The Dallas Cowboys will not be slowed by a secondary full of youth and inexperience in 2017.
If you’ve been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys for at least 25 years, you’ll likely remember names like Larry Brown and Kevin Smith, two cornerbacks from the now-defunct Southwest Conference who made a big impact in 1992. The name Darren Woodson also should ring a bell, he that undersized linebacker from Arizona State who came to the Cowboys in 1992 and immediately commanded playing time.
Brown was a 12th-round selection in the ’91 NFL Draft and Smith arrived a year later as a first-round selection in the ’92 player selection meeting, which also included Woods on as a second-round pick chosen just 20 slots after Smith.
The August acquisition of defensive end Charles Haley is generally remembered as the final piece of the puzzle to a Dallas dynasty in the early-to-mid 1990s. After all, the team was lousy at getting pressure on the quarterback in 1991, just a year before this franchise would win its third Super Bowl.
Haley changed the culture up front, for sure.
But perhaps overlooked – and highly applicable to what the Cowboys are doing today – is all of those ‘young guns’ in the Dallas secondary that exploded onto the seen for that ’92 season that now rings historic on just about every level.
The Dallas offseason has been marked by limited spending in free agency and also a complete overhaul of a secondary that just didn’t make enough plays in recent seasons to justify greater expenditures on players like Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church. In other words, the entire starting secondary from last season.
Now, do the Cowboys have that ‘war daddy’ we keep hearing about? That pass-rush specialist that commands double-teams and will reach double-digit sacks?
Right now it looks like they don’t, but rumors suggest that Dallas brass might not be done making acquisitions – remember that Haley showed up in August of ’92 and his arrival was most unexpected when it happened.
What the Cowboys have duplicated this year is the addition of lots of young talent for a secondary that should have better support up front that what it’s had in recent years.
While defensive lineman Taco Charlton was the first player selected by the Cowboys in the 2017 NFL Draft last month, a flurry of secondary personnel immediately followed with the selections of Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, two corners selected in Round 2 and Round 3, respectively. Dallas came right back in the sixth round with safety Xavier Woods and cornerback Marquez White.
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Is it possible that these young players receive lots of playing time in their inaugural dance through an NFL regular season? Consider this a certainty, which is not to discount or brush aside veterans like Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll and Jeff Heath.
In the early 90s, former head coach Jimmy Johnson didn’t just make bold moves in order to get the Dallas roster much younger than it had been, but he also created a culture of competitiveness for playing time. Gone were the days when a legend like Randy White could simply occupy a roster spot because of what he had done many years earlier.
Also, the Dallas offense was loaded, as it is now, back in those early 90s. The franchise quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end all in place to both move the football and put up points.
Things feel awfully familiar to that summer of 1992 that brewed intense optimism for a young team that went 11-5 the year before and won its first playoff game as a collected unit. The stated goal was nothing less than an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, as this was believed by many to be the next logical step – except those youngsters in that brand new secondary didn’t get the memo.
It was Smith that boasted, with not yet a full year of experience out of Texas A&M, that he could cover San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice in that legendary NFC Championship Game held in Northern California that year. He told us that we should ‘trust’ him.
Smith gave up nothing significant to Rice all day in a stunning Dallas win that couldn’t exactly be dubbed an upset. The Cowboys defense was every bit as detrimental to Steve Young and his fleet of 49ers offensive weapons as the Dallas offense was to an aging San Francisco defense, which didn’t scare anybody – especially without Haley.
Point is this: A young secondary can be a difference-maker in the NFL if it’s front seven has depth and talent that can keep it in desirable situations concerning down and distance. The Cowboys led the league in ’92 in third down efficiency, meaning that opponents generally couldn’t sustain drives very well, a problem that created as many as 10-12 additional carries for a running back by the name of Emmitt Smith, whom you might also recall.
Heard of Zeke Elliott?
Some with contend, and with zero evidence or reasoning, that the Cowboys can’t improve upon last year’s record of 13-3, which could very well have been 14-2 or even 15-1. They say the league might have figured out quarterback Dak Prescott, who won’t be able to shoulder the team in the air as opposing defenses arm up to stop Elliott next season.
The reality is that America’s Team is poised to push for unexpected greatness, once again, and a newly revamped secondary could among the last pieces needed in order to make this idea a fact – and sooner than you might think.