Cowboys have lingering questions

IRVING, Texas -- With a team that has finished .500 in each of the past two years and did not make any drastic upgrades in the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have plenty of questions.

Through the on-field teaching sessions, nine organized team activities and three days of minicamp, many things were learned but many questions remain before this team gets to Oxnard, Calif., for training camp.

Here we look at some of the questions that remain:

1. Will Tony Romo be ready to go?

The short answer is yes, but the offseason has always been a big part of Romo's preparation for a season. Normally he will tinker with his mechanics and use the practices to know what works and what doesn't, but he has not thrown a competitive pass since December because of a procedure in April to remove a cyst from his back.

While the team downplayed the surgery, the time lost figures to affect Romo when the Cowboys get to California. He said he should be 100 percent by next week and will attempt to play catch-up by throwing passes to the remaining players at Valley Ranch over the month-long break. While that should get his arm in good enough shape for training camp, there will be some rust when he gets in full team activities with the pads on.

2. What is there to make of the offensive line?

For the second straight offseason right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was not able to take a snap in the OTAs or minicamp. Left guard Nate Livings hurt his surgically-repaired knee during the OTAs and missed most of the past three weeks. Jermey Parnell, who is expected to battle with Doug Free for the right tackle spot, missed two-plus weeks because of a hamstring injury. Travis Frederick took all of the first-team work, but he's a rookie.

The guy in charge of the line, Bill Callahan, will be spread a little thinner now that he has play-calling duties.

Bernadeau, Livings and Parnell will be fine when the team gets to Oxnard, but if last year proved anything, it's that the line needs time together. Another offseason without that continuity is not a good thing.

3. Is Callahan ready to call the plays?

This has been talked about and talked about, and will continue to be talked about. Like the move to the 4-3 on the other side of the ball, there will be a transition with Callahan calling the plays. He will have a different feel for it than Jason Garrett and that is something Romo will have to adjust to.

All of the situational work Garrett put the team through in the OTAs and minicamp was good for the players, but it was also good for Callahan to get up to speed on calling plays again. There were some hiccups, like a delay-of-game penalty and a needed timeout because the process was too slow. When the Cowboys show up in Oxnard, that process will have to speed up.

4. What are the defensive concerns?

There will be bumps as the Cowboys move to the 4-3 this summer, but the offseason went pretty well. They feel as if they are covered at the safety spot and that the defensive line will be a strength, so let's look past the starters for a moment.

Backup linebacker is a little thin. Alex Albright has never played in this system, but the coaches say they believe he will be fine. Ernie Sims is a better fit for this system than the one he played in the 3-4 last season. DeVonte Holloman and Brandon Magee had moments in the spring, but they're rookies.

5. Will Joseph Randle be ready to contribute?

Randle has not taken a snap because of thumb surgery but should be ready to go for the opening of training camp. He has done everything the athletic training staff has asked, and running backs coach Gary Brown has liked how attentive Randle has been on the practice field even if he can't carry the ball.

The Cowboys believe he can be a full-time back if something happened to DeMarco Murray, but he was a fifth-round pick. Randle will have to show he can beat out Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner to do the job. Getting a late start doing that isn't a positive.