NFC East: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

IRVING, Texas -- Is it too soon or too late to remind Dallas Cowboys fans that Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was drafted 13 spots before the Seattle Seahawks chose Kam Chancellor in the fifth round of the 2010 draft?

Or is too soon or too late remind them that Josh Thomas was picked 11 spots before the Seahawks took Richard Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft?

Today, Chancellor and Sherman are celebrating a Super Bowl victory. Thomas at least made it to the playoffs with the Carolina Panthers as a reserve. Owusu-Ansah was on the Detroit Lions' practice squad last year. Maybe we can ask new Cowboys playcaller (and former Lions offensive coordinator) Scott Linehan how Owusu-Ansah looked.

When a team wins a Super Bowl, we all look for the differences as to why Team X played in the Super Bowl and Team Y didn’t, and we say, "Copy those guys. That’s the way to get it done."

It doesn't work that way. Well, it shouldn't work that way. A team has to have its own philosophy and make it work. Stick with it and hope it pays off. That’s what Jason Garrett has referred to as building a program. It’s maddening to hear, especially after three 8-8 seasons, but there is truth in what Garrett is saying.

The biggest difference between the Seahawks and Cowboys is the draft. Well, that and the Seattle defense. But for this post we’ll stick with the draft.

Since 2010, the Seahawks picked 12 players from the third round and later -- or who were undrafted -- who have crucial roles in the team's success. The Cowboys have DeMarco Murray, a third-rounder in 2011, and three undrafted free agents. I could have counted Dwayne Harris, but the Cowboys actually cut him and needed him to pass through waivers before putting him on the practice squad in 2011.

If the Cowboys had not traded Sean Lissemore before the 2013 season, I would have counted their seventh-round pick in 2010 on the list.

As for undrafted picks, I’ll go with Barry Church (2010), Dan Bailey (2011) and Ronald Leary (undrafted, 2012). I wasn’t ready to say that Kyle Wilber (fourth round, 2012) and/or James Hanna (sixth round, 2012) are crucial to the Cowboys’ success.

In order to win a draft, teams have to be successful in the middle rounds. The Cowboys have not been successful in the middle rounds in years. As a result, they lack depth. When they lose starters, they have to scour the street for help. When the Seahawks lose a player, they plug in a mid- to late-round pick as if nothing ever happened.

If we want to eliminate the third round, which is where Seattle drafted quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012, the Cowboys have to go back to the 2008 draft to find a real hit for the Cowboys in Rounds 4-7: cornerback Orlando Scandrick (fifth). Doug Free (2007) turned into a good fourth-round pick only after the Cowboys were forced to play him in 2009. The golden year was 2005 when the Cowboys got Marion Barber (fourth), Chris Canty (fourth) and Jeremiah Ratliff (seventh) in what was then the second day of the draft.

The Seahawks can point to guys like Sherman, Chancellor, Walter Thurmond (fourth, 2011), Byron Maxwell (sixth, 2011), Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (seventh, 2011), K.J. Wright (fourth, 2011), Robert Turbin (fourth, 2012), J.R. Sweezy (seventh, 2012), Doug Baldwin (undrafted, 2011) and Jermaine Kearse (undrafted, 2012).

They aren’t merely contributors. They are difference-makers.

If the Cowboys want to alter their "secret sauce" recipe, they can look at the Seahawks' cookbook.

Dez Bryant likely to return more punts

November, 30, 2011
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The Dallas Cowboys made a couple of roster moves Wednesday, releasing wide receiver Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and adding fullback Shawn Chapas from the practice squad. They don't seem like major moves on the surface, but they have implications further up the roster, as I will attempt to explain.

The main impetus for this would seem to be the continued absence from the lineup of fullback Tony Fiammetta, who had been such a big part of the resurgence of the running game and the success of rookie running back DeMarco Murray but has been unable to play or practice for the past few weeks due to illness. The Cowboys do not seem to have any idea when or if they'll get Fiammetta back, so they need Chapas to come up from the practice squad and do some blocking.

