Monday, July 25, 2011
Cowboys back-to-work FYI
By Dan Graziano
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Unrestricted FAs
Readiness factor: The Cowboys held some of the best-attended and best-reviewed player-organized workouts in the league -- at least before quarterback Tony Romo, who was organizing them, took off to get married in May. Given the names and the ages of the people on the roster, there's reason to believe the Cowboys will be in shape and hungry to get going when they finally get to training camp and head coach Jason Garrett begins putting them through their paces. Assuming Romo and electric second-year wideout Dez Bryant are fully healthy (and they quickly make sure the left side of the line is under contract), the offense should be ready to go. The question is how quickly they can learn new coordinator Rob Ryan's defense, especially with as many defensive newcomers as they expect to have.
Biggest challenge: That new defense. Ryan is bringing in a whole new scheme and will have precious little time to make sure his new charges learn it. It's nothing as radical as changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4, since Dallas already ran a 3-4 under Wade Phillips. But there are a lot of intricacies to what Ryan is trying to coach on defense, and those normally would have been addressed beginning with May minicamps that never happened. Dallas will also be adding at least one new safety and cornerback to the mix and may see major changes on the defensive line depending on the way free agency works out. So Ryan will be teaching the defense not only to the guys currently on the roster, but to some who still aren't.
Tony's team: Lots of attention will focus on Romo. Expectations were sky-high for Dallas a year ago, and the 1-7 start wrecked them all. Cowboys fans (and ownership) are hungry for a Super Bowl title and see no reason the team shouldn't be able to compete for one in the near future. But the quarterback position is key, and people still have their doubts about whether Romo is capable of leading that kind of run. He played brilliantly down the stretch in 2009 as the Cowboys claimed the NFC East title. And while his interception total was a bit high, he was playing well last season before the injury that knocked him out for the second half. This could be the year for Romo to prove to his doubters that he's taken that step forward as a leader. Teammates spoke highly of the job he did keeping things organized during the lockout. That could be a sign of big things to come. If Romo can stay healthy, he should build on what he accomplished in late 2009.
Key players without contracts for 2011: DE Stephen Bowen, OT Doug Free, DE Jason Hatcher, G Kyle Kosier, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears