If you followed the 25-part BTB pre-draft series, you know arguments could be made for re-stocking every position on the team except running back, tight end, outside linebacker and quarterback. Cornerback, safety, inside linebacker, nose tackle, defensive end, offensive tackle, guard, center, fullback and wide receiver all would gladly accept talented new blood.
Filling so many holes would require more of Tom Ciskowski's late-draft and un-drafted free agent obtaining skill, since Dallas had just two picks in the first three rounds. We're ten days past the draft, and what do we know? If former Cowboys' draft manager Gil Brandt is an accurate guide, Ciskowski has given us several more intriguing players to track at camp this summer.
Let's begin at the top, where Dez Bryant's mini-camp performances have pushed the Jeff Ireland spat hip-deep into the memory hole. The current hiatus could keep that sad story alive, but Dez should push completely into irrelevance one he dons full pads -- provided he can avoid a pull, sprain or other injury. Watch him on the team's site and you'll see the talent which led Wade Phillips, a coach severely allergic to rookies, to proclaim Bryant the best he had seen in his 33 year pro career.
Bryant shows the ability to run, cut, adapt to the ball and high-point it, all without losing speed. There's track fast, but what Bryant showed was elite football speed. This somewhat deflates the caveats that Bryant was beating practice-squad level competition. If Bryant can move like a 165 pound water-bug at 210 pounds, he'll beat most coverage.
What does this do the receiver ladder? Roy Williams has already seen the target-shaped bat signal positioned on his back, though the most likely candidate for replacement appears to be Patrick Crayton. This may mean a one-year reprieve for Sam Hurd, who could continue as a core special teammer. (More on this shortly.)
Dallas didn't pick a free safety as early as many expected, or hoped, but they added not one, but two center-field candidates. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah drew an early 4th round grade, in part because of his small school pedigree. The Cowboys picked him in that round, thought it must be noted that several respected mockers rated him considerably higher. BTB's new best draft friend Wes Bunting, of the National Football Post, had AOA slipping into the late 2nd round in his final mocks.
Brandt led a pack of journos who offered early praise for undrafted free agent Barry Church from Toledo. He'll need to prove himself again in full pads and on a consistent level. His early standout play has to put long time backup and special teams core man Pat Watkins on notice. Mark down Church vs. Watkins as a down-roster camp duel to track.
The Garrett brothers worked on undrafted free agent Scott Sicko and finally wore the New Hampshire tight end down. Sicko worked at F-back in the mini-camp and it appears the team wants to prep him to challenge Deon Anderson for the fullback role. Sicko has the Daryl Johnston frame 6'2", 235 lbs. and 4.5 speed to be the receiving threat Anderson is not. Brandt remarked that "Sicko displayed good hands in catching the ball," something you would expect from a standout tight end.
Can Sicko block? We have no idea, since the drills did not involve contact. Follow Sicko closely this summer. Coaches often claim that blocking is a matter of will, and if Sicko is willing, his hands and wheels could make him the next Dallas fullback. Anderson won't be easy to displace, however. As OCC's offensive team breakdown shows, Anderson has few peers as a lead blocker.
When he entered the NFL in 2005, Jay Ratliff was a 6'4", 275 lb. end with quickness, strong hands and a 10,000 rpm motor. He added 15 pounds and worked his way into an interior rotation behind Jason Ferguson. His increased bulk let Ratliff stay inside, where his devastating punch and pursuit make him a handful for centers.
This year, Dallas used a 7th rounder on Sean Lissemore, a 6'4", 298 lb. end with power and raw speed. He posted 34 reps at 225 lbs. at his pro day and ran a 40 in 4.83 seconds. He's going to get a legit chance to displace Junior Siavii as Ratliff's backup. Lissemore has physical tools very similar to Ratliff's but are we being greedy thinking Ciskowski can pull another speed nose guard out of the last round?
If you can't find one premier tackle target high in the draft, you saturate the position late. Dallas' draft board had some highly rated prospects, but once Mike Iuputi and Maurkice Pouncey were selected back-to-back at 17 and 18, the Cowboys had to turn their attention elsewhere, as their next highest OL grades came in the 3rd round.
Dallas picked RT Sam Young in the 6th and added two priority free agents in Virginia's Will Barker and Cal's Mike Tepper. On some amateur boards, Young was the lowest rated of these three. Bunting had Barker as the 10th best offensive tackle prospect on his final board and had Tepper in that spot until down-grading him late. Tepper made an instant impression at Dallas, showing a strong punch out in drills.
The usual caveats apply. These guys did not work in pads and they didn't have to square off against Anthony Spencer or Demarcus Ware. That said, a player who can jolt an opponent with his hands can be very effective in the run game, so add Tepper to your watch list. If those heavy hands show in scrimmages, Dallas may have another UFA find. Even if Tepper proves a bit slow off the edge, that punch could still forecast as a Kevin Gogan-type guard.
My early forecast has Young, Barker and Tepper as backup RT options 1A, 1B and 1C. One of them should do enough to displace incumbent Pat McQuistan. If Ciskowski is really on his game, Dallas will get a backup for Marc Colombo and a practice squad guy.
The Cowboys gave more than lip service to claims they considered ILB a top need. With Sean Lee and Jason Williams, Dallas has now invested two of its highest '09 and '10 picks on guys to play in the pivot. Lee is a lock to make the team. The question from a unit perspective is whether he or Williams will stay healthy enough and produce enough to make Bobby Carpenter superfluous?
Another need which went unfilled. The Cowboys tend to find their corners very high (Newman and Jenkins are 1st rounders, and Orlando Scandrick and his 3rd round grade dropped to the 5th in '08. The odds are heavily against Jamar Wall, but I will be very happy to see Mr. Wall prove me very wrong.
If you take the late rounds seriously, and given Dallas' late draft and after-hours success the last six years, I think we should, the Cowboys did in fact target most of the spots on their list. Center and guard went wanting but the Cowboys will have competitors for nose tackle, inside backer, safety, corner, right offensive tackle, fullback and receiver.
Given the priorites, I re-iterate that 2011 should see those two interior line spots and cornerback atop the Cowboys' shopping list. The Cowboys didn't want to let 35 year old Keith Brooking get old without a quality prospect on hand, but now they enter 2010 with the 32 year old Terence Newman, Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo as the elder statesmen on the starting 22.
In the present, note how the Cowboys appear ready to edge out the career backup types off their roster. Pat Watkins, Pat McQuistan, Bobby Carpenter, Junior Siavii, Sam Hurd and Deon Anderson have been on the roster four or more years and have never challenged to be every down players.
Note that these guys form the core of Dallas' special teams. When you track the rookie challengers profiled here at camp and especially in the preseason games, see how they play on the special teams. Their progress covering kickoffs and punts will determine whether the Hurds, Andersons and McQuistans remain or whether they no longer serve as any-down players for the Dallas Cowboys. Joe DeCamillis molded the vets into very effective coverage groups. He's happy to add the return skills Dez Bryant and Owusu-Ansah bring, but I doubt he'll want to rip those coverage teams apart unless the new guys show they can do the job.