The Dallas Cowboys will be starting the regular season with a laundry list of concerns. There is little doubt that injuries are at the top of that list. But you could also make a case about their lack of depth on both the offensive and defensive lines. Some may even consider the play of quarterback Tony Romo as a major concern. But one area that has been widely ignored in the media is the Cowboys current situation at both of their defensive safety positions. And it is an area that could all too quickly sink the Cowboys 2013 season.
Dallas is expected to start veterans Barry Church and Will Allen at those safety positions when the season begins on September 8th. But both players come into the Cowboys 2013 season with major question marks surrounding them and their play.
Church is going into his fourth season as a Cowboy after being an undrafted free agent out of Toledo in 2010. He started his career as a contributor on special teams and eventually became more involved in the defense, but only in certain packages. In 2012, Church impressed coaches enough to win the starting strong safety job which lead to veteran free agent Brodney Pool being released a week into training camp. But his reign as a starter was short lived. In Week Three against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Church torn his right Achilles’ tendon and was done for the season.
Church makes his return in 2013 under a new defensive coordinator in Monte Kiffin and a new defensive scheme. Not only must he try to return to his previous form from last year, but Church must also switch positions. Despite being a strong safety and nickle contributor his entire career, Barry is now apparently needed at free safety due to the Cowboys lack of talent and depth at that position.
To sum it all up: We are asking Church, who has less then three full games as a starter under his belt and is returning from a season-ending injury, to step and play a position that he has never played professionally before all while learning a new defensive scheme. Sounds like the makings of a possible disaster to me.
Will Allen is a step-up when it comes to experience…just not as a starter in the NFL. The 10-year veteran has only 33 career starts total. But Allen is coming off a good year last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers recording 34 tackles in 16 games. That was his highest total in six years. Whether Allen can excel as a starter in the NFL is still a major question. But he has experience playing under Kiffin’s defensive scheme and that should shorten his learning curve.
The depth behind Church and Allen is iffy as well. Second year safety Matt Johnson has struggled with injuries during his brief career. If Johnson could ever make it on the field for more than just one game at a time, he could possibly compete for the starting role currently occupied by Allen. But he’ll need to prove he’s more durable first.
Rookie safety J.J. Wilcox, the Cowboys’ third round draft pick out of Georgia Southern, has impressed in the preseason. It’s kind of amazing when you consider the former running back and slot receiver played just one year of defense in college. But Wilcox still has a long way to go when it comes to learning the new defensive scheme. He missed last weekend’s game against the Arizona Cardinals because of the death of his mother. Wilcox is expected back this week, but the missed time will set him back even more mentally.
Veterans Eric Frampton and Danny McCray have safety experience but are mostly special team players. Newcomers Micah Pellerin. Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton will all be struggling to make the final roster cut.
Although widely ignored, the safety positions may be the Cowboys’ weakest area on the team and it’s eventual Achilles’ Heel. Dallas’ coaching staff is gambling big time and they’ve placed their money on “hope” instead of “fact” when it comes to their shaky defensive backfield this season. They “hope” Church returns to form. They “hope” Allen can show he has the talent to be a starter in the NFL. They “hope” Johnson can get healthy and back on the field. And they “hope” Wilcox can acquire enough playbook knowledge to contribute this season. And I “hope” the coaches’ gamble pays off and they don’t end up “rolling a seven” and “crapping out”.