Williams (above) has the build of Owens, but not the downfield speed and separation.
James D. Smith/Icon SMI
September 13 at Tampa Bay 20 N.Y. GIANTS 28 CAROLINA (M)
October 4 at Denver 11 at Kansas City 18 Bye 25 ATLANTA
November 1 SEATTLE 8 at Philadelphia 15 at Green Bay 22 WASHINGTON 26 OAKLAND (T)
December 6 at N.Y. Giants 13 SAN DIEGO 19 at New Orleans (S) 27 at Washington
January 3 PHILADELPHIA
DeMarcus Ware, Linebacker: Theoretically, film study should get less intense as a player becomesmore experienced, but that hasn't been the case for the 6'4", 262-poundWare. In his first few years the 2005 first-round pick concentrated on beatingthe man in front of him. But once coordinators starting using reinforcements toneutralize him, Ware had to shift his focus to beating everyone in frontof him. "Now, instead of studying the tackles, I have to look at what blockingschemes teams use against certain defensive formations," says Ware. "I've had tobecome a smarter player."
There's no doubt he was a better one in '08, when he tied for second in theNFL in forced fumbles (six) and threatened Michael Strahan's sack record,finishing with a league-leading 20. Now he wants to generate even moreturnovers. Lacking another top pass-rush threat to draw attention from Ware,coach and coordinator Wade Phillips will keep moving his All-Pro around thefield to give him the best shot at the ball. "You can sack a guy and bring upthird-and-20, and the offense might still convert," Ware says. "What we want isto get the ball back to our offense. That's what good defenses do."
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  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
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.