1. How would you describe the Cowboys RB situation to someone who had no knowledge of it previously?
The best word I could use would be balanced. The Cowboys have three starting-caliber running backs in Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice with each back possessing a unique but valuable skill set.
A few years ago Barber was known around the NFL as perhaps the toughest running back to tackle and he excelled in short yardage situations. Since taking over as the full time starter, however, he's regressed a bit under the wear and tear of being the main running back. This season, he's slimmed down a bit and he looks to adjust his style and all reports have Barber looking better than ever. Tashard Choice is a complete back; he's not exceptionally fast or big but he gets the job done in nearly every area of the game. The past few seasons, when the Cowboys have had to deal with injuries, Choice has filled in admirably as the lone running back. It's a great luxury to have.
Felix Jones, however, is the star. He's likely to get the majority of the carries this season as he's shown the ability to be able to carry the ball between the tackles and not just be an outside runner. Not only is he deceptively fast but he's big and he's tough to bring down when he has a full head of steam. He's one of the most remarkable backs in the NFL when it comes to his speed as he is able to makes cuts in the open field without losing any speed at all. He still needs to prove his durability, and he's worked this offseason at bulking up while not losing any speed.
2. What is the biggest position(s) of concern for the Cowboys this offseason?
Easily the depth at offensive line. The Dallas Cowboys haven't drafted so well on the offensive line the past ten years or so and have had to make trades to pickup their top reserve linemen in Montrae Holland and Alex Barron. Coincidentally, it's likely you'll see both backups with the starting offense on Saturday since Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier are out with knee injuries. After Barron and Holland, the backups are unproven, raw and very young players so any more injuries could really hurt the Cowboys. It doesn't help that those two are coming off injuries themselves.
The Cowboys' starting line is aging and while still solid has shown weaknesses the past few seasons. The bright spot has been the emergence of Doug Free at LT, who has had a great camp and preseason and looks to be an actual upgrade over Flozell Adams.
3. Is this a better team than the 2009 Cowboys? Why or why not?
Yes, if for no other reason than it's another year of experience for essentially the exact same team as last year. With the exception of LT and free safety, the Cowboys are entering the season with the exact same starting roster as last season and right now it appears that the depth on this team is even better than it was a year ago -- especially on defense. The Cowboys have an exceptional front seven on defense that is very deep, led by DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Keith Brooking, a group bolstered by rookie ILB Sean Lee and a number of talented 2nd year linebackers.
It's the addition of Dez Bryant on offense that could really see this team improve, however. While the Cowboys offense last season was certainly prolific the team had trouble scoring; with Dez Bryant on the field, in addition to Roy Williams, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, Tony Romo now has a formidable number of weapons at his disposal.
If the Cowboys can build upon last season. learn from the mistakes that were made and keep the mentality that while ultra-talented the team still has to earn wins, then there's no reason this team can't go far into the postseason.
4. What aspect of the Chargers game could give the Cowboys the most problems?
I haven't studied the Chargers all that much, but I'm just going to say that right now, for this game, it's going to be the pass rush. It's very likely that Sean Phillips will be going up against Robert Brewster on Saturday, a RT who has just two preseason games under his belt in his career. While Montrae Holland is certainly serviceable, we've seen that the communication on the line breaks down if you take away Kosier, and the Chargers front seven could cause all sorts of issues. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys adjust and if Tony Romo is still able to have time in the pocket to find his receivers downfield.
I'd also keep an eye on the Chargers passing attack. It's going to be a great test for the Cowboys, especially if this team hopes to boast one of the best defenses in the NFL.
5. Who are the key Cowboys players for us to look out for on Saturday
If Dez Bryant were playing, I'd say watch him and nobody else. He's out, however, so we'll have to settle for options two through five.
Jason Witten. The reports from camp are that Witten is looking better than ever and actually appears to be faster than he's ever been before in his career. I know that the Chargers have this guy named Antonio Gates, but Cowboys fans believe that Witten is the most complete tight end in football. He's an incredible route runner, has excellent hands and is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. He won't see a whole lot of time, but it's always great just watching Witten each and every play.
Doug Free. With the RT spot being handled by either a red-shirt rookie or a tackle coming off an injury, Free is very likely to not receive much help. He'll be going up against one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL and this should be the great test for the Cowboys new LT, the one that everyone hopes to be the staple at LT for years to come. Free is fast and strong, has excellent footwork and is a mauler in the running game. Should be interesting to see how he does.
Sean Lee. The Cowboys second round draft pick has had to deal with knee and hamstring injuries during camp and this will be his first NFL game. The rookie ILB is likely to be the nickel linebacker for the Cowboys this season and will get plenty of playing time throughout the year, and many are comparing him to a young Keith Brooking. He's fast to the ball and is perhaps one of the best players on the defense at diagnosing a play and closing on the ball carrier. He's also above average in pass coverage, but he'll certainly get a good test this weekend. He's received nothing but praise for his work all summer long, now it's his chance to prove himself on the field.
Backup cornerbacks and safeties. There's a great battle raging right now for the final cornerback and safety positions. Cletis Gordon has a handle on the 4th CB spot, but Bryan McCann and Jamar Wall are trying to force the Cowboys to keep five cornerbacks as they fight for that last spot. At safety, Barry Church and Danny McCray have both had great camps and their high level of play not just at safety but on special teams as well will likely bump veteran Pat Watkins off the roster.