Perhaps the biggest question marks exist entering the 2013 season for the Dallas Cowboys at the safety position. This position was a huge weakness in 2012, and still remains an immediate weakness for the Cowboys.
With the switch to Monte Kiffin’s Cover 2, corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will be relied upon to play much more man-coverage, leaving the the two safeties to read quarterbacks and route combinations in a more prevalent manner.
The Cowboys will open the 2013 season with arguably the most unproven starting tandem in the league.
The only known starter at safety this season will be Barry Church. Church, however, is facing several questions himself as he enters training camp coming off a season in which he tore his Achilles in Week 3 and did not play another snap. Cowboys coaches have said Church has looked good in practice during OTA’s, and he claims to be 100% healthy. It’ll be up to training camp to see if Church’s aggressive playing style is altered due to the injury. For Kiffin, he must be hopeful Church is in fact healthy and taps into his upside to anchor the strong safety position.
One of the most intriguing position battles to watch during training camp will be to see who starts at the free safety position next to Church.
The Cowboys will decide between Will Allen, Matt Johnson, and J.J. Wilcox. Allen, a free-agent signing from Pittsburgh, possesses the advantage as the Cowboys value his veteran experience. Johnson, a draft pick from last year, has battled back from hamstring issues and has not made any huge mistakes in coverage or run defense during OTA’s.
However, the performance of rookie J.J. Wilcox is catching several coaches and fan’s eyes. Wilcox made the most plays on the ball, and he has shown up better without pads than the coaches expected. Unproven and unexperienced, Wilcox will have to continue a strong showing throughout preseason and training camp to really compete here.
My guess for the Cowboys is that they open Week 1 with Matt Johnson as the starter. The Cowboys have kept Johnson around for a reason, even after a injury riddled rookie season. Word around their coaching staff is they really seem to love his ball-hawking ability. And Cowboys fans, if Wilcox keeps up his hot play, don’t sleep on him to beat out Allen and Johnson, but in my opinion this is still highly unlikely.
Although unproven and undistinguished, the Cowboys appear confident in the young Church and Johnson. Both of these guys will be key in making plays in the back part of the secondary in the Tampa 2 scheme.
For the sake of the team’s success,these two have to produce results, and have to know they will almost always get targeted on the deep ball until they prove they can stop it.
Starters- Barry Church (Strong Safety), Matt Johnson (Free Safety)
Backups- Will Allen, J.J. Wilcox, Danny McCray