Where is the Big Back? And the Safety? Questions Still Abound in Cowboys Land


DeMarco Murray may be good
but he won’t replace Marion Barber.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, I made are regular point that the Cowboys were two solid drafts from being a top-flight contender again.  Too much age, too many contracts and too many wasted draft picks had produced too many holes.

A review of the lineup showed Dallas to be at least seven or eight players short of an air-tight starting 22.  Two safeties were needed, a young corner to work in behind the aging and brittle Terence Newman, a young inside backer to work in behind the aging and entering his walk-year Bradie James, a plus defensive end to add interior rush next to Jay Ratliff, a right tackle, a young guard to groom behind Bigg Davis and maybe even a center.

The contract situations of Roy Williams and Marion Barber arguably swelled that number to ten players.  With only seven picks in a normal draft, it’s not feasable to expect the Cowboys to plug all the holes, unless aggressive free agent action factors in.  Dallas’ cap situation worked against that.  The new CBA with his high floor made it less likely the Cowboys could find quality players at reasonable prices.

Thus far, Dallas appears to have plugged some of the key holes with draft picks and with emerging youngsters.  Tyron Smith looks like a solid pick at right tackle.  David Arkin has a ways to go, but looks like he can fill a guard spot before too long.  Dwayne Harris was the star of Thursday’s pre-season game and vies to be this year’s Sam Hurd, an unheralded rookie to plays his way onto the field.  Fellow late pick Josh Thomas is getting settled and may add depth to the cornerback spot.  Josh Brent’s emergence adds some muscle to the D-line while Victor Butler’s rise adds some potential zip to the pass rush.

Surprisingly, Dallas’ biggest need on offense may be at running back, despite spending a 3rd round pick on Demarco Murray.  Murray is another speed and receptions back, in the Felix Jones mold.  What the Cowboys appear to lack at the moment is a hammer, a Marion Barber-type who can absorb a hit, roll away and gain the necessary extra yards in 3rd-and-short and in goal-line situations.  That Barber has looked good in that role for Chicago only makes the need more apparent.

This isn’t to argue for Barber’s retention.  His swollen cap number had to be sliced.  It is to argue for checking the waiver wires and trade options for somebody who fits this need.  Lonyae Miller had the big-back hype entering the game, but did little to fill the role.  Dallas kicked LaRon McClain’s tires before he signed with the Chiefs.  Expect the Cowboys to scout more McClain-sized backs in the next few months.

On defense, the biggest question mark remains at safety.  Abe Elam looked okay as the centerfielder in Rob Ryan’s blitz packages, but Gerald Sensabaugh made the kind of assignment gaffes that were so painful and familiar in 2010.  These were the same type of mistakes the defense committed in the Blue-White scrimmage five days before.  Sensabaugh and his secondary mates may simply need more time to absorb Ryan’s new terminology and schemes.

Or, this may be a case of Dallas filling five holes, but still showing three?  That’s life in the NFL.  Most every team has some holes.  The better ones are more effective at hiding theirs.  Right now, Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan has obvious soft spots to cover with spackle, duct tape and bondo.   That’s why they’re paid the big money.