Coming into this season the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff and front office knew that they had to focus on rebuilding a secondary that was unable to really stop anyone last season. First they brought back Jourdan Lewis and C.J. Goodwin, then the re-building began when they signed former Dan Quinn safeties Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee. That didn’t end their search in free agency as they also went out and got another safety in Jayron Kearse.
Just looking at the moves made there it’s pretty clear that they wanted to bring in veterans that knew the new scheme that Quinn was going to be implementing. Players that know how to handle themselves but also are able to teach the younger players, like last year's standout second-round pick Trevon Diggs, who had a great season but is going into his second year learning a new system all over again. But the team wasn’t done yet, as they would go on to add cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright, and CB/safety Israel Mukuamu through the draft in an effort to stockpile players they believe can help this secondary.
While Joseph and Wright are seeming battling each other for the starting position opposite Diggs, Mukuamu will be transitioning to safety where they believe his height and ball skills will benefit him down the line. With all of these players on the roster, plus holdover Anthony Brown, the thought that his defensive unit would be able to come together quickly still seemed to be a stretch. It was hard to believe that a bunch of injured castaways, holdovers, and rookies were going to be able to turn this around and create a formidable secondary.
So far, though, the talk early in camp seems to be about how well this secondary is practicing and working on the field. They are confident and aren’t backing down from the talented receivers on this Cowboys roster led by quarterback Dak Prescott. In fact, they’ve been able to pick off Prescott and get their hands on balls quite a few times, and just when you thought things couldn’t get any better for the Cowboys secondary, they go out and add former Indianapolis Colts first-round pick Malik Hooker who could be anything from depth to a start in the secondary.
What the Cowboys have done is add size and speed at the corner position, and added two ball-hawking safeties that can man the middle of the field while taking away the deep ball threat that broke this team's confidence in almost every game. Having just the size and speed at cornerback isn’t enough for this defense, but the addition of Hooker now gives this defense a new dimension to the way they are able to play teams. They now have the ability to either interchange Kazee and Hooker to keep them both fresh for the season which helps them in the long run, or they can play them at the same time, making it more difficult for quarterbacks to get faster guys on their slower safeties.
This new combination of Kazee and Hooker may have turned this secondary into a possible strength for this defense instead of the perceived weakness that many believe it to be. Quinn’s going to be able to come up with some crazy schemes thanks to the talent he now has on the back end of his defense, and that will allow him to take chances at times knowing that he has players back there to make team’s pay if there’s a poorly thrown ball in the air. Kelvin Joseph may be right in his early assessment of this secondary calling them “Airplane Mode” because it’s a no-fly zone.
There’s along way to go. Preseason games will tell us more, then the ultimate test comes in the regular season. Still, there does seem to be a noticeable improvement in the secondary based on the Cowboys’ plans to get players who will attack the football. The addition of Hooker just adds one more element to a secondary that might surprise everyone with their play in 2021.