Good or bad, Jeff Heath has been the one consistent thing about the Dallas Cowboys safety position these last couple of years. He's had a revolving door of starters next to him, but he's somehow managed to retain his starting status and could make it three years in a row when all is said and done.
Despite having a pretty dreadful 2018 season, Jeff Heath would be the Dallas Cowboys starting safety next to Xavier Woods if the season were to start today. The coaching staff values him a lot more than a lot of us around Cowboys Nation, but that doesn't mean he's not going to have a fight on his hands if he wants to keep his job when training camp gets underway a few weeks from now.
There are a lot of hungry players currently behind Heath on the depth chart looking to unseat him as the starting safety. But, No. 38 isn't going to buckle under the pressure just because of a little competition. As a former undrafted free agent he knows all too well the kind of fight he's in for. It's a no holds barred, slobber knocker kind of fight.
Jeff Heath knows this, and so does his teammates. They all know training camp and preseason is a war, and to the victor goes the spoils. This battle isn't going to be one for the ages, but it is one of the more important position battles to watch.
Keeping all of that in mind, who do you think has the best chance of unseating Jeff Heath as the Cowboy starting safety? George Iloka? Darian Thompson? Kavon Frazier? Or maybe the rookie, Donovan Wilson?
I'm sure if I were giving odds, George Iloka would be the odds-on favorite to beat out Jeff Heath right now. He does after all have the most experience of any of the safeties on the Cowboys roster right now. And at 6'4", 225, he also brings a little bit more size to the position as well.
Iloka would give the Cowboys two interchangeable safeties if paired with Xavier Woods. He's been more of a free safety the majority of his career, but like Woods, he's a solid tackler when asked to play more around the line of scrimmage. Is he a clear upgrade though? I don't have the answer for that right now, but he's a proven commodity and brings some much-needed experience to the table.
What about Darian Thompson though? Could he become a surprise starter? He was after all a former third-round draft pick by the New York Giants and has starting experience. And, he supposedly looked pretty good in OTAs. Maybe he can finally become the player the Giants thought they were getting coming out of Boise State. I'm sure the Cowboys wouldn't rub their noses in it at all.
That finally brings us to Kavon Frazier and Donovan Wilson. I'm linking these two together because I believe they are fighting with each other for the fourth and final roster spot at the safety position. Frazier has the experience, but Wilson has the youth and is under contract longer. Could either of these two unseat Jeff Heath though?
For Frazier, I think any chances of him finding much playing time on defense has pretty much flown out the window. The Cowboys value his special-teams ability, but not so much what he brings to the defense. As far as Wilson though, he could be another sixth-round find, much like Xavier Woods was a few years ago.
Donovan Wilson could possibly challenge for a starting job as a rookie, but he's really going to have to impress at training camp and in preseason. He's already been spoken pretty highly of due to his ability to pick up the defense and get everybody lined up, although it's going to take much more than that to climb to the top of the depth chart.
If I had to pick one player to unseat Jeff Heath right now, I think I'd have to go with George Iloka. His experience and proven track record really intrigues me. But, I'm not going to bet against Jeff Heath just yet. He has a fighters mentality and isn't going to go down easy.
Do you think anybody can unseat Jeff Heath as a starter? If so, who?
Tony Pollard, Supporting Cast or a Co-lead with Ezekiel Elliott?
Since the Dallas Cowboys drafted Running Back Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft he's been the star of the show. Any of their other offensive weapons have been nothing more than supporting cast the past three years, but rookie RB/WR Tony Pollard could prove to be more than just supporting cast and become more of a co-lead in Zeke's show.
Suggesting Tony Pollard has a chance to be more than just supporting cast with Ezekiel Elliott is a lot to put on a rookies shoulders, but that's the kind of hype he's receiving already. He hasn't even put on the pads yet with the Dallas Cowboys, but he's already receiving Alvin Kamara type comparisons due to the versatility he's expected to bring with him to the NFL.
Living up to those Alvin Kamara comparisons might be even more difficult than becoming anything more than just an extra behind Zeke anytime soon, but it's doable. After all, Kamara immediately stepped in as a rookie and became a costar with Mark Ingram in New Orleans. It's certainly feasible to think Pollard can do the same.
There's of course only one problem with this way of thinking. Mark Ingram is no Ezekiel Elliott. And, no RB on the depth chart behind Zeke the last three years has been good enough to cut into #21's heavy workload. Is the hype surrounding Tony Pollard justified? Is he talented enough to cut into Zeke's playing time?
Those are some really big questions we don't have an answer to as of yet. Training camp could help determine the type of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and beyond, but even that can be thrown out the window once games start to matter in the regular season.
