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Dallas Cowboys 3rd Safety Spot Remains A Concern

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys 3rd Safety Spot Remains A Concern 2

Perhaps lost in the excitement among the fresh faces the Cowboys have added to their secondary ahead of the 2017 season is just how big the shoes rookies Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods - along with returnees like Byron Jones and Jeff Heath - will have to fill in place of the departed Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Morrris Claiborne, and Brandon Carr.

While I'm personally holding high expectations for the CB position to be fully upgraded with Awuzie, Lewis, Orlando Scandrick, and Anthony Brown meshing together well, I can't help but be concerned about a key position from this 13-3 team a year ago.

Dallas Cowboys 3rd Safety Spot Remains A Concern

Thriving in their Nickel and Dime defenses (sub packages that have effectively replaced the Base defense in the NFL), the Cowboys had tremendous success changing their looks in the back-end at safety by flashing the rangy Jeff Heath and hard-hitting Wilcox next to Byron Jones and Barry Church.

This rotation helped the Cowboys lead the league in big play differential by a wide margin, as Rod Marinelli's defense was asked to do what they do best in defending against the chunk plays and protecting the lead.

Byron Jones will not only of course return as a core starter at safety, but should emerge as a leader in this young secondary entering his third year. Jones himself has praised the abilities of Jeff Heath when the two athletic safeties line up together through training camp, and there should be little concern from Cowboys Nation that a jump from a situational player to a starter for Heath will decrease his play making ability.

The third safety void will be left to FA acquisition Robert Blanton, Kavon Frazier, Xavier Woods, or Jameill Showers. Chidobe Awuzie has even gotten reps all over the secondary at CB and S in his introduction to America's Team.

I scouted Robert Blanton right here at Inside The Star, the established veteran remaining in this safety group, and was certainly intrigued by what his steady play could bring to a Cowboys team that had yet to enter the draft and land Woods in the sixth round before signing Blanton.

Even still, Blanton has been given the first chance so far to earn the job at safety over the younger options on Dallas' roster. Kavon Frazier has become somewhat of a forgotten man for the Cowboys after being drafted in 2016 only to essentially red shirt his rookie campaign.

His attacking downhill style of play and knack for the ball would be ideal for the third safety role, but all indications out of Cowboys camp and the Hall of Fame game point to the fact that Kavon once again has a long way to go.

Xavier Woods may find himself in a similar position to Frazier, as the LA Tech product has carried plenty of hype ever since being traded up for in the draft by the Cowboys. Plenty of very well-respected Dallas media members and draft analysts liked Woods as a prospect to consider well before the sixth round, but the reality is that he was still available in the sixth and brings with him some limitations that will only take time to develop.

As a long-term prospect, Woods could be a vital part of this defense in the coming seasons, but expectations for his rookie impact should be toned down just a bit.

Dallas Cowboys 3rd Safety Spot Remains A Concern 1

The Cowboys are not going to let a learning new secondary derail their lofty goals for 2017, counting on secondary coaches Joe Baker and Greg Jackson to get the "next man up" ready. Overall, this unit will be fun to watch develop as they should benefit greatly from their scheme and other overall strengths on the Cowboys' defense.

Aside from Byron Jones and Jeff Heath as the last line of defense for Dallas this season though, I'll be hopefully watching the remaining four preseason games for guys like Woods and Frazier to come along faster than expected.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys 3rd Safety Spot Remains A Concern" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Russ_Te

    August 7, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    4 PS games to see which rookies are adapting best to the NFL. If Woods becomes a playmaker like he was in college, IMO that would force a shuffle of roles since at 197 lbs, he would need to be at FS not SS.

    That would move Jones to CB, which with his talent I have no concerns with. Also because of talent, Awuzie figures to start at CB soon or eventually. It is a jumble at present, but not surprised here if by season’s end those are the starting CB’s with Woods in center field.

    Whether Heath upticks his game enough to last as starting SS, no idea. It would be a lot easier on this fledgling unit if it had a withering pass rush in front of it. As such, they’re getting thrown into the fire.

