The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions Week 11 Post-Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

I posted a lot of interesting notes on the Cowboys-Lions game last night, and below are some observations and statistics I gathered after reviewing the game film. . .

  • Dallas ran 12 red zone plays: seven runs for 27 yards and five passes for four yards (including a sack for -8 yards) and two touchdowns.  I’ve loved Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling thus far in 2010.  Awhile back, I suggested that he call more passes between the opponent’s 10 and 20-yard lines, and more runs inside the 10-yard line (particularly on 1st down).  He’s doing just that this season, and it’s working well.

  • You may have noticed the Cowboys have run a lot less three-receiver sets of late.  Last week, they implemented only 14, and this week it was only 16.  This decrease is due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is an attempt to provide protection for Jon Kitna.  Martellus Bennett is a tremendous blocker (better than even Marc Colombo, I’d say), and his receiving skills force defenses to honor him in the passing game.
  • Part of the decrease in three (and four) receiver formations is also due to Dez Bryant’s presence in base personnel packages.  He’s earned the right to be on the field for the majority of snaps, and now Garrett isn’t forced to put three receivers on the field to get Bryant involved.  I’m not afraid to admit I have a bit of a man-crush on him.
  • The lack of receivers has also resulted in less Shotgun snaps (or perhaps vice versa).  Through Week 10, the Cowboys were in Shotgun on a ridiculous 47.3 percent of all snaps.  This week, however, Dallas used Shotgun on only 13 of 54 offensive plays (24.1 percent).  This comes just a week after using Shotgun at the same rate in their win over the Giants.  Garrett must have recently realized how much more successful Kitna is under center as opposed to in Shotgun.
  • The Cowboys motioned 16 times, including on 10 of the first 18 plays.  They gained only 85 total yards on the 16 plays (5.31 yards-per-play).
  • Kitna checked out of three plays on Sunday.  All of them were passes and they totaled four yards.  That sounds poor, but two of them were touchdowns (Bryant’s touchdown and Austin’s first touchdown).
  • In my notes from yesterday, I mentioned I liked a play that didn’t work for Dallas.  They had lined Marion Barber up at fullback and motioned Felix Jones to tailback from the slot (in my notes I mistakingly said it was Bryant).  When they’ve done this in the past, they’ve usually handed the ball to Barber on a dive.  When that doesn’t happen, they’ll pitch it out to Jones.  Well, they faked both this week, and may have found themselves another touchdown had Jason Witten and Marc Colombo blocked better.  Both guys whiffed on their defender (the same guy, I might add).
  • Speaking of Colombo–he was absolutely horrible.  I knew he was bad, but after I reviewed the film, I realized he was even worse than I thought.  I credited him with yielding 1.5 sacks, and he also got nailed for a false start and a holding penalty.  I think it is time for Sam Young.
  • Kitna has spread the ball around quite well since becoming the starter (in terms of placement of passes).  Take a look at the distribution below:

  • You can see that the distribution of throws for Kitna has been nearly identical to the left, middle, and right portions of the field.  You can also see that he’s been incredibly accurate over the middle of the field, while the highest percentage of his ‘off-target’ passes have come when throwing to the right side of the field.  Compare these numbers to those of Romo in 2009:

