DALLAS — One of the big problem areas for the Dallas Cowboys since the outlawing of the horse-collar tackle in 2005 has been safety.
Since the early days of Roy Williams, the Cowboys have not had a dominant defensive back on the backend. Some of the problem could be attributed to the NFL's emphasis on player safety, and thus, curtailing big hits that were once a staple of safety play. However, the Cowboys have also lacked safeties who were able to get their hands on passes.
According to Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, the Cowboys have improved at safety play since he took over in 2020.
"The biggest thing that I’ve always really focused on is the ball skills," McCarthy told reporters after organized team activities at The Star on June 2. "There’s some very talented receivers that bring a lot, but if their ball skills are in question I always have a tendency to lean away from those guys, and I tend to view defensive backs the same way."
In McCarthy's first season, second-year safety Donovan Wilson from Texas A&M emerged as a playmaker with two interceptions, tied for the second-most on the team, a team-high three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Wilson was also able to break up three passes, tied for the fourth-most on the team and the most among safeties.
In 2021, while linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs flourished, free agent safety Jayron Kearse emerged as another catalyst. The former Minnesota Viking and Detroit Lion gathered two interceptions, 10 pass breakups, and a fumble recovery through 16 games, 15 of which he started.
"Our ball skills have definitely improved in my time here, from year one to year two, and we’re looking to take another step," McCathy said.
Another reclamation safety that silently developed in 2021 was former Indianapolis Colts 2017 first-round pick Malik Hooker, who broke up two passes, collected an interception, and recorded 44 combined tackles through 15 games, three of which he started. The 26-year-old figures to be a part of the Cowboys' plans in the secondary.
Said McCarthy: "He definitely has the ball skills that you’re looking for, but the thing with Malik is the ability to play up and back. It’s something that I wasn’t 100% sure of, just because of the way he played in Indianapolis and he had all the injuries. But he’s become very diverse."
As the Cowboys continue their focus on winning the turnover differential, the secondary will need to keep putting their hands on passes, and Dallas is finally finding the safeties that they believe can get the job done.
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