Cowboys Training Camp Battles, Part IV: Gordon vs. Wall vs. McCann
By Jonathan Bales
In the first three parts of my Training Camp Battles Series, I analyzed the future of the nickel linebacker, defensive end, and free safety positions. As of now, I would give a slight advantage to Sean Lee, Marcus Spears, and Alan Ball in winning those jobs, although Spears will surely see some of his snaps taken by Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher.
Today, I will address the cornerback position (namely, the fourth cornerback spot). Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman, and Orlando Scandrick have the top three spots nailed down, but with the frequency with which NFL teams run four and five-receiver sets, the ‘dime’ cornerback (fourth CB) is becoming an increasingly vital position.
Further, in my opinion, the fourth cornerback with actually be the last cornerback on the roster. In a previous article I wrote:
Only four cornerbacks in this day and age? The reason behind my prediction is that the Cowboys will have two safeties on the roster (Alan Ball and rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) who will be able to play cornerback. In a way, the team will really have six cornerbacks on the roster even if they only list four at the position.
It is the versatility of Ball and AOA that will allow the ‘Boys to retain just four true cornerbacks. If that turns out to be the case, who will be the guy?
The job will really be a three-way battle between veteran Cletis Gordon, sixth-round pick Jamar Wall, and undrafted rookie Bryan McCann.
- Cletis Gordon
Gordon is a personal favorite of coach Wade Phillips. He is perhaps the most versatile of all three cornerback candidates, possessing the ability to return kickoffs. In fact, it is this ability which prompted me to initially project Gordon to make the 53-man roster. After the Cowboys drafted return aces Dez Bryant and AOA, however, Gordon’s return skills have became less imperative to the ‘Boys.
- Jamar Wall
Wall is a physical player who has faced top-notch competition at Texas Tech (including Michael Crabtree in practice). He doesn’t possess game-breaking speed or play-making ability, however, which is a trait for which the Cowboys’ brass is looking. He struggled badly with footwork and change of direction in offseason practices.
- Bryan McCann
McCann is the opposite of Wall: not physically overpowering, but a tremendous athlete with great speed. He is more of what the Cowboys generally seek in a cornerback. He has play-making ability and, up to this point, has probably played the best among the three candidates.
Pros/Cons of Keeping. . .
- Cletis Gordon
Gordon offers NFL experience and return ability. Rookie Dez Bryant is certainly capable of returning kickoffs, but it is more likely he will stick to punt returns, leaving just AOA, Kevin Ogletree, and Felix Jones to man kickoff return duties. Jones will probably be off of returns completely and AOA is still injured, meaning Gordon’s return ability can still hold value to Dallas. On the flip side, the upside of retaining Gordon is not as great as with Wall or McCann.
- Jamar Wall
The Cowboys used a draft pick on Wall, so he probably has a slight advantage over Gordon and McCann in the event that they all play evenly (even though the coaches probably wouldn’t admit it). He offers a physical presence in the secondary which is all but absent right now, but he won’t do much to contribute to the defense’s lack of takeaways.
- Bryan McCann
Of the three cornerbacks, McCann is the fastest, most athletic, and (most importantly) has the largest play-making ability. He can also be used on returns in a pinch. He needs to show he can be physical (proper press technique and solid tackling ability) in training camp to make the squad.
This battle will truly be one of the closest on the entire team this season. All three players have a legitimate chance to make the roster. In my latest roster projection, McCann was the choice (switching from Gordon in the initial version).
As of now, I would rate the chance of each player making the roster as follows:
- Bryan McCann: 50 percent
- Cletis Gordon: 30 percent
- Jamar Wall: 20 percent
During training camp, each player will have to display he can improve upon his weaknesses to increase his opportunity of making the roster. McCann needs to show physicality, Gordon must prove his experience is vital to the team, and Wall needs to demonstrate improved coverage ability and ball skills.