Dallas Cowboys: Dawan Landry

Scout's Eye: Evaluating Abram Elam

August, 5, 2011
SAN ANTONIO -- One of the many ways a scout evaluates players is through film study. It is the best way to get a true read on the ability of player and how he might fit into your scheme if you were managing to try and secure his services.

Scout's Eye
This summer I had the opportunity to sit down and watch Michael Huff, Abram Elam, Eric Weddle and Dawan Landry, all safeties that would be unrestricted free agents in the coming year once the lockout had ended.

My study of Huff and Weddle was really to try to catch me up to speed because the Raiders and Chargers were opponents of the Cowboys in 2009. The study of Elam and Landry was not as fresh in my eyes because I had not seen them play in a while.

Huff and Weddle were more athletic than either Elam or Landry. The study was really of two different groups of players. Huff and Weddle were more free safety types where Elam and Landry were more “box” or near line of scrimmage types.

It was not that you didn’t see you didn’t see Elam or Landry playing deep. It was just the way that both of the players moved more like strong safeties than free safeties.

The scheme that Rob Ryan put Elam in while at Cleveland is exactly what we are seeing on a daily basis here at training camp now. Ryan’s safeties are interchangeable, meaning that the free safety can play down in the box and the strong can line up deep, so in this scheme you really have safeties that are responsible for both areas on the defense.

In studying the New England and New Orleans games, it was evident that Elam was responsible for what was happening on the back end with the secondary because of the exotic looks that Ryan was trying to give Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

When Ryan would blitz, he would lock his secondary up in man coverage and use Elam floating in the middle of the field. It was Elam’s job to react to the ball once it left the quarterback’s hand and he was able to complete his job successfully. Elam was also asked to play man coverage in the scheme and did not appear to be a total liability with the ball getting out quickly because of the pressure that was being applied.

Elam is not a fluid moving player like Huff or Weddle on tape, but in visiting with my Browns sources, to a man they couldn’t say enough good things about the intelligence of the player, how well he fit as a teammate and how much faith Ryan had in him. Those same scouts also went on to say that Elam is not the quickest or fastest player at safety -- which can hurt him closing angles in space or in overall coverage -- but once he got to the ball he was going to be successful in making something positive happen.

It’s important to remember that coaches will always take the known over the unknown when coaching players. To Ryan, Elam is a known player. When putting in a new defense, you need players that you can trust.

The Cowboys guaranteed they would have two glaring holes at safety when they didn’t address the position in the draft, giving Gerald Sensabaugh some leverage.

What went wrong with the Cowboys' defense last season? Was it lack of talent or poor execution? Tim MacMahon and Skin weigh in.

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However, the depth of the safety pool in free agency should prevent the Cowboys from overpaying, a mistake they’ve made recently with safeties Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin.

Sensabaugh has made it clear that he’s hoping for a big raise after making $1.8 million last season. He can point to his career-high five interceptions in 2010 as evidence that he’s worth much more money. But there are several available safeties who are proven starters that are likely to be in the Cowboys’ price range.

We’ll skip over Michael Huff, Eric Weddle and Quintin Mikell, who might be good fits for the Cowboys but could be expensive.

Here is how Sensabaugh compares to some free agent safeties who might be more affordable, with the 2010 numbers from Stats Inc.:

Gerald Sensabaugh
Age: 28
Previous team: Cowboys
2010 stats: 69 tackles, five interceptions, two sacks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, 10 passes defensed. Opponents completed 26-of-48 passes for 413 yards and one touchdown against him (54.2 completion percentage, 8.6 yards per attempt).

Roman Harper
Age: 28
Previous team: Saints
2010 stats: 93 tackles, one interception, three sacks, six forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, eight passes defensed. Opponents completed 19-of-35 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns against him (54.3 completion percentage, 4.5 yards per attempt).

Abram Elam
Age: 29
Previous team: Browns
2010 stats: 77 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 10 passes defensed. Opponents completed 20-of-41 for 309 yards and three touchdowns against him (48.8 completion percentage, 7.5 yards per attempt).

Dawan Landry
Age: 28
Previous team: Ravens
2010 stats: 108 tackles, no interceptions, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, four passes defensed. Opponents completed 24-of-50 for 330 yards and four touchdowns (48.0 completion percentage, 6.6 yards per attempt).

Danieal Manning
Age: 28
Previous team: Bears
2010 stats: 72 tackles, one interception, no sacks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, seven passes defensed. Opponents completed 23-of-47 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns against him (48.9 completion percentage, 6.9 yards per attempt).

