Dallas Cowboys: New Cornerbacks Might Still Be Cornered

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Dallas Cowboys: New Cornerbacks Might Still Be Cornered
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Starting cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman have combined for 14 interceptions since 2009.

As the Dallas Cowboys head into the offseason, the first under golden boy Jason Garrett as head coach, there is no shortage of opinions as to how this franchise regains its place in the NFL’s VIP room.

Among the many factors egging on these opinions is the calendar. We have the 2011 Senior Bowl approaching this weekend, along with most if not all of the offseason’s annual events like free agency, the NFL Scouting Combine and the 2011 NFL Draft.

These events mean opportunity for change on league rosters and the Cowboys need a healthy dose of that.

Throughout the season we saw mostly bad football out of the Cowboys. During the first half of the season the offense seemed to be the primary issue as it failed to score points, committed too many penalties and added in plenty of turnovers.

But as midseason approached, it was the defense that utterly collapsed. Only once Garrett was promoted to interim head coach did Dallas ever look like a decent team.

So where to begin?

According to many mock draft websites and similar personalities, the Dallas Cowboys will select a cornerback with the ninth choice in the first round of the NFL Draft. The name most commonly mentioned is Nebraska corner Prince Amukamara.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Prince Amukarama tallied 5 sacks in 2009 but zero in 2010.

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson also comes up from time to time, but I’m not sure anybody believes he is falling to No. 9 come April.

Granted, the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine has yet to take place and this is generally when the first mock drafts around the universe start taking a little bit of shape.

The only significant piece of draft fodder any of us know at this point is that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will not be leaving school early.

Thus, he will not be the expected No. 1 overall selection by Carolina...I never thought he would be anyway, especially since the Panthers already have two young quarterbacks on the roster who show different degrees of promise. Everything is pure theory right now.

Having said that, the only formula I am going by right now is what the greatest needs are for the Cowboys, based on not just last season, but the last few seasons.

Let’s be honest: the Cowboys have not looked anything like a true contender since 2007, and even that was kind of “iffy.”

Well, Dallas did not even win a playoff game that year despite that 13-3 record that actually played out more like an 11-5 mark, takeaway a couple of dodged bullets along the way.

Let’s get back to this cornerback discussion.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Patrick Peterson is widely ragarded as the best cornerback prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft. His size and speed combination is quite rare.

According to some, the Dallas cornerbacks were among the biggest liabilities in 2010, and I could not disagree more.

Dallas has good depth for a starting three and still has other young guys down the roster who either made some big plays, like rookie Bryan McCann; or have some intriguing upside, like Akwasi Awusu-Ansah.

The primary targets of frustration seem to center around starters Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins.

I get the fact that that Newman is well past 30 years old and this generally means that the end is near for a corner.

Further, Newman would not translate to free safety very well and so, according to some, he should essentially become a cap casualty as replacing him with a rookie in the draft would certainly be better, right?

Careful what you wish for.

Let us remember that Newman had five interceptions in 2010 on a defense that set franchise records for futility, especially in points allowed. I see that the Dallas defense finished 26th against the pass as opposed to 12th against the rush.

Nonetheless, Newman and Jenkins did not account for all of those pass yards given up. In other words, anyone think that starting inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking are anything special in pass coverage? Hell no.

Amukarama was toasted against Oklahoma State in 2010.

Jenkins made the Pro Bowl following his second year in the league which was also his first year in the starting lineup. We all remember the Green Bay game and also that Jenkins made some ill-advised decisions from time to time. He only picked off one pass this year but he had five in 2009.

Players don’t just go from making the Pro Bowl one year to sucking rocks the next. Not at cornerback and certainly not at Jenkins’ age. Jenkins is just now the same age Newman was when he was drafted in 2003, only 25.

When it comes to football, so many fans and observers fail to realize what really determines the outcome of every single play. Yes, it’s fun to watch the quarterback drop back and look around before he throws.

But the real issue that allows the quarterback and other skill positions to succeed is the battle in the trenches. Simply put, the Cowboys are not that good on either side of the ball in the trenches.

In a few games in 2010, we saw both Jenkins and Newman get banged up while trying to stop opposing running backs. This has to change in a big way, especially since some of today’s runners weigh anywhere from 220 to 260 pounds.

Depending on cornerbacks to stop running backs is kind of like expecting a Ferrari to perform well on off-road conditions. That’s not at all what they are designed or built to do.

Would the Dallas secondary be better with Amukarama instead of Terence Newman?

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You might be among those that also think that it’s time to part ways with Anthony Spencer, the badly needed balance in pass rush opposite DeMarcus Ware. Even Ware had a down year by his standards.

Point is this: the players are not the issue as far as the Dallas defense goes, at least not most of them. The system is what is broken.

So the idea that a guy like Amukamara or Peterson can come in and completely change the fortunes of this poorly designed 3-4 defense is pretty naïve.

Don’t get me wrong, having either of them would not be bad at all and probably would represent positive gains in the short term. But this is not the fix.

Not until the Cowboys can create more third-and-long situations for players like Newman, Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick to focus only on covering receivers and reading quarterbacks much more often.

Until then, any secondary lined up behind the present front seven will have its issues.

Remember Dwayne Goodrich? Mario Edwards? Duane Hawthorne? These were guys who were trying to man the corner spots before Newman was drafted.

Corners do not grow on trees and before you let a guy like Newman go, you had better be sure that you have somebody coming up in the ranks to replace him. This is almost impossible to do.

The NFL is as pass-happy as it has ever been, as it almost resembles something you would see in the Canadian Football League or maybe even arena football.

The rules favoring wide receivers, as of now, have made it to where you will never find enough true shutdown corners to handle the likes of Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, and others who are bigger, stronger and sometimes even faster than the guy covering them. They simply do not exist.

So with that first-round selection come April, it will really depend mainly on free agency as far as whether Dallas is ready to start worrying about the skill positions on either side of the ball, takeaway perhaps running back.

Yes, I’m a huge supporter of taking Alabama running back Mark Ingram if he is available. But if the interior of the offensive line consists of the same guys, I would say why bother?

Same thing is true of these highly touted corners coming out of college this spring. If the Cowboys still plan on trotting out a 300-pound nose guard, then why waste time on Amukamara or Peterson. They will do no better trying to tackle 260-pound Brandon Jacobs a few times in two games come 2011.           

If any position in the secondary is in bad need of a makeover, it’s at safety. Nobody could disagree with that.

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