2015 Season Preview: Dallas Cowboys

After making some controversial moves during the off season, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys are “all in” for the 2015 season. The controversial moves were letting running back DeMarco Murray walk away in free agency, signing defensive end Greg Hardy, and drafting defensive end Randy Gregory. If all those moves pan out well, then the Cowboys should be in good shape come playoff time. Quarterback It’s the Tony Romo show in Dallas, and they have to hope that he remains healthy as there isn’t much behind him on the depth chart. At 35 years of age, Romo has played a lot of football and it’s taken its toll. He recently gave up playing golf so that he doesn’t put any more stress on his back. When healthy, Romo can still move around very well and can extend and make plays with his feet. His arm is as strong as ever and he has always been accurate. He will be the key to the Dallas season. If Romo goes down, Brandon Weeden is the backup, and that can’t make Dallas confident in that situation. Running Back In letting DeMarco Murray walk, the Cowboys gave away one of the better running backs in the league. To replace him, they signed former Oakland Raider Darren McFadden, who is talented but can’t stay healthy. Behind McFadden is third year man Joseph Randle who ran for 343 yards last year. Lance Dunbar has looked good during OTA’s. What the Cowboys are banking on is they have the best offensive line in football and they feel any back can get yardage behind that line. Offensive Line The Cowboys' offensive line is big, quick, strong, talented, and young. There really isn’t a weak spot anywhere, and what’s scary is they will get even better. At left tackle is Tyron Smith, a young Pro Bowler who is just scratching the surface of how good he can be. At present, big Ron Leary is at left guard, but that could change during training camp. The center is former first round pick Travis Frederick who, like Smith, is just coming into his own. 2014 first round pick Zack Martin made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and will only get better. Going into camp, the right tackle is veteran Doug Free, but like with Leary, that could change during training camp. The reason for that is the Cowboys were able to sign former LSU tackle La’el Collins as a free agent after the draft. Collins was a lock top 15 pick but got caught up in a police investigation a couple days before the draft. The situation has been cleared up and the Cowboys got a rookie starter as a free agent. Collins who has great size and strength and is capable of playing either guard or tackle and has worked at both during OTA’s. I’d be shocked if he isn’t starting somewhere on the O-Line come opening day. Depth is strong with Mackenzy Bernadeau and rookie Chaz Green. Wide Receivers and Tight Ends Dez Bryant is as good as there is in the league at the wide receiver position. He doesn’t have any weaknesses to his game and can be a threat both short and long. The Cowboys need to get more production opposite Bryant. Third-year man Terrance Williams is the starter, but he only caught 37 passes a year ago. His average per catch is outstanding at 16.8. Cole Beasley is the slot receiver, and like Williams, he finished the year with 37 receptions. The Cowboys are hoping that Devin Street comes on in his second year. Old, reliable Jason Witten lines up at tight end. The problem is, he isn’t getting any younger. In his 13th season, he is 33 years old. Gavin Escobar, in his third year, is the primary backup. James Hanna is more of a blocker. Defensive Line In Rod Marinelli’s defense, the key player on the defensive line is the 3-technique. He has to be athletic and provide inside pressure as well as defend the run. When Henry Melton didn’t work out following knee surgery, the Cowboys moved defensive end Tyrone Crawford inside to the 3-technique. Having never played the position, he did a good job with 33 total tackles and 3 sacks. He also added 25 quarterback pressures. In his second year at the position, he should play much better. Behind Crawford is another Crawford. This one is Jack who is also a former defensive end. The other defensive tackle position is held by Nick Hayden, backed up by Terrell McClain. What will be interesting is the defensive end play. The Cowboys signed former Panther Greg Hardy, but he will miss time due to a league suspension. At present, the suspension is 10 games, but it is under appeal, and we are still awaiting word on the final outcome. With Hardy out, rookie Randy Gregory may get the job. There is no question Gregory can rush the passer, but at under 240 pounds, the question is how well he plays versus the run. The left side will be manned by Jeremy Mincey or Demarcus Lawrence. Lawrence was the 2014 second round pick and had injury problems as a rookie. It is hoped that he will come on this year. Mincey is a solid journeyman. Linebackers While the 3-technique is the key defensive line position in Marinelli’s defense, the Will linebacker is the key linebacker. That position is manned by Sean Lee, who missed 2014 with an injury. Lee is an ideal Will in that he is very instinctive and has great quickness. The Mike is in the hands of Rolando McClain who rejuvenated his career last year after coming over from Baltimore. McClain had 81 tackles in only 13 games last year. He will be backed up by free agent pickup Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley could start for many teams. Anthony Hitchens is the Sam, and he is coming off a strong season in which he had 75 total tackles. Secondary The Cowboys need to get better play out of their secondary. Because of that, they drafted UConn corner Byron Jones in the first round. Jones has size and rare athleticism for the position. He joins a group that includes last year’s starters Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr. At present, Scandrick is been the best corner on the Cowboys. 2012 first round pick Morris Claiborne has been a disappointment to date, and he has to really come on to hold on to his job. At the safety positions, the starters are Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. Church makes a lot of plays, having had 97 tackles last year but only 2 interceptions. Wilcox keeps improving at strong safety. He finished last year with 74 tackles and 3 interceptions. Outlook On paper, it looks to be a battle between the Eagles and Cowboys for the NFC East crown. Right now, my pick is Dallas because of all the changes and uncertainty in Philly. The key early season game will be week two when the Cowboys travel to Philly. That game will tell us a lot. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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