In life, change is inevitable. In the National Football League, change is constant. And no one is immune: Not coaches, players, schemes, or general managers. This season’s Dallas Cowboys roster is a good example.
Having said that, there are a few things that don’t change. In reference to the Cowboys, one of those is the lack of attention and resources the organization has placed on the defensive safety position.,
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In 1992, the Cowboys drafted Darren Woodson in the second round with the thirty second overall pick. As we all know, that was a brilliant draft decision. It is likely that he will make it into the NFL Hall of Fame and presumably the teams distinguished Ring of Honor.
There have been some good safeties besides Woodson take the field for the Cowboys over the years but the team has never been one to use high draft picks on a safety or go after upper echelon safeties in free agency.
Some analysts and pundits have used this deference to the safety position by the team as one of the reasons the team has not fielded consistently top ranked defenses the last twenty years and therefore with that has come the lack of playoff success.
Safety Barry Church has been a very serviceable player and a model citizen off the field. He has been strong in run support safety over his career and is regarded as having a high football IQ.
In this age of the NFL, where tight ends are more receiver than tight end and there are so many athletic freaks playing the position, a lot more safeties like retired Ed Reed are needed to contain offenses.
When studying the best defenses of the last ten years, each one of them featured at least one highly talented safety.
There is a host of changes coming to the Cowboys defense this season, when the dust finally settles, don’t be surprised to see Church on the bench a lot more than previous seasons.
To combat the pass heavy game plans and formations of the average NFL offense, the nickel defense is often employed over forty percent of the plays. Your safeties need to be able to not only cover the tight end but even some wide receivers.
This has just destroyed the Cowboys defense consistently over the years. A good safety needs to be able to understand angles and properly judge the speed of the skill players on offense. Another attribute is the ability to read the opposing the quarterback.
Unfortunately, that player hasn’t existed since Woodson’s retirement. The Cowboys drafted J.J. Wilcox to play along side Church. Wilcox has shown flashes but has not shown the instincts to be a game changing player.
Rookie Byron Jones showed the ability to cover, having played corner his junior and senior seasons. He has also demonstrated the instincts in the open field to play safety, having played well in that position his freshman and sophomore seasons at UConn.
His intelligence is off the charts and he is a student of the game.
In mini camps and OTA’s, Jones has not disappointed. By all reports he has shown even more skill than the team expected. Of course that is in underwear but secondary positions are played much closer to real football in these non-contact practices than offensive and defensive lineman.
In the defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s nickel defense, expect to see cornerback Brandon Carr to play right corner, cornerback Orlando Scandrick to take over Carr’s left corner position, newly acquired Corey White to play the slot, his best position, with Jones and Wilcox will playing safety. Jones will normally cover the tight end.
Although still new to safety having not played there much in college, Wilcox has shown the ability to cover, especially when playing over the top of the other teams best receiver. Unfortunately Wilcox still struggles with angles and reading quarterbacks.
So this lineup leaves Church on the bench. Because of depth, I wouldn’t count on the team parting ways with him just yet. But if Jones shows the ability to play both corner and safety, I would bet that this is Church’s last season with the team
In today’s NFL, the toughest decision for fans is which jersey to gamble on buying. I have a closet full of former player jerseys, and they are not the classic retired player type. I suppose you were safe with the Tony Romo jersey and maybe the Jason Witten.
The NFL is getting younger every year and the Cowboys are no different. Always and forever changing.