They also seem to be getting ready for the return of wide receiver Miles Austin from his second hamstring injury of the year. And with the emergence of Laurent Robinson at wide receiver, they could be overloaded at that position. For that reason, all indications are that the Cowboys would reduce the role of wide receiver Dez Bryant in the passing game and use him to return punts -- a job Owusu-Ansah was doing but at which Bryant is a much greater threat. The Cowboys have been hesitant to use Bryant as a return man due to concerns about his health. But if he doesn't have to play as many snaps on offense as he has been playing, they can reduce his injury risk that way.

Bryant had a big 20-yard punt return to get the Cowboys' game-winning drive started against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving, and he's clearly the team's best option on punts.

Dallas Cowboys cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Click here for a complete list of the Dallas Cowboys' roster moves.

Biggest surprise: I guess they released four fullbacks, including Chris Gronkowski, meaning they kept none. They're obviously deep at tailback with Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner and at tight end as well, so they either didn't see the need to use a fullback this season or are content with the idea of picking one off the scrap heap within the next couple of weeks. Other than that, I didn't find any of the cuts especially surprising. Igor Olshansky started 28 of their 32 games the past two seasons, so he's the biggest name among the cuts. But we'd seen this one coming for a while. It was clear that new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan preferred Kenyon Coleman at defensive end, and that the Cowboys weren't going to be afraid to cut ties with established veterans.

No-brainers: Kickers Shayne Graham and Dave Rayner had their chances to win jobs but couldn't, so they're gone and the Cowboys will go with David Buehler for kickoffs and Dan Bailey for field goals. Lonyae Miller showed promise early but was passed by Tanner for the lone spot in the crowded running back field. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah clearly wasn't panning out at safety in spite of being the team's fourth-round draft pick in 2010.

What's next: With only five wide receivers on the roster, the Cowboys could theoretically hunt around for veteran help there. But they may believe the receiving ability of their tight ends and running backs minimizes the importance of adding there. They will surely continue looking for a kicker, because
they're obviously not satisfied with what they have, and they may be on the lookout for added depth in the secondary. They kept 10 offensive linemen, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to see them bringing someone in from the outside if they can find a reliable veteran backup for some of their young starters.
Even before the draft, there was a very strong argument that the weakest area of the Cowboys’ roster was the secondary. Dallas’ pass defense was among the worst in the league last year -- but it wasn’t from a lack of quality pass-rushers. The draft is ancient history and the first wave (more like a tsunami) of free agency is just about behind us. But is Dallas vastly improved on the back end of its defense? Not even close.

The starting cornerbacks, Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, were particularly poor in 2010. And the starting free safety, Alan Ball, was miserable in coverage. Gerald Sensabaugh, the starter at strong safety, had the best year of anyone in this secondary. But he really isn’t a great cover man, which shows how bad things were a year ago for the Cowboys. Dallas wisely kept him near the line of scrimmage. It also re-signed Sensabaugh, who was up for free agency. In the draft, the Cowboys only used one selection for secondary help, a fifth-round pick on Josh Thomas from the University of Buffalo. Thomas is considered a project.

[+] EnlargeAbram Elam
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys on Wednesday signed safety Abram Elam to a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
Needless to say, this isn’t a good situation for the Cowboys. They are going to move Ball back to cornerback, where he belongs. And I believe Jenkins is a better player than what he showed last year. Their nickelback, Orlando Scandrick, could be poised to get more playing time. But in the end, I see Scandrick as best suited for his current role. Dallas does have two youngsters who could step up in their second NFL seasons in Bryan McCann and particularly Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. But neither of these two did anything to speak of in Year 1.

Are there free agents available who could help the cause? There are several intriguing safeties who have yet to be signed, and every one of them would be massive upgrades from what Ball did at free safety a year ago. On Wednesday, Dallas signed safety Abram Elam. He is a smart player with decent range. He isn’t afraid to insert himself or throw his body around. He is certainly an upgrade over what the Cowboys were playing with as a last layer of defense in 2010. But I still question if that is enough to really compete in their secondary -- especially with the rigors of the season and once injuries occur. The Cowboys should also look at free agents Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner and Deon Grant at free safety; all are unsigned as of this morning.

