NFC East Mailbag: Hope for Phil Costa and Felix Jones in Dallas?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 10, 2012

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Running back Felix Jones #28 of the Dallas Cowboys runs for a gain against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 17, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Welcome back to the B/R NFC East Blog's weekly Friday Mailbag. I was off the grid in July, but everything's back on track now, and I'll be answering your NFC East questions right here to cap every work week. I often get pretty long-winded and ridiculous in this column, and I can't explain why. Maybe because it's a Friday afternoon post, or maybe because there's more of an opportunity to utilize creative license. 

Regardless, I'm going to attempt to get to the point this week. And I'll start by making an effort to waste no more of your time with this introduction. Let's get to question No. 1.


Expectations for David Wilson and Rueben Randle

I've had a lot of questions from Giants fans about Rueben Randle. I've been surprised by the lack of info coming out of Albany on how the second-round rookie has performed, which might explain why I'm being asked about him quite often. 

Unfortunately, I'm not in Albany and have been relying on the same beat writers you guys have been following. From what I've seen, he's shown some flashes but hasn't stood out the way he did during organized team activities. We'll see what he brings to the table in his first preseason game Friday night in Jacksonville

I did, however, get this answerable question pertaining to Randle from Roy Viola, an attorney from Piscataway, New Jersey:

These are always fun, but it's tough with Wilson and Randle because there's so much that is up in the air. Wilson could be a starter by Week 3, or he could spend the entire season as a third-stringer (which is pretty much what he is right now). Randle could win the No. 3 job and even earn starts if Hakeem Nicks' foot injury lingers, or he could become buried on the depth chart and redshirt as a rookie. 

When's the last time a high Giants draft pick made an immediate impact as a rookie? Kenny Phillips, to a degree, in 2008. Nicks in 2009, but not in a huge way.

Behind that offensive line and with so many other capable backs already in place, I wouldn't bet on Wilson having a huge year. I think his goal should be to average 4.5 yards per carry (regardless of how many reps he gets) and have a turnover-free year. If that happens, the carries will eventually come.

And with so many receivers to fight off in the race to the top of the depth chart, I don't anticipate Randle having much of an impact until later in the year. Even in his solid rookie campaign, Nicks wasn't a factor at all until Week 4 and didn't earn a start until Week 8. Tom Coughlin will ease him in.

This is a low-percentage endeavor, but I'll do it anyway...


Concern about the interior offensive line in Dallas

Ottawa, Ontario's Kristopher Barrie is stressing over the interior of the Cowboys' offensive line in the following tweet, and I'm guessing he isn't the only one concerned:

First, Kris, I'd like to point out that in your Twitter profile picture you're wearing a Maple Leafs jersey, your handle is "Oiler3535" and you live in Ottawa. Seems like you have a serious hockey identity crisis going on there. 

As for your Cowboys, I'm also a bit worried about the interior of the line. Phil Costa struggled a lot in his first year as starter, and no one has been healthy enough to compete for the center job.

Free-agent acquisition Mackenzy Bernadeau is finally healthy now and could be a possible candidate to relieve Costa, but if that happens, they'd be weaker at guard. (Bernadeau is currently supposed to start at right guard.)

Veterans Derrick Dockery and Daniel Loper could also step up, but there's a reason why both of those players were still available in August, and it has to do with them not being very good professional football players. 

I get the feeling that the Cowboys are really hoping that undrafted rookie Ronald Leary steps up and becomes a diamond in the rough. He's done a decent job thus far, sometimes even working with the first team, and I'm thinking they'll test him aggressively in the preseason. 

The key, though, might be for Costa to simply get better. He hasn't been bad in camp thus far, and let's not forget that the 25-year-old is only two years into his career. The team saw something in him last summer, and his biggest issue—poor snapping—is correctable. It's not like he's just being dominated physically play after play.

The Cowboys still managed to run the ball very well last year, and the interior line was pretty bad. This won't sink them, but this is a team that can't just maintain the status quo and hope to get back to the playoffs. It's something to monitor closely.


