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2010 Team Report: Dallas Cowboys

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tony Romo
Backup(s): Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee

Starting QB: A year ago the Cowboys were a preseason favorite to contend for a Super Bowl and Tony Romo was finally being widely recognized for the excellent quarterback many of us already knew him to be. Coming off his first playoff win, with a loaded team, Romo was expected to be ascendant. Unfortunately, Romo and the Cowboys got off to a 1-5 start and then he was shelved for the remainder of the season with a broken collarbrone. Entering this season, Romo is 100% healthy, and remains among the NFC's best pure passers. A career 64% passer, his 5.7% TD rate is the best among active passers, as is his 7.4 net yards/attempt. He's elite, and should be due for a bounce back year under new head coach Jason Garrett.

Backup QB: The backup situation remains stable as the Cowboys passed on drafting another QB in the April draft. While Jon Kitna will be 39 years old this season, the Cowboys are confident in his role as Romo's backup, particularly after his heroic efforts last year in Romo's stead. In 10 games, Kitna threw for nearly 2,400 yards and 16 TDs, completing nearly 66% of his throws. He clearly has a handle on Coach Garrett's system. Stephen McGee remains as the emergency QB, although his place on the active roster remains unclear.

Running Backs

Starter: Felix Jones
Backup(s): DeMarco Murray [R], Marion Barber, Tashard Choice
Fullback(s): Chris Gronkowski, Shaun Chapas [R]

Starting RB: Three years into the Felix Jones era and Cowboys fans are still waiting for his breakout season. Last year, in spite of playing a full 16 games, Jones managed only 800 yards rushing and 1 TD. To his credit though, he caught 48 passes and was the Cowboys most dynamic running threat on a rushing offense that took a major step backward. This year, GM Stephen Jones has made it clear Felix will be the main guy again, but will not be asked to carry the ball 20 times, either. At this point, Jones has the tools but hasn't quite put them together on Sundays. The hope is that more focus from head coach Jason Garrett, and a rebuilt offensive line, will make his 4th season evocative of why the Cowboys took him 22nd overall in 2008.

Backup RBs: With the labor uncertainty, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice remain Cowboys. But comments made by Stephen Jones after the April draft indicate that the days of a Jones/Barber/Choice backfield are over. Rookie DeMarco Murray was highly coveted by Jerry Jones (as was Felix a few years ago), and it's clear they intend to give him a big role right from the start. While Murray was productive on a major collegiate program, it's important to note that he only averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his final two seasons at Oklahoma. His straight line speed and ability as a receiver do argue for a compelling option as a 3rd down change of pace back, however. For now, it's anyone's guess whether Choice or Barber will stick as the 3rd option, but neither should be viewed as draft worthy fantasy options barring an injury to Felix Jones.

Fullback: Chris Gronkowski took over the fullback role last year and will have the edge over rookie Shaun Chapas for the lone FB slot in 2011.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Miles Austin, Dez Bryant
Backups: Roy Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Manuel Johnson, Sam Hurd, Dwayne Harris [R]

Starting WRs: Miles Austin wasn't able to duplicate his transcendent 2009 season (81 for 1,320 and 11 TDs) last year, but still led the Cowboys with 69 receptions for 1,041 yards and 7 TDs. He uses his size well, and was 3rd among NFL receivers last year in yards after the catch. Austin was at his best with Tony Romo under center, which bodes well for rebound into elite territory in 2011. Dez Bryant's rookie season was a mix of good and bad. On a positive note, he caught 45 receptions for 561 yards and 6 touchdowns and looked, at times, like a dominant, physical receiver. On a negative note, immaturity and nagging injuries cast a shadow on whether he'll ever achieve his maximum potential. Bryant missed the final four games with a broken fibula, although he appears healthy as he's back working out with teammates in early May. From a pure talent standpoint, Bryant has few peers. He's strong, fast, disciplined and has excellent body control. As long as his head is on straight, he is on a short list of 2nd year receivers that could be set for a breakout.

Backup WRs: Roy Williams got off to a hot start last year, with 21 receptions for 306 yards and 5 TDs to start the year. But his role quickly fell off the cliff, and it calls into question what the Cowboys have planned for him in 2011 and beyond. Over the final 10 games, Williams had just 19 receptions and 252 yards. At his best, Williams is a red zone threat who can use his strength to make plays in tight coverage. At his worst, he's an overpriced veteran who disappears for long stretches. The remaining WR slots will be decided during training camp, between veterans Kevin Ogletree, Manny Johnson and possibly Sam Hurd (who is a free agent) and rooke Dwayne Harris.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jason Witten
Backups: Martellus Bennett, John Phillips

Jason Witten is one of the best players no one seems to talk about. Witten is coming off his third 1,000-yard season in four years (94 catches for 1,002 yards) and is as sure handed and reliable as anyone at his position. While not explosive (11.3 yards per catch), he's always in the right position and has vacuums up anything thrown in his vicinity. After two years of struggling to find the end zone (6 TDs in 175 receptions), Witten led the Cowboys with 9 scores. Martellus Bennett has a lot to prove, as a combination of off-the-field immaturity and lack of on-field productivity (a woeful 7.9 yards per catch last year) puts him on a short leash.