  • Kitna has obviously been more erratic this season than Romo was in 2009, but not bad for a backup.  By the way, Kitna threw a season-low four off-target passes on Sunday against the Lions.
  • The Cowboys ran four draws for 44 yards, but they all came late in the contest.
  • The ‘Boys ran quite a few playaction passes throughout the game (eight), and I’m happy to report they threw the ball downfield following those looks.  Five of the eight passes traveled over 10 yards, and three of them went 15+.
  • It was a big screen game for Dallas as well.  They attempted six of them for 46 yards.  The targets were Jones (three times), Choice (twice), and Bryant (once).
  • Roy Williams got into the action early, hauling in two passes for 20 yards on the first drive.  He wasn’t even targeted the rest of the game, though.  Meanwhile, Chris Gronkowski was targeted three times.
  • Of the 28 times Dallas dropped back to pass, Witten was in a route on 18 of them (64.3 percent).  That’s a good rate.
  • Bryant did a really nice job of blocking on run plays.  He’s a complete player and his effort on each play is phenomenal.
  • On the 4th quarter screen pass to Jones that went for 25 yards, Kyle Kosier got away with a blatant block-in-the-back.  He missed his guy and pushed him in the back right in front of the ball, so I’m not sure how it was overlooked.
  • The naked bootleg 4th down play on which Kitna ran for a 29-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty, but I think Garrett should have saved it.  Clearly no one expects Kitna to keep the ball, particularly from a formation (Double Tight I) in which the Cowboys nearly always hand the ball off to the running back.  Perhaps Garrett didn’t have as much confidence in it at the time, but it sure would be nice to have that play in your back pocket for a crucial 4th down play in the future.
  • I’m not understanding why the last two teams the ‘Boys have played have decided not to blitz them much.  The Giants sat back and let Kitna pick them apart last week, and the Lions did basically the same today.  I counted only 12 blitzes all day from Detroit.  They did disguise them well, showing blitz pre-snap on only three of those 12 plays, but you’d think teams would recognize the Cowboys’ offensive line has trouble against blitzes, stunts, and twists and react accordingly.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Video: Dez Bryant Training Camp Highlights and Scouting Report


By Jonathan Bales

Last night, I posted an article detailing why Dez Bryant was wrong to not carry Roy Williams’ pads.  Off of the football field, Bryant may still need to do some maturing (although he has certainly conducted himself quite well since becoming a Cowboy).  On the field, however, Bryant has been outstanding.

Dallas Cowboys Times correspondent Dave Kraft just sent me a video of Bryant’s training camp highlights.  I have posted a few notes below regarding what I have seen from Bryant’s play thus far.

Scouting Report

  • Bryant has shown tremendous speed and quickness out of breaks.  Speed is important in football, but it is useless without the ability to stop quickly and change direction.  At the 11 second mark, you can see Bryant (albeit against no defender) with a subtle jab to the outside on a “seven route” (or corner).  Similar ‘out-of-break quickness’ can be seen at the two-minute mark on a comeback route.

  • As always, Bryant has shown great hands.  He has made several one-handed catches, but he is also consistent in hauling in the “easy” ones.  The last play in the video above shows Bryant’s ability to bring down the ball in traffic.  The concentration and athleticism he exhibits in catching the ball while falling to the ground is extraordinary.  He does the same at about 90 seconds into the video.

  • At the 1:40 mark, Bryant shows the ability to separate from a defender.  This time, it was Pro Bowler Mike Jenkins.  Bryant is initially covered on the fade route but implements an extra burst in passing Jenkins and securing the ball for a 20-yard gain.

  • Bryant still needs to show he can effectively get off of press coverage.  At the 46-second mark, he allows cornerback Cletis Gordon to get into his body and disrupt his route.  Bryant needs to either utilize his quickness to get around the press, or his strength to fight through it.  The stick route he was running on the play is a timing one, meaning Bryant needs to be at a certain spot at a certain time (and an effective jam will disrupt his ability to do that).

By Jonathan Bales

Why Dez Bryant’s Refusal to Carry Roy Williams’ Pads Could Become a Big Deal


By Jonathan Bales

Rookies of all talent levels–from first-rounders to undrafted free agents–are often “asked” to participate in rites of passage.  One of the more common forms of hazing is the veteran players forcing the rooks to carry their pads.  The task is simple and easy, yet ultimately conveys a message: no matter who you are, no matter where you are from, you must earn respect to play in the NFL.  Dallas Cowboys players must earn their star.

I’ve written about the on-field battle in which Dez Bryant and Roy Williams will partake, but earlier today the two may have created a minor off-field issue when Bryant refused to carry the pads of Williams.  Said Bryant:

I’m not doing it. I feel like I was drafted to play football, not carry another player’s pads. If I was a free agent, it would still be the same thing. I just feel like I’m here to play football. I’m here to try to help win a championship, not carry someone’s pads. I’m saying that out of no disrespect to [anyone].

Bryant’s stance is simple.  As a grown man, carrying another player’s pads is demeaning.  For Bryant, it is a man-to-man issue and would still exist even if Bryant was undrafted instead of the Cowboys’ top pick.

