(Editor's Note: This is the first of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys' roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2012 season. Today we examine the cornerbacks.)
Pressing Matters: For the second straight year, it seems like the biggest question mark facing the Cowboys centers on the cornerback position. Now, it wasn't exactly the biggest need last year, but there was a question whether the Cowboys would sign free agent Nnamdi Asomugha, which would've likely replaced Terence Newman. We know what happened with that back in training camp, with the Cowboys narrowly missing out on Asomugha, who signed with the Eagles. That kept Newman in the fold and although he had a nice stretch of games midway through the season, he had injury concerns to start the year and ability concerns to end the season. How he struggled against the Giants in the season finale suggests the Cowboys have to be thinking about an upgrade at left cornerback, which would mean releasing Newman and the final three years of his contract.
2011 Evaluation: Consistency was obviously a big issue for all of the players at this position this past season. Whether they were consistent in their performance or just to stay healthy during the season, all of the cornerbacks had their share of issues as the 16-game season went on.
Mike Jenkins was probably the best of the bunch, but his issues were mostly injury-related. That began in training camp when he was hampered with a nagging stinger injury. He then suffered two different injuries during the first week of the season, but managed to play through most of it until another hamstring injury kept him out for a month later in the season.
Penalties were a big problem area for Jenkins in 2010 but he corrected that this past season in a major way.
Terence Newman missed the first two games with a groin injury, then returned to action and had four interceptions by the midway point of the season. However, Newman's play slipped by the end of the season, culminating in arguably the worst game of his career when he had problems staying with Giants receiver Victor Cruz and then struggled to tackle even tight ends and fullbacks.
Players such as Orlando Scandrick, Alan Ball and Frank Walker, an early-season addition, all had their moments both good and bad, only adding to the inconsistency theme that plagued the position all season.
Need More From . . . : Because there are only two cornerbacks on the roster that are fully expected back in 2012, this category has to include one of them. The Cowboys could use more from Orlando Scandrick, who did get a five-year, $27 million contract extension in training camp. He played well at times, but had some issues as well. Scandrick plays one of the toughest positions on the entire field as the slot cornerback.
Scandrick played a really good game against the Patriots in midseason, sticking with Wes Welker for most of the game. But in the final two minutes, New England marched the field, thanks in large part to Welker who got the best of Scandrick just enough to help the Pats drive for a winning score.
Scandrick held his own at times, but the Cowboys could stand to get more from him as well.
Upgrades Needed: The Cowboys have drafted two cornerbacks in the first round in the last nine years. It's probably long overdue to go that route once again, as long as they don't reach for one with the 14th overall pick.
The team needs a younger cornerback and preferably one with more ball-hawking skills. As good as Jenkins played when he was healthy, he did register just one interception. In fact, of the eight interceptions by cornerbacks this year, none occurred in the final six games of the season, when the Cowboys had a freefall on pass defense, allowing three of their highest passing totals of the season.
Whether or not Newman returns, the Cowboys could use a younger, skilled cornerback who is ready to contribute immediately.
Terence Newman - Hit rock bottom in the season finale. If that was his last game, his career with the Cowboys won't be remembered like it should.
Mike Jenkins - Played admirably despite all the injury concerns. Then again, if those injuries pop up next year, he'll get the injury-prone label. 2012 will be contract season.
Orlando Scandrick - Played up to expectations with the new contract he received. Still has trouble making the play on the ball, especially on deep passes. But holds his own in the slot.
Alan Ball - It'll be interesting to see what his market value will be. He struggled some towards the end of the season but had some nice moments in the middle. His versatility to play safety and special teams could warrant him a contract somewhere.
Frank Walker - Came in late and played rather well for a guy off the street. His contributions were probably felt more in the locker room with his charismatic personality and flair. If other CBs are added, he likely won't be back though.
Mario Butler - By the end of training camp, Butler was considered a pass-deflection king in practice. It was somewhat surprising he didn't make the team, but he'll have a shot this year.
C.J. Wilson - Late-addition to the practice squad. He needs to shine in mini-camps and OTAs so he's not passed over at the start of camp by newly-signed rookies.