Brodney Pool
Age: 27
Previous team: Jets
2010 stats: 50 tackles, one interception, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 11 passes defensed. Opponents completed 13-of-30 passes for 156 yards and no touchdowns (43.3 completion percentage, 5.2 yards per attempt).

Deon Grant
Age: 31
Previous team: Giants
2010 stats: 59 tackles, three interceptions, one sack, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 10 passes defensed. Opponents completed 30-of-50 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns against him (60.0 completion percentage, 7.6 yards per attempt).

Cowboys have plenty of options at safety

March, 7, 2011
A pair of accomplished safeties found new homes last week without even an invitation to visit Valley Ranch.

Business in the NFL is changing in big ways; can the Cowboys keep their head above water or will they be drowned in financial trouble? Ben and Skin weigh in.

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Cowboys fans can feel free to panic after O.J. Atogwe and Bob Sanders went off the market, but it’s probably premature. There will be safeties available in free agency capable of filling the glaring void in the Dallas secondary, assuming that there is free agency this offseason.

It’s tough to blame the Cowboys for not taking a risk on Sanders, whose terrific career has been derailed by injuries. He’s been healthy enough to play in only nine games in three seasons since being named the NFL’s defensive player of the year.

I don’t quite understand the Cowboys’ lack of interest in Atogwe for the second consecutive season. He’s a safety who is reliable against the run and pass and has a track record of forcing turnovers. However, even if the Cowboys were in pursuit of the soon-to-be 30-year-old, they probably would have been outbid by the Redskins. Danny Snyder, a man known to overpay in the free-agent market, gave Atogwe a five-year, $26 million contract.

If the Cowboys don’t sign a safety, they deserve to be ripped for ignoring Atogwe. But that’s not the case if they sign any of the following six players: Michael Huff, Quintin Mikell, Eric Weddle, Danieal Manning, Dawan Landry or Brodney Pool.

Just a hunch, but the Cowboys might have their hopes set on Huff, an Irving Nimitz and Texas product who has started to live up to his potential as a top-10 pick after a few disappointing seasons at the beginning of his career. Rob Ryan was the Raiders’ defensive coordinator when they drafted Huff seventh overall in 2006.

Huff, 28, is an elite coverage safety with a knack for blitzing. He’d be a tremendous upgrade over Alan Ball.

Perhaps Huff could be paired with Gerald Sensabaugh, although the Cowboys aren’t going to give the strong safety the lucrative long-term deal he wants in free agency. Maybe the Cowboys find their second starting safety in the draft.

Anybody who watched the Cowboys play last season knows that improving at safety ranks atop the offseason priorities. The fact that they were spectators while a couple of big-name safeties changed addresses shouldn’t prevent them from addressing the problem.

Position Series: Safeties

February, 23, 2011
Players: Alan Ball (free agent), Gerald Sensabaugh (free agent), Barry Church (signed through 2012), Danny McCray (signed through 2012), Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (signed through 2013), Andrew Sendejo (signed through 2011)

Top free agents: Michael Huff, Oakland Raiders; O.J. Atogwe, St. Louis Rams; Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts; Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints; Quintin Mikell, Philadelphia Eagles; Danieal Manning, Chicago Bears; Dawan Landry, Baltimore Ravens

[+] EnlargeBall
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDon't expect safety Alan Ball to be a starter next season, if he's even on the Cowboys' roster in 2011.
Top draft prospects: Rahim Moore, UCLA; Quinton Carter, Oklahoma; DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson; Robert Sands, West Virginia; Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple.

2010 review: To put it simply, this position was a problem. The Cowboys made a major misevaluation with Alan Ball, who doesn’t have the instincts or tackling ability to be a starting free safety for a decent NFL defense. Gerald Sensabaugh was a disappointment for most of the season, although he finished strong by making four of his five interceptions in the last six games. He was not a factor against the run or an intimidating presence in the middle of the field. Barry Church and Danny McCray didn’t perform well enough in limited playing time to make a case to contend for a starting job. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, who missed much of camp due to shoulder surgery and was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, essentially had a redshirt season.

Offseason preview: The Cowboys have to find at least one, and preferably two, new starting safeties. If Ball is on the roster next season, it’ll be as a backup and core special teams player. There is a chance that Sensabaugh could return as a starter, but the Cowboys won’t give him the lucrative long-term deal he’s looking for in free agency. It would behoove the Cowboys to be aggressive in free agency, but they haven’t set up a visit with O.J. Atogwe, who is available to sign immediately after being released by the Rams this week. There are no safeties who are projected as top-10 picks, so don’t expect the Cowboys to draft one in the first round. They should be able to find a starter in the second or third round.

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