With training camp looming just a few weeks away, the mindsets needed to get through summer have already begun setting in for the players.
For established veterans, simply making it out of training camp healthy is what is paramount. For rookies, it’s all about getting the playbook and terminology ingrained on the brain until it becomes second nature on the field. Finally, for young veterans like defensive back, Alan Ball, training camp poses as an audition to carve a role on the team that will find him on the field on Sundays.
Ball, a former seventh-round pick out of Illinois is entering into his third season. He will likely be competing for expanded nickel and dime package duties, as well as solidifying a role on special teams (ninth on the team with seven special team tackles in 2008).
Standing at 6’1’’, the Cowboys like Ball’s length and ability to match up with taller receivers. He remains thin and lanky, but has managed to put on good weight this off season, and now checks in at a solid 186 lbs, which is nearly 10 lbs more than when he came in as a rail-thin rookie. Ball is very similar in build to former Kansas City Chief, Dale Carter, who was a Pro Bowl cornerback that converted to safety later in his career.
The coaching staff was impressed with the way Ball stepped up when thrown into action last season. During a crucial home win against Tampa Bay, Ball was subbed in for an injured Anthony Henry during the final five minutes of a close game.
On one pivotal play, Ball exhibited great awareness and agility while covering Buccaneer’s receiver, Michael Clayton. Clayton gave Ball a double move on a go-route that a lot of veteran cornerbacks would have bit on. Instead, Ball mirrored Clayton step-for-step and blanketed the receiver, preventing what would have easily been a game-changing score.
The Cowboys seem willing to find a fit for Ball, having tried him at free safety during the team’s OTAs in May. The coaching staff envisions Ball as a hybrid swing defensive back who can play either role (CB or FS) dependent on the scheme. They were pleasantly surprised at how natural and aggressive he played the position in practice and feel comfortable with him in that role moving forward into training camp.
Training camp this August will go far in determining Ball’s role with the team. The secondary has gotten crowded with talent as the draft brought in an influx of talented defensive backs in Michael Hamlin, DeAngelo Smith, and Mike Mickens.
Ball appears to have the inside track of getting significant regular season playing time as the youngsters will simply be trying to adjust to the speed and timing of the pro game.
Look for Ball’s play to jump to the next level during this upcoming season.