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 who will go a long way in shaping the Cowboys’ season.
Best case: The numbers flow
As offensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions, Scott Linehan saw Calvin Johnson dominate the league. Heck, the Cowboys saw it last year when he put up 329 yards against their secondary. Johnson is a physical freak, almost impossible to defend. Now Linehan gets to work with Bryant as the receiver enters what should be the prime of his career. In his last two seasons, Bryant has caught 185 passes for 2,615 yards and 25 touchdowns. He is the first Cowboys’ wide receiver with back-to-back 90-catch seasons. Bryant is now the leader of the wide receiver room with Miles Austin gone. He has room to grow. He has to work on not getting frustrated when the ball doesn’t come his way. There are finer points to his route running he needs to improve. But he can do things on the field that only a select few receivers can do. Johnson is one of them. In four of his five seasons with Linehan, Johnson had at least 1,100 yards receiving and 77 catches. He topped out at 122 catches for 1,964 yards in 2012. Bryant will have a hard time putting up numbers like that with Jason Witten on the field with him, but another 90-catch, 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown season should be considered a lock.
Worst case: Health and money
This can be a worst-case scenario for everybody on the Cowboys' roster, but Bryant has been troubled by back spasms of varying levels the last few seasons. They haven’t cost him games, but they have cost him time in games and time on the practice field. There has to be some kind of concern about the back when the Cowboys consider Bryant’s contractual future. A 25-year-old with back issues doesn’t become a 28-year-old without them. It is something that will have to be monitored. And that brings in the contract talks to this scenario. Can Bryant make sure the talk doesn’t become a distraction if something doesn’t get done before the season? Players have only one (maybe two) shots to cash in in a career. This is Bryant’s chance. He will need the numbers he has put up over the past two seasons to justify the big money from the Cowboys or another team should he somehow hit the open market. Bryant has let the emotions get the best of him at times, but he has grown on and off the field. This could be his biggest test if a deal doesn’t get done.