Depth Perceptions: Dallas Cowboys’ Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
All the hype, the pomp and circumstance, the camera lights that shine so bright on the Dallas Cowboys were a detriment in 2008. It seemingly accentuated the festering problems of a very talented team that had yet to win anything significant. The disappointment of the 2007 playoffs led to increased pressure and resulted in a 1-3 December that left them scratching their collective heads.
So, owner Jerry Jones decided changes were to be made for the 2009 season not the least of which was the release of pro-bowler/future hall of famer/irritant Terrell Owens from his contract. The Cowboys decided to free themselves of the drama king who had accused offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, quarterback Tony Romo, and tight end Jason Witten of conspiring against him in an effort to reduce his stake in the offensive game plan. How very high school of them all to do such a thing…
With that single transaction came the shifting of roles for every player in the Cowboys’ offense. Head coach Wade Phillips and Garrett will be tasked with replacing an experienced player who accounted for 38 TDs the last three seasons, more than any other receiver in the NFL in that span. We will see some of the returning stars continue to shine but it remains to be seen if what is left is a championship caliber football team, a standard that is the only one Jerry Jones will deem acceptable.
Jason Witten – Witten enjoyed his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl invitation last season while leading the team with 81 catches. His ability to stretch the middle of the field and dominate linebackers in space is coveted by every team in the league and very few have a player that can match his talents at tight end. Witten’s close relationship with Romo was at the center of the T.O. controversy but the reality is that their on-field chemistry results in big plays season after season. Witten has become the No.1 target in Dallas (the real sore spot for T.O.) and his experience will be leaned on heavily by Romo and the offensive staff in 2009.
Roy Williams – The seemingly nonsensical, overpriced midseason trade for Williams in 2008 turns out to be just what the doctor ordered to replace the departed Owens. It makes one wonder if the Cowboys had set their plan in motion long before last season ever ended. Williams could never really get in sync with QB Tony Romo last year and has now had plenty of time to get on the same page and assume the No.1 WR role in Dallas in 2009. His career numbers on horrendous football teams in Detroit are more than respectable and Dallas threw for 29 TDs last season, fourth most in the NFL. Expect them to consistently utilize his size in the red zone.
Patrick Crayton – Crayton has worked to gradually increase his role in Dallas but saw it take a hit with the arrival of Roy Williams last year. Now that Owens is gone, Crayton should get more looks again and return to 2007 form or better but he will still be a fourth option behind Williams, Witten, and RB Marion Barber. Crayton will be a big key for this unit as he tries to prove he is not just an adequate second option on the outside but can make plays and alleviate double-coverage for his teammates.
Martellus Bennett – Those of us who watched the HBO documentary Hard Knocks last summer got a little bit of an inside look as to what the organization thinks of second- year tight end Martellus Bennett. He is a major physical talent and if they can harness his potential, then the sky is the limit for him. His ability would be an asset backing up Witten as well as allow the ‘Boys to use all that size to pound teams, particularly in the red zone where he caught 4 TDs in 2008. Expect Bennett to be used even more often this season in goal line sets and as a regular part of their offense.
Miles Austin – Austin was looking to have a breakout season in Dallas in 2008 but was caught in a logjam of options and suffered some injury problems. His ability as a kick returner is a key for Dallas and he should see a decent increase of last year’s 13 catches and 3 TDs. Austin will be looked upon as a solid piece of the puzzle to help fill out this unit with physically talented players
Sam Hurd – Hurd should earn the fourth wide receiver spot in training camp but the way Dallas uses their tight ends and running backs, that doesn’t lead to many balls being thrown his way. His 19 receptions two years ago were a building block but injuries last season stunted his NFL progress. He is a home-run hitter option and will be counted on to pick up where he left off in 2007.
Isaiah Stanback – The former college QB is still developing as a WR and has shown enough potential to warrant the Cowboys trusting him with kickoffs. His pure athletic ability will be an asset going forward as the Cowboys continue to evaluate his long-term value for the team.
Dallas’ passing offense fared quite well last season, finishing ninth in the league in passing yardage, all while missing starting QB Tony Romo for three games. With their No. 1 receiver now a Buffalo Bill, it is time for players they have invested a lot of time and money in to step up and earn their keep. The overall athleticism displayed in this pass-catching unit is fantastic and with the supposed elimination of distractions from the locker room, it will be in Romo’s hands to bring this team back to the playoffs.
I think Witten and Williams are very bankable in 2009 and the use of RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones out of the backfield will have the aerial attack back at the very top of the league once again, just like in 2007.