The coming out party towards the end of the 2020 season for Donovan Wilson was one of the best things to come out of the 2020 season. For a defense that showed questionable effort at times and had a lack of turnovers, an enforcer in the middle of the field who had two interceptions, three forced fumbles, and three quarterback hits was a breath of fresh air for Cowboys fans.
But now it’s 2021. Wilson is currently not practicing due to a minor injury, Xavier Woods is in Minnesota after leaving in free agency, and the Cowboys starting safeties heading into training camp are Damontae Kazee (who is still working back from a ruptured Achilles) and Jayron Kearse. While it’s important to know that it is still June, it’s also important to know that this organization has failed for over a decade when looking for an impactful player at the safety position. Even with Wilson showing some signs of life at the end of the 2020 season, we still need to note that his play in coverage leaves something to be desired.
While Wilson is known for being your more traditional box-safety, He actually played some free safety at times last year. With his versatility, and hopeful leaps made as a cover-man, Wilson is likely to earn one of the starting safety roles on defense, preferably the strong. That leaves the free safety spot, which should be Damontae Kazee’s if his Achilles allows it. While Kazee has been practicing in minicamp and OTA’s, Achilles injuries are one of the more difficult injuries to completely recover from.
The wildcard here is ultimately Keanu Neal. Neal signed with the Cowboys in free agency to a one-year, four-million dollar deal back in March. Neal, who has played some high-level football at strong safety for the Falcons throughout his career, has been playing linebacker in the early stages of OTA’s and minicamp. While that could be where he ends up playing, it’s not hard to imagine that if things go poorly at safety, that Dan Quinn wouldn’t want to at least try the former Pro Bowl safety at the position he was drafted to play in Quinn’s scheme back in 2016. Neal battled injuries in 2018 and 2019, but bounced back with a relatively healthy 2020 year starting 14 games for the Falcons.
If the Cowboys were set up at safety, the thought of Neal playing linebacker full-time would make a lot more sense, but with the safety depth chart currently looking like Donovan Wilson, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, Darian Thompson, and Israel Mukuamu, getting Neal reps at safety would probably be a wise choice for a team holding one of the worst safety groups in the National Football League.