Defensive tackle was a serious problem last season and returns this year. Dimitrius Underwood has had a relapse of his bi-polar dysfunction that caused some tense moments this off-season. His hulking 300+ pound body and fierce play late in the year at tackle has excited the coaching staff on his possibilities. But he will have to overcome double teams and control his disease to be effective.
Brandon Noble and Mike Myers are returning veterans that have been nothing more than journeymen. Their inconsistency of play caused the team to seek tackle help by drafting 309 pound Daleroy Stewart and 319 pound Willie Blade. Both players have weaknesses that caused them to drop in the draft but could be effective tackles at some point with practice. Whether that is this year remains to be seen but surely is the hopes and prayers of the defensive coaching staff.
The linebacking corps is essentially the same as last year with the addition of rookie Markus Steele. Joe Bowden will challenge Dat Nguyen for the middle linebacker position. This year should be dedicated to finding out if Dat is the answer in the middle. Bowden is the alternative if he is not but from last year's performance not much of a positive.
Dexter Coakley will return after signing the first multi-million dollar contract offered to a linebacker since Jerry Jones was a friend of Jimmy Johnson's. Talk is he will play the middle at times in this year's defense. While this is strictly a move to hide Coakley and keep much larger tight ends and guards off of his 5'8" frame, this is smoke and mirrors to justify his contract.
Jones made a serious error in not signing Randall Godfrey to a similar contract he inked with Coakley in 1999. More fodder for the Jones-has-no-clue set, and knee-jerk by Jerry to close the barn door after the horse ran off.
Darren Hambrick will be playing his last season with the Cowboys as strong side linebacker and should be showing the NFL world his skills. With Hambrick's attitude one has to wonder if he will play up to his potential or jake-leg it and just get through the season. A 25,000 square foot house is riding in the balance.
Cornerback is perhaps the weakest link in the defense this season. Both positions will feature a first year starter. Mario Edwards at this point seems to be getting the nod going into training camp. Moving Izell Reese doesn't give the sense of well being in terms of both Dwayne Goodrich and Kareem Larrimore. The two second year cornerbacks may end up showing promise this season, but moving safeties out of position is disconcerting to an already weakened defense.
Safety is solid again with starters Darren Woodson and George Teague. Back-up Sean Key, showing some real signs of talent before being injured last season and rookie Tony Dixon have impressed. Other than defensive end this may be the most solid unit on the field. It certainly has the most depth.
Mike Zimmer will get one more opportunity to prove he can handle the defensive coordinators job for Dallas. Like his offensive counterpart Jack Reilly, his performance this year in leading the defense will signal his possible return or firing.
Dave Campo has expressed a desire to be more involved and promised to utilize his time better this season. He may have two years left before Jones patience wears thin. But he would go a long way in paving his future if he could rally the troops and make a showing this season that proves the pundits wrong.
Dallas has been selected as the worst team in profession football by most of the national sports writers. Campo has only one way to go as far as the press is concerned.
His ability to motivate a less-than-stellar-talent team is his only recourse. Adding aggression to what at times last season looked like players that didn't care, and putting a halt to personal fouls that show to lack of discipline would speak well of Campo.
A seven win season would be a tremendous year for the Cowboys. They could look ahead and with some personnel moves next off-season point to a turn-around for the franchise. But too many problem at too many spots on both sides of the ball indicate this to be a three to four win year.
The price of glory and free wheeling with the checkbook in the 90's has come home to roost. But unlike so many teams that squander opportunity, the Cowboys have skins on the wall and trophies in Jerry Jones office.
My guess is this season will produce more completed honey-dew lists than any season since 1989. So there is a silver lining to all this doom and gloom. While the team may suffer on the field, harmony may breakout in households all over the Metroplex.
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