As we enter the final countdown for the opening matchup with the Redskins, it's a good time to figure out which players have somehow eluded the spotlight placed on key members of the roster.
You have to dig pretty deep to find either a weakness or a question mark on the Cowboys defense. Their front seven features a pair of elite stars in Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware surrounded by first-rate role players who thrive off the attention paid to the big names. Cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman shut down receivers on a weekly basis and Gerald Sensabaugh may not be spectacular but he's steady enough that you don't find yourself wondering what you'll get from the strong safety spot.
That leaves Alan Ball and only Alan Ball as the unknown part of the Cowboys defense. That means that he'll be the guy who gets tested most often in the early weeks of the season and he'll keep getting tested until he proves he can't handle the job or until he proves that the Cowboys don't actually have any weaknesses on defense at all.
Which one of those outcomes is more likely? It may be a cop-out to offer this answer, but honesty wins out over being wishy-washy: We have absolutely no idea. According to Pro Football Focus, Ball only played 303 snaps last season and most of them were as a cornerback in nickel and dime packages. He did well enough in those snaps, but that doesn't tell us much about how well he will handle this year's transition to starting free safety.
He's shown good ball skills during preseason, which isn't surprising given his experience at cornerback, but he's a bit undersized for the times when he'll have to help quiet the opposing rushing attack. In a perfect world, the front seven would suffocate running backs without mercy but we don't live in such a world and Ball is going to have to make a few tackles to be a worthwhile member of the defense.
This is going to be a good defense whether or not Ball proves to be average, above-average or a short-lived member of the starting lineup. Life will be much easier if he's one of the first two, however, and it would effectively eliminate the only weakness from last year's defensive unit.
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