Here's my review of the defense after week two of the Cowboys' training camp. The review of the offense can be found here.
I'll start with nose tackle, which to me was the most disappointing position on the defense in camp. Starter Jason Ferguson wasn't bad, but he didn't standout like I had hoped. Most of the time he does a fair job of clogging up the middle, but there were definitely times when Gurode was getting the better of him. Rarely did I see him push the pile in the middle backwards, most of the time he held his ground or was moved back a little. He needs to be better because the backups aren't there yet.
Thomas Johnson had his moments, you can see he has potential, but he wasn't consistent and if he had to take over for any length of time I wouldn't be comfortable. Draft pick Montavious Stanley has a long way to go, he just wasn't strong enough to stand up to the centers and guards and was regularly beaten in the 11-on-11 drills. I will give him credit for having a better second week, so maybe he'll pick it up as the preseason goes on. Sam Taulealea is a fun guy to watch with his long hair and squat body, but stands very little chance of staying with the team.
Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff were terrors in camp at defensive end. Jay Ratliff's play in the absence of Marcus Spears made everyone in camp kind of forget that Spears wasn't there. There were certain days when Ratliff literally dominated practices. I wouldn't have believed it in the first few days after Spears was hurt, but Marcus is going to have a battle to keep Ratliff from taking over as the starter. Ratliff was that good. Canty was Canty, news flash - he's good.
Rookie Jason Hatcher was up and down all through the first two weeks. To simplify his performance, when he's asked to rush the passer he can look really good, when he's asked to play the run he can look really bad. That's not a hard and fast rule, but it's a good generalization. The battles between him and McQ were really fun to watch, with both guys winning as much as they lost. Hatcher has a good future ahead of him once he gets a year under his belt. Kenyon Coleman is a steady player who doesn't flash much brilliance, but you could do worse than him as a reserve on your team. But once Spears returns it's hard to see where Coleman will fit on the roster.
Of the rest, Stephen Bowen was actually a guy who occasionally made some plays. They might want to fit him in on the practice squad if they can. Jason Davis is there as a blocking dummy and his time with Dallas will be short.
DeMarcus Ware is all that and a bag of chips. At times, he was unblockable. Expect a huge year form D-Ware. Bradie James played up to expectations in camp, continuing his solid rise during last year's regular season. Akin Ayodele has had a "quiet camp" but his reputation among those around camp affiliated with the Cowboys is that he's a big hitter, and you rarely get to see that in training camp. Physically, the guy looks the part and moves fluidly around the field. Maybe we'll see more of what he can do in preseason. The Greg Ellis experiment trudges along and looks to be making solid progress. His progress in his ability to get out in coverage has been substantial. He's still not on par with the other linebackers in coverage, but he doesn't look nearly as awkward as he did in week one. In run support and rushing the passer, he looks like the Greg Ellis who played DE last year. If he can get the pass coverage duties down, Parcells might end up looking like a genius.
Kevin Burnett is another guy who showed in camp that he's ready to play this year. His week two wasn't quite as spectacular as his week one, but he looks healthy and motivated, and has made plays throughout the camp. He also is getting a look at starting on the inside in the nickel formation, meaning he should get plenty of playing time this year. Ryan Fowler has been playing on the 2nd team at ILB all two weeks of camp, and while I haven't seen him do anything spectacular, Parcells must like his work because he's been in the same spot everyday so stands a good chance of making the roster. Bobby Carpenter spent the early part of camp working on the 3rd team at OLB, but for the last week and a few days, he's been solidly entrenched as the 2nd team WILB backing up Ayodele. His coming out party was the scrimmage and since then has looked more comfortable, making plays everyday in practice. I - like most everyone else - expected him to play OLB, and he still might, but he certainly has shown that he can play inside, too. Al Singleton has been shoved aside by Ellis, who gets almost every snap with the 1st team, but Singleton has had a good camp playing on the 2nd team. It's impossible to know how the Ellis experiment will work out, so I think they need to keep Singleton around.
