Don’t look now, but two of your favorite piñatas have suddenly become players.
In the past couple years – and I’ve been as guilty as anyone – the favorite whipping ‘Boys for Dallas’ mediocrity have been Doug Free and Orlando Scandrick. And it was warranted. High salaries + low performances = Justified criticism.
Think of the 8-8, non-playoff seasons of 2011 and 2012 and you immediately wallow in images of a penalty on Free or the vision of No. 32 haplessly chasing Victor Cruz or Pierre Garcon.
Tony Romo’s playing at a Pro Bowl level and Dez Bryant is putting up gaudy numbers and Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee are making plays, but dare I say the two biggest surprises in the Cowboys’ 4-3 start have been Free and Scandrick. And, admit it, you would have lost that bet back in August.
In fact, I’ll say it this strongly: Through seven games Free has been Dallas’ best offensive lineman and Scandrick its best defensive back.
Scandrick has only one interception and one sack, but he’s been a much better tackler on third downs. In fact, of the Cowboys’ top 11 tacklers he’s the only non-starter. And, as evidenced against the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson last Sunday in Philadelphia, he’s turned into a sticky defender against slot receivers.
Free, meanwhile, has torn down the posters. Those, that is, that featured him as the scapegoat for all the offensive ailments the last couple years. The right tackle led the Cowboys in penalties in ’11 and ’12, with a whopping 13 last season. He was so bad a year ago that head coach Jason Garrett implemented a platoon system with backup Jermey Parnell taking some snaps and series.
Now? You rarely hear Free’s name called. Or, for that matter, Parnell’s.
Free was flagged for his first penalties of the season in Week 7, two false starts and another false start in which everybody on the offensive line jumped before Travis Frederick snapped the ball but No. 68 was targeted. He’s gotten stronger in his base down low and better on his technique up high. He even had the key push that sneaked Phillip Tanner in the end zone against the Eagles.
Free and Scandrick: From goats to greats. Okay, let’s not get carried away.
But if the Cowboys contain Reggie Bush on third down and limit a defensive line featuring Nick Fairly and Ezekial Ansah in Detroit, Dallas just might improve to 5-3.
And critics won’t have Free and Scandrick to kick around any longer.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently writes a sports/guy stuff blog at DFWSportatorium.com and lives in McKinney with his fiancee, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.