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5/18/2007

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Good Camp Battles to Watch

While there's already some great intrigue created by this past mini camp session, the truth always finds a way to come to the surface - once the pads get on, its a different story. Let's look at a few key "camp battles" to watch at this year's training camp and preseason.

The top camp battle for me is going to be in the secondary, Watkins vs. Hamlin

Let's be real here, the Hamlin signing is a short-term insurance policy, that provides us with a good veteran and solid depth at FS. Its still likely that Hamlin will lineup opposite Roy Williams, but don't count out Patrick Watkins. Watkins was miffed when he fell to the 5th round last year, came to camp with a chip on his shoulder, and eventually cracked into the starting lineup. For a rookie he played well, sure he had a few mess ups, but that's to be expected from a rookie.

Either way you cut it though, Watkins will see significant playing time, and should Hamlin falter in training camp or the preseason, you can feel good about Watkins getting back in the lineup.

According to our readership 50% believe Hamlin will be the starter, 44% believe Watkins will be the starter, and 5% are not sure. Those numbers are close. We'll see how this one unfolds, its going to be a good one.

The San Antonio Express recently chimed in on the topic as well:
Dallas believes Pat Watkins can still emerge as a starter down the line.

The Cowboys may have settled for Ken Hamlin on a one-year deal because they're planning on Watkins as their starting free safety in 2008 and beyond. An athletic freak, the 6-5 Watkins should benefit from his season to learn.

Carpenter vs. James

If you look at how the starting LBs in the Phillips 34, its safe to assume the starters will be:
OLB Demarcus Ware
MLB Bradie James*
MLB Akin Ayodele
OLB Greg Ellis*

The (*) meaning those in jeopardy of losing their starting spot. In this discussion we're focusing on James. James is the incumbent, but there's evidence the Cowboys are preparing for a scenario that would have Carpenter overtaking James at MLB. Carpenter worked at MLB last offseason, and again this offseason.

James has had one solid season, and has been adequate, and last year did not help his cause with several busted plays directed right at him. Sean Payton knew the weakness in the LB core, and tore it up. Then came Detroit later, and they tore it up. James was horrible in coverage and got ate up regularly.

Is 2nd year player, Carpenter ready to man the spot. Carpenter ran the 2nd team defense and called the plays on defense during mini camp. According to Coach Phillips, he wants the best players on the field and wants to utilize their skills as best as possible. If there's a chink in the armor then its Bradie James, and it would be ludicrous not to want competition there. Carpenter was rated much higher at MLB than James coming out of college, and is way more athletic. You can bet Carpenter is going to be out there more and more.

Worst case scenario, you'd see Carpenter play extensively in nickel packages. Either way you cut it, you gotta have this explosive sideline-to-sideline player on the field somewhere and I think Phillips already recognizes this.

Ellis vs. Spencer

We've all read the same old news, and its a broken record...Ellis wants an extension, and he wants a commitment from the Cowboys. The stark reality is that the Cowboys are not going to redo the contract and Ellis needs to get over that. Sure he can ask for a trade, but the Cowboys are not inclined to make a trade. Ellis is a solid player, and performed pretty good in his new position at OLB in the 3-4, and this year should be no different, so just get out there and play Greg.

Ellis' latest tirades mostly stem from the Cowboys drafting Anthony Spencer, who right now looks to be the real deal and will indeed provide a dynamic one-two death blow punch as he lineups up opposite Ware.

Ellis is the starter according to Coach Phillips, but this is going to be a camp battle to watch. I expect Spencer to overcome Ellis this offseason, and at the latest sometime early in the season. Spencer was brought here to attack the QB, and its hard to envision the Cowboys holding him back.

Jones vs. Barber

The media wants to make this into something sensational, but the reality here is going to be that these two RBs will contribute similarly as they did last year; however, I honestly believe this will be Julius Jones' season. All his talk about 1600 yards and 20tds can come true in this new offense. Garrett likes how Jones runs and sees the same elusiveness that Emmitt had. Back when Jones was drafted his highlight reel looked like Emmitt Smith, and he looked like that player his rookie year, then came his "robotic" running style, overcoached or whatever you want to call it. Garrett is going to let Jones be that instinctive runner again, and watch out.

Jones thinks he won't be extended; so, not only does he want to play well this season, this is his time to show off his skills for potential teams for 2008. Its not something I personally want to see happen, but its very possible. Some rumors apparently already have Arkansas' RB Darren McFadden penciled in as our starter next season, far fetched? Maybe, maybe not. But let Jones get his run on and see what fans think then. I see the mood changing should Jones have an explosive season.

Barber will be used the same as last year, he too will get his chances to run instinctively, and this can only help Barber.

At the end of the day, there's not a camp battle here, just some interesting topics for fans to argue over.

FACT: Jones and Barber will share the load and BOTH will take this running attack to another level, the best duo in the league. Other teams are installing the two back system, but we have one if the better duos in the league.

Somehow its good to have these type of problems, its good to have this type of depth and competition in areas were it seems incumbents are locks, but not this year. The Cowboys are doing a great job in the scouting department and continue to inject quality players to an already full roster of pretty good players.

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