I commend the Cowboys for keeping many of their own free agents and addressing their offensive line situation, especially since they were in a real bind financially. But their secondary is a huge problem.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.
All right, everybody. I am Dan. I am new. I am thrilled to be here. If you've been reading this blog since Matt Mosley left it, I'm sure you've been wondering when someone would be coming to take it over full-time, and today's the day. Please, save all applause until the end.

Briefly: I used to be a baseball writer for newspapers in Florida and New Jersey. I covered the NFL for the past two years for AOL FanHouse (R.I.P.). I live in North Jersey, grew up in South Jersey and went to school in Washington. So I've lived among Giants fans, Eagles fans and Redskins fans (and Cowboys fans, come to think of it, because you're everywhere). But I swear I neither hate nor favor any of your teams, and I trust you will keep this in mind for at least a couple of hours before allowing yourselves to wonder otherwise.

Anyway, that's enough about me. This blog is about you, and about all of us having some fun together. We'll be talking plenty, whether here or on Twitter. Meantime, some lockout links to start the day:

Dallas Cowboys

In his mailbag, Jean-Jacques Taylor says the Cowboys' secondary issues may come down to the ability of new D coordinator Rob Ryan getting the current players to play better, not who they can get in free agency. I guess, but you still have to figure Jerry Jones has been doodling Nnamdi Asomugha's name on his Trapper Keeper during some of the slower CBA talks, no?

Rob Phillips looks at whether 2010 draft pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah could help at safety this year.

New York Giants

Chris Canty thinks the 2011 season will start on time. Full disclosure: Canty is not a legal analyst.

Amid speculation that his knee won't be healthy in time to handle Canty's prediction, Giants WR Steve Smith is using his Facebook page to offer optimism.

Philadelphia Eagles

Andy Reid believes the lockout will hurt the on-field product this fall.

Meantime, Reid and his coaches did some coaching ... of Philly-area high school players. Funny quote in here about how Reid doesn't want players going too far if they take vacations, in case the lockout ends and they have to get back to camp quickly. "You don't want to be taking camel rides through the Sahara desert." Would love to know which of Reid's players have done that.

Washington Redskins

If Mike Shanahan's professed plan to start John Beck at QB is a smokescreen, Beck doesn't care. He's fired up.

Redskins players are organizing more workouts this week. I'm assuming the conditioning tests at the player-organized workouts aren't quite the media event they were in Ashburn last summer, but who knows?

NFC East links: Skins' Alexander stays busy

April, 11, 2011
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Dallas Cowboys

Josh Ellis calls the Cowboys' tight end position as "set as any spot on any team in the league."

Defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah says he was humbled during his first year in the league, which is only driving him to work harder heading into his second season.

New York Giants

New York currently holds the 19th overall pick in the draft. Giants.com takes a look at the recent history at that spot, which presents a mixed bag of results.

Philadelphia Eagles

With competition for the starting right tackle spot looming, Winston Justice is working hard to stay at the top of the depth chart.

The Eagles had a pair of running backs in recently for a pre-draft visit.

Washington Redskins

Lorenzo Alexander has remained busy with his charitable activities during the lockout.

The Donovan McNabb-Minnesota Vikings story continues to make waves.

Midweek Beastlines Report

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
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This afternoon, the ESPN.com Blog Network is rolling out its Midseason Stock Watch Reports. But while you wait by your laptops and PDAs for that feature, peruse these NFC East headlines:

Cowboys
Eagles
  • In his wildly popular "Eagles Rewind" column, the Inquirer's Jeff McLane says Vick's the right choice behind this offensive line. I'm a Kafka guy myself, but I see where McLane's coming from.
Giants
Redskins
  • Clinton Portis had some swelling in his groin muscle following Tuesday's workout and calls himself a game-time decision against the Eagles, according to Rick Maese of the Post.

Cowboys-Dolphins: What did we learn?

September, 2, 2010
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The Dallas Cowboys rested their starters against the Miami Dolphins, but there were still some interesting developments Thursday evening. Third-team quarterback Stephen McGee won't make it to the practice squad after going 27-of-42 for 304 yards and a touchdown. If the Cowboys want to keep him, they'll have to hold a spot for him on the 53-man roster.

