2006 Team Report: Dallas Cowboys
Starter: Drew Bledsoe
Backup(s): Tony Romo, Matt Baker
Starting QB: If you questioned the Cowboys decision to acquire Drew Bledsoe last offseason, you weren’t alone. But Bledsoe answered his critics with one of the better seasons of his 13-year career. Bledsoe threw for 3,639 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing better than 60 percent of his passes. Despite the obvious success, Dallas must do a better job of protecting Bledsoe this season if he’s to match or better last year’s production. A season ago, Bledsoe was sacked 49 times and pass protection became particularly problematic once LT Flozell Adams got hurt. This year, with the additions of Kyle Kosier and Jason Fabini, Bledsoe will presumably have more time in the pocket. With the addition of TO to an already potent offensive arsenal, Bledsoe is well positioned to shrug off the second half swoon he experienced a season ago.
Backup QB: A year ago, most viewed Tony Romo and Drew Henson as relatively interchangeable. It was widely held that either could be QB2 but neither would be a good replacement for Drew Bledsoe in the event of an injury. What a difference a season makes. Drew Henson has been released and Tony Romo has been signed to a multi-year extension after playing extremely well during the preseason. There has even been talk, albeit uncorroborated by team officials, that Romo could step into the starting lineup if Bledsoe struggles early. Romo, who played college ball at D1-AA Eastern Illinois, earned top backup honors after impressing Bill Parcells and his coaching staff last season with his attention to detail and practice field performance. The 3rd QB slot belongs to Matt Baker, a 6'2" rookie passer out of North Carolina.
Starter: Julius Jones
Backup(s): Marion Barber III, Tyson Thompson, Keylon Kincade
Fullback(s): Lousaka Polite
Starting RB: The good news is Bill Parcells seems to like Julius Jones. The bad news is that will change in a hurry if Jones can’t stay on the field more in 2006. Last year, his first as the team’s unquestioned starter, much was expected of Notre Dame alum. But after a string of good, but not great starts in the month of September, Jones sprained his ankle and was limited to 24 carries in a six-week span. When he returned, the explosiveness that characterized his 2004 heroics and early 2005 campaign weren’t evident. That is, until Week 16 when he exploded for 194 yards and two touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers. So the question becomes, can Julius Jones stay healthy and shoulder the load week in, week out? No one knows the answer, but he’ll have to convince the coaches in a hurry given the presence of Marion Barber III; who played well as a rookie. On a positive note, the Cowboys offensive line should be much improved and we know that Jones can be a beast when healthy and given room to run. We also know that as long as Bill Parcells is the coach, the Cowboys will run the ball with aplomb, meaning Jones has every opportunity to earn a reputation as a workhorse, every-down back.
Backup RBs: Marion Barber’s rookie season was uneven but promising. As a backup and part-time platoon player, his numbers weren’t that impressive. But in the two games he started and was given more than 20 carries, Barber looked every bit the part of an impact tailback. In Weeks 7 and 8, the only two weeks when Barber got a full workload, he combined for 49 carries, 222 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. While most assume Julius Jones will be given every chance to carry the load, Barber could figure into the mix either as a part-time contributor or the starter should Jones succumb to injury or fall out of favor. Another second-year player, Tyson Thompson, must beat out Keylon Kincade for the final active RB slot. Thompson is less polished than Barber and Jones, but hits the hole hard and actually led the team with 4.0 yards per carry.
Fullback: Lousaka Polite must excel at special teams this year or risk not making the roster. The Cowboys could end up keeping an extra tight end at his expense, and would rely on one of the blocking tight ends or even rely on Marcus Spears in short yardage situations.
