NFL Nation: Michael Hamlin
Dallas Cowboys: Emergency QB Stephen McGee, S Michael Hamlin, FB Chris Gronkowski, LB Brandon Williams, C Phil Costa, T Sam Young, T Robert Brewster, DE Sean Lissemore
Tennessee Titans: QB Rusty Smith, WR Justin Gage, CB Jason McCourty, S Robert Johnson, LB Rennie Curran, G/C Leroy Harris, T Mike Otto, DT Sen'Derrick Marks
Kenny Britt will take over for Gage in the Titans' starting lineup. Britt had more targets last week, so it shouldn't be a huge adjustment for him. In fact, I think Britt might be the Titans' most dangerous receiver today. We'll keep you posted.
Lot of folks at Cowboys Stadium keeping one eye on the Texas Rangers, who are playing the Rays down the street. The Rangers are trailing 5-1 as we speak. Still have no clue why Ron Washington removed Darren O'Day after facing one hitter last night.
But I'll save that anger for the radio.
- 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.
Have the Cowboys created a problem for themselves by trying to be thrifty?
Ken (no relation to Michael) wasn't living up to the lucrative contract that he earned after a Pro Bowl season in 2007. He took poor angles and he wasn't a sure tackler. Ball, who converted from cornerback, filled in nicely in '09 but no one knows if he's ready to start for a full season. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has hinted the team might sign a free-agent safety, but the pickings are pretty slim at this point. Saints Pro Bowler Darren Sharper was on the open market for a long time, and now we know why.
The Cowboys should know more than anyone that rolling the dice at safety isn't a good approach. When Darren Woodson was injured before the '04 season, the Cowboys were held hostage by that position. Over the years, they've tried everyone from Keith Davis to Pat Watkins, but things didn't settle down until Ken Hamlin showed up in '07.
Gerald Sensabaugh had a nice season for the Cowboys in '09, but they need another player who's strong in coverage and can call out adjustments. Sensabaugh's at his best when he can simply focus on playing. If the Cowboys are leaning on Ball to get them in the right coverages, there could be some issues. I think he's a talented player, but he's someone better suited for a backup role.
Everyone keeps talking about left tackle, but I think Cowboys fans should be more concerned about safety.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.
Now that Jerry Jones has released left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin, there's more of a sense of urgency at those spots in the draft. The Cowboys will replace Adams with Doug Free, but they could still take an offensive tackle or guard at No. 27 overall. Safety Nate Allen and cornerback Devin McCourty are two players the Cowboys really like late in the first round.
There's a belief that safeties Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin could get the job done in a pinch, but the Cowboys will focus on that position in the draft. Last year's approach involved saving money -- if you can believe that. The Cowboys' first picks were Nos. 69 and 74. The only true impact player from the '09 draft was kickoff specialist David Buehler. In this year's draft, the Cowboys need to select players who can have a more immediate impact. If an offensive tackle starts to slip in the first round, don't be surprised if the Cowboys are there to catch him.
In the past, the Cowboys have emphasized need over value out of necessity. In this year's draft, I think staying at No. 27 and going with the best value is what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish. Releasing Hamlin and Adams certainly changed the dynamic heading into the draft, but it also provided some clarity.
New York Giants
General manager Jerry Reese almost never gets caught reaching in a draft. He doesn't normally go for project players in the first three rounds, although Ramses Barden is certainly the exception. This year's approach has to be a little different, though. The Giants were exposed on defense in several areas last season.
They can't afford to simply take the "best-player-on-the-board" philosophy. The Giants need help at linebacker and defensive tackle. And another pass-rusher would be nice. I'd be very surprised if the Giants took an offensive player at No. 15 overall. If Rolando McClain out of Alabama is there, look for Reese to take him. He's exactly the type of player Reese and Coughlin love -- remarkably intelligent and a natural leader. After losing Antonio Pierce, the Giants need more players like that.
With the Sheldon Brown/Chris Gocong trade, the Eagles are now thin at cornerback and linebacker. And it's not as if they had an embarrassment of riches at those positions before the trade. In the past, the Eagles have been very open to moving down in the first round. And with the depth of talent in this year's draft, that's certainly a possibility. But at No. 24, something tells me the Eagles will stay right there and draft the best cornerback or safety available. They've taken a long look at Texas' Earl Thomas, but I don't know if he'll be available at that point.
The Eagles need more firepower at linebacker, so that's also an option in the first round. They've spent the past couple of drafts bolstering their offense with speed at the skill positions. Now it's time to start retooling that defense. I'd be very surprised if the Eagles don't take a defensive player at No. 24.
Mike Shanahan continues to meet with quarterbacks despite the blockbuster trade for Donovan McNabb. I recall McNabb not enjoying a certain draft pick in '07, so it will be interesting to see whether Shanahan addresses the quarterback position in the draft.
Of course, the draft focus now turns to left tackle. The Redskins don't have a viable candidate there unless they sign the aging Flozell Adams. And general manager Bruce Allen said on a local radio show that he's talked to Adams' agent. But I still think left tackle Russell Okung of Oklahoma State is the way to go for the Redskins at No. 4 overall. The Redskins will have to wait until Saturday to pick again unless they somehow land a second-round pick in a trade.
So in reality, the Redskins will only find one immediate starter in this draft. And by the way, Shanahan needs to start drafting some larger inside linebackers. As I've said many times, London Fletcher is not going to hold up in this defense for very long. Part of that is age, but most of it is size.
The Cowboys have a replacement for Adams in Doug Free, but it's not a sure thing Alan Ball or Michael Hamlin can become starters. The Cowboys brought in safeties Nate Allen, Morgan Burnett and Chad Jones for visits Friday.
Of that group, I think South Florida's Allen is the most likely to be chosen at No. 27 by the Cowboys. And as I've suggested several times, Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty is also a player they really like. Some mock drafters have the Cowboys selecting left tackle Anthony Davis at No. 27, but I don't see that one at all.
We'll keep you posted. Go Butler!
AP Photo/Matt SlocumThe decisions Jerry Jones, seen above with coach Wade Phillips at Valley Ranch during the 2008 draft, makes in the draft later this month will say a lot about the futures of Cowboys Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin.
Jones refused to guarantee either player a roster spot in 2010, which leads me to believe he'd at least consider moving on without one or both of them. The Cowboys liked what they saw from Doug Free when he filled in for injured right tackle Marc Colombo last season. As only he can, Jones explained that Free's a little more "left tacklish than right tacklish," which is to say he has excellent feet and operates well in space.
Jones believes that Free's capable of being the full-time starter at left tackle, and he confirmed that during the recent owners meetings. But does that mean he's ready to release a perennial Pro Bowl player in Adams to launch the Free Era? It's one of the biggest decisions Jones will make this offseason, and the upcoming draft should offer us some clues on how he'll proceed.
The Cowboys need to add more quality depth to the offensive line. Offensive tackle Robert Brewster, a third-round pick in '09, is returning from a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered while lifting weights. There's a decent chance the Cowboys will draft an offensive lineman in the first or second round because this line's starting to show some age. Left guard Kyle Kosier's entering the final year of his contract and right guard Leonard Davis turns 32 in September.
If the Cowboys can create enough depth along the offensive line, they may part ways with Adams, who collects false starts and fines at an alarming rate. Jones also mentioned the fact that Davis is capable of sliding over to left tackle, although I think that's a stretch at this point in his career.
Adams, who turns 35 next month, is due a $2.5 million roster bonus in June and his base salary for 2010 is $5 million. That's why Jones has a little breathing room before he has to make a decision.
"We just have not addressed decisions of that nature," Jones said at the owners meetings. "Mulled them over, but just haven’t addressed it. Haven’t had to. It’s not been compelling. As we get closer to OTAs, as we get a read on how we do in drafting. When all of that comes to bear, then we’ll make some decisions if we’ve got to basically make room, so to speak."
I don't think that statement is good news for either Adams or Hamlin, who is scheduled to make $5.59 million in 2010. That's a huge salary for a player who's turned in back-to-back average seasons. In recent weeks, sources with the team have expressed to me their excitement over second-year safety Michael Hamlin (no relation). There's a belief that Hamlin has the instincts to turn into a playmaker at safety. That said, it would not surprise me at all if the Cowboys selected South Florida safety Nate Allen at No. 27 overall.
The Cowboys like Allen and Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty at that spot. Now if an offensive tackle such as Bruce Campbell starts to slip, which could totally happen, the Cowboys will have an interesting decision to make. I think they'd lean toward taking one of the defensive backs. And regarding all this speculation about the Cowboys moving up to take wide receiver Dez Bryant, the folks I've spoken to at Valley Ranch don't see it happening.
But pay close attention to what the Cowboys do in the first few rounds. It should be a pretty good indicator of what's going to happen with Adams and Hamlin.
"They’re on the roster and [we] have not made a decision as to them not being on the roster," said Jones. "And have not given any more consideration there at this time than you have just your overall roster. So you could get some bad information at this juncture if you said somebody said they’re not going to be with you. It’s just speculation, using the logic of what’s caused them to be at issue anyway."
So does that quote pretty much clear things up for you guys? No?
The bottom line is that Jones' refusal to give either player his endorsement is pretty revealing.
Now let's look at today's inactives list. No surprises here. For the Cowboys, special teams ace Pat Watkins has returned from a sprained knee and he replaces rookie safety Michael Hamlin on the active list.
Cowboys: Emergency QB Stephen McGee, CB Cletis Gordon, S Michael Hamlin, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, LB Curtis Johnson
Vikings: Emergency QB Sage Rosenfels, WR Jaymar Johnson, CB Karl Paymah, TE Garrett Mills, LB J Leman, C Jon Cooper, DE Jayme Mitchell, DT Letroy Guion
» Draft class lists: Dallas | N.Y. Giants | Philadelphia | Washington
Examining the draft classes of each division team:
Jury is still out: This can be said about pretty much the entire class. It looks like outside linebacker Victor Butler has made the most immediate impact, but he certainly didn't hold up well against the Saints. I think everyone's anxious to see how Michael Hamlin progresses at safety. He definitely has some skill, but no one's been able to see it in a game. When he's healthy next season, I think former Texas Tech star Brandon Williams could be an effective pass-rushing specialist.
Bust alert: We haven't seen enough of him to call him a bust, but there are certainly questions about third-round LB Jason Williams. We're told he's coming along in practice but he's a guy who should've broken through as a special-teams player by now. An injury held him up.
Jury is still out: We expected WR Jeremy Maclin and RB LeSean McCoy to make immediate impacts and they have not disappointed. Macho Harris cracked the starting lineup early in the season and he recorded 10 tackles against the Raiders. He's also helped out in the return game. I think the Eagles are still trying to determine whether he helps them more as a safety or as a cornerback.
Bust alert: I hate to call him a bust, but let's watch tight end Cornelius Ingram's knee injury. He's a very talented player out of Florida, but folks are worried that the injuries could always follow him around. But the Eagles knew what the risks were when they took Ingram.
Jury is still out: I think we're still learning about Clint Sintim. He has long arms and he's shown flashes of being a pretty good pass-rusher. But he has to be more consistent on the field.
Bust alert: I would by no means call Ramses Barden a bust at this point, but it's a concern that he can't play well enough on special teams to grab a weekly roster spot. I think Barden could help the Giants as a red zone receiver, but apparently he's not trustworthy on special teams.
Jury is still out: I like cornerback Kevin Barnes' range and size, but we haven't seen enough to know if he'll be a longtime starter in this league. He needs to keep improving in terms of awareness.
Bust alert: After his infamous Twitter debut, linebacker Robert Henson hasn't been heard from much. I thought he was an excellent player at TCU, but he hasn't brought a lot to the table in Washington.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
IRVING, Texas -- The crowd at today's Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp was thinner than usual, in part because the most recognizable player was a fourth-round draft choice out of Texas A&M named Stephen McGee who missed most of the '08 season with a shoulder injury. Before approaching lockers, reporters would confer to make sure they were about to interview the correct player.
I'll admit that I spent 10 minutes visiting with two former Cincinnati defensive backs before realizing which one was Mike Mickens (seventh round) and which one was DeAngelo Smith (fifth round). The two college pals seemed to enjoy the confusion -- especially when one Fort Worth-based reporter blurted, "OK, who's who here?"
Smith is a 5-foot-11, 197-pound cornerback who will convert to safety for the Cowboys. Mickens was projected as a third-round pick following his junior season, but he elected to return for his senior season and injured his left knee. According to Mickens, he didn't give the knee enough time to heal before playing at "50 percent" in the Orange Bowl. He knows the decision may have cost him a few rounds in the draft, but he doesn't have any regrets.
"I didn't even think about sitting out the bowl game," Mickens said after his first practice with the Cowboys on Friday. "When there's a chance to compete, I'm going to be out there. No one tried to talk me out of it because they knew what I'd say."
Last Sunday, Mickens said he "gave up hope" when he wasn't taken in the fifth round. And that's why he was thrilled to receive a phone call from Jerry Jones in the seventh round. Mickens couldn't participate in the Senior Bowl and the combine because of his knee injury. And he wasn't himself at Cincinnati's pro day in March, running a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash. He said he'd run a 4.41 his sophomore season at Cincinnati. And to the naked eye Friday, he didn't appear to be favoring his left knee at all.
The most impressive thing about Mickens, Smith and fifth-round safety Michael Hamlin out of Clemson is that they caught pretty much everything thrown their way Friday. The Cowboys only had eight interceptions last season, and they wanted players with what scouts refer to as "good ball production."
Mickens, Smith and Hamlin combined to have 38 interceptions in college. And safeties coach Brett Maxie said he saw Hamlin catch some low throws Friday that grabbed his attention. OK, I'll be back in a moment with tidbits on the players I focused on during the minicamp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says James Butler is six years younger than Corey Chavous and ready to replace him in the lineup at strong safety.
Also from Coats: Mike Karney could fit as the blocking fullback St. Louis wants for its offense. No mention of Leonard Weaver as a potential candidate.
Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News expects the Jets to show interest in receiver Torry Holt once the Rams release him, as expected. Cimini: "Henry Ellard is the Jets' new receivers coach, the same Ellard who served as Holt's position coach for seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. If that doesn't give the Jets an advantage in terms of recruiting and insider knowledge, what does?"
John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks are "very interested" in Clemson safety Michael Hamlin, who spoke with three members of the organization in one day.
Also from Morgan: He thinks the Seahawks should re-sign Weaver. The price apparently hasn't been right to this point.
More from Morgan: Seven players for the Seahawks to draft. Quarterback Matt Stafford, offensive lineman Max Unger, safety Michael Hamlin, receiver Mike Thomas. defensive tackle Terrance Taylor and snapper Jake Ingram get the call.
NFL.com carries a transcript of T.J. Houshmandzadeh's recent chat. He says the Bengals weren't as serious about re-signing as it appeared. Houshmandzadeh: "They were persistent, but it wasn't persistent with good intentions, in my opinion. They weren't as persistent as it has been reported that they were."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers could have a hard time finding an offensive tackle with the 10th overall choice. Barrows: "The Raiders have pick No. 7 and they definitely could use a tackle. Theoretically, so could Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and Cincinnati." The Seahawks could consider one as well.
Also from Barrows: Expect cornerback Karl Paymah to visit the 49ers on Wednesday.
Clark Judge of CBSSports.com lists the 49ers among three teams that need to "stay after school" for their efforts in free agency. Judge: "I don't mean to pick on the 49ers, but they have a nasty habit of spending a lot of money on marginal talent. This year's winner is wide receiver Brandon Jones, who picked up a $5.4 million signing bonus. I don't know much about Jones, other than when I watched the Titans, I never had a feeling he was a guy who could beat you." Judge also thinks the Rams paid a premium for Jason Brown.
Jim Corbett of USA Today quotes Kurt Warner as saying he's still willing to take a pay cut to help the team sign Anquan Boldin. Do players really think that's how it works?
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind checks in with Cardinals offensive lineman Elliot Vallejo.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals won't be spending big except to keep their own players.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals want Bertrand Berry to return and a deal appears likely at some point.
Also from Urban: He thinks the Cardinals will not trade Boldin.