- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- There isn't a general manager in professional sports as prone to hyperbole as Jerry Jones.
But he speaks in cautious tones on the subject of the Dallas Cowboys' 2009 draft class, which was widely declared a dud after making minimal impact for last season's NFC East champions.
That was premature, as Jones pointed out this offseason. Half of the 12-player class suffered significant injuries that either sidelined them the entire season or stunted their progress. He labeled them redshirt rookies.
Well, Jerry, what do you think of that class as it nears the end of its second training camp?
"I'm anxious to get these next two [preseason] games in regarding that group," Jones said.
Hardly a ringing endorsement, huh? Of course, neither was the owner/general manager's draft-day statement about the class' chance to give the Cowboys a boost on special teams.
The progress report for the class 16 months after the draft still isn't good. It's likely the class will never produce a starter. Heck, it's possible the Cowboys' roster will include more undrafted rookies than 2009 draft picks this season.
However, the 2009 draft was probably destined to be an epic failure the day Jones shipped the first- and third-round picks to Detroit for disappointing receiver Roy Williams. It didn't help when Seattle swooped up to snag Oregon center/guard Max Unger, the Cowboys' target, two picks before the Cowboys went on the clock in the second round, prompting Jones to trade down.
It's been another tough training camp for the class, which lost a couple of members to cuts last season.
Sixth-round tight end John Phillips, arguably the biggest contributor as a rookie, suffered a season-ending knee injury after an excellent San Antonio stretch.
Sixth-rounder Stephen Hodge, the potential special teams star, still hasn't been cleared to practice after undergoing microfracture surgery a year ago.
Fifth-round safety Mike Hamlin missed more than a week with a concussion.
Fourth-round outside linebacker Brandon Williams has flashed an impressive burst off the ball, but he looks hesitant less than a year after tearing up his knee in a preseason game.
Oh, there have been bright spots for the class of '09. Fourth-round outside linebacker Victor Butler has made a bunch of plays in the preseason -- highlighted by his game-winning sack for a safety in San Diego -- and appears ready to be relied upon to give DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer an occasional rest.
Butler is the second-year player Jones and coach Wade Phillips brag about most these days. Fifth-round kicker David Buehler led the league with 29 touchbacks on kickoffs last season and probably will kick field goals for the Cowboys this season, for better or worse.
But there isn't a position player in the class close to pushing for a starting job at this point. Hamlin might have to fill in for strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh during the season opener, but he wasn't able to seriously challenge converted cornerback Alan Ball for the starting free safety job.
"I thought they had good potential, good athletes, and maybe they would come along like we thought they would," said Phillips, who always seems willing to take an optimistic view of the general manager's work. "The ones that got hurt, certainly it stymied them for a while, but I think they're coming along."
There are serious doubts within the franchise that any of the top three picks will ever become starters.
Third-round offensive tackle Robert Brewster, who missed all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, played better than anticipated when a couple of injuries forced him to start Saturday night. But that just means he wasn't bad. He was OK, as Phillips said. There is more optimism about sixth-round rookie Sam Young's future.
Third-round inside linebacker Jason Williams and fourth-round quarterback Stephen McGee haven't proved themselves to be anything other than workout wonders. It's likely that neither would survive final cuts if the Cowboys hadn't invested mid-round picks in them so recently.
Jason Williams isn't as lost in the defensive scheme as he was a year ago, but he hasn't shown the instincts needed to play linebacker in the NFL. He's a liability in pass coverage despite his sub-4.5 speed. But the Cowboys knew he was a project when they drafted him with the 69th overall pick, so they'll be patient with him.
There's a slim chance McGee won't make the 53-man roster this season. The Cowboys loved his arm strength, athleticism, intelligence and character when he was coming out of college, but as was the case at Texas A&M, the tools haven't translated to production.
"I'm anxious to see how he does in that last preseason game before I comment," Jones said. "He's been up and down."
It's been much more down than up for McGee and his classmates.
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