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Cowboys' weakness: Cornerback

6/15/2009

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
A year ago at this time, it appeared as if the Cowboys had a wealth of defensive backs. In fact, it looked as though they had more than they could actually use. But times have changed dramatically and gone are the likes of Adam Jones, Roy Williams and Anthony Henry.

I commend the Cowboys for acquiring Jon Kitna. Heaven knows that backup quarterback was a gaping hole in their roster in 2008 -- and it cost them games after Tony Romo was hurt. Also, trading Henry for Kitna should be considered fair market value. But wouldn't it have made more sense to send draft picks to the winless Lions for Kitna instead of one of their only proven cornerbacks? Instead, the Cowboys used second-day pick after second-day pick on players whom they may not even have room for on their already impressive roster. That is bad business, and they could use Henry right about now.

The starting cornerbacks for the Cowboys will be Terence Newman and one of their two draft picks from a year ago, first-rounder Mike Jenkins or fifth-rounder Orlando Scandrick. The loser of that battle will play a high number of snaps in sub packages.

Newman didn't have his best season in 2008, but he's still considered an upper-tier player at his position. But his performance last year is worrisome and should not be ignored. He appeared in only 10 games and is now 30, so we already may have seen the peak of Newman's career.

Jenkins and Scandrick both have ability and speed. Jenkins is bigger and more physical and probably the more impressive overall specimen, but it can be argued that he was outplayed last season by Scandrick. Needless to say, both young men need to take substantial steps forward in year two.

In this past draft, Dallas used a pair of late picks on cornerbacks from the University of Cincinnati, DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens. However, Smith may be best suited to play free safety and Mickens is not a sure bet to be healthy in time to contribute this season, which is why this once-touted prospect fell to round seven. Those two are long shots to improve this ailing situation immediately.

The safety situation is more stable than at corner, but it is far from a star-studded group and questions abound there as well.

Also gone is Greg Ellis. Dallas led the league in sacks last season by a substantial margin and will get after the quarterback well once again led by DeMarcus Ware, but losing a proven edge player like Ellis does bear noting. Though the Cowboys got to opposing quarterbacks a whopping 59 times last year, they only intercepted eight passes. Only Denver and Detroit had fewer picks. That falls on the defensive backs, as clearly the pass-rushers were doing their job to create big plays.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.