FRISCO, Texas – As they settle in to the second phase of their offseason program, it's strange to think how empty the Cowboys' defensive backs room looks right now.
Following the offseason departures of four key players in the secondary, the Cowboys currently boast just six holdovers from last year's defensive backfield. Throw in reserve players and free agency acquisitions, and the number still sits at just 11.
"It's odd," said Jeff Heath on Sunday night. "All four of those guys I played with since my rookie year. They're good friends of mine, and it's odd not seeing them."
Some things remain the same. Orlando Scandrick is still the longest-tenured defender on the roster, having been drafted in 2008. Newcomer Nolan Carroll is also a veteran presence, entering into his eighth NFL season.
Other than that, though, the secondary is littered with first and second-year players – to the point that young guys like Heath and Byron Jones have suddenly become old-timers.
"When I came in, you had so much veteran presence in there, and within an instant I'm the veteran presence now," Jones said. "I'm the guy who's played a lot of football in that room. So for me it's an opportunity to be a leader."
That opportunity is going to come quickly. The Cowboys' rookie class arrives for minicamp on Thursday night, highlighted by four different draft picks in the defensive backfield – cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Marquez White, as well as safety Xavier Woods.
"It's a responsibility, an added responsibility, when you're the veteran guy in the room like that," Heath said. "Guys look to you to lead the way and set the standard. I just embrace that opportunity and embrace that role."
Of course, along with team chemistry comes the obvious competition. The Cowboys are confident their young draftees are capable of earning playing time. At the same time, the front office has been highly vocal in its support for guys like Heath, who are looking to earn improved roles in 2017.
"It feels good, but I think I've earned that trust," Heath said. "I'm just ready for the competition. Competition brings out the best in everyone if you approach it the right way."
That's bound to be the hope for the Cowboys, who find themselves short on experience, but long on ability. Whether it's the rookie class or the veterans, they're confident someone will step up – it's just a matter of determining who.
"We're excited for the new competition, we're welcoming the new guys – but we're here to compete," Jones said. "We're all here to compete for a job. Obviously it's a team environment, but we're competing, too."