ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you watched the Dallas Cowboys' preseason opener last week, you saw some issues in the secondary. Communication issues. Confusion. Couple of mistakes that looked as though they were the result of people not knowing exactly where they were supposed to be in certain situations. Much of this can be attributed to the absence of starting cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman. But some can be attributed to the fact that, at that point, they'd only had five or six practices with newly signed safety Abram Elam.
"He's the quarterback of the secondary back there, and we didn't have him for the first five days of practice because of the rules," Cowboys player personnel director Stephen Jones told me Thursday. "But man, when he got in there, it did wonders. You can really see what a difference it makes, having a guy back there who can answer questions. Because there's a lot when it comes to learning [defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's] scheme. And to have a guy out there who can help guys out and quarterback them is real important."
That was part of the appeal of Elam as a free-agent signing for the Cowboys -- not only his talent at a position of need, but the fact that he can "speak Rob Ryan" to players unfamiliar with Ryan's complex scheme. Elam and defensive end Kenyon Coleman both played in Cleveland the past two years when Ryan was defensive coordinator there.
"I think it's big, because I'm familiar with what he's looking for and familiar with the system," Elam said Friday after the Cowboys' morning walk-through. "So when guys have questions about what we used to do and how we do certain things, I can elaborate on that for him. I guess I have a nice comfort with the system and an understanding of what's going on, so I can be more detailed to some of the guys."
Because of that, the longer the defense practices with Elam at safety, the better the communication and results are likely to be in the secondary. And while it will help once Jenkins (who's out at least one more preseason game) and Newman (who's out for the entire preseason) are back and healthy, you're likely to see a difference Sunday night against the Chargers, even with backups Orlando Scandrick and Alan Ball getting the starts in their place.
"I think we all are learning together," Elam said. "We're learning the system as well as learning each other, how to play with each other. And I think, the more all of us can grasp the scheme and communicate it, it'll make us better as a secondary."