It's only Week 4, but the Dallas Cowboys have already been forced to sign a free-agent safety off the street. In the past, the Cowboys have had to adjust on the fly because they began the year perilously thin in the secondary.
In this case, it's a series of injuries that caused the Cowboys to sign former Vikings special teams ace Eric Frampton to provide depth at the safety spot now that starter Barry Church has been placed on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. Starter Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) has shown a lot of improvement and has a good shot at playing Monday against the Chicago Bears, a source told FOXSportsSouthwest.com.
If Sensabaugh can play, Brandon Carr will remain at his cornerback spot and battle Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Cowboys have been burned the past couple seasons because they didn't have enough quality defensive backs on the roster. And that could've been the case again if Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett hadn't taken a hardline stance on keeping disgruntled cornerback Mike Jenkins.
The Indianapolis Colts desperately needed help at cornerback and would've likely given up a fourth-round pick for a player with Jenkins' pedigree. The Cowboys instead showed patience as Jenkins missed the voluntary offseason workout program and decided to rehabilitate his shoulder injury with his own people. With the additions of Carr and first-round pick Morris Claiborne to go along with the highest-paid nickel cornerback in the NFL in Orlando Scandrick, Jenkins might have seemed expendable. But Jones has dealt with plenty of disgruntled players over the years (see Greg Ellis) and he knows that most of them tend to show up to collect their money.
In last Sunday's 16-10 win over the Bucs, Carr played free safety in the nickel defense and Jenkins played extremely well at cornerback. And with Church out for the rest of the years, there's a chance we could see more of that alignment.
It appears the Cowboys have finally learned that it's impossible to have too many defensive backs. Only two years ago, they actually entered a season with only three cornerbacks on the roster. I thought it was a ridiculous decision at the time, and it quickly backfired because of injuries and poor play.
One of the biggest issues last season was a lack of communication in the secondary. Players weren't getting the calls in time, and as a result, they weren't playing with confidence. Carr and Claiborne have given this secondary a bit of a swagger. And the hope was that being able to cover longer on the back end would provide the pass-rushers with more time to reach the quarterback. And in wins against the Giants and Bucs, that's exactly what's happened.
Sean Lee has become the unquestioned leader of this defense, but moments after Sunday's loss he gave much of the credit to the secondary. He marveled at how Carr was able to learn a new position over the span of a few days and then go out and execute.
The Cowboys' defense has been put in some bad situations this season because of turnovers, but they've done a nice job of keeping teams out of the end zone. It also seems that Jason Garrett's not allowing them to get distracted by what's going on with the replacement officials. In the aftermath of Monday's debacle in Seattle, Garrett was asked about how he's handled the situation.
"What we try to do is focus on playing and coaching," Garrett told reporters at Valley Ranch on Wednesday. "I'm going to be honest with you, there have been times where there have been calls during the game where you naturally react to it everybody does. At the same time it's like, 'Guys, get back. Just focus on doing your job. They're going to be fine. They'll spot it the right way. They'll call it the right way. They'll get it figured out.' We've really tried to do that. I've harped on that during the week and prior to the game and during the game as well. I think our team has done a good job of that."
Of course, it certainly helps your attitude when the calls fall in your favor, as one did in the third quarter against the Bucs. But replacement officials aside, the Cowboys finally appear to have some depth in the secondary.
And it's about time.