With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group for the home team in an eight-part series, continuing Thursday with the cornerbacks.
Big Issue:After last season's breakdowns in the secondary, the Cowboys really had no choice but to rework their coverage unit in 2012, and did so with their two most high-profile offseason moves.
There's no doubt that new acquisitions Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are talented – they were widely considered the top free agent cover man and the best incoming rookie cornerback available, respectively. But for a team feeling the urgency to win now, the question is whether the position can reach its potential immediately?
The Cowboys need Claiborne's talent to shine through typical rookie struggles, and they need Carr to play like a top-flight corner, not just a pretty good corner who happened to be on the open market in March. Beyond the tall order for the expected starters, depth would appear to be a strength, but only on the condition that slot man Orlando Scandrick plays to his potential, and Mike Jenkins can heal his shoulder in time to be ready to compete at a high level himself.
It certainly appears that the position will be better – but how much better?
Scouting Department:This summer, my focus is going to be on Scandrick, to see what kind of season he has ahead. Scandrick plays a difficult position in the slot, having to carry receivers all over the field, but by his own standards, he didn't play as well as he needed to in 2011. I've never had a question of Scandrick's ability, and as a matter of fact, I respect the way he studies and prepares himself for every situation he might face in a game. There is even a side of me that believes he might at times think too much instead of just cutting it loose. In my view, Scandrick is a much better player when he just has to react. Last season, I thought there were times when he played with too much caution, and that really isn't his style. – Bryan Broaddus
Rookie Watch:It appears likely the Cowboys will keep five corners, and a few undrafted free agents have been impressive enough to be viewed as contenders thus far, but Claiborne is in a category unto himself. The highest-drafted defensive player for the Cowboys since 2003, there will be much more pressure on Claiborne to succeed right away than there was for Terence Newman that year, since the expectations for this season's club are so much higher. After missing all offseason while recovering from wrist surgery, he'll need to get up to speed quickly in training camp, and take full advantage of reps against Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
Don't Forget About …Trade requests and injury concerns notwithstanding, Mike Jenkins can still be a really good NFL cornerback. He was the best the Cowboys had last year, actually, and the secondary's struggles when he was out due to injury showed the importance of strength in numbers at the position. If Carr or Claiborne go down at some point, it appears likely that Jenkins, not Scandrick, would be the one to slide into the starting lineup. That's why it's so important for Jenkins to get his shoulder right and get in shape as soon as possible.
Brandon Carr:The Cowboys believe they bought this hard-worker on the come.
Morris Claiborne:Deion Sanders comparisons are silly, but he does has shut-down potential. How soon will it be realized?
Mike Jenkins:The trade talk has died down, and he should have plenty of motivation in the last year of his contract.
Orlando Scandrick:Maybe the lynchpin of the entire defense: If he struggles in the slot, the upgrades on the outside won't do much good.
Isaac Madison:Entering training camp, he's been the most impressive undrafted rookie in the secondary.
Lionel Smith:Definitely in the conversation for the fifth cornerback job, which will probably come down to special teams.
Teddy Williams:After moving back to defense this offseason, he's shown some progress. It may be now or never.
Mario Butler:This practice squad holdover has ability, but may be at a disadvantage athletically. C.J. Wilson:Scouts will question the upside of this 27-year-old.