Here are some observations from the Cowboys' 27-25 win.
  • Apparently the Cowboys wanted to get left guard Montrae Holland a little more work in the preseason. From what I'm told, he has a 50 percent chance of starting against the Redskins with starter Kyle Kosier trying to return from a right MCL sprain. On an early third-and-1, the Cowboys' offensive line didn't get any push and Tashard Choice was tackled at the line of scrimmage. Holland was called for two false starts on the second drive of the game. The Cowboys need Kosier to return in a hurry.
  • I liked how outside linebacker Victor Butler pursued the running game from the backside. He came racing from the backside to knock down Ronnie Brown after a short gain. Butler also made some nice plays in coverage. Of the young backup linebackers, Butler's playing with the most confidence. On the Dolphins' first scoring drive, it was Butler who forced the field goal attempt by batting down a Chad Henne pass. Perhaps he's fired up about his alma mater Oregon State playing at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday.
  • Rookie safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah appeared to bust coverage against Davone Bess in the first quarter. It was an easy throw for Chad Henne on third-and-long. Owusu-Ansah was fortunate to hop to his feet following a clothesline from Tim Dobbins on a punt return early in the game.
  • Tashard Choice was the Cowboys' best offensive player Thursday. Watching him take a short pass and turn it into a 34-yard play was pretty remarkable. Choice couldn't find any holes in the running game. It's time for the Pat McQuistan era to end. The reserve guard doesn't play with any power and he doesn't move his feet very well in pass protection.
  • It's obvious that Stephen McGee and Martellus Bennett have some nice chemistry. Bennett does a really nice job of getting separation downfield. If his head is in the game, he could help this team in a big way. I was really impressed with a play that McGee made late in the first quarter to find Manuel Johnson. He extended the play with his legs and did a nice job of throwing on the run. On the next play, McQuistan was beaten badly off the snap. He has really awful balance. And on the next play, Alex Barron was beaten on a speed rush by linebacker Cameron Wake.
  • Rookie linebacker Sean Lee is having trouble shedding blockers. On the long run by Ricky Williams at the end of the first quarter, Lee got sealed by wide receiver Marlon Moore. It looked like defensive end Jason Hatcher was trying to come up the middle on a stunt and he got stoned by the center. Beautiful play by the Dolphins, but Lee has to be more physical than that. But he fought back and had a fumble recovery to end the same drive. Butler took over the game in the first half against the Dolphins' starters. Nice strip-sack of Henne early in the second quarter.
  • That was a gorgeous throw from McGee on the 43-yard touchdown pass to Sam Hurd. Hurd did a really nice job of accelerating when the ball was in the air. Cornerback Sean Smith had good coverage until just before the ball arrived. Going to be tough to cut Hurd after watching that play.
  • Second-year linebacker Jason Williams tried to cover a running back on a wheel route late in the first half and he never attempted to play the ball. Williams was called for pass interference.
  • Big confidence booster for David Buehler to nail the 51-yard field goal at the end of the half. Wade Phillips gave special teams coach Joe DeCamillis a fist bump and appeared to shout, "Yeah baby!" Really good night for Buehler. He also made a 45-yard field goal. I still want to see what he does in the regular season, but this was an excellent tuneup for him.
  • After tonight's game, I feel like Butler can give the Cowboys between seven to 10 plays per game and he could fill in nicely if someone gets injured. It looked like DeMarcus Ware loved watching Butler fly around Thursday evening.
  • Sean Lee showed some excellent closing speed to sack Tyler Thigpen in the third quarter.
  • I liked the way Manuel Johnson fought for the football tonight. The former Oklahoma receiver probably doesn't have a spot on this team but he gave some other teams something to think about. Speaking of other teams, I know a couple of scouts from around the league who are very interested in Cowboys rookie cornerback Bryan McCann. He'll get scooped up if the Cowboys try to sneak him through to the practice squad. Early in the fourth quarter, McCann didn't take away the inside against Marlon Moore and was burned for the touchdown. Terence Newman met McCann on the sideline to explain what he should've done.
  • Quite a battle between Hurd and Jesse Holley on Thursday. Hurd had the big touchdown catch, but it was Holley who made play after play in the second half.
  • Herb Donaldson might be a good practice squad candidate. He had some nice runs in the second half.
  • I thought reserve cornerback Cletis Gordon had a rough night. He was beaten for a long pass by Roberto Wallace late in the third quarter and he just seemed a step slow in this game. And late in the game, Wallace reached up and caught one over Gordon's head. He just didn't make plays on the ball at all. And this is after he had a ton of interceptions in training camp. Really nice second half for Wallace. He beat rookie cornerback Jamar Wall on a back-shoulder route on the goal line.

