With the Dallas Cowboys’ defense building for the future, the success of this unit rests heavily on the untested leadership of Byron Jones.
This offseason saw the losses of many of the Dallas Cowboys starters and key contributors on the defensive side of the ball. Thankfully, the Cowboys did not sign any big-money, big name free agents to replace those losses.
The Cowboys front office clamped down to take the build-from-the-draft approach as they have in recent seasons. This approach will help discover what free safety Byron Jones is really made of. Here’s why.
With many of those departures, the Cowboys lost a lot of experience and locker room leadership. On the bright side, Dallas didn’t really lose anyone that was great at their positions (like former All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Ware).
What the Cowboys did lose was players that possessed strong football principles. Each guy that left brought a little something extra to the table to help the Cowboys get to 13-3 last year.
Now, it is no secret that All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee is the heart and soul of the Cowboys defense. Lee is the quarterback on that side of the ball. However as much as I love the veteran linebacker, his knee issues and knack for concussions worry me. With so many new faces coming in expecting to contribute immediately, Jones must help Lee take command of the defense.
The rebuilding of the Cowboy’s secondary can’t help but stick out like a sore thumb. Aside from his playmaking ability, Dallas lost an experienced captain in strong safety Barry Church.
The Cowboys’ two starting corners and backup safety also bolted in free agency.
Cornerback Brandon Carr was not flashy with big numbers, but he started every game in his nine-year career. Carr’s longevity and toughness to pull that off is an important element for young guys to see.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne’s resiliency will be missed. His ability to come back strong after multiple injuries to have his best season was also important for young players to see.
Backup safety J.J. Wilcox stepped up big after Church missed some time with an injured forearm. I can’t think of anyone else that can fire up the defense with their explosive hits. Unless, of course, punter Chris Jones is planning on delivering big hits after every kick.
Slot corner Orlando Scandrick provides a veteran presence, but he will be in a position battle with incoming rookie talent. Safety Jeff Heath has some starting experience but will also be competing for a starting job this year.
I don’t think anyone expects cornerback Anthony Brown to step into a leadership role as he looks to build off his solid rookie season. He literally now has chip on his shoulder.
That leaves us with Byron Jones.
Jones is the lone pure starter of the four defensive backs the Cowboys lined up last year. He is an athletic freak who’s pretty much the definition of versatile. Byron took snaps at corner and safety his rookie year before Dallas’ coaching staff made him the full time starting free safety last season.
Although Jones has shown he can line up anywhere in the secondary, he has struggled to generate takeaways, forcing only one interception in his two years in the league.
However, let’s just assume from this current roster that the Cowboys Week One starters are free agent acquisition cornerback Nolan Carroll and Brown at corner, Scandrick in the slot, Heath and Jones at safety.
That leaves Jones with the second most starts in Dallas only to Scandrick in the Cowboys’ secondary although it’s just his third year. No disrespect to Orlando, but as stated earlier he’ll be fighting for a starting spot with this deep draft class. At slot corner, his position is nowhere near as impactful as free safety.
At the position, Jones sees the entire field. Making sure the new guys are lined up where they need to be will be crucial this season. That’s a big responsibility.
Because Jones has experience at every position in the secondary, he must take ownership of that unit. Byron has to quickly transition from the experimental new kid to being the ‘daddy’ of this secondary, as Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones would put it.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will need another field general to support Lee as he tries once again to piece together a defense of players that have barely played together. That field general needs to be Byron Jones. This is his secondary now.