For the second straight off season, the Dallas Cowboys defense is receiving nothing but bad news. For a team determined to deliver a Super Bowl to offensive stars like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant, the defense the Cowboys field under Rod Marinelli fails to resemble a unit that can help this dream become a reality.
Ever since Randy Gregory's four game suspension has been set in stone, Cowboys Nation held their collective breath for the rest of the defense to hold up until the regular season. Instead, two more suspensions officially hit Dallas' depleted front seven yesterday, as MLB Rolando McClain was banned for 10 games while DeMarcus Lawrence had his own 4 game suspension upheld.
If you've been following me to any capacity here on Inside The Star since the dreadful 2015 season, you know that I always do my absolute best to stay optimistic and hopeful towards the future of our football team. However, yesterday was simply a bad day for Dallas Cowboys' fans, and it took some time for me to figure out where to find a glimmer of hope on the Cowboys' defense.
Today, I'm here to tell you that – for the first time in a long time – the Cowboys secondary is a unit that you should be excited about!
In 2015, the Cowboys passing defense allowed 227.2 yards per game, which was good for the fifth lowest output in the league. While anyone that watched this team on the field knows that this number is partially attributed to opposing offenses being less inclined to throw the football, it is still an impressive mark for the unit.
Outside of Brandon Carr taking almost 100% of the team's defensive snaps at corner this season, the rest of the starters at CB became somewhat of a revolving door. The biggest story line was the resurgence of Morris Claiborne, but players behind him like Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell also saw playing time when injuries piled up.
Now looking ahead to 2016, the Cowboys defensive backfield will blend experience with youthful potential. Veteran slot corner Orlando Scandrick will be back from injury, and the boost he provides to the overall confidence of this defense cannot be understated.
Carr and Claiborne are both entering their 5th season as starters in this secondary, and should realize that the opportunity they have been given would likely not come with another team.
Teams shuffle through ineffective corners all the time in order to stand a chance in the pass happy NFL, but the Dallas Cowboys have stuck with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Expect the two to be at their absolute best this season.
Behind these three projected starters in the Cowboys secondary is a world of potential filled by the likes of rookie Anthony Brown, Deji Olatoye, Josh Thomas, and Arjen Calhoun. From this group, Olatoye is the one guy that I will be keeping a very close eye on through training camp.
A starter for the team's final two games of 2015, Olatoye showed some toughness to him as a willing tackler that also recorded a key interception against the Bills on the road. Doing all of this while fitting the physical mold for a Cowboys' corner, Olatoye has a chance to be a significant part of this defense moving forward.
Anthony Brown was the Cowboys' sixth round pick in the draft. The front office, along with many scouts and draft analysts, had a fourth round grade or better on the Purdue product – warranting some excitement for Brown to step in as early as 2016.
During OTAs and mini camp, Brown's chances came as a slot corner. Possessing the speed necessary to play this position, Anthony Brown could serve as a valuable backup to Orlando Scandrick to start his NFL career.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning the safety play that the Cowboys' corners will get to play in front of. Running around permanently at free safety now is Byron Jones, who we all fell in love with in 2015. Jones' freakish mix of length, athleticism, and football intelligence should make him a dynamic safety as he learns the position all through the preseason.
The spot across from Jones will be competed for by the likes of Barry Church, rookie Kavon Frazier, JJ Wilcox, and Jeff Heath. All four of these players allow Dallas to throw different looks at an offense, which will be incredibly important to confuse QBs that are likely going to have more time to throw.
It should absolutely be a cautious form of optimism, but the Cowboys secondary in 2016 has all the potential to perform at the level we've been expecting for far too long.