The short synopsis of most prognosticators' expectations for the Dallas Cowboys' 2020 season is relatively simple: Their explosive offense will score plenty of points, but the defense could be their undoing. Dig a bit deeper and they might point to uncertainty in the secondary.
But out of uncertainty tends to come competition. Darian Thompson looks to be providing that competition so far at safety. If pass coverage is a key to the Cowboys' success then the safeties are the last line of defense. It's easy to be enticed by the potential of Xavier Woods at free safety, but veteran Jeff Health's departure opposite Woods was a concern. It was initially addressed by the signing of HaHa Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix undoubtedly came into training camp with an inside track at the starting position; he's a veteran with over 500 tackles and 16 interceptions who has played the majority of his career coached by Mike McCarthy.
But Thompson isn't just some young draft pick happy to be on the team. He's more than qualified to start in the NFL. In fact, he's on the team likely because of the 16 games he started for the division rival New York Giants in 2016. Since signing with Dallas in 2018, he's done everything asked of him and taken advantage of all opportunities. Despite not being a season-long starter last season, he successfully filled in as starter for Jeff Heath in four games, even registering an impressive sack against the Chicago Bears. He also played about half of the Cowboys' special teams snaps last season. For these reasons, the Cowboys' front office made re-signing him an offseason priority.
Apparently, he's continued to show his reliability in training camp and has even played a number of snaps with the first string. McCarthy came into camp much more familiar with Clinton-Dix, but he's been impressed with Thompson. "He definitely has lived up to his reputation," McCarthy said of Thompson. "His work ethic, his workload capacity is outstanding. He's having a great camp."
Thompson was resistant to forecast who will start when he spoke to the media on Thursday, but he did suggest the players knew a spot was up for grabs. "It's a great competition," Thompson said. "We have a room full of ball players who take this job very seriously. It's exciting."
After emerging as an exciting young starter for the Giants, Thompson admitted that it's been a "rough journey" that included foot surgery before joining a Cowboys team with starters they already trusted. Still, since coming to Dallas Thompson has managed to find himself on the field during games or important practice moments consistently. "Experience is huge," he said. "Just being able to get out there and get some reps with those guys in a game-like situation has been awesome. I'm continuing to look at the film and critique myself and be my hardest critic."
While this safety competition has been happening, though, perhaps the most surprising development is that the defense has been keeping up with and at times seemingly flustering the Cowboys' offense. As scrimmages pick up in the following days, we'll see if that continues, but Thompson claims those results say something about the players on defense.
"The defense, we take winning very seriously, and we take going out there and dominating very, very seriously."