Chance To Shine

The Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks, or at least the ones not named Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, know they are competing for their jobs.

Orlando Scandrick has been good — sometimes very good — since his arrival in the league. Bryan McCann turned a lot of heads last year when he burst on to the NFL scene with highlight reel-caliber touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Alan Ball has been a versatile player throughout his career. Josh Thomas wasn't drafted in April just to get cut.

But they won't all make the team, and they know it, so there are more players than there are available jobs. That means competition. Coaches and players always say competition brings out the best in everyone, and if that truly is the case, the Dallas cornerbacks should be in fine form Sunday when the Cowboys play the San Diego Chargers.

But Sunday's game means more to the cornerbacks than just another meaningless game that players sometimes sleep through, because the Chargers have a group of receivers who look more like an NBA team than a group of NFL wideouts. Nine of the 12 receivers on San Diego's roster are six feet or taller. Three of the best — stars Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, as well as the promising Seyi Ajirotutu — stand 6-5, 6-5 and 6-3, respectively. Throw in 6-4, 260-pound Antonio Gates, who looks like a tight end but gets moved all over the field because of his incredible speed, athleticism and pass-catching ability, and the Dallas secondary will more than have its hands full.

There are two ways for the Cowboys to approach the San Diego aerial assault.

Even after practicing against the Bolts for several days this week, the Dallas corners could acknowledge how talented San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and his receivers are, and concede 300 passing yards and four or five scores.

Anyone who has met new Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan knows that's not the way he faces challenges.

The other way to approach Sunday night's game is as an opportunity. Yes, that's a cliché that some coaches and players overuse, but in this case, it is accurate. If some combination of Scandrick, McCann, Ball and Thomas can take a San Diego receiver or two out of the game, or at least limit their production, it would have to be seen as a victory and a major part of their cases to retain jobs when the regular season opens.

Any statistics that are posted by either team Sunday have to be taken with a grain of salt. Starters on both teams likely won't play much more than a quarter, if that, so the final statistics will mean virtually nothing (see Washington's statistical dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts — is there anyone who thinks that a regular-season matchup between the teams, with most or all starters healthy, wouldn't have a decidedly different outcome?)

Dallas opened the regular season last year with three cornerbacks on its roster, but quickly brought back McCann when he was released after a week-long audition with the Baltimore Ravens. Whether the team will carry four cornerbacks or even five remains to be seen, but it's a safe bet there will be more than three. It's likely none of the four will lose a job with a poor performance Sunday, but a strong showing against a group of big, talented wide receivers like those who play for San Diego will go a long way toward improving their chances of making the final roster.

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