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Five Big Question Marks for Cowboys Heading Into First Preseason Game

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Jonathan Bales

1.  Is Alan Ball ready to be a starting free safety?

Ball is more of a playmaker than former Cowboys free safety Ken Hamlin, but he has yet to show it during training camp.  Up to this point, second-year safety Michael Hamlin and undrafted rookie Barry Church have both outplayed Ball.  Of those two players, only Hamlin is a legitimate threat to Ball’s starting job, although both players will also eventually have to fend off rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

I previously detailed Ball’s battle with Hamlin.  If Ball continues to struggle, there is certainly a possibility that Hamlin overtakes him.  Ball’s play in the preseason games, starting this Sunday, will be critical.  Mission No. 1 for Ball: Improve upon his 22.2 percent missed tackle rate in 2009.

2.  Can David Buehler handle all kicking duties?

Buehler has been magnificent so far in training camp.  He has consistently been 6-for-6 (or at least 5-for-6) on field goals each day. As I’ve said before, Buehler’s only competition right now is himself.

The Cowboys aren’t going to allow poor kicking demolish their chances of a deep playoff run this season, so Buehler is on a very short leash.  Veterans John Carney and Matt Stover are on speed-dial in the event that Buehler folds.  Making kicks in practice is one thing, but Buehler will need to convert on basically every opportunity in the preseason to retain all kicking duties.

3.  Will Alex Barron make a push for the starting left tackle job?

Just about everyone believes Free has the starting job pinned down, but I’m not as convinced.  Free is certainly an overwhelming favorite, but Barron’s talent is so outstanding that anything can happen.  Barron has looked great thus far in training camp, especially since he has limited the false starts that plagued his career in St. Louis (although false starts aren’t as costly as they appear).

Neither player is particularly mauling in the run game, but both will be an upgrade over ex-Cowboy left tackle Flozell Adams in pass protection.  Take a look at my analysis of the Free/Barron battle.

4.  Will Jason Williams’ athleticism be enough to overcome rookie Sean Lee for the nickel linebacker position?

After struggling last season and in the early portions of this year’s training camp, Williams has come on of late.  His athleticism and speed are undeniable, but he has suffered from mental mistakes.  Further, the Cowboys certainly view Lee as a player who can start immediately (considering they had such a high draft grade on him).

This positional battle may be the Cowboys’ closest, as both players hold advantages over the other.  Williams is a playmaker and Dallas may want his talent on the field in their effort to maximize takeaways.  Lee, however, is probably the future at inside linebacker.  Perhaps the Cowboys want to get him experience as early as possible.

5.  What will be the distribution of touches among the running backs?

Many pundits (including myself) predicted Felix Jones would overtake Marion Barber for the starting running back job, but the Cowboys have said “not so fast.”  Barber is still No. 1 on the depth chart and looks to be rejuvenated in the early portions of camp.

Whoever starts, however, is less important than the distribution of touches.  Jones looks to see an increased role in every aspect of the offense, particularly the passing game.  Tashard Choice has also shown that he deserves more work, so it will be tough to justify more than 200 or so touches for Barber–whether he starts or not.

The truth is that we probably won’t learn much about the Cowboys’ intentions regarding this situation until the regular season. Choice may lead the team in preseason carries in an effort to “save” Barber and Jones and limit their chance of injury.

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5 Responses to Five Big Question Marks for Cowboys Heading Into First Preseason Game

  1. john coleman says:

    I think Ball will be fine. I think Buehler will rise to the occasion. Free is the man, but I believe Barron will play in a rotation, maybe LT and RT. For instance, if someone is having trouble with a speed guy. Lee if healthy will win out in this one. I’ve been hearing that Williams is having trouble in coverage and Lee looks like he is on cruise control covering. Barber may maintain his starting gig, but he has to prove it to me that he is deserving. I look for the same old got injured Marion. I just don’t think he strikes fear in the opposition.

  2. I’d agree with everything except the thought on Barron. Whoever wins, Free or Barron, will be the guy at LT. I can’t see the Cowboys plugging Barron in for a game or two, even based on match-ups (and even at RT). I do think they want Free to win the job, but IMO, Barron has more talent and would probably be my starting LT.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    good points.

    I figured one of those points would be the battle for slot (#3) receiver. I would say that w/ Dez’s injury, it’s certainly Crayton’s job and doubtful Hurd, (Manual) Johnson or Holley would compete for it legitimately.

    I agree w/ Coleman on Ball. However, I’m much more concerned about Buehler. If memory serves me correctly, there were more than a few games where missed field goals earlier in the game caused for a the team to be behind or struggle late in games (Giants, Denver, Green Bay and Wasshington – and certainly Vikings in the playoffs). Missed field goals in the 1st half often change the way plays are called in the 2nd half not to mention the added pressure the offense feels to score TDs (and hence not rely on an iffy kicker).

    Along with that is also punt/kick returning. I will continually watch the entire special teams play this pre-season.

  4. Excellent point on the return men and I now wish I had added it to the list. Back in February I labeled it the Cowboys’ #1 need (both KR and PR). A dynamic one can change games in a few seconds, and I certainly believe the Cowboys had that in mind with their selection of Bryant and particularly AOA.

  5. Pingback: 10 Dallas Cowboys Under Most Pressure This Preseason - NFL Super Bowl Live Online

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