Cowboys-Texans: What did we learn?

August, 29, 2010
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If this was truly a dress rehearsal for the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday evening, Redskins fans have to be licking their chops for Sept. 12. The Cowboys' first-team offense was once again whipped by an AFC defense. And the defense wasn't much better. The Colts don't get worried about pitiful preseason performances because of their winning pedigree. I'm afraid Cowboys fans won't take the same laidback approach. Now let's assess the damage:
  • About the best thing you can say about the first half is that fourth-round pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah opened the game with a 41-yard return. He showed a nice burst and Joe DeCamillis's unit did a good job creating a lane along the right side of the field.
  • It looked like the Cowboys' offensive line hadn't seen a stunt all preseason. On the first sack of Tony Romo, Texans defensive end Mario Williams came racing up the middle and Andre Gurode appeared to be shocked by his arrival.
  • Both Bradie James and Mike Jenkins did a nice job diagnosing plays early in the game, but Jenkins has to do a better job wrapping up. That's what Darren Woodson was really worried about with this group. Would they be able to tackle? Jenkins looked bad early in the game. Then Alan Ball started missing tackles.
  • The Cowboys are praying Dez Bryant will someday be like Andre Johnson. Matt Schaub has the luxury of being able to deliver the ball even when Johnson is closely covered. Johnson caught one ball on the first drive with Terence Newman all over him and then dragged him another 5 yards.
  • Jason Witten had no chance against defensive end Antonio Smith. Witten was overwhelmed by Smith when the Cowboys tried to run the ball to the left side. The Cowboys' running game has been bad throughout the preseason. I did like the draw play to Felix Jones on the second drive of the game. Right tackle Alex Barron did a really nice job sealing his man on that play. On the next play, Miles Austin had a bad drop in the left flat.
  • Gurode may have jump-started Amobi Okoye's dormant career in the first quarter. The Texans' former first-round pick raced around Gurode to sack Tony Romo. It looked like Gurode was in decent position and then he just watched Okoye run past him. Romo doesn't have any time to survey the field.
  • Missed the memo on former Tennessee Volunteer Arian Foster being such a wonderful running back. In the first quarter, DeMarcus Ware got pancaked by a tight end when Foster took off on an 18-yard run. Cowboys free safety Alan Ball whiffed on Foster in the open field. On the same drive, the Cowboys were completely fooled in coverage when Matt Schaub rolled right and then threw back across the field to Jacoby Jones. It looked like Ball was the player who was fooled on the touchdown.
  • Hey, at least Roy Williams came to play Saturday night. He made a nice catch off his shoetops late in the first quarter and then he overpowered Kareem Jackson on a 29-yard catch. Later in the drive, Williams drew a holding penalty on cornerback Glover Quin. The Cowboys then botched a toss to Felix Jones, who raced back and failed to recover the fumble. CBS' Gus Johnson was in midseason form on that call.
  • The Cowboys have to do a better job of knowing down and distance on defense. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick was giving Jacoby Jones way too much cushion on a third-and-6 play. There was no mystery where Jones was going with that route. On the next route, the Cowboys did the same thing on third-and-7. You think it might be a good idea to cover Andre Johnson on a crossing route? Johnson was the best player on the field Saturday.
  • Did anyone else see defensive end Igor Olshansky getting blown off the ball in the first half? That's supposed to be the strength of Olshansky's game, but he was on his heels every time I watched.
  • Scandrick simply has no chance against Andre Johnson. The Texans receiver is too physical for Scandrick. Former Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has promised Santana Moss that he'll be able to do a lot of the same things as Johnson in the Skins' offense.
  • It's impressive to watch Tashard Choice on one of those slip screens. And it's remarkable to see Leonard Davis racing downfield in front of Choice. Doug Free told me recently that Davis might be the fastest player on the offensive line.
  • Wade Phillips finally lost his temper after a Foster run early in the second half. Looked like he was especially upset with Jason Williams and safety Michael Hamlin on the play. Both players took poor angles to Foster and ended up chasing him from behind.
  • With 11:47 left in the third quarter, Phil Simms says the Cowboys don't appear to be motivated for this game. You think? What a weak little attempt at a tackle by safety Pat Watkins on Jeremiah Johnson's long run.
  • On Foster's touchdown run early in the second half, Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler was driven into the end zone and never came close to making a play. Dallas had no interest in playing this game. How much should that concern Cowboys fans?
  • The Texans were double-teaming Jay Ratliff and Bradie James was overpursuing against the run. Foster just burned them all night. Simms makes a statement with 5 minutes left in the third quarter that the Cowboys are playing a lot of reserves. I looked up and saw DeMarcus Ware, Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and James all in the game. Second consecutive disgraceful performance for the Cowboys. We'll see if they can flip the switch against the Redskins.

