As we all prepare for training camp in Oxnard here in a few short weeks, I am going to play a little game with you today called positions of trust or concern.
What are the positions that you have complete confidence in or are not really sure about? Here is my list.
I really do like the makeup of this group at the defensive end spot for a couple of different reasons. I like the fact that both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will have their hands on the ground and rushing the passer on a fulltime basis. This scheme is all about getting up the field and there is no doubt in my mind that this is a true strength of these players. Give me players that can put pressure on the quarterback fulltime. In my view, I feel like Spencer is a very underrated rusher and has the skillset and ability to get 12 or more sacks this season. With Jason Hatcher or Jay Ratliff on the inside of him, he will also see a good bit of single blocking, which he can take advantage of. I like the beefed up Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilber as backups as well to allow defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to keep his ends fresh during games.
If there was a scheme that was perfect for Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, it was this one. What these two proved last season when on the field together, it was a fight to see who was going to make the tackle. Their range along with an ability to avoid blockers will produce high numbers stats-wise each game. Justin Durant had over 100 tackles last season in Detroit and is a really nice fit as the Sam because of his ability to hold the point and not give ground. He also showed some ability to play in coverage as well, which he didn’t get many opportunities to do with the Lions. Alex Albright proved last season that he can play either on the strong side or as the Mike. Rookie Devonte Holloman has shown some athletic ability as well. Ernie Sims and Brandon Magee are nice fits as backups at the Will. Keep an eye on Magee in the preseason, like J.J. Wilcox, I believe he really shows up when the pads come on.
Throughout the camps in the spring, Jason Witten once again proved that age will not be a factor as he gets ready for the 11th season of his Hall of Fame career. Witten still has the ability to get in routes with ease and there is always a productive finish when the ball goes in his direction. What was encouraging to me in watching practice was the effort in which offensive coordinator Bill Callahan was attempting to get him the ball in the Red Zone. I believe there will be a big payoff for the offense if they continue that course. I have liked what I have seen from James Hanna in these practices as well. Hanna is one of those players that I can see making that jump to the next level with his play. He is a hard guy to deal with one-on-one because of his size, but also because of the quickness that he has in route. His hands have improved with each practice to the point that you expect him to consistently make catches no matter where the ball is. By the end of camp, rookie Gavin Escobar was playing at a much quicker pace and was gaining a better understanding of what his assignments were. Catching the ball comes very easy to him. Anthony Rosario has already shown the ability to play in several different positions in the formation, but has also lined up at several different positions on the special teams much like Hanna.
I want to try and believe that this position has a chance to be different if Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau both show up in Oxnard healthy and ready to roll. Livings started off in the starting lineup this spring before a knee issue had him missing several practices and giving way to Ronald Leary. Bernadeau has been held out to rest his shoulder and David Arkin took his spot. You have a rookie center in Frederick that has been getting nice work, but it has been with the backup guards. Regardless of what you think about the ability of Livings and Bernadeau, I feel like their long-term health is a bigger concern. Could Frederick play in one of the spots if Phil Costa shows well at center? Can Leary, who physically can handle the job, make the jump to the mental side of the game, which seems to be his biggest issue? These are all questions that this position faces even before they take a snap in Oxnard, making it an unsettled position.
- Defensive Tackle (One Technique):
As much as Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli have confidence in what they are playing with at defensive tackle, I am really not sure if they have the right players for the job. I have to admit that Hatcher has shown up well at tackle, but I will be very interested to see how this will work out once the pads come on when we get to Oxnard. Too many times I have seen him start well in a game, but fade as it went along. He plays really well in bursts, but can he do it down after down? The quickness looks good and the way he attacks the gaps has been solid, but having to battle power all day could be a challenge for him. Sean Lissemore looks healthy after last season’s problems with his leg. Lissemore doesn’t have the quickness of Hatcher, but he is a better player strength-wise. Nick Hayden was found by the pro department in the off season and is playing like he has the confidence of the coaches, but is he just a Band-Aid that will look productive early, then fade? The loss of Josh Brent is huge here and would have been a perfect fit here. Its Hatcher’s job, but they need to find a consistent backup or two that could help Hatcher not have to take so many reps.
I am going to say this right here and right now: The Cowboys cannot afford to lose DeMarco Murray if they are going to have any success this season. I understand that losing Tony Romo, Dez Bryant or Sean Lee would be a huge blow, but Murray out of this lineup makes them a different team on offense. The problem with what I have just said is that we all expect Murray to miss some games because it has happened for portions of the last two seasons. The question now becomes if or when this happens, who does this offense turn to when it needs to run the ball? Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar have been the primary ball carriers in this zone rushing attack while rookie Joseph Randle rehabs his thumb injury. We have been told that Randle will be ready for camp here in a few weeks, but will he be able to make an impact in camp? There is no question in my mind about his ability to catch the ball, but how
effective will he be as a pass protector? Tanner and Dunbar have looked sharp in the opportunities they have received this spring, but can that carry over to camp? Preseason will be very interesting for this group because of the history of how Murray’s seasons have gone in the past. This position cannot hold this offense hostage like it did in 2012. Somebody has to step up and give Jason Garrett and Callahan some confidence they can do the job.