Dallas Cowboys cornerback roster evaluation.
Starter: Terence Newman – Newman was hobbled by his plantar fasciitis injury for much of the year but still managed to be the best cornerback in our secondary. When healthy, Newman is one of the elite cover corners in the NFL and deserves more recognition than he gets. He’s blessed with track-star speed, great technique and good instincts. You can lock Newman into a man-to-man cover situation and feel confident he will shutdown the opposition. Unfortunately, with the rest of our secondary, Newman is forced to play zone too much where he doesn’t get to show his skills nearly as often. The one thing that Newman is not is a playmaker in terms of turnovers. For a guy with his talent he rarely gets interceptions and he is not a risk-taker. This serves him well in not getting burned but a little more gambling on his part could lead to greater returns. He does make plays in the sense that he shuts down opposing receivers, the most important thing a CB can do, but making a few more interceptions would elevate the Cowboys defense. But that’s truly nit-picking as there is little you can criticize about his game.
The Cowboys will soon face a decision with Newman since he is in the final year of his contract. Because Newman was 25 when he came out of college by the time he finishes the 2008 campaign he will be 30-years old. That’s the point with skill players that you have to start considering age as a factor. So far though, Newman has showed no signs that he is slowing down and after what I expect to be another stellar campaign in 2008, the Cowboys will have to shell out top money for him or another team will. They could always franchise him for a year but the cap charge for that would be high. The better plan is to go ahead and lock him down with a long-term contract. There are few corners in the NFL who have Newman’s cover skills.
Starter: Anthony Henry – I admit to having a love/hate relationship with Anthony Henry. There are times when he looks like the perfect complement to Newman as our #2 CB. His size allows him to match up well with the increasingly bigger WR’s in the league. He also uses his physicality to play the run well. The problem is a CB his size should be able to bump WR’s off their routes at the line of scrimmage, but because of his suspect recovery speed, too often he has to play off the receiver to protect against getting burned deep. Another problem is his penchant for getting nagging injuries. He’s yet to complete a full season without injury in Dallas and forces the Cowboys to dig deeper into the cornerback personnel which is a weakness on the team. He’s also advancing in age and could start reaching a point of diminishing returns.
I realize that the Cowboys could definitely do worse than Henry as their #2 corner and stat guru K.C. Joyner describes Henry as one of the most underrated players in the league. I’m not ready to go that far because I’ve seen Henry give up big receptions in crucial situations too many times. It’s true he gets picked on more because teams shy away from throwing at Newman, but it’s all about making plays in the NFL and Henry can give them up at the most inopportune times. The Cowboys really need to start looking at the future and bring in some cornerbacks to compete with Henry, or at least learn the ropes in anticipation of Henry’s departure down the line.
Jacques Reeves – Thrust into a starting role because of injuries to Newman then Henry, Reeves actually played better than I anticipated but that still wasn’t good enough. The odd thing was his play seemed to get worse as the season wore on instead of better. Like Newman, Reeves has tremendous speed, but unlike Newman he seems to lack the rest of the skills needed to be a good corner. He plays without confidence and that keeps him from attacking the football; he spends way too much time backing off receivers and giving them easy catches underneath. His concern for getting beat deep overshadows the rest of his play. Perhaps he’s not that good at back-pedaling or he might not have the instincts to anticipate a pattern and then make the play. Whatever the case, teams regularly picked on him and had no problems completing 10-15 yard ‘out’ or ‘comeback’ patterns. If the Cowboys want to have a better pass defense then they have to upgrade the nickel corner position and allow Reeves to test the free agent market. If they can sign him back at a bargain price then by all means do it, if they can’t then let him go. If Reeves returns in 2008 he should be relegated to 4th CB and should concentrate on special teams.
Nate Jones – One game to me defined Jones’ tenure as a Cowboys corner. Against New England, he was pressed into service as the nickel corner and the Patriots spent all day completing passes to Wes Welker from the slot. Jones was nowhere to be found in coverage. Granted, the Patriots and Welker did this to a lot more talented corners than Jones but the futility of his play on that day summed up his chances of ever being a solid contributor in the secondary. It’s unlikely that Jones will receive much in the free agent market but I would still recommend that the Cowboys start over with some younger corners that still have room to improve. Jones has been around long enough to prove what he can do, and he hasn’t shown much.
Evan Oglesby – A late addition to the Cowboys roster last season, he’s strictly special teams material.
Alan Ball – Ball’s situation is interesting. We’ve heard repeatedly that the Cowboys organization is excited about Ball’s potential but so far they haven’t used him in any significant way. He’s just coming into his sophomore campaign so it could be this is the year he gets the playing time that went to Reeves and Jones last year. I’m still a skeptic, watching him at training camp and in preseason I didn’t see anything special about the kid and believe it would take a huge jump in performance for him to be a significant contributor. I do admit that I haven’t seen him practice throughout 2007 so maybe the improvement has already manifested itself and that’s what has the Cowboys excited. I guess I’ll just have to wait until training camp to see it with my own eyes.
Quincy Butler – The Cowboys staff has told us that Butler is a physical wonder who has terrific athleticism. So far, that hasn’t translated to any playing time. If he’s going to make his move this training camp would be an opportune time as the Cowboys will be looking for corners behind Newman and Henry.
We also have Tyler Everett, Justin Phinisee and Jerron Wishom listed on the roster at CB, but I know nothing about these guys.