After years of overhauling the offense, the last few years have gone a long way towards improving a historically underperforming Dallas Cowboys secondary.
The year was 1998. That was the last time the Dallas Cowboys had a truly great secondary.
Cornerback Deion Sanders was still in his prime. Even at age 31, Sanders was a First-Team All-Pro with five interceptions, returning one for touchdown. Safety Darren Woodson earned a Pro-Bowl selection with 78 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
Alongside those two greats, were another complimentary player that filled his role perfectly.
Kevin Mathis was a turnover magnet producing two interceptions, forcing two fumbles and recovering four other fumbles.
As a result, the defense put the team in position to win their last division title of the Nineties. The Cowboys were able to hold teams under 14 points in nine games. That was good enough to make the third best scoring defense. The pass defense, specifically, did well enough to allow just a 76.3 quarterback rating.
Since that time, the Cowboys have had some talented players in the defensive backfield but never a group like that.
Dallas has tried the draft, using three top ten overall picks on guys like Terence Newman, Roy Williams and Morris Claiborne. They have opened up the checkbook in free agency for guys like Brandon Carr.
Unfortunately, none of it has seemed to result in any type of success, be it short-term or sustainable.
This upcoming season, however, could very well be the start of something special in the defensive backfield.
The Dallas Cowboys have made it a point to stockpile talent through the draft at these positions. Four rookies from this draft will join second year cornerback Anthony Brown and third year safety Byron Jones. Augmenting them are veteran cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll and Jeff Heath.
Maybe the names aren’t as impressive as Sanders or Woodson. Obviously, the Cowboys did not use the type of draft capital to obtain top ten overall selections.
What this group does bring, however, is youth, speed and potential.
If you don’t believe me, you can ask the best receiver on the team and one of the best in the entire league. Here’s what Dez Bryant told Rob Phillips of dallascowboys.com when asked specifically about Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis:
"“Those guys, they’ve been competing strong,” Bryant told the team’s official website. “That’s what I love about them, win, lose or draw. Not just me, but the rest of these guys in this locker room, they’ll tell you we’ll take that. Before it’s all said and done, y’all are going to know those guys’ names in this league.”"
In my opinion, I believe you are going to see a breakout year from Jones. He may not earn a Pro-Bowl selection but he’ll certainly push for one. As for his counterpart, Heath has long been under appreciated. I expect to see solid play from him.
At cornerback, Brown had a great finish to 2016. Over the final five weeks, no one allowed less yards per coverage snap than him. Awuzie and Lewis were two of the five best corners in this draft.
Then there is Scandrick. Few players get as fired up as he does, especially when he feels like he has something to prove. Trade rumors swirled regarding the long-time Cowboy this offseason but never came into fruition. I would expect nothing short of his absolute best in 2017.
All that should make for the most talented group this team has had in almost twenty years. It also affords the Cowboys the luxury of surviving any injuries that may come about.
I, for one, cannot wait to see how this group performs this season.