Every season brings a list of guys who find themselves in a position to step up their game or see the Cowboys GM move on. Case and point, Miles Austin. Sometimes players have under performed due to injuries but regardless, expectations are that they deliver and sometimes they do but sometimes not.
My list of Dallas Cowboys who need to have a good season this year or they may not be around any longer. “On thin ice” you might say.
1. CB Morris Claiborne– When you are a top 10 pick in the draft, expectations tend to be high and especially when that team traded up to get you. Claiborne enters his third season after experiencing a plethora of nagging injuries over two seasons as a Cowboy, and providing inconsistent play.
Claiborne only played in 10 games last season due to injury, although at times he has shown signs that he can be what they thought he was when they drafted him in 2011, as he picked off a Peyton Manning pass last season and returned a fumble for a score in the 2012 season. But he struggled with the new 4-3 defense often looking lost in the a secondary that was completely obliterated too often last season.
2014: The Cowboys drafted a defensive back Terrance Mitchell who appears athletic and already has impressed at rookie mini camp with his quickness and ability to play in zone coverage. Morris will need to step up his game quickly because Mitchell is capable of competing for a spot on the roster. This season Morris needs to show fans why he was the top corner in the draft a few years ago because if he doesn’t, I think Dallas will move on from the disappointing Claiborne in 2015.
2. LB Bruce Carter– The Cowboys drafted Carter in 2011 in the 2nd round and although he was recovering from a major knee injury suffered late in his college season, they believed he could recover and help them. It was expected that at linebacker Carter would make a smooth transition to their new 4-3 defense in 2013, but he didn’t. Carter often struggled in coverage having difficulty picking up backs out of the backfield and appearing a step or two slow at times. Even being benched at one point in the season.
Coach Marinelli even called out Carter this offseason saying “it’s a man’s game” HERE
When coach questions your manhood, you know it’s time to step up your game.
2014: Clearly the Cowboys are determined to get better at LB as they drafted Anthony Hitchens in the 4th round and then Will Smith in the 7th. And word is they were seriously considering drafting one in the first round but the Steelers took Ohio St. LB Ryan Shazier at 15 just before Dallas could get him. Hitchens and Smith are both capable of playing the weakside LB position and are good prospects to earn playing time at LB.
Carter needs to show something soon and I do mean quickly in 2014, or Dallas will be moving on.
3. Safeties JJ Wilcox and Jeff Heath– Wilcox was drafted in the 3rd round last season and Heath was an undrafted rookie that managed to make the team. Both struggled mightily last season adapting to the NFL game after playing at smaller colleges. Stephen Jones has spoken out in support of these guys even suggesting they were better than many gave them credit. By no means have they given up on these two as safeties but I don’t think they can play in 2014 like they did in 2013, or support could evaporate quickly.
2014: While Dallas did not draft a safety early in the draft, they did pick up Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon in the 7th round so it’s safe to say they are looking. Dixon is a solid run defender that needs some developing in coverage but he can certainly compete with the young Dallas safeties in house. Expectations are that Wilcox and Heath will show significant improvement in their second seasons, and they need to or Dallas may decide enough is enough.
4. CB Brandon Carr– The Cowboys gave Carr a $50.1 million contract in 2012 so to say the least, expectations are high. After a productive season in 2012, Carr struggled in the new Tampa 2 defense last season as he was completely destroyed by Calvin Johnson in the Lions game (14 catches, 349 yards). That was the biggest single game performance against the Cowboys EVER. It was enough to make coaches and fans lose confidence in their high dollar free agent corner.
2014: Carr feels the pressure to have a better 2014 and boldly stated recently, “Trying to take over the league,” as he spoke of his role as a shut down corner. Carr said he is training differently and has lost about 10 pounds to improve quickness.
I’m not sure if Carr will “take over the league” in Richard Sherman style next season but he needs to play much better in 2014, or Dallas will be asking to restructure his contract or possibly move on.
5. Right tackle Doug Free– It seems Free’s name comes up often as being replaceable. After a dismal 2012 season where he found himself in a rotation at RT, Free played much better last year under a reduced contract. He enters the last year of that contract with a sense of still having to prove himself. Bottom line I don’t think he can afford to have a poor season in 2014.
2014: The Cowboys drafted tackle Zack Martin in the first round and he will be switching to guard for the 2014 season however Dallas likes his versatility on the line and could consider Martin an option at right tackle if Free stumbles. Free needs to eliminate doubts this season or Dallas may look to replace him in 2015.
Carr and Claiborne were given mulligans because of the transition to the new Tampa 2 defense. Heath and Wilcox were extended mulligans as young, inexperienced rookies. But next year I don’t think mulligans will be available for these four guys in the Dallas secondary.
Carter finds himself in a battle for playing time at the start of camp with rookies and will need to quickly show improvement. While Doug Free needs to have the kind of performance in 2014 that makes fans forget about that dreadful penalty filled 2012 season, once and for all.
RELATED: Guys who needed to step it up in 2013 season.
Spoiler alert, Austin and Costa are gone now.