I'm going to be up watching two NFC East games Thursday night, and one of them will be my first look at the Cowboys so far. They're the only team whose camp I haven't visited yet (heading there a week from Wednesday), and so the fellas over at ESPNDallas have been our eyes and ears through the training camp time in San Antonio.
To that end, I enjoyed reading Todd Archer's "Defensive thoughts from the dome" Wednesday afternoon. Todd also posted his offensive thoughts, which are thoughts about the offense and not thoughts that offend, and those are interesting as well. But you know my feeling that the Cowboys' 2011 season will be determined by the defense. So that's where my focus is right now.
On the plus side, Archer has glowing things to say about nose tackle Jay Ratliff, whose return to his early-career form would be the kind of thing that could help the Cowboys immensely as they work to recover from last season's defensive disaster. Archer puts Ratliff in a tie with DeMarcus Ware for best defensive player in camp thus far.
Archer also likes what he's seen from linebacker Sean Lee, who could make Keith Brooking's injury something of an afterthought if he's really ready to assume a major role. Todd writes of Lee, "He needs a game to show everything he can do. Last year on camp he got turned around a bunch and could not disengage from blockers. This summer he looks like a different guy."
But it's not all sunny, of course. The injuries to cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins are real concerns because, as Todd writes, "They need practice time. Jenkins will be back sooner but it makes sense to rest him so he doesn’t inflame that nerve and have it bother him for the year. Jenkins was off to a good start in camp and he had at least three hits that stood out."
The Cowboys don't have much in the secondary behind their starters, and if Newman and Jenkins can't get on the field and practice in Rob Ryan's defense within the next few weeks, that could show up once the season starts. I guess the plus side is that there's plenty of time, and that the coaches will have a long look at the backups in Thursday night's game.