Earlier today I did my one week review of the Dallas Cowboys offense at training camp. This is the second part of the series where I'll focus on the defense. I'll offer the same disclaimer that I did in the first post; it's still early in training camp and a lot of things can change from practice to practice. But this is as accurate an assessment that I can give you at this point in time.
The injury of Marcus Spears is a shame. I really wanted to see him in action and measure his performance against the other players and his improvement over last year. But if you want to look for a silver lining, it's the play of Jay Ratliff filling in on the 1st unit. For the first couple of days after Spears' injury, Kenyon Coleman was lining up with the 1st team, but Ratliff's play was so good it was only a matter of time until he was elevated to the starter. If Spears returns healthy, Kenyon Coleman may get caught in a numbers game, which is too bad, because he hasn't had a bad camp, but just hasn't matched Ratliff's good work. Over on the other side, forget about it, Chris Canty has been sensational. We all know how big he is, but his athleticism has been what really stood out for me. Backing him up, 3rd-round pick Jason Hatcher has flashed some real potential, but has also showed that he's a rookie with a long way to go. Admittedly, I knew nothing about him before the draft, and I panned the pick initially; well, I was wrong, the kid has potential.
In the middle Jason Ferguson has been steady, but only a few times have I seen him be truly disruptive. For the most part, he has done the job required by a 3-4 NT; take on the double-team and hold your ground. Behind him, Thomas Johnson has had some good practices, but not consistently. Rookie Montavious Stanley has been a "no-show" so far and better pick up his play soon or he could be on the outside looking in.
Talk about an embarrassment of riches, this is definitely the position that is most fun to watch in practice. DeMarcus Ware has looked fantastic in camp, disrupting plays all over the field and getting his share of sacks. Kevin Burnett has been a star so far in camp behind Ware, showing no ill-effects of his ACL surgery. He's quick - although occasionally he will over-run a play - but overall Cowboys fans should be thrilled with his progress. He's also getting time in the middle in the nickel defense.
Greg Ellis has displaced Al Singleton on the strong side, spending most of the first week running with the 1st team. The results have been mixed but encouraging. Ellis stills struggles in coverage, Jason Witten and Anthony Fasano have beat him on a regular basis in 11-on-11 drills, but it does look like he's improving in this area over the past couple of practices. He still knows how to get to the QB, as witnessed in the scrimmage yesterday. It's hard to predict how this will turn out, but Ellis is making every effort to make it work. Luckily, we have experience behind him in Al Singleton, who has been steady in camp so far.
In the middle Bradie James has been fine, he looks as good as he did last year. Akin Ayodele hasn't been especially noticeable in camp so far. I admit I haven't watched him as closely as some other players, so it would be unfair of me to say his performance has been sub-par, but I've noticed his name hasn't shown up that often in my notes. I'll make an effort to evaluate him more this week. Bobby Carpenter looked a little tentative to start camp, he was working on the outside with the 3rd team early in camp, but really seemed to blossom over the last couple of days while working with the 2nd team on the inside (WILB). He had a very good scrimmage and now that he's getting more comfortable, this week we might really see him shine. The question is whether Parcells plans to keep him on the inside or does he just want him to get used to both the inside and outside positions. Ryan Fowler has secured the 2nd team spot (SILB), and combining him with Carpenter has moved Scott Shanle to the 3rd unit.
One guy who seems to be very active on the field is Rocky Boiman. He doesn't seem to do just one thing well, but is sort of a jack-of-all-trades. You constantly see him around the ball when he's on the field. His reputation is as a special teams ace, so I think there's a good chance he'll be on the final roster.
Dark-horse linebacker candidate: Junior Glymph. The guy has made a ton of plays in the first week of training camp, but the numbers work against him.
Terence Newman and Anthony Henry need no review. They play in practice just like you'd expect, and Newman is just on a different level from anybody else. Jacques Reeves is a guy who's caught my eye in camp, not because he's been exceptional but because he's been solid, and frankly, I didn't have that high of an opinion of him coming into camp. Aaron Glenn has been beaten a few times long in camp, so I'm a little worried that he may be slowing down a bit. I don't want to make too much out of this, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Roy Williams doesn't get to show his best stuff in camp because they haven't allowed full-contact, except on rare occasions. But he and Keith Davis haven't been beaten that often deep down the middle in 11-on-11 drills, but I can tell you there were some open receivers, but the passes have been off target. Justin Beriault was looking pretty smooth his first few days of camp and had me excited about his future. Then he suffered the concussion and we haven't seen him since. Parcells also said he had some concern about his knee, so at this point - and I stress only at this point - he is squarely on the roster bubble. Willie Pile has been steady in camp working with the 2nd team, but has actually spent most of his time at SS once Beriault went down, this to accommodate FS Pat Watkins on the 2nd team.
Pat Watkins has been another star in camp. He has great instincts, when he sees a pass he makes a quick break on the ball and usually gets there. And when he gets there he has the hands to hold on to the interception. He's also flashed his leaping ability on occasion that makes your eyes open wide. I don't know if he'll crack the starting line-up this year or not, but he has that kind of ability from what I've seen so far in camp. The Cowboys got a steal with this kid. As for the rest of the secondary, the only other two guys who have been noticeable are Abram Elam and Lenny Williams. Elam has actually been kind of impressive out on the 3rd string and I wouldn't mind seeing him stick around for a while. Lenny Williams is also interesting, though I admit he's been cooked on occasion, he also has made a few plays. Possible practice squad material.
You guys are probably saying, "What about Marcus Coleman"? I have no idea. He was working on the 3rd unit at CB until Beriault got hurt; now he's working with the 3rd unit at safety. He had one good play where he made a diving INT, but other than that I haven't seen him do much. So here are my thoughts, and they are polar opposites; either Parcells knows what he's got in Coleman and isn't worried about working him against the better players, or he's happy with some of the younger guys in the secondary and Coleman is just filling out the training camp roster until the cuts. You decide.
Once again, if I missed somebody you're interested in, ask me in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. I didn't bother with the kickers, but quickly for completeness sake, McBriar has had some great kicks in camp, Suisham looks pretty good except for one day, Vanderjagt's struggles have been chronicled, but he looked good in the scrimmage.