IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.
This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players that will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys' season.
Best-case: He makes the jump
Coaches like to say all of the time that a player's biggest jump comes from his rookie season to his second season. The player has a good understanding of what's going on, having been through the rigors of a season, and knows what he is and isn't. Williams showed last year the game isn't too big for him. He was able to make big plays in big moments. With Dez Bryant on the other side and Jason Witten expected to line up mostly on his side, Williams will have the chance to make plays. Tony Romo will not be afraid to come after him. Some believe he will be a breakout player on this offense in part because of the attention Bryant and Witten will receive. He doesn't have great speed, but he still averaged 16.7 yards per catch. When he gets rolling, he is difficult to stop. He has the tools to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but he doesn't need to have 1,000 yards for the offense to be successful. Romo, Bryant, Witten and DeMarco Murray will be the focus. Williams just has to fit in. In the offseason, receivers coach Derek Dooley has been impressed with what Williams has been able to do with more work. That has to carry into the season.
Worst-case: He doesn't make the jump
If he is less than pedestrian, the Cowboys don't have options to replace him. They would have to do it by committee, unless fifth-round pick Devin Street can step up. Street is the only other true outside option after Williams and Bryant. The down-the-line receivers have warts. Dwayne Harris is a situational guy on the outside, probably not an every-down option. Cole Beasley is a slot player even if he got some work outside in the offseason. Williams' work ethic has been lauded by the coaches since he got here, but if things don't go well for him, how will he react? Last year the Cowboys didn't need him to be the man on a week-to-week basis with Bryant and Miles Austin. He could fly a little under the radar. This year he can't fly under the radar. He has to be one of their better players every week. If he doesn't, then the offense can become flawed and predictable. Williams offers the best blend of big- and medium-play ability opposite Bryant. Street would benefit from playing a similar role to what Williams had last year. If he has to play more, then that could upset the balance of the passing game.