Proving Ground: Michael Hamlin

Fourth in a 10-part series focusing on young non-starters who have a lot to prove during training camp (series):

Alan Ball is the clear frontrunner to be the new starter at free safety, but Michael Hamlin can make the decision difficult.

Hamlin has the physical tools. He has good size for a safety at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds. He has excellent ball skills, as evidenced by his school-record 14 interceptions at Clemson and a few spectacular picks during his rookie training camp.

However, Hamlin doesn’t have experience. He didn’t play a down on defense last season. His preseason was cut short by a broken wrist.

To present a legitimate challenge to Ball, a converted cornerback with good coverage skills, Hamlin has to prove that he can play fast. That means he can’t get caught thinking too much during the play. He has to be able to process information instantly and react.

Hamlin could play a significant role on the defense even if Ball holds on to the starting job. With the Cowboys’ lack of depth at cornerback, Ball will play in the slot against four-receiver packages (and three-receiver packages if one of the top three corners gets injured). That provides Hamlin an opportunity to get on the field.

Hamlin has the potential to be the Cowboys’ playmaking safety of the future. His training camp plan should be to speed up that process.