Personally, I think Tony Pollard will be part of a supporting cast behind Ezekiel Elliott this year. I just don't think he's ready to step in and costar with Zeke just yet. I think he will be more of a comedic relief that will be used from time to time to keep things interesting. That's not necessarily a bad thing though considering his versatility to contribute in the running or passing game.
In time though, Pollard could prove worthy of an increase in playing time and become more of a co-lead with No. 21. It may very well be in his rookie season, but he's really going to have to prove himself and that will need to start this week when the Dallas Cowboys kick off their training camp in Oxnard, California.
What do you think? Is Tony Pollard supporting cast or a co-lead with Zeke?
Randy Gregory can Make the Perimeter Pass Rush Extremely Formidable
Randy Gregory showed flashes last season of the potential he has as a pass rusher. Even though he only managed one start he did see action in 14 games. Had registered 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 7 tackles for loss and 15 hits on the quarterback. That's very good production with limited opportunities. Now, this sets up the Dallas Cowboys on the edge getting to the quarterback, and here's how.
The Cowboys acquired Defensive End Robert Quinn via trade from the Dolphins back in March. He is set to start at right defensive end opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence. Gregory, who lines up on the right side as well, can potentially make said side a huge problem for offenses on 2019.
Let's just take a typical season from Quinn which is between 8-9 sacks. If Gregory can give at minimum what he did last season, that's around 15 sacks just between the two of them alone. Now, as we all know, Lawrence can be penciled in for double-digit sacks routinely at this point. So given this information that's a potential 25-30 sacks just from these three players. This is without including guys such as Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, and rookies Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks (assuming they make the final roster).
Why is Gregory's potential impact so important? For me, it's simply where he lines up at defensive end, on the right side. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, which means when they drop back to pass they face left side defensive ends, with their backs to defensive ends coming off the right side. If you can consistently pressure a quarterback from his blindside the opportunities for sacks and fumbles increase. Regardless of how skilled a quarterback is you can't avoid what you can't see.
Of course, this all depends on what the NFL does regarding the reinstatement of Gregory. He was suspended indefinitely in February for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, a situation he is all too familiar with. My guess is Gregory and the Cowboys will ask for a conditional reinstatement like he was given by the NFL in 2018. What this would do is allow Gregory to participate in meetings and condition work until he's a full participant. He is set to apply for that reinstatement within the next few days.
The only thing Randy Gregory can do now is play the waiting game. The league is currently considering the possibility of softening their stance on marijuana use. If they are serious about it I can see Gregory getting reinstated even if it's on a conditional basis. If this is granted the Cowboys will be getting big-time pressure off the edge with Lawrence, Quinn, and Gregory in 2019.
CB Jourdan Lewis Getting Ready For Bounce-Back 2019 Season
For a third round pick, cornerback Jourdan Lewis sure did come to Dallas with his fair share of hype.
In fact, much of Cowboys Nation was more excited about Lewis joining the Cowboys than they were about either of the team's first two selections in that same draft, Taco Charlton and Chidobe Awuzie. But while Awuzie has soared to starting cornerback levels with Dallas during his first two seasons, Jourdan Lewis has been forced to take a back seat.
After a promising rookie season, Jourdan Lewis didn't get much playing time at cornerback in 2018. Anthony Brown took over as the starting slot corner, while Byron Jones and Awuzie manned the outside. This left Lewis as the odd man out, despite what many consider to be impressive cover skills.
Lewis is not allowing this down season to eat away at him too much, though. While speaking with the media last week at SportsCon in Dallas, Lewis gave his thoughts on how his year spent behind the other young Cowboys corners is only fueling him for the future.
"As a competitor it's always tough, especially as a rookie and you're playing all of the time. It's definitely when you take a step back it humbles you. Sometimes you gotta understand that you have to wait your turn and work on your craft. Understand that you always have to stay a professional no matter your situation. And that's what I learned last year."
Considered undersized by the standards typically used by Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard, some have argued that Lewis was never given a fair shot to earn playing time once Richard took over in 2018. Whether or not this is true can't ever be said for sure, and the level of play Anthony Brown exhibited from the slot in 2018 didn't leave much room for substitutions either.
Still, Jourdan Lewis says he appreciates that time he spent on the bench, and he hopes that it will only drive him towards bigger and better things down the road.
"I appreciate the time that I sat last year honestly...Because it made me a better player, maybe a better person honestly."
The Cowboys cornerback situation didn't get any less crowded this offseason. Not only is Dallas bringing back all three of the aforementioned starters from a year ago, but they also drafted Miami's Michael Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
That cornerback room is full of talent. Not only does this create a luxury for the Cowboys at one of the league's most important positions, but it also breeds immense competition between the corners come training camp.
Which, if you didn't know, begins on July 26th.
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