Xavier Woods is entrenched as the Dallas Cowboys primary safety but who will win the second spot alongside him in 2019?
When the Dallas Cowboys concluded their 2018 season, one position stood out as highly upgradeable – Safety. It should be no wonder Dallas was heavily linked to All-Pro free agent safeties Earl Thomas and Eric Berry early in the offseaosn. Dallas had a demand and the supply was readily available.
Throw in the fact that assistant coach Kris Richard and Earl Thomas have a history working together, and it almost seemed like a forgone conclusion the NFC East Champions would be upgrading the safety spot this offseason.
But alas, that was not something the Dallas Cowboys were interested in doing. Instead, Dallas waited it out until late in March and signed journeyman George Iloka to a modest 1-year deal. Left to believe he was an insurance policy should other avenues fall through, we turned our attention to the NFL Draft.
With so much safety talent slotted to go in the second round, surely a solid option would fall to Dallas at Pick 58. Well, we know how that ended. So here we stand, with the pedestrian cast of Iloka, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and rookie Donovan Wilson left to battle it out for the spot alongside Xavier Woods.
So who’s gonna win the second starting spot?
No one. Emphasis on the “one”. The way the Dallas Cowboys have started treating the second safety position on the field as of late, combined with the attitude they’ve had this offseason, says this may be a “committee” approach in 2019.
Looking back at the film the last two seasons, one thing is clear regarding the secondary – Dallas isn’t afraid to mix and match their defensive backs. It’s not uncommon to see three safeties on the field at the same time. Nor is it uncommon to see a cornerback slide into a safety role or a safety to man up like a CB.
Kris Richard and the Dallas Cowboys secondary appears to be a somewhat interchangeable unit, happy to play to the strengths of the personnel and not afraid to roll with “specialists” based on the competition.
Iloka is long and lean and may match up well with certain tight ends in man coverage. He also, like Heath, has experience at both FS and SS. They offer a little versatility for the coaching staff to fall back on.
In Chidobe Awuzie’s first season, Dallas used him frequently as a safety. It’s not surprising since this is the role he thrived in in college. Perhaps that’s on the horizon in 2019, if only situationally. After all, he’s excellent in coverage inside, and excellent at blitzing off the edge. He could do some damage if given a few snaps per game inside as a slot safety and maybe even deep in a cover 2.
The rookie Wilson is student of the game who’s also a playmaker and reliable tackler. The sky’s the limit for his role in 2019. Frazier is a tenured vet who is pretty vicious in the box. He may be a contributor on obvious running downs.
Without a clear No. 2 safety on this depth chart, the Dallas Cowboys are under no obligation to give the entire workload to just one safety.
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Some are dubbing Iloka the favorite to start at strong safety. While he may win the top spot in the end, it’s probably something he’ll have to earn. In my latest 53-man roster projection, I went out on a limb and had him missing the cut altogether. A bold prediction, to be sure, but Iloka’s film just isn’t very stunning. He has less bad plays than Heath, but he has far less good plays than Heath as well.
For as much as I’d like to replace Jeff Heath, I’m not sure Iloka’s any better. But that’s a topic better discussed in training camp when we actually see them play. At this point it’s pure speculation on Iloka. But regardless to how he performs, it’s likely Dallas will be shuffling their safeties this season and the second starting role won’t be held by just one man.
Assuming Dallas doesn’t add another safety this offseason, it’s likely to be a committee approach to that second safety spot in 2019. It lets the coaching staff play to their players’ strengths, and it also keeps them from over-investing in a position they clearly don’t want to.
- Published on 06/25/2019 at 11:00 AM
- Last updated at 06/25/2019 at 07:06 AM