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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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Tony Pollard, Supporting Cast or a Co-lead with Ezekiel Elliott?

Brian Martin

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How Much can RB Tony Pollard eat Into Zeke's 2019 Workload?

Since the Dallas Cowboys drafted Running Back Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft he's been the star of the show. Any of their other offensive weapons have been nothing more than supporting cast the past three years, but rookie RB/WR Tony Pollard could prove to be more than just supporting cast and become more of a co-lead in Zeke's show.

Suggesting Tony Pollard has a chance to be more than just supporting cast with Ezekiel Elliott is a lot to put on a rookies shoulders, but that's the kind of hype he's receiving already. He hasn't even put on the pads yet with the Dallas Cowboys, but he's already receiving Alvin Kamara type comparisons due to the versatility he's expected to bring with him to the NFL.

Living up to those Alvin Kamara comparisons might be even more difficult than becoming anything more than just an extra behind Zeke anytime soon, but it's doable. After all, Kamara immediately stepped in as a rookie and became a costar with Mark Ingram in New Orleans. It's certainly feasible to think Pollard can do the same.

Tony Pollard

Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard

There's of course only one problem with this way of thinking. Mark Ingram is no Ezekiel Elliott. And, no RB on the depth chart behind Zeke the last three years has been good enough to cut into #21's heavy workload. Is the hype surrounding Tony Pollard justified? Is he talented enough to cut into Zeke's playing time?

Those are some really big questions we don't have an answer to as of yet. Training camp could help determine the type of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and beyond, but even that can be thrown out the window once games start to matter in the regular season.

Personally, I think Tony Pollard will be part of a supporting cast behind Ezekiel Elliott this year. I just don't think he's ready to step in and costar with Zeke just yet. I think he will be more of a comedic relief that will be used from time to time to keep things interesting. That's not necessarily a bad thing though considering his versatility to contribute in the running or passing game.

In time though, Pollard could prove worthy of an increase in playing time and become more of a co-lead with No. 21. It may very well be in his rookie season, but he's really going to have to prove himself and that will need to start this week when the Dallas Cowboys kick off their training camp in Oxnard, California.

What do you think? Is Tony Pollard supporting cast or a co-lead with Zeke?



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Randy Gregory can Make the Perimeter Pass Rush Extremely Formidable

Matthew Lenix

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Randy Gregory can Make the Perimeter Pass Rush Formidable

Randy Gregory showed flashes last season of the potential he has as a pass rusher. Even though he only managed one start he did see action in 14 games. Had registered 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 7 tackles for loss and 15 hits on the quarterback. That's very good production with limited opportunities. Now, this sets up the Dallas Cowboys on the edge getting to the quarterback, and here's how.

The Cowboys acquired Defensive End Robert Quinn via trade from the Dolphins back in March. He is set to start at right defensive end opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence. Gregory, who lines up on the right side as well, can potentially make said side a huge problem for offenses on 2019.

Let's just take a typical season from Quinn which is between 8-9 sacks. If Gregory can give at minimum what he did last season, that's around 15 sacks just between the two of them alone. Now, as we all know, Lawrence can be penciled in for double-digit sacks routinely at this point. So given this information that's a potential 25-30 sacks just from these three players. This is without including guys such as Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, and rookies Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks (assuming they make the final roster).

Why is Gregory's potential impact so important? For me, it's simply where he lines up at defensive end, on the right side. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, which means when they drop back to pass they face left side defensive ends, with their backs to defensive ends coming off the right side. If you can consistently pressure a quarterback from his blindside the opportunities for sacks and fumbles increase. Regardless of how skilled a quarterback is you can't avoid what you can't see.

Of course, this all depends on what the NFL does regarding the reinstatement of Gregory. He was suspended indefinitely in February for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, a situation he is all too familiar with. My guess is Gregory and the Cowboys will ask for a conditional reinstatement like he was given by the NFL in 2018. What this would do is allow Gregory to participate in meetings and condition work until he's a full participant. He is set to apply for that reinstatement within the next few days.

The only thing Randy Gregory can do now is play the waiting game. The league is currently considering the possibility of softening their stance on marijuana use. If they are serious about it I can see Gregory getting reinstated even if it's on a conditional basis. If this is granted the Cowboys will be getting big-time pressure off the edge with Lawrence, Quinn, and Gregory in 2019.



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CB Jourdan Lewis Getting Ready For Bounce-Back 2019 Season

Kevin Brady

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Seldom-Used CB Jourdan Lewis Could Play Big Role Against Saints

For a third round pick, cornerback Jourdan Lewis sure did come to Dallas with his fair share of hype.

In fact, much of Cowboys Nation was more excited about Lewis joining the Cowboys than they were about either of the team's first two selections in that same draft, Taco Charlton and Chidobe Awuzie. But while Awuzie has soared to starting cornerback levels with Dallas during his first two seasons, Jourdan Lewis has been forced to take a back seat.

After a promising rookie season, Jourdan Lewis didn't get much playing time at cornerback in 2018. Anthony Brown took over as the starting slot corner, while Byron Jones and Awuzie manned the outside. This left Lewis as the odd man out, despite what many consider to be impressive cover skills.

Lewis is not allowing this down season to eat away at him too much, though. While speaking with the media last week at SportsCon in Dallas, Lewis gave his thoughts on how his year spent behind the other young Cowboys corners is only fueling him for the future.

 "As a competitor it's always tough, especially as a rookie and you're playing all of the time. It's definitely when you take a step back it humbles you. Sometimes you gotta understand that you have to wait your turn and work on your craft. Understand that you always have to stay a professional no matter your situation. And that's what I learned last year."

Considered undersized by the standards typically used by Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard, some have argued that Lewis was never given a fair shot to earn playing time once Richard took over in 2018. Whether or not this is true can't ever be said for sure, and the level of play Anthony Brown exhibited from the slot in 2018 didn't leave much room for substitutions either.

Still, Jourdan Lewis says he appreciates that time he spent on the bench, and he hopes that it will only drive him towards bigger and better things down the road.

"I appreciate the time that I sat last year honestly...Because it made me a better player, maybe a better person honestly."

The Cowboys cornerback situation didn't get any less crowded this offseason. Not only is Dallas bringing back all three of the aforementioned starters from a year ago, but they also drafted Miami's Michael Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.

That cornerback room is full of talent. Not only does this create a luxury for the Cowboys at one of the league's most important positions, but it also breeds immense competition between the corners come training camp.

Which, if you didn't know, begins on July 26th.



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