    Might need to run the ball more… ;^)

    • Sean Martin

      Sean Martin

      August 8, 2017 at 11:15 am

      Russ, thanks for your thoughts. I like where you’re going with the thought on Jones, and although I don’t see him moving back to CB the Cowboys do ideally want him to be able to pay closer to the line of scrimmage more. This would force that need for a third safety even more though, hope you’re right about Woods.

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Star Blog

3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018

Kevin Brady

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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

Coming into the 2018 season, loads of questions surrounded the Dallas Cowboys and the future of their roster.

Could their defense stay intact when the annual Sean Lee injury occurred? Was Kris Richard going to lead the Cowboys young secondary to places we thought they could be? And would Dak Prescott earn a contact extension and become the official franchise quarterback of America's Team.

Of course, there are tons of other questions that may have gone unanswered, but these three critical areas seem to find clarity in 2018.

Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit

The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.

When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.

Well, after their first full season together, it's easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.

What is fun to consider is that as good as Vander Esch was this season, Jaylon Smith might be even better. Both posses insane sideline to sideline pursuit ability, and are some of the surest tacklers in all of football.

Watching these two grow together will be a pleasure over the coming seasons.

Their Young Secondary Is Coming Together

Like their linebackers, the Dallas Cowboys secondary is a young group, who fans are excited to watch grow throughout the years. It seemed like more pressure sat on the shoulders of young cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie than of Smith and Vander Esch, however.

With Kris Richard joining the staff and making the decision to move Jones to cornerback full time, it was do-or-die for the former first round pick. Byron Jones answered all the doubters, earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but also First Team All Pro honors for his performance.

Opposite him, Awuzie had a rough start to his sophomore campaign. While typically right there in coverage, wide outs too often made contested catches over him. Over the final few weeks of the year, however, that changed and Awuzie played some of the best football yet.

Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis (in much fewer snaps) all had fantastic seasons as well, giving the Cowboys great hope and confidence in their secondary moving forward. They may need to add another safety during the offseason, however, though Jeff Heath remains more than just a viable option.

Dak Prescott Is Here To Stay

Whether or not you think it's justified, Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the future in Dallas. And he earned that right the back-half of 2018 and during the postseason. After a shaky start to his 3rd season, Prescott turned things around nicely, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 finish to the regular season.

Prescott played the best football of his young career down the stretch, and showed just how valuable he is both on the field and in the locker room. It seemed like every game he made 2-3 winning plays that put the Cowboys over the top that afternoon.

Dak is going to get a contract extension, and will be locked in as a Cowboy for the foreseeable future, and with the way he played the final 10 games of his season, I can't second guess this decision much at all.



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Jason Garrett Can’t be Serious About Retaining Scott Linehan, Can He?

Brian Martin

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Jason Garrett Can't be Serious About Retaining Scott Linehan, Can He?

One of the few positives most of us were looking forward to after the Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams was the fact that Scott Linehan would no longer be the offensive coordinator for America's Team. Everything was pointing to his dismissal, but that may not be the case according to Head Coach Jason Garrett.

Todd Archer on Twitter

Jason Garrett said on 105.3 The Fan that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will return in 2019. "We don't anticipate any significant changes on our staff," Garrett said.

I can't say that I was happy upon learning Jason Garrett plans on retaining Scott Linehan as the Cowboys OC in 2019. In fact, my first thought was… Well, something better left unsaid. I'm sure many of you can kind of read my mind, because I'm pretty positive you had all that the same thoughts running through your head as well.

In all honesty, I didn't think there was a snowball chance in hell Scott Linehan would return to Dallas after the conclusion of the 2018 season. After all, the Cowboys nearly fired him during the bye week earlier this season, meaning his job security was already on thin ice. He didn't do anything to improve things in my opinion.

I know Jason Garrett has said Scott Linehan will return as the OC in 2019, but not for a second do I believe it. We are less than 72 hours hours removed from the Cowboys exit from the playoffs and I highly doubt any of Dallas' decision-makers has had the time to sit down and discuss who stays and who goes. In fact, I know they haven't.

Jeff Cavanaugh on Twitter

Stephen Jones says they won't comment on anything with coaching staff but that they need to take a deep look at why they fell short. Says it a little early to speculate about players or coaches. They haven't had a meeting about it yet.

