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Working Hard To Mend Last Line Of Defense

at the dime spot Henry played last year. And Smith mostly has been working back at deep safety on the nickel and dime, but Campo insists he could play in the slot, too. 

  Now, who knows if these guys will know what to do. Who knows if a lack of experience, save Sensabaugh, will eventually catch up with the youngsters. 

  But this much you can tell, even from watching these OTA workouts in shorts and T-shirts: The Cowboys definitely have added some versatile, athletic safeties to the roster with more than sufficient speed and an ability to cover. 

  This should prevent opposing offenses from working so hard to isolate the Cowboys' strong safety in coverage. This should aid Ken Hamlin in taking care of his own business, hopefully returning to the aggressiveness he flashed in that Pro Bowl first season (2007) with the Cowboys that helped earn him that $9 million signing bonus last summer. 

  And if he doesn't, who knows, maybe the Cowboys will have someone capable of goosing him from behind. 

  This just has to be as optimistic as the Cowboys have been at the safety position in years, especially over the past three when they knew hiding Roy Williams in coverage was a must and worse, found themselves crossing their fingers he would engage in the running game. Besides that . . . . 

  As Campo points out, if the Cowboys utilize their dime package more, the one with only one linebacker in the middle and six defensive backs on the field instead of two linebackers and five defensive backs on the nickel, they are better equipped to not only cover, but play the run with the combination of corners and safeties on hand. 

  "If you can, you'd rather find a linebacker to play the position," Campo said, as the Cowboys did last year with Bradie James in the middle and the since-departed nickel backer Kevin Burnett. They have linebacker options there, too, with not only projected starter Keith Brooking, but also third-round choice Jason Williams, nearly hand-picked to play the unique spot. 

  Now, the stats from last year say the Cowboys finished fifth in pass defense, something head coach Wade Phillips is quick to remind after saying, "I like our secondary." 

  That secondary not only will include Scandrick, last year's nickel back, but also last year's first-round draft choice Mike Jenkins, who got jerked around in 2008, having to adjust to the capricious Pacman Jones, who probably did more damage stealing reps from the rookie Jenkins than he did good in the end. 

  And, of course, a healthy Terence Newman will make a difference, too, although a leg strain did keep him out of Thursday's practice. 

  Again, T-Shirts and shorts so far, but there seems to be a lot less breath-holding going on over this position than there was last year or even the year before, and certainly the year before that when Williams and Watkins/Davis were the starting safeties. 

  Good grief. 

  But as Phillips looks at the group, he's already predicting the possibility of playing more man coverage because of the team's upgraded speed at corner and safety. Campo fears the injury to the front-line guys less, "because I feel we have guys to plug in there, and I didn't feel like that all the time last year." 

  And if that is the case, then that means upgraded competition for not only playing time but just to make this 53-man roster, something the Cowboys have really needed over the past few years at safety, which too many times afford far too little. 

  "Safety, absolutely, that will be a battle," Campo said. 

  Alas, a good thing, maybe finally enough substance at safety to prevent the Cowboys from crossing over too many more times into the Twilight Zone.           

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