Again with the help of dozens of conversations with Cowboys players and coaches, and again with an acknowledgement that we're still relatively early in the process, we analyze each defensive group today with the expected starters in bold, the rundown on candidates, and a telling position-group quote:
DEFENSIVE LINE (6-7 spots)
The position group: Chris Canty, Jason Ferguson, Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, Marcus Smith, Ola Dagunduro, Montavious Stanley, Remi Ayodele.
The rundown: Canty's mean streak is showing, and it's the biggest positive here. … Ferguson is solid but Dallas seems to be at a loss to find a consistent backup. Can Ratliff play some inside? Can Bowen play at all? He was a possible weapon in the offseason thoughts but has struggled. … If you were waiting for Spears to have an explosive camp, you were left waiting for most of the first six days in San Antonio.
The quote: ‘No nicknames for us. Not yet. Wait until November before you start calling us this or that.'' – Marcus Spears.
LINEBACKERS (8 spots)
The position group: Anthony Spencer, Bradie James, Akin Ayodele, DeMarcus Ware, Bobby Carpenter, Kevin Burnett, Greg Ellis, Alex Obomese, Junior Glymph, Dedrick Harrington, Blair Phillips, John Saldi.
The rundown: Ware may be on the verge of true stardom. Even during sessions when he's supposed to be going three-quarters speed, Ware seems to be going 100 percent. … Ayodele and James seem more light on their feet and yet haven't lost anything in run-stuffing. … Carpenter, however, is generally getting pushed around though he's shown a little something as a blitzer. … Spencer probably has a steep learning curve, but I'm plugging him in as a starter. Ellis' bizarre situation simply doesn't sit well with people down here. … Can Burnett stay healthy?
The quote: "In terms of depth, for sure, and maybe in terms of talent, this group is as good or better than we had in San Diego.'' – Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart.
CORNERBACKS (5 spots)
The position group: Terence Newman, Anthony Henry, Aaron Glenn, Nate Jones, Jacques Reeves, Alan Ball, Courtney Brown, Quincy Butler, Joey Thomas.
The rundown: The charismatic Newman has been a first-week star, on the field and in the locker room. … You can blame Henry's inconsistency while in Dallas on injuries if you like, but I don't believe he's hurt now and in coverage he's been very inconsistent. … Glenn has been slowed by a mild knee injury. … I came to camp hoping kids Ball and Brown would surprise but instead it has been third-year free agent Thomas who has been the second best CB. He's been fearless in challenging the big boys in man-on-man drills.
The quote: "I think our secondary is one of the things that helps us believe we can go all the way.'' -- Aaron Glenn.
SAFETIES (4-5 spots)
The position group: Roy Williams, Ken Hamlin, Keith Davis, Pat Watkins, Abram Elam, Damarius Bilbo, Jasper Johnson.
The rundown: Roy "Personal Jesus'' Williams has been to the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons, but he remains a controversial figure because of his trouble in coverage. In this first week, he's been extremely active, maybe as the result of losing a couple dozen unwanted offseason pounds. … Is Hamlin a defensive QB? Yeah, but he's been more than that, getting his hands on more balls than any other defender. … Davis won't be a starter, but coaches are raving about his fine work and good attitude here.
The quote: "I'm flying around. I'm full of joy and energy.'' – Roy Williams.
SPECIALISTS (3-4 spots)
The position group: Mat McBriar, Martin Gramatica, L.P Ladouceur, Nick Folk, Sam Paulescu.
The rundown: Pro Bowl punter McBriar remains one of the Cowboys' greatest weapons. … Gramatica's relatively weak leg led to the selection of draftee Folk in the sixth round. Problem is, on kickoffs at camp, Folk has looked only a little better than Martin. Folk has been more reliable from outside of 50 on FGs, though. … Ladouceur is locked in as long-snapper, meaning all Dallas really needs to worry about is Brad Johnson somehow "pulling a Romo'' as the holder.
The quote: "We're looking for good players at every position and competition at every position.'' – Wade Phillips.
Defensive Position Group Analysis
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