What a difference a year makes.
Last season the Cowboys were so thin and suspect at right cornerback that they seemingly had an all-comers tryout at the position.
Four different players started at the position during the season, including Pete Hunter, Jacques Reeves, Tyrone Williams and Lance Frazier. None had any success. So the Cowboys made a point to upgrade the position in the offseason, signing free agent Anthony Henry to start and 12-year veteran Aaron Glenn as the nickel back behind Henry and left cornerback Terence Newman.
This new depth set the stage for last week's trade of Hunter to the Jets for a conditional late round draft pick.
Hunter, who opened last season as the starter, was no better than the team's fourth cornerback in 2005 and he was going to have competition for that spot from the youngsters who gained valuable experience last season like Frazier, Reeves and Nate Jones. And that's not even including Bruce Thornton, a 2004 draft pick who spent the season on injured reserve.
The Cowboys were satisfied with their top three corners and have high hopes for the youngsters to fill a role. It was simply in their best interest to get something if they could for Hunter, who was suddenly unhappy with his spot on the depth chart.
The deal called for the Cowboys to get a sixth round pick in 2007, which could be upgraded to a fifth in 2005 depending on how much playing time Hunter receives. They Cowboys don't have a fifth in 2005, thanks to a draft day trade that allowed to them to pick up defensive end Chris Canty in the fourth round. They would love to get that pick back.
CAMP CALENDAR: Cowboys report to camp July 28. First practice is set for July 30. Camp closes Aug. 21.
--The Cowboys are right at the training camp roster limit of 84 after dealing CB Pete Hunter. They don't have to make any other roster moves before signing their rookie draft picks.
--Regarding their draft picks, the Cowboys will continue their last minute ways. Training camp opens in two weeks and the Cowboys have yet to start talking contract with any of them. The Cowboys will likely begin sending out proposals next week.
--WR Quincy Morgan is progressing fine in his rehab from a shoulder injury suffered in June. He is projected to be ready to go full speed by the start of training camp.
-- Free agent safety Damien Robinson, who worked out for the Cowboys last week, will likely not be signed before training camp. He is an option if someone suffers an injury in camp or the Cowboys don't like what they see from the threesome of Izell Reese, Lynn Scott and Keith Davis -- who are all competing for the free safety job opposite strong safety Roy Williams.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Flozell Adams, LG Larry Allen, C Al Johnson, RG Marco Rivera, RT Torrin Tucker. Backups -- G Stephen Peterman, G Andre Gurode, G/C Tyson Walter, G/T Ben Noll, T Rob Pettiti, T Jacob Rogers, T Kurt Vollers.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Marcus Spears, NG Jason Ferguson, RE Greg Ellis. Backups -- NG La'Roi Glover, NG Leo Carson, NG Jermaine Brooks, NG Thomas Johnson, E Kenyon Coleman, E Chris Canty, E Eric Ogbogu, E Jay Ratliff.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Al Singleton, OLB Demarcus Ware, ILB Dat Nguyen, ILB Bradie James. Backups -- OLB Kevin Burnett, ILB Ryan Fowler, ILB Scott Shanle, ILB Keith O'Neil, OLB Kalen Thornton, OLB Reggie Love.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Terence Newman, CB Anthony Henry, SS Roy Williams, FS Izell Reese. Backups -- S Lynn Scott, S Keith Davis, S Juston Beriault, S Woody Dantzler, CB Nate Jones, CB Jacques Reeves, CB Lenny Williams, CB Bruce Thornton, CB Lance Frazier.
With all the patching and fixing the Giants did in the off-season, it has somehow become forgotten that they have multiple questions concerning the safety positions - most of which have not been answered, nor have there been any new players added to begin the answering process.
Last season, injuries devastated the four positions, and near the end of the schedule guys were playing out of position more than at their normal stations. In addition, such as Curry Burns and Terry Cousin, who hadn't figured prominently in the plans to start with, found themselves starters.
Cousin is already gone, a victim of waivers, and Burns is being kept on the training camp roster without much hope of sticking.
For the moment, the team lines up its safeties as Brent Alexander at free and last year's rookie thrill, Gibril Wilson at strong. In fact, the fifth-round Wilson played in only eight games before missing the remainder of the season with a neck injury - and he still finished as a co-leader in interceptions (with Alexander) with three.
But Alexander is going to be entering his 12th NFL season, and doesn't have anything near the same speed with which he started his pro career. He is also somewhat undersized for today's demands (5-11, 195). The more serious situation is that there simply isn't a qualified challenger and so unless someone is found, he's the choice.
Wilson, 6-0 and 200, isn't exactly huge and imposing either, but he has a knack for the ball and in his limited action managed 55 tackles, the three picks, three sacks, five passes defensed and one forced fumble.
"We were very pleasantly surprised at Wilson's performance as a rookie," said general manager Ernie Accorsi. "The injury came at a bad time for him in his development, but he seems perfectly healthy again and should have a strong second year."
Now, if only a free safety is found somewhere.
CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp opens at Albany, N.Y., on July 30, and there will be two practices that day. Closing date is Aug. 24. Once again the team has scheduled two practices with the New York Jets, both to be held on Aug. 6.
--Mike Fassel, son of former Giants' head coach Jim Fassel (now the offensive coordinator in Baltimore) was recently named Director of Football Operations at Princeton University. He replaces Nolan Jones, who accepted a similar position at Northwestern. Fassel is a 2004 graduate of Boston College with a degree in marketing, and he was the Eagles' regular kicker as well as a reserve receiver.
