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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Running backs, draft are hot topics

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

We're getting ready for a big fight at Cowboys Stadium this weekend, yet many of you have concerns about the Cowboys' running back, safety and even nose tackle positions.

Q: Calvin, I am interested in how you feel the running back core will shake out this year in Dallas. It seems as though Marion Barber may have seen his best years and Felix Jones, if healthy, may be coming into his own. There is also Tashard Choice, who could be a starting back on many teams. It seems odd to me that they keep Barber on the roster with these other two backs? Could you explain? -- Anthony Teresinski (Sioux Falls, SD)

A: Here's the deal, Anthony. Stephen Jones, the VP, said the Cowboys are not getting rid of their three running backs. Simple as that. Barber is the starter and Felix Jones is the backup. Felix Jones is the future and should be the starter for 2010, however, I was told when the season ended that Barber was one of the first guys to head to Michael Johnson's performance center in McKinney, Texas, looking to work out. Barber is fired up for the season. The reason the Cowboys are keeping three running backs is injuries. In the past two seasons, Barber and Felix Jones battled injuries, and Choice is more than a capable backup. When you have three running backs it makes it difficult for Jason Garrett to give everybody the ball, but that's the price you have to pay sometimes when you want depth.

Q: Are the Cowboys going to make at least a ripple in free agency? I would like to see them get Darren Sharper. He has at least two more years in him, right? -- Corey (Carrollton, Texas)

Darren Sharper
Darren Sharper tied for the league lead with nine interceptions last season but may not be a good fit in Dallas.

A: I like Sharper, but not enough. I think the Cowboys can go younger at this position. St. Louis' O.J. Atogwe is a perfect selection for the Cowboys. As of Thursday afternoon, the team hadn't reached out to his agent, Kenneth Landphere, about a visit. Atogwe is a restricted free agent, so it will cost you something to get him. However, after June 1 Atogwe becomes unrestricted, so the Cowboys might make a play for him then. Also, Michael Hamlin and Alan Ball have impressed the coaching staff and they will get a look in training camp to see if they can move up the depth chart.

Q: Any chance the Cowboys add a big nose tackle from Alabama? Seems that big boy could lean on the offensive line and free up our linebackers to raise hell. -- Go Long Johnson (Fishing offshore)

A: Hope you got some good bait out there on the shore, Mr. Johnson. I think you're referring to Terrence Cody from Alabama, and he's a big man who has the potential to be a solid nose guard. However, the Cowboys have plans for Jay Ratliff's backup, and that's Junior Siavii. He had 29 tackles on the season with four quarterback pressures. The coaches are high on Siavii and what he brings to the table.

Q: What do you think the Cowboys will do with their first-round pick in the 2010 draft? -- Sebastian Ferguson (Alexandria, La.)

A: Safety or a cornerback. Yes, they have some safety help in Michael Hamlin and Alan Ball, but if you can get somebody more athletic who can cover, take him. Earl Thomas, Taylor Mays, Nate Allen and Eric Berry are all worthwhile players who could make an impact at the safety position. If the Cowboys feel cornerback is a need, because you're not sure how long Terence Newman will continue to produce, then get one. I know the Cowboys like Kyle Wilson from Boise State, but I'm not sure if he'll be around when it's their turn to pick. Perrish Cox, Patrick Robinson and Jerome Murphy are some good corners.

Q: Will Miles Austin be a Cowboy this upcoming season? -- Robert Dawson (Bridgeport, Conn.)

A: Yes is the short answer. He was given the highest tender, a first- and third-round draft pick, so that's a lot for an opposing team to give up. The issue is, how much do you pay Austin? Do you give him a Roy Williams type of deal, averaging $9 million? How about $6 million? Or do you let him just play 2010 under his current deal and see if he can produce more Pro Bowl-like numbers?

Q: Is there any chance that the Boys will let go of Ken Hamlin and replace him with Alan Ball? Also, there was a pretty good field goal kicker out of UTEP (Martinez) that was kicking 70-yarders. You might want to let them know! -- Carlos (El Paso, Texas)

A: If the Cowboys can upgrade at safety they will, like any other position on the team. But for now, Ken Hamlin is staying. I'm not sure I saw enough of Ball to say he should replace Hamlin. He did a fine job in place of an injured Hamlin last year, but can he do it full time? I don't know and I don't even think the team knows. As for kickers, David Buehler is going to compete for the job with Connor Hughes. Dallas won't draft a kicker this year.

Q: I want to know why there is no talk about moving Flozell Adams to LG and starting Doug Free at LT. There has been talk about even cutting Adams, and he had a pretty good season compared to other LTs. Four reasons to do this: 1. Would allow the Cowboys' most athletic offensive lineman at LT and possibly eliminate speed rushers; 2. Would allow Adams, a dominant run blocker still, at his best and eliminate his weakness when working in space; 3. History has already been done, and you can say quite successfully with Larry Allen. Could even make Adams better and would give us one of the most dominating interior offensive lines in the NFL; 4. Last, but not least, it would allow Kyle Kosier to be one of the best backup offensive linemen and end a huge worry of the Cowboys' "lack of depth" questions. Kosier played some tackle with the 49ers, I believe as well. Hope to hear a response, as not many reporters have been able to answer this for me. Thanks! -- Will (Austin, Texas)

Flozell Adams
There's a chance the Cowboys will cut veteran lineman Flozell Adams.

A: The team is considering cutting Adams. He has a roster bonus due in June, and if the team picks it up expect him to be here in 2010. Moving Adams to left guard over Kosier isn't a good idea. Kosier has been nothing but solid since he arrived here in free agency in 2006. Kosier has played a handful of games at right tackle, back in 2003 with the 49ers, and some at left tackle in 2002, so I don't think he can do that full time. The Cowboys will probably draft an offensive lineman this year, just to challenge Cory Procter and Pat McQuistan.

Q: Doesn't it make sense to have Felix Jones take the majority of the snaps? He has to be an every-down back. -- Derek Horne (Port Clinton, Ohio)

A: Yes, at some point the Cowboys want Felix Jones to start, but not in 2010. Marion Barber will be the starter, unless something changes in training camp. Felix Jones does need more snaps, but his durability is a question. He's been nicked up his first two years in the league and he needs to show the organization he can play injury free. If that happens this season, expect him to become the full-time starter at some point.

Q: How hard is it for Jason Garrett to realize Tashard Choice needs to get on the field more!? The rare occasions in which he touches the ball he always finds the hole, makes positive plays and energizes the team. I think it's essential to get him involved more, especially on screens. It's clear that Garrett is clueless when it comes to anything regarding player delegation and situational play calling. -- Sanjay (Tucson, Ariz.)

A: The big misconception is that Garrett doesn't want to run the ball. He does. He won't run the ball if the running backs can't get it going. Now, saying that, Choice needs more carries. But based on what the Cowboys like to do with their offense, Barber is the starter, Felix Jones is the backup and Choice comes in on third down and runs the Razorback plays. Choice has to be patient. It's hard, but that's just how the team is doing things right now.

Q: What do you think the boys are going to do with Gerald Sensabaugh? -- Jon Karp (Atlantic City, N.J.)

A: Man, I haven't been to AC in ages. Good place to watch the fights. Dallas wants to keep Sensabaugh and lock him up long term but is waiting to see what types of offers, if any, he gets on the market. He's a restricted free agent, so the Cowboys have the right of first refusal on him. So it will be interesting to see what they do if an offer comes. Sensabaugh improved the strong safety position and even played with a broken thumb, so the team was impressed.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.