It is no secret that the Dallas Cowboys have struggled to stop the pass. Whether it is because of troubles with the pass rush or the defensive backs in the secondary, the Cowboys knew that they needed to find a way to become better at defending the pass.
Insert Chidobe Awuzie.
The second-round selection out of Colorado has the ability to be the dynamic defender that the Dallas Cowboys need to reach the next step. At Colorado, Awuzie made an impact all over the field. Per Awuzie’s profile on Colorado football’s website, the dynamic defender saw action at four different spots all over the defense in Boulder.
One of the most versatile players in recent memory at CU, as he played all four positions in the secondary: cornerback, free and strong safety and nickel as well as some outside linebacker.
With the departures of Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, Brandon Carr, and J.J. Wilcox, the Cowboys staff looks to be heading in a direction of playing multiple players at different spots. We have seen this with Byron Jones already, so the coaching staff looks to be creating a fast, athletic, and versatile defense. ESPN’s Todd Archer notes the Cowboys’ mindset in selecting the talented defensive back from Colorado.
That multiplicity -- or position flex, as Dallas' coaches like to call it -- is what attracted the Cowboys to him with their second-round selection. The plan is to work Awuzie at outside cornerback first, but they don’t want to put limitations on him.
Archer talked to the new addition to the Cowboys’ revamped secondary. Awuzie feels that he can come right in and make plays for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, but he understands that learning the playbook is key — especially when wanting to play all around the secondary.
“Obviously, I feel like I can play all three at an elite level, so I think that’s one of the reasons they picked me – my versatility,” Awuzie said.
“I’ve got to get in my playbook, first off. If I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not going to be confident, I’m not going to be able to play fast,” Awuzie said. “At Colorado we had a saying: ‘Knowledge equals confidence equals playing fast.’ So the quicker I know my plays, playbook and understand the defense, I’ll start being able to be more confident – then I’ll probably be able to line up different places.”
The NFL is a copy-cat league. Therefore, with the success that defensive backs such as Kam Chancellor and Tyrann Mathieu have had for the Seahawks and Cardinals respectively, it is easy to see why the Cowboys are so interested in adding a player with Awuzie’s skill-set to the new-look defense in Dallas.
During pre-draft visits. Blogging The Boys’ own Joseph Hatz had an excellent report on Awuzie’s game. Here is some of what Hatz liked about the way the Cowboys’ second-round selection played in Boulder:
Excellent instincts in zone coverage, shows a natural feel for when to come off his primary receiver when he sees the ball in the air, also does a really nice job of reading through receivers to see where the ball is going, then driving on it to make the play. Fluid hips that allow him to open up and play trail technique from an initial press position, as well as carry receivers across the field laterally. Very smooth and light on his feet, changes direction easily with good lateral agility and side-to-side quickness. Polished footwork/backpedal. Shows good awareness to get his head around and locate the ball in the air.
Awuzie allows Dallas to become more flexible in how they want to play defense in the upcoming season. For example, he is listed at 6’0” and 202 pounds, giving him great size to defend big targets — such as Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Terrell Pryor. He is not afraid to battle with a bigger player and knows how to locate the football in the air. This gives Marinelli and company the option to play Awuzie in the slot or on the outside.
It is not only his size that impresses, though. His 4.43 40-time gives the talented Colorado alum more than enough speed to play with the faster playmakers around the NFC East — like Odell Beckham Jr., Torrey Smith, and Jamison Crowder. In the Pac-12 Championship Game, Awuzie often found himself matched up with speedster John Ross. He was able to hold his own, like on the play below:
As well as this play on the goal line:
Another dimension that Awuzie adds to a defense is his ability to blitz the passer. Jim Leavtt, Awuzie’s defensive coordinator in Boulder, loved to use his jack-of-all trades defensive back in a variety of different formations and packages. Colorado loved to put pressure in the passing game, and Awuzie often found himself blitzing off the edge, like this play against UCLA.
Awuzie knows how to deliver a hit, too. Not a single Michigan player sees number four running off the edge. The result? This:
With Dallas wanting to find any help it can get with pressuring the quarterback, don’t be surprised if Awuzie is in the other’s teams backfield next season.
Led by Chidobe Awuzie, the Dallas Cowboys are in for a major update in the back-end of the defense. Marinelli did a great job getting the best out of his players last season, but now he has the skill players necessary to match up with a variety of different offenses. With the NFC East having a ton of weapons all over the field, this is great news.
The addition of Chidobe Awuzie is a perfect for what Dallas looks to be wanting to do — a defense filled with “position-less” players all over the field. This style of defense gives more flexibility with personnel and play calls. Awuzie is the perfect fit for that style of play. With his versatility, expect Awuzie to hear his name called at many different spots on the field this upcoming season in the Big D.