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 1998 and safety Darren Woodson.
College: Arizona State
Cowboys Tenure: 1992-2003
Why Him? When you think about the Cowboys' teams of the 1990s, it's impossible to start the sentence without the Triplets. Even guys like Novacek and Moose Johnston became big names. On defense, Charles Haley gets a lot of attention, but arguably the glue of those defenses for about a decade was safety Darren Woodson. There weren't many weaknesses in his game and he wasn't afraid to take on any job necessary. Whether it was covering the slot receiver, playing special teams, covering the tight end or stepping up to the line of scrimmage and battling with offensive linemen, Woodson could and would do it. He wasn't afraid to get after his teammates and show off some leadership skills either. For a good part of the 1990s, there weren't many safeties in the NFL better than Woodson, who was selected to five Pro Bowls. In a 2002 game against Seattle, he surpassed Lee Roy Jordan (1,236) for the most tackles in team history. But sure enough, just like many other times in Woodson's career, he was overshadowed that day when Emmitt Smith surpassed Walter Payton for the NFL's all-time rushing record. That's how the career typically went for Woodson, who has a comfortable lead as the franchise's all-time leading tackler with 1,350 tackles.
The Role:For all but maybe one or two years of Woodson's career, he was more than just the starting strong safety. Woodson was virtually the quarterback of the defense and one of the true leaders of the overall team. For this squad, filled with natural leaders such as Lilly, White, Howley and Lee Roy Jordan, Woodson wouldn't automatically assume the leadership role, but he'd still be the last line of defense and quarterback of the secondary. What made Woodson so unique was his ability to be the hard-hitting, intimidating safety on the back end combined with the ability to cover the inside receiver in the slot. Woodson was a rare player in his abilities and leadership skills.
Back To The Future: How bad does this team miss Darren Woodson? It's safe to say the Cowboys haven't really replaced him, even though he retired just before the 2004 season. So to assume there is a Woodson waiting in the wings on this roster is rather unlikely. The Cowboys can only hope a player such as Barry Church can develop somewhere in the neighborhood of Woodson, who actually played linebacker in college. While Church was a strong safety even in school, his lack of speed has been an issue and it was a knock on Woodson coming out of college. But Woodson was always fast enough on the field and that's a trait players like Church and rookie Matt Johnson have to possess as well.