IRVING, Texas – Maybe my brain grew a tad mushy during my week of vacation, somewhat losing track of not only the proximity to the start of training camp – although reminded daily how close the beginning is – but also what we annually do about this time of year.
Choose a Mr. Indispensable, the guy the Dallas Cowboys just can't do without, the guy they desperately need to come through during the coming season, and my it's coming fast since the team charter will lift off in but 14 days for Oxnard, Calif., just two weeks away.
In sort of a sad but honorary way, was reminded of this discussion last week when a former member of the Dallas Cowboys passed away, and was thinking for Twenty-some years (1973-1998), you know, when you really get down to it, he was quite indispensable and respected by so many people.
Because at his wake, if it was said once, it was probably said a 100 times, "Boy, he was a good man."
Buck was indeed a good man.
That would be William T. "Buck" Buchanan, born May 24, 1933, in Ballinger, Texas, all those years the team's equipment manager, the tall, gangly guy on the sideline, wearing one of those high-on-on-heads caps with a simple Big D on the front, and one of those utility belts around his waist with everything an equipment man might need during a game, especially all those extra shoestring laces and chin straps.
Boy was he appreciated, evidenced by the outpouring of guests paying their respects after the one-time Senior Master Sargent in the U.S. Air Force Special Services rather fittingly passed away on July 4th. There were no boundaries to those he touched in and around the organization. Players from the '70s were there. From the '80s. From the '90s, meaning Buck was there for six Super Bowls, and those he took care of on a daily basis did not forget.
They came, knowing Buck was an indispensable part of Cowboys history. Not just the players, but folks from the front office, mail room, Cowboys Weekly/Star Magazine, trainers, doctors, game-day crews (time keeper, on-field personnel), media members, current equipment room employees, video department, scouting, coaching.
Indeed a "good man" indispensable to so many.
So Buck gets an assist on this year's Mr. Indispensable, reminding me it was time.
And since we try our best to refrain from repeat winners – it would be so easy to name Tony Romo, last year's winner, or Dez Bryant, the 2013 winner, since without either, or gosh forbid both, this offense would become far less dynamic – this year's task is quite difficult.
Might have been recently-acquired Greg Hardy, sight unseen since the Cowboys sorely need to improve their pass rush, but at least now he'll only miss four games instead of the originally-suspended 10. Still. Same with Rolando McClain, certainly a dynamic player last year – when he was available – and now he for sure won't be there the first four games of the season while serving his league-mandated suspension.
Might have been DeMarco Murray, but sorry, I wouldn't have been convinced, and he's not here, anyway.
The entire offensive line, those starting five guys, but that's sort of a cop out, and as important as they were to the Cowboys 12-4, NFC East-title, playoff-victory success from last season, not sure anyone would buy at the end of the season if we said, "Well, the Cowboys regressed to 8-8 because a starting center, guard or tackle, was lost for the season."[embeddedad0]
Look, I know Jason Witten is quite important, and still maintain is the best complete tight end going these days, but you'd probably say what a lame excuse for finishing, say, 8-8 again, because you're tight end was missing.
So after much deep deliberation, the guy defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli believes is on the precipice of playing at a Pro Bowl level, the one in my opinion must burst on the scene while playing the spot backed up by a bevy of unprovens, 2015 Mr. Indispensable is . . . .
What, surprised? You shouldn't be.
Think about it. What's the most coveted position in Marinelli's 4-3 scheme? The three-technique defensive tackle, the guy he keeps on the move, tries to wear out offenses with his constant motion, up-field disruption. The guy he expects to be one of the team leaders in sacks and TFLs (tackles for losses).
OK, so now who the Cowboys have to play that spot?
Remember, there is no more Jason Hatcher, who converted his 11-sack 2013 season into a lucrative free-agent deal from Washington. There is no more Henry Melton, the guy the Cowboys were counting on last season to man that spot, only to disappoint, leaving the door open last year for Crawford to start 12 of his 15 games at the three-technique.
Plus, who else is there? Who else might you count on to give this defense the catalytic player desired to man that spot? Well, there is potential but nothing proven, guys such as Terrell McClain, maybe Jack Crawford, maybe rookie Ryan Russell, the latter two defensive ends certainly candidates to be moved inside. Maybe Chris Whaley, but he hasn't played any football in more than a year and none at the NFL level.
There's also role players, those defensive ends capable of moving inside as pass rushers on the nickel, you know, Jeremy Mincey, DeMarcus Lawrence, Hardy when he's available now the second quarter of the season.
But that's it.
Tyrone . . . Tyrone . . . he's our man.
Do not scoff, either. Look, I know he finished last year with all of three sacks and just four tackles for losses, ranking third and fourth, respectively, for the Cowboys.
But let us not forget Crawford had not played in any football game prior to the 2014 season in 20 months, having to return from that torn Achilles the first training camp practice of 2013.
Let's also remember the Cowboys were convinced this time last year Crawford was a strong-side defensive end, exactly where he started the first three games of the season but made little to no impact.
Then out of necessity, Marinelli moved Crawford inside, where he began making an impact, but also could have been labeled during his 12 starts at the three-technique spot as "Mr. Almost" – he'd almost get a sack, he'd almost get a TFL.
While he finished with just three sacks, he was second on the team with 29 QB pressures, too many times a half-step late. Same with the TFLs. Finished with four, but was oh-so close to so many more times.
He is on the verge, and the good thing about all those "almosts" is they still are eating at him, serving as motivation for 2015, and in his mind absolutely no consolation for 2014. He has vowed to turn the corner.
That's a promise the Cowboys desperately need him to keep.