Concerns linger for secondary, kicker
Vacation? Not yet. Let's get in another Cowboys Mailbag before training camp begins.
There still are concerns about Terence Newman and whomever becomes the backup to Alan Ball. The wide receiver position remains a hot topic, as Roy Williams, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin have a few people worried about whether or not they can produce this season. Felix Jones as kick returner? Maybe, but we give you some other names as to who could return kicks in 2010.
Q: Hey Calvin, looking at the schedule this year, we face the best wide receivers in the game. We have Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, DeSean Jackson twice, Steve Smith twice, Calvin Johnson, Donald Driver and Santana Moss on our schedule. Do you see Mike Jenkins overtaking Terence Newman for the No. 1 DB spot ,or will Newman keep his place at the top of the list? -- Brock Bowers (Toledo, Ohio)
A: I think we forget that Terence Newman is a pretty good cornerback. Last season, Newman finished with 21 pass breakups and three interceptions. Would we like for him to pick off more passes? Sure. But he's still fast, smart and knows the defense almost as well as anyone in the secondary. As far as Jenkins is concerned, he led the team with five picks and 23 breakups. Jenkins earned a Pro Bowl berth in his second season and seems to have plenty of upside. Jenkins is excellent on man-to-man coverage and has improved on his zone coverage, something he struggled with his rookie year. Jenkins always talks about picking passes off and relishes the challenge of doing it.
A: You have to say the Cowboys are not only the favorites to win the NFC East, something they've done twice in the last three seasons, but are also in the conversation to contend for the Super Bowl. That playoff win was part of the progression this team has learned how to deal with under coach Wade Phillips. The other NFC contenders should be Arizona, Atlanta, New Orleans, New York Giants and New Orleans -- with San Francisco being a sleeper to do some damage in this year. Philadelphia doesn't have Donovan McNabb anymore, but they have some excellent receivers to help Kevin Kolb and a strong defense. Dallas has the third-toughest schedule in the league in 2010. If they can survive that, then yes, I would say they might represent the NFC in Arlington come February.
Q: In my opinion, most Cowboys fans/coaches have a gut feeling that David Buehler just is not the answer at kicker. At this point, there are a lot of teams that have two quality kickers they are bringing to training camp. I've heard Matt Stover's name is on the street. Who else do you think will be on the street at the start of the regular season? -- Kyle (Amarillo, Texas)
A: I don't believe the coaches are concerned about Buehler. He won't have any competition in training camp -- Connor Hughes was released. However, if Buehler struggles in camp and the preseason, I would think the Cowboys make a move. The team has five preseason games, one more than normal, so I'm sure Buehler will get plenty of chances to prove himself. The Cowboys won't wait too long, which is what they did when Nick Folk struggled toward the end of the year. I thought the team should have cut Folk sooner, but it kept hoping for him to turn things around. If Buehler struggles, the Cowboys won't wait long. Stover and John Carney are two veterans who could be available.
Q: There seems to be a lot of questions as to whether Roy Williams will turn into the guy we all want him to be, but shouldn't we worry about whether if Miles Austin can make a repeat of last year because teams will better game plan for him? -- Akeem (Warner Robins, Ga.)
As far as Austin, I think he'll have a strong season. The Cowboys won't pay the man right now because they want to see if he can produce big numbers again. Is Austin a consistent 1,000 yard receiving threat? Yes. A guy opposing defenses have to make sure they follow all over the field? Yes. But if he has good numbers this year, he'll get paid.
Q: Does Dez Bryant have a chance to be the No. 2 wide receiver? -- Delroy Richardson (Baltimore)
A: I love Baltimore. Good town. Yes, Dez Bryant has a shot. We noticed how strong he looked in the rookie minicamps and what he did against the veteran corners. He showed good body control, caught the ball and ran good routes. The man he has to beat out -- Roy Williams -- is determined not to have another bad season. If Bryant comes off the bench, it's no big deal. The top three receivers will all see extensive playing time, including Patrick Crayton. It's easy to get excited about Bryant after watching him in practice. Once the games begin, that's the real test. Wide receivers normally struggle their rookie year. But there are some exceptions -- the two kids in Philly, Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, the rookie wideouts for the Broncos and Colts proved you can make plays. On this team, if Williams excels, it will be difficult to see Bryant moving up.
Q: How well is Sean Lee coming along? Also, is there any point in the season that you see him starting over Brooking? -- Eddie (Fisher, Illinois)
A: Right now, Lee is battling Jason Williams for the nickel linebacker spot. They each saw time with Bradie James in different packages. In the future, yes, Lee is the guy who is expected to replace Brooking. But right now, coach Wade Phillips said Lee is playing James' position. The team likes Lee's first step and his ability to close in on running backs.
A: I don't think you have to worry about Jones getting injured too much on returns. If he gets more carries on offense, which Jason Garrett expects, then he won't do much on returns. Same with Miles Austin. I think this spot is open, to be honest with you. It wouldn't surprise me to see Orlando Scandrick or Cletis Gordon to get a shot on kick returns. Dez Bryant is probably slated to do some punt returns. Rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is another possibility. I like Ryan's speed, but I'm not sure if he can make the team.
Q: Who will replace Alan Ball at safety if he gets injured? Please don't tell me Pat Watkins. Having said that, is there any possibility we can still be looking to acquire someone to help in the secondary? If so, who? -- Thomas Rodriguez (Temple, Texas)
A: If Ball gets hurt, Michael Hamlin will take over. Patrick Watkins is another possibility. Remember, he started quite a few games his rookie year in 2006. Are there other players in free agency? Yes, but remember the Cowboys want to keep some of their younger kids on the roster to see what they have.