Out of the rest of the LB's, Rocky Boiman and Junior Glymph have had the most productive camps. Boiman was enjoying a very strong camp before breaking his thumb and has a reputation as a special teams ace. Once he recovers, he'll be back in the mix and stands a strong chance to get on the final roster. Glymph has made a lot of plays in practice, and if the Cowboys weren't so stocked at LB, he would stand a good chance at making the roster. But with the numbers what they are, I just don't see how they can fit him in. Oliver Hoyte has also played well, so I think they're looking at him for the practice squad. John Saldi and Carl-Johan Bjork will be gone soon. Finally, a guy who played a lot last year, Scott Shanle, has seemed to fall out of favor with the Cowboys. Ever since Carpenter moved inside, Shanle has spent all his time on the 3rd string except for the practice on Thursday. If he plays a lot tonight, I think Parcells is showcasing him for a possible trade.
Terence Newman scared us all when he tweaked his ankle in practice at the beginning of this week, but basically refused to sit out practice. They tried to relegate him to 3rd string and keep him out of drills all together, but he kept sneaking on to the field. Personally, I'd feel better if they just shut him down for a couple of days. Anthony Henry looks to be totally healthy and should be back to playing like he did at the beginning of last year.
Roy Williams will start at SS - you heard it here first...well, not first, probably for the 3,657th time. At FS, I know some people are saying it, and a whole lot more are hoping it, but I just don't see Pat Watkins supplanting Keith Davis as the starter. Davis is a very active player in practice, and I can't recall - although I'm sure it happened - an incident of him specifically getting beat deep in practice. I expect him to start this year.
Aaron Glenn is still the 3rd CB and looked better in week two than he did in week one. He's the first CB in on the nickel and that shouldn't change in the regular season. Jacques Reeves has proven to be a good CB in camp so far, and has cemented his place on the roster as the 4th CB. Pat Watkins blew onto the scene in week one and had everybody buzzing about his play. Week two has seen his contributions level off, it may be a case of dead legs or maybe the QB's are just a little more conscious of him now, but he hasn't had the same impact this past week. But the talent is there, the instincts are there, and down the line sometime, he will be a starter for us. Willie Pile had moved over to the 2nd string SS position when Justin Beriault went down, but I'm not sure that is a permanent thing. Right now, with the emergence of Watkins, I'm not sure where Pile fits in, and he could end up being a casualty of the numbers. Then who will back up Roy? Watch for this kid Abram Elam tonight, he's been making plays in camp and was elevated to the 2nd string on Thursday. If he can put together some good preseason games, he may just sneak in there at backup SS.
Looking at the rest of the secondary, there's a lot of speculation that Justin Beriault is done. But as of today he's still there, so we'll just have to wait and see. Nate Jones is still there, but could be in trouble with the numbers game. He's not bad in practice, but not good enough to make any advancement on Reeves. Lenny Williams was a guy I said was making plays after week one and he continues to make plays in week two. But he's also a guy who can get beat too, so he may be practice squad material. Quincy Butler is a long shot for any kind of future with the Cowboys. Marcus Coleman is versatile, can play both corner and safety and Parcells seems content with what he has in him. He hasn't been tested in camp so far, and usually runs with the 3rd teams. I guess Parcells will keep him on the roster, but I have no firm evidence one way or the other.
Punter Mat McBriar has looked fantastic in camp. On Thursday of this week, he was absolutely murdering the ball. But he needs to stop breaking guys' thumbs like he did to Rocky Boiman. Mike Vanderjagt has been erratic all two weeks of camp, but I'm sure he'll come around. But so far it looks like Parcells has no plans to let him kickoff, he hasn't done it one single time in camp. Shaun Suisham might get the first crack at that job. In practice on Thursday, he was consistently hitting the endzone.