Beastlines: Kolb vouches for Vick

July, 15, 2010
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Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys signed a pair of draft picks yesterday: Seventh-round pick Sean Lissemore and sixth-round pick Sam Young.

Continuing his "Proving Ground" series, ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon looks at safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

In an Insider piece for ESPN.com, Football Outsiders' Bill Barnwell names two Cowboys players among the top 10 NFL draft prospects: Running back Tashard Choice (No. 4) and cornerback Orlando Scandrick (No. 6).

The Dallas Morning News' Gerry Fraley takes note of the Cowboys' "trouble-free offseason."

In a chat on the DMN website, writer Rick Gosselin declares that Roy Williams will have his "best season as a Cowboy."

Is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones the next George Steinbrenner?

Cowboys running back Felix Jones feels his likeness was misused to promote a youth football camp.

Quarterback Tony Romo has won an award... for his golfing.

New York Giants

Giants safety Antrel Rolle told Sporting News he "loves playing under the bright lights."

Giants third-year receiver Mario Manningham is looking for more out of 2010.

A former New York Giants scout joins the National Football Post and writes about the supplemental draft.

Clark Judge of CBSSports.com looks at training camp battles in the NFC East including the Giants competition at left guard.

Philadelphia Eagles

Embattled Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has a friend in starter Kevin Kolb. Kolb told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I just told him that it was unfortunate what he had to go through. I just said, 'If there's anything I can do, whatever it is, I don't care, just holler.' And, of course, he said, 'I appreciate it.'"

Salt Lake City Tribune blogger Jay Drew thinks the Eagles will win the Harvey Unga sweepstakes.

Former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook says, "This season is going to be different."

In its continuing series of "Camp Classics," Philly.com reflects on "When George Hegamin went AWOL."

Washington Redskins

The Redskins are unlikely to make a pick in today's supplemental draft.

Safety LaRon Landry had toe surgery last month, but should be able to join the team for training camp.

Football Outsiders' Bill Barnwell ranks the Redskins dead last in young talent in the NFL. "Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have inherited a wasteland from Vinny Cerrato, who used his draft picks to acquire 'has-beens' and 'never-weres.' As a result, the Redskins only have four 'young' starters, and two of them (wideout Devin Thomas and safety LaRon Landry) have been professional flops," he writes in the Insider piece. However, Barnwell ranks Redskins cornerback Justin Tyron the fifth best NFL prospect.

The Redskins have launched a new ad campaign with the slogan, "No more looking back."

Yahoo! Sports ranks the Redskins 26th ... for fantasy purposes.

On the radar: Uncertainty at safety

June, 17, 2010
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

When examining the landscape of the NFC East, it is somewhat surprising how many issues there are across the board at the safety position. Let’s take a quick overview of the situation while remembering that this is a division that features tight ends such as Jason Witten and Brent Celek, a lot of firepower at the wide receiver position and a fine foursome of passers to attack safeties at the third level.

In Dallas, Gerald Sensabaugh looks entrenched as the starting strong safety, while Alan Ball will do battle with Mike Hamlin at free safety, with the long shot of rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah factoring in here as well.

