IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.
Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.
As we count down the days to camp, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.
With 66 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the wide receiver position:
65) Can Dez Bryant maintain his terrific touchdown rate?
You'd expect this countdown to touch on Michael Irvin way back at No. 88, and it did. The double eights are synonymous with dynamic receiving in Dallas. But 65 is a pretty big number as far as the Hall of Famer is concerned, too – that's how many touchdowns he hauled in during his career.
Despite Irvin's legendary status as a member of The Triplets, his total of 65 is seven short of the team's all-time best of 71, set by Bob Hayes. That said, he's miles ahead of any active Cowboy – 21 scores better than Jason Witten, and a whopping 31 better than longest-tenured wide receiver Miles Austin.
None of that stopped the Cowboys from assigning Irvin's number to Bryant – a mark of high praise for an unproven draft pick. Through three years, Bryant might just be on the right trajectory to emulate his predecessor. This past season was his first success in breaking the 1,000-yard mark, but he flirted with that milestone in 2011.
More pertinent to the topic: he is setting a blistering touchdown pace. Even as a rookie who started just two games, Bryant hauled in six scores, and he's improved by three in the two years since with nine in 2011 and 12 in 2012.
That's an average of nine touchdowns per season so far, and if he can maintain that for a similar length of time to Irvin's career – let's say nine more seasons – he will obliterate Hayes' scoring mark. [embedded_ad]
Of course, that's a lot of supposition for a guy who's entering just the fourth year of his career. Bryant has already showed some of Irvin's penchant for off-field issues, and he'll need to dodge that to improve on his breakout 2012 season.
If he can do that, there's not much excuse for falling short of the standard. He's guaranteed to have one of the leagues's top passers throwing to him for another four or five years, and, according to the Cowboys at least, Tony Romo should now have more time to find his top targets.
It might not be fair. But that's the type of expectation that comes with No. 24 overall pick – not to mention No. 88.
Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 65:
- No. 65 was worn the longest by long-time offensive lineman Andre Gurode, who earned his way to five Pro Bowls during a nine-year stay in Dallas.
- If you're looking for a dark horse starter on the offensive line, the team's current No. 65, Ronald Leary, might be your best bet. Leary is hoping to earn a spot on the 53-man roster after spending most of his rookie season on the Cowboys' practice squad.
- Emmitt Smith played a full NFL season's worth of playoff games with 17, and he rushed for more yards and touchdowns in the playoffs than the average running back does in a season. His longest playoff rush also happened to come in his last playoff appearance – a 27-10 beating at the hands of Minnesota. Smith ripped off a 65-yard gain on the game's opening possession. But it was one of very few things for the Cowboys to get excited about all day.
- Having completed 2,097 of his 3,240 career attempts, Romo has the Cowboys' best career completion percentage with 64.7 percent. That's close enough to 65 for the purposes of this countdown. That percentage is more than three points better than Troy Aikman's and eight points better than Roger Staubach's.