Williams has a different take on the situation:

“Everybody has to go through it,” Williams said. “I had to go through it. No matter if you’re a No. 1 pick or the 7,000th pick, you’ve still got to do something when you’re a rookie.

“I carried pads. I paid for dinners. I paid for lunches. I did everything I was supposed to do, because I didn’t want to be that guy.”

Williams recognizes the rites of passage that are inherent to the NFL.  For grown men (and some of the strongest ones in the world) who work incessantly, carrying a helmet and shoulder pads a few hundred feet isn’t all that difficult.  When he asked Bryant to carry his pads, it wasn’t out of laziness or disrespect–it was really a way for the two to bond.

Of course no one knows for sure what was going through Bryant’s mind, but it seems as though he is magnifying the level to which carrying a fellow player’s pads is demeaning and misunderstanding the deeper reasoning behind it.  The NFL is like a club–if you want to join, you really oughta play by their rules.

The primary reason it is so imperative for Bryant to toe the company line is due to a less-than-flattering perception of him that likely still exists.  Whether Bryant or his agent (Eugene Parker) admit it, repairing that image was one of the major reasons they were willing to complete Bryant’s contract so quickly, making him the first player selected in the first-round to sign a deal.

While Bryant doesn’t view it this way, acting “bigger than the team” by refusing to carry a player’s pads (as a rookie) can only tarnish his reputation–a reputation he has worked diligently to salvage.

Of course, Bryant isn’t purposely attempting to stir up trouble or act like a diva.  Instead, the refusal was a misinterpretation.  Bryant is viewing the pad carrying for what it is, perhaps missing the larger picture of team chemistry that it invokes.

Let’s hope this issue doesn’t transform into something larger.  Williams already responded to the idea that it won’t take long for Bryant to become the starter by saying, “I bought a Ford F-250 2011.  Everybody loves a new car but I also have a 2004 Navigator that’s still running.  So that’s the way I feel.”

Bryant may be a new Ford F-250, but his refusal to carry Williams’ pads won’t help his image among fans, media, and where it counts the most–within the Dallas locker room.  He may be wise to appease the old 2004 Navigator that currently has the parking spot he covets.


By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part VI: Roy Williams vs. Dez Bryant

By Jonathan Bales

In the first five parts of my Training Camp Battles Series, I analyzed the future of the nickel linebackerdefensive end, free safety, left tackle, and cornerback positions.

Today comes the battle most fans think of as “the big one”–veteran Roy Williams versus rookie Dez Bryant.  I have yet to speak to a fan who doesn’t believe that Bryant and Miles Austin are the future of the Cowboys’ wide receiver position.  If Dallas’ roster decisions were simply a popularity contest, Williams would have been out of Big D awhile ago.

Nonetheless, Williams truly does appear to have a new attitude this season.  He’s been brash.  He’s been talkative.  He’s been conceited.  A few months ago he said:

“Dez Bryant wants to play.  The only way he is going to play is to get No. 11 off the field, and that’s going to be tough to do.”

Sound a bit different from the ’09 version of Roy Williams?  I explained in a previous article why this isn’t a “new” Roy Williams, but instead, we are finally obtaining a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the University of Texas variety.

The quote came just a few weeks after I begged Williams to do whatever he can to regain his “swag. When your team drafts the consensus number one receiver (in terms of pure talent) just months after a breakout season by a young receiver who figures to be in Dallas for quite a few years, you have no choice but to come out swinging.  What does Williams have to lose?

Williams is supremely talented, but in 2010 we will discover if he is a true champion.  If so, Bryant will have to fight like hell to win the No. 2 receiver job.

Scouting Reports

  • Roy Williams

Make no mistake about it–Roy Williams struggled badly in 2009.  I gave him a “D+” in my 2009 Cowboys wide receiver grades.

We all know the sort of routes Williams is comfortable running: ins, digs, slants, posts, i.e. routes where he can catch the ball in stride and get moving downfield.  He actually has fairly good speed once his engine starts running.

Despite the recent drops, Williams also has some of the better hands in the NFL.  He made circus-like catches game after game in Detroit (with few drops), meaning his current struggles are more mental than anything.