Sensabaugh is probably the best safety on the roster, but his coverage skills are average. He is best against the run, but it should be noted that he played a large portion of the season with a broken thumb. Everyone else is really an unknown, other than Pat Watkins, but Watkins has proved to be someone not worth getting excited about. Ball is small and has more of a cornerback skill set than that of your typical safety.

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe Giants, who signed Antrel Rolle to a $37 million deal, should have the best situation at safety in the division.
The Giants were horrendous at safety last season and obviously some of that had to do with the brutal knee injury to Kenny Phillips, who looked like a real up-and-comer before he got hurt. It’s hard to speculate if Phillips will be ready for this season or if he will be the same player when he does return, but the Giants were quite proactive in their approach to the position.

Though they spent a lot of money to acquire him, I commend the signing of Antrel Rolle. He is extremely talented and entered the league as a highly touted cornerback prospect. While already a very good player, he should only improve with more reps at free safety, where he will start for the Giants. His ability to read the play from the deep middle does need work though.

If Phillips cannot man the strong safety spot, the job would go to either Deon Grant, recently signed as a free agent, or Michael Johnson, who had a rough year in 2009 and makes too many errors with his assignments. New York also used a third-round pick on Chad Jones, a player with a lot of ability. His game seems best suited for free safety, but he has the body to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

While New York was probably the worst off in this division at safety last year, I expect them to be the best of the four in 2010. You have to commend their aggressive approach to fixing a problem. And although all these moves seem to indicate that New York is seriously worried about Phillips’ recovery, it also should be noted that new defensive coordinator Percy Fewell used a lot of three-safety sets with the Bills and that could carry over to the Giants this year.

Philadelphia also was proactive in improving its free safety position, but an Achilles injury to Marlin Jackson took him out of the equation. Second-round pick Nate Allen also is a fine-looking prospect for this position. That is a lot of pressure to put on a rookie -- especially in this division -- but Allen has the skills to handle it. What is worrisome, however, is how well he will handle the mental aspects of the position, which can be taxing.

The Eagles are set at strong safety with Quintin Mikell, who is a very solid all-around safety who is asked to do many things in an attacking scheme -- and does just about everything well. With Jackson’s injury, depth here is a major concern, although Macho Harris could potentially move back to free safety if needed. Still, the Eagles are not real deep at cornerback either, which gives me some pause about their sub package defenses. If we lined up today, I would attack this defense with three- and four-wide receiver sets until the secondary proved it could handle the stress.

Like their counterparts in the division, the Redskins have questions at safety as well. I see three decent safeties -- one with loads of ability -- but all three are more strong safety types. The player with loads of ability is LaRon Landry, who will handle the starting strong safety spot. Landry was overwhelming coming out of college, but certainly has not lived up to his draft position. As the Redskins move to a 3-4 scheme, maybe Landry will see more of a versatile role, such as the one Pittsburgh uses with Troy Polamalu. Landry has reportedly bulked up for the role, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how it affects his movement skills. He really struggled in deep coverage, but I am predicting a breakout season for him.

Neither Chris Horton nor Reed Doughty is the ideal fit at free safety. Doughty fits the mold better and should get the nod, but he isn’t going to make anyone forget about Sean Taylor in terms of his physical skill set. He plays the run better than the pass. This safety situation could lead to a lot of big plays deep downfield against the Redskins.

There are some good football players at safety in this division and there are others with a lot of ability who could flourish in 2010. But it does surprise me that three of the four teams -- Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington -- do not appear interested in adding a true centerfield type in Oshiomogho Atogwe. And while there are questions across the board at safety, for the most part, the teams in the NFC East can really rush the passer -- which of course can make problems on the backend disappear.

Scout's honor: Answering your questions

April, 27, 2010
4/27/10
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Since the draft ended Saturday afternoon, I've been on the phone with scouts from across the league trying to figure how they thought the NFC East teams performed. Many of you (100 at last count) left questions for the scouts in the "comments" section. I asked the following question on behalf of "dnasemployee."

Question: I understand that Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, drafted in the fourth round by the Cowboys, is a project safety and will take a few years before he develops into a starter. Given his skill set, what type of potential does he have, what obstacles would he have to overcome and who is he comparable to?

