Pressed for time, we simply took last year's Dallas Cowboys preview, changed a few minor players around, and posted it fresh as this year's. Only joking of course, but we certainly could have.
Not a lot has changed in Jerry World, and that's not just from last year till now; the Cowboys have been incredibly consistent and incredibly mediocre the past five-plus seasons. Now, they do have one 11-5 year, in which they made the playoffs before bowing out in incredible Cowboy fashion, and they do have one year where their record dipped to 6-10, but for the last three years the Cowboys have played straight down the middle, 8-8 football.
There's reason for optimism heading into the regular season, but it's the same points of emphasis from years past. Tony Romo will likely still put up an above average season, but can he shake the notion that his performances always look better on the stat sheet than they did on the field? DeMarco Murray will start the season looking like one of the best running backs in the league again. But can he stay healthy for a full 16 games. And Dez Bryant will continue to look great, maybe even better than last year, but will it be enough to make a difference?
If the Romo-led Dallas offence can be as potent as owner Jerry Jones thinks it can, there will be few excuses this year. First round pick Zack Martin joins a stout offensive line anchored by newly super-rich left tackle Tyron Smith, and former St. Louis Rams head coach Scott Linehan, who has spent the past four seasons coaching Calvin Johnson in Detroit, is signed on as offensive coordinator.
"Scott is a really gifted play-caller," Romo said of his new OC to ESPN. "He has a great mind for the game. We will talk for hours sometimes. We can talk ten minutes and nine minutes [and] we are going over stuff and one minute touch on something that someone learns and maybe we will take something that helps the whole thing. It's small but it's huge to us and I think that is a great connection."
The few roster changes the Cowboys did undertake this off-season were on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive linemen DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher were lost in free agency, replaced by DeMarcus Lawrence and Henry Melton. While that may look like a loss on paper, the Cowboys' defence was perhaps the league's worst last season, so at the very least the changes make them younger.
What will hurt more is the loss of middle linebacker Sean Lee, who tore his ACL during OTAs this off-season and is already lost for the year.
With the team's defensive ineptitude, it's surprising the Cowboys even carried on their 8-8 streak last year. And while the defence can't possibly be as bad this coming season, the switch in defensive coordinators from Monte Kiffin to Rod Marinelli will help, they still don't figure to be great – or even pretty good – so the offence is going to have to be extra special for Dallas to finish with a winning record. That's a lot of pressure that Romo, up until now at least, hasn't proven he can handle very well.
A lot of what the Cowboys hope to accomplish is predicated on Romo making a full recovery from back surgery. Romo was eased back into action at training camp but the Cowboys are seemingly confident he'll be ready to go with just Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hannie behind Romo on the depth chart after Kyle Orton's release.
There's no question Sean Lee is a leader and impact player on defence for the Cowboys when he's healthy and on the field, but that's becoming a rarer and rarer occasion. After missing five games last year and 10 the year before, Lee will miss the entire season after injuring his knee in off-season activities.
Lee's potential replacement is no leader. The Cowboys made a surprising move in trading for former Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens bust Rolando McClai, who first had to be reinstated after retiring from the league. McClain has done work to get his personal life back on track, but he was never very good on the field.
The Cowboys surprised many when they passed on Johnny Manziel, who Jerry Jones was reportedly enamored with, in favour of beefing up their already strong offensive line with Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin. Second-rounder DeMarcus Lawrence will be given the tall task of replacing DeMarcus Ware's production on the defensive line.