Observations from the film room at Valley Ranch:
- I understand what the front office and staff were trying to accomplish by playing Doug Free at guard just to get an idea of how that might look if in fact injuries might force them to play that way. For having never played the position at any point in his career, he did not embarrass himself.
One of his better plays in the run game was on a zone play coming to his right and he was able to get enough of Geno Atkins to allow Phillip Tanner to get the ball to the corner. I thought he did a much better job when the play went away. He was able to fight to the second level and secure the block on the linebacker. He did have a play where the Bengals front slanted to the inside which caused both he and Parnell problems because they were reaching to their right and it put them both in bad blocking positions.
In pass protection, some of the issues that he has at tackle showed up in this game. When he plays tall or with straight legs, he tends to get in trouble. This happened to him on the second sack, when he got compressed but his line mates, Tyron Smith and Jermey Parnell were not much better.
Where Free has made improvement in this camp has been his ability to use his hands. There were several plays where he was able to get them inside on the rusher and work his feet to stay in front. There were two nice plays where he was able to control Bengals nose man, Domata Peko one-on-one which allowed Travis Frederick to help Mackenzy Bernadeau across the pocket.
On the touchdown to Miles Austin, he worked very well with Frederick, Parnell and Phillip Tanner to handle a twist stunt. The group was able to sort it all out and not only allow Romo to pump fake Bryant on the right side but wait for Austin to clear from the left all the way across the end zone.
In the quest, to find the best five for this offensive line, there is now film of Doug Free getting work at right guard and there is no better time than the preseason to make that happen. Going into this game, I was more concerned about Jermey Parnell at right tackle than I was of Free at guard. I am just not sure that Parnell is physically right which leads me to believe that the best option is to keep Free at right tackle where he has been playing well and now giving Kevin Kowalski an opportunity until Ronald Leary returns hopefully the week of the New York Giants game.
- Word from the locker room after the game on Saturday night, was that Jay Ratliff's injury appears to be more serious than first believed and there is a possibility of him not being available for the opening game against the Giants. It's never easy to deal with a potential loss like this to start the season, but where this injury will hurt the club the most is in their pass rush.
I have become a huge fan of what Nick Hayden has been able to do since he was put in the starting lineup the night of the Raiders game. With Hayden, you get what you see, a high effort and motor type of player that is going to give you everything he has for every snap but when he is paired with Jason Hatcher, you do not get the same pass rush you potentially could have.
In an effort to generate more pass rush, the defensive staff has put Ben Bass in Hayden's place to try and make that happen but with Bass, he has to win right off the snap to get pressure. if the quarterback does hold the ball, then you will see Bass give chase but if he doesn't win, he has to fight blocks and at times, that is difficult for him. With Ratliff's status now truly in question, the return of Anthony Spencer to this front, is more vital than ever.
- I believe that the picture at safety became much clearer after the game on Saturday night. Barry Church and Will Allen will be the starters and both have complimented each other very well this camp. Church has been the hammer while Allen has been a nice influence in the center of the defense. The biggest question I had coming into this game against the Bengals was how would the backup positions shake out at that spot.
As much as I want to wait and see what you have with Matt Johnson, it is hard to turn a blind eye to the type of camp that Jeff Heath has had since he has seen more playing time in California. I still don't believe that Heath is as good as Johnson as a player but I know that I can depend on Heath to line up on defense and make plays. He has been a physical player in defensive snaps but also been a reliable player on special teams, where Johnson has not. This game is about being healthy enough to play and you move forward with the players that can stay that way.
J.J. Wilcox is every thing I believed he would be when I first observed him on that film from Georgia Southern. Like Heath, he has a physical side and when he learns how to play in coverage, he is going to be a force to deal with. I see think he needs to work on his eyes but from what I have seen from Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker, they can teach him those finer points.
I believe that this club is going to carry five safeties with Danny McCray as the fifth guy and a core special teams player. It might seem like a dangerous situation to carry two rookies in Heath and Wilcox as your backups, but both these kids deserve the opportunity to grow into the position and see if they can develop with more experience.