FRISCO, Texas – The opportunity is there.
Jayron Kearse fielded offers from several teams when free agency rolled around this spring. He eventually signed in Dallas for a variety of reasons, but there's no denying the veteran safety chose a team with one of the most wide open depth charts in the league.
"Among the three or four teams that I had the opportunity to talk to in free agency, Dallas just stuck out to me because of the opportunity to get on the field and just being around familiar faces – guys that I've either played with or I just knew from football," Kearse said last week.
Kearse has been in the NFL for a while at this point, having been drafted by Minnesota back in 2016 before signing a one-year deal with Detroit in 2020. He also played his college career at perennial power Clemson and had a decorated high school career in Florida. It makes plenty of sense if he's familiar with a lot of the Cowboys' veteran players. He also played under defensive assistant George Edwards during his time with the Vikings, adding another connection to the mix..
At the same time, Kearse is part of some serious turnover on the back end of the defense. The trio of Kearse, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee all signed within weeks of each other this year, giving the Cowboys 14 combined years and 184 games of NFL experience.
However familiar they might be with each other, it's an entirely new dynamic – though Kearse said he's not worried about adapting.
"Coming in with Kazee and coming in with Keke, all the new guys, we have a passion for what we do and we want to do something great," he said. "It's never a burden doing the extra studying and things like that and getting things down."
To this early point in the offseason, the opportunity is clear to see. As anticipated, Neal is a big part of the linebacker rotation. And back at the safety spot, Kearse and Kazee are seeing a large percentage of reps, along with third-year draft pick Donovan Wilson.
Mainly used on special teams and in specific sub-packages during his stints with the Vikings and Lions, it's not hard to imagine Kearse carving out a role for himself. At 6'3, 215 pounds, he clearly has the frame defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is looking for in a defensive back. And it sounds like the Cowboys plan to call on his past experiences in this new role.
"Really some of the same things I've done in Minnesota, playing the nickel position and when we get into bigger personnels, having a role to play the dime position where I'm covering tight ends and things like that," Kearse said. "For me, that was something I was familiar with and something I excelled in, in that particular role."
Figuring the whole thing out is a mystery that's going to take time. The Cowboys have been purposefully vague about their plans in Quinn's first year, and these OTA practices are more about installation than anything. Kearse said the most important part of this period is building a baseline for communication with as many players as possible.
"Granted, we're not in pads; granted, we're not really making contact and things like that," he said. "But just being on the field and being next to a guy, you kind of get a feel for how he plays and how he wants to do things. So when you get into that training camp situation and in season and in games, then it all just comes together."
It's anyone's guess how the depth chart shakes out this summer. It's not a stretch to say safety is one of the most uncertain positions on the Cowboys' roster. But therein lies the opportunity – for Kearse, as well as everyone else.