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Big Questions In Big D

"With the 24th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select...Dez Bryant, wide receiver, Oklahoma State." Those were the words all Cowboys fans heard from the mouth of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the first round of the 2010 Draft.

For weeks now, Cowboys enthusiasts had the impression and expectation that Dallas would use their first pick to bolster the offensive line or bring in a new young safety to help shoulder the load on defense. These expectations arose when the Cowboys made their first major move of the offseason, by not adding to the roster, but rather downsizing, with the releases of Cowboys veteran offensive tackle Flozell Adams and former Pro Bowl free safety Ken Hamlin. Granted, Hamlin's production since his 2007 Pro Bowl season has gradually subsided, and Adams is aging and is the 2nd most penalized offensive lineman in the league today. But with the questions of who would fill these voids still lingering on Draft day, the Cowboys answered with perhaps more questions.

In mid-2008, Jerry Jones made a blockbuster trade, acquiring wide receiver Roy Williams from the Detroit Lions to help with the passing attack in Dallas. Williams, at that point, had been the primary receiver in Detroit, and with his arrival in Dallas, most expected him to flourish in an already explosive offense. After all, he had Pro Bowl type numbers in the Motor City, a city that has consistently competed year after year with Oakland to claim the NFL's worst franchise of the decade. Just to refresh your memory, this Detroit Lions team was the first team to ever go 0-16 for a season just two years ago. Bringing in their top talent seemed to be a blessing to not only the Cowboys, but to Williams, as well. At the time of his arrival, the top two receivers in Dallas were Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton. However, most of the load was carried by tight end Jason Witten. After the '08 season, the Cowboys decided to part ways with the troubled Owens after 3 seasons when his presence seemed to be too much of a distraction to the team. It was the same story, but a different chapter in the T.O. saga, as he had the same problems in both San Francisco and Philadelphia. Thus, the "Roy Williams experiment" was put into motion. What followed in the '09 season, however, was nothing short of a letdown. Williams was a complete underachiever, and the word "bust" could be heard deep in the heart of Texas. He had only 38 receptions for 596 yards and 7 touchdowns. Had it not been for the emergence of Miles Austin to strengthen the receiving core and even earn his first Pro Bowl berth, the Cowboys offense could have cost Coach Wade Phillips his job, and the biggest move of the offseason would have then been the hiring of a new sheriff in town. But after regaining steam and creating a new kind of chemistry, the Cowboys won the NFC East and their first playoff game since 1996.

Even so, there has still been a question mark floating over the head of Roy Williams and how to correct his on-field chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo. That is where Dez Bryant may come into play. Though Williams was reassured that drafting Bryant wouldn't mean that he would lose his starting job, most believe that it is only a matter of time before Bryant becomes the go-to man in Dallas. To further that assumption, the 'Boys even appointed Bryant the famous number 88, a number worn by Cowboys legends Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin, arguably the two greatest receivers in franchise history. Wearing that number means that great things are expected. Bryant understands this and is more than happy to take on the responsibility of being the next big thing to wear a star on his helmet. With the hopeful added production of Bryant, the Cowboys could could have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, if not the most explosive. That is, if Tony Romo can get the protection he needs.

That brings us to the question mark left on the offensive line. With Fozell Adams looking for a new home, who will step up and fill the hole left at offensive tackle? Doug Free's name has been mentioned as a potential replacement, but a simple look back at the 'Boys playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings in January may have Cowboys fans quivering at that thought. After Adams was injured and forced to sit out a substantial portion of the game, Free stepped in to help give Romo some protection and get the offense rolling. What transpired was quite embarrassing, as Jared Allen manhandled Free to an extent where Coach Phillips and Coach Jason Garrett were forced to pull Jason Witten out of the passing attack on many plays by having him help help Free hold the weak side of the line. After this failed, it became a little more clear that Free may not be the answer for the job. Not to say he isn't a good player. He did, in fact, fill in on more than one occasion throughout the season and did have success in his efforts. But with the Cowboys being rewarded the 3rd toughest schedule in the league in 2010, many could assume that Free may fail to get the job done against some of the massive defensive linemen that he will be forced to maintain. Jared Allen is just one of those men on the upcoming schedule.

So why is it that the Dallas front office would choose to let this gaping void go unanswered in the Draft? They may have temporarily patched that hole behind Doug Free with the recent acquisition of offensive tackle Alex Barron, former 1st round pick of the St. Louis Rams. He was acquired, in return for former first round pick, linebacker Bobby Carpenter, of the Cowboys. But let us take a quick look at Barron. This 6-foot-7, 315 pounder, played in 76 games for the Rams, all but two of which were starts. However, after being moved to left tackle to replace Orlando Pace in St. Louis, he was considered to be a disappointment, which may not be what Cowboys fans want to hear. To make matters worse, since 2005, Barron is the most whistled lineman in the league with 73 penalties, which is 23 more than Flozell Adams. That's a frightening stat. Bringing in the most penalized lineman in the league to replace the 2nd most penalized lineman seems to be a head scratcher. But we may never see him start a game if Free can succeed in his new shoes as the starter. If Free can't shoulder the load for the long haul, there is some hope that Sam Young of Notre Dame can eventually step in. He was drafted with the 179th pick, and although he had a sub-par senior season and has limited athleticism, his size helps him swallow up smaller defensive ends and pass rushers. Outside of Dez Bryant, Young has the potential to be the best pick the Cowboys made in the entire Draft. That is only if he can live up to that potential. Cowboys fans are hoping they may have found a sleeping giant, but only time will tell.

Another problem, as mentioned earlier, is that at safety. With the release of Ken Hamlin, most bet on the 'Boys going after a safety in the early rounds of the Draft. Some had hopes that they might trade up and select Earl Thomas from the University of Texas. Instead, he is now a Seattle Seahawk. After Thomas, Taylor Mays would have been the next best selection at safety, even though his skills are far tame compared to those of Thomas and Eric Berry of Tennessee. Yet again, they let this idea pass and left another question mark floating around. With this being the case, it would appear as though Alan Ball or Michael Hamlin may be placed into the hole at free safety. Ball is experienced enough at this level to make an immediate impact, knowing that he has filled in at safety before. He will likely land the job. But they did draft Hamlin in last year's Draft with the thought that he could win the job at some point down the line. That time could come sooner than later, as now he and Ball will likely be competing for the vacant job to start on Sundays this Fall.

In an uncapped year, it seems disputable that Jerry Jones would elect not to spend the money to bring in some seasoned veterans from within the league, or at least draft some proven young talent, to help answer these questions. Most would agree that you can't fix a hole by simply patching it. You must fill the hole with a solution that won't be cracked or broken. With the Super Bowl coming to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington next February, it would make the fans ecstatic to have home-field advantage in the biggest game of the year and bring Dallas it's first Lombardi Trophy in 15 years. But with these looming questions, it would appear as though the young guns from within the organization will be forced to step up to assist in making this a storybook season and bring the magic back to Big D. Cowboys fans just have to hope that by this time next year, there will be more answers than questions.

Dylan White


  1. Great write-up. Totally agree with your opinion.

  2. Awesome really know your stuff!