- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- We’ve got about five weeks to go before quarterbacks, first-year players, injured players and rookies report to Valley Ranch for workouts before the team flies to Oxnard, Calif., so there are plenty of things to wonder about.
Here is the latest installment of Five Wonders:
** I wonder if we’ll see the back-shoulder throw be a big part of the Cowboys' offense in 2012. Two years ago it certainly looked that way given the way Tony Romo was throwing them in training camp with Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton in camp. Then the season started and we didn’t really see it much before Romo suffered a season-ending collarbone injury. To me, the back shoulder throw is impossible for a cornerback to defend. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers might be the best at it in the league with his receivers and Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham might be the best quarterback-tight end combo. It takes time for the quarterback, tight ends and receivers to become comfortable in reading the defenders’ alignments for such a throw. With Dez Bryant entering his third year, Austin healthy and Witten able to push the middle of the field, Romo should be in position to make more back-shoulder throws this year. We saw hints of those throws in the OTAs and mini-camp.
** The Cowboys have five tight ends on the 90-man roster, but only Jason Witten would be considered a top blocker. John Phillips could be an overall upgrade from Martellus Bennett as the No. 2 tight end, but in-line blocking is not his strong suit. The others are James Hanna, Andrew Szczerba and newly claimed John Nalbone. Szczerba might be the best blocker. I wonder if the team’s approach to the tight end position could mean the addition of Pat McQuistan is more than just a camp filler. They will not waste Witten as a blocker because of what he means to the passing game. McQuistan served as a tight end in jumbo packages for New Orleans last year and the Saints managed to throw out of that formation as well. I also wonder if it means the team could keep two fullbacks on the 53-man roster with Lawrence Vickers and Shaun Chapas, but I think it’s more of a McQuistan thing than a fullback thing.
**The Cowboys signed Brodney Pool early in free agency, but he received only a $100,000 signing bonus to go with a $1 million base salary. He took most of the first-team reps in the organized team activities and mini-camp, but I wonder if he is a lock to make the final roster. Some inside Valley Ranch wanted Pool over another Rob Ryan guy, Abe Elam, last year, but the Cowboys went with Elam instead. In the OTAs and minicamp practices that were open to the media, Pool was hardly noticeable. Maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know. Maybe things will change when the pads come on. But we heard raves about Barry Church and Matt Johnson, one of their fourth-round picks last April, and Danny McCray is their best special teamer. Add Gerald Sensabaugh to the mix and you’re talking about five safeties, including Pool. At some point, it might be a numbers game or the team’s willingness to pay a guaranteed $1 million for a veteran once he’s on the opening week roster. And there’s this: Mana Silva, who was signed late last season, might be a name to watch when camp opens, too.
** I wonder if the Cowboys will bring in more competition for Dan Bailey. Not to take the kicker's job, mind you, but simply to keep some pressure on him. Bailey had a tremendous rookie season, making 32 of 37 field goal attempts and winning four games with late kicks. His kickoffs were better than they thought too. Jason Garrett mentioned at the close of the offseason that Bailey has added strength in 2012. The Cowboys have Delbert Alvarado on the roster, but he is also working as a punter. Bailey might be better served to have another leg in camp. It’s not that he can’t handle it. He showed last year he doesn’t mind the competition. Some kickers don’t like it. Nick Folk did not like it when the team drafted David Buehler in 2009.
** Bruce Carter earned a lot of raves before a hamstring strain kept him out of the final two days of minicamp. I wonder if people were/are jumping the gun on him. Like Pool, I just didn’t see him make plays in the passing game. I’ll give him a pass in the running game because without pads on it’s hard to evaluate just about anything. But Carter’s strength is his ability to run and cover, and I can’t remember a pass breakup during the team and seven-on-seven periods that I charted. Now, covering Witten is difficult for every linebacker in football, I get that. But, as Bill Parcells used to say, I’m not getting the anointing oils out just yet. My belief is that Dan Connor will be the “starter,” which means he will play running downs, and Carter will play passing downs, which means he will play a higher percentage of snaps in 2012.