Sunday, June 21, 2009

WFAA Blog: Cowboys minicamp winners and losers

By Aaron Chimbel

The Dallas Cowboys' three-day minicamp is over so it's time to take a look at who helped their cause. You can't tell a whole lot about players when they're not wearing pads, but you can certainly tell who is making plays and is catching the coaches' eyes.

Patrick Crayton: The guy who is always fluctuating between second and third wide receiver had a strong minicamp. Crayton runs good routes and caught a ton of balls in minicamp. He's worked hard this offseason and it shows. Injuries to Sam Hurd, Miles Austin and some of the other younger receivers gave him more time to show his ability as a reliable option.

Martellus Bennett: Marty B is entertaining, but also showing a increasing maturity with the game. He has a rare combination of size and athleticism and gives the Cowboys great flexibility in the offense.

Young wide receivers: With as many as six of the Cowboys 11 receivers missing minicamp at times with assorted ailments, it gave receivers like Mike Jefferson, Manuel Johnson and Julian Hawkins extended work. They weren't perfect, but did impress the veterans. Jefferson (wearing T.O.'s old number 81) made some nice catches that, for a moment, brought a reminder of T.O. (he also had some drops, go figure). Johnson, a seventh-round pick from Oklahoma, got reluctant praise from UT's Roy Williams when I asked him which young receivers looked good.

Gerald Sensabaugh: Maybe part of the reason Sensabaugh has been so popular is because he's the complete opposite of the guy he is replacing at safety, the other Roy Williams. Coach Wade Phillips says he thinks the new safety's coverage ability will be a major upgrade in pass defense.

Orlando Scandrick: The irony of Scandrick on this list is that he's probably not going to beat out Mike Jenkins for the starting corner spot opposite Terence Newman. Jenkins got most of the starting reps, but Scandrick's intensity and drive is impressive. In the NFL, you need several good corners to match up with multiple receiver sets. Scandrick is a good one and he continues to progress.

Alan Ball: Ball, a seventh-round pick in 2007, is one of those guys who has been hanging around for a couple years. Now, it appears, entering that crucial third season he's ready to contribute. The coaches have used him at both safety and corner, as they have with Courtney Brown. Ball made several plays throughout OTAs and minicamp when he got an extended look.

Miles Austin: Austin has the ability to be a good and explosive receiver in the NFL, but he can't stay on the field. That has to be a concern for the coaches. He was supposed to be a serious threat to Crayton for the No. 2 receiver spot, but Crayton has been impressive with Austin out. No matter how much potential you have if you are not on the field you are worthless, just ask another receiver, Isaiah Stanback.

Kitna/Proctor exchange: Jon Kitna will be the Cowboys backup quarterback and Cory Proctor is likely to return as the backup center. If they have to play together the offense could sputter worse than when Brad Johnson was starting last season. The reason is the two have a hard time getting a clean exchange on the snap. The Cowboys centers and quarterbacks have been working a lot on this, but it's still been problematic. It's the most fundamental thing you do in football.

Pat Watkins: He was a fifth-round pick in 2006 and has never really been more than a special teams player. With the team drafting several defensive backs and the versatility of Ball and Brown, Watkins days in Dallas are likely to come to an end. He has to stay healthy and remind the coaches he can be a dynamic special teams player. Several of the younger players were getting reps over him and he doesn't have their versatility.

Injuries: Having more wide receivers out than practicing is a concern, as are nagging injuries to key players like Felix Jones and Igor Olshansky. Phillips says all of his players will be healed for training camp, which starts at the end of July.