Earlier in the week, I stopped by Director of College Scouting Tom Ciskowski's office at Valley Ranch. He is always in a great mood and enjoys the back-and-forth when it comes to talking about football. I have known Tom since my early days in the league with the Packers, and then later in my career, starting in 1999, I had the great pleasure of working with him.
On my visit this day, Tom was sitting at his desk when he got the question out before I could, "Well, what do you think?" I paused for a moment and started in with many of the same thoughts and concerns that I had written about since the draft, as well as during the OTAs and minicamps for DallasCowboys.com.
I spoke of the new scheme on defense under Monte Kiffin and how that will affect DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Barry Church. Tom was in agreement with me in that he did like the change and talked about the fits with the current players on the roster.
There was concern if they had done enough at defensive tackle, but he has a great deal of confidence in Rod Marinelli and how he is going to work with young guys like Sean Lissemore and Ben Bass. We talked about the safety spot and the hope that people can see what the scout's saw in Matt Johnson before the 2012 draft.
Which led us to the overall health of the defense as a unit. Ciskowski truly believes that there is no way that this group will endure the injuries that they suffered last season for a second straight year, but like me, there is also no way to be completely sure. We both feel like there is better depth, though, just in case that gets tested.
On the other side of the ball, the questions along the offensive line led off that discussion. I offered my view about the overall health of the guard spot and how I felt like this was the season for Ronald Leary to push for one of those spots. Like Rowan Kavner wrote for DallasCowboys.com on Wednesday, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau will be ready to go at training camp, which wasn't the case during this time last season.
Ciskowski liked what he had seen from the young center, Travis Frederick. The word smarts was used quite a bit in the conversation in regards to his handling of the position, and I agree with Ciskowski here about Frederick's intelligence. But like we all know, it's going to come down to if he can hold his own on the physical side. [embedded_ad]
I offered Ciskowski my views on the right tackle spot with Doug Free and Jermey Parnell. My gut tells me that Free will run away with the job, but Tom wasn't so sure. He really did like how Parnell made some nice advancement when he got the opportunity last season and was looking forward to the battle there.
The positions of strength on the offense we both felt were at wide receiver and tight end. The additions of Terrence Williams and Gavin Escobar give the group a jump, skill-wise. Williams, in both our views, got better each practice and gave the front office and coaches the confidence that he can handle the job as the third wide receiver when given the chance, but he needs to go out every day and make that happen. Escobar will learn as he goes, and fortunately, the development of James Hanna will allow him that opportunity.
Ciskowski was confident in running back Joseph Randle and what he could bring to the offense once he was brought up to speed. I didn't totally disagree with him, but I thought that Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner would be better options early. Ciskowski thinks that Randle could play at a very high level and felt like they got a steal in this draft in where they selected him.
The feel is that DeMarco Murray is suited to play in this one-back scheme and can be productive in doing so. He does have the ability to make positive yards when plays are blocked less than perfect, and from what we saw from last season, that tends to be the case. But regardless, Murray has to stay on the field because we both agreed that his health was key to any type of success that Bill Callahan was going to have with this offense during the fall.
As a scouting department, you always worry during this time of year about whether you have done enough to help your coaches. You are excited about the challenges ahead, but you also know that you might have to use every player off your Emergency Board plus one or two more guys like last season.
In sitting down with Tom, it was nice to go position by position and talk it out. You try to be honest with yourself and don't sugarcoat everything that you see. Are there concerns? You bet, and they know that. But there is also a nice mix of veteran players in the core with some first- and second-year players that can more than step up and handle the job.
On Friday, I will get on a plane to Oxnard with Ciskowski and his scouts, and while we are sitting there, we will ponder all these thoughts … knowing it will not be long until we all find out.