Williams’ biggest weakness is a lack of quickness which inhibits his ability to effectively run routes which invoke a quick stop, such as comebacks and curls.

Like I said earlier, Williams should really not worry about his on-field ability for now and concentrate on regaining his confidence.  If he does that, he has a legitimate shot at holding onto his job–for now.

  • Dez Bryant

Taken from my original pre-draft scouting report on Bryant:

Bryant is an absolute beast. There is simply no other way to put it. He is ranked No. 10 in our latest Big Board, and he is only that low due to concerns about his attitude and work ethic.

Bryant is a bit of a mystery to us. He does bone-headed things like show up to his Pro Day with no cleats or (allegedly) arrive late to games. However, one look at the guy lets you know he is a hard-worker. Everybody knows Bryant can play–the question teams must answer will be how much he loves football.

On the field, we are confident in saying Bryant is every bit as talented as Larry Fitzgerald when he left Pitt. That is a gigantic statement, but this kid has gigantic game. His game tape and production are off the charts. He displays top-notch hands and run after the catch ability.

We loved Michael Crabtree coming out of Texas Tech last year, and we will tell you there is really no comparing him to Bryant. Bryant is superior in every aspect of the game–he runs better routes and is even more dangerous once he gets his hands on the ball.

Bryant recorded varying forty times at his Pro Day–from 4.52 (which he ran twice) to 4.68. We are unconcerned about that number. He plays as fast as any receiver in this class and we have yet to see him get caught from behind.

Again, every concern about Bryant is an off-field issue. If he can prove he has the requisite attitude and work ethic to succeed in the NFL, there is simply no way he drops to the Cowboys.


Pros/Cons of Starting. . .

  • Roy Williams

Williams has experience in the Cowboys’ system (even if he has yet to excel in it) and will have an immediate leg up on Bryant due to his knowledge of the playbook.  Don’t forget Williams is a naturally gifted pass-catcher who can be a big-time red zone threat.  He scored seven touchdowns last season despite hauling in just 43 total catches.  He’s also a darn good blocker (he’s not a devastating hitter, but Williams uses his size and excellent body position to open lanes for the backs).

On the downside, the Cowboys may be stunting the growth of Bryant if they hold him back this season.  Everybody and their brother thinks Bryant is the future for Dallas out wide, so why wait?

  • Dez Bryant

The biggest pro of starting Bryant immediately: upside.  The kid could struggle in 2010, or he could be amazing.  If the latter is the case, opposing defenses simply won’t have enough players to effectively stop Bryant, Austin, Witten, Jones & Co.  And as large of a red zone threat as Williams may be, Bryant is even better.  He has perhaps the most polished ball skills of any receiver coming out of college since Larry Fitzgerald.

Bryant’s inexperience does make starting him a risk, however.  He also figures to be dynamite on returns, but his time there could be limited if he is starting opposite Austin.

Advantage

This battle is different from previous ones in that both players can be on the field at the same time.  I explained a few weeks ago why the Cowboys should run more three-receiver sets in 2010.  You can probably expect to see both Williams and Bryant on the field together quite a lot this season.

As of right now, though, Williams is the starter.  Most NFL pundits believe Bryant will overtake him by the start of the season, but I wouldn’t be so sure.  The preseason will be vital for Williams, but if he can make a few plays (and avoid any drops), I wouldn’t bet against him opening the season as the starter.

I’ve been vocal in my support for Williams thus far this offseason, so I won’t stop now.  In reality, it is simple for the former UT star:  if he plays consistently well in both the preseason and regular season, he will retain his job.  If not, he won’t.



By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys News and Notes: 6/8/10 (Patrick Crayton OTAs, Tony Romo U.S. Open)

Perhaps Crayton realized the team is not going to release him (at least not just yet) and cannot find a suitable trade partner.  We are still projecting Crayton to be in Dallas this season.

Romo started his second round off poorly anyway, but this could at least silence some of the unenlightened who (still) think Romo isn’t totally committed to football.

The cover 2 Bryant saw at Oklahoma State is much different than what he will see in the pros, however.  In the NFL, most teams run a “Tampa 2″–a defense that sends a speedy middle linebacker to the deep middle part of the field (the weakness of a traditional cover 2).  Thus, sitting down in the middle of the field behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties won’t be as easy.

