Secondary Again Hinges On Free Safety

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Terence Newman might have a case as one of the NFL's top cover cornerbacks, even though his stats might be a little misleading. Newman recorded just one interception last season after picking off at least three passes in each of his first three seasons. Now opposing teams weren't exactly lighting up his side of the field, however. Newman recorded just 12 pass deflections, compared to 23 by right cornerback Anthony Henry and 17 by safety Roy Williams.

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Cowboys safety Roy Williams is known for his big-play ability, but the Pro Bowler wasn't much of a force in opponents' backfields last year. Williams had just two tackles for loss in 16 games and was held without a sack. He did lead the team with five interceptions, but it's clear he needs to become a bigger factor at the line of scrimmage.

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Cowboys safety Abram Elam basically flew under the radar in his first NFL season last year. Playing mostly on special teams, he led the Cowboys with 11 solo tackles in the kicking game and finished fourth overall with 15 stops. With a deep secondary corps that includes Hamlin, Williams, Davis and Watkins, Elam must continue his strong play on special teams to retain a roster spot in 2007.

Don't Be Surprised If:

Ken Hamlin turns out to be the Cowboys' most consistent safety this season. Sure, Williams might return to the Pro Bowl for a fifth consecutive year, and this new defense might even be a better fit for him at strong safety. But Hamlin just might be exactly what the Cowboys have been looking for as a centerfield safety. The Cowboys will likely use second-year pro Pat Watkins in different packages to get him more involved. Don't be surprised to see Watkins and Hamlin back deep in passing situations, with Williams closer to the line of scrimmage in a nickel or dime linebacker role. Remember, Hamlin is also a big-time hitter and could play some strong safety in selective packages.

Fitting In Projected Starters:
Roy Williams (SS) - New scheme might play more to his strengths.
Ken Hamlin (FS) - Have the Cowboys finally answered FS concerns?
Anthony Henry (CB) - Nagging knee injuries affected him in 2006.
Terence Newman (CB) - More of a tackler (68) than ball thief. That needs to change.
Solid Backups:
Aaron Glenn (CB) - Not slowing down; 13-year vet still provides valuable experience.
Keith Davis (S) - Might not be the answer at safety, but still needed on special teams.
Jacques Reeves (CB) - Needs to be more than special teams contributor.
Nate Jones (CB) - Like Reeves, has to showcase his experience to hold off rookies.
Pat Watkins (S) - Could battle Hamlin for starting job. Nickel defense seems likely.
Abram Elam (S) - Good special teams performer, but will need to show more than that.
Uphill Climb:
Joey Thomas (CB) - Watch out for this guy. Veteran cornerback has some ability.
Quincy Butler (CB) - Cowboys like his athleticism. Needs to show it off at camp.
Damarius Bilbo (S) - Moved from WR to safety last year. One of team's top athletes.
Alan Ball (CB) - Looked good in mini-camps. Can match up against bigger receivers.
Courtney Brown (CB) - Great athleticism but hasn't faced top competition in college.
Jasper Johnson (S) - Rookie safety from Central Arkansas needs to make plays early.

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