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 1999 and linebacker Dexter Coakley:
Cowboys Tenure: 1997-2004
Why Him?Coakley was among the most durable and productive players in team history at one of the most punishing positions in football. Undersized even for a 4-3 defense, the third-round pick out of tiny Appalachian State made himself into an instant starter by utilizing his instincts and quickness. He started 127 of 128 games for the Cowboys over eight seasons, later finishing his career with the Rams (2005-06) after Bill Parcells installed a 3-4 scheme in Dallas that required bigger linebackers. Coakley's three Pro Bowl selections tie for the ninth-most by a Cowboys player. He scored four career defensive touchdowns and set a club record with seven consecutive 100-tackle seasons. His replacement, Bradie James, nearly reached that streak with six from 2005-10.
The Role:Coakley was a fixture at weakside linebacker in the Cowboys' 4-3 front. Our Ultimate 53 roster has maintained today's 3-4 scheme, and Coakley's 235-pound frame is better suited for inside linebacker behind an odd front. He's listed on the second team behind starters Lee Roy Jordan and Chuck Howley, his career continuing that great lineage of Cowboys linebackers.
Back To The Future: Knee surgery kept Bruce Carter from winning a starting job last season as a rookie, but the 2011 second-round pick has a real opportunity this summer. Like Coakley, Carter is a terrific athlete with the speed to play sideline to sideline. The Cowboys hope he also can develop into a multi-year starter next to Sean Lee.