If there's been an upside to the injuries that have kept Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman out for most of training camp, it is that the rest of the cornerbacks get to work against top-flight competition.
Today's NFL requires teams to have a lot of depth in the secondary because teams go with three and four wide receivers as much, if not more, than they go with more traditional alignments. That has been a problem for the Cowboys in past years, so having extra time to work with and improve the play of non-starters is a good thing.
We'll find out how much the extra work has paid off on Saturday. The Chargers like to throw the ball early, late and every minute in between. You would like to throw the ball too if you had Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd (and Antonio Gates when he's healthy) forcing defenses to make impossible decisions about how to deploy their coverage.
So far the returns on the guys stepping up have been good. Orlando Scandrick has done well as a nickel corner, but he showed the ability to be a frontline guy in the preseason opener. Bryan McCann made a lot of big plays last season and is showing that he can make enough of the little ones to earn more time on defense. Alan Ball's size is intriguing, although he's probably a bit behind the other two guys when it comes to on-field productivity at this point in time.
The rookie Josh Thomas is another rung or two down the ladder, but he hasn't embarrassed himself enough to rule out a future as a contributing member of the team. All in all, the Cowboys have reason to be pleased with what they've seen from their corners, although extended playing time against the Chargers will tell us much more than we've learned to this point.
Scandrick is really the guy you'd like to see step up and play a big game. Given Jenkins' backslide last season and Newman's combo of age and health issues, there could be a chance for him to step up and start before the 2011 season is over. Even if he doesn't, he could earn more time on the outside when there are three corners on the field and that would certainly make it harder for quarterbacks to pick on the Cowboys.
Saturday gives him a chance to show he's ready for such consideration. The same is true for all of the other corners who will play against the Charger.
The Cowboys already know what they have in Jenkins and Newman, now they get a chance to see how the other parts of their defensive backfield fit in the larger puzzle.
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