Dallas Cowboys face uncertainty as camp approaches

Here at isportsweb, we pride ourselves on bold predictions. With no meaningful games for another seven weeks, there’s not much to do but watch training camp and guess at how the season might go.

All predictions are inherently flawed, but some teams make them easier than others. The Patriots are a pretty safe bet to make the playoffs–the only question in Foxborough is about how far they can go. The Seahawks and 49ers are going to be good, the Raiders are going to be bad, and so forth.

The Dallas Cowboys? Forget it. The NFC East in general is a very tough call this year, and the Cowboys are one of the biggest reasons why. Predictions have them finishing just about anywhere–anywhere, that is, except first. Not many have them taking the East this season.

And why should they? For three consecutive seasons the Dallas Cowboys have played in Week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs and squandered that chance, this despite the fact that the NFC East is on a startling run of mediocrity. None of its recent champions have bested 10 wins, and the division’s last Super Bowl winner was the 9-7 Giants of 2011.

Flash forward to 2014 and the East looks primed for another so-so season. There’s not a lot of optimism surrounding the Cowboys, and understandably so, but the team may be in position to surprise the football world and make the playoffs. Or it might somehow regress from its perennial 8-8. It all depends on how the team’s numerous variables turn out.

[New York Giants: Two more battles to watch in camp]

dallas cowboys

Sean Lee

The linebackers, for instance. Losing Sean Lee in OTAs was devastating, but it’s a lot better than losing him in, say, Week 2. Now the team has time to move forward without him–whatever that may mean. Expect Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman and Anthony Hitchens to battle it out for Lee’s spot, probably flanked by Kyle Wilber and Bruce Carter on the outside. The success of this unit will come down to Carter’s ability to take a step forward and how well Lee’s replacement fares.

We all know that the D-line was in turmoil last season, but if healthy its 2014 counterpart should fare much better. Meanwhile, in the secondary, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox will need to show a lot of improvement if they aspire to be the impact players the team needs.

More than the players, the defense’s success hinges on the brain of Rod Marinelli, the team’s third defensive coordinator in three seasons. If he can correct Monte Kiffin’s mistakes and use these players to the best of their ability, we might be looking at an average unit in 2014. And after last year, “average” would be a huge complement.

To make the playoffs, however, the offense will need to be much better than average. And on this side of the ball there’s also a new sheriff in town. Bill Callahan has unwillingly handed the play-calling duties to Scott Linehan, imported from Detroit. Expect Linehan to throw the ball and make better use of Gavin Escobar, the team’s backup tight end.

Beyond that it’s hard to know what to expect, for the offense and the rest of the team. Dallas has a new offensive play-caller, a new defensive coordinator, and four of the team’s biggest names (DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee) won’t be out there. It’s hard to say what to expect from a team with so much transition.

The best I can do is say that, on the one hand, teams without coaching continuity don’t tend to thrive. Here’s looking at you, Cleveland.

But on the other hand, Jason Garrett and his staff can’t really afford an off year if they want to keep their jobs. Maybe the pressure will elevate the entire team.

So it’s hard to know what to expect from the Cowboys this season. Hopefully training camp will offer some insights into how this team will do. Of course the likeliest scenario is probably another 8-8. Here’s hoping that an improved defense and better coaching can finally change that.

Remember to check out our Cowboys page for all your news and analysis of the silver and blue.