IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys report to training camp on July 22 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions will still need to be answered.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rowan Kavner, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp. The questions will vary in importance, with the most pressing topics getting brought up in the days closest to camp.
Today, the staff makes predictions on which Cowboys player will be heading to his first Pro Bowl in 2014.
8) Which player has the best chance to make his first Pro Bowl?
Rowan Kavner: I’ll go with one of the players who had a legitimate argument last year, and he doesn’t play offense or defense. The special teams unit was arguably the best part of the Cowboys’ team last year, and the most consistent player on the team was Dan Bailey. For the second straight year, Bailey connected on at least 93 percent of his field goal attempts. That hit rate placed him in the top five in the league in 2013. Bailey’s gotten better with his distance, as well, nailing six field goals of at least 50 yards last season and making every kick after Week 4. He’s also gotten better on his kickoffs as he remains one of the best, most reliable kickers in the NFL since going undrafted in 2011. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he ended this year at the Pro Bowl, particularly if the offense moves the ball more in 2014.
David Helman: = The Cowboys’ defense is unlikely to take a significant step forward without a major step up by the secondary. Even if the pass rush improves, the defense is going to struggle if it can’t rely on its defensive backs for better coverage and more turnovers. So I’m going to go out on a pretty big limb and tap Morris Claiborne to have by far the best season of his career and represent in the Pro Bowl. Claiborne’s injury history is perhaps the biggest obstacle in his way, because he has shown the capacity to play well when he can string together a few games without getting hurt. He’s only got two interceptions in two seasons, so he’s going to have to really improve on that front to make any noise that the league level. The Cowboys’ decision to play more man coverage should help with that, as I think Claiborne can function better and use his athleticism more if left alone with a receiver. Even as I write this it seems like a long shot, but I’ve got a feeling Mo is due for some success – call me an LSU homer if you want.
Nick Eatman: I like this question and I pretty much agree with all of the other answers the guys gave. But I’m going with Dwayne Harris because I think he truly might be the best at his position and probably one of the more unique players in all of football. Yeah, you can find some guys who return kicks and play offense. But he might not be one of the best true return specialists in the game on both punts and kickoffs. And if he is, then see if he’s also running down on kicks, too. The Cowboys have never had a player win Special Teams Player of the Week Award in two different ways like Harris did last year. Once was for his incredible game against the Redskins as a returner and the other was against the Giants when he was a coverage demon in Week 1. If he doesn’t get hurt late last year, he not only leads the team in special teams tackles but might have made the Pro Bowl in some capacity. I think this year he makes it through.
Bryan Broaddus: Give me Travis Frederick to make his first Pro Bowl in 2014. He and Jason Kelce of the Eagles are the two best centers in the division and if you look at the conference, Ryan Kalil of Carolina and Max Unger of Seattle are his major competitors in that regard. If this Cowboys offensive line has the type of season that most believe they are capable of, you could have two of the five making the game. Frederick was rock-solid in his rookie season and when I talk to scouts and other media members around the league, it is not just about Tyron Smith but the job that Frederick was able to do. To a man, he turned heads with his consistency and command of the position. He has the toughs, smarts and mental makeup to play in this league for a long time which not many scouts thought he could do. To his credit, each game he was able to build on the next one, which is the toughest thing for a rookie to do.