Of all the great players from the 1990s Dallas Cowboys glory days, Jean-Jacques Taylor writes, Darren Woodson has proved the most difficult to replace. The Cowboys may have overhauled their cornerback corps, but as they head into the 2012 season, that safety position remains a real question mark:
The position is important because the safety should be the quarterback of the defense, the guy who gets everyone lined up properly and makes the right adjustments based on the offensive formation, personnel and motion.
It helps the defense when one of its safeties is a thumper, a hard-hitter who makes others nervous when the ball is caught in the middle of the field.
A safety can also impact the defense if he excels at reading the quarterback and makes plays as a center fielder, knocking down passes that seem destined to be completed.
My biggest current issue with the Cowboys as we look ahead to 2012 is that I don't feel they did enough -- if anything -- to upgrade any aspect of their defense besides cornerback. And yes, cornerback was their biggest problem in 2011, but it wasn't their only defensive problem. Swapping out Abram Elam for Pool feels like a rearranging-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic kind of move. And if front-seven players like Jason Hatcher are looking around wondering where the team's leaders are, it's probably no coincidence that no one has been able to step forward from the safety position in recent years and fill that role.
The big things with defense in the NFL these days are pass-rushers and cover guys. The thought is that you can't have too many of either. The Cowboys added good cover cornerbacks in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, but they didn't add a pass-rusher, and I'm with Jacques in believing they still don't have what they need at safety. And I'm not sure they've done enough to make the leap to be one of the league's top defenses. They don't have to be the best defensive team, because they should be one of the best offensive teams. But they do need to be better at stopping opposing passing games than they have been the past two years. And while they worked hard on one aspect of that, there are others that still seem woefully under-addressed.