with these guys. They do the dirty work for DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis. Grade: B.
Offensive Line: Now the big-boned guys, just like the only major city in the Texas Panhandle. If you think about it, those old Cadillacs nose-dived into that field off I-40 line up just like these Cowboys up-front pillars. And who else would you associate with the brawny stockyards just outside of town or the Big Texan, where I'd put my money on Leonard Davis downing the 72-ounce steak, along with all the trimmings.
Not many offensive lines head to training camps owning three Pro Bowlers, as the Cowboys do with Davis, Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode. This line is somewhat reminiscent of the 90's, when the Cowboys could sport a Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton, Erik Williams and Mark Tuinei. Its protection of Tony Romo has been superb, and so has the run-blocking in fourth quarters. Now if they can just start mauling a little sooner. Grade: A-.
Safeties: Heading west out of Amarillo, Tucumcari will be the biggest city before getting to Albuquerque. Not sure what to expect here, the noted city during the Route 66 days for its billboards "Tucumcari Tonite," trying to convince travelers to spend the night in one of its 1,200 motel rooms.
Sort of like the safeties, right? Not sure what to expect. Nice the Cowboys pleased Ken Hamlin, but hopefully he's not a bit rusty after missing all the off-season work at The Ranch while angling for his long-term deal. And Roy, who knows? If anyone is putting pressure on Williams for a comeback season, then it should be the Pro Bowl strong safety, as odd as that might seem. But he knows and this coaching staff knows. That's why it's imperative Patrick Watkins continues to play well in nickel situations and former corner Courtney Brown jumps on the transition fast track. Grade: B-.
Kickers: When I think of Albuquerque, I think of "The Pit," the University of New Mexico's basketball arena built 37 feet into Albuquerque's southeast mesa, or maybe Santa Fe, just to the north, or Taos, even farther north. But most I'm guessing think of the International Balloon Fiesta, held in October, a kaleidoscope of colorful hot air balloons filling the skies.
Right there with the Cowboys kicker and punter, Nick Folk and Mat McBriar, who did a fine job last year of filling the air with quality kicks. No complaints here. Folk was rock solid as a rookie. McBriar has turned into one of the best, most consistent punters in the NFL. What more could you ask for? Grade: A.
Special Teams: Now don't know this for sure, but have been told Grants, New Mexico, is one of those rare finds along old Route 66, the little town halfway between Albuquerque and the Arizona state line which plays host to the Cibola National Forest, home to Mt. Taylor. So we'll see.
Same with the special teams, meaning coverage units and kick returns: We'll see. There is great potential to improve the return units with the additions of Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins and, with good fortune, Adam Jones, to Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton. Could go from average at best to best. Same with the coverage units which struggled last year. Add Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, get Deon Anderson back and the possibility of Erik Walden, and a team weakness from last year could possibly become a strength. But again, we'll see.
Running Backs: Can't wait to drive into Winslow, Ariz., another one of those old Route 66 relics, this one located between the New Mexico border and Flagstaff. What great promise the old town has. And you've heard of it right, from the old Eagles song, Take It Easy, where Jackson Browne and Glen Frey wrote the lyrics: Well, I'm a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see. It's a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin' down to take a look at me . . .. Just gotta stop at the Standin' On The Corner Park and take a picture on the street corner with sign of said lyrics hanging from a light pole.
Admit it, you have the same anticipation for these running backs. Marion Barber starting. Felix Jones, returning kickoffs, catching passes out of the backfield, running sweeps and draws and screens, then some
Cowboys have had in nearly 40 years. Seriously. Grade: A.
Tight Ends: Now we get on the Ventura Highway, where the days are longer, the nights are stronger than moonshine, speeding toward the Pacific, and you know, a stop in Thousand Oaks probably is a must. Just to see the old place where the Cowboys spent many a summer for training camp. The old practice fields are gone if I remember right. There was construction going on or already had taken place last time I visited. Vivid memories of the old days there, living in the Cal Lutheran dorm rooms, waiting for Tony Dorsett to drive up ending his holdout, the Steve Walsh press conference and those summer John Wooden basketball camps. Great suburban city.
So isn't the tight end position, thanks to perennial Pro Bowler Jason Witten, a throwback to the old days, when the likes of Jay Novacek, Doug Cosbie and Billy Joe DuPree roamed the middle of the field for the Cowboys? We can argue Witten is the most complete tight end in the NFL, having caught 96 passes this past season, but with the ability to be a blocker at the line of scrimmage. We'll find out if the Cowboys' projection for Tony Curtis is accurate, and if not, then second-round pick Martellus Bennett must step up. As pass catchers go, this position could make a huge splash. Grade: B.
Wide Receivers: Just 20 miles to go, the projected three-night, four-day trip will conclude when we pull into Oxnard, right off the 101 and onto Vineyard. Good to be back, here where the Cowboys will develop their backbone for the 2008 season. Oxnard is more functional than fancy, a pastoral respite from the 100-degree heat of Dallas.
So it's fitting we conclude with wide receivers, the position that might ultimately determine success or failure for the Cowboys in 2008, failure meaning the inability to win a playoff game. Terrell Owens means so much to this team, and if Terry Glenn doesn't show up - i.e. sign his split contract - then the pressure will be on the likes of Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, Miles Austin and Isaiah Stanback to step up even more than they did last year in Glenn's absence. These guys could make or break this team, especially Owens, who must remain healthy enough for another 80-catch season, double-digit-touchdown season - Glenn or no Glenn. Grade: B.
So as you can see, this trip has potential for greatness, cruising across the USA with the chance to stop in little towns, big truck stops, cozy diners, glitzy casinos and that gigantic hole in the ground. Just like this team, one with great anticipation for the 2008 season, but you never really know for sure until you get started.
But it's all about to begin, just like our trip, and we'll keep you abreast of our whereabouts right here on DallasCowboys.com., and if you happen to see the big blue and white bus cruising by, give us a wave or stop by if we're parked.
I mean, you've just got to meet Emory.