Spagnola: About To Find Out If These Cowboys Are Or If They Aren't

OXNARD, Calif. – Man, never so happy for the start of training camp in my entire life.

         Opening press conference on Friday.

         Opening ceremony Saturday.

         Morning walk-through practice and then the first practice of the 2016 camp here at the River Ridge Complex later Saturday afternoon.

         Life is good.

         As for the Dallas Cowboys, that depends on how you look at things. Are you a glass half-full person or are you a glass half-empty person?

         Because the Cowboys can quench whatever thirst you might have.

         Half full?

         Well, as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated here Friday morning, "We're excited about this team. … Boy, I am excited, had visions of sugar plums seeing our No. 9 roll out there at our practices, No. 88, No. 32 and, of course, No. 25 back in uniform and working on the field again. These guys represent weapons we didn't have last year."

         Jerry might have added No. 21 Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth pick in the draft, who they didn't have last year. He might have added a Tyrone Crawford with two good arms or a Morris Claiborne, finally healthy for once to start training camp. He might have added last year's in-season additions of David Irving and Brice Butler or stabilizing last year's first-round pick Byron Jones' position at free safety.

Good stuff right off the bat, mostly the potential of an offense if all remain healthy to repost those numbers from 2014 when the Cowboys were averaging 29 points a game.

But then, half empty?

Both projected starting defensive ends, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, suspended for certain the first four games of the season, and as for Gregory, maybe more. And if he can't get his act together – he's entered inpatient treatment – last year's second-round pick might not ever play another down for the Cowboys again. Not the Cowboys choice. That will ultimately be his.

Then projected starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain suspended for the first 10 games, along with adding storms clouds to an already murky situation by not reporting to camp on time. He, too, will be the only one to blame if he never players another down for the Cowboys.

A dirty-rotten shame.

Add to that third-round draft choice Maliek Collins and restricted free agent-signee Benson Mayowa starting camp off on the physically unable to perform list, along with recently re-signed tight end James Hanna, whose surprising knee problem prevented him from passing his physical. Add to that veteran backup tackle Charles Brown deciding to call it quits.

So as Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told me a little more than a month ago, "As I said, at the end of the day, the one thing that concerns everybody in the organization the most is when the offense on the other side breaks their huddle, we really don't have a guy on the defensive front that they're looking for and saying, 'Hey, we better put two guys on that guy. We better know exactly where he is.'"

Or as Cowboys former Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton remembered Friday on our* Talkin' Cowboys*, "There's 56 … there's 56," recalling how Troy Aikman constantly was calling out where New York Giants former linebacker Lawrence Taylor was lined up.

That definitely is a problem, at least until Lawrence returns, and even at that, who knows what's going to happen with Gregory. Actually he only knows that, his behavior and ability to solve whatever problem he has to determine if he even has a future with the team.

Bad stuff, making me think, *Same Time, Next Year *– and the year before that.

Last year early in training camp, with the Cowboys coming off a pitiful total of 28 sacks in 2014, the fewest since 2002, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was telling me this: "I want to find guys who want to be a pass rusher. I don't care what they look like, where they're at, where they line up to rush, where they came from. I don't care. Never bothers me how they got here …

"Rush."

Well, the Cowboys finished with only three more sacks in 2015, and now the bad part is the guys representing 17 of those sacks last year – Lawrence, McClain, Greg Hardy, Terrence Mitchell – will not be on this roster for at least the first four games of 2016.

And you know what? If we go back to the start of camp in 2014, well, Same Time, That Year, too, the very first one the Cowboys were playing without DeMarcus Ware since he was drafted in 2005.

Why, here was what I wrote just before the Cowboys took off for training camp right here:

Defense … defense … defense.

*         That will be the Dallas Cowboys battle cry when they land Tuesday at Naval Air Station Point Mugu in Southern California.*

Defense … defense … defense.

*         That will be the Dallas Cowboys overriding priority during their upcoming three-and-a-half-week training camp stay at the River Ridge Playing Fields in Oxnard, Calif., starting with the first practice on Thursday preparing for the 2014 NFL season.*

*         And for good reason.*

That reason?

The Cowboys were coming off their worst defensive performance in franchise history, giving new meaning to "Doomsday."

So, you detect a three-year trend here?

The Cowboys have tried to rectify their defensive problems. In 2014, the team spent seven of its nine draft choices on defensive players, including Lawrence in the second round. They gambled on the muddled history of Rolando McClain. They named Marinelli defensive coordinator.

Then in 2015 they spent their first-round pick on defensive back Byron Jones, their second-round pick on Gregory and three of the next six on defensive players. They also signed Hardy in free agency and re-signed McClain.

         How desperate were they to improve their pass rush? They gambled on the character of Hardy. They gambled on the previous marijuana-laced history of Gregory. They gambled, but only a one-year, no signing-bonus contract, on the sometimes confusing McClain.

         Like, they knew what they were getting themselves into. They weren't naïve. But they were scrambling commonsense with desperation to improve.

         That really didn't work, the defense holding steady when improvement was sorely needed, and now they find themselves in the same boat here in 2016.

         So here we go. A cause for celebration or a cause for anxiety. Both legitimate.[embeddedad0]

         I'll let you decide which part of the glass you reside in, or if you remain neutral for the time being.

         Because here is all I know. With an offense averaging 29 points a game, the team's leaders in sacks in 2014 were Jeremy Mincey with six, Henry Melton with five and George Selvie with three. And guess what, none of those guys are on a current roster just two seasons later.

         So to the half empty guys, let's give the likes of Mayowa – once he is cleared to practice –Irving, Ryan Russell and Charles Tapper a chance to show what they can do. Maybe even Jack Crawford. If they show nothing, then the Cowboys must move on to any available veteran.

         But all I know is, if this rehabilitated Cowboys offense can be as powerfully explosive as that 2014 bunch, this will cover a whole lot of waters.

         "If you can have a really strong offense, as we've had in past years, that puts a lot of pressure on the other team," Stephen Jones said on Friday. "You've got to get pressure, you've got to get takeaways, and control the ball."

         Gotta, gotta, gotta.

         So half full or half empty?

         All I know is I have these little short wine glasses, sorta like my grandpa used to drink out of back in the day, and they have a line around the middle of the glass. Above the line is the word Ottimista. Below the line, Pessimista.

         Where is your wine at?

         Salute

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