Yesterday, fellow writer Sean Martin wrote a good piece on reasons for optimism for the entire Cowboys secondary. I'm not quite as excited about the cornerback situation as he is, and because of that I wanted to dig a little deeper into second-year man Byron Jones. Despite his youth and inexperience, I think he is still paramount to the Cowboys' defensive success in 2016.
All indication is that Jones, who shifted between cornerback and safety as a rookie, will be locked in as the free safety this year. His athleticism and skill set make him prototypical for the rangy, ball-hawking "center fielder" that the Cowboys haven't had since... ummm... ever?
The terms "free" and "strong" safety haven't meant a lot in Dallas for a while. Whether it was Barry Church or Gerald Sensabaugh, the Cowboys' top safety has had to move all around the field in various formations. Despite being ideally sized and skilled for playing down in the box, both Church and Sensabaugh have also been the best coverage players at safety and have had to play out in coverage more than you'd really want them to.
While Byron Jones will certainly be used on the occasional blitz, and Church may drop back into coverage to confuse quarterbacks, it appears they will bring back the more traditional roles of the starting safeties. This puts tremendous pressure on Jones, in just his sophomore season and first year as a full-time safety, to deliver as the last line of the Cowboys defense.
As mentioned earlier, I'm not as optimistic about the Cowboys' cornerbacks as others. Orlando Scandrick is coming back from a major injury and, frankly, has always been a little overrated. He's certainly a solid starter and appears to be a strong locker room guy. Still, I think his value has been overestimated because he's been the best of an otherwise weak position group.
Even if Scandrick comes back completely unhindered, he's not a Pro Bowl corner.
Scandrick's inflated value trickles through the rest of the group. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, who have barely been worthy starters in Dallas, will battle for the number-two job. They appear locked into the top three, barring a surprising third-year surge by Deji Olatoye.
Sadly, we've seen worse cornerback groups in Dallas. Still, this crop is going to have issues and it's going to force Byron Jones to clean up those mistakes.
If that wasn't concerning enough, it appears the Cowboys will have another year of pass-rushing issues. Suspensions to their two best talents at defensive end, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, will force unproven youngsters and journeyman veterans into starting roles early in the year. Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton could emerge as a great duo at the tackle spots but still have to prove it.
Of course, this means more time for opposing quarterbacks and receivers to let routes develop. It means the field getting stretched further and decisions having to be made on which guy to cover. And who does that impact more than anybody else on the field?
Byron Jones could be the next Ed Reed, but Ed Reed wouldn't have been Ed Reed without the rest of that great Baltimore Ravens defense in front of him. Even if Jones is playing at the highest level, will his teammates give him a chance to show it?
Thankfully, Byron Jones gives the Cowboys more potential and talent at safety than they've had since at least Roy Williams. If he can make a few big plays early in the year, Jones could give opponents something new to worry about if they test him. It's been a long time since any of Dallas' safeties weren't liabilities in coverage, let alone a threat to the other team.
It's a lot to ask from a second-year player, even if he was a late first-round pick. We can only hope that Byron Jones is ready for the challenge.
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Things have not gone well for Dak Prescott this season. His play has been up and down and he hasn't given the team or Cowboys Nation much reason to believe that he's the future at the quarterback position for the Dallas Cowboys. Speaking to 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas today, Legendary Dallas Cowboys Quarterback, Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Roger Staubach offered support for the Cowboys current quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Staubach had this to say when asked about Dak Prescott.
Roger Staubach on @1053thefan said #Dak is a part of the problem with the #Cowboys offense, but he is not the problem.
Roger Staubach didn't start in the NFL until the third year of his career and thinks that's a good time for the quarterback to make the jump. At this point, we are 40 games into Dak Prescott's NFL career and we can see some of the things that he's good at as well as some of the things that he struggles with.
As Staubach points out, Dak Prescott has the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback, even if his play hasn't been what you'd want at the position. Roger admits that Dak shoulders some of the blame for the offensive woes of the last 16 games, but realizes that there are many reasons for the Cowboys offensive failures this season.
Roger Staubach believes that the Dallas Cowboys can win with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback despite some of the flaws that have crept up over the last 16 games. He's not wrong.
Staubach's pretty accurate in his assessment that there's been more good than bad. If you look at the first 24 games of Dak Prescott's career, he was really good. Through the last 16 games, he's struggled at times. So technically there's been more good than bad. The problem is that over the last 16 games, there's been more bad than good. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and lately Dak hasn't done much. We can debate all day on how much of the struggles Prescott's faced are on him, but everyone should be willing to admit that some of the struggles are on him.
It's plausible that the confidence in Prescott that Jerry Jones has comes from Roger's belief that the Cowboys can win games with Dak Prescott at quarterback; and they have. In Prescott's career, the Dallas Cowboys are 25-15. Though wins are a team stat and not a quarterback stat, it just goes as evidence that Dak Prescott can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League.
Dak has some flaws, but the offense and its play caller haven't helped Prescott much this season. We should be critical of Prescott because he has a big pay day coming, if you believe Jerry Jones. While Dak has some flaws, he also has some traits that can make him a good quarterback in the NFL with the right coaching situation behind him. 2018 may be running out of time for the Dallas Cowboys and their playoff prospects, but the Cowboys have time before they have to make a decision on Prescott.
Cowboys Activate WRs Noah Brown, Lance Lenoir, Release Thompson and Decoud
For the second straight week, the Dallas Cowboys will go into a game with a new look at the wide receiver position. Such a rotation was expected when the team moved on from Dez Bryant this offseason, who also found a job this week with the New Orleans Saints. Debuting Amari Cooper as their new star on the outside Monday night, the Cowboys will add Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir to their WR corps in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Brown began practicing with the team for the first time since training camp last week. The Cowboys had to make a decision within three weeks on his roster status for the rest of the season, choosing now to activate the second-year draft pick.
Brown is a trusted blocker on the outside that has a year in this offense under his belt. Though he wasn't used much as a rookie, it's clear that the Cowboys envision Brown being a part of their future, releasing this year's FA signing Deonte Thompson in favor of both him and Lance Lenoir.
Thompson caught just 14 passes in Dallas, injured against the Titans as he conceded the jet sweep role in the Cowboys offense to Cornerback Jourdan Lewis for the second straight week.
Lenoir earns his shot after a year with the Cowboys himself, albeit off the practice squad. The UDFA out of Western Illinois has been a fan-favorite since arriving in Oxnard and making plays. Lenoir's toughness as a receiver that can stretch the field and high point the ball against contact is something the Cowboys have had a need for all season, not finding a spot for Lance until now.
Treston Decoud is the other player cut from the Cowboys roster to make room for both receivers. The defensive back was active for his only game with the Cowboys against the Titans, signed to the practice squad in September.
Coming off a loss in which Cole Beasley was targeted just four times and Ezekiel Elliott carried 17 times, the Cowboys may need to focus on getting their established play makers more involved this week to have a chance on the road. This may limit the immediate impact that both Brown and Lenoir could make, but at 0-4 in road contests this season, the Cowboys are desperate for any signs of life in an NFC East that remains for-the-taking.
Jerry Jones Sees An Extension Coming for QB Dak Prescott, Despite Latest Loss
The Dallas Cowboys 28-14 loss on Monday night to the Tennessee Titans at AT&T Stadium was crushing to their hopes of making the playoffs out of a weak NFC East this season. Remaining in the hunt with a 3-5 record may be the only thing stopping the Cowboys from making immediate changes in personnel or coaching. This season's struggles, mainly on offense, have also not changed the long-term outlook for the Cowboys at the most important position in sports -- quarterback.
Just as Jason Garrett frustratingly remains the guy at Head Coach, and Scott Linehan at Offensive Coordinator, Quarterback Dak Prescott is on track for an extension following the 2019 season according to his owner and GM Jerry Jones.
Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, he's young and he's gonna get extended." - Jerry Jones on @1053thefan. Holy cow. The worst news of the year.
The Cowboys have yet to win on the road this season. With trips to Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Indianapolis still to come Dallas could play their way into a forced change at one of these three positions.
With so many new first-year coaches in the building, the Cowboys might not see a suitable replacement for Garrett and Linehan at The Star right now though. Without a first round pick, traded for Amari Cooper in favor of any 2019 receiver prospects, the same could also go for Prescott.
Extending Dak while remaining aggressive about upgrading at QB could be the smart choice for the Cowboys. Nothing about their current makeup points to this being the case, but a decision on Prescott's contract is not due until after next season.
Getting a passer that's accomplished more than Prescott on the team for next season is understandably difficult. The top free agent quarterbacks are likely Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown, who would both do little more than cash checks they don't deserve against the Cowboys cap.
Prescott can do the same thing for another year on his rookie deal, and beyond on a contract that pays him like the backup QB the Cowboys should be preparing for.
This lines up well with a crop of 2020 QB prospects that are already in the national spotlight, such as Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert. Of course, the Cowboys would have to struggle once again to pick high enough for either passer to be a possibility.
It also remains to be seen if Herbert will declare for this year's draft instead.
It's been quite the fall from grace for Dak Prescott, who managed nine wins in a season where Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was lost for six games just a year ago. Now, the Cowboys take Elliott out of games themselves with a game plan that relies on Prescott being someone he isn't.
The end result has been Prescott ending up on the losing end of too many games where he simply didn't do enough for the Cowboys, hardly an enviable position to be in at QB in today's high-scoring NFL.
Jerry on Dak: "He's gonna get extended." @1053SS and @RJChoppy: *stunned silence* https://t.co/kSrCjB8QP5
Who Prescott is on a merely factual level is a fourth round pick that's not consistent enough from the pocket to win games. The entire Cowboys organization can't be blind to the fact that running out this same coaching staff with Prescott under center in 2019 is a punt on an entire season, a stark contrast from their win-now approach with Prescott in 2016 and most of 2017.
That 2017 season that yielded nine wins, which would require a 6-2 record for the Cowboys from this point on, did ultimately result in the firing of/changing of seven coaches below Garrett and his coordinators.
What Jerry Jones doesn't see is a viable option for the team to move forward without Prescott. At least as of Tuesday morning, off a Monday loss, and at the very least not before the end of next season. What Cowboys Nation sees is a quarterback that would hardly be viable elsewhere, especially in a Dallas organization that's literally proving why they aren't a fit for a QB like him while talking about a contract extension.
A coaching change would be the only thing the Cowboys can do to create some optimism for Prescott, giving their new coach a proven commodity at quarterback and allowing him to make a decision from there. Jones didn't sign off from 105.3 The Fan without further votes of confidence in his top coaches, but talks of extending them are silently in the distance.
A Dak Prescott extension should rightfully be the end of the coaches responsible for handing him the keys and steering him off path from 2016 Rookie of the Year to reeling 2018 starter still feeling the effects from how last season ended.
The Cowboys desperately need further change, and if it's not coming soon at quarterback it should be expected elsewhere.
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