Spagnola: No Messin' Around On These Corners

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FROM HOME, Texas – Heading toward training camp, maybe … maybe … no more than 32 days away, depending on the fate of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 6, the Cowboys with a new head coach and virtually an entirely new coaching staff, save three assistants and two in the strength and conditioning department, sure don't have a lot going for them.

And this has nothing to do with coaching ability, personnel or health issues. Nope, just too many no's out there.

No strength and conditioning program.

No in-person first team meeting.

No on-field teaching sessions.

No rookie minicamp.

No OTAs.

No team-wide minicamp.

Now, no different than the other 31 teams with COVID-19 pausing the NFL's offseason, save the streaming sessions. Except 27 of the league's 32 teams aren't dealing with a head coach. That raises the catch-up ante for those other five teams, Cowboys included.

Especially if the NFL starts downsizing the preseason schedule, and here the Cowboys thought they had an advantage asking to play in the Hall of Fame Game in order to give the new staff an extra preseason game, five instead of four, to give McCarthy and his assistants an extra look preparing for the season.

Now, who really knows?

But in scanning for a bright side to transitioning to a new staff in the middle of a pandemic, try this one on for size:

Competition.

Should be at an all-time high for the Cowboys and those other four teams when and if things crank up.

Guessing these guys are no different than we were growing up, playing, say, baseball, and your team had a new coach. Or you moved up to the next level of play with a new team and new teammates.

Come on, we worked harder to impress the new guy. We wanted to prove ourselves to the older guys. No loafers, to steal a Rod Marinelli defensive statistic. Best foot forward. Always. That is in a competitor's DNA.

So think about it: With the Cowboys, aside from a handful of guys like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La'el Collins, DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee, can't imagine there are few others guaranteed a starting spot. That's just 10 out of 90.

Competition in training camp, not just for starting spots, but for spots on the final 55-man roster, should be at an all-time high. Can't imagine guys like Tyrone Crawford and Antwaun Woods and Anthony Brown and Connor Williams and Joe Looney and Michael Gallup and Xavier Woods and Dorance Armstrong and Donovan Wilson and C.J. Goodwin will just roll over in the face of newly-signed free agents or any of those draft choices.

You think Kai Forbath won't give veteran Greg Zuerlein a run for his kicking money? Joe Jackson not bowing up to fifth-round draft choice Bradlee Anae? Trysten Hill, you hope, not acquiescing to Neville Gallimore? Darian Thompson just throwing up his arms in the face of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix?

But for my camp money, the position to watch will be cornerback. There are 11 of those guys on the 90-man roster. Normally, a team keeps no more than six. Sometimes five, depending on how worthy. Only three start if we're counting nickel. Might play a fourth depending on dime personnel.

There seems to be much being made of the two drafted corners, second-rounder Travon Diggs and fourth-rounder Reggie Robinson, as if they will become walk-in starters. As if free-agents Daryl Worley and Maurice Canady will just push everybody else aside.

My guess is Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jordan Lewis, the returning top three, along with C.J. Goodwin and Deonte Burton, too, will have something to say about all that. And let's not forget Savion Smith and last year's rookie free agent Chris Westry.

And look, I get it, the Cowboys certainly must hope Diggs, the second-round pick with a first-round grade, forces his way into the top three, and if not immediately, then eventually. And they'd also hope Robinson at least plays his way onto the game-day roster.

But not so fast simply pushing Awuzie aside or just assuming because he played some safety in college he's headed there … as a backup? Seriously? This guy has started 36 of the 41 games he's played during his three-year career, including 30 of the 31 he's played over the past two seasons.

Again, though, he's in no position to take anything for granted, the competition likely producing the best he has to give.

Same for Brown, the Cowboys signing him to a three-year, $15.5 million deal this offseason, with $8 million of that guaranteed. The Cowboys aren't known to be throwing money around in free agency, and let's also remember, he didn't sign that deal until March 18, so the new staff must have saw something in Brown they liked.

And my guess is the feisty Lewis is not throwing in the towel, either. He has started 13 of 48 games during his three-year career, mostly as a nickel corner. And also, don't assume his five career interceptions, which ties Woods for the team lead over the past three seasons, pencils him in as a starter. Got to prove himself all over again, same as the others.

By the way, Awuzie and Brown each had three picks over those three seasons, but Brown playing in only nine games this past season, heading onto IR with a torn triceps.

And guarantee you Worley didn't come here just to be a depth guy/special teamer. The fifth-year veteran has started 49 of 56 games during his career, including 15 of 16 with Carolina in 2017, including one more in the playoffs – then the past two years with the Raiders, with five career interceptions and 34 breakups. Oh, and he has some experience playing safety.

And if you check out the Cowboys schedule, and since they were the No. 1 offense in 2019, they will play five of the other nine top-10 offenses. If you look at the list of quarterback they will play, that will include Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Carson Wentz twice, Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousin, Lamar Jackson, Jimmy Garoppolo and, well, let's throw in No. 1 pick Joe Burrow for good measure. There will be seven games against quarterbacks ranked in the top 13 last year, and four from the top eight. And who knows about the likes of Daniel Jones, Patrick Mahomes and Dwayne Haskins.

As for receivers, let's see, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Odell Beckham Jr. (again), Jarvis Landry, and tight ends like Zach Ertz (twice), George Kittle, Mark Andrews and Austin Hooper.

Yeah, coverage will be might important, especially at cornerback for the Cowboys.

So you see, a whole lot of candidates for this vital position. And my guess is, no one has an in with new head coach Mike McCarthy, nor the defensive backs coaches, Al Harris or Maurice Linguist, nor defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

All on equal footing, which will make for some great competition once this new staff gets on a field with players. Once the pads might finally come on. When and if these preseason games are played, and this year for the Cowboys, with a new staff, no way we're labeling these games as unnecessary or mere nuisances.

Why, never will preseason games be so important to the structure of a Cowboys roster and starting lineup than this one, and guaranteeing you this staff is hoping for all five games, for sure four and at the very least two.

And as for practice, this summer that's practice! No sarcastic question mark allowed. No brother-in-lawing out there, either. There are jobs on the line. Gobs of them. There are starting spots on the line, as many as 10, maybe a dozen across the board. And that spells c-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n.

Come on Dr. Fauci, let's go.

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