Safety has long been an issue for the Dallas Cowboys. Even as picks came and went throughout the 2021 draft, fans and media alike were wondering if Dallas would finally use a top 100 pick on the safety position. That answer of course was not this year. That led to the talking point that is widely discussed and scrutinized: what is the team’s philosophy on the position and why does it seem to be so widely different than the rest of the league?
Since the departure of Darren Woodson the Cowboys have just not been able to find, and maintain, a star or high-level player at the position for an extended period of time. Plugging in players to fill needs rather than attacking the position via the draft or free agency has been the recipe, and it was clear that the position was not of high value to the past coaching staff. As a result, the position and the passing defense as a whole has suffered consistently. With the addition of Dan Quinn and his defensive philosophy, there seems to be a changing of the guard of sorts as he has prioritized length and size as well as bringing in Damontae Kazee to man the free safety/centerfield type role. They will look to him be a familiar presence in the back end as well as Quinn will lean on Kazee to help acclimate his new teammates to Quinn’s coaching style and techniques. Kazee is a playmaker and a ball-hawk in his own right, and adding him to this roster could be beneficial for a multitude of reasons.
New Cowboys S Damontae Kazee tied for NFL lead with 10 INTs during 2018 and 2019 seasons. Just one pick fewer than entire Cowboys secondary combined in that period. DC Dan Quinn and secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. get their guy. pic.twitter.com/JyqXBcnp8R— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 26, 2021
None more important than his familiarity within Quinn’s system and being able to help his teammates get comfortable as they work on the field and in the meeting room. However, where this defensive secondary will thrive and achieve a higher level of play is through the development of Donovan Wilson, and how his hard-hitting style of play can develop into a well-rounded complete safety in 2021.
In 2020, Wilson saw his first consistent action in the Cowboys secondary, and was a play-maker that inspired hope for the future in a year for a defense that did not provide much opportunity for praise. Wilson was able to tally two interceptions, 3.5 sacks, and 48 solo tackles while bringing in a respectable PFF grade of 72. He is the type of player that is not afraid to stick his nose in the mess and was rated as PFF’s highest-graded blitzing safety in the NFL last year. He is capable of meeting running backs in the hole and making receivers second guess going over the middle for a ball, allowing Dallas to have a much needed enforcer in their secondary for years to come.
Even as a rookie in limited preseason reps, it was clear that there was something about Wilson and the way he played the game. He consistently found a way to be around the ball and he is capable of changing games with his big-hit ability. Pairing Wilson with Kazee, while having Quinn getting him to buy in and be a part of a scheme that can let his ability and athleticism shine, is a recipe for a big jump in 2021.
There is a real chance that with the development of Wilson and the addition of Kazee in a scheme provided by Quinn, that we could be talking about the safety position as a strength instead of a weakness of this Dallas defense. Kazee’s health is important and all indications are that he looks good and will be ready to go when the time comes as he has gotten some OTA work over the last two weeks. The development of other players at the position will be vital as well. Both Wilson and Kazee have missed games in their careers and the next man up will need to be equipped to step in produce when their number is called.
Only time will tell if Dan Quinn was the correct hire for this team and there are a few months and many practices from now until the season starts, but the development and production of this safety unit could be a tell tale sign on how the teams defense has responded to Quinn.
Keanu Neal on Dan Quinn: “He’s hands-on. His philosophy is the same. He believes in attacking, full speed, fast, physical.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 26, 2021
Damontae Kazee: “He looks for dogs. He wants people running to the ball every play.” (Video via the Cowboys)
Story: https://t.co/3t5vP5lLf2 pic.twitter.com/crX1BFqrbd
There is reason to believe that the moves the Cowboys have made this offseason could pay off, and when it’s all said and done, we could very well end up discussing how this safety unit is now a strength and not a weakness for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021.