It is finally almost time for 2016 Dallas Cowboys playoff football, as tomorrow the Green Bay Packers will come to AT&T Stadium with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line. You already know by now that they'll be bringing QB Aaron Rodgers and a dangerous passing attack into this game, so fittingly enough the last two installments of my Playoff Primer series will focus on the Dallas secondary.
Today, we look at the safeties.
In his first full year at free safety and just his second in the NFL, Byron Jones continued to develop into a star with every desirable trait to play his position in Rod Marinelli's scheme. The two best things the Cowboys defense has done as a team this season is stop the run and not allow big plays, both of which involve Jones.
A physical run stopper, Byron can meet any running back in the hole and stop him in his tracks, while being more than fast enough to play his center field role back at safety as well.
Jones' impact has been felt since day one with this team, as he was asked to carry a lot of tight ends in coverage as a rookie. Now with an expanded role, the Cowboys have struggled somewhat against opposing tight ends - proving that their first round pick from 2015 can truly do anything asked of him.
While it would be great for Byron Jones to make a big splash on this game with a turnover or something similar, he will undeniably have a big say in the final outcome of every playoff game the Cowboys play with his versatility and all-around awesomeness.
Barry Church is one of the most underrated Dallas defenders. The veteran strong safety playing across from Jones, Church has quietly done his job once again in 2016, battling through injuries to appear in 12 games - making 85 tackles and defending four passes.
As we talk about the Dallas Cowboys secondary, it is important to once again bring up the "Clog and Cover" scheme that has worked so well this season for them. Essentially, the Cowboys are contempt with putting as many sound tacklers on the field as they can at every level and forcing teams to methodically march them down the field.
Church has fit this mold for his entire Cowboys career, with a knack for timely third down stops and big hits that prevent busted plays from turning into touchdowns. If you were to make a list of current Cowboys that are more than deserving of a Super Bowl ring, Barry Church would find his way onto the list, and one of this secondary's leaders has a chance to help get his team to Houston in a big way.
On a team full of improbable stories, J.J. Wilcox has emerged in 2016 to finally put things together at the safety position. Acting as Dallas' "enforcer" in a way, Wilcox has laid on big hits all season long, patrolling underneath the deep coverages Rod Marinelli plays.
Wilcox has also earned his snaps by progressing a lot more as a coverage safety, sometimes ask in "Dime" packages to carry receivers out of the slot. While the Packers, and any team the Cowboys will see the rest of the way, will have to be ready for the versatile safety combination of Byron Jones and Barry Church, its best they also understand where #27 in white is at all times.
If not, he is going to continue to come out of nowhere to place his stamp on every game the Cowboys have left.
Regarded by some in Cowboys Nation as the greatest football player of all time, Jeff Heath has found himself playing a bigger role defensively over the past few weeks of the regular season in addition to his job on special teams.
Heath may not be as good at any one thing that Jones, Church, or even Wilcox brings to the table, but he is a solid deep safety that can help in over-the-top coverage. With Barry Church often playing down in the box, Jones ends up as one of the only deep defenders on the field in a lot of packages - except when he has Jeff Heath playing next to him.
The snaps that Heath will get on defense in the playoffs will likely be limited, but even in limited opportunities he'll have a chance to make a solid impact as a much better option than most third safeties across the NFL.
Tomorrow here at Inside The Star, this Playoff Primer series will come to an end with a look at the corner backs. If you have enjoyed this series in preparation for the Divisional Round, feel free to email me your thoughts at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
Report: Cowboys’ Travis Frederick Ready for Start of Training Camp
With the Dallas Cowboys opening training camp with their first practice on Saturday, July 27th in Oxnard, California, a lot of information is coming out regarding who will be available when they report.
It was already reported that Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will be placed on the physically unable to practice (P.U.P.) list to start training camp. Now, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network is reporting that Travis Frederick will avoid the Non-Football Injury list (NFI) and be ready to report for the starting of training camp.
Very good news for the #Cowboys: All-Pro C Travis Frederick, who dealt with Guillain-Barré syndrome last year, is expected to be active for the start of training camp. He avoids NFI and is ready to go.
Frederick has been out of action for a year after being diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during last year's training camp. Guillen-Barre is a disorder that can affect the peripheral neurological system. Basically, the neurological system that doesn't consist of the brain and the spinal cord, which is the central nervous system.
There was talk that Frederick might have been ready to go for the playoffs at the end of last season, but the team continued to hold him out in order to get him back 100% for 2019. It looks like the time has come for Frederick to regain his spot as the leader and lynch-pin of the offensive line.
While Joe Looney was effective in 2018, there's no doubt the team suffered a drop off from All-Pro Travis Frederick to career backup Looney. Getting Frederick back in the middle of the offensive line is the most significant upgrade the Dallas Cowboys could have made this offseason on either side of the football.
Frederick is one of the smartest players on the team and does a lot for Dak Prescott and the offensive line in terms of setting protections. For Dak Prescott, he'll be able to have a little more faith that the front of his pocket will hold up if he needs to step up to make a throw. Frederick will also help Connor Williams as the two work combo blocks against opposing interior defenders. Frederick will immediately improve the Dallas Cowboys red zone offense as they'll be able to get more of a push on the interior.
