When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys' defense, there is no denying there will be changes on that side of the ball. The personnel is what will change the most, so get ready to see a lot of new faces in 2017. Two of those faces could dramatically change how the defense performs, hopefully for the better.
Enter Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods.
I'm personally really excited to see how these two players are utilized on the Cowboys' defense and how Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli will incorporate their unique skill set into his defensive scheme.
Both Awuzie and Woods played a variety of positions in college and that versatility could get them on the field early and often on defense. But, it's not just their versatility that will get them on the field. It's their knack as a blitzer, something that can be utilized to help the Cowboys pass rush.
Of course, we all know the NFL is a step up in competition. But, with these two players on board, I could really see Marinelli utilizing the secondary to blitz more often this season. It really puts pressure on the opposing QB and can help the entire defense.
Let's take a look at how Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods' unique skill set can help the Cowboys' defense.
Disrupting the QB
Sometimes disrupting the opposing quarterback is just as effective as getting the sack. Anything to throw the QB off their game is usually beneficial to the defense. Both Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie have proven to be more than capable at accomplishing this when asked to blitz the QB.
Let's take a look at how disrupting the QB can help the Dallas Cowboys' defense.
In the clip above, you see the Dallas Cowboys 2017 second round draft pick, CB Chidobe Awuzie, being sent on a blitz. This is an area of his game that should help the Cowboys' defense and something he has a real knack for.
He cleverly walks up as if he is going to cover the slot WR, but at the snap of the ball he explodes around the right side of the offensive line. Washington's right tackle was immediately put in a tough situation and all of this is in clear view of the QB.
Now, he doesn't get the QB sack, but he does force Washington's quarterback to step up in the pocket in order to throw the ball. Because of the pressure applied by Awuzie, the pass was tipped by one of his teammates at the line of scrimmage and almost resulted in a turnover.
Chidobe Awuzie isn't the only Cowboys' rookie that has shown a knack for applying pressure to opposing QBs. Xavier Woods has shown the ability to do this as well.
In this clip, you see Xavier Woods playing around the line of scrimmage as a box safety. This particular play however doesn't look like a designed blitz. Instead, it looks as if his responsibility is covering the running back in the passing game. Upon seeing the RB is going to pass block, he then decides to rush the QB.
Woods is able to push the RB back into the lap of the QB, causing him to step to the side in order to throw the ball down the field. Unfortunately, the QB is able to connect with his receiver for a sizable gain, but he did make the execution of the play more difficult by forcing the QB to throw the ball little off balance.
Not always, but sometimes these kinds of forced disruptions can benefit the defense, hopefully resulting in turnovers. This is something the Cowboys' defense can certainly use more of.
Sacking the QB
Applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks can usually throw them off their game a little bit, but it doesn't always result in a negative play. That is why QB sacks are so important, but unfortunately the Cowboys' defense has really struggled in this area over the past several years.
Fortunately, Cowboys' rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods can help with this and it also allows Rod Marinelli to get creative with his blitz packages if he chooses. Awuzie had four QB sacks in each of his last two seasons (2015 and 2016) of his collegiate career, and nine altogether. Woods had four QB sacks in his career, but three of those came in 2016 as a senior.
In the clip above, you can clearly see why Chidobe Awuzie accumulated nearly double digit QB sacks as a defensive back in college. A sack/fumble is something that the Dallas Cowboys haven't had a lot of recently and can definitely use a lot more of.
Awuzie's ability to play any position in the secondary and blitz from that position makes him extremely valuable for the Cowboys' defense. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can utilize this versatility to disguises coverages, but also blitz Awuzie from just about anywhere on the field.
These blitzing instincts simply can't be coached. A player is either born with them or not. Awuzie possesses these instincts in spades and that should make opposing QBs around the league a little bit worried.
Of course, he is not the only Cowboys' rookie that has these kind of instincts.
In this clip, you can see how Rod Marinelli can utilize Xavier Woods as a blitzer for the Cowboys' defense. On this play, it looks as if Woods is lined up as a cornerbacck instead of his traditional safety spot. But, in the end the result is the same.
Woods does a good job blitzing off the edge and getting good depth to ensure the QB doesn't escape the pocket to his side. Often times, you see defensive backs either rushing too flat or too deep, which can sometimes allow the QB to slip through. But, this is either good coaching or good instincts on the Woods' part, possibly both.
Xavier Woods is also another versatile defensive back that can be blitzed from several different places on the field. At Louisiana Tech he played both free and strong safety, and also played in the slot. I'm sure Marinelli can find a way to utilized that versatility.
The Dallas Cowboys' defense definitely has the pieces in place in order to incorporate more blitzes from the secondary in 2017. But, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has never really been known for blitzing a lot.
Of course, that could all change in 2017 if the pass rush struggles like it has the past several seasons. With Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods, it wouldn't be all that surprising if Marinelli incorporates their strengths into the Cowboys' defense.
I for one, think this is a very real possibility and something that could become a staple on defense to help provide a spark to the pass rush.