Thursday, June 25, 2009

BTB Vela: Dallas Thinks Safety First -- Finally

by Rafael Vela on Jun 25, 2009 1:36 AM CDT 17 comments

Improved Secondary Play Should Make the New Stadium Blitz City
In the last three years, I've probably devoted more lines to analyzing, and ripping the Cowboys mediocre safety play than I have on any other subject. How many spring pieces were devoted to safety draft options? How many people were content with the team's offseason moves there, given that it only signed the greatly overlooked Gerald Sensabaugh in free agency, and didn't spend a draft pick on the spot until the 5th round, when Michael Hamlin became a Cowboy?

I spoke to a trusted source today who has seen several of the team's recent workouts. He predicted the secondary would be a team strength this year and mentioned some unexpected names as reasons for optimism, at the safety position and for the secondary as a whole.

The source reinforced head coach Wade Phillips' claims that Sensabaugh can play. What's more, I was told that third-year D-back Alan Ball worked out at corner and safety and impressed at both spots. Courtney Brown also earned some praise, but Ball was singled out for his performances.

This news marks an incredible improvement in the quality and scope of Ball's play. Recall that just one year ago, Ball beat out veteran Evan Oglesby for the final cornerback slot. This caused some fans to howl i disapproval, since Oglesby had been an early star of the Oxnard workouts. Ball, however, showed that position coach Dave Campo's faith was well-placed. He was prepared when he was thrown into the Tampa Bay game and did not embarrass himself in later appearances.

The impressive showings by Sensabaugh, Ball and Brown mean Dallas could finally have depth, after two years where Ken Hamlin was the team's only dependable safety. If these three can carry their play into the summer and fall, Dallas will have four safeties with coverage skills, a welcome improvement from the Roy Williams, Keith Davis and Pat Watkins days.

The improved speed and range should give Wade Phillips the option to press more and to blitz more often. With the Dallas linebacker pass rush in questionable shape after Greg Ellis' departure, Phillips was likely to blitz more heavily anyway. Now, he may do so with greater confidence.