Starters: Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn
Backups: Patrick Crayton, Terrance Copper, Skyler Green [R], Sam Hurd
Starting WRs: The Cowboys will field one of the league’s most daunting starting tandems this year with the addition of Terrell Owens to go with returning starter Terry Glenn. On the field, Terrell Owens has few equals. He’s one of the most productive receivers in league history (4th all-time in TD receptions), keeps himself in impeccable shape, and when motivated is virtually unstoppable. That’s the good news. The bad news is Owens isn’t wired like anyone else in the league and one personal affront can change his behavior and productivity forever. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume Bill Parcells and Owens find a way to co-exist. In that case, Owens should turn a good Cowboys offense into an exceptional one. Terry Glenn, coming off the best season of his 10-year career (62 receptions, 1,136 yards and 7 TDs), only needs to remain healthy to have another solid year. Glenn repeatedly made opposing defensive backs look bad when singled up on the outside, and this year, with Owens lining up opposite him, Glenn should see a ton of single coverage. Both receivers are sure-handed, precise route runners, and can get open deep.
Backup WRs: Early last season, Patrick Crayton provided the Cowboys with a viable third option at wide receiver. Through Week Six, Crayton had 18 receptions, 272 yards and two scores. But a serious ankle injury sidelined him until Week 12 at which point he returned but with much less effectiveness. The Cowboys are relying on Crayton this season and, given Terry Glenn’s injury history, he could find himself starting opposite Terrell Owens at some point. Beyond Crayton, the Cowboys had little help entering camp as both veteran Terrence Copper and rookie Skyler Green are more suited to special teams than as regular parts of the offensive game plan. Copper is built similarly to Crayton (6’0”, 201 lbs.) but lags in his understanding of the nuances of the position. Skyler Green is small (5’9”, 189 lbs.) but is a more polished pass catcher and could figure into the rotation in a season or two.
Starters: Jason Witten
Backups: Anthony Fasano [R], Ryan Hannam, Tony Curtis [R]
Jason Witten may not have duplicated his unbelievable 2004 season totals, but
nevertheless he earned his second straight Pro Bowl invite with a 66 reception, 757-yard, six touchdown season. Witten is a multi-faceted weapon at tight end, as a willing and able blocker on top of his elite receiving prowess. Last year, the Cowboys were forced to keep Witten in as an extra blocker all too often, which is why the team drafted Anthony Fasano in the 2nd round of April’s draft. Fasano, much like Witten, is a committed two-way tight end, who can make tough catches and present matchup problems when singled up on opposing linebackers. However, he’s a good blocker who, with more coaching, can become a great one. Ryan Hannam and Tony Curtis appear to have won the final two roster spots.
Mike Vanderjagt; Shaun Suisham
: After a rough 2005 in the kicking department (featuring Jose Cortez, Shaun Suisham, and Billy Cundiff), the Cowboys opened up their checkbook for free agent Vanderjagt. Although he missed against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year, and although he has a history of saying things better left unsaid, he’s still the most accurate regular season FG kicker in NFL history (87.5% career average). Vanderjagt has ranked in the top six in kicker scoring in 6 of his 8 years in the league; however that was fueled by a powerhouse Colts offense. The Cowboys have ranked in the bottom half of that category for seven consecutive years.
Kick and Punt Returners
Kick Returners: Tyson Thompson; Marion Barber; Terrance Copper; Aaron Glenn
Local favorite, RB Tyson Thompson won a spot on the team last year, and proceeded to return 57 of the Cowboy’s 64 kickoff returns. His 1,397 yards ranked 8th in the NFL. The potential backups are once again RB Marion Barber (3 returns, 19.3 avg.), WR Terrance Copper (2 returns, 16.0 avg.), and CB Aaron Glenn (1 return, 20 yards).
Punt Returners: Patrick Crayton; Terence Newman; Marion Barber; Jamaica Rector; Byron Parker; Demetrius Summers
WR Patrick Crayton led the Cowboys in punt returns last year (23 returns, 7.2 avg.), despite missing five games due to injury. CB Terence Newman was the primary backup (10 returns, 5.5 avg.) last year. Marion Barber returned punts during his final two years in college at Minnesota (47 returns, 11.0 avg.). Dallas’ punt return average has ranked near the bottom of the league in recent years (26th last year). Rookies WR Jamaica Rector and CB Byron Parker have also been practicing on punt returns in practice. Undrafted RB Demetrius Summe
Last modified: 2006-09-03 05:11:20