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Dallas Cowboys 3rd Safety Spot Remains A Concern

Sean Martin



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, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we're not how you think we are. Host of "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

  • Russ_Te

    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

      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.

Star Blog

Sean’s Scout: Linebacker Joe Thomas Brings Speed, Range to Cowboys D

Sean Martin



Sean's Scout: Linebacker Joe Thomas Brings Speed, Range to Dallas Cowboys Defense 1

It took some time, but the Dallas Cowboys have their first outside free agent of the offseason, signing Linebacker Joe Thomas to provide depth at a position where Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber have already signed elsewhere.

The fifth-year pro has played exclusively with the Green Bay Packers, but the Cowboys do have some familiarity with Thomas as he spent part of 2015 on their practice squad.

Joe Thomas has served as a core special teams contributor and sub-package LB for the Packers out of South Carolina State, and will now look to bring these services to a Cowboys team in need of play making ability on both defense and special teams.

Using film from this past season, here is Joe Thomas' full scouting report.

LB Joe Thomas: Strengths

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Joe Thomas lined up at all three LB positions for the Packers, taking the majority of his snaps on defense at MIKE or WILL. The WILL position is where Thomas should fit best in Dallas.

Not overly physical with a shorter but square frame, Thomas is a rangy player with light feet and fluid movement ability. Shifting laterally along the line of scrimmage to "pick through trash" is not a problem for Thomas, nor is flipping his hips and running to the football.

It may take Thomas more effort than it should to get in position on most plays, with false steps and late reads being an issue, but once he establishes his sight on the point of attack this is a downhill missile of a player.

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Joe Thomas uses his length well to disengage from blocks and finish off plays, doing a nice job of not allowing blockers into his chest consistently.

With Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith expected to be the Cowboys' primary starters at WILL and MIKE respectively, Thomas could supplement these two physical, well-rounded players extremely well given his athleticism.

LB Joe Thomas: Weaknesses

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There is a reason a player with the raw traits of Joe Thomas goes un-drafted, and in this case it is because of awareness and anticipation issues in Thomas' game.

Far too often on tape, Thomas is forcing himself to recover from false steps against the blockers in front of him. I would have loved to see a player with this movement ability get more clean opportunities to finish at the football, but it was simply not there for Thomas.

When Thomas wasn't late to the ball against the run, he was getting caught flat-footed in space trying to compensate for this reactionary ability. This led to Thomas' fair share of missed tackles, where the LB failed to break down correctly.

Overall, Thomas did a decent job of avoiding blocks and disengaging, and does play with better-than-expected stopping power. The strength and technique to shed blocks was rarely seen though, relying on his quickness to outrun opponents to the spot.

LB Joe Thomas: Summary

Sean's Scout: Linebacker Joe Thomas Brings Speed, Range to Dallas Cowboys Defense

This is a player that should help the Dallas Cowboys in two phases of their game this season.

Signed for both 2018 and 2019, the Cowboys have clearly seen enough from their former practice squad linebacker in Green Bay to bring back an athletic ST ace with upside on defense.

Joe Thomas shouldn't be taking Lee or Smith off the field regularly this season, but at his best he will factor into Rod Marinelli's defense on passing downs.

Thomas gives a unit predicated on flowing to the ball even more speed on the field, and is an ideal depth signing with the versatility to cover punts and kickoffs.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Linebacker Joe Thomas Brings Speed, Range to Cowboys D" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Star Blog

Could a Special Coach Help Dez Bryant’s Route-Running?

Brian Martin



Could Special Coach Help Dez Bryant's Route Running?

Dez Bryant's career with the Dallas Cowboys may be in limbo, but that's not stopping him from trying to improve his game and on-field performance.

Bryant will reportedly train with personal wide receivers coach David Robinson, who specializes in route-running, according to reporter Jane Slater of NFL Network. This should come as good news to a lot of Cowboys fans, because Dez Bryant has often been criticized throughout his professional career for his route-running.

If anything, this news should indicate that Dez Bryant is more determined than ever to rebound from his disappointing 2017 season and prove his critics wrong that he is no longer one of the top receivers in the league. I for one am not going to bet against him.

