FRISCO, Texas – A new coaching staff brings change across the board, but it's easy to pinpoint the bigger upheavals on this Dallas Cowboys roster.
To put it more simply, it's hard to know what to expect from this 2020 Cowboys secondary. And at a time when a global pandemic has prevented the team from practicing this offseason, the subject is even murkier than normal.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. For a cornerback group with this much to prove, a new staff means a fresh start.
"They said that everybody has a clean slate," said Jourdan Lewis. "It doesn't matter how big, tall, how long you've been here – it doesn't matter. If you can play ball, they want to see you in that position to go and compete for that job."
In considering a clean slate, Lewis is probably the first name on this roster that comes to mind. Originally drafted 92nd overall back in 2017, the 5-10 cornerback has shown flashes of the cover ability that made him an All-American.
He also been unable to find consistent playing time. Lewis has started just 13 games across three seasons, and he played just 54% of the Cowboys' defensive snaps last year – and that was only after an injury sent Anthony Brown to injured reserve.
The gap between Lewis' perceived talent and lack of production has been a topic of conversation and debate among fans and media for years. For Lewis, it's something he does his best to not let weigh him down.
"Just not even thinking about my circumstance, just understanding the type of football player that I've always been and understanding that I have the ability to go out there and change games," he said.
This season presents the best opportunity to buck that trend – and not just for Lewis. Byron Jones has departed for Miami, leaving a starting job open. Between the trio of Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown, there should be plenty of competition for snaps under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and secondary coach Al Harris.
The Cowboys drafted two, signed three, re-signed two more and have a few holdovers at a very crowded cornerback position. We know it's early, but let's try to rank all 11 cornerbacks right now.
"Everybody has a clean slate, and they're just looking on what we've done in the past," Lewis said. "They're looking at the sample size that they do have, to go out there and watch us – watch the film and the movements and they see what they want to implement in their new defense."
Of course, it's impossible to ignore the large handwriting on the wall. The Cowboys also took big steps to address the cornerback position in this year's NFL draft, selecting Trevon Diggs 51st overall and then drafting Reggie Robinson in the fourth round.
It feels awfully reminiscent of 2017, when the front office did something similar by selecting Awuzie and Lewis in succession with their second and third-round picks. Given that both veterans are entering the final years of those rookie contracts, it's a strategy Lewis understands.
"You've got to look at it. Byron Jones just left. That's a big void you have to fill," he said. "Only one guy has played as much as Byron Jones, and that's Chido. And we're both on contract right now, so it's kind of a no-brainer that you've got to go defense and you've got to go cornerback."
He added: "They see what they have, who's a free agent and who's not. They see that and they take advantage of it. They did a great job. My job is just to be the best player I can be for this team. It is what it is, and you've just got to go out there and perform."
It's no secret that NFL front offices want their new draft picks to succeed, but Lewis and his counterparts have the benefit of experience. It's almost surreal that, three years after joining a veteran secondary as rookies, Lewis and Co. find themselves in the opposite situation.
"It completely just flip-flopped," he said. "We were the young guys coming in, a bunch of us got drafted – like four or five of us came in. And now it feels like four or five of them are coming in."
It's fascinating to think how it all shakes out. Perhaps the Cowboys' rookies take the team by storm, or perhaps veteran experience wins out. Perhaps Lewis can snag himself the opportunity that seemed to elude him during the last regime. And, unfortunately, all of this will play out while the NFL copes with COVID-19 – which makes the situation even more uncertain.
But suffice to say, when the Cowboys do take the field again, it's going to look awfully new. And hopefully that's a good thing.
"We have the right guys to show those guys the ropes," Lewis said. "I feel like we definitely can be an amazing group if we can all come together and be on the same page."