AFC scout: I see him as more of a safety than a cornerback. He'd have to be a press corner if he plays that position. He's certainly athletic enough to be effective, but you have to wonder about the pedigree a little bit. He hasn't played stiff competition, so it's hard to have a great feel for him. He needs a lot of drill work and he's going to have to become more savvy as a technician. I think he could eventually start, but for now, he'll only be ready for some special-teams duty. He's sort of built like the Giants' Kenny Phillips, although he's not there talent-wise. Not a bad pick in the fourth round. It's not like you're expecting to find an immediate starter that late in the draft. He's a project.

Mosley: You guys asked some great questions. I'll keep rolling these out over the next couple of weeks. Thanks for your participation. Ttoes9528 asked for a scout to compare Trent Williams to Russell Okung. Here's what I came up with.

Cowboys find Ansah at CB

April, 24, 2010
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Things are moving pretty quickly at this point, so we won't go pick by pick anymore. But the Dallas Cowboys have to feel really good to land Indiana (Pa.) cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah late in the fourth round. He was getting a lot of buzz in the days leading up to the draft.

Here's what Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com had to say about Owusu-Ansah. The Cowboys traded down seven spots to take him at No. 126 overall. His technique is raw and he's played inferior competition at the Division II. I don't even know what to make about his seven returns for touchdowns. I'm told by scouts that he looked really uncomfortable fielding punts, but if he caught them, he could take it to the house.

He may have more upside than any player in the fourth round. But secondary coach Dave Campo will have his work cut out for him. Owusu-Ansah has relied on his athleticism throughout college. He had shoulder surgery after the combine, so that's something that other teams thought about. But most teams don't think that's a concern.

Good pick late in the fourth. He was everyone's sleeper pick at cornerback. By the way, the Philadelphia Eagles took Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp early in the fifth round. You think the Eagles and New York Giants might be interested in improving on defense? Sapp's an undersized defensive end, which is not a problem for Andy Reid and Sean McDermott. They'll hope they've found another Trent Cole. Sapp is extremely athletic and he should be able to add some bulk to his 250-pound frame. He doesn't play the run all that well, but he probably won't be asked to do that early in his career. Could be a good situational pass-rusher.

The Eagles take a QB in fourth round

April, 24, 2010
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Because new general manager Howie Roseman traded down at every opportunity Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles are having a busy fourth round. We've talked about how the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys believed there was tremendous value in the fourth. Well, so far that's turning out to be correct.

With the 122nd pick overall, the Eagles selected Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka. I think Kafka is one of the most intriguing players in this draft. He only started for one year at Northwestern, so no one knows where his career's headed. But he's tall enough (6-3) and has the mobility to make plays on the run. He's a little too inaccurate for me, but he has the tools to really improve in that area.

I just think he's a cerebral player who could manage a game in a pinch. He'll eventually be a serviceable No. 2 quarterback, and there's no shame in that. If he's more than that, the Eagles could flip him for a draft pick down the road. Andy Reid learned from the great Ron Wolf about taking talented quarterbacks in the draft.

The Eagles also selected linebacker Keenan Clayton out of Oklahoma and Missouri State tight end Clay Harbor. Clayton's an excellent athlete who will help on special teams. Tight end was a "need" position.

The Cowboys selected cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah with the 126th overall pick. Owusu-Ansah was getting a ton of publicity as a potential sleeper pick. Excellent value with that pick in the fourth. I know some folks had him with an early third-round grade.

Giants hosting McClain and Bowman today

April, 12, 2010
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The New York Giants do a nice job of keeping a lid on their draft plans, but Star-Ledger beat man Mike Garafolo secured the names of some prospects who dropped by the club's facility Monday. Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman, LSU safety Chad Jones, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain and Indiana (Pa.) safety/KR Akwasi Owusu-Ansah all stopped by, according to Garafolo.

Owusu-Ansah's name is being mentioned a ton in this draft and it wouldn't surprise me if general manager Jerry Reese was interested. The Giants aren't afraid to go after small-program players, as evidenced by their pursuit of Ramses Barden in last year's draft.

I'm hoping to have a complete list of all the pre-draft visits for the NFC East teams soon.

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