Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 5/20/13
IRVING The Dallas Cowboys begin this week's series of OTAs as an 8-8 team. With eight position groups. And with eight things I'll look for starting Tuesday at Valley Ranch: The position group of QB: More than ever, Tony Romo is this team's "Mood Ring.'' By virtue of everything from his new 55-million-guaranteed contract to his vow to cut back on golf to his owner's preposterous pronouncement that his involvement in the decision-making process will be Peyton ManningRoger Staubach-like, this quarterback is the gauge. The thermometer. The Mood Ring. OTA's (which run Tuesdays through Thursdays at Valley Ranch for the next three weeks) is non-contact stuff. It's about formations, 7-on-7's, 11-on-11's It's an arrangement where a masterful quarterback can be the dominant player on the field, if he's comfortable and confident when it comes to the changes being made for his benefit changes that may include more play-calling influence from Romo. Question 1: So how's Tony Romo's mood? The position group of RB: I was told on Draft Night minutes after the second-round selection of tight end Gavin Escobar that it was to be taken as a signal that Dallas is going away from using a fullback. That means more multiple looks at other positions and it means more of DeMarco Murray lining up alone in the backfield. This week marks the on-field start of the remolding of a running game that last year finished 31st in the NFL. Question 2: So is a change of personnel groups the answer to changing the effectiveness of the running game? The position group of TE: "12 Personnel'' and the drafting of Escobar would seem to place a spotlight on the rookie. But for me, I'm interested to see young James Hanna take the first turn behindalongside Jason Witten. Escobar is long, smooth and graceful. But Hanna has some of those traits, is thicker, and is much faster. He dominated on the practice field as a member of the scout team last year, and emerged late in the season in live action. Question 3: So in the much-ballyhooed "12 Personnel'' group, who is the second tight end? The position group of WR: Dez Bryant has handled this offseason with the same level of maturity that he handed the second half of last season on the field, when in the final eight games of the year he caught 72 passes for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is quite clearly evolving into a Pro Bowl-caliber performer, the sort of thing that doesn't come with talent alone. At 24, he has what coaches say is a "mastery'' of the playbook, something that wasn't the case early last season. He also is charismatic enough to become a leader of this group, somebody kids like Dwayne Harris, Terrance Williams, Danny Coale and Cole Beasley can look up to. Question 4: So is Dez Bryant grown up to the point where he works and produces like a Pro Bowler not just in huge games with the world watching, but also in OTAs where he needs to be his harshest critic? The position group of OL: I've heard it argued that Dallas' mediocre offensive line play from a year ago has little shot of an upgrade because the Cowboys didn't undergo enough change. But there can be changes: A new starting center in rookie first-rounder Travis Frederick; competition for the incumbent guards; a chance for Jermey Parnell to beat out Doug Free at right tackle; left tackle Tyron Smith's added 10 pounds making him more of a road-grader. At this early stage, though, the offensive line is about the installation of some components that aren't yet fully known. Will Dallas use more zone blocking? Is offensive coordinator Bill Callahan being allowed to wield greater influence? Is there a way to "coach em up'' here? Question 5: So can this OTA mark the start of this group achieving continuity? The position group of DL: DeMarcus Ware (rehabbing) and Anthony Spencer are, to the coaches, known quantities even as they move from 3-4 linebackers to 4-3 ends. It also seems that vets Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher very much have the inside track on the starting tackle jobs. But defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's 4-3 utilizes a "3-technique'' defensive tackle and a "1-technique'' defensive tackle. The latter player occupies two blockers; it's not a glamour spot. The "3-technique gets to oppose one-on-one blocking; it's an opportunity for someone to become a star. Hatcher tells me that Kiffin informed both players that they have a shot at the glamour job. It's a good coaching trick, setting up a race between a pair of reliable veterans. Ratliff is the favorite, but this will be a friendly-but-intense competition. Question 6: So Is there a poor-poor-poor man's Warren Sapp who can emerge here? LB: More than in any position group, the Cowboys believe that Kiffin's 4-3 alignment is tailor-made to get the most out of linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. Both players have superior east-to-west speed, and Lee in particular also seems to have what it takes to drop deep into coverage while also launching himself into gaps as a run-stopper. But each potential standout missed huge chunks of last season. Question 7: So frankly, will the Cowboys be able to finish the day with a sigh of relief regarding the health of their promising young linebackers? DB: The Tampa-2 will require an adjustment for Mo Claiborne at cornerback. It will fit his running mate, Brandon Carr, just fine. Dallas knows what it has in slot corner Orlando Scandrick and is already close to feeling confident about slot corner B.W. Webb, even though he's a small-school rookie. But there is no such confidence merited at safety, where the two guys who end up starting must be rangy centerfielders, sure tacklers and ballhawks. Barry Church will win one of the jobs but is coming off an injury. Rookies like J.J. Wilcox and undrafted Jakar Hamilton have so much to learn. Veteran newcomer Will Allen would mean a band-aid at the position. Question 8: So is oft-injured kid Matt Johnson ready to jump off of YouTube and jump off of IR and look like a real live NFL player?
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
Cult of Sport: Before there was Ezekiel Elliott, there was Eric Dickerson
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: NFL believes Oakland ‘has no strong desire’ to keep the Raiders

Aroldis Chapman explains why he chose to return to Yankees

Brandon Marshall: Bryce Petty used to be ‘fat and overweight’

NFL: Ezekiel Elliott investigation is still ‘active’ and ‘ongoing’

Report: Relationship between Jeff Fisher, Rams GM is ‘toxic’

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Ex-Eagle: Strippers told him that Donovan McNabb hated him

Admiral rips Kaepernick during Pearl Harbor speech

Kevin Love has great tweet about his mucous malfunction

Houston AD seemingly refutes Kiffin rumors with clever tweet

Dana White: Conor McGregor will appear on ‘Game of Thones’

Report: Aroldis Chapman signs with Yankees

Sporting life: Gifts for the fan who is always on point

Matt Ryan is now Mr. Pick-Two

MLB Winter Meetings report, Day 3: News, notes and rumors

Four stinkiest games remaining on the 2016 NFL schedule

Ten young NBA players developing into stars

TailGreater: Tips for bowl travelers

Ranking the single-player modes of the 2017 sports games

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Box Score 12/7: The date we got to know Bo

MLB Winter Meetings report, Day 2: News, notes and rumors

Ten most intriguing non-NY6 bowl games

Breaking down the NFL playoff picture heading into Week 14

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Sporting life: Gifts for the fan who is always on point

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Matt Ryan is now Mr. Pick-Two

MLB Winter Meetings report, Day 3: News, notes and rumors

TailGreater: Tips for bowl travelers

Ranking the single-player modes of the 2017 sports games

MLB Winter Meetings report, Day 2: News, notes and rumors

The five best (and worst) times athletes hosted 'SNL'

The five must-have sports games of 2016

Winter Meetings report, Day 1: News, notes and rumors

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker