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Alan Ball looking past '10 season

IRVING -- For the first time all season, the television cameras and guys with notebooks surrounded Alan Ball's locker.

Normally he gets dressed in anonymity as one of his neighbors, quarterback Tony Romo, speaks to a gaggle of reporters.

Thursday was different.

With Terence Newman out until Week 3 with a groin injury, Ball will move into the starting lineup at cornerback.

It's an interesting move for the Cowboys, who are thin in the secondary due to injuries.

The injury list has Newman out, Orlando Scandrick out and Mike Jenkins hobbled. Bryan McCann is healthy, and newly signed Frank Walker is also here.

But Ball is the best of the backups.

Ball was a seventh-round pick from Illinois in 2007 and the Cowboys wanted him to play cornerback. He was resigned to a backup role but was finally moved into the starting lineup, not at corner, but at free safety in 2010.

He started 16 games that season at free safety and, according to Pro Football Focus, was tied for the league lead with seven touchdowns allowed. It seemed Ball had trouble playing the position he wasn't drafted for.

The Cowboys had let Ken Hamlin go and needed an athletic type of player with long arms and decent speed to play free safety. Ball had some growing pains at the position, and even at corner still looks tentative at times.

Yet of the 2007 draft class, Anthony Spencer, Doug Free and Ball are all that remain of eight draft picks. And all three should start Sunday versus the San Francisco 49ers.

This is not to say the Cowboys made a bad draft pick in Ball, because his play has improved. He played with more confidence at corner because he attacked receivers and the ball. He has dealt with critics from last season who said he didn't play the ball or tackle that well. His coverage skills were questioned. He seemingly plays so far away from receivers in passing situations.

The critics were reporters and websites like Pro Football Focus, which provides analysis for fans about individual players.

"You just don't read the stuff," Ball said. "I know what I'm capable of, no matter what anybody says. They can't take that away from me. Everybody makes mistakes, no matter what. It's not where you come from, it's where you're headed."

The Cowboys hope Ball can provide a bridge until Newman returns as they depend on Jenkins' health to stay strong for at least another week.

Ball said he never lost confidence in his abilities to make plays last year. When the season ended, Ball was credited with two interceptions, four pass breakups and three quarterback pressures. He also had two forced fumbles. The Cowboys like his athletic ability and think with more time at corner he can become a quality player.

There are plenty of ifs with Ball and whether he can do the job, regardless of the competition on Sundays.

"I don't think about last year as much this year," he said. "It's definitely one thing you want to wipe out of your memory, but you've got to take it one game at a time. But it's a completely different team, a completely different outlook -- you've just got to be ready to go out and be ready to play football."

One of the best plays Ball made last season was against Peyton Manning and Indianapolis. On a deep ball, Ball moved over from the middle of the field, jumped and picked off the pass. That's what the Cowboys want: somebody who makes plays in the passing game.

"You definitely don't like to hear negative things spoken about you," Ball said. "But at the end of the day, this is my job, this is what we do. There obviously [are] going to be critics no matter what, whether you're doing good or you're doing bad. So it's one of the things you adjust to. You learn to ignore it, and my faith keeps me strong."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.