Dallas Cowboys upgrading army with sights on NFL crown

While mediocre play at key positions kept them from Super Bowl glory, the Dallas Cowboys are actively filling neglected holes.

Dec 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen (97) tackles Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Lucky Whitehead (13) for a fumble in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen (97) tackles Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Lucky Whitehead (13) for a fumble in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Even after the painful one-and-done playoff fail, many Dallas Cowboys fans still believe their unlucky team was Super Bowl worthy.

Atlanta would’ve presented another stiff challenge for the defense, yet the Falcons’ own defense (25.4 ppg) was the softest of all playoff teams.

Either way, the Cowboys let one slip away and what could’ve been simply wasn’t.

Throughout the season, I continually noticed three key positions where mediocrity kept them from league domination.

  1. Imposing pass rusher (defensive end)
  2. Dominating middle linebacker
  3. Electric kick returner

Sure there were other spots that lagged here and there, but the starters were capable of championship play if complimented by the additions above.

The good news is Dallas has identified the holes and is already busy making repairs.

Jul 13, 2015; Hamilton Tiger-Cats player Quincy McDuffie poses for a photo. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Jul 13, 2015; Hamilton Tiger-Cats player Quincy McDuffie poses for a photo. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

COWBOYS GET LUCKY WITH MCDUFFIE

The recent signing of Quincy McDuffie was freshly reported at TLH yesterday.

McDuffie arrives to open arms as the Cowboys return game has faltered since Dwayne Harris defected to the Giants after 2014.

Lucky Whitehead showed early promise but finished outside the top 10 in both punt and kick return average this season. The team ranked 23rd in returns.

Whitehead failed to break 100 yards in either rushing or receiving, and has yet to score a single point in two seasons.

His recent knack for poor ball security was the last straw which allows McDuffie’s unconventional signing to bring new hope.

Not only did he lead the Canadian Football League with 27.7 yards per kick return last year, his college stats dwarf Whitehead.

McDuffie (Central Florida): 90 returns, 27.8 avg, 6 TD’s
Whitehead (Florida Atlantic): 23 returns, 24.0 avg, 0 TD’s

McDuffie gained over 32 yards per return and multiple TD’s twice at CFU. He was the nation’s 2nd best returner by average (34.2) and TD’s (3) his Senior year.

If he continues to show consistent, dynamic return production in Dallas, the Cowboys offense will thrive from better starting field position.

Oct 10, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 10, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

NEW MONSTER IN THE MIDDLE

No one is certain how healthy injured rookie Jaylon Smith will be come September.

To date the rehabilitation news has mostly been encouraging as he appears cleared to begin practice in May OTA’s.

Cowboys fans know all too well how far the drop has been since Rolando McClain was forcefully patrolling the middle of the defense.

While fill-in’s like Anthony Hitchens have been decent, it’s night and day without an enforcer at the position.

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Smith was set to be a top 5 overall pick before suffering his gruesome knee injury in his last college game.

He has the mental and physical capacity to lead an entire defense from the middle.

If Smith returns to his former self by next season, his advanced level of blitzing, run stopping, and pass coverage will truly shock people.

A healthy Smith paired with All-Pro Sean Lee will be a ferocious duo to account for.

Dec 7, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) knocks the ball out of the hands of Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 7, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) knocks the ball out of the hands of Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

THE EVER-ELUSIVE PASS RUSHER

Is the curse of releasing DeMarcus Ware over yet?

Since Ware’s 11.5 sacks in 2012, no Cowboys end has recorded nine sacks.

Demarcus Lawrence (8 sacks in 2015) leads the current group since that time.

Lawrence declined to one sack this season due to suspension and injuries. He should return to quality form with a move back to the left side.

Even with such good fortune, eight sacks is the mark of a solid, complimentary end. The Cowboys still long for a dominant blindside end.

With salary cap funds stretched thin and needed to re-sign their own free agents, elite veteran help seems like a long shot.

With the draft being the best chance, it doesn’t help Dallas picks 28th overall.

While management preaches improving pass rush is their top priority, sole reliance on poor drafting position is playing a fool’s game.

No 2016 rookie pass rusher (DE or OLB) drafted beyond the top nine overall picks recorded six sacks last year.

I admire how Dallas has increased their sack total in each of the last three seasons by upgrading the overall talent of rotational pass rushers.

However, I’m certain they’re again headed for continued pass rush frustrations if putting all their eggs in the draft basket.

If there’s one position Dallas needs to squeeze out the hidden funds and overpay, adding an explosive pass rusher would be it.

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