Here’s my evaluation of the defense and special teams post-training camp pre-preseason game. The defense is harder because they didn’t really hit and tackle in camp, so you didn’t get to see some player’s full abilities. But enough excuses, and with the warning that a preseason game performance can change things, here’s the eval.
Chris Canty and Marcus Spears will be the starters. Canty had an incredible camp and looks to one of the most improved players. He could be something special this year. Spears was very average at camp and didn’t make the leap up that Canty did. He will be pressed by Jason Hatcher, who was having a brilliant camp until he hurt his hamstring. The Cowboys have to find ways to get Hatcher on the field this season. Jay Ratliff also had a good camp. He is quick off the line with his first move and has a high motor. Defensive end looks pretty good right now.
After the first four, if they keep anybody after that, it would be Stephen Bowen, who moved between DE and NT at camp. He looked OK, but he’s clearly straddling the fault line. Marcus Smith had a few moments at camp, but there’s just no room for him.
There’s Jason Ferguson, then there’s the rest. Montavious Stanley didn’t do anything to inspire confidence that he’s a capable backup/replacement for Ferguson if the need arose. Remi Ayodele had moments when he looked pretty good, but not consistently. And Ola Dagunduro didn’t do much. This is one position where I’m not sure if the backup is on the roster. Watch for these guys in preseason games and see if anyone makes a move, and watch the cuts later in preseason to see if the Cowboys go outside the organization for a backup.
DeMarcus Ware = stud. On the other side, Anthony Spencer started to make some plays towards the end of camp. He doesn’t seem overwhelmed, but he doesn’t seem confident yet. He’s still feeling his way, but you could see he had the physical gifts to make it work. His growth over the preseason games will be important to watch. It’s either Spencer or Greg Ellis at the outside opposite Ware, and we didn’t see Ellis except for 10 minutes on the first day. Who knows when he will be ready and how effective he will be.
Junior Glymph had an excellent camp and probably solidified a hold on the backup spot to Ware. I would say those four are your locks, although if Glymph doesn’t produce in the preseason games, the name to keep in mind is Alex Obomese. He was the guy who played when both Ellis and Spencer were out and he made some plays. He’s intriguing and might be someone to at least put on the PS. John Saldi just didn’t do enough in camp, and Khari Long was added to late to make much of an impression.
We have a solid four at ILB, with starters Bradie James and Akin Ayodele, backed up by Bobby Carpenter and Kevin Burnett. Bradie had a tremendous camp and Ayodele was solid. Bobby Carpenter had some really good days, but not consistently enough. He did look good in coverage on TE’s and may really help us in the nickel defense. Burnett, despite his injury, was very active on the days he did practice. Behind them were Blair Phillips and Dedrick Harrington. I like Phillips better than Harrington, but he may be hard-pressed to grab even a PS spot.
Terence Newman looked as good as ever in camp. On the other side, Anthony Henry struggled in the first week but started to come on during the second week. He would still get beat occasionally, but he was getting his hands on the ball much more often. Aaron Glenn is holding on to the #3 CB spot and was the first off the bench for the nickel defense. Those three are locks for the roster.
Behind them is where the action is. And this was a tough call, because at practice your eye tends to follow the ball, so you don’t see all the coverage on the back-side so it’s sometimes hard to evaluate. Jacques Reeves was the guy who played the 4th CB role in most practices. He looked all right to me, but nothing special. Nate Jones made some plays and looked pretty good, but I don’t know if either was good enough to keep the Cowboys from going younger or cheaper.
If you read my reports you know that I am high on Joey Thomas, and can’t wait to see if he can perform in preseason like he did at camp. He just always seemed to be around the ball and has the speed you covet in a CB. Quincy Butler wasn’t doing too much when he did practice, and has been injured recently, a setback for his chances. I know the Cowboys scouts are talking up Alan Ball, and some of the fans like him, but I really didn’t see a lot from him at camp. Maybe in the preseason he’ll prove me wrong, but I have to be honest and say I don’t see it, yet. If pressed, I would go with Newman, Henry, Glenn, Reeves and Thomas at this point. But the preseason games will say a lot more about it, so the guess is premature.
Roy Williams looked slimmer in camp and was causing havoc on blitzes and playing close to the line. I don’t think he was especially improved in coverage, but he still manages to get INT’s. Ken Hamlin looks to be just what we needed at FS, he has range and he is vocal, quarterbacking the secondary. Keith Davis put on a pretty good show at camp, and should at least contribute on special teams. Pat Watkins didn’t have a great camp in terms of making plays, but I also didn’t see him getting beat everyday, so that’s a plus.
If the Cowboys are going to keep five safeties, and that’s a big if because Hamlin and Davis can play either spot, then it looks to be a battle between Abram Elam and Courtney Brown. Elam has the advantage of a year’s experience and good special teams play, while Brown is a physical specimen that may have a lot of upside. In camp, neither really distinguished themselves, so the battle should continue through the preseason, if the Cowboys decide to go with five.
Great camp battle. Martin Gramatica looked good, and if he didn’t have competition I would say not to worry about the kicker, Gramatica looks fine, unlike Vanderjagt at last year’s camp. But Nick Folk has looked just a bit better. Gramatica had a couple of spotty days on FG’s but Folk has been money. On kickoffs, where the conventional wisdom was Folk would be better, it turned out to be pretty even. Folk had a little more leg, but he hardly ever reached the endzone. For me, if Folk proves he can hit his FG’s in the preseason, I’d just assume go with him and not carry two kickers.
P, LS, KR, PR
Mat McBriar looked good in camp. Enough said. Ditto L.P. Ladouceur as the long snapper. Tyson Thompson and Miles Austin were the 1st-team return guys, and since they both should make the roster, they will be the kick returners. Punt returns are still up in the air, but it will fall to Newman and Crayton, unless Jerheme Urban or Quincy Butler can show something. Then there’s Isaiah Stanback, who will get a shot when he gets healthy.