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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part III: Alan Ball vs. Michael Hamlin

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By Jonathan Bales

In the first two parts of my Training Camp Battles Series, I analyzed the future of both the nickel linebacker and defensive end positions.  As of now, I would give a slight advantage to Sean Lee and Marcus Spears in winning those jobs, although Spears will surely see some of his snaps taken by Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher.

Today, I will take a look at the oft-mentioned free safety position.  After a whirlwind of rumors that the ‘Boys would address the free safety spot via the draft or free agency, the position now seems to belong to Alan Ball.  Michael Hamlin is lurking in the shadows, however, and the coaches love his upside.  Is it possible that the second-year man swoops in to nab the job?

Scouting Reports

  • Alan Ball

The Cowboys cut free safety Ken Hamlin this offseason for one reason–he did not make enough big plays.  The team wants (needs?) a ball-hawking free safety, and Alan Ball might just be that guy.  Ball has been primarily a cornerback during his career in Dallas, so you know he can cover.  In fact, we gave Ball the highest coverage grade (B) in our 2009 Safety Grades.  You can see Ball’s statistics to the right and below.

The issue with Ball will be his tackling ability.  Ken Hamlin wasn’t exactly Ronnie Lott in the secondary, but he was still far superior to Ball last season.  Actually, Ball missed 22.2 percent of all tackles he attempted.  As the last line of defense on most plays, Ball doesn’t have to be a hard hitter, but he does need to be a sure tackler.

  • Michael Hamlin

Hamlin is really a giant question mark right now.  He got injured last year and fans have yet to obtain a glimpse of his skills.  The coaches, however, rave over his talent.  As of now, it is likely that he is worse than Ball in coverage but a better tackler.

Pros/Cons of Starting. . .

  • Alan Ball

The largest “pro” of starting Ball is the increase in coverage ability.  He allowed just a 45.0 percent completion rate in 2009 at free safety, the best number on the team.

There is also some upside with Ball.  He played last season during Ken Hamlin’s absence, but not enough for the team to truly gauge his full potential.  Right now, he is a huge risk/reward player.

That same high risk/high reward characteristic can also be considered a negative.  The Cowboys are loaded with talent and ready to make a championship run right now.  Perhaps a more steady, reliable player is what they need. . .or perhaps not. . .

  • Michael Hamlin

The “unknown” factor that accompanies Ball’s game is doubled with Hamlin.  Nonetheless, despite his age, Hamlin has more experience than Ball at free safety, having played it at Clemson.

Again, the mystery surrounding both players can simultaneously be viewed as a pro and a con.  Perhaps Hamlin’s (likely) superior tackling ability will put him over the edge if the players perform to a stalemate in camp.

Advantage

Right now, Ball holds the obvious advantage over Hamlin.  He played the position last season and is probably the main reason the Cowboys did not address the spot during the draft or free agency.  At the very least, the team believes one of the players–whoever it is–will step up and become a solid starter.

Hamlin isn’t so far behind that he can’t win the job during camp.  If Ball struggles and Hamlin shows he is ready to go, expect him to be provided the starting gig.  If Ball proves he can be counted on in run support, however, his coverage skills are unlikely to suffer enough for him to lose the job.

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