By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
On offense the Cowboys will plug in Doug Free at left tackle. They'll hope Williams improves and Bryant adjusts and Witten and Austin keep on keeping on. It will be Garrett's job to effectively distribute the ball amongst quality running backs Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice and to halt a troubling trend that last year saw his unit produce the second-most yards in the NFL but score only the 14th-most points.
"Whatever we do," Garrett admitted, "it won't be for a lack of talent. We've got some pretty decent weapons."
Ditto on defense, where the Cowboys return All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and will fill Hamlin's vacated safety spot with Alan Ball. Phillips' 3-4 was again stingy last season, but failed to consistently create turnovers. The free safety spot, for example, had a hand in one turnover. New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper had 11.
"I think we've got a chance to be really good," Phillips said. "We could possibly lead the NFC in fewest points allowed."
After making six of seven field goals in the first three exhibition games and continuing to boom kickoffs into the end zone, second-year kicker David Buehler appears to be Dallas' kicker. Despite temporary injuries to Bryant and offensive linemen Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier and a rigorous schedule featuring six playoff teams and last year's Super Bowl squads (the Saints and Indianapolis Colts), the Cowboys are almost irrationally giddy about 2010.
Phillips has lost 40 pounds on the Nutrisystem diet and is visibly happier and more relaxed than in years past. Romo seems at peace in the pocket and as a team leader. And Jones, of course, is ratcheting up the expectations.
"This is our best roster since 1995," he said.
Cautioned veteran linebacker Bradie James, "We hear all you guys talking Super Bowl, but that isn't coming from us. It's a long process, a journey. You can't microwave the season."
When Bryant fell to the turf, tried to walk off the field and then collapsed again on July 30, it sucked the life out of The Alamodome and temporarily derailed the Cowboys' preseason enthusiasm. By the time the season starts, however, the Cowboys expect his ankle to be healed and for him to contribute in Washington. By Halloween the Cowboys expect him to be a starter. And by early 2011 they expect Bryant to be a mature, menacing weapon on one of the NFL's best offenses.
Owner's orders, Bryant will wear No. 88. Two of the receivers to don that jersey—Pearson and Irvin—combined for 1,239 catches, 19,726 yards, 113 touchdowns and four Super Bowl rings.
The Cowboys don't retire numbers, and in special instances they reboot legacies.
"If he can keep his head together, embrace the team concept and keep working hard, the sky is the limit with Dez," Pearson said. "Athletically and talent-wise, he can be one of the greats. Considering his surroundings he's already overcome a lot in his life. But, let's face it, at this point he's a rookie with some question marks. There's got to be some doubt."
Close your eyes.
And, just in case, you might also want to hold your breath.
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