First, the good news: Dallas Cowboys safeties coach Brett Maxie, the former Saints great, has done an excellent job developing rookies Barry Church and Danny McCray. The bad news: One of those players might be in the starting lineup Sept. 12 in Washington.
Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com fame has done a nice job breaking this situation down. Starting strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh has a subluxation of his left shoulder, which those of us in the medical field normally call a "jacked-up shoulder." My longtime colleague Calvin Watkins is reporting that the injury could keep Sensabaugh out of the season opener.
So what are the options? Well, we've always known that Church would play on Sundays. The rookie free agent has been impressive from Day 1 and he's carried that over to the preseason games. His 80-yard fumble return against the Chargers set up the first-team's only touchdown of the preseason, which sent red-zone reporters scrambling for another storyline.
McCray didn't even start at LSU, but he'll make this roster because of his work on special teams. I think Wade Phillips wants him to focus on one thing, so I think he'd be the long-shot candidate. Michael Hamlin was supposed to challenge Alan Ball for the free safety spot, but that competition fizzled out early in camp and Hamlin's just returning to practice from a concussion.
And don't forget about the tallest safety in franchise history, Patrick Watkins, a man who loves a good shoe-string tackle. I've made some calls to some of my friends in the scouting world and it appears that Hamlin would have the inside track on the starting role.
And for those in the Dallas media who've made a career out of downplaying every potential problem, I'm sure they'll see Sensabaugh's injury as a minor bump along the road to the Arlington Super Bowl. However, it's important to note that Sensabaugh was one of the unsung heroes from the '09 season. Yes, I remember the sideline pass against the Vikings, but that shouldn't overshadow what he accomplished during the regular season. Both Keith Brooking and Sensabaugh were significant additions in free agency last year. I'm told by folks who would know that Sensabaugh is one of the most highly respected players in the locker room.
There's a good chance the Cowboys will enter the regular season without their starting left guard and strong safety. Of those two positions, I'd be most worried about strong safety. Now please respond to this entry in the "comments" section. First person who complains that the Cowboys receive too much coverage on the blog wins the grand prize, a free subscription to the Beast.