It was almost expected that this would be the case, but hearing it for certain should give the Dallas Cowboys and their fans a lot of optimism for what's to come in 2019. Travis Frederick returning to the starting lineup is a huge addition for a Dallas Cowboys offense that looks ready to roll in 2019.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Cornerback
The Dallas Cowboys have spent a lot of draft picks the last few years to build up their cornerbacks group. There is a lot of potential heading into 2019, but Dallas needs these young players to take the next step if they want to compete for a championship. This weekend's start to training camp will be an important part of the process.
Dallas' best move to help the cornerback position was switching Byron Jones back there in 2018 after a few seasons at safety. Jones went to his first Pro Bowl and has positioned himself for a big contract extension.
Byron is currently set to play 2019 on his fifth-year option of $6.27 million, which is a steal for a CB of his caliber. Whether or not the Cowboys allow him to enter unrestricted free agency next year, or get a new deal signed, will be something to watch for throughout the upcoming season.
Jones' future may be in question, but we at least know he'll be the team's top corner this season. None of the other Dallas CBs can enjoy that same certainty in 2019, as depth chart positioning and job security are all in flux right now.
Here is the current CB depth chart headed into training camp:
- Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie
- Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
- Michael Jackson, Donovan Olumba
- C.J. Goodwin, Chris Westry
- Treston Decoud
Will this list hold as is, or will we some shifting over the five weeks of training camp and preseason?
The battle for snaps between Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis will be an intriguing ongoing storyline. Awuzie was the starter last year, and will hopefully make a big developmental leap in his third year.
But Anthony Brown has proven himself a capable player despite being just a 6th-round pick in 2016. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Brown will certainly be pushing for a significant role this season to hopefully help his free agent marketability in 2020.
If things go like they did last year, both Awuzie and Brown will get plenty of playing time. The true enigma of this bunch is Jourdan Lewis, who is hoping to be more than just the number-four CB in 2019.
Though he was drafted a round later than Awuzie in 2017, Lewis was generally considered the superior talent by most draft analysts. He fell due to a domestic violence accusation a month before the draft for which he was eventually found not guilty.
Jourdan was looking good at the end of his rookie season, but the arrival of Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach last year seemed to cause a regression. Lewis only got in on a little over 18% of the total defensive snaps in 2018, while the top three all had 67% or higher.
Despite his few opportunities, Lewis still had one of the biggest plays of the year with his interception that sealed Dallas' stunning upset over the New Orleans Saints. His potential has been noted, with Coach Richard even calling him an "exception" to his general preference for bigger, stronger cornerbacks.
But even if the team likes Jourdan, can he beat Awuzie or Brown? Could he perhaps have more value in a trade, with two years left on that rookie deal, to a team in greater need at CB?
The idea of moving Lewis, which existed prior to the draft, gained steam when Dallas used a 5th-round pick this year acquire CB Michael Jackson out of Miami. He fits that prototypical build at corner, and perhaps the Cowboys are hoping he can show enough early to provide an adequate replacement if they want to trade Jourdan.
If not Jackson, prospect Donovan Olumba is another option. He nearly made the 53 last year but got squeezed out when Dallas only kept four cornerbacks. After a year on the practice squad, Olumba is back and could be ready for a roster spot.
Veteran C.J. Goodwin has bounced around the NFL since 2014 but has some real-game experience. If the young guys aren't in a position to be game-day active, perhaps he would be the best option. Dallas added him in the middle of the 2018 season and he was helping on special teams and as a reserve corner at the end of the year.
Undrafted rookie Chris Westry, listed at 6'4", is another intriguing player to watch in camp. That rare size is something you can't teach, and hopefully Richard can develop Westry enough to get something out of the physical gifts.
This should be a fun 2019 training camp at cornerback, with competition potentially at every spot on the depth chart except the very top. And while secure at number-one, even Byron Jones has his own question marks around his long-term future in Dallas.
We'll start getting some answers in just four more days!
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OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence and CB Byron Jones to Start 2019 Camp on PUP
The Dallas Cowboys will be missing two of their defensive leaders when they open 2019 training camp this Saturday. Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones will both start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List as they recover from offseason surgeries.
Lawrence, who got a new five-year contract in April, immediately underwent shoulder surgery once his deal was finalized. DeMarcus reportedly was waiting for contract negotiations to be completed before he had the procedure.
Jones had hip surgery in late May. He is playing 2019 on the fifth-year option from his original contract, and is no doubt hoping for his own long-term extension sometime in the near future.
Sources: DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will open Cowboys camp on PUP and won't practice in California https://t.co/jzWV5FjBO6 via @sportsdaydfw
Neither Lawrence or Jones, who are both coming of Pro Bowl seasons in 2018, are expected to be absent once the regular season starts in September. But either participating in this year's training camp is doubtful, and even preseason appearances are in question right now.
With DeMarcus out at DE, newcomers like Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder will get plenty of chances to show their stuff. It's also a nice opportunity for Taco Charlton, assuming he's recovered from his own offseason surgery, to get some work against the first-team offensive line.
No Byron at CB will give Jourdan Lewis a nice opportunity to work with the starters as well. He was likely stuck at the 4th spot behind Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown but should now get more time on the field and against the best competition.
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