Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Cowboys Camp Watch
By Dan Graziano
Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing of which I'm certain: It's Jason Garrett's team. People ask all the time about Garrett's job security as the Cowboys' head coach. The questions are rooted in a largely unsupported perception of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as a man who likes to fire coaches. But Jones clearly wants Garrett to succeed as an NFL coach, and because of that he's allowing him the kind of decision-making power coaches believe they need to succeed. A look at the personnel changes the Cowboys made on the roster and on the coaching staff this offseason shows less Jones influence and greater Garrett influence. Aside from the first-round trade to get DB Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys' moves have been focused and functional as opposed to splashy and scattershot. And even the Claiborne move addressed the team's biggest need.
Garrett is being allowed to build a roster the way he believes it should be built, with what he famously calls "the right kind of guys." And the decisions on who starts on the offensive line and in the secondary and at inside linebacker and defensive end are going to be Garrett's to make. He'll do so with the full support of Jones, who loves him and wants him to be great. But for the second training camp in a row, the Cowboys will make it clear that Garrett's the guy running the show.
One thing that might happen: Bill Nagy could win a starting spot on the offensive line. The Cowboys signed free-agent guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, and project them as starters. But Bernadeau has already had surgery this offseason, and neither guy has a world-beating résumé. Nagy was a promising prospect this time last year, impressing coaches with his technique and intelligence but needing to improve his strength. If he has done that -- if he can play bigger and stronger than he did before his injury last year -- then he could be a threat to Livings or Bernadeau at guard, or even to Phil Costa at center.
The Cowboys' problems in 2011 were almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball, but the offensive line was shaky, as well. The interior spots especially remain a concern, as switching tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free (putting Smith on the left side and Free back on the right) is expected to solve whatever problems they had on the outside last season. Garrett has said there will be competition at those interior line spots, and those who perform the best in camp will be the starters. Keep an eye on Nagy and see whether he can show enough to win one of the three spots.
One thing we won't see: Mike Jenkins' smile. One of the starting cornerbacks last season, Jenkins has dropped to third on the depth chart behind Claiborne and free-agent signee Brandon Carr. Jenkins is upset about the demotion and the team's refusal to give him a new contract, and in protest he refused to report to the voluntary portion of the offseason program even though the Cowboys asked him to come so they could supervise his recovery from shoulder surgery. Jenkins is expected in training camp this week, but it remains to be seen whether he's healthy enough to practice or motivated enough to get on the field with his teammates.
The Cowboys' ideal plan is to have quality depth at cornerback this season, with Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick behind Carr and Claiborne. But that plan could take a hit if they can't count on the disgruntled Jenkins, who has demanded a trade and might not be happy serving as roster depth in his contract year. Jenkins was a good player for Dallas when he was healthy last season, but that wasn't often enough. If he wants a new deal -- from the Cowboys or from some other team next offseason -- his best bet is to get on the field and show as much as he can in whatever opportunities he gets.