Safeties may not be regarded as the most important defensive positions in the NFL. In this generation many football experts would say that the most important defensive position is an elite pass rusher. But this should not minimize how valuable safeties can be, as they are often the final barrier in keeping the opposing offenses out of the end zone.
The Dallas Cowboys have had some good safeties including 6 time Pro Bowler Cliff Harris(1970-1979), Charlie Waters(1970-1981) with 3 Pro Bowls, 5 time Pro Bowler Darren Woodson(1992-2003), and Roy Williams(2002-2008) with 5 Pro Bowls. While Roy Williams was great at stopping the run, his weakness was giving up big pass plays. Williams was released after the 2008 season. Since then, the Cowboys have been trying to find a tandem of safeties with better cover skills to adjust to a more passing friendly NFL.
Jerry Jones signed Gerald Sensabaugh to a 5 year 22 million dollar deal last season. The value of the contract may have been more based on his versatility, durability, and loyalty to the team than on sheer talent alone. No matter how the Cowboys fans feel about Sensabaugh, he is going to be one piece of the safety backfield in the near future.
Finding a safety to pair up with Sensabaugh has been proven to be a difficult task. The Cowboys have started Alan Ball and Abram Elam in each of the last 2 years. Both players are no longer with the team. This year Brodney Pool was signed to a one year deal with the Cowboys. His knowledge of Rob Ryan’s defense made him a favorite to win the starting safety position opposite of Sensabaugh. But after failing an initial conditioning test and with reports indicating that Barry Church is having a strong start to camp, Pool may not be the clear favorite to win the position battle.
The Cowboys also tried to fill the need of a safety, via the draft, by picking Matt Johnson in the 4th round this year. Not much was known about Johnson as he played college football at the inconspicuous Eastern Washington University. With solid combine numbers, high football intelligence, and a proven instinct to make big plays(17 career interceptions in college while missing most of his senior year), the Cowboys hope they have someone who can be a permanent contributor at safety, especially going into the 2013 season.
This will be a hard fought competition between Brodney Pool, Barry Church, and Matt Johnson for the lone open safety position on the team’s 2012 opening day starting roster. The player that comes out on top will surely be battle tested and highly prepared to start this season. This fierce 3 way battle will ultimately benefit the Cowboys’ last line of defense.