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Cowboys news: Exploring possible position changes on the Cowboys new look defense

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Plus, more on the Cowboys draft class.

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Chidobe Awuzie to safety? Cowboys explore position switches on defense - Michael Gehlken, Dallas Morning News

It sure seems like the Cowboys are looking at more then one position change for their new defense.

The ability to put any plan into practice is hardly ideal. All on-field NFL activities this spring were canceled to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a normal year, Cowboys coaches could assess their rookie class on the field at a three-day minicamp. There would be OTAs and two other spring minicamps, too, where coaches could analyze the roster before making any determinations.

No such practices can occur until July, at the earliest, when the Cowboys are scheduled to hold training camp. Awuzie is entering the final season of his contract. Just as how his struggles against the Eagles in Week 16 have echoed into the offseason, so too have they for Smith.

The 2016 second-round pick from Notre Dame wore the defense’s in-helmet speaker in 2019, relaying play calls from Kris Richard on the sideline to teammates on the field. Smith confused the zone coverage when communicating a call to linebacker Malcolm Smith on a long reception that set up a score. That was just one play, of course. But overall, despite his first Pro Bowl appearance, Smith’s season was considered a step back from 2018.

Film room: 3 UDFAs who have best shot to make Cowboys’ roster, including Dallas’ most intriguing signing - John Owning, Dallas Morning News

The Cowboys have some good history with UDFAs making the team. Who will be next?

TCU’s Darius Anderson may have received the biggest bonus among the UDFA running backs signed by the Cowboys, but South Carolina’s Rico Dowdle is unquestionably the most talented one.

A troubling medical history is most likely why Dowdle went undrafted, because he definitely has a draftable and well-rounded skill set that teams should value. Dowdle got injured every season he saw playing time at South Carolina. As a freshman, he missed time because of a tweaked groin and hernia surgery. A broken fibula in his left leg ended his sophomore season early. As a junior, an ankle injury caused him to miss time. And during his senior year, Dowdle missed two games because of a right knee injury.

But if he can stay healthy, Dowdle is a decent bet to win Dallas’ No. 3 running back job behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Measuring in at 5-11, 213 pounds, Dowdle has NFL-caliber size to go with explosive athleticism. Dowdle is a hard-charging back who displays impressive contact balance. He does an excellent job of taking the fight to defenders, making them absorb his impact and not vice versa, which allows him to pinball his way through defenses on occasion.

With CeeDee Lamb pick in NFL draft, Cowboys asking offense to lead way - Todd Archer, ESPN.com

After picking a wide receiver at 17, the Cowboys clearly are trusting their offense to carry the team.

An offense stacked with quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, tight end Blake Jarwin and a still-solid offensive line (even with the retirement of Travis Frederick) would be the envy of a lot of teams in the NFL. And it appears comparable to two of the better offensive teams the Cowboys have fielded in the past decade. In 2014, Tony Romo had his best season (34 touchdowns, nine interceptions) with DeMarco Murray leading the NFL in rushing (1,845 yards) and Dez Bryant leading the NFL in touchdown catches (16).

In 2016, the Cowboys went 13-3 with Prescott throwing 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Elliott led the NFL in rushing and Frederick, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin were All-Pro offensive linemen. Both of those teams lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to McCarthy's Packers, but those Dallas teams were led by offenses that ultimately helped the defenses become better, too.

In 2014, the Cowboys scored at least 30 points in 10 games, including three in which they topped 40. They held the ball on average for 32 minutes, 22 seconds per game. In 2016, the Cowboys scored at least 30 points in six games, including one with more than 40. They held the ball on average for 31:41. Theoretically, the more you score and control the ball, the easier it is on your defense.

Dallas Cowboys Rookie Class Can Make a Big Impact in 2020 - John Williams, Inside The Star

Could this rookie class be the most impactful one Dallas has had since 2016?

CeeDee Lamb may not be the lead wide receiver for this offense this season, but his ability to play in the slot and on the outside will help take this offense to another level in 2020. They were outstanding last year. If everything goes right this season, they have a chance to be the league’s best.

Also, on the offensive side of the ball, Tyler Biadsz could make a run at the starting center position. Though Joe Looney, the 2018 starter, figures to be at the head of the center competition, Biadsz, the Rimington Award winner and First-Team All-American, has the talent and the pedigree to take that job in training camp.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dallas Cowboys selected two cornerbacks in Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson II that figure to compete for starting spots in year one. The Dallas Cowboys were intent on finding a cornerback or two that had size, length, could play press-man coverage and affect the football.

Daryl Worley to the Cowboys: Signing combines with draft class to warn of coming shifts in Dallas secondary - Patrik Walker, CBSSports.com

It’s becoming evident that the Cowboys approach on coaching the secondary will be much different than in past seasons.

The overall plan for the Cowboys secondary in 2020 is relatively straightforward, in that they want to do away with much of their usually-seen zone coverage packages and install many more press options that help disrupt timing and drive takeaways. To do that, they need uber-physical corners on the front lines, and their new additions show their subway barreling down the right track. Landing a physical, aggressive ballhawk like Diggs fills the void created by losing Jones followed by Robinson, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete who also runs a 4.44s 40-yard dash, adds to the signing of Worley to make for a rather obvious blueprint.

"Really good athletes [that are] long," defensive backs coach Al Harris said of the latest additions, via 105.3FM the Fan. "The type of cornerbacks we're looking for? Big bodies that can run. ... I'm a fan of the bigger guys. If you look at the WR trends, they're not getting smaller. "They're getting bigger and faster."

As a footnote, Robinson's speed would be more beneficial at corner if he can press, cover and attack the ball better than Awuzie -- who himself ran a 4.43s 40-yard dash before being selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. Awuzie has had trouble consistently getting his head around to take the ball away, so it'd make sense the team would consider having him play face-forward in 2020. A scenario wherein the starting outside corners are Diggs and Robinson, with Awuzie rotating at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Xavier Woods is not out of the question, but instead feels like a distinct possibility (barring injury).

2020 NFL Draft: Top 10 drafts according to the PFF draft board - Michael Renner, PFF.com

Where do the Cowboys rank among the top 10 drafts according to PFF?

1. DALLAS COWBOYS

Everyone and their mother is raving about the Cowboys’ draft this year, and it’s easy to see why. Their first three picks of CeeDee Lamb (sixth on PFF’s board), Trevon Diggs (31st) and Neville Gallimore (51st) all offered great surplus-value according to the PFF draft board. It didn’t stop there, though, as their selection of Tyler Biadasz in the fourth round represented 0.1 WAR over expectation as the 87th player on our board heading in.

2. CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Browns exited the first three rounds as the only team to have taken three players in the top-25 on PFF’s draft board. Missouri defensive tackle Jordan Elliott was one of the biggest steals of the draft, as he ranked 23rd on our draft board and was selected with pick No. 88. That represented a surplus-value of 0.35 WAR over expectation.

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