5 Early Keys for Next Season

Today we take a look at 5 early keys to a successfull 2002 season. Coming off back to back years of playing 5-11 football, the Cowboys have positioned themselves to make a dramatic improvement.

Dissapointment in Dallas.

Those are a couple of words that Cowboy fans been used to hearing over the last couple of years. Consecutive 5-11 seasons, followed by dismal offseason acquisitions and salary cap hell put the Cowboys in a hole that even Shawn Bradley couldn't see out of.

Fast-forward to May 2002 and you'll see a complete turnaround in attitude at Valley Ranch. A successful plunge into free agency, a great draft, and a solid defense have Cowboy fans, coaches, and even players talking playoffs.

"What we're doing here just feels good," Emmitt Smith said after mini-camp. "I ain't felt like this for a long, long time. I can't even put a year on it. "

And even though no one will go on record with an official prediction, you know that anything less dramatic improvement will ultimately be considered a huge let down.

"The proof is what all these new guys do when they get here," Dave Campo said. "But along with what we did in free agency, these guys give us a chance to be more competitive. I'm tired of being 5-11. I feel good about this ball club, and I'm ready to go forward."

Of course most fans have bought into the fact that Boys are once again on the rise, but allow me to present you with one question- what will it take for it happen?

In one sentence- a whole lot of things, but we've narrowed our initial list to 5 key points, and here they are:

#1. Make Some Plays
We've heard this from the coaching staff time after time this offseason. The defense was good in 2001- but it didn't make the big play when it needed to. Big plays meaning creating turnovers, and providing the offense with some good field position.

Jerry Jones has addressed this need and then some since January. Enter La'Roi Glover, Kevin Hardy, Roy Williams & company and you have a defensive unit that has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL next season.

Williams is a natural ball hawk and if La'Roi Glover and Kevin Hardy have half the seasons that they've had in the past, this defense should be one of the most exciting to watch in the league.

Offensively, with a new offensive coordinator, a new system, and a young quarterback, you have to believe that the Cowboys are still going to need their defense to put them in a position to score some points next season.

Whether this defense can create some turnovers and put points on the board on it's own will go along way in determining how many wins go up on the board next year.

#2. Avoid the Injury Bug
No mystery here- we all saw what could happen when your stars go down during the 2000 season. Joey Galloway, The Rocket, and Troy Aikman all went down early with big injuries and the Cowboys never recovered.

"We had our heart set on Aikman, Galloway and Harris setting the stage for us to do something like New England did this past season," Jerry Jones said. "That was quite a step backward when those players went down."

Indeed it was. The Cowboys, trying to make one last glorious run to the Superbowl, fell flat on their collective faces.

Keeping the offensive line and all the skill position guys healthy will be an absolute must next season. The Cowboys could likely absorb a few losses on defense considering some of the new depth being built at linebacker and in the secondary, but on offense, injuries would be devastating.

#3. Develop a Passing Game
This is where the hiring of Bruce Coslet will likely pay the most dividends. Coslet has a simplified the playbook and he has brought in a scheme that will capitalize on Quincy Carter's strengths.

"Coslet is much more vocal, much more hands-on and very detail-oriented," said Emmitt. "It's going to be hard for defenses to key on anything. We may run the same play from a different formation with different personnel."

Even Dave Campo noted the difference in his team during mini-camp. "He's got juice. He's enthusiastic, and he's extremely competitive. I think that picks everyone up."

And while Coslet may have his work cut out for him, in this reporter's opinion, it will be just as difficult for the team not to demonstrate some improvement. Remember, Dallas hasn't finished higher than 24th in the league in total passing since 1998.

"Ouch" is all you can say after reading that statement a couple of times.

Furthermore, the Cowboys will need to see Quincy Carter pick up right where he left off at the end of last season. Interestingly enough, Carter completed one pass of at least 36 yards or more in each of his six starts.

Hopefully, some more of those kind of numbers are on the way. Adding rookie wide receiver Antonio Bryant to the mix shouldn't hurt either.

#4. Build Some Chemistry
Face it, this issue is going to have to be addressed sooner or later. With all the new acquisitions and players roaming around at Valley Ranch, there are bound to be some personality conflicts.

Fortunately, we haven't seen it just yet. "We have 45 guys in our 8 AM running sessions because they're excited and they like what we're doing with our team," said Campo.

Then again, with all the optimism surrounding the organization this offseason, it's easy to understand why everyone is so giddy. The real test will come after the first signs of adversity.

Wouldn't surprise me if that comes when the Tennessee Titans come in to Texas Stadium the second week of the regular season.

#5. Win the Close Ones
The Cowboys were in a lot of football games last year up until the last few minutes before bowing down and giving the game away. This year promises to be different.

The focus here will likely rest on the shoulders of the offense. With the worst ranked passing game in the NFL last season, teams were able to crowd the line of scrimmage and ultimately shutdown the Cowboys running game.

After that, the game was pretty much left up to the defense, and if they couldn't score, the Cowboys lost.

You can also look take a good look at the special teams.

Signing C Jeff Robinson will likely settle down the kicking game, and if the Boys can find a decent place-kicker, this unit could actually help the team pick up an extra win or two.

Alot of intangibles go into the winning close football games, and it all starts with doing the little things. Protecting the football, field position, and a good kicking game are just part of the equation. Having an offense that does more bad than good also helps.

Of course, we'll know much more about what needs to happen in order for this team to improve after several of the upcoming mini-camps and the preseason, but isn't it fun to talk about it now?

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