Usually all you can read during training camp is how good a certain player or team looks before actually playing a game. This is not that; so if you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan who can’t handle the truth, look away.
Going into the off-season, the Cowboys had five main holes on their roster: cornerback, safety, outside linebacker, defensive end and guard. They certainly need an upgrade at the third tight end, as well as their third receiver spot but that is nit picking a bit. They had major needs at the other positions and ten days into training camp, let’s see how many holes the Cowboys filled.
Dallas upgraded one position without a shadow of a doubt and that spot was cornerback. They have needed upgrades in the secondary for a long time and they filled one need in a big way by signing free agent Brandon Carr and drafting Morris Claiborne. These additions give the Cowboys at least four corners who are solid, quality NFL players. They do need Claiborne and Jenkins to get healthy sooner rather than later but they surely upgraded the position.
The Cowboys continued trying to improve their secondary by adding Brodney Pool, formerly of the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, and drafting Matt Johnson in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL draft. Pool didn’t show any signs of being a contributor, even managing to fail a conditioning test and was released. No one knows how good Johnson is because he hasn’t practiced and is losing valuable time to learn by missing a significant amount of time. The one good thing about the safety position is the Cowboys feel they have found a real player to stop the merry-go-round in Barry Church. He has been outstanding in camp thus far. So yes, the safety position was addressed, but is it better?
Dallas waited in the draft to try and improve the defensive end and outside linebacker positions with the additions of Tyrone Crawford and Kyle Wilbur. But the same sentiment can be applied here; how much improvement can the Cowboys realistically expect at those spots from rookies who most likely need a little time to develop? So far in training camp, the Cowboys like what they have seen from both Crawford and Wilbur. They also like what they are seeing from undrafted free agent Adrian Hamilton so these appear to be good prospects with great upside, but how much does “upside” help this upcoming season?
But Dallas does have other defensive end prospects it likes who have been easing the concern at the position. We have all heard how much the Cowboys like Sean Lissemore, who has been playing both defensive tackle and end in training camp, but the name Clifton Geathers is another player to watch. The Cowboys have been raving about the skills and size of Geathers; he’s listed at 6-7, 325 lbs and has a giant wingspan. Geathers is expected to make the team and have an impact this season. I like where the Cowboys are for both positions.
Now about the interior of their offensive line. Yes, the Cowboys brought in Nate Livings and Mackenzie Bernardeau to beef up the guard position but neither are household names. It appears they offer upgrades to the offensive line but questions still remain regarding how much these moves will improve the Cowboys offensive line overall, especially with Bernardeau out until recently.
The Cowboys have been trying out all sorts of combinations at guard to compensate for the injuries they’ve sustained there from Bernardeau, Bill Nagy and Kevin Kowalski. They have tried a number of linemen inside from David Arkin to rookie Ron Leary, to Bernardeau and veteran tackle Pat McQuistan, who has also been working at guard. The Cowboys seem set with Livings at one guard spot but still appear to be searching for the other.
However, the guard spot seems to come up roses when compared to the Cowboys inability to have a credible center on the roster and it seems to me that this position is still the most worrisome.
All reports from training camp have Phil Costa struggling to snap the ball, never mind that he is still getting overwhelmed as a blocker. The problem is the Cowboys’ plan to have Kowalski and Nagy challenge Costa for the starting center spot has been foiled by injury. Word from Stephen Jones is that neither Nagy nor Kowalski will be ready in time for the regular season. Dallas has gotten creative and been auditioning second-year guard David Arkin at center but that has been a disaster. Apparently his snaps have been worse than Costa’s so perhaps it’s time to stop that experiment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; center was the one position the Cowboys desperately needed to address on offense this off-season but they failed miserably to do so.
Looking at the Cowboys’ roster right now, there is no question they are a better team than when the 2011 season ended. Realistically though, the only position they truly got a significant upgrade in was at cornerback. Don’t get me wrong; it was a position where they needed a big time upgrade but where have the Cowboys gotten significantly better at any other need position? I’m not sure they did.
In fact, the Cowboys will likely have the exact same holes to fill again next off-season, minus the defensive end position. With the probability that Mike Jenkins will leave, the Cowboys will still need help at cornerback and they need to find help on the interior of the offensive line, as well as safety. See, not a lot of problems appear solved.
You can’t fill every hole on your team in one off-season, but you’d like to get more filled than they did this year. Look on the bright side, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.