Former Dallas vice president of player personnel-turned-respected league analyst Gil Brandt pinpointed the team’s biggest area of need and its consequential concerns in a recent piece for NFL.com.
Brandt took aim at the Cowboys’ secondary, which, despite an offseason remodeling, still brings about more questions than answers heading into the 2020 campaign.
The franchise that once fielded safeties Cliff Harris, Darren Woodson and Roy Williams has not had a true impact player at either starting safety spot in a decade-plus. That drought will likely continue into 2020, unless Dallas trades for someone like Jamal Adams — but I wouldn’t hold my breath there. As much as this appears to be a position of need, the Cowboys don’t seem to agree, based on the fact that they’ve selected just one safety in the first two rounds since choosing Williams in 2002. The plan right now seems to be to stick with Xavier Woods — who has recorded just five total turnovers (four picks and one fumble recovery) over the past two seasons — and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who signed with the team and will reunite with new coach Mike McCarthy after their time together in Green Bay. Darian Thompson is the third safety at the moment, but he could be usurped by Chidobe Awuzie, if he’s able to move from corner to safety.
While it’s true that Dallas again missed the boat on Texas native Jamal Adams, who’s been clear in his desire to return home, the addition of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a theoretical upgrade on his predecessor, Jeff Heath, who defected to the Raiders in free agency. What Clinton-Dix lacks in run support, compared to Heath, he makes up in coverage — Heath’s longtime Achilles’ heel.
They could do worse than trotting out Xavier Woods opposite Ha Ha, with reliable veteran Darian Thompson and hyped sophomore Donovan Wilson as the primary reserves. They also, as Brandt said, may convert cornerback Chidobe Awuzie to safety for additional bolstering.
What Brandt did not mention, however, is the arrival of fourth-round rookie Reggie Robinson, a natural corner who moonlighted at safety in college. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, boasting 31.5-inch arms, he employs a physical brand of football that meshes perfectly with Dallas’ new defensive mindset.
Speaking of which, it shouldn’t be discounted that McCarthy’s handpicked staff, featuring Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and Al Wilson and Maurice Linguist as the secondary coaches, are an (on-paper) improvement on the likes of Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard. Coaching, as the Cowboys can attest, is the difference between bad and average, good and great.
So while few will confuse their back end with the Legion of Boom, the unit can perform adequately as the sum of all its parts. It’s not perfect, but, hey, considering the front-seven pass-rushing talent, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
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Brandt Concerned with Cowboys’ CBs
He didn’t limit his opinion to the safeties. This collective hole also falls at the feet of the club’s CBs, a Byron Jones-less group led by Awuzie, Robinson, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown, second-round rookie Trevon Diggs, and veteran newcomer Daryl Worley.
Corner is also unsettled, however, with no one standing out as an obvious No. 1 in the wake of Byron Jones’ departure to the Dolphins via free agency. Dallas will have to hope rookies Trevon Diggs (a second-round pick) and Reggie Robinson (a fourth-rounder) are able to push for starting spots and allow Awuzie to move, with Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis and Daryl Worley also vying for snaps. However it shakes out, the Cowboys must get more turnovers on the back end after tying for last with Detroit and Arizona in interceptions (seven). The uncertainty in the secondary will only make it more critical for DeMarcus Lawrence — who logged just five sacks in 2019 — and the defensive front to generate pressure.
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