Commentary

Spotlight finds Ogletree, Buehler, Ball

Untested players possess qualities that will enable them to contribute for Cowboys

Updated: June 18, 2010, 1:23 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Guys, it's summer time. Time for vacation. Time to relax around the house. And while I'm about to start my annual midmorning naps, I've decided to answer a few questions. Some of you are really fired up about Patrick Crayton and Kevin Ogletree. Somebody wants to know more about the Dallas Cowboys' kicking situation. We've got a really good question about the fourth cornerback -- it might be the second-best competition in camp, next to the fourth wide receiver position. So, take a peek at this week's mailbag.

Q: My concern is our backup nose tackle. Jay Ratliff is a beast and, while knocking on wood, if he goes down with a serious injury, who is slated to back up Junior Siavii? what are your thoughts on Siavii being a full-time starter if needed? Kevin (Jacksonville)

A: Junior Siavii is a quality backup to Jay Ratliff. Last season, Siavii had four quarterback pressures in a limited role, and coach Wade Phillips admitted he should have played him more late in the season. Most teams don't have backups for backup nose tackles. However, if something were to happen to Siavii, at least during the season, expect Ratliff to get more snaps, and I wouldn't be surprised if you saw a little of Marcus Spears or even Stephen Bowen pitch in at backup nose.

Q: Will Kevin Ogletree be with the team this year? I feel he is an excellent talent. Frank Carl (Whitehall, Pa.)

A: Expect Ogletree to make the team in 2010. One of the things the Cowboys like in Ogletree is his ability to play as a slot receiver and get in open space while making defenders miss. He has good speed and hands. The big concern regarding Ogletree is consistency. He needs to practice at a high level in order for the coaches to trust using him in games. Ogletree had only seven catches last season, but his two for 23 yards at New Orleans gave the coaches hope they can count on him for the future. When training camp starts, Ogletree will fight Patrick Crayton for playing time.

Q: I hear a lot of talk about the Chargers releasing left tackle Marcus McNeill, who had been a big key for the Chargers' blind side. Is there any chance the Cowboys could look into signing him? Brandon Ford (Wilmington, Del)

A: I don't think that's going to happen. When the Cowboys released Flozell Adams, it meant Doug Free received a promotion to the starting left tackle spot. As insurance, the Cowboys traded Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for Alex Barron, who has over 70 starts at left tackle. If Free struggles to maintain the job, expect Barron to get the first-team snaps.

Q: Do you think that David Buehler will be able to carry the load as the placekicker this season? Keith Harris (Clinton, Md.)

A: Yes. The Cowboys are not going to sign a veteran kicker, and there are a few out there, to compete with Buehler. He has a strong leg, a kicking coach and the mental attitude to do the job. His biggest issue right now is consistency, and kicking coach Chris Boniol is working with Buehler's technique during offseason workouts. But Buehler has to make those kicks from the 40-yard and beyond on a consistent basis in order for the Cowboys to give him the job full-time. Dallas will give him every opportunity to win the job over Connor Hughes.

Q: What is the latest with the safety from the Rams, O.J. Atogwe? Is he currently in negotiations with any team? If not, what will it take to get him to Dallas? Mark (Houston)

A: I understand everybody is down on Alan Ball and Michael Hamlin right now. Why? I don't know. Ball was praised last year by coach Wade Phillips and secondary coach Dave Campo. At the start of free agency, the Cowboys thought Atogwe's financial demands (about $7 million on average) were too high. The Cowboys like what Ball brings to the table: he's athletic, is a converted corner -- meaning he can cover wide receivers and possibly tight ends -- and is smart. For now, Ball is the projected starter at free safety.

[+] EnlargeAlan Ball
Tim Heitman/US PresswireAlan Ball is the projected starter at free safety, although the Cowboys have a competition for the spot.
Q: I was wondering about our fourth corner. Wasn't Alan Ball our number four? What are the Cowboys going to do if Ball is the starting safety? -- Daniel Wright (Austin)

A: As I mentioned, Alan Ball is the projected starter at free safety. He's almost like another corner out there. However, the Cowboys have a competition for this spot. Cletis Gordon, Marquis Floyd, Jamar Wall and Bryan McCann are fighting to be that fourth corner. Gordon and Floyd have the experience, but Wall and McCann are fast guys with plenty of upside. Wade Phillips did say those players have been "up and down" in terms of their play, so it's going to be interesting to see what happens in training camp. Dave Campo said whomever does the best on special teams will have an edge in making the team. Gordon could be a factor on kick returns.

Q: I don't understand the Patrick Crayton situation. He comes into next year as a fourth wide receiver. What is wrong with that? Also, why is it assumed that the Cowboys are going to let Dez Bryant return punts all the time? They only give Felix Jones a portion of the kickoff returns, so I would assume that they will only give Dez a portion of the punt returns. This allows Crayton to get touches there. He gets paid like a No. 2 or 3 receiver and still gets significant playing time if either Bryant, Roy Williams, or Miles Austin gets banged up. I don't really see why he's so upset. Also, why is it assumed that the Cowboys might release him after training camp? It seems like they need him as an insurance policy for the whole season. -- Michael Clifford (Dallas)

A: Here's the deal with Crayton: He doesn't think the Cowboys will pay him $2 million a year in base salary this year to become the No. 4 wide receiver. He's worried the team won't give him a fair chance to make the team over Kevin Ogletree. The Cowboys might keep just five wideouts on the 53 man roster this season: Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree are locks. Sam Hurd, Manuel Johnson, Jesse Holley and Crayton are battling for the last spot. I personally think Crayton makes the team. Now, Crayton doesn't want to get cut toward the end of training camp because it will be harder for him to find a new gig. We've been told by the Cowboys that Bryant will return punts. If Felix Jones gets an increased role on offense, which is expected, somebody else will return kicks, maybe Bryant, maybe Cletis Gordon or Orlando Scandrick. Miles Austin is another possibility.

Q: Do you think that Felix Jones will be the starter? I hear and read that Marion Barber has lost weight and looks much quicker but I think Felix gives the 'O' a much more complete/speedy offensive attack, also how's Manuel Johnson looking and do you think he'll be on the roster? -- Belmont, N.H.

A: At a certain point, the Cowboys will have to start Felix Jones. He's just too good to use as a backup. In the 2009 regular season, he averaged 5.9 yards per carry, tops on the team among running backs. In two preseason games, while Barber was nursing his injuries, Jones averaged 7.2 yards per carry, including a 73-yard run. You have to get a man like that on the field at all times. Barber is no longer a dominating physical back and his body is breaking down. While his teammates love him for playing through injuries, I just don't see him having a major impact in the offense in 2010. Manuel Johnson is fighting with several receivers for the No. 4 or No. 5 receiving job. He might be slated to the practice squad again, so we'll see.

Q: I'm not a Patrick Crayton fan and I still have not let go of the dropped pass in the divisional game against the Giants. But I really think his position is insane and short-sighted. Jerry Jones has too much pride to cut or release Roy Williams, but he also has seen enough to know that Williams is going to screw it up. Crayton can beat out Williams and Crayton can beat out Olgetree (for at least another year) for the third spot. It might take two games or five but Crayton will be third receiver and have one of his best years. I would bet on it. Lawrence (Tucson, Ariz.)

A: Lawrence, you have to let go of that 2007 playoff game, it was a long time ago. Having both Crayton and Williams on the roster isn't a bad thing, it's considered a positive thing. The more weapons you have for the offense the better, and Crayton is a receiver for Tony Romo. If they can get, say, 45 catches out of Williams, it would be a positive.

Q: How is Barry Church working out? Does he have a chance to make the team? Joe Mat (Toledo, Ohio)

A: We first noticed how Church was around the ball in the rookie minicamp and during the organized team activities. He plays very physical and seems to have pretty good instincts for the ball. Wade Phillips talked about him during the veteran minicamp, and there's a good chance he could make the team. The key for him, like most young players, is how he performs in the preseason.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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