This is the time for optimism in the NFL. Every team feels they have taken a step forward. The Dallas Cowboys are leading the charge.
Owner Jerry Jones said on his radio show that he believes this year’s team is better than the group he had going into 2016. That is a heavy compliment, considering the 2016 team went 13-3 and won the NFC East title.
“We're better. I think we're better,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan on Friday. “We didn't know for sure what we were going to have with Dak [Prescott] and frankly [Ezekiel Elliott]. He had a little limited training camp because of some tissue issue there. So, we knew they were good players and Dak certainly had a good preseason. But we didn't have the real season or the way he did in the season. So, you got to look at that.
“I think I like our depth on our offensive line better than we had back at this time last year, better. We had [Ron] Leary and I thought a lot of Leary. But this [La'el] Collins is playing really good. Boy, he played a game last week; physical, physical game. Although he got those penalties, he wouldn't have got those, I think, in regular-season games. Officiating was really trying to be pointed there. But the point is I like our depth there.
“I like our receiving corps better. Some of these young guys we've got, [Ryan] Switzer are really adding some depth in there. [Brice] Butler has really looked better than he looked at this time last year. Tight end is one of our best positions and we've really got some depth there. So, I like all of that.
“Obviously this young quarterback [Cooper] Rush coming along as he has just absolutely has given us a twinkle in our eye. So, I like that better.
“From the standpoint of defense, Jaylon Smith is going to be a factor. [Anthony] Hitchens had his best camp. And we don't have him early, but we will have him after a few games. But when I look across our front seven, we're better. And I think we've got more talent in the secondary than we had last year because -- now, not experience -- but talent. We do have a little experience out there with [Anthony] Brown and [Orlando] Scandrick. So, I'm probably going too long here. This team is more talented. This team is better than this time last year."
Executive vice president Stephen Jones echoed those thoughts in a radio appearance later Friday on The Fan.
“I think our defense is probably the most improved obviously,” Stephen Jones said. “We put a lot of resources there in terms of draft picks that can — Taco [Charlton] one and then using three picks on defensive backs, the next three out of four picks on defensive backs that I think will make major contributions.
“I think Stephen Paea has actually been a real pleasant surprise. [Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] knew Stephen well from Chicago and had high hopes for him, but I think he's better than we thought he would be in terms of what he can do in terms of nose tackle and what he can improve on our defense. But I do think once these guys settle in, they get in the groove here this year, I think we've improved a lot on the defensive side of the football, especially when you talk about pressure on the passer as well as making plays on the ball. All these defensive backs, we picked them in a lot of ways because they were players that did make plays on the ball in college. So, I expect us to be better in getting pressure on the passer and improved as well in making plays on the ball."
The Cowboys must cut their roster from 90 to 53 on Saturday.