Battle for fourth corner will be tight
This is our last mailbag of the offseason. We'll pick things back up once training camp starts on July 24. For now, we leave you with the five best questions in our mailbag plus notes heading into training camp.
Q: What are we going to do when one of our cornerbacks get hurt? -- Ryan Lay (Arlington, Texas)
A: If you lose Mike Jenkins or Terence Newman, expect Orlando Scandrick to step in as the starter. The depth behind Scandrick isn't very good. The Cowboys will look at several players to become the fourth corner in training camp. Cletis Gordon, Jamar Wall and Bryan McCann are competing for that final spot, but it's doubtful all three will make the roster. Gordon is also trying to become the kick returner to give him an edge to making the roster. Safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, a rookie, and Alan Ball, the projected starter at safety, are players with coverage skills who can move to cornerback as well.
A: Every position on the roster is open, even Tony Romo's. However, there's a reason why nobody beats out Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Terence Newman, Keith Brooking or Leonard Davis: nobody is better at those positions. Austin is probably the Cowboys' best receiver, so he should start. Williams, on paper, is the second-best receiver, so he should start. But he could lose his job if rookie Dez Bryant, veterans Sam Hurd and Patrick Crayton and Kevin Ogletree beat him out. If not, expect Williams and Austin to start opening night in Landover, Md., against the Redskins.
Q: Calvin, I am worried about our offensive line. Are you? -- John Burgoyne (Glen Rock, N.J.)
A: John, I'm not worried one bit. Left tackle is supposed to be a weakness because Doug Free is moving to the position full time. Yet if Free struggles, Alex Barron, who was acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Rams, will move into the starting lineup. I'm not concerned about guards Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier, or even right tackle Marc Colombo. Center Andre Gurode could have had a better 2009. Still, his peers thought enough of him to send him to the Pro Bowl. Jerry Jones said the depth on the offensive line is the best he's seen in years. Re-signing guard Montrae Holland and the improvements of Travis Bright at center/guard and Robert Brewster at tackle -- along with Pat McQuistan's move to a guard spot -- gives the Cowboys coaches hope for a bright future.
Q: Do you think Roy Williams would be more productive if Jon Kitna was the starting QB because of the history between the two? -- Travis (Dallas)
A: Not really. Sometimes it's not the quarterback. Sometimes it's the system being used. Williams should be better, but for a variety of reasons he doesn't have chemistry with Tony Romo. That's sad because Williams can be a productive player. We've heard it for two years running now: They have good chemistry together in the offseason, but for whatever reason it doesn't translate well into games. That has to change in 2010.
A: I suspect you will see Jones coming out of the backfield and being used on screens more often this season. I think Jason Garrett wants to take advantage of Jones' speed and ability to make people miss. Garrett was trying to figure out what he had with Jones during the first two seasons and then his back was hurt, so Jones was limited in what he could do. Now, a healthy Jones should be a dangerous weapon for the Cowboys.
Notes going into training camp: The Cowboys have high hopes for defensive end Jason Hatcher. You might see him play in some packages as an outside linebacker. Last year, Hatcher was credited with a career-high 27 quarterback pressures, fifth on the team. He might be the future starter at defensive end if Marcus Spears doesn't return in 2011. ... If you're worried the Cowboys are going to stick with kicker David Buehler even if he struggles in the preseason, don't. The Cowboys will move quickly to replace him if he has problems. John Carney and Matt Stover are two possible veteran replacements. But the team has plenty of confidence in Buehler's ability to make field-goal attempts. ... What gives the Cowboys hope that Felix Jones will be a productive running back in 2010? His playoff finish, when he averaged 7.2 yards per carry in two playoff games. ... Kevin Ogletree is a possibility to return kicks this season. In the two playoff games, Ogletree averaged 14 yards per kick. Among returners with at least five or more returns, he produced the sixth-best average. ... Mat McBriar had one of his better seasons in 2009. His 3,249 punting yards were his most since 2005, and he sent a career-high 38 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. He also produced the highest net average of his career at 39.3. ... Players who will get a long look in camp and preseason: QB Stephen McGee, C Travis Bright, CBs Cletis Gordon and Bryan McCann, T Robert Brewster, LB Jason Williams, DE Marcus Dixon and WRs Jesse Holley and Manuel Johnson. ... There will be an interesting battle at fullback this summer. We expect Deon Anderson to make the roster, but nagging injuries and a legal issue could cloud things for him. ... With about two weeks to go before the camp, the Cowboys have 81 players on their roster and need to release one more before camp begins. ... Jerry Jones expressed interest in bringing former linebacker/end Greg Ellis back to the team. But the emergence of Brandon Williams at outside linebacker during OTAs and minicamps ended that talk. Ellis is still on the market.