FRISCO, Texas – Rarely has a shift in philosophy looked as obvious as it did last weekend.
The Cowboys’ rookie minicamp was not padded and their new players did not actually practice, so genuine takeaways were hard to come by. But looking at this year’s group of incoming cornerbacks, it would have been impossible not to notice the effect of Kris Richard on this
Richard spent the weekend taking his defensive backs through various drills with his usual spirited demeanor. The difference was his trio of corners, Donovan Olumba, Mike Jackson and Chris Westry, who towered over him – not to mention everyone else on the field.
“There’s kind of a Mendoza line here – we want to try and stay over that,” said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. “The scouts have done a terrific job with that, keeping the length and longer arms.”
This isn’t an exaggeration. Olumba, who was a member of last year’s undrafted class, checks in at a solid 6’2 with arms that stretch out to 32 and 7/8 inches. Jackson is 6’1 with 32 and 1/2 inch arms. Westry is the most eye-catching of all, at 6’4 with an absurd wingspan of 82 inches.
“I was like ‘You play corner?” joked Jackson of Westry.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that has followed Richard’s career to this point. The bulk of his resume is comprised of his time with the Seattle Seahawks, where he was an integral part of the development of the famed “Legion of Boom” secondary, which helped popularize the idea of the big corner.
Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are the obvious headliners. They stand 6’3 and 6’4, respectively, and they were the original duo that helped the Seahawks into the league’s elite.
“Richard Sherman put big corners on the map, so you can only be thankful for that,” Jackson said.
The trend has endured in Seattle. During Richard’s tenure there, the Seahawks drafted guys like Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Tharold Simon and Mike Tyson. They haven’t all been huge, but the vast majority of them have measured at least 6’0.
Perhaps most importantly, they’ve all boasted arm lengths of at least 32 inches.
It gives you a clear idea of what to expect going forward. To this point in Richard’s time here, the Cowboys have added four cornerbacks: Olumba, Jackson, Westry and Charvarius Ward, who was traded to Kansas City last preseason.
All four players meet the 6’0 height threshold, as well as the 32-inch mark.
With that in mind, it also raises questions about the talent that is already on hand.
Take a look at the Cowboys’ incumbent corners, and you’ll see numbers that fall below Marinelli’s “Mendoza line.” At 6’1 with 32-inch arms, Byron Jones meets the criteria.
The other three – Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis – not so much.
Awuzie hits the height requirement, but his arms do not. Brown and Lewis fall short on both counts.
It’s been widely speculated that Lewis’ physical limitations have contributed to his lack of playing time under Richard. He made seven starts and played 70 percent of the Cowboys’ snaps in 2017, but those numbers dipped to just one start and 18 percent of the snaps last year.
So what does that mean, exactly? It’s hard to say. The Cowboys fielded a solid secondary last year, as Jones made his first career Pro Bowl, while both Awuzie and Brown handled themselves well. It’s clear that Richard can make things work with corners that don’t fit his preferences.
But how will that impact the Cowboys’ future decisions? Jones and Brown are in contract years, while Lewis now figures to be competing with guys that stand 3-5 inches taller than him.
It’s only been two years since the Cowboys re-shaped their secondary by selecting Awuzie and Lewis in the same draft. Under Richard’s guidance, the cornerback position seems to be in transition again. Just how far that reaches will be a storyline to watch.