abbreviated stint as the No. 1 receiver.

Williams ranked among league leaders in drops and has yet to develop a rapport with Romo. Williams believes that Romo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett have lost confidence in him. Although Romo and Garrett deny that, they’d have good reason. Williams (38 catches, 596 yards, seven TDs) was substandard as a starter.

What’s next: Jerry Jones want to lock up Austin to a long-term extension. It won’t come cheap, especially with a receiver who has a $9 million-per-season deal already on the roster.

The Cowboys do have some leverage since Austin is a restricted free agent. They could give him the first- and third-round tender ($3.17 million) and try to work out a deal during the season. That assumes some risk, though, if a team decides the picks are worth the price and constructs an offer that would be difficult for the Cowboys to match.

Letting Austin leave is simply not an option. The Cowboys are incredibly fortunate to have a Pro Bowl receiver just entering his prime.

Williams won’t be going anywhere this offseason, no matter how much Cowboys fans would like to see him go. He’s owed too much money, and releasing him would force Jones to admit a massive mistake.
The question is whether Williams will have to earn his starting job instead of just being penciled in because of his salary.

With a good offseason, Ogletree ought to be ready to challenge Williams. Ogletree is the Cowboys’ fastest and most elusive receiver. Garrett will find ways to get him more involved.

Hurd is down the depth chart, but there’s no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t have him return. He’s arguably the best specials teams player.

Jones has said he doesn’t believe the Cowboys need to draft a receiver, mentioning that he’s intrigued by practice squad players Jesse Holley and Manuel Johnson. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Cowboys did select a receiver in the draft, especially with the uncertainty about Williams’ future.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS

Quarterbacks

Running backs

Cowboys position series: Running backs

February, 9, 2010
2/09/10
5:35
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Felix JonesMatthew Emmons/US PresswireFelix Jones emerged as the top runner for the Cowboys.


The second in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: Marion Barber (signed through 2014), Felix Jones (signed through 2012), Tashard Choice (signed through 2011), Deon Anderson (signed through 2010)

What went right: The Cowboys accomplished their goal of becoming a top-10 rushing team, ranking seventh in the NFL with 131.4 yards per game. Their average of 4.8 yards per carry was tied for second behind the Tennessee Titans.

Felix Jones missed a couple of games with a sprained knee, but he showed at the end of the season that he’s capable of carrying a heavier workload than he had. Jones had double-digit carries in the final six games, including the playoffs. His 16-carry, 148-yard, one-TD performance in the playoff win against the Philadelphia Eagles provided a glimpse of a back with star potential.

Tashard Choice also excelled when given opportunities. His average of 5.5 yards per carry was only slightly lower than Jones, and Choice proved that he can be a dependable third-down back.

What went wrong: Marion Barber had significant health concerns and fading down the stretch for the second consecutive season. He hasn’t provided much bang for the buck after signing a seven-year, $45 million contract.

Barber’s struggles in short-yardage situations are a serious concern. If he doesn’t get stuffed on three consecutive goal-line plays against the Chargers, the Cowboys might have won that game and earned a bye in the playoffs, meaning they wouldn’t have had to travel to Minnesota.

Choice has been a team player, but he’s frustrated that he doesn’t have a larger role. He had only 64 carries in the regular season – and no more than four in any of the last 11 games.

What’s next: The Cowboys have interesting decisions to make this offseason.

The easy decision is to make Jones the lead horse. With the Cowboys’ depth at tailback, he doesn’t need to be a workhorse, but Dallas has to get its most dynamic player about 15 touches per game. He’s a major part of this franchise’s future.

Does Barber come back? He’s due a guaranteed $3.8 million bonus, but the Cowboys might be better off with Jones and Choice sharing carries. Barber is only 26, but the bruising runner appears to already be wearing down.

If the Cowboys keep Barber, Choice could be trade bait. It’d be tough to turn down an offer of a second- or high third-round pick for a No. 3 back.

If either Barber or Choice is gone, the Cowboys will likely draft a tailback in the middle rounds. Considering their recent track record – Barber and Choice were fourth-round picks – that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

Anderson’s job is in serious jeopardy after his recent arrest at an Addison bar and restaurant, resulting in a misdemeanor deadly conduct charge. Owner/general manager Jerry Jones said last week that he had not talked to Anderson yet and didn’t see it as a priority. Tight end John Phillips proved he could play fullback last season, and the Cowboys can find a traditional fullback in the late rounds if they wish.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS

Quarterbacks

Cowboys position series: Quarterback

February, 8, 2010
2/08/10
3:58
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Tony RomoAP Photo/Donna McWilliamTony Romo led the Cowboys to a wild-card win against the Eagles, their first playoff victory since '96.


The first in a series looking at each of the Dallas Cowboys’ position groups:

Players: Tony Romo (signed through 2013), Jon Kitna (signed through 2013), Stephen McGee (signed through 2012)

What went right: Romo, who played every offensive down this season, proved that making plays and placing an emphasis on protecting the ball don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Romo drastically reduced his turnovers in what was arguably his best season. He threw only nine interceptions en route to breaking his own team record with 4,483 yards, the third-most in the NFL. He also ranked among the league’s top 10 in touchdown passes (26th), yards per attempt (8.15) and passer rating (97.6).

This was also the season in which Romo established himself as a leader. He was more vocal with his teammates, saying that he felt he had to earn that right over the years. He set the tone for accountability in the spring by vowing to fix what had been his biggest flaw (turnovers) and following through with it.

What went wrong: Romo wasn’t perfect. He played poorly in the loss to the Giants that spoiled the grand opening of Cowboys Stadium. He struggled in the playoff loss to the Vikings, taking a beating from the Minnesota front four. He never established a rapport with Roy Williams, although a lot of the blame for that goes on the receiver.

Kitna got paid good money to hold a clipboard. His inability to hold for kicks forced Romo into that role when it became an issue late in the season.

The Cowboys need to see much more out of McGee, drafted in the fourth round to be a developmental project. He struggled during training camp and the preseason. It’s too early to declare whether McGee can become an NFL-caliber quarterback, but he needs to show signs next summer.

What’s next: The Cowboys are set at this position. They’ll bring another quarterback to training camp, but that player is probably competing for a spot on the practice squad.

There is still room for Romo to grow, but this is the best the Cowboys have been at quarterback since Troy Aikman’s prime.

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