Cowboys Minicamp Questions

Dallas is the NFC’s No. 1 team, which might be a stretch with New Orleans and Minnesota still lurking.  Surprisingly, he has the Chargers as the league’s top team.

These rankings seem off.  We are definitely No. 1.

By Jonathan Bales

Dez Bryant and No. 88: Three Reasons It’s a Good Idea

By now, you know owner Jerry Jones personally provided rookie Dez Bryant with No. 88.  A lot of media types have since criticized the move, claiming it was Michael Irvin’s number and will bring unnecessary pressure to Bryant.

We couldn’t disagree more, and here is why:

1.  As a first-rounder, there is already a ton of pressure on Bryant.  His number won’t add to that.

Do you really think that as Bryant is going to be up in the air attempting to catch a deep ball from Tony Romo thinking, “Oh crap. . .I better catch this because I am wearing No. 88″?  Of course not.

As a first round pick (and an NFL player in general), there will be nearly unfathomable amounts of pressure on Bryant each and every week.  That is simply part of the job description.  His number, as it relates to his on-field play, is incapable of adding onto what is already one of the most pressure-packed careers in the world.

2.  It isn’t “Michael Irvin’s number”–Drew Pearson had it before him, and Antonio Bryant since.

The Cowboys do not retire jersey numbers.  If they did, perhaps Irvin would have never gotten an opportunity to wear the double-eights.

In the same way that Irvin didn’t “take” Pearson’s number, Bryant isn’t taking Irvin’s.  Perhaps in a decade or two, we will criticize an incoming Cowboys’ rookie for taking Bryant’s No. 88.

3.  With so much tradition behind No. 88, Bryant will work to uphold its honor.

While on the football field, there is no time for Bryant to think about any perceived pressure his number could bring.  On the other hand, there is plenty of off-the-field time for Bryant to ponder the honor which comes with No. 88 and subsequently make smart decisions.  We whole-heartedly believe Bryant’s yearning to uphold the honor of his number will far outweigh any perceived pressure it brings him.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Poll: Should Dez Bryant Play the Slot?

By Jonathan Bales

More Three-WR Sets for Cowboys in 2010? Analysis of Personnel Packages

There is no doubt Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had a ton of weapons with which to work in 2009.  There are differing opinions on his efficiency in utilizing Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Felix Jones & Co., as the Cowboys ranked 2nd in the NFL in total yards, but just 14th in points.  Is this simply a fluke statistic that will “regress toward the mean” in 2010, or is there something more to it?

Our own film study has shown that the Cowboys offense is far too predictable in a variety of situations.  To improve in 2010, we believe Garrett should vary the play-calling out of Double Tight Right Strong Right, send Witten out in routes on a higher percentage of passing plays, throw more play-action passes to the left, randomize 2nd down and 3rd down play-calling (particularly on 2nd and 1), run more to the weak side, motion less, improve initial drive statistics, run less draws, and run (a lot) more counters.

After listing a wide variety of flaws in Garrett’s play-calling, now is a good time to mention we don’t think he is a terrible offensive coordinator.  Garrett does a commendable job of giving players sufficient freedom to make plays and, while we often critique his play-calling, Garrett is not the only offensive coordinator in the NFL with (what we would describe as major) flaws.

However, while football is a zero-sum game, offensive coordinator vs. offensive coordinator is not.  OCs can collectively get better or worse, meaning the similar failures of others around the league do not justify Garrett’s shortcomings.

Note: RB is either Barber, Jones, or Choice, while FB is Anderson.

The addition of Dez Bryant to the Cowboys’ already potent offensive attack means Garrett will have to alter his playbook to better fit a changing cast on offense.  Garrett appears to sometimes force players to adapt to his system (Roy Williams routes, for example), as opposed to bending the system to more appropriately utilize the skill sets of the players.

To further grasp how Garrett implemented players in 2009, take a look at the list of personnel packages to the right.  Note that, while the Cowboys are often thought to implement two tight ends as their base offense, they actually trotted one tight end, three wide receivers, and a running back onto the field more than any other particular personnel group (they did use two tight ends on 485 plays, however).

