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SI's 2009 NFL Scouting Reports: Dallas Cowboys

SI's 2009 NFL Scouting Reports
Dallas Cowboys
Projected Finish: 3rd in NFC East
 
Williams (above) has the build of Owens, but not the downfield speed and separation.
James D. Smith/Icon SMI
2009 Schedule
 
SPOTLIGHT
 

This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

You-know-who has left town, and now Big D looks to homegrown wideout Roy Williams to make some noise

Roy Williams is no stranger to the outsized pressures that come withplaying football in the Lone Star State. The Odessa native thrived as a receiverat Permian High -- the West Texas powerhouse of Friday Night Lights fame -- andset numerous pass-catching records as a Texas Longhorn. He grew up rooting forthe Cowboys and became one last fall. "Coming back home was easy for me becauseI'm here with family, and with fans who are like my family because they'vecheered for me most of my career," says Williams, a first-round pick of Detroitin 2004.

Whether he'll continue to feel the love depends on his ability to justifyDallas's acquisition of him at midseason in 2008. Just before the October tradedeadline the Cowboys sent three future picks to Detroit for Williams, thensigned him to a five-year, $45 million contract that effectively minted himas their No. 1 receiver, long-term. That made Terrell Owens expendable, andhe was unceremoniously released in March.

The change makes the receiving corps younger (Williams is 27, T.O. 35) andcreates chances for understudies Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin and Sam Hurd -- andit eliminated the team's most grating distraction. "It's not because he doesn'tmean well," player personnel boss Stephen Jones says of Owens. "I just don'tthink he can help himself."

At 6' 3" Williams is just as tall as the man he replaces and just asphysical with defensive backs at the line, but he lacks the downfield speed andseparation that make Owens a regular double- and sometimes triple-team target.Those limitations didn't keep Williams from producing in Detroit, where hescored 29 touchdowns in 4 1/2 seasons, but they have kept him fromrising to the level of T.O., whose 38 TD catches from 2006 through '08 werethe most in the league over that span.

Williams didn't even remotely approach Owens's production in the10 games they played together last year -- Williams had only 19 catchesfor 198 yards and a TD while hobbled with a foot injury, inviting immediatecomparisons with Joey Galloway, another subprime wideout on whom Dallas hadmortgaged its future. To distance himself from the criticism, Williams took afew pages out of the T.O. book (albeit the less dramatic first edition) in theoff-season. First he worked on his body, shedding seven pounds to get to 208.Then he worked on Tony Romo. "My thing was getting in his hip pocket and lettinghim see that I'm a likable person, that he can talk to me about anything," saysWilliams, who spent four weeks getting to know the QB on and off the field.

Despite the added familiarity, Williams is reluctant to put much emphasis onthe likely jump in his stats. "I had 82 catches and 1,310 yards and seventouchdowns my Pro Bowl year [2006] in Detroit, and we were 3-13. It takes a lotof people other than just me." To that end the Dallas offense will become moremethodical, increasing the workload of running backs Marion Barber, Felix Jonesand Tashard Choice while using tight ends Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett toexploit mismatches in the intermediate passing game. In theory this balancedapproach should keep turnovers down, extend defenses and showcase the Cowboys'underused weapons. "It'll spread catches more evenly, instead of just having oneguy be the focus," says Austin, who after battling knee injuries for most oflast year is poised for a breakout '09.

The crushing expectations on America's Team will be even greater this yearwith the opening of its $1.15 billion stadium and the pressure to win itsfirst postseason game since the 1996 season (not to mention preserve WadePhillips's future as coach). But the Texas heat is nothing Williams can'thandle -- or isn't welcoming. "I'm trying to win now," he says. "I'm just happy tobe on a team that can make something happen."

-- Andrew Lawrence

 

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