I think once the Cowboys brass sits down and reevaluates the 2018 season, they will come to the conclusion they can do better than Scott Linehan as their offensive coordinator. There were just too many times throughout the season where the playcalling was a problem just. It's just time to move on, despite the vote of confidence by Jason Garrett.

Of course, this could just be me trying to read between the lines hoping and praying Scott Linehan is finally fired. Like many of you, I've grown way too tired of his predictable and dated playcalling. It's time to move on and find someone more innovative who can maximize the talent the Dallas Cowboys have on the roster, much like Kris Richard did with the defense.

You can either choose to believe Jason Garrett or not. I for one have a hard time seeing the Dallas Cowboys staying status quo with their coaching staff, especially their offensive coordinator. But, only time will tell.

Do you think it's time for the Dallas Cowboys to fire Scott Linehan?



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Star Blog

Cowboys Rammed Out of Playoffs but 2019 is Bright

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Cowboys Rammed Out of Playoffs but 2019 is Bright

If you were to have clicked over to Sportsbook Review, you could have seen what all the premier online sportsbooks were dealing on the Cowboys/Rams game before kickoff. Sites like Bovada, which incidentally you can read a Bovada Review at Sportsbook Review as well, had the Rams favored in every quarter, in both halves, and installed LA as seven-point favorites over Dallas. As is often the case, the number was nearly spot on as the Rams bounced our 'Boys out of the postseason 30-22. It was a heart-wrenching loss for Dallas fans everywhere but for those who put their money where their mouths were, it was particularly painful in what turned out to be a one-point difference between losing and pushing.

Let’s look on the bright side, though. The Cowboys not only copped the division crown but the draft picks from April bore fruit this season. Linebacker and No. 19 overall pick Leighton Vander Esch is a certified stud while third-round pick Michael Gallup proved he is a bona fide NFL receiver. Second-round offensive lineman Connor Williams had difficulties at left guard, but at the very least, has a season under his belt at the next level and could turn into a legitimate bodyguard for Prescott in 2019.

And let’s not forget about the trade for Amari Cooper, which turned Dallas from a squad struggling to find its identity to an NFC East champ in winning seven of its last nine games since Cooper arrived. This year’s edition also bested a tough Seahawks team in the first-round of the playoffs.

Let’s face it, folks, no one expected the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl this season and what we got was about as much as we could have hoped with the current roster as it is presently constructed.

Dak Prescott has one more year on his rookie contract and will be looking to score a big payday at the end of next season, if not sooner. The Cowboys could enter negotiations and lock Prescott up for the foreseeable future, but it might be best for both parties to see what 2019 brings and go from there. Either way, Dallas will pay beaucoup bucks to keep Prescott in a Cowboys uniform so watching and waiting will most likely be the tact management takes with their star quarterback, with a franchise tag in 2020 as an option as well.

In the team’s immediate future will be signing their second-round pick in 2014, DeMarcus Lawrence. The talented defensive end provided the Cowboys with the edge rusher they needed for parts of this season and his combined 25 sacks over the last two seasons would be nearly impossible to replace. Dallas franchised him this season but will most likely put together a long-term deal for Lawrence in the offseason.

Ezekiel Elliott has also reportedly been hinting at his own contract extension even though he is contractually committed to the Cowboys for next season with a team option in '20.

Ironically, one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys in recent years was a relatively weak link this season. The offensive line was decimated by injuries and Pro Bowler Travis Frederick missed the entire season. But those wounds will heal for next season and the old gang will be back together again.

The Cowboys have loads of cap space but are without a first-round pick due to the trade for Amari Cooper. Nevertheless, the young blood on the team looks poised to contribute for many years and there will be money available to woo free agents to a club now viewed as a legitimate contender.

If you want to look at next season’s odds, make sure to educate yourself on which online sportsbooks are the most reputable, trusted, and reliable. Read the Bovada Review over at SBR and see what customers are saying about one of the industry’s top sportsbooks. Then, when the lines come out on next season’s division, conference, and Super Bowl winners, you can be informed and maybe throw a few bucks on the 'Boys from Dallas!



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