Offensively speaking, the Cowboys signed free agent quarterback Tony Banks from the world champion Baltimore Ravens during the offseason. There is no question that Banks has always had NFL potential, his strong arm and decent scrambling ability make him a threat every time he touches the football.
The problem often times is his accuracy.
Last season Banks completed just 54% of his passes and threw only 8 touchdowns with 8 INTs in limited action. Five of those touchdowns came in 3 quarters versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. After that mid-season matchup, Banks was benched when the Ravens offense failed to score a touchdown for almost 5 games. Banks doesn't look like the long term solution the Cowboys need, but he will have to do this season.
WR Joey Galloway and Raghib Ismail both return to the lineup after season ending knee injuries. These two speedy targets should help out Banks tremendously and give him the weapons he needs to have a shot at a strong season.
Emmitt Smith is back for the Cowboys as he looks to improve upon his impressive 1,200 yard season. Emmitt will again be the key this year if Dallas is to have success moving the football. Last season, he averaged over 4.2 yards per carry and the Cowboys will need more of that this season to help relieve the early pressure on Tony Banks.
If Banks has any sort of success whatsoever, this team will be able to put up points in a hurry. If Banks turns out to be the inconsistent player that sent him packing in Baltimore and St. Louis, the offense will sputter and Emmitt will be beat up by mid-season.
Defensively there are question marks everywhere, especially in the secondary. Five-time Pro Bowler Darren Woodson returns from a fractured right forearm and seems to be back on track for another solid season. George Teague returns from a broken left foot that kept him out of action most of last year. Teague can be used to recognize offensive sets and his leadership will be crucial in determining how successful the Cowboy's defense will be in 2001. The two veterans in the defensive backfield will have to lead the way, as the rest of the secondary is grossly inexperienced.
Cornerbacks Phillippi Sparks and Ryan McNeil are both gone, and the only real player that is pushing Teague is 2nd round draft pick Tony Dixon out of Alabama. Dixon has good athleticism, but we all know how pushing a rookie cornerback into action can be devastating to a banged up defense.
Mario Edwards started the final game last season against Tennessee and appears to be one of the leading candidates to start headed into the preseason, and Izell Reese has moved from safety to corner to provide some experience.
The linebacking corps look to be tough again with Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen, Markus Steele, and Darren Hambrick all back in action. Defensive tackle Chad Hennings was released in the offseason and really no significant help was added to worst team in the NFL against the run in 2000. That could spell huge trouble as the season goes on, especially in the rugged NFC East.
The question mark on defense is really the only thing to darken expectations for this year. Jones and Campo have built the team around youth, and that should be a refreshing change as some of the bigger name players like Aikman, Irvin, and Erik Williams are all gone now.
Tony Banks will settle into the Cowboy's offense quite nicely, but it might take a game or two. He has been known to throw the long ball with great accuracy, and I would expect to see that a good bit with Galloway, McGarity, and Ismail speeding down the sidelines.
Opening up the season against Tampa Bay at home and then on the road at Detroit will be no easy task. Look for the first two games to be good indicators of how the Cowboys will fair this year. If the Cowboys can get ahead early and produce long touchdown drives, they can easily compete with both the Bucs and the Lions.
A 2-0 start could signal a surprise run to the playoffs and a 10-plus win season. A 1-1 start will probably mean around 9 wins with a possible wildcard birth, and an 0-2 start will mean another sub .500 year.
Look for the Cowboys to go 9-7 this year. A wildcard birth will be on the line the last week of the season against the 49ers, and this team will show significant improvement from last year.
The key on offensive will be having Joey Galloway. His speed will be able to stretch the defense and possibly help open up some holes for Emmitt in the 2nd half.
Defensively the Cowboys will have to figure out a way to avoid giving up the big play and improve their ability to stop the run on 3rd and short.
Anything is possible at this point, and only one thing is for sure Cowboy fans....football season is right around the corner.
Have a question about one of our columns?
Talk about it on the CowboyUpdate.com Message Boards.