Cowboys dig deep to find talent

Finding talent isn't always the easiest task for NFL teams.

The job is made more difficult for scouts because impact players don't always come from major colleges and universities.

Two players on the Dallas Cowboys' 90-man roster come to mind: Teddy Williams and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

Williams never played football in college -- he was a track star at UT-San Antonio -- but the Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He's spent the past two seasons switching positions between cornerback and wide receiver.

In February, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan approached Williams in the Cowboys' weight room and told him, "You're with me now."

Williams is no longer a wide receiver. He's a cornerback.

"I've learned a lot on both sides, and learned a lot from the vets that are here and that are gone," Williams said. "It's just the overall learning process helped me a lot over time. Once you get there mentally, then you can bring the physical attributes to it so then mentally I can perform better on the field."

Williams has speed and the size to cover tall and small receivers.

Will he make the roster?


He's never played in an NFL game, and if he does in 2012, it will be on special teams.

That's where Owusu-Ansah is headed if he gets paid full time in 2012. He was a fourth-round pick in 2010 but wasn't able to establish himself in the return game. He played college football at Indiana (Pennsylvania), and his YouTube highlights display a dynamic player in the return game.

In the NFL, not so much.

Owusu-Ansah has played a total of 14 games and was claimed off waivers by the Cowboys after Jacksonville cut him this spring.


"When he became available, we thought he was better than some of the guys we had in our rookie minicamp and could help our roster," coach Jason Garrett said of Owusu-Ansah, who will play safety. "Again, it's about creating competition and trying to make our team as a good as it could be."

The Cowboys are looking at any way to improve their team. That means taking chances on players from small schools who might become contributors.

For every Sean Lee (Penn State) and Tyron Smith (USC), there are finds from smaller schools, such as Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois) and Miles Austin (Monmouth).

There's no telling whether Williams or Owusu-Ansah will make the team, but exploring all avenues to improve the roster is important for a club that has missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

In Williams and Owusu-Ansah, it's unknown whether they will make an impact, but the Cowboys want to find out.

Now to the mailbag:

Q: Love the Cowboys offseason aggressiveness, but one thing that has me wondering... Morris [Claiborne] is a great pick-up and I see him being a Week 1 starter and [Brandon] Carr being on the other side. [Mike] Jenkins is injured all the time, but still a great corner. Any news how the Boys plan to use the three guys? Will we see a lot of nickel and dime packages with the confidence that our front five or six can handle stopping the run? -- Brian (Wisconsin)

A: The Cowboys plan on starting Claiborne and Carr at cornerback with Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick getting snaps on passing downs. It hasn't been determined whether Scandrick is strictly a slot corner because of his ability to cover speedy, small receivers. Jenkins can do that, too, so the Cowboys seem to have a good corps of corners.

Q: Hey Calvin, why can't everyone admit the pass rush will be helped by better coverage, just as coverage gets easier with a nice pass rush. The two are as related in football as the gastrointestinal grandiosity of the Ryan brothers. I think lockdown corners make average pass rushers a little bit faster to the QB, don't you? -- Matt Wilkins (Jackson Hole, Wyo.)

A: It goes hand in hand. The Cowboys believe their pass rush is fine, but they drafted Tyrone Crawford in the third round and Kyle Wilber in the fourth. Yet, the Cowboys' first pick was Claiborne, their highest-rated defensive player in the draft. If you have excellent corners, one would think you can get to the quarterback. But in today's NFL, quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball faster, so it makes it harder on pass-rushers and defensive backs to defend the pass. I do like the Cowboys' pass-rushers, and the corners have improved.

Q: Why is it that only QB's are ranked or rated based on winning games or championships? The last time I checked, no one player single-[handedly] plays every position on the field. If that's the criteria that a quarterback's greatness is based upon, then every player should be held to the same standard. Yes quarterbacks touch the ball every play, but so does the center. Players should be ranked and compared based solely upon their performances. Apples to apples. Your thoughts? -- Chris (Jersey)

A: It's true quarterbacks, like pitchers, are judged on wins and losses. Yeah, if the defense screws up or the running back fumbles late in the game, the quarterback takes an L. It's hard to judge quarterbacks by that stat, but instead, judging a quarterback by how far he leads his team in the postseason and the number of fourth-quarter comebacks might be the best way to grade one.

Q: What are your thoughts on what the division champion record will be for the winner of the NFC East in 2012? -- Curt (San Diego)

A: Let's talk about the Cowboys, a team I believe will win 10 games in 2012. The Cowboys need to beat the New York Giants at some point this season, whether it's at Cowboys Stadium or MetLife Stadium. Beating the Giants at home will mark the first time that's happened in the history of the stadium. If the Cowboys beat the Giants at home, it's a positive step in the development of the team. The Eagles have the most talent in the division and swept the Cowboys last season. As with the Giants, the Cowboys have to knock off the Eagles at home or the road. It's a must. The Redskins are another story. The Cowboys are better than them, and sweeping them in 2012 is vital. So, I would say the Cowboys need to finish 4-2 in the division in order to get to 10 wins in 2012.

Q: Will Tony Romo get the ball downfield this year or will he continually target his best friend/tight end Jason Witten. When your tight end leads the team in catches for the last couple of years, your success rate will be mediocre at best. Elite quarterbacks go and look downfield. Thanks. -- Gerald W. Boyd (Raleigh, N.C.)

A: Let's look at the stats. Last season, Romo finished tied for eighth in the NFL with 56 completed passes of 20 or more yards. He was tied for fourth with 13 touchdown passes of 20 or more yards. The Cowboys focus on getting the ball downfield, but if there isn't an open man, Romo will look for other options such as Witten, running backs and receivers running shorter routes. The Cowboys do attempt passes downfield, and I don't believe it's a problem.