OAKLAND –When the Cowboys decided to cut Brodney Pool a week into camp, knowing rookie Matt Johnson wasn't ready to practice – and still hasn't – the message seemed pretty clear:
Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church would be the starting safeties without any competition.
In their first game together Monday night in Oakland, the duo certainly passed the test with flying colors.
Now, there wasn't much of a question about Sensabaugh, a seven-year veteran who enters his fourth season with the Cowboys. He hasn't always been considered a playmaker, yet showed some ball skills on the Raiders' first drive when he made a diving interception, playing a centerfielder-type position. Sensabaugh not only picked off Carson Palmer's pass at the 6-yard line, but got up quickly and returned it 31 yards.
"I've been trying to work on my middle-field technique," Sensabaugh said. "I'm trying to stay more square to the quarterback and get good steps toward the ball. Orlando (Scandrick) had good coverage on his guy on the outside and he just overthrew both of them. I was able to overlap them and get the ball. I just need to continue to make good jumps on the ball coming out of centerfield and hopefully make more plays like that."
The bigger concern heading into the game was Church, a third-year pro who has been handed the starting position for the first time in his career. Playing nearly the entire first quarter, he stood out on a couple of occasions.
One of the problems the Cowboys have had in the past at safety is the inability to make plays in front of them, while playing back in coverage. But both Church and Sensabaugh did a nice job of closing, particularly Church who had a pair of big hits in the first quarter.
The free safety and strong safety spots are relatively interchangeable. Before Pool was released, Sensabaugh played strong safety and now with Church more of a hitter and tackler, he assumes the strong safety spot.
"It's really about the same," Church said. "We both do the same things. We're going to be in coverage, up at the line (of scrimmage) and asked to do the same stuff. We both can do the same stuff."
And when the starters left the game in the first quarter, the safety play didn't exactly drop off. Players such as Danny McCray, Mana Silva and Eddie Whitley did a good job of being physical at the point of attack and in coverage.
One play after it appeared Whitley made a game-clinching interception on third down in the final seconds, only for the officials to rule the ball hit the ground, it was Silva who came up with the pick on fourth down to ice the game.
"All in all, I thought our safeties played very well," owner Jerry Jones said. "From top to bottom, we had some good play back there. The starters and the young guys were impressive to me."