Analyzing the Cowboys Safety Position; Who Should Start?
Failure. The only word to describe what Brodney Poole, recently released Cowboys safety, did on his pre-training camp conditioning test. For a professional athlete, there is no excuse. One of the biggest question marks heading into this season was at the safety position opposite of three-year starter Gerald Sensabaugh.
We no longer have question of who but a question of whether it will remain a question mark down the road, or if recently promoted Barry Church will stick.
Failed conditioning tests happen, as veteran running back Felix Jones and wide receiver Andre Holmes failed their respective tests as well. What is most surprising, is that Poole was brought in to be an upgrade over former Dallas Cowboys safety and Rob Ryan scheme "stop-gap" Abe Elam.
The Cowboys coaching staff believes that over the course of minicamps, OT's and these first two weeks of training camp that Barry Church has validated the starting position that the Cowboys are going to give to him, which makes Poole expendable.
Barry Church has been extremely active at the defensive practices, always putting his nose near the ball, and constantly being disruptive, which is something we have not had from the safety position in quite some time. Currently he is slated to be the starting safety opposite incumbent three-year starter Sensabaugh.
Making Church the stater makes sense on multiple levels, including offseason/ training camp production, and personnel fits. Sensabaugh is more of a free safety, while Church is closer to the mold of a strong safety.
With Rob Ryan's pressure defense, however, the two can be used interchangeably. Tonight, in the Cowboys' first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders, look for Church to get reps with the first-team defense (probably 10-15 snaps).
What is frustrating, however, is that the Cowboys have a fourth-round draft pick that has knack for chaos and turnovers. Matt Johnson, the Cowboys rookie safety, has been unable to get many practices under his feet.
With his alma mater, Eastern Washington, on a weird bas-ackwards school schedule, Johnson wasn't able to participate in most of the off season OTAs. When Johnson came back, he was quickly put on the PUP list because of a hamstring injury. While he has been cleared and removed off the PUP list, we will not see Johnson in action tonight.
For the starting role, and the battle throughout the next two to three preseason games, look to see Church with an overwhelming lead, but Johnson to be catching quickly. The Cowboys want turnovers, and Matt Johnson is all about turnovers.
At Eastern Washington, he gathered up 17 of them in his career. Although that was in the FCS division, 17 is still a hefty number
For the rest of the season, I see Church getting the starting nod. If Johnson didn't go to a backwards school, and if he could have avoided the injuries that prevented him from practicing, then he would have a shot; but this late in the year (yes, I am aware it is still pretty early) he won't have a chance to over-take unless there is an injury.
Where I do see Johnson fitting is in on sub packages. Last year, Rob Ryan liked to use Church as a DB/LB hybrid and had him playing close to the line of scrimmage. When the Cowboys go to the nickel and dime packages, look to see Johnson take over the prototypical free safety spot, while Church works closer to the line of scrimmage, and possibly covering tight ends.
Rob Ryan loves his defensive backs, and right now the Cowboys have a boatload of solid ones. Injuries have prevented Ryan from using his exotic packages with blitz schemes that would make John Madden's yellow TV marker go dry. But we are only in the first week of the preseason, and the regular season opener is still more than three weeks away.
Tonight, especially watch once the reserves go into play. Cornerback Mario Butler was given some time at safety during practice because of injuries. Look to see who stands out not only on defense, but on special teams between Danny McCray, Mario Butler, and Justin Taplin-Ross.
Sadly, Hank Williams Jr. will not be asking us tonight, "Are you ready for some football?" But yes, we are ready for some football.
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