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Can George Iloka Takeover the Strong Safety Role?

Matthew Lenix

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Can George Iloka Takeover the Strong Safety Role?

The safety position has definitely been one that fans in Dallas have wanted to see upgraded for quite a while. Well, the Cowboys took a step forward in doing that back in March by signing veteran Safety George Iloka to a 1-year deal.

It's not like the Cowboys didn't try during the first wave of free agency to get a safety. Earl Thomas was the prize a lot of people wanted to see in Dallas, but with an asking price of 14 million a year, those dreams slowly faded. Clayton Geathers came in for a visit but eventually resigned with the Colts. Eric Berry came to the facility as well, while it seemed nice, health concerns caused him to leave without a deal.

George Iloka isn't the "sexy" choice per se for Cowboys fans, but that shouldn't bother them. Why? Who are the Cowboys best players for the most part? Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, Dak Prescott, and Jaylon Smith to name a few. We do they all have in common? They were all drafted guys. Everything that glitters isn't gold, except hitting on players in the draft, and the Cowboys are doing that better than most teams in the league right now.

This deal financially was also a huge steal for the Cowboys. A max cap hit of 735,000. A base salary of 930,000 with 210,000 guaranteed and a 90,000 dollar signing bonus, who wouldn't take those numbers for a 7-year veteran? Adding value to your roster while also saving money is smart business by the organization's front office.

Kris Richard loves long defensive backs, and at 6'4 226 pounds Iloka definitely fits that mold. The Cowboys now have a versatile safety with the skills to play on either side, but his role in Dallas will be at strong safety. This will upgrade the position with a better player while putting Jeff Heath in more of a special teams role if Iloka takes the reigns as expected.

However, that hasn't gotten off to the best start so far in the offseason. During OTA's and minicamp, he got the second team reps, as Heath would be on the first team opposite Xavier Woods. Nonetheless, he's ready for the challenge of learning a new scheme.

"It’s a different scheme from what I’ve played my first seven years of my career and I just wanted to get into this system, first and foremost cause it was a different way in how they use the strong safety position. I was 20 yards back in the other defenses I’ve been in, this one has you more toward the box and those are things I like to do so that’s really why I came here,” Iloka said.

He's not a ball hawking safety like a lot of fans wanted, only tallying 9 interceptions in 7 years. But he doesn't get fooled by play action, is a sure tackler and doesn't give up explosive plays. The biggest benefit is that the Cowboys have filled a need with a veteran for cheap. This gave the Cowboys the flexibility to not reach in the draft and take the best players available, just like the signings of Randall Cobb, Christian Covington, and Kerry Hyder. Smart and savvy business by the Cowboys with this one.

Now as training camp approaches Iloka knows he has work to do in order to crack the starting lineup. Every practice, every snap, and every film session is critical going forward. I expect him to make the final 53 man roster even if for some reason he doesn't beat out Heath for the starting role. Even with that being said, the goal is playing time. Eyes will definitely be on the strong safety battle in Oxnard.



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Report: Cowboys’ Travis Frederick Ready for Start of Training Camp

John Williams

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Cowboys Center Travis Frederick Still Hoping to "Be a Rock" for Teammates Despite GBS Syndrome

With the Dallas Cowboys opening training camp with their first practice on Saturday, July 27th in Oxnard, California, a lot of information is coming out regarding who will be available when they report.

It was already reported that Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will be placed on the physically unable to practice (P.U.P.) list to start training camp. Now, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network is reporting that Travis Frederick will avoid the Non-Football Injury list (NFI) and be ready to report for the starting of training camp.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Very good news for the #Cowboys: All-Pro C Travis Frederick, who dealt with Guillain-Barré syndrome last year, is expected to be active for the start of training camp. He avoids NFI and is ready to go.

Frederick has been out of action for a year after being diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during last year's training camp. Guillen-Barre is a disorder that can affect the peripheral neurological system. Basically, the neurological system that doesn't consist of the brain and the spinal cord, which is the central nervous system.

There was talk that Frederick might have been ready to go for the playoffs at the end of last season, but the team continued to hold him out in order to get him back 100% for 2019. It looks like the time has come for Frederick to regain his spot as the leader and lynch-pin of the offensive line.

While Joe Looney was effective in 2018, there's no doubt the team suffered a drop off from All-Pro Travis Frederick to career backup Looney. Getting Frederick back in the middle of the offensive line is the most significant upgrade the Dallas Cowboys could have made this offseason on either side of the football.

Frederick is one of the smartest players on the team and does a lot for Dak Prescott and the offensive line in terms of setting protections. For Dak Prescott, he'll be able to have a little more faith that the front of his pocket will hold up if he needs to step up to make a throw. Frederick will also help Connor Williams as the two work combo blocks against opposing interior defenders. Frederick will immediately improve the Dallas Cowboys red zone offense as they'll be able to get more of a push on the interior.

It was almost expected that this would be the case, but hearing it for certain should give the Dallas Cowboys and their fans a lot of optimism for what's to come in 2019. Travis Frederick returning to the starting lineup is a huge addition for a Dallas Cowboys offense that looks ready to roll in 2019.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Cornerback

Jess Haynie

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Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

The Dallas Cowboys have spent a lot of draft picks the last few years to build up their cornerbacks group. There is a lot of potential heading into 2019, but Dallas needs these young players to take the next step if they want to compete for a championship. This weekend's start to training camp will be an important part of the process.

Dallas' best move to help the cornerback position was switching Byron Jones back there in 2018 after a few seasons at safety. Jones went to his first Pro Bowl and has positioned himself for a big contract extension.

Byron is currently set to play 2019 on his fifth-year option of $6.27 million, which is a steal for a CB of his caliber. Whether or not the Cowboys allow him to enter unrestricted free agency next year, or get a new deal signed, will be something to watch for throughout the upcoming season.

Jones' future may be in question, but we at least know he'll be the team's top corner this season. None of the other Dallas CBs can enjoy that same certainty in 2019, as depth chart positioning and job security are all in flux right now.

Here is the current CB depth chart headed into training camp:

  1. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie
  2. Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
  3. Michael Jackson, Donovan Olumba
  4. C.J. Goodwin, Chris Westry
  5. Treston Decoud

Will this list hold as is, or will we some shifting over the five weeks of training camp and preseason?

The battle for snaps between Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis will be an intriguing ongoing storyline. Awuzie was the starter last year, and will hopefully make a big developmental leap in his third year.

But Anthony Brown has proven himself a capable player despite being just a 6th-round pick in 2016. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Brown will certainly be pushing for a significant role this season to hopefully help his free agent marketability in 2020.

Jourdan Lewis

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis

If things go like they did last year, both Awuzie and Brown will get plenty of playing time. The true enigma of this bunch is Jourdan Lewis, who is hoping to be more than just the number-four CB in 2019.

Though he was drafted a round later than Awuzie in 2017, Lewis was generally considered the superior talent by most draft analysts. He fell due to a domestic violence accusation a month before the draft for which he was eventually found not guilty.

Jourdan was looking good at the end of his rookie season, but the arrival of Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach last year seemed to cause a regression. Lewis only got in on a little over 18% of the total defensive snaps in 2018, while the top three all had 67% or higher.

Despite his few opportunities, Lewis still had one of the biggest plays of the year with his interception that sealed Dallas' stunning upset over the New Orleans Saints. His potential has been noted, with Coach Richard even calling him an "exception" to his general preference for bigger, stronger cornerbacks.

But even if the team likes Jourdan, can he beat Awuzie or Brown? Could he perhaps have more value in a trade, with two years left on that rookie deal, to a team in greater need at CB?

Michael Jackson

CB Michael Jackson

The idea of moving Lewis, which existed prior to the draft, gained steam when Dallas used a 5th-round pick this year acquire CB Michael Jackson out of Miami. He fits that prototypical build at corner, and perhaps the Cowboys are hoping he can show enough early to provide an adequate replacement if they want to trade Jourdan.

If not Jackson, prospect Donovan Olumba is another option. He nearly made the 53 last year but got squeezed out when Dallas only kept four cornerbacks. After a year on the practice squad, Olumba is back and could be ready for a roster spot.

Veteran C.J. Goodwin has bounced around the NFL since 2014 but has some real-game experience. If the young guys aren't in a position to be game-day active, perhaps he would be the best option. Dallas added him in the middle of the 2018 season and he was helping on special teams and as a reserve corner at the end of the year.

Undrafted rookie Chris Westry, listed at 6'4", is another intriguing player to watch in camp. That rare size is something you can't teach, and hopefully Richard can develop Westry enough to get something out of the physical gifts.

This should be a fun 2019 training camp at cornerback, with competition potentially at every spot on the depth chart except the very top. And while secure at number-one, even Byron Jones has his own question marks around his long-term future in Dallas.

We'll start getting some answers in just four more days!

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OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence and CB Byron Jones to Start 2019 Camp on PUP

Jess Haynie

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DeMarcus Lawrence

The Dallas Cowboys will be missing two of their defensive leaders when they open 2019 training camp this Saturday. Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will both start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List as they recover from offseason surgeries.

Lawrence, who got a new five-year contract in April, immediately underwent shoulder surgery once his deal was finalized. DeMarcus reportedly was waiting for contract negotiations to be completed before he had the procedure.

Jones had hip surgery in late May. He is playing 2019 on the fifth-year option from his original contract, and is no doubt hoping for his own long-term extension sometime in the near future.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will open Cowboys camp on PUP and won't practice in California https://t.co/jzWV5FjBO6 via @sportsdaydfw

Neither Lawrence or Jones, who are both coming of Pro Bowl seasons in 2018, are expected to be absent once the regular season starts in September. But either participating in this year's training camp is doubtful, and even preseason appearances are in question right now.

With DeMarcus out at DE, newcomers like Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder will get plenty of chances to show their stuff.  It's also a nice opportunity for Taco Charlton, assuming he's recovered from his own offseason surgery, to get some work against the first-team offensive line.

No Byron at CB will give Jourdan Lewis a nice opportunity to work with the starters as well. He was likely stuck at the 4th spot behind Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown but should now get more time on the field and against the best competition.



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