Dallas has a new day in their defensive secondary. Last year the team turned over their roster by drafting 4 players in the secondary (Awuzie, Lewis, Woods and White) and by the end of the year 3 of those guys were major contributors. This year the team shuffled the deck again by bringing in Seatlle Defensive Coordinator Kris Richard. Richard brings a new scheme as well as a new mentality for the direction of the secondary group.
One of the main things Richard focuses on in the secondary is length. His former Legion of Boom boasted tall lanky corners who may not be the most athletic, but they were able to disrupt routes and make plays on the ball. it appears he has brought the same philosophy in Dallas by the team signing a group of defensive backs all in the 6'2, 200 pound range. All of these guys seem to fit the mold for what Richard is looking for. He also has made a major change by shifting veteran free safety Byron Jones back to what he feels is a more natural position at corner. The question that must be addressed now is who fills in the position vacated by Jones.
The team currently has 2 players on the roster capable of filling in at the position. One is Xavier Woods, the 2nd year player drafted in 2017 in the 5th round who the team had a high draft grade on. He was known as a center fielder and ball hawk throughout his time in college and the thought is that this year will be his time to transition his talents in the NFL. Last year Woods spent his time as a big nickel corner in the secondary and performed well in the role. The early thoughts are that he may transition back to safety, but his production last year may suggest that nickel corner is his best position.
The next man up is veteran safety Jeff Heath. Heath was an undrafted rookie free agent who has shifted back and forth between free safety and strong safety over the past several years, but has not found his true home. He is an ultra-athletic player but he doesn't seem to have the instincts to be a center fielder or the hitting ability to play in the box at strong safety. No one can deny his ability to make big plays by being one of the team leaders in the secondary for interceptions and forced fumbles. Despite his big play ability, I think his best position would be as a strong safety or a reserve free safety brought in to make splash plays. He is also a valued asset on special teams and a limited role on defense may also enhance is special teams contribution.
Talk around the Cowboys team facility as well as the NFL is that the answer to Dallas' problems at free safety lies with Richard's former team. There have been almost weekly stories published about the team's desire to trade for veteran safety Earl Thomas. Talks were fueled when last year after the loss to Seattle, Thomas tracked down Coach Garrett and made a request for the team to "come get him". Unfortunately draft needs and salary cap have been roadblocks in attaining this player. However, there is one player on this current roster who has a similar height, weight, athletic attributes and ultra competitive nature as Earl Thomas: that player is Jourdan Lewis.
Despite Richard's desire for length in the secondary, Earl Thomas was an ultra productive player in his system. Listed officially as 5'10 202 pounds he was the leader of the Legion of Boom. He has amazing instincts and ball skills that translated into several pro bowl seasons. You would be surprised to know that Jourdan Lewis is officially listed as 5'10 195 pounds, only 7 pounds lighter than Thomas. You would also be surprised to know that as a rookie, Lewis finished 6th on the team in tackles with over 50 at the cb position while also being a team leader in passes defensed with 10. He has the ball skills to be able to make a play on the ball as well as the tenacity and attitude to be a sure tackler in the open field.
The team currently has Jones, Awuzie, and Brown as locked in corners who all show an ability to be starters. The team also has last year's draft pick Marquez White who will get an opportunity to play in a system that better suits his skillset. Let's not also forget about last year's training camp pet cat Duke Thomas who was well on his way to making the team before a preseason injury. And if the team needs further depth, they could always shift Woods back to the nickel position he played so well last season. What do you think about Jourdan Lewis playing free safety?