With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group for the home team in an eight-part series, concluding Saturday with the safeties.
Big Issue: Who starts opposite Gerald Sensabaugh? That seems to be a big enough issue. There aren't many position battles on this team where a starting spot is up for grabs. But that seems to be the case at free safety where Brodney Pool will likely get the opportunity to win the job, but Barry Church isn't far behind. And rookie Matt Johnson might work himself into the mix. Church has done well in the various roles the Cowboys have given him, including goal-line packages as a rookie, or dime linebacker last year. And he's made a few plays with the ball in his hands as well. As for Pool, who has the experience in Rob Ryan's system going back to Cleveland, where he also played for current defensive back coach Jerome Henderson, it's clear the Cowboys signed him as more of an insurance policy. He might have the most to prove, even though he's the most veteran of the group. **
Brodney Pool's name might be first on the depth chart but I am not sure that it will still be there when the club lines up for that opening game against the Giants. There is no doubt in my mind that Gerald Sensabaugh will be the starter on one side but who starts next to him I really do believe is up in the air. Barry Church showed a great deal of promise last season before getting hurt. Danny McCray is more of a dime and special teams player than a starter. Rookie Matt Johnson appears to have the most ability but it has been difficult to get him on the field whether it was finishing college classes or now a hamstring injury. Pool does have the experience but in my view, I would rather see Church or Johnson get that opportunity because of their physical approach to the game. I thought Church got better in coverage and we all know he can tackle if you just look at his body of work on special teams. Johnson is smart, tough and puts himself in position to make plays. Don't let the fact that he is from Eastern Washington think he can't play. I studied him against the University of Washington in a game and he looked just fine. Safety is a position where there has been a great deal of instability over the years for the Cowboys. There were too many plays where the ball went down the field and the safeties were unable to make the play. Hopefully Church or Johnson could step in and change that direction.
Rookie Watch: Fourth-round pick Matt Johnson is the main rookie to watch at safety, but keep an eye on Justin Taplin-Ross, another first-year player who definitely looks the part. He was supposed to sign with the Cowboys last year but couldn't pass his physical after suffering an untimely ACL injury at his April Pro Day at Utah. Now he's back and with near-linebacker size, Taplin-Ross seemingly has the tools to be a good player, but will need to become a playmaker early. He's on the outside looking in, but that can always change with a few big plays in practices and especially the preseason games.
Don't Forget About …With so much talk centering on Pool, Johnson and Church, not much has been said about Mana Silva, who joined the Cowboys last season. Silva did a nice job on special teams with a relentless attitude needed to cover kicks. He even played sparingly on defense, despite barely knowing the defensive playbook. With a year to study, work out in the conditioning program and go through the offseason workouts, Silva might be a camp surprise that no one is really talking about.
Gerald Sensabaugh:Might miss a few days of practice with a knee injury, but nothing that is too serious. That time could give someone like Church the chance to shine.
Brodney Pool:He's seemingly been written off before things have been started. He didn't show up much in the offseason practices but he does have familiarity with the coaching staff and scheme.
Barry Church:Has a legitimate chance to unseat Pool for the starting spot. Could get some work at strong safety with Sensabaugh out early in camp.
Danny McCray:Has a good handle on the No. 4 safety spot. If any of the younger guys can knock him off, they better be the best special teams player on the squad – which McCray has been the last two years.
Mana Silva:Was impressive when he joined the team last season. Has an uphill battle to earn a spot, but plays with an aggressiveness that will get him noticed.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah –The 2010 fourth-round pick is getting another chance, this time at safety once again after a brief practice-squad stint at receiver. His best chances to stick around will be to shine in the return game.
Matt Johnson:Needs some good things to start happening for him. After missing all summer because of school, and then a hamstring injury, Johnson just needs a chance to show why the Cowboys are excited about him.
Justin Taplin-Ross:Has the size and speed to be a good player, but must match that with the necessary instincts to be a good safety. Won't be easy to earn a spot, but a practice squad position could be in the cards.
Eddie Whitley:Has yet to show much in the offseason, or at least doesn't stand out in practices. Then again, for a safety, it's not always a bad thing. But he needs to make a few plays early in camp.