When it comes to the construction of the Dallas Cowboys 2023 roster, loaded with many of the same players that took this team to the NFC Divisional playoffs a year ago, there isn’t a better pair of coaches for fringe players to find favor with than Dan Quinn and John Fassel. Under Fassel as special teams coordinator, players like Markquese Bell can be valued as more than just roster outcasts that are easily replaceable. Instead they can be core contributors in the third phase of the game.
Add in the proven player development that Quinn has used to put the Cowboys defense near the top of the league in his three seasons, and a player like Bell that caught the eye of Quinn as far back as the draft process in 2022 is inching towards a much bigger role with the team in his second season.
The UDFA out of Florida A&M (and teammate of fellow UDFA hopeful Isaiah Land) played in five games for the Cowboys last season, but only saw 22 snaps on defense compared to 80 on special teams. Due to the unfortunate season-ending injury suffered by rookie linebacker Demarvion Overshown against the Seahawks, Bell has an opportunity for many more snaps on defense now.
In his limited playing time through training camp and two weeks of the preseason, Overshown was already showing flashes as the next hybrid matchup player for Quinn to deploy on the second level. Blending the roles of safeties and linebackers in the box to create clutter in the middle of the field and confuse offenses has been a staple under Quinn, where players like Donovan Wilson and Jayron Kearse have thrived. Overshown was still looking to factor into the team’s plan even with Wilson and Kearse locked into the starting lineup though, showing a need for true stand-up linebackers that only gets bigger in his absence.
Bell is technically another safety by trade, but in an otherwise forgettable game made splashes against the Seahawks by setting a strong edge from the weak side against the run and reading his keys quickly to avoid blocks. This will be critical in Bell’s ability to defend the run, something he’s already preparing for as his workload increases to include more than just big safety or “Dime” looks.
S Markquese Bell spent some time with the LBs to help with the loss of Overshown. “I’ve been getting reps in our dime package anyways, so it’s pretty normal,” he said. “Just some packages that we don’t have in dime, I just got to get used to them, get used to the run fits."— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) August 23, 2023
Bell’s size is prototypical to above average for a traditional safety, but undersized at linebacker - making up for this with the speed and length to shed blocks and stay clean. The Cowboys were already going to be counting on bigger linebackers like Leighton Vander Esch and Damone Clark a lot this season to mix in with these hybrid players, and that doesn’t change in any scenario where Bell gets a chance to run with the starters.
Mark Lane and I covered both players that caught our eye against the Seahawks, and how the roster outlook changes without Overshown on this week’s edition of the Hidden Yardage podcast. Hear our reactions to every game on Monday afternoons as part of the Blogging the Boys podcast network on Apple and Spotify.
“If we’re going to find a positive with this (Overshown) news, it’s a real path for Bell to play some snaps. Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker, and Jayron Kearse is considered one of the best safety triplets in the league, this gives the Cowboys a chance to create even more mismatches with four.”
As far as the Cowboys official depth chart that hasn’t changed since the start of the preseason, Micah Parsons, Vander Esch, Clark, and Jabril Cox still make up the two-deep at linebacker. With Cox playing 60% of the snaps in Seattle, the Cowboys are trying to get him as many reps as it takes to get up to speed for a potentially larger role, but given the seemingly endless list of players mentioned here that can play on the second level, the Cowboys have more than enough personnel groupings to lean into that ease the loss of a very promising third-round pick with Overshown.