Pressure bursts pipes.
Pressure turns coal into diamonds.
Both of these statements are equally true and both results will play out in 32 training camps this month. The results of being under pressure are clear, step up or step out! In order to figure out which Cowboys are under the most pressure, we need to first determine what is pressure in this context.
What is “under pressure” in a pro football training camp?
Here are several ways these Cowboys players can feel the pressure to perform.
- Making enough plays to at least make the practice squad of a team (current team or another team). These players are living within sight of the very end of their NFL dream sometimes before it even gets started. They have limited opportunities so every poor rep is amplified.
- Making the 53-man regular season roster of a team. This allows the player to move from just keeping their dream alive to actually fulfilling their NFL dreams.
- Make the game day 46-man roster. This provides the player a real chance to establish themselves and provide long term financial security. A player must have a defined role to be on the 46-man roster and a defined role means a chance to display their capabilities and grow their opportunities
- Become a starter/key contributor
- Become a superstar
Coaches are always under pressure. Over the next couple of weeks we will discuss each position group, what pressure the players are under and who we feel is under the most pressure. We have already talked about the Specialists and the Defensive Tackles
In Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme, the safeties are meant to be smart, solid players who benefit greatly from 4 man pressure up front. This defensive looks for athletic, sturdy players that are solid tacklers as the goal is to keep everything in front of them and come up to tackle. Speed is never a bad thing but it isn’t the same premium in this system as it would be in a predominately man-to-man scheme. But, as any Cowboys observers can tell you, this defense does not possess the ability to consistently harass opposing QB’s with 4 man pressure. So where does that leave the team at safety?
Byron Jones was, by all accounts, a godsend last year in shoring up deficiencies in the secondary. His athletic ability and football intelligence allowed him to be a “Swiss Army knife” of sorts. He plugged more holes on the Dallas D than a pig-tailed blond girl with wooden shoes. He will actually be under far less pressure this year as he is able to focus on handing the Free Safety spot. Occasionally, he will also be asked to match up on the better tight ends the team faces. This also allows his presumed running mate, Barry Church to play to his strengths as a tackler up closer to the line of scrimmage. These could possible represent the best safety duo the team has seen since Darren Woodson was dominating and Roy Williams (#31 also) actually cared about football.
As was mentioned in the Specialists edition of this series, the team invested heavily in Safety Jeff Heath. The Cowboys gave him a 4-year contract to be the team’s coverage ace. Most of the fan base won’t admit it but Heath has been serviceable as a backup safety since his disastrous rookie campaign.
Safety under the most pressure
That leaves us with Kavon Frazier and J.J. Wilcox. Wilcox is an athletic specimen and had success in college on both offense and defense. Frazier is considered a Barry Church starter kit. His closest NFL comp on some pre-draft sites was actually Church. One thing we know about this staff, they love familiarity! That should bode well for Frazier., As a late round pick, there is no shame in a year on the practice squad. It is obvious that Frazier wants to be on the 53. That might happen, but he seems to be in the teams long-term plans either way.
J.J. Wilcox is the guy! The picture above is a reasonable reflection of how most of us view him. We see #27 reading the name on the back of an opponent’s jersey while they are heading to the end zone. Too many times, we have watched him take a crappy angle and let a team extend their drive. Now entering his 4th season, there is no noticeable improvement. He is still missing tackles and taking bad angles in coverage. He actually seems to be getting worse with each passing season.
With Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier as alternative backup safeties, it appears that J.J. Wilcox’s time is running out in Dallas. To illustrate this even further, the team has been working a couple of it’s depth cornerbacks at safety as well. From the promise of his rookie season to now, the descent has been precipitous. All reports are that Wilcox is a fine person and he is seen as a hard worker and solid teammate. Unfortunately, those things don’t outweigh his lack of progress on the field. It is difficult to imagine that, if Wilcox can’t somehow convince the Cowboys to keep him, that another team would want him based on what he has put on film over the past 3 years. Because he may well go from 3rd round draft pick to football mortality in less than four years means he is the safety under the most pressure this preseason.