FRISCO, Texas - If defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's comments from Monday are any indication of what's to come, there could be a competition at the cornerback spot this week in practice for the Cowboys.
After losing Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown to season-ending injuries, the Cowboys and Quinn have been forced to piece the back-end of the defense together around All-Pro Trevon Diggs in recent weeks.
Rookie DaRon Bland has been a revelation at the nickel spot in filling in for Lewis, picking up his team-leading fourth interception on Sunday during the heartbreaking loss to the Jaguars. As for the vacancy left by Brown, that has been left up to former second-round pick Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright.
Joseph, who was having a strong season on special teams, was forced back into his natural cornerback position once the Cowboys' secondary injuries started to pile up. But after a tough outing on Sunday, Quinn was asked whether or not Joseph would be the starter come Christmas Eve against the division rival Eagles.
While Quinn did not necessarily commit to saying Joseph would start or not on Saturday, he was fairly clear in saying that there is competition for the job despite reaffirming his confidence in Joseph.
"There's definitely been things from him that I like," Quinn said of Joseph. "He's a good tackler, he can make a play on the ball… You hope that when you make some of these mistakes, you don't see the repeating of them. And that's what we're really looking for going forward."
"We're going to work through all the stuff and continue to find the best fit… in the best interest for the team at this moment. Certainly the competition is up for that spot."
Quinn added that the Cowboys will continue to work through tinkering the alignments at not just the cornerback spot but also the linebacker spot with Leighton Vander Esch expected to miss Saturday's game against the Eagles.
"That's part of the discussions today as we're going," he said. "We have added some guys into that space and now as we're moving on to train them into it, we're going to see some of that take place over the next couple of weeks as we're digging in to find that right space for everybody."
Should the Cowboys choose to pivot in a different direction moving forward, there are options. Trayvon Mullen, a former second-round pick by the Las Vegas Raiders could be an option. The Cowboys just claimed Mullen off waivers last week after being waived by the Arizona Cardinals and is already on the active roster.
Kendall Sheffield, whom the team signed to the practice squad back in October, played under Quinn after being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons back in 2019 and has yet to have any of his three practice squad elevations used. Former Vikings' corner Mackenzie Alexander is in the same boat as well.
With Sheffield being in the building the longest out of trio and has a prior rapport with Quinn, it's possible he could get the first crack in the event they decide to move in a different direction from Joseph. Alexander spent time with Jayron Kearse, Anthony Barr, and senior defensive assistant George Edwards in Minnesota.
Nevertheless, a challenge remains for Quinn to get them up to speed in short order against an Eagles team that could be without quarterback Jalen Hurts due to a right shoulder sprain.
"The good news is these guys have worked tirelessly to try to get up to speed," Quinn said. "Here's the standard we want [them] at, and how close are [they] to meeting that… That's kind of the whole part of it, you have to give them reps. And so that's why practice is so important."
But with the Cowboys already having clinched a playoff spot and only three regular season games remaining before the big dance begins, Quinn left no question as to whether or not these moves could be made with that in mind.
"Absolutely that's accurate," Quinn said when asked. "Because you have to test, and push, and find out, and put people in moments to know how that's going to look… If a certain player is not ready to take into that space, then we're not going to put them into that spot because it's just too damn important."