Place Kicker

David Buehler : Nick Folk underwent hip surgery last off-season and then struggled to make kicks in 2009, leading the Cowboys to release him before the season ended. Shaun Suisham kicked in the final two games, but was not re-signed. The Cowboys goal for this year is to expand kickoff specialist David Buehler's role to include placekicking, under the tutelage of recently hired kicking consultant (and former Cowboy kicker) Chris Boniol. After a 4th place finish in kicker scoring in 2007, the Cowboys dropped to 26th and 18th the last two years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Felix Jones, Miles Austin, Kevin Ogletree, Orlando Scandrick, Mike Jenkins, Bryan McCann

The Cowboys have two talented kickoff returners that they would prefer not to use on returns this year given their increased roles on offense. RB Felix Jones got off to a great start during his rookie season (16 returns, 27.1 avg., 1 TD), but then injuries ended his year early. In 14 games last year he averaged 22.6 yards on 30 returns. WR Miles Austin took over on kickoff returns part way through 2006, averaged 26.0 yards, and scored a TD in the Wild Card game at Seattle. In 2008 after Jones was injured, Austin again took over. Last year he averaged 22.4 yards on 7 returns. Once he's healthy, fourth round draft pick CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah could get the first shot the job this year. He scored three times on kickoff returns during his college career at Indiana of PA. CB Orlando Scandrick was used as a backup in 2008 (4 returns, 20.3 avg.). CB Mike Jenkins averaged 26.7 yards and scored once for South Florida in 2007. Undrafted rookie Bryan McCann averaged 24.2 yards on 34 returns for SMU last year.

Punt Returners: Dez Bryant, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Patrick Crayton, Terence Newman, Kevin Ogletree, Felix Jones

Although WR Patrick Crayton is coming off his best year on punt returns yet (36 returns, 12.1 avg., 2 TDs), he could drop behind the two rookies this year. First in line is first round draft pick WR Dez Bryant, who scored three TDs in his abbreviated Oklahoma State career. In his last full season of 2008 he averaged 17.9 yards. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah also was no stranger to the end zone in college, scoring four times on punt returns. Over the past five years, anytime Crayton wasn't leading the team in punt returns it was CB Terence Newman -- although his better return days may be behind him as his two returns last year went for no gain and an eleven yard loss. WR Kevin Ogletree had one return for no gain last year. Felix Jones experimentally practiced on punt returns in OTAs last year. Dallas improved to 16th in fantasy returning in 2008 and 13th last year, after having ranked 31st in 2007.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Doug Free, LG Kyle Kosier, C Andre Gurode, RG Leonard Davis, RT Marc Columbo
Key Backups: T Alex Barron, T Pat McQuistan, G Montrae Holland, G/C Cory Procter, T Robert Brewster

The Cowboys have ushered in a new era at left tackle as Flozell Adams, the former cornerstone of the offensive line was released this offseason. At this point it appears it is Doug Free's spot to win but the Cowboys may still slide Leonard Davis back outside to tackle if he doesn't work out. Davis has started 48 straight games and has missed just five starts in his NFL career. Kyle Kosier has started all 16 games in three of the past four seasons while Andre Gurode has missed just two starts at center over the past four seasons. Columbo started just nine games last year but 48 straight from 2006 to 2008. All in all, this is a very good unit, and losing Adams is not a huge issue as his skills have eroded over the past few seasons. If Free can step in and play well, the Cowboys offensive line will be great once again.

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Marcus Spears, NT Jay Ratliff, DE Igor Olshansky
Backups: DE Jason Hatcher, DE Stephen Bowen, DE Marcus Dixon, NT Junior Siavii, NT Tim Anderson, NT Sean Lissemore

Starting DL: Marcus Spears plays mostly on run downs and is rarely turned loose to rush the passer. Often his responsibility is to occupy blockers so the linebackers can make the plays. Spears signed his one year tender of $1.22 million, which was lower than backups Bowen and Hatcher ($1.76 million) which sent a message Spears is not likely in the long term plan. The Cowboys are currently shopping him. Jay Ratliff is the Cowboys' star on the defensive line and only one who holds any fantasy value. Ratliff is undersized, but gives great effort, is strong and quick off the ball. He had minor surgery on both elbows in February to remove bone spurs, but is expected to be ready for OTAs. Ratliff also contemplated minor knee surgery, but after coming out of Pro Bowl without any issues, apparently decided against it. Igor Olshansky is stout vs the run, not a threat off the edge. He has averaged just two sacks per season over his six year career. In late June, Jay Ratliff said during a chat on NFL.com that he kept an elbow injury quiet for three years. "I played the last three years with bad elbows. It was kept quiet because I never talked to anybody about it. When I told the trainers, nobody knew how serious it was until I asked them to do an X-Ray and they saw the bone spurs. Today was the first day that I benched press in two years, and it felt good. No pain at all. So I am excited about that."