Don't forget about Felix Jones

NFC East blog all-star question/comment contributor Alex Hall asks this question about Felix Jones, who is getting almost no attention thanks to a breakout 2011 season from DeMarco Murray:

Oh, Felix Jones. Often criticized, rarely healthy. Jones hasn't lived up to expectations as a former No. 22 overall pick, but it's hard to believe that he's actually averaged 5.1 yards per carry during the first four years of his career. The problem, of course, is that he's made it through only one full season. 

I see no reason why Jones won't again average at least 4.5 yards per attempt in 2012. But sadly, I also doubt he'll avoid injuries throughout the year. 

The advantage now is that the Cowboys only need Jones to be a complement to Murray. If he misses a few weeks, no prob. He'll be used to spell Murray and change the pace here and there, and I think he'll be good at that.

Jones is entering a contract year, which means he might not be a Cowboy much longer. But it also might mean he's more driven to succeed this year than in past seasons. I think Dallas fans will be mildly delighted by what he brings to the table with the pressure level turned down a bit in 2012.


On Tanard Jackson's potential impact

We hand the mic to Julio Ramos, who has this Redskins question:

I know you mean Tanard Jackson. Hey, don't worry, Julio. We're all busy and distracted and stressed the hell out. If, by chance, you're referring to this guy on Facebook, I'm expecting big, big things.

As for Jackson, I really do believe he's going to end up starting. Brandon Meriweather is garbage, and please don't try to dispute that by telling me he's a former Pro Bowler. I think DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty are good players, but Jackson is the most talented safety on the roster.

Now that Jackson's shoulder's healthy, the only thing that concerns me about the 27-year-old is that he's had some run-ins with the NFL's substance abuse policy. But Raheem Morris brought him over from Tampa Bay, so I'm guessing Morris feels he can get something out of the guy. Now that he can focus squarely on defensive backs, Morris will be able to watch over Jackson throughout the year.

Again, I don't think it'll take long before Jackson is considered a clear-cut starter at safety.


When it comes to mock drafts, how early is too early?

I know this isn't purely an NFC East question, but it's a good one from my buddy Pat Kennedy:

This intrigues me because when I was like 16, I'd start preparing for fantasy football drafts about five months before the damn season. That, in my opinion, is overkill. That said, there are no legal restrictions (yet) in regard to how early you can begin partaking in mock drafts. 

Morally, though, it's a different story. If you're mocking 30-plus days before the big event, you should consider getting help, or at least another hobby. The problem is that you're wasting your time. Too much is going to change between those mocks and draft day. 

Now that I'm a grizzled fantasy vet, my advice is to resist the temptation until your actual draft is 10 days away. At that point, the injuries and roster changes that will occur in that time frame are more manageable, and you're making perfect use of your time. 

Those are my two cents on this significant issue—one that greatly impacts us all.


Time to stop panicking over the pass protection in D.C.?

We turn to the Bleacher Report NFC East e-mail inbox, where Stanley—can I call you Stan?—wants to know if last night was proof that the Redskins' offensive line will be able to protect Robert Griffin III this season. 

It is very good news, Stan, that Griffin wasn't touched in his debut. Now, the Bills were 29th in the league in sacks last year, and their pass rush was rated 26th by ProFootballFocus, but that first unit is supposed to be a whole lot better this year with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson joining a defensive line that was already in great shape with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.

Tyler Polumbus was a pleasant surprise stepping in for Jammal Brown, and the 'Skins fared quite well without both of their regular starting guards. I'm not overly concerned about Maurice Hurt or Adam Gettis, although I think it would, um, hurt if either player had to start on a permanent basis. And Trent Williams is only getting better and better. He could be an all-pro before long.

That said, let's keep in mind that we're talking about a grand total of six dropbacks. This is why the preseason can cause dramatic overreaction. Griffin basically played about one sixth of a game Thursday night. It's good that he didn't face pressure, and as a result he hit his receivers' hands on all six of his pass attempts, but the sample size is simply too small.

I think they're going to have a lot of trouble keeping RG3 healthy this year. This is a line that gave up far too much pressure in 2011, and not a lot has changed. Polumbus can't be much worse than Brown, but I doubt he'll be much better.


That does it for this week's mailbag. Philadelphia Eagles fans are free to begin participating in this process whenever they feel ready to do so. You can submit questions to me on Twitter, but if you're shy, private, anti-social media, long-winded, or all of the above, you can e-mail me at 


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