My training camp thoughts:
With the Cowboys finishing up their second week of camp in San Antonio and now heading for preseason games, I thought I would reflect on what I have learned so far.
There were three main areas of concern for me when the club started work two weeks ago. Will Doug Free be able to man the left tackle spot effectively? Will Alan Ball or Mike Hamlin fit as the new free safety? And can David Buehler be more than just a kickoff specialist?
In my mind, I can answer two of those three questions. Free will be fine at left tackle. In the day-in and day-out work that he gets against DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, Free has proven that to me. Free’s work has been solid in this camp. His footwork and punch improved each day when working against the two of the better linebackers in the NFL. Free has looked comfortable as well blocking on the edge in the running game. He will never be a “road grader” type of blocker but he knows how to fit, work his feet and maintain position.
Ball is a trained corner making the switch to full-time free safety. In visiting with secondary coach Dave Campo, he couldn’t have been more proud the way Ball has played these first two weeks.
Ball has shown range, catch-up speed and awareness for the position. He gives the corners the confidence that if there is a mistake in coverage, he will be there to clean up the mess. He is a fluid moving athlete that puts himself in good positions to defend the ball.
Hamlin has shown me something as well. Hamlin has a great build for a free safety, tall with long arms. Hamlin is not as fluid as Ball but his movement skill is good enough and when coming forward on a play can be impressive. There were some questions of his instincts, but I have seen reps where he was able to see the route, react to the receiver and make a play on the ball. In the Thursday morning practice, he showed range down the middle of the field carrying a receiver and making a play on an underthrown Tony Romo pass for an interception.
Have been impressed with the play of both of the safeties in camp.
Buehler is gaining the confidence of his coaches and teammates each practice with his leg strength and accuracy of his field goal attempts in practice. The real test for him will be the next five weeks in game situations.
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis has bet all along that Buehler can do the job but also realizes that there needed to be a plan in place if Buehler were to struggle this pre season. It has been impressive to watch the ball jump off his foot. You can hear the impact from behind the goal post where I sit to watch him kick. He gets tremendous height on his kicks.
In the first two weeks of practice, Buehler has done nothing to disappoint, but the next step will be the most important one and that starts Sunday in the Hall of Fame Game against the Bengals.