DALLAS — Our nation’s famous civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, had a dream. Now the famous Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has one, too.
Given his wild summertime enthusiasm, the quote-zinging Jerry has gone braggadocio at training camp, inviting fans to come see his team whip up the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants this season.
Dreams and reality occasionally intersect in Jerry’s mind but rarely do they cross paths when Jones forecasts the success level of either his team or his quarterback Tony Romo.
Once during a ‘60 Minutes’ interview, Jones acknowledged he would have fired the team’s general manager (himself) if he were (former Yankees owner) George Steinbrenner. He also recently admitted he should have placed greater emphasis on making the Cowboys offensive line a major priority rather than spending money on retread projects such as Terrell Owens, Adam “Pacman” Jones, and Tank Johnson.
Than 0-2 if Romo already should be on crutches by then. A very shaky group of pass protectors must keep Romo in one piece after games at the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks. That may be asking too much for this very, very green line.
“That’s probably where I have let us down the most,” said Jones, who will turn 70 in October.
There is a bright spot in the Cowboys off-season. Jerry turned over most of the draft and free-agent decisions to his son, Stephen, who definitely offered reasons for an improved secondary this fall. The Cowboys took a backward pre-season step, though, because injuries hit all of Romo’s three most experienced pass catchers.
Seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten sustained a lacerated spleen in the first pre-season game. Wide receiver Dez Bryant was diagnosed with patellar tendinitis in his right knee after a joint practice session with San Diego. Wide receiver Miles Austin missed all the early work with a tender hamstring injury.
Those absences may work in the Cowboys favor because it will provide more opportunity for head coach Jason Garrett to inspect replacements for departed receiver Laurent Robinson (Jacksonville). Veterans Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris have logged more time, along with free agents Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley.
If the duo remains healthy, the quarterback tandem of Romo and new arrival Kyle Orton figures to upgrade Dallas at quarterback. But the passers must receive enough protection and the running game must keep defenses honest.
No doubt at all where this team’s greatest question mark resides. New starters will occupy four of the five possible interior spots. Witten may not make the Sept. 5 opening night at the Giants. That would make five of six blocking jobs.
Tyron Smith and Doug Free return at tackles but they occupy opposite sides from last year. Smith hopefully can offer more protection to Romo’s blind side at left tackle. Phil Costa is back at center but two new Cowboys names must prosper at the guards. Fifth-year pros Nate Livings (left guard) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (right guard) were part-time starters for the Bengals and the Panthers. Each was acquired as a free agent.
Another spring-time pickup, seventh-year fullback Lawrence Vickers will be expected to open holes for a pair of tailbacks DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones. Staying healthy again is key to their productivity. Murray effectively moved into a starting role before he injured his ankle last December, halting his fine rookie year.
Dreams and realities may come much closer together for the outspoken club owner in the defense and kicking game areas.
The off-season enabled coordinator Rob Ryan to have more time working out the bugs in the Cowboys’ 3-4 unit. LSU rookie Morris Claiborne and Kansas City free agent Brandon Carr potentially offer significant upgrades at the corner spots. The Cowboys have to keep veteran corner Mike Jenkins healthy and happy too. They like the development of third-year strong safety Barry Church enough that veteran free safety Gerald Sensabaugh could be the weak link of the bunch in new coach Jerome Henderson’s secondary.
Last year’s tackle leader Sean Lee and the tandem of Dan Connor and Bruce Carter make the inside linebacker spots much younger. The outside guys are veterans DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer but Victor Butler also can work his way into considerable playing time.
Ware and nose tackle Jay Ratliff earned Pro Bowl trips last year. The ends are back, too, and they are good ones – Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman. Plus, third round draft choice Tyrone Crawford and veteran Clifton Geathers want their minutes as well as veteran Marcus Spears.
Kicker Dan Bailey and punter Chris Jones are two of many reasons why the special teams should be able to hold up their end of the rope.
If the owner’s dream becomes a reality, the Cowboys will be in New Orleans next February to be more than spectators. They will open the season as one of the league’s middle-of-the-pack teams. Experts generally will regard them as nothing better than a middle-of-the-division team.
“It can’t be the same old story,” Witten said before his spleen injury. “Our actions have to speak louder than our words. We’ve got to do something about it.”
Garrett likes the set of horses which he will be riding.
“We feel like we have the right people in place,” Garrett said. “We’ve got to go about it the right way each and every day, and that’s what we’re going to emphasize to our team.”
Otherwise, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jerry Jones merely will have a dream.