ALFONSO SAVERINO – MANALAPAN, NJ: Do you think the Cowboys will try to draft a true nose tackle like Terrence Cody of Alabama? I think it would be a great idea to get a Casey Hampton-type run stuffer and move Ratliff over to his true position at defensive end.
Nick: I’m with you on adding a run-stuffer in the middle. You can’t have too many of those if they can play. But I don’t see the reason in moving Ratliff. Is it me or did he just get named All-Pro? Seriously, sometimes it’s Ok if the team just stands pat at some spots. Are we sure that Ratliff’s natural position is end? He’s never played it in the 3-4.
Rob: I’d keep Ratliff right where he is. His athleticism and ability to rush the passer make him unique at nose tackle, and the ends and outside linebackers benefit from some of the double teams he draws. What’s there to fix? This defense emerged as one of the league’s best by season’s end. Junior Siavii is a restricted free agent, so nose tackle could be a priority, but not with a Day One pick.
Josh: I would take a big nose tackle somewhere between rounds two and four. The Cowboys hid Junior Siavii on the bench most of the time. I think if you had a really good run-stuffer type for first down then you could use Ratliff on second, and to rush the passer on third down. As it was he was coming off the field in a lot of pass-rush situations for Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen. Forget about moving Ratliff to end – he’s too good where he is.
TOM MEADE – MILFORD, PA: I feel the Cowboys need a playmaker at safety. If Kerry Rhodes becomes available, do you see the Cowboys going after him?
Nick: If he’s available . . . If anyone is available there’s a good reason for it. Sometimes you find a gem but often you just overpay for free agents. I’d rather just re-sign Sensabaugh than take a chance at another veteran safety. And then just pick one up in the draft if possible.
Rob: Excellent safety, but I’m not sure they could afford him. In addition to the 30 percent rule in an uncapped year, the Cowboys can only sign one unrestricted free agent with a starting salary of $5.5 million or greater. Rhodes might command more than that if the Jets let him go.
Josh: A couple years ago he was regarded as one of the better safeties in the league. So why did he get benched toward the end of the year? I would just as soon keep Sensabaugh and address the position through the draft.
BEN GODDARD – FRESNO, CA: Once teams realized Miles Austin wasn’t a fluke and started game-planning against him, his numbers did drop a bit. Do you think he is going to have the same numbers next year, now that he is on everyone’s radar and won’t be a surprise?
Josh: His numbers slipped a bit? Maybe off that 250-yard pace he had in his first start, yeah, but he did average 94.6 yards per game from Thanksgiving through the Divisional playoff game. I don’t know if his numbers will be just as good next year – I tend to doubt it because it’s one of the historically great seasons for a receiver in team history. That’s just going to be hard to repeat. But Miles is the real thing, don’t worry.
Rob: In 14 starts (plus playoffs) Austin averaged 6.2 catches, 96.7 yards and 0.79 touchdowns. In his last eight starts, he averaged 7.1 catches, 94.6 yards and 0.63 touchdowns. His numbers didn’t really drop other than a four-game stretch in November. The guy always seems to get open, and other receivers should benefit if defenses want to double him. It’s tough to forecast past one season, but he’s talented and hard-working enough to get 1,000 yards every year.
STEVEN STRASSMAN – HEATHROW, FL: By moving the Pro Bowl to the weekend prior to the Super Bowl, the NFL has actually diminished the luster of being chosen, because many of the players selected are playing in the Super Bowl, and are unavailable. What are your thoughts on this scheduling change?
Josh: I don’t know about diminishing the luster. Who knew people held the Pro Bowl in such high esteem anyway? But it seems to me more people are interested in this year’s game than ever before, if for no other reason than to complain. I don’t think it matters to the league that David Garrard gets to play because somebody backed out – it’s all about revenue, and they’ll probably make more money off this year’s game because there’s a little bit more to talk about.
Rob: Not a fan. I see the logic in trying to establish some sort of relevance by playing the game during football season, but the Super Bowl has overshadowed it. And in addition to the annual group that backs out due to injury or apathy, now players from the final four playoff teams have depleted both rosters. Just doesn’t make much sense. But at least some deserving Cowboys got a second chance to play.
JASON WRIGHT – GRAPEVINE, TX: I was wondering why the Cowboys don’t go after a kicking coach. Joe DeCamillis is great for strategy and motivation, but that is far different than what is needed for kicking, which is closer to a golf or baseball swing. Seems the Cowboys have really missed Steve Hoffman.
Nick: Yeah, it would be nice to have a guy like that, but there’s not many kicking coaches in the league like Hoffman. In fact, Hoffman is now a special teams coach, too. Let’s see what happens this off-season when DeCamillis gets to work closer with his kickers. Remember last summer, DeCamillis was just struggling to make it to each OTA practice. He didn’t have the time or the energy to work directly with the place-kickers. Maybe this summer will be different.
Rob: Didn’t affect Nick Folk his first two years without an in-house kicking coach. Not knocking what Steve Hoffman did here, but some of his kickers didn’t pan out so well. And a lot of these guys, like Folk, have personal coaches. It just wasn’t a good year in that regard for the Cowboys: Folk had surgery and never got on track, his replacement missed big kicks and rookie David Buehler wasn’t ready yet.
Josh: I don’t know that they’ve missed Hoffman as much as your say. He was great at finding kickers from out of nowhere, but his guys had their holes as well. Folk was the first Pro Bowl kicker here since Chris Boniol. And besides, he had a kicking coach of his own, from the same camp David Buehler used to attend, actually.
DANIEL LEMMONS – RENO, NV: So with all this talk about the Cowboys improving at safety, I have to ask how the staff feels about Mike Hamlin. Is he going to be an answer for that position? It would be nice if we didn’t have to put any one position on top of our needs list.
Nick: Regardless what happens with Mike Hamlin, I don’t think you put safety atop the need list anyway. It’s something to look at it, but if you get Sensabaugh re-signed, then you don’t exactly need to go get one. Now, if a safety falls in their lap, that’s a different story. But I think the Cowboys are confident about Hamlin, enough to say that getting a safety isn’t a must in this year’s draft.
Rob: They like his ability and have high hopes for him. Now can he step in next year and start after not playing any defense his rookie year? Not sure. Probably makes sense to re-sign Gerald Sensabaugh and/or keep their eyes peeled for a safety in the draft. Just keep adding talent there.
Josh: I think they like him as a project, but his presence doesn’t preclude them from addressing the position anyway. He’s a strong safety. Either they bring back Sensabaugh, who would start over him, or they look to free agency or the draft trying to improve the position. Either way I think Hamlin is special-teams first for at least another year. Maybe he makes a big jump. We’ll see.