Kris Richard helped develop players such as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor during his time in Seattle. The now infamous “Legion of Boom” terrorized the NFL with their physical style of play. In 2015 when he became the Defensive Coordinator, the Seahawks had the number one ranked defense in the NFL. In January of 2018, the Dallas Cowboys hired him as the Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator. Overall the team finished 7th overall in total defense, with Richard’s boys finishing a respectable 13th against the pass. However, I see that going up a few notches in 2019.
In order to have a successful unit, you need good talent on the field. Through the NFL Draft, the Cowboys have accumulated some nice pieces for Richard to work with.
Byron Jones is the lead dog of this unit. After spending most of his first three years at safety, he returned to his natural position of corner in 2018, and it paid off tremendously. He would be named a second-team All-Pro and put his named in the conversation with the best corners in the NFL. Look no further than the Cowboys 13-10 victory over the Saints last season, when he held Michael Thomas to 40 yards on 5 receptions.
Currently, he’s recovering from hip surgery that he had back in March. The original target date was the beginning of training camp but recent reports say not to expect much out of him during the preseason, with week 1 now being a more realistic starting point. Jones getting back on the field and performing at a high level will be key for a secondary that was in the top half of the league versus the pass last season.
Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown are the units number two and three corners. Awuzie is coming off his best season in his brief career in multiple areas. His total tackles increased by from 25 to 71 and passed defended went from 7 to 11. More importantly, his availability was better as well, playing in 15 games as opposed to 10 his rookie year. Now the Cowboys have a potential star in making along with their all-pro number one, a huge plus to have in a pass-happy league.
Brown holds down the fort in the slot, which many believe to be the hardest corner position to play. He has thirty starts under his belt and 27 career passes defended. With slot receivers having a bevy of routes at their disposal playing on the inside, having a corner that can be solid in this area is key.
There’s also solid depth at corner on the Cowboys roster. Jordan Lewis is entering year three and is still trying to find a role on the team. Some attribute his not seeing a lot of field action to lacking the size Kris Richard likes with his defensive backs. Nonetheless, he is very talented in his own right and provides some insurance in the unfortunate event an injury occurs. Rookie Michael Jackson was selected in the fifth round back in April. At 6’1 and 210 pounds, he’s prototypical for what Richard wants in a corner. Plus, his ability to play on the outside and in the slot provides much more value. He’s looked at as maybe the top contender to challenge Brown as the starter at nickel corner.
Xavier Woods is the shining star on the backend at free safety. A steal in the sixth round in 2017, the headhunting wrecking machine increased his production in tackles and passes defended from his rookie year. This can be credited to the fact he started 10 more games in 2018, and as we all know experience is the best teacher. Woods is on the verge of being a pro bowler in my personal opinion. It’s one thing to be physical but when you can combine that with good ball skills you get a more complete player.
Jeff Heath is the starter at strong safety, for now, that is. This position is looked at as the weakest part of the Cowboys defense with Heath’s inconsistency in coverage and making tackles. Fortunately, there are a few challengers that could upgrade said position.
George Iloka was signed during free agency in an attempt to make the strong safety role better. He hasn’t supplanted Heath yet, but there’s an entire training camp and preseason to change all of that. At 6’4 and 226 pounds, he has the size Richard wants and the physicality to his game. The next few months will be critical if he wants to takeover to top spot at strong safety.
Kavon Frazier and rookie Donovan Wilson will also be in the mix to challenge Health. Frazier excels on special teams but hasn’t done enough to get much work otherwise. He did manage two starts in 2018 in relief for Xavier Woods so not only does he have talent but versatility.
Wilson comes out of Texas A&M with a pretty impressive skill set of his own. In addition to playing safety, he spent time at nickel corner as well in college. With 21.5 career tackles for loss and 8 interceptions to his credit, there’s a lot of potential in this young man, we’ll see how training camp and preseason workout for him.
After the Cowboys wild-card win over the Seahawks in last years playoffs Richard interviewed for several head coaching jobs but wasn’t hired. Even though he was disappointed he’s also excited about continuing to work side by side with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli. At the Pro Bowl in January, he had this to say about his appreciation for him.
“He’s like one of the top three men in the world as far as I’m concerned. He has great character. He’s tough. He’s demanding. I just love his attitude. He’s what is right about America. He’s hard. You can’t live soft and be hard. He’s got the right mentality. He was gracious enough and humble enough to allow me to come in and call the defense to allow me to continue to grow. I love him. I am grateful for him. I am looking forward to going on and getting better with him.”
Kris Richard has coached and developed several all-pro players during his coaching career. Now, he has a roster of talent with the potential to reach that level. He has an elite number one corner, a really good number two, a solid slot corner, a rising star at safety and depth behind them. Also, he has several players in his defensive backfield coming off the best seasons of their respective careers. It will be vital for Richard to continue his aggressive and physical style of coaching in the secondary to match the Cowboys top 5 rushing defense from a year ago.