Bryant's work ethic and passion for the game have never been questioned. His desire to be the best is evident anytime you turn on his film, whether it is in a game situation or on the practice field. He takes the "practice like you play" mantra to heart.

Everybody should be encouraged that at this point in his career, Dez Bryant is still looking at ways to improve his game and seek help. Hopefully, working with a well-known receivers coach like David Robinson can take Bryant's game to the next level.

Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)

You may not know who David Robinson is (I certainly didn't), but he is well respected around the league and has helped other receivers under his tutelage. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Reed, and even Cowboys former WR Brice Butler have all benefited from Robinson's coaching.

Dez Bryant has always been regarded as one of those types of receivers who is always open regardless how tight the coverage is around him. His ability to go up and snag the ball out of the air is arguably his best trait, but he could become more dangerous if he can create separation on his own with better route-running.

Unfortunately, Bryant is entering the stage in his career where age becomes a factor and some regression is to be expected. This is why improved route-running could improve any deficiencies Bryant maybe dealing with.

But, what exactly will David Robinson be working on with Dez Bryant?

Robinson told Jane Slater that in his workouts with Dez Bryant, he will concentrate on the expansion of Bryant's route tree, shaking defenders at the line of scrimmage, and improving footwork technique to compensate for any natural loss of speed due to age.

I don't know about you, but I'm actually looking forward to seeing how Bryant responds to Robinson's coaching, hopefully still as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

We all know that Bryant's status with the Cowboys is unknown, at least to those of us on the outside looking in, but I don't see him going anywhere in 2018. There just aren't any vet WRs or rookies who I can see replacing his production. Of course, I could be wrong.

One thing is for sure though, Dez Bryant isn't going to sit on his hands while he waits to find out what his future holds.

Do you think improved route-running will help Dez Bryant's game?

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Star Blog

Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Brian Martin



Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Since becoming the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Rod Marinelli hasn't had too many of his former players follow him to Dallas. In fact, I can only think of one… Henry Melton, and we all know how that turned out.

I don't know about you, but I found that a little strange. It's pretty common for coaches to try to bring some of their players with them when they accept a new job. Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL and former players can also help make the transition easier for everyone.

Strangely enough, Rod Marinelli hasn't really been afforded that luxury, whether it was his doing or not. But, there is a free agent who played under Marinelli's tutelage in Chicago who might make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Shea McClellin.

Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator in Chicago when the Bears decided to draft Shea McClellin 19th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marinelli likely had a big say in that decision, and if he still feels the same, a reunion could be in order.

Shea McClellin started his career in the NFL as a 4-3 left side defensive end playing opposite Julius Peppers, but was also viewed as a potential Brian Urlacher replacement. He showed flashes of becoming a solid defensive end his first few years in the league, but was eventually moved to linebacker, where he seemed to find a home for himself.

Shea McClellin

New England Patriots LB Shea McClellin

After his contract expired with the Bears, the New England Patriots decided to bring him aboard to help with their linebacker depth. He only ended up starting four games for them in 2016, but made some memorable plays to help the Patriots become the Super Bowl champions.

Unfortunately, the 2017 season wasn't very kind to him. His entire year was wiped out due to a concussion, which probably had a lot to do with why they recently released him.

This of course could be good news for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently need some depth at the linebacker position and Shea McClellin could provide that, if he's healthy. The healthy bit here is key, because he has had problems with concussions in the past.

If McClellin is indeed healthy, he could bring a versatile skill set to the Cowboys defense. His best spot is probably at strong side LB (SAM), but I think he could play middle linebacker (MIKE) as well. He also could provide depth at defensive end, the position he played to start his NFL career.

With the LB depth a concern, Shea McClellin makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, his past history with concussions is a red flag, but it also drives down his asking price. I think he would definitely fall into that "bargain shopping" mentality the Cowboys have been using these last few offseasons.

He probably wouldn't be viewed as a very important signing, but you still need these types of players on your team in order to succeed in the NFL. Let's see if the Dallas Cowboys agree.

Do you think a Rod Marinelli and Shea McClellin reunion is in order?

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