--TE Victor Sesay of Missouri, awarded to the Giants two weeks ago after being released by Miami, was similarly released by the Giants on July 8. The search for a third tight end behind Jeremy Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe continues.
--RT Kareem McKenzie, who signed as free agent from the cross-river New York Jets, was termed "our most critical signing" by general manager Ernie Accorsi. "He shores us up at both tackle positions," he said. Accorsi also said that LT Bob Whitfield, the 13-year veteran, "will be in the competition for the starting job," which is sure to have been met with joy by regular Luke Petitgout.
QUOTE TO NOTE; "We would like to find a running mate for Tiki (Barber), but when you have so much involvement on almost every play, it's hard to get Tiki off the field at all." - Giants' offensive coordinator John Hufnagel.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Luke Petitgout, LG David Diehl, C Shaun O'Hara, RG Chris Snee, RT Kareem McKenzie. Backups - G Rich Seubert, T Bob Whitfield, G Jason Whittle, C-G Wayne Lucier, T Brandon Winey, T Morgan Pears, G-T Greg Walker, C Andy Tidwell-Neal, T Jason Hilliard, G Lewis Kelly, G Alex Bell.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Michael Strahan, LT Kendrick Clancy, RT Fred Robbins, RE Osi Umenyiora. Reserves - DT William Joseph, DE Justin Tuck, DE Eric Moore, DT Kenderick Allen, DE Adrian Awasom, DT Damane Duckett, DE Brett Eddins, DT Jonas Seawright, DE Raheem Orr.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Barrett Green, MLB Antonio Pierce, SLB Carlos Emmons. Backups - WLB-MLB Nick Greisen, MLB Kevin Lewis, SLB Reggie Torbor, WLB T.J. Hollowell, SLB Jim Maxwell, MLB Joseph Scott.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Will Allen, RCB Will Peterson, SS Gibril Wilson, FS Brent Alexander. Backups - SS Shaun Williams, CB Corey Webster, CB Frank Walker, SS Jack Brewer, SS-FS Curry Burns, SS James Butler, FS-SS Diamond Ferri.
There is a saying in football that you've gotta play hurt, and L.J. Smith certainly did that last year.
The Eagles tight end spent much of his second NFL season playing with a bad back that kept him in constant agony.
"It was rough," he admitted. "There were some times when I didn't even want to walk. Just to get through the season was big. But at the same time, there were a lot of guys on the team who probably had the same kind of pain."
Smith fought through the pain and played in every game, catching 34 passes, including five for touchdowns. Had an acrobatic touchdown catch in the Eagles' Super Bowl loss to New England. Ten days after the game, he underwent surgery to shave down a herniated disc that was pressing on a nerve.
Smith rotated with veteran Chad Lewis last season, though the Eagles frequently used two tight-end formations and usually had Smith on the field on passing downs. But this season, the Rutgers product will be the club's starter, and the Eagles are hoping for a breakout season from him.
"Last year, I probably wasn't ready to be the starter," he said. "Everybody thinks they're ready to start, but I can see now, I wasn't ready. Now, the coaches feel more confident in me. I feel more confident in myself."
Smith is a solid blocker, but his speed and pass-catching ability is why the Eagles drafted him in the second round two years ago. They like to split him out wide and create coverage mismatches against linebackers and safeties.
"He'll switch back and forth between (lining up inside and outside)," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "He's going to be playing a lot more snaps this year."
"Going one-on-one against strong safeties and linebackers, like you saw last year, he did a great job with that," said backup tight end Mike Bartrum. "He beat a lot of good players out there, and he'll do it again this year."
CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies and selected veterans will report to camp at Lehigh University on July 29. The first full-squad practice will be August 2. The Eagles will break camp at Lehigh on August 13, two days before their first pre-season game at Pittsburgh. They'll continue two-a-day workouts after that at their training facility in south Philadelphia.
--With training camp set to start on July 29, the Eagles have signed just three of their 11 draft picks. But they are optimistic that they'll be able to get all or most of the remaining 8 signed in time for the start of camp.
--The Eagles took a pass on the players in the July 14 supplemental draft. They brought in USC defensive tackle Manuel Wright, a college linemate of rookie first round pick Mike Patterson, for a workout. But they didn't select him. Wright was taken by the Miami Dolphins, who used a fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft on him.
--Quarterback Donovan McNabb is only the sixth NFL player and first Eagle to be on the cover of the Madden 2006 video game. Players who previously have been on the cover didn't have particularly good seasons the year they were on it. But McNabb isn't concerned about a jinx. "I have a lot more to be scared about, being on the field, than I do being on the cover of a video game," he said.
TIGHT END: Starter - L. J. Smith. Backups - James Whalen, Mike Bartrum, Andy Thom.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Tra Thomas, LG Artis Hicks, C Hank Fraley, RG Shawn Andrews, RT Jon Runyan. Backups - Steve Sciullo, Trey Derilek, Jamaal Jackson, Adrien Clarke, Scott Young, Todd Herremans, Calvin Armstrong, Dominic Furio.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Jevon Kearse, LT Corey Simon, RT Darwin Walker, RE N.D. Kalu. Backups - Jerome McDougle, Hugh Douglas, Jamaal Green, Sam Rayburn, Hollis Thomas, Paul Grasmanis, Mike Patterson.