QUARTERBACKS: Starter— Tony Romo. Backups — Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee.
Romo is back after missing the final 10 games in 2010 with a fractured collarbone. He has looked sharp in the preseason and should put up big numbers. Although mistake-prone, there is no question Romo has been good for the Cowboys. He has a 39-22 record as a starter and has taken the Cowboys to the playoffs three times in five years since taking over in 2006. If he stays healthy and gets protection, Romo will put up Pro Bowl numbers. Kitna is still trucking at 38. He has been good for Romo, teaching him how to be a leader and has a strong presence in the locker room. McGee had an extended cameo late last season but has yet to prove he can be the team's primary backup, which what the Cowboys hope he can do in 2012.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Felix Jones, FB Chris Gronkowski. Backups — RB Tashard Choice, RB DeMarco Murray, RB Phillip Tanner.
Jones has been of the Cowboys' most impressive players in the preseason. He has always been good in space with his speed and quickness. But Jones has shown surprising power and he's trying develop into a complete back capable of running between the tackles. The only question about him as he takes on the role of featured back in the Cowboys' offense is can he carry the load for a full season. He has shared the ball as the change-of-pace runner in the past — covering his entire career dating back to high school. If he can hold up, look out for a special season from Jones. Choice returns as a veteran backup and short-yardage guy, while the rookie Murray will get chances on third down. He can block and catch passes out of the backfield. The fullback spot remains up for grabs. No one has proven to be the physical blocker the coaches want. The Cowboys could go without on the roster.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Jason Witten. Backups — Martellus Bennett, John Phillips, Martin Rucker.
Witten is a trusted and reliable weapon. He is still in the prime of his career, putting up numbers that could make him a future Hall of Famer. He remains Romo's favorite target on short-to-intermediate routes and became reliable in the red zone last season. Look for him to again put up big numbers. The bonus for Witten is the Cowboys finally finding ways to use him in the goal line package; he scored a career-high nine touchdowns last season. His catches may go down as the Cowboys incorporate second-year wide receiver Dez Bryant into the offense but look for his touchdowns to remain high. Bennett is still a conundrum for the Cowboys. He has yet to live up to his enormous athletic potential because of mental lapses that cause him to drop passes. He is a good blocker. But the Cowboys can't trust him in the passing game. He is sidelined into possibly the first game of the regular season with a sprained ankle. Phillips doesn't have Bennett's size or athleticism. But he is reliable as a blocker, receiver and special teams player.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Miles Austin, Dez Bryant. Backups — Kevin Ogletree, Jesse Holley, Dwayne Harris.
Austin has been a Pro Bowler for two seasons running and is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. He is highly explosive coming out of his breaks and full speed with straight-line explosiveness and the ability to run after catch with surprising strength and power for his height. He missed the last three games of the preseason with a hamstring injury but should be ready to go Sept. 11. He is a close friend of and trusted receiver for Tony Romo. But Austin will likely take a back seat to Bryant at some point in 2011. After being injured as a rookie in 2010, Bryant is expected to star in 2011 as one league's most feared receivers. He catches everything thrown his direction, is fast and refuses to be tackled. He is very familiar with offense of Jason Garrett in his second season, and there is nothing to hold him back. Ogletree is still trying to prove himself as the third receiver. He is inexperienced and the Cowboys could scour the waiver wire for an upgrade. Holley plays on all four special teams and can be trusted to make a play.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Doug Free, LG Bill Nagy, C Phil Costa, RG Kyle Kosier, RT Tyron Smith. Backups — T Jeremy Parnell, T Sam Young, G David Arkin, C Kevin Kowalski.
The only sure things on the offensive line are Free and Kosier. Free should be a Pro Bowler in 2011. Free is as good as they come and is the Cowboys' best lineman. Kosier, a savvy veteran who actually makes the line calls from the guard position, solidifies the interior of a young line. The Cowboys are taking a huge gamble with three first-year starters up front in rookies Nagy and Smith and second-year man Costa, who inherits the job Andre Gurode had help before he was released in late August. The Cowboys made a point to revamp their offensive line. They wanted to get younger and more athletic up front. There will also be some expected growing pains for a unit that didn't have the benefit of OTAs or minicamps to develop chemistry. Free and Smith, a player the team believes is its most athletic lineman in team history, have to remain healthy because Parnell and Young have not proven to be capable of filling in at tackle. Holland gives the Cowboys a veteran option if Nagy doesn't hold up. Costa earned his job by beating out five-time Pro Bowler Andre Gurode in training camp.
Closer Look at the 'Boys: Offense
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