“You Can Dance If You Want To”: The Dallas Cowboys Safety Dance
There hasn’t been a more contested position in the last 10 seasons or so than that of The Safety. Since the departure of Darren Woodson this organization has tried to replicate the success that Woodson brought to the position, but is that really fair for fans to expect? Darren Woodson is a sure fire Hall-Of-Famer, but to expect every Safety to come around and be that is simply not realistic. Nonetheless, it seems as though this position has been one of the biggest question-marks since.
The switch to the 4-3 scheme brought on a few questions this offseason, one of them “who’s going to play Safety?” The past few seasons have seen a revolving door of Safeties from Abe Elam to Charlie Peprah and even Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was given a shot. None of these have been the answer and this season hasn’t offered any concrete answers thus far either.
November 17, 2012; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (17) runs with the ball against Georgia Southern Eagles safety JJ Wilcox (19) during the first quarter at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
To really analyze this situation, you have to garner all of the facts. Barry Church really impressed the Coaches with his effort last offseason; however coming off an Achilles injury when you didn’t have much speed to begin with is a concern. Matt Johnson was injured all but 5 minutes last year, that’s another concern. Will Allen seems to be the only Safety on the Roster that has the experience but also a good track record coming in, but is he ready for more than a Special Teams or Package role with this organization? The 3rd round selections of J.J. Wilcox is very intriguing, but let’s remember he has 1 year at the position. The Cowboys expressed elation with being able to acquire Jakar Hamilton as well, but time will tell if he’s able to make it through and take roster spot.
The answer to these questions is competition. I don’t feel it’s far fetched to believe that this cannot be the biggest battle of the offseason. So much hype surrounds Matt Johnson, as he was a 4th round selection last year whose tape has caught the eye of every scout and coach to view it. In fact even I’m impressed with his tape and I’m a laymen. In all seriousness, the competition is going to drive this Dallas Cowboys squad to become the effective team they are capable of. After looking at the many moves and transactions made this offseason one word jumps out at me; coaching.
Arguably the biggest occurrence this offseason was the firing of Rob Ryan. Shortly after Monte Kiffin came in and brought Rod Marinelli with him. Looking at the lineage of the Cowboys coaching staff is phenomenal on paper. We could go back and forth on whether or not Rob Ryan’s performance warranted termination, but that’s really not the meat and potatoes here. Though questions will continue to linger about Kiffin’s most recent performance at USC and his age until this unit is seen, one thing that shouldn’t be dismissed is his ability to coach.
Coaching seems to be a key factor in the decisions made thus far this offseason. It seems as though these Coaches are going to play an even more major role in how this Defense is operated not only now but in the distant future. The change back to the 4-3 is going to make it fun for these defensive backs in this system. Carr has already stated that Claiborne and himself will be required to do what their skill set defines them as, and that is to be up close to the Receiver and contest him every chance you get. The 4-3 will require these Safeties to split the field in half as the Strong Safety comes up to the flat and middle whilst the Free Safety covers the back-end preying on mistakes from Quarterbacks. The Free Safety will also play single high and will need to show athleticism in playing “jump-ball”. The Strong Safety will be required to make tackles and forceful game-changing hits as well as play over the Tight End at times.
Kiffin was quoted by Jerry during the Draft about Jerry wanting “rangy, hybrid-like” safeties; Kiffin’s reply was “go get me some tough, athletic, speedy guys that can play football.” That was all Kiffin really said about the position; make no mistake Jerome Henderson will have his work cut out for him once again, but Henderson did a commendable job with the unfortunate events that occurred on this defense last season. So tough guys….check…..athletic guys…..check…..speedy……check…..football players is a no brainer.
There is a lot to be made of the recent positive comments coming from some of the Defensive players regarding the scheme thus far. The new Coaches on this side of the ball will do their best to change the atmosphere of this Defense. The Safety position is a good place to start. Safeties are often given the nickname of “quarterbacks of the defense”; and it’s not too far off to think that one of these guys can step up and be that guy for this defense. Coaching will be a key, but motivation and execution will be what gets these prospects on the 53.