The most important part of each season may be the daily practice grind in July and August, when a team is truly built. As a countdown to this year's training camp, we celebrate the 53rd year of Cowboys football by constructing the team's all-time 53-man roster, picking one player from each season.
Not so much the 53 best players in club history, DallasCowboys.com has constructed the ultimate team, filling out the depth chart and making room for contributors at every position, including special teams, while at the same time looking ahead to how this year's 53-man roster might shake out.
The series continues today with 1994 and tight end Jay Novacek.
Why Him? Those teams of the early '90s had many special pieces. Of course, there were the Triplets, and that offensive line was dominating. Alvin Harper had big moments, too. But Jay Novacek was arguably just as important in the success of Norv Turner's offense. Novacek arrived in 1990, Troy Aikman's second year, and instantly became a security blanket for the young quarterback. As the offense started to blossom around Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, Novacek continued to contribute on a consistent basis, earning five straight Pro Bowls from 1991-95. Novacek had back issues that prevented him from a longer career. Maybe it's not a coincidence the Cowboys started winning once he arrived and hit their decline when he retired.
The Role: As Troy Aikman's go-to-receiver for much of the Cowboys' success in the early '90s, Novacek was a huge factor in the team winning three Super Bowls in four years. On this ultimate 53-man roster, though, he will take a backseat for the starting role. But his pass-catching skills and ability to get open always made him a valuable part of the passing game. He wasn't considered a great blocker, but Novacek found a way to hold his own at the line of scrimmage. For this team, he'll be the No. 2 tight end but will always have a big role in the offense. Also, Novacek often served as the holder for field goals and extra points and will assume that role on this team as well.
Back To The Future: With Novacek holding the backup role, it's hard to compare him to John Phillips, who is currently the Cowboys' No. 2 tight end. However, Novacek did spend the first five years of his career with the Cardinals, both in St. Louis and Phoenix. His first two seasons produced just two catches and he had only 23 after three years. After three seasons, Phillips has 22 catches, and that includes him missing the entire 2010 campaign with a knee injury. This isn't to suggest Phillips will go on to another team and make their ultimate 53-man roster, but it's just another example that a somewhat slow start to a career doesn't always indicate the future. When it comes to a true comparison, Novacek was for Aikman what Jason Witten has been for Tony Romo – that third-down presence who can extend drives, and ultimately open up the middle for the playmakers on the outside.