In my opinion, defensive backs are the hardest position to evaluate. In particular, safety is a very hard position to look at. Safeties are very versatile players and are the last line of defense on most plays. If you want to see a safety make a play, that usually means someone else messed up on the defense. If the safety can’t make the play, then they get the blame for their teammate’s mistake. It is especially tough to examine the Cowboys safety, since we haven’t seen much of them. Despite the difficulty examining safeties, let’s look at Barry Church.
Barry Church emerged in the offseason last year, and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the starting position. He beat out Brodney Pool, the recently signed free agent safety, for the spot. Unfortunately, Church injured his Achilles and missed 13 games in his first season as a starter. Church ran a poor 40 yard dash for a safety, clocking in at the 4.6-4.7 range. He plays faster on the field than the time suggests, but he could look slower because of his injury. The one thing I liked out of Church was that he was a good tackler. He goes low and tries to wrap the legs. He certainly was a lot better in deep coverage than I thought, though most of the time he was an in the box safety. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cowboys will use Barry Church next year.
Not much is known about our other starting safety. Right now it is projected to be Matt Johnson, who hasn’t played many snaps in the regular season, but the coaching staff loves Matt Johnson. Hopefully, this is a good sign. Will Allen is another name that could start for us next year. He’s familiar with Monte Kiffin’s scheme, but is a stop gap solution at this point of his career. Don’t expect too much from him.
Last year our major free agent signing was Brandon Carr. He was brought in to fix the huge hole we had at cornerback last year. Carr would be our new number one cornerback, and would be a solid addition to the team. He was a significant upgrade over the aging Terrance Newman, and played well in 2012. In the beginning of the season, Carr was expected to play a lot of press coverage. Due to the injury to the safeties though, Rob Ryan had him play a lot more off coverage. Carr showed he was effective in both press and off coverage. Carr was usually lined up across from big physical receivers such as Brandon Marshall, Hakeem Nicks, Vincent Jackson, and Marques Colston. He matched up decently against them but his worst game was against the Bears where he battled with Brandon Marshall. Marshall had 7 receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown. Besides that game, Carr played well for the rest of year and did not get consistently bear. His best game was against Tampa Bay where he faced off against Vincent Jackson and held him down to only one catch for 29 yards. One thing that I would like to see from Carr is more turnovers. He only caught three interceptions last year. Hopefully that will improve, since Carr will get to play more zone coverage next year. Carr was a solid number one corner for us last year. Expect big things from him next year when we face off against the AFC West, a division that he is very familiar with.
The Cowboys made a shocking move in the NFL draft, when they traded up to get the best cornerback prospect. Morris Claiborne had a solid rookie season, and he played very similarly to his mentor, Brandon Carr. One thing that stuck out to me about Claiborne, is his willingness to tackle runningback. This is a great trait to have on a cornerback, and makes him a more complete player. Like Carr, Claiborne played a lot of press in the beginning of the year, but was asked to play off receivers more due to injuries. Claiborne showed he was more effective in press coverage and struggled when asked to play off his man. In particular, Claiborne had trouble containing the Eagles’ Jason Avant. For a rookie, Claiborne played very well. He would have some mental lapses, and would get burned as a result. He was also beaten with short routes and needs to improve. At LSU, Claiborne was known for his ability of locating the ball and getting interceptions. We only saw one interception from Claiborne this year. Over time he should be able to improve on his weaknesses.
Lastly, Orlando Scandrick is our nickel cornerback. There seems to be mixed opinions on Scandrick. Some people hate him, while others think he’s great in the slot. I’m in the middle with him. He’s not a shut down corner, but he’s not a liability in our defense. Scandrick’s main attribute is his quickness which is perfect for a slot corner. He also has the speed to keep up with most wide receivers. Once in a while, Scandrick will make some mental mistakes. One thing that bothers me about him is that he’s a poor tackler. This year he is in danger of losing his nickelback position to rookie B.W. Webb, who is an athletic but raw corner.
The defensive backs have a lot of questions surrounding them. There are a lot of upsides to them, such as Barry Church, Matt Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and B.W. Webb. It is a young group, which is in a crucial stage of development right now. This could be a very good group of players in the near future.