Backup DL: Hatcher may be the Cowboys most athletic defensive lineman; he rotates with Spears and sees most of his time in nickel and dime snaps. Bowen had a pair of starts and enjoyed career highs in tackles (32), sacks (3), pass breakups (3), and quarterback pressures (35) last season. Both Bowen and Hatcher signed their second-round tenders and are part of the DE rotation. Bowen or Hatcher could very well be the starting LDE in 2011. Dixon has spent the last two seasons on the practice squad and will fight for a roster spot. Siavii is strictly depth, and no threat to Ratliff's job. 2010 7th round pick Sean Lissemore will battle Anderson for a roster spot. Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips really like Lissemore�s motor and effort, comparing it to Ratliff.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB DeMarcus Ware, ILB Bradie James, ILB Keith Brooking, OLB Anthony Spencer
Backups: ILB Sean Lee, ILB Jason Williams, ILB Bobby Carpenter, ILB Stephen Hodge, OLB Victor Butler, OLB Brandon Williams, OLB Steve Octavien, OLB Curtis Johnson

Starting LBs: Ware is one of the best defensive players in the game and has had double digit sacks the past four years. He�s a complete player, plays the run as well as the pass. His tackle numbers were down last year, however he played injured for most of the year, suffered a sprained neck in a scary collision week 14 vs Chargers. Ware had foot surgery to shave down a bone spur in mid February, claims he is close to 100%. Some of Ware�s production drop may be the play of Anthony Spencer who enjoyed his finest season as a pro in 2009. Spencer is starting to show the Cowboys the potential they saw in him when they selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft. Over the final eight games Spencer had Ware type numbers posting 38 tackles, 10 assist and 6.5 sacks. Brooking is entering his 13th season, and James is entering his eighth. Both are signed through 2011. James had another solid tackle season, but saw his sacks and tackles for loss drop significantly. Brooking�s biggest contribution may be his attitude and leadership. He had a pretty decent year, tackle numbers were solid, it was his four sacks that stood out, the most he�s had since 2001. Brooking had his knee scoped and will miss OTA's and June mini camp. This may be Brooking's last year as a starter. For 2010 expect about the same from Brooking and James that we saw in 2009, maybe a little less from Brooking.

Backup LBs: Prior to Bobby Carpenter being traded to St.Louis, he was expected to lose his nickel role to Jason Williams; however that was before the Cowboys selected Penn State LB Sean Lee in round two. Williams was expect to push Carpenter for nickel snaps last year, but injured his ankle in the 3rd preseason game and rarely saw the field. Williams could be moved to outside linebacker if needed. The Cowboys are excited to have landed Lee, a player they feel is a Brooking clone. Lee is very smart and instinctive. The only knock on him is his durability. Stephen Hodge was placed on IR before the season started with a knee injuring requiring microfracture surgery. Hodge, a converted safety, was being groomed to play inside. Like most converted defensive ends, Butler is a work in progress. He showed he's athletic enough to play OLB and should be at the top of the depth chart to backup at OLB. He�ll have difficulty getting snaps behind Ware and Spencer. Brandon Williams spent 2009 on IR after tearing his ACL in a preseason game. The Cowboys hope he can be depth along with Octavien, Curtis Johnson may be odd man out.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Terence Newman, SS Gerald Sensabaugh, FS Michael Hamlin, CB Mike Jenkins
Backups: CB Orlando Scandrick, CB Cletis Gordon, CB Jamar Wall, S Alan Ball, S Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, S Pat Watkins

Starting DBs: Sensabaugh suffered a broken thumb in week four against Denver, missed one game, then played the rest of the season with a cast on his left hand. Sensabaugh is nothing special, and would be depth at best on most fantasy rosters. The Cowboys are trying to get the restricted free agent signed to a long term deal. The Cowboys are high on FS Mike Hamlin, but a fractured wrist in the preseason forced Hamlin to be inactive for the first nine games of 2009. He did not give the Cowboys a good enough look last season to know exactly what they have. Alan Ball will be in the mix with Hamlin to start at the vacant FS spot created by the release of Ken Hamlin. Jenkins showed his promise by making the Pro Bowl in his second season as a replacement for Antoine Winfield. He had a team high five interceptions, has the skill set to be a very good corner for the Cowboys for years to come. After a pair of injury-riddled seasons Terrence Newman stayed healthy for the most part, missing just one game. Like Jenkins, Newman made the Pro Bowl as a replacement. Neither Cowboy corner holds a great deal of fantasy value.

Backup DBs: The Cowboys re-signed restricted free agent Pat Watkins to a one-year, $1.176 million contract. Watkins is veteran depth and is not likely to be strong competition for starting FS spot. Alan Ball started four games at safety last year and has the versatility to play either corner or safety. Some feel he is the favorite to start at FS, however at only 188 lbs he comes in a little light to be able to hold up physically. Owusu-Ansah is an interesting prospect, a small college corner from Division II that will convert to safety. Owusu-Ansah has very good ball skills and the Cowboys feel they have a hidden gem in the 2010 4th round pick. Scandrick, Gordon and 6th round pick Jamar Wall are all depth.

Last modified: 2011-05-06 14:33:47