The three-wide receiver set is one we would like to see utilized more often in 2010.  There are a few reasons for this:

  • It will allow the Cowboys to get Dez Bryant more involved.  Who do you think represents a bigger threat to the defense, Bryant or Martellus Bennett/John Phillips?
  • With Felix Jones as the primary ball-carrier, the need for a fullback is lessened.  The Cowboys would be wise to run more counters and misdirection plays in which a third wide receiver (who can effectively spread out the defense) could be more valuable than a fullback.
  • The running game in general could thrive out of three-wide receiver sets, as defenses generally implement nickel personnel (an extra defensive back).

We are not sure Jason Garrett agrees with that last statement.  It is no secret that he loves to run the ball with either two tight ends or a fullback on the field.

Unfortunately, Garrett rarely ran the ball out of three-receiver sets in ’09 and it appears the efficiency of these packages was compromised by that improper run/pass balance.  As you can see above, the Cowboys ran 310 total plays with three wide receivers on the field.  Of those plays, just 54 were runs (17.4%)!

Now, we understand the Cowboys are a pass-first team and that three-receiver sets are perhaps ideal for passing, but spreading out the field to run is becoming a hot trend in the NFL.  In fact, the Cowboys averaged a gaudy 5.85 yards-per-carry when running out of three-receiver sets last season.  Whether this is due to a pre-snap open field or the defense substituting nickel personnel, there is no doubt the Cowboys ran the ball effectively in 2009 with three wide receivers in the game.

The incredibly high percentage of passes out of three-receiver sets undoubtedly caused the Cowboys’ yards-per-attempt on those plays to plummet.  Still, Dallas averaged 7.08 yards-per-attempt on passes out of the package, compared to 7.79 yards-per-attempt in general (including sacks) in 2009.

We have a feeling if the Cowboys run the ball (significantly) more out of three-receiver sets in 2010 (35% or so), that 7.08 yards-per-attempt will rise.  Not only does the team simply have better personnel this season, but defenses will be more apt to stay in base personnel to effectively shut down the run.  This will allow the third wide receiver, whoever it is, to garner a big-time mismatch.

If defenses do shift into a nickel package, the Cowboys should be able to utilize their receivers’ above-average blocking skills, a more athletic offensive line, and the shiftiness of Jones to be quite successful in running out of three-receiver personnel packages.

By Jonathan Bales

Is Dez Bryant at Punt Returner a Good Idea?

Head coach Wade Phillips recently declared rookie Dez Bryant the favorite to win the punt return duties for the Cowboys in 2010.  We have already heard from a few of you on this subject, so we wanted put forth our thoughts on the issue.

While the majority of the people with whom we have spoken dislike the notion of Bryant back deep fielding punts, we definitely think it is the correct move.  Bryant is a dynamic returner who can change the entire landscape of a game in the blink of an eye. . . at least he did so in college.

If he can prove he has that same sort of explosiveness in the NFL, then employing him on punt returns is a no-brainer. 

A lot of people are of the mindset that it is too risky to use a player who is (or in all likelihood will be) a major component of either the offense or defense on returns. 

While returners do get exposed to a higher probablity of big hits, the importance of both punt and kick returners is so great that the potential rewards outweigh the risks.  We see both spots as nearly important as starting positions on offense and defense.  Sure, a return man won’t see nearly the same number of snaps as, say, a running back, but each time he touches the ball the possibility for a “home run” is available. 

Further, it is important to remember that sometimes overall value is not as important as value differential.  For example, let’s assume Team X’s running back has a hypothetical value of 100 and their return man has a value of 50.  Now we will assume Team Y’s running back has a hypothetical value of 90 and their return man has a value of 20. 

Despite the fact that Team X’s return man is not as “valuable” as their running back in terms of overall points, the punt returner is more valuable in respect to his ability to help Team X beat Team Y. 

Remember, football is a zero-sum game, meaning the success of Team X equates to the failure of Team Y.  The running back for Team X may be a stud, but the differential value he creates is limited by the low standard deviation among the talent of running backs.  In other words (and words that are more understandable), it is harder for a running back to be that much better than the other running backs around the league.  The majority of practice time in the NFL is devoted to offense and defense.  While “game speed” can never be fully duplicated in practice, it is much more difficult to properly simulate a game-level NFL return than an offensive play.

