As training camp continues, Bryan Broaddus will provide a breakdown of each position on the Cowboys' roster. Who's hot? Who's not? What battle still is to be decided? Today, he analyzes the safeties.
1. Key Battle
The battle at safety will not be for a starting spot because I do believe that Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh will be the starters on opening night against the Giants. The real battle will be who will be the first one off the bench when Rob Ryan goes with his "Dollar" package, putting in an extra safety and moving Church to linebacker. The safety who has that role now in camp is Danny McCray, and rightfully so. I still believe that Matt Johnson will get the opportunity to compete for that job, but he has to get on the field and practice first. In this scheme, the safeties are interchangeable so it doesn't matter if it's McCray or Johnson, but right now, McCray would be the first man off the bench.
2. So Far In Camp
Camp in Oxnard opened with Brodney Pool failing the conditioning test, which allowed Church to take reps with the first team. He hasn't looked back. Sensabaugh was coming off a knee scope and was trying to work his way back in the mix, so McCray took his early reps. Johnson started his camp with a hamstring injury and found himself on the Active PUP list. Cornerback Mario Butler has worked some inside and has shown some position flexibility, which is a good sign. Of the young third-team players, Mana Silva has looked good on special teams and in the defense when given a chance. Justin Taplin-Ross started out well in the rookie camp but hasn't done much since, and Eddie Whitley has quickness but just plays a step slow in his reactions.
3. Surprise Stud
Church came into this camp in outstanding physical condition and with a great deal of confidence. You could see in his second season that the more Ryan put him into the mix in that subpackage linebacker role, that he was going to be OK. Church has always been a physical player but not a good cover guy. Now you see him do things in space that he struggled with before. You don't have to have great speed to play safety, but you had better be able to react and play with awareness, and this is where Church is making gains.
4. Time To Pick It Up
It would have been real easy for me to call out Pool here, but he is gone so we move on. The rookie Whitley needs to find a way to make some plays in these games because in practice, he doesn't make near enough. Silva has made plays in practice as has Taplin-Ross, and you have to believe that could carry over to the preseason games. Whitley is the safety that is noticed the least when you watch practice. He needs to change that real fast if he even wants a shot to be on this practice squad.
5. Rookie Report
I have yet to see Johnson practice, other than during a minicamp workout at Cowboys Stadium. I have seen plenty of tape on him and I do believe that he can still help this club this season, even if it is as a backup. Johnson shows the ability to play with range, toughness and awareness, all traits you have to have to play safety in this league. Once back on the field, he is going to have to hit the ground running because McCray will not give up his spot easily.