The Dallas Cowboys went all in when it came to revamping their secondary this offseason. Gone were veteran starters at cornerback - Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne - and starting safety Barry Church. Backup safety J.J. Wilcox, who saw a lot of playing time, was also let go.
That left the Cowboys with some veterans, but depth that was severely lacking. In the draft, the Cowboys snatched up four defensive backs; they drafted three corners in Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Marquez White, along with Xavier Woods at safety.
They might not be thrust into action right away, but it’s a good bet at least one or two will have to play significant snaps for the team before the season is over. How well they adapt could be a huge key for the Cowboys’ 2017 season.
At corner, the team has two veterans who have been around the block a few times in Nolan Carroll and Orlando Scandrick. The third corner is second-year player Anthony Brown. He is the template for what the Cowboys hope this year’s crop of corners will be. Brown was forced into action last year after a run of injuries. He performed well, and by the end of the year was playing as well as anybody.
Injuries are a fact of football, in the NFL you need four corners at a minimum who can play because you use three routinely and it’s a given that someone will get injured along the way. Just look at Brown, who is trying to recover from a hamstring injury. We try to avoid talking about it, but injuries (or suspensions in Carroll’s case) will likely force some of the young corners into games.
Darren Woodson recently discussed the expectations for these young guys:
Woodson: "Listen, if they're playing this year, their expectation level goes up. You don't have any choice but to expect something out of these guys this year. I expect a lot out of Jourdan Lewis this year. The situation is: They don't have anything else. There isn't a veteran player to lean on, so if you make the team, I expect you to play well, and that's not gonna be any different for Xavier Woods, or Jourdan Lewis, or whomever it is that's taking a role out there. Are they gonna go through their lumps early on in the season? Absolutely. Will they get better as the season progresses? Yes. And for the two young corners, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, they're your early picks, and the expectation that I hear from training camp and hear about what they've done in the OTAs, there's something about these kids. There's an aggressiveness. This secondary has lacked ball skills and going after balls and being aggressive and making tackles, and the Cowboys went out and drafted two young guys right now that they expect to come up and make tackles and make big plays on the football this year."
The Cowboys went after these guys for their ball skills, the previous versions of the secondary just weren’t making plays on the ball and creating turnovers. But aggressive corners can also be burnt corners if they don’t come up with the ball.
It’s not like the Cowboys are particular deep at their last line of defense either - the safety position. Byron Jones is a versatile piece they can move around the field, but next to him they are elevating backup/special teams star Jeff Heath. Behind them are a mix of low-level veterans (Robert Blanton) and yet-to-be-proven youngsters (Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier). Chidobe Awuzie is an interesting player as he could possibly slide between cornerback and safety much like Byron Jones did.
The point being that the Cowboys more than likely will have to rely on a rookie or two for significant playing time at points in the season in their secondary. Last year they struck gold when Anthony Brown was able to step up. Can it work again?
What say you BTB, are you confident in the Cowboys secondary or will it be an issue that the offense will have to overcome week-to-week?