IRVING, Texas – I always enjoy when the Cowboys match up against a team that they don't get to face very often because it gives me an opportunity to really study their personnel. It's nice to see guys like Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice play.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has always done an outstanding job building his team over the years, and has a real nice feel for the type of player that it takes to have a successful career in this league. When I worked in scouting for the Cowboys, I always took Newsome's draft picks and would find where we had them on the board, checking to see how similar our grades were to the players Baltimore selected. I always thought this was a great measuring stick to see if we had players in the right spots.
I remember when Newsome drafted Ed Reed out of Miami in 2002. We were in the market for a safety as well and ended up taking Roy Williams from Oklahoma. At the time, we had Darren Woodson and were looking to pair him with a big, physical safety, which is what we saw in Williams. It was not that we didn't like Reed, because we did. His college tape was quite impressive and you always saw him around the football, whether it was an interception or a fumble recovery. If we had been looking for a player that was more of a true free safety rather than a strong safety, he would have been an outstanding consideration.
Generally, the safety position is a difficult one to evaluate, but you should not use that as an excuse if you don't have good safeties. I really do like what the Cowboys have done with Barry Church and Danny McCray, but let's not forget where this process started: It was Brodney Pool with Church, McCray and Matt Johnson as possibilities.
I can't begin to tell you how much the loss of Barry Church hurts this defense, but what McCray was able to do last week against the Bears gives you hope. Johnson has returned to the practice field this week, which I see as a positive as well, not only for depth, but there were times on his college film where Johnson flashed the ability to make plays when needed.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and secondary coaches Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker have done a nice job of keeping things together at the safety position. With the loss of Church, they have had to get creative with Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins to mask some of the issues. Could this team have used Reed for the last 11 seasons? There is no doubt they could have. Instead, it's now up to guys like McCray and Johnson to man those spots along with Gerald Sensabaugh.
Players like Reed come along only once or twice in an NFL personnel man's career. He is that rare. And, where you really realize his value is when you get to study him as your next opponent.