Cowboys ‘Seriously Exploring’ Position Switch for Defensive Starter: Report

Getty Dallas Cowboys secondary

The Dallas Cowboys addressed every glaring defensive need via the NFL draft — except for safety. This, it turns out, was by design.

New Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy explained the absence of emphasis on that particular position during his post-draft conference call. While talking up the secondary’s versatility, he let slip his plan to potentially convert a cornerback to play opposite free safety Xavier Woods.

“I’m very comfortable with the flexibility we have throughout our secondary players,” McCarthy said, via The Athletic. “I’m not as caught up in traditional free safety or strong safety as some may be. What I like about our numbers in the back end is that we have great competition and excellent flexibility. We may have some players that can not only play corner but can also slide over and play some safety.”

Though he didn’t name the would-be guinea pig, signs quickly pointed to fourth-year man Chidobe Awuzie, who was bumped to CB1 following the free-agent defection of Byron Jones.

And it was more than just smoke. The Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gelhken, upon touching base with team sources, reported Wednesday the Cowboys are now “seriously exploring” moving Awuzie to safety.

“That is one of multiple position switches that could come on defense in 2020,” Gehlken wrote.

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Why Awuzie?

Because he vacillated between cornerback and safety amid a successful collegiate career at Colorado, bouncing from the boundary to the slot to nickel and sub-packages. Position flexibility was one of his strongest assets, a major reason why he became a second-round pick.

While he possesses plus athleticism at 6-foot, 202 pounds, he has shorter arms (30 5/8-inch) and struggles to recover when beat over the top. Hip fluidity is a concern, forcing Awuzie to grab and subsequently draw penalty flags.

One prevailing thought was eventual work at safety would benefit Awuzie by keeping the play in front of him. Reacting instead of thinking, maximizing to full capacity his physical tools in run support and pass coverage.

“Awuzie was the highest corner remaining on my board. He played outside, but kicked inside. You can see him as a nickel blitzer. He can also play safety because of his toughness,” then-NFL Network draft analyst and current Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said of Awuzie in 2017.

No other corner on the Cowboys’ offseason roster, perhaps with the exception of newly signed Daryl Worley, is capable of donning a second hat. Turning to Awuzie is a no-brainer on paper. In practicality? We shall see …

What This Means

Awuzie switching to safety likely creates a competition for the starting job opposite Woods, which previously belonged to Jeff Heath. Dallas signed former Packers star Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to fill the void and also has dependable backup Darian Thompson and 2019 sixth-rounder Donovan Wilson waiting in the wings.

At cornerback, meanwhile, the Cowboys would push forward with Jourdan Lewis topping the depth chart. This would be an ideal situation for prized second-round rookie Trevon Diggs and possibly fourth-rounder Reggie Robinson, both of whom the club is extremely high on.

Behind them are free-agent signing Maurice Canady and fifth-year vet Anthony Brown, who re-signed with the club this offseason, and deep reserve types C.J. Goodwin and Chris Westry.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL