Cowboy Up

The Cowboys appear to be poised and positioned to take the next steps in their pursuit of post-season participation. Will this be the year the Bill Parcells' blue print is clearly on display for the entire fan base to see? Are the majority of pieces in place to challenge for the division title?

Many elements have to come together between Oxnard (training camp) and Jacksonville (opening day venue), and while all the necessary elements are too lengthy to cover here, let's target 6 current players who must take their games to a higher level in order to achieve greater production and team maturity.

An offense play cannot start without a snap of the ball, and the center position appears to be the appropriate place to start this discussion. Like it or not, it's time for the two-headed monster to die. Wishing no ill will or harm to Al Johnson or Andre Gurode, one of these two must emerge as the full-time starter and anchor the 2006 offensive line. Why? Consistency, continuity and chemistry.

Shuttling centers isn't as problematic as platooning QBs, but it's darn close. Changing personnel causes adjustments and uncertainty. Will the exchange with Bledsoe be executed properly? Will the right blocking scheme be called in relation to the defensive alignment? Will the blitzes be recognized, and more importantly, picked up? Will the DT overpower the oft-criticized and potentially underweight Al Johnson? Is Andre Gurode more suited for guard?

So many questions for such a vital position. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line. Her has to be intelligent and trustworthy. His line mates rely and depend on him to "get it read" and "get it right." Pre-snap reads are nothing shy of deducing Pythagorean theorems or breaking down molecular code. Ok, maybe Nobel Peace prize material it's not, but it' s critical. Johnson or Gurode must step up and establish himself. It's time for the carousel to grind to a halt with only one horse standing. It doesn't matter which one emerges, but it's essential that one does!

The Bradie James ascent must continue. His arrival on the scene has been slow to develop, but his impact is starting to be felt by all, teammates and opponents a like. Last year was a breakthrough year for the former LSU product. An unfortunate career-ending injury forced the early retirement of Dat Nguyen, but James was there to endure the yoke of leadership and mental toughness. He anchored the defense and instilled confidence as each game evolved. Bradie James is here to stay, and while his progression and playing mentality were slow to morph, Parcells and Zimmer patiently waited for the development. While not a completed product, he's starting to earn his wings, and defensive captainship may be in his near future. Once tutored, he's now the instructional leader for both the young and new. Growth is a good thing.

Is Roy Williams a liability? Is he overrated? Many subscribe to that theory. Your scribe does not. The pre-Draft talk about Ed Reed and Ray Lewis possibly coming to Dallas had many anxious and ready to pounce. Your scribe did not want to join that club. Love my Canes like no other, and while it's truly felt Ed Reed is a more well-rounded strong safety, Roy Williams, while quiet, remains the heart and soul of this Cowboys defense. Not highly vocal, Williams lets his aggression and bone-jarring hits do his talking for him.

Shortcomings in pass defense will always be there, but Willams' predecessor immensely spoiled Cowboys fans. Darren Woodson was the consummate professional and complete package in a strong safety. Roy is a safety in a linebacker body. Roy just needs to be Roy, and the fan base needs to be happy with that. Most didn't realize the true impact of Flozell Adams until he was lost to injury. A similar departure by Roy Williams would create all kinds of glaring deficiencies and vulnerabilities. The Cowboys need Roy Williams.

If there is any area for Williams to sharpen the iron, it's leadership. His play speaks volumes, but his mouth does not. While he doesn't have to be all-out verbose, he must be heard. He needs to establish himself as the player who will get in your face when motivation or attention to detail is needed. He needs to be the Michael Irvin of the defensive unit. Roy should be the pulse of Zimmer's troops. "Roy," in Spanish, might be interpreted "El Martillo." The Hammer is affectionately referred to as the persuader, and Williams needs to exert and instill some heavy persuasion.

This will be the year of "T-New." It's anticipated there will be enough youth and vitality up front to generate quarterback pressure, and Terence Newman must be there with his butterfly net. The "pill" will be there for the taking. While his game is still evolving, it's felt he's about ready to embark on a long string of Pro Bowl consideration seasons. He's so close, and with his game becoming more refined and technically sound, he's the quietest impact player on this defensive unit. His reputation is starting to emerge, and a full blossom could be right around the corner.

If asked, he would be forthcoming about his sophomore season woes. There were certainly times when the Cowboys brass had to be second-guessing their 2003 selection of the Jim Thorpe Award recipient. Was the #5 overall selection in the NFL Draft really a turnstile in disguise? A rookie season filled with tremendous ability and future promise gave way to a sophomore season of tentativeness and lack of confidence. There were times when the "deer in headlights" look was becoming permanent and potential career paralysis was looming.

To Newman's credit, he fought through the slump and persevered. He's a determined young man, and his confidence is starting to soar. It really is time for his game to make a jump to the next level. He can match-up with any NFL receiver, and he's highly effective. He needs to adopt the Prime Time Sanders' confidence and swagger. Not Hollywood Deion, just a Sanders' field presence. The same one that struck fear in all NFL signal callers and forced many to never look his way. No hand-to-ear hole, goose-stepping, fanfare, but picks as plentiful and prosperous as 2-1 made happen. Game-changing interceptions that crater opponent morale and momentum. It's the year of "T-New." That's if, and only if, he truly wants it.

Fair or unfair, sometimes a Draft position sets the bar and expectations pretty high. Even though he was the Cowboys first selection in the 2004 Draft, Julius Jones' second round status has allowed him an extended honeymoon. Had he been a high first round pick, the patience may have worn a little thin by now. Either way, the Julius Jones jury is still sequestered, and an immediate verdict is a long ways off.

Parcells calls him a little unlucky while many have tabbed him injury prone. Which is it? 2006 will provide another courtroom-like setting to render opinions and closing arguments. Whether you're for or against, the Cowboys need Julius Jones healthy and productive. One must spell the other. There have been flashes of brilliance, but the Cowboys would gladly trade the short spurts of "tease" for sustained consistency. There has been a history of both physical and mental breakdowns, so the Cowboys may be saddled with frustration in trying to find the long-term answer to the post Emmitt Smith era. If an unfortunate injury were to occur this year, there will be plenty of vacant seats on the Jones' tour bus and bandwagon. For his sake, and for that of the organization, a full year of playing will help quiet the critics and nay Sayers.

His mental toughness and patience is being tried, and no one wants proven success more than Jones himself. He's a determined young man reigning from a family that knows a thing or two about hard work and hard living. College academics, Bill Parcells, and now the injury gods have tried to break him down, but Jones won't go down without a fight.

Some times trade offers are legit and actual, but you have to wonder if some aren't floated just to send the player a message. Whether there was substance or not, Julius Jones heard the Draft day trade rumors, and the Cowboys may have wanted it that way. Only a healthy, 1000+ yards are going to stop all the whispers and wondering. So, Mr. Jones, which is it? A run of bad luck or the propensity for brittleness?

There you have it. Key personnel possessing the ability to make themselves and the 2006 season a tremendous success. Each can take his game to a new level, and if new heights are achieved, your Dallas Cowboys are going places.

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