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Cowboys Camp Battles: The Secondary

Justin Taplin-Ross - he plays safety, corner, and occasionally blocks field goals.
Justin Taplin-Ross - he plays safety, corner, and occasionally blocks field goals.

Earlier in the week, we took a look at the wide receiver position and where each player stands heading into camp, as well as their chances of making the final 53-man roster. Today, we'll be focusing on something I find a bit more intriguing - the secondary.

While it's been said that the receiver position is the most wide open on the roster (at least for the third, fourth and fifth positions), I look at the secondary and see a lot of potential for varying results. How safe is Brodney Pool? Will we be able to keep all four of our top corners? Who's the guy that will inevitably be injured, and who's the guy that will endear himself to new secondary coach Jerome Henderson and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan?

Cowboys Camp Battles: Wide Receiver

Tom takes a look at the Wide Receiver Corps in the first edition of the Training Camp Battles series. Who will be our new number three?
More ...

If the number of receivers on the roster made your head spin, consider this: there are currently 18 defensive backs on the roster, which we'll be looking to cut down to about ten. About five of those spots are taken by well-compensated or well-established players, with the remaining five positions to be earned by a handful of the remaining thirteen players.

The aforementioned five safe players are Cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, and Mike Jenkins, along with Safety Gerald Sensabaugh. We can't be sure how many players the Cowboys will keep at each position - they may not even keep 10 DBs (last year's team carried 5 corners and 4 safeties - although, in fairness, we did have David Buehler).

After the jump, we'll examine the contenders...

