Three short years ago he went to Cowboys Camp as the most popular player in Oxnard – that is, if you believe the back-up quarterback is every team’s most popular player. Three years later as the Cowboys fight through the grind that is football training camp, he is thrust into a role that could make him wildly more popular than he was as a back-up quarterback.
He is offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Succeed at your job, Mr Moore, and your name will be uttered with respect – even reverence – like the guy who had your job in the early ‘90s, Norv Turner. The other side of the coin is not so pleasant, though. Think of how Cowboys fans view David Shula, who almost got a youthful Troy Aikman killed. Or even Moore’s predecessor, Scott Linehan, seen by many as the reason the Cowboys were unable or unwilling to spread their offensive wings for the past few years.
The criticism from fans is expected and part of the job. But the Linehan system has been criticized by former players, too. Dez Bryant took to Twitter during a game last year and said the Cowboys were engaged in “garbage a– play calling.” He went on to say that, “everyone lined up in the same spot for 17 weeks …” He then punctuated his tweet with the stop sign emoji and the “laughing so hard I’m crying” emoji. Dez’s language notwithstanding, he makes a good point. The Cowboys offense was predictable. Opponents compared it to a high school scheme. So bring in the new man.
Kellen Moore may be the most important man at training camp. Can he resurrect an offense that became stagnant, predictable and did not utilize its great assets? It is a lot to ask a guy who has never been a coordinator before and who has only been an assistant coach for one season. He was quarterback coach last year; now he will be calling the plays.
The good news is that Moore was raised in an offense that more closely resembles what the best NFL teams are running today. He played his college football at Boise State and set the all-time record for wins by a starting quarterback. His record was 50-3. The Broncos ran an up-tempo, keep-them-guessing, keep-the-defense-on-its-heels offense.
That does not mean that the Cowboys will begin to employ the modern day version of the run and shoot or even the greatest show on turf. The hope is that head coach Jason Garrett will give Moore the freedom to be creative. The Cowboys have all the offensive weapons in place. Pro-Football Focus ranks the Cowboys offensive line as the second best line in the NFL. Ezekiel Elliott is considered by many to be the best back in the league, and now that the Cowboys have Amari Cooper, they have a receiver who can change the game. He did it last year! The Cowboys were a mediocre team until they acquired him via trade with Oakland.
Then there is the quarterback. Dak Prescott is in line to become the Cowboys player with the biggest contract in the history of the franchise. The Cowboys front office has had three seasons to evaluate the quarterback that they took in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He has proven to be much better than a fourth rounder. He has gone to two Pro-Bowls and was the offensive rookie of the year in 2016. He has a great winning percentage and is loved by his teammates.
All of this is enough for Jerry Jones to give Dak a contract that will be worth more than what he paid for the entire team back in 1989. He paid $140 million for the Cowboys. It is expected that Dak will be paid in line with what the top quarterbacks in the league make. Matt Ryan has a total package worth $150 million, and Russell Wilson is worth $140 million.
So, they have one of the best lines, one of the best backs, one of the best signal callers – oh, and the best safety blanket in the history of the franchise. Jason Witten is back. He won’t be as active in the offense as he was before he retired; he will be there to catch that safety valve pass and to lead this team in ways that only a 37-year-old future Hall of Famer can.
With all the pieces in place there is no excuse for this offense to struggle.
At the start of training camp in 2016, Moore and Dak would have been one and two in a popularity contest. Moore was slated to be Tony Romo’s back-up, making him the most popular man in camp. Dak was supposed to back up Kellen, making him the second most popular. They have a chance to be one and two again. But this time, only if they make this offense work.
Sports columnist John Rhadigan is an anchor for the Fox Sports Southwest television network.