The Cowboys will find out whether Alan Ball has what it takes to be a starting free safety in the NFL.
Cutting Ken Hamlin was the right move, but it will be interesting to see whether it’s more important to have a good cover safety instead of a savvy veteran.
You do see the coverage skills, the ability to match up and the range with Alan Ball. That’s really important to have somebody who can do that -- somebody who can play off the hash or in the middle -- because you want to keep Gerald Sensabaugh close to the line of scrimmage. I don’t like that Ball isn’t a big guy. Maybe you can get away with more of a cover guy at free safety, but I’d like to have a guy who is more physical. Are you sacrificing smarts and a physical presence for coverage and range? We also don’t know if Ball is a playmaker, but at least he has the traits that make you feel he can get his hands on the ball. As a corner, you have to have that -- the ability to break on balls and read routes. This is going to be the test for Ball.
I love Sensabaugh’s toughness and his ability to tackle. He can be a liability at times in coverage, so you don’t want to put him too much in that. They talk about him matching up with tight ends and backs. Those guys aren’t going to put a bunch of moves on you and make you look bad. Sensabaugh isn’t a guy who can cover in the slot or out wide. If you put him on a back or tight end, he can handle that. When he’s a down-in-the-box player, he’s a much better player. The closer you can put him to the line of scrimmage, the better he’s going to play, because he likes that physical side of the game. He plays physical in coverage against tight end and contests for the football. His playmaking ability is going to be as a tackler, causing fumbles, more so than getting his hands on passes.
There’s a hint of hesitation about the way that Mike Hamlin plays the game. As a free safety, you can’t have hesitation. You’ve got to read it and go. The thing that is going to hold him back is the mental side. With him, it’s going to be more about repetitions than anything else, learning his responsibilities and the corners’ responsibilities and being able to react instead of think during a play. I like his size and ball skills. He’s got all the physical traits that you want, but is he going to put himself in situations to make plays? That’s where he’s going to be judged.
I don’t know Akwasi Owusu-Ansah at all, but the scouts I talk to feel like he has the athletic ability to play corner but will probably end up at safety. He has good coverage skills, pretty good size and great speed. The physical traits are a good match for a safety. The question with him is going to be: What’s the learning curve? And you do worry a little bit about a safety with a shoulder problem. Free safeties hit, and they stretch for the ball. Is this something that is going to go away or will you have to worry about it every week?
If they carry a fifth safety, it’s going to come down to whether the less expensive Barry Church can take Pat Watkins’ duties on special teams. If that’s the case, Church has a great shot at making this team. They know what they have in Watkins. If he wasn’t a good special teams player, he wouldn’t be here. It’s up to Church to prove in the preseason that he can make plays on special teams and be productive on defense in the second half of games. If he does that, he could put Watkins on the street.