Thus, returning punts and kicks is more about natural ability than practice–meaning the standard deviation of talent among NFL returners is much greater than at other positionsThe difference between the league’s best punt returners and the league’s worst punt returners is much larger than the same difference among running backs.  This is what we mean when we say ‘value differential.’

Now, does Bryant hold a great enough ’value differential’ to be a lock as punt returner?  Should he maintain the role if he eventually becomes the Cowboys’ #1 wide receiver?  Only time will tell, but we think Bryant’s explosiveness and play-making ability could be great enough to justify him remaining the return man despite his offensive role.

Now, should he become a Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver in a short time, the risk/reward for his stay at punt returner should be re-examined.  But let’s not forget, Bryant is only a rookie–he has played in exactly as many NFL games as all of us at Dallas Cowboys Times.

So we say give Bryant a shot at punt returner (and even kick returner for that matter).  The potential reward far outweighs the risk.  Also remember the Cowboys drafted another fairly dynamic returner in Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.  AOA can be groomed behind Bryant (don’t forget AOA is unable to practice until training camp due to a shoulder injury).  Eventually, Owusu-Ansah will take over as the primary return man.

Let’s hope so, anyway, as that would likely mean Bryant’s offensive production increased to the point where the team could no longer justify utilizing him as a returner.

By Jonathan Bales

Ready to Rumble: Roy Williams vs. Dez Bryant

Good news ladies and gentlemen: Roy Williams has regained his confidence.  It appears that way in the surface, at least.  When recently speaking with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Williams said:  “This ain’t my first rodeo. . . But I know in the back of my mind and the back of his mind, [Dez Bryant] wants to play.  The only way he’s going to play is to get No. 11 off the field, and that’s going to be tough to do.  But it’s going to make us better as a football team.”

For a player who was visibly humble throughout last season and into this off-season, almost to the point of appearing shaken, that is quite a confident quote.  Williams maintained this new-found swagger as he vowed to limit his 2010 dropped passes.

“It won’t even be half,” Williams said about the drops.  “Do you want to take that bet?  I won’t even come close.  I promise you.”

So what are we to make of this “new” Roy Williams?  Some analysts have criticized his attitude, claiming that his on-field play has done nothing to justify it.

We, however, couldn’t be more excited about what we are hearing from Williams.  In an article we published about a month ago (before the selection of Bryant) titled ”Supporting Roy E. Williams as Starter in 2010,” we explained why we believe Williams will make a turnaround this season, proposing that the first step in this transformation would be a resurgence of Williams’ confidence–almost to the point of being brash.  We wrote:

Williams primary offseason priority shouldn’t be running routes, or catching balls, or hitting the weight room (of course none of those things are discouraged, Roy). No, Williams should do whatever he can to regain his confidence. His mojo. His swag.

And what is the best way to regain one’s ’swag’? By competing of course–a task Williams is relishing this season. “I’m here to fight for my job,” Williams has claimed. “I’m ready to battle. I think I will win. That’s my mentality.”

So get that swag back, Roy. Be cocky. Be brash. Talk smack–and then back all of it up on the field.

Come September, we will find out if Roy E. Williams has truly regained his confidence. We will find out if he is ready to compete. Most importantly, we will find out if he is a true champion.

Never bet against a man who has nothing to lose.

Now, we assumed Williams primary competition would come from Kevin Ogletree, not the consensus top rookie wide receiver–a player who already has seemingly everyone within the Cowboys’ organization gushing over his talent.

No problem, though.  If Williams wasn’t set to receive a perhaps much-needed kick in the butt from Ogletree, he has certainly had a fire lit under him due to the addition of Bryant.  There were mixed reports on the effect of Bryant’s mini-camp success, but the person who may have benefited most from it, ironically, could be Williams.

Ultimately, there is nothing new about the “new” Roy Williams.  Instead, we are finally getting a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the one who flourished at the University of Texas and in Detroit. . . the true Roy Williams.

That player was always ready to compete.  Luckily for the Cowboys, it appears the “new” Roy Williams is eager to do the same.