OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys don’t have any legitimate competition for starting jobs, but one member of the front office said he’s never seen so many good fights for the spots at the bottom of the roster.
Here are a few of the best:
Barry Church vs. Danny McCray (with injured Pat Watkins hoping to get back in the fray): Watkins has been a backup safety who made an impact on special teams. It looks like the Cowboys can upgrade for less money with either of the two undrafted rookies.
Church is a strong safety who was a four-time All-MAC player at Toledo, where he had nine interceptions, six forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. He’s a good special teams player who serves a personal protector on the punt team. He showed his knack for making plays with a couple of picks in one practice this week. His 4.69 speed is the only reason he wasn’t drafted.
McCray is a free safety who wasn’t a starter at LSU, backing up Giants third-round pick Chad Jones and playing in the nickel. He’s an impact special teams player who has made a few tackles as a gunner in the two preseason games. He’s shown good range and better instincts than the Cowboys expected as a safety.
There is a chance that the Cowboys could decide to keep both undrafted rookie safeties. If that’s the case, one of last year’s draft picks could be in trouble. Michael Hamlin’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed. Neither is quarterback Stephen McGee’s.
Leon Williams vs. Steve Octavien: They play different linebacker spots, but the Cowboys will only keep one or the other. The plan is to keep nine linebackers, and the Cowboys aren’t going to give up on project 2009 third-round pick Jason Williams.
The coaching staff wouldn’t cringe if Leon Williams had to play some snaps at inside linebacker. He’s a four-year veteran who took advantage of the extra reps when second-round pick Sean Lee missed 13 practices and two preseason games with a strained quad.
Octavien isn’t going to get in the rotation at outside linebacker – especially with 2009 fourth-round picks Victor Butler and Brandon Williams showing promise – but he’s a Joe DeCamillis favorite who ranked fourth on the Cowboys with 12 special teams tackles last season.
If Williams gains the confidence of DeCamillis the next few games, he’ll have the edge.
The Cowboys are leaning toward keeping Holley, who would make $320,000, over Hurd.
Holley was “a dominant special teams performer” in the first two preseason games, according to Wade Phillips. DeCamillis has singled out Holley and McCray as the two guys he’s most intrigued with at this point. Holley has filled some of Hurd’s roles in those games, an audition for taking his roster spot.
Hurd is a much better receiver than Holley and might be able to crack another team’s rotation. But he won’t have the chance to catch passes in this receiving corps, so that won’t be much of a factor in the Cowboys’ decision.
This will come down to money and special teams. Holley is a whole lot cheaper, so if it’s close, he’ll get the nod over Hurd.