If this looks familiar, it's because it's the exact same chart Tom used for the Wide Receivers. Here are the 13 DBs competing for the remaining jobs in the secondary:
Player Comments Chances
Barry Church Church is my favorite to win the starting safety role opposite Gerald Sensabaugh. It appears that Church has come into this offseason with the belief that he has a real shot at that starting spot, and the way he's been playing has showed it. His tremendous ability in the box, as well as his improving coverage skills should make him a viable counterpart to Sensabaugh, and a certain improvement over Abe Elam. My favorite for a starting role. Almost no chance to be cut.
Matt Johnson Why, you ask, is our 4th-round pick not one of the 5 roster locks? Mainly because he hasn't earned a role in the defense yet. The same could be said for Claiborne, but, well, 6th-overall picks aren't cut coming out of camp. 4th-rounders are far more plausible. Johnson looks to be a very impressive safety, however, and I don't think he becomes a cautionary tale for Cowboys fans. After AOA, we really can't afford to have another mid-round, small-school safety bust. Close to a sure thing, he's also in the mix to fight for a starting spot - or at least see the field - in his rookie campaign.
Danny McCray Of the two safeties we've kept around as backups for the past couple of years, McCray is more the unknown commodity. Church, we know, can fill in at linebacker in nickel situations, but what can McCray do? He came up with a strip-sack on a blitz last year, so he has that going for him. But really, McCray is practicing hard to become a legitimate NFL safety. He may be closer to Church than many believe, and I'd be very surprised if he wasn't on the roster in September. I believe McCray and Pool will determine each other's fate. McCray is younger, faster, and cheaper. I like him over Pool.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah Honestly, AOA was a player that I didn't think I would cut, but, after looking at the other choices at Safety, I felt there simply wasn't enough room to keep him around as a project. Even if he switched to Wide Receiver (again) or Corner, the positions simply have too many players with more promise. He's a complete stud in Madden, though (as a press-man corner). AOA has been cut before, and it looks likely to happen again.
Brodney Pool Remember how Pat McQuistan was signed in order to keep the backup QBs upright during the preseason games, while Smith and Free are resting? Pool was signed to get the young DBs lined up while Sensabaugh and Church are resting, in my opinion, and the full offseason will make him replaceable far sooner than Abe Elam a year prior. As above, his fate should be tied to McCray's. I believe that, once the teaching is over, Pool will be gone.
Mana Silva Silva, a former undrafted free agent who has spent time with Baltimore, Buffalo, and our own Dallas Cowboys (in his only season in the league), only made it to one 53-man roster. That was our own, and only after we had been decimated by injuries at the safety position (Silva was signed when Church was placed on injured reserve). Silva was available for the whole season, being a practice squad player, thus the Cowboys' lack of interest prior to Church's injury indicates they won't be sorry to see him go. Silva was an emergency body last season who's getting another shot in camp. Despite living in Hawaii for a few years, I have no attachment to him.
Eddie Whitley When I first reviewed our UDFA class, Whitley was a guy that simply stuck out to me. His style of play (roving defensive back who lined up everywhere and always found the ball) looked like something Ryan could use to cause mayhem...and I like anything that allows Rob to cause mayhem. He can win jump balls, and has Miles-Austin'ed at least one ball in his career (Miles-Austin, v., "to wrestle the ball from the opposing player, gaining possession before hitting the ground"), against UNC. He's not the specimen that JTR is, though, so he may not be able to help us until next season. I hope he makes the roster. As for his actual chances? I think he makes the practice squad. Likely fighting with JTR for the last safety spot.
Mario Butler Butler is a bit of a fan-favorite here on BTB, but I don't share the affection. Perhaps due to my relatively low involvement with training camp last season (I was busy preparing for school), I never saw the things that endeared him to many of you. I feel he's athletically outclassed by most of the new faces, and will have to show veteran-like skills in order to make the team. With some actual playing time, Butler might prove to be the next Alan Ball. I don't think he gets that chance.
Isaac Madison This guy had his name called (or tweeted) a few times during OTAs, as he seemed to always be around the ball (and came away with a few interceptions, for that matter). My biggest concern with him is that he was recovering from a knee injury last season. He was an impact player in college, and his highlight footage looks great. He's definitely a bubble player, in my mind, because he may get snatched if he sees the waiver wire. His ball skills may earn him a spot, but Butler's experience may outshine Madison's athleticism. I'm leaning towards him, over Mario, for the 5th corner.
Lionel Smith Smith failed to impress in college beyond Special Teams play. Being the third corner at Texas A&M doesn't exactly qualify you for immediate placement with an NFL Team. Smith is very athletic, however, and could improve drastically after a year on the practice squad. Smith's best chance is to stay on the practice squad for one or two years, and actually learn how to be a cornerback. Almost zero roster chance.
Justin Taplin-Ross JTR was a last-second scratch from last season's preseason roster, as he failed the team physical prior to the start of camp. The Cowboys hope to keep him around in order to develop him as a versatile DB with great length and power (6'3 with a near 40" vertical - and a former linebacker in college). Despite his promise as an athlete, the Cowboys recently acquired another potential roving Safety - Eddie Whitley. Still, JTR will be a tough cut to make. Intriguing prospect would be an understatement. This is Miles Austin, as a Safety. Good chance to make the roster.
Teddy Williams Though he's a true burner, Williams has shown less promise thus far than the similarly gifted Radway. Apparently, straight-line sprinting does not directly translate to smooth hip rotations as a Corner. Perhaps he'll have a shot, if he spent the offseason as an Elvis impersonator. What's worse, Williams is no longer eligible for the practice squad, so whatever push he makes for playing time will have to come with the top 4 spots already locked in. Good luck, Teddy. No longer practice squad eligible, and perhaps no longer the fastest horse in the race (Hakim, Radway). This will likely be goodbye.
C.J. Wilson Wilson is a guy who's spent some significant time hanging out at the bottom of cornerback depth charts. He was Green Bay's version of Alan Ball (though I'm honestly not certain who the better corner is). His age and experience mean he has a significantly higher minimum salary than his competition, and the fact that he didn't show anything while playing as the worst Corner on one of the worst passing defenses in the league (and while often playing with significant leads) give me no reason to keep him around. Wilson looks to be here only to give a veteran presence to the competition. Hopefully, the winner of that competition will have a better career than Wilson. Low chance.

In my personal roster prognostications (which I haven't been sharing, so don't bother looking), I had remained fairly consistent on the defensive backfield. I was always able to justify cutting the same guys. After researching them a bit more for this post, however, I changed my mind on two spots.

I used to project the corners as Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, and Mario Butler. My safeties were Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church, Matt Johnson, Danny McCray, and Eddie Whitley.

On further review, I believe Isaac Madison is a better prospect than Mario Butler. The speed and ball skills, as well as a long resume of playmaking in college and impressive highlight film, give him the potential to be as impactful as, say, Bryan McCann was, even in his rookie campaign. I believe that could eventually grow into something more. Butler, I feel, won't ever overcome his limited speed, and he's now lost his edge in my opinion.

Eddie Whitley, from whom I expected great things due to his style of play, has been similarly out-shined by Justin Taplin-Ross. The beast of a safety project is actually getting work at cornerback, which should say something about his versatility. He has the measurables of an outside receiver, so I expect him to become a true difference maker if he manages to make the roster. Whitley can wait on the practice squad.

What do you think, BTB? And before you get started on Mike Jenkins - my answer is "first."

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