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Monday, May 6, 2013
Kiffin's history eases concern about Cowboys' safeties

By Tim MacMahon

Almost every time Jerry Jones speaks about the Cowboys’ roster, it sounds like spin control at this point.

That certainly was the case when he discussed his confidence in the safeties on the Cowboys’ roster during last week’s conference call with season-ticket holders.

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“I think we’re in good shape at safety,” Jones said.

Yes, Jones is well aware that the projected starting safeties have a combined four NFL starts. Those are all by Barry Church, who was thought highly enough of at Valley Ranch to receive a four-year, $9 million deal (plus $3.4 million in incentives) after suffering a torn Achilles tendon early last season.

Jones also seems just about ready to put Matt Johnson, who missed all of his rookie season due to hamstring problems and other injuries, in the Ring of Honor.

“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen a player impress our staff without having played in a ballgame any more than Matt Johnson,” Jones gushed.

The Cowboys’ other alternatives at safety: third-round pick J.J. Wilcox, who played offense until his senior year at Georgia Southern; nine-year veteran Will Allen, who didn’t start for the Buccaneers in Monte Kiffin’s last two seasons with Tampa Bay; and three-year vet Danny McCray, who was forced to play enough safety last season to confirm that he’s best suited to stick to special teams.

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“I think we’ve really given ourselves a lot of potential,” Jones said. “The coaches told me (with) the scheme, ‘Don’t worry as much about range.’ I said, ‘What? Don’t worry as much about range?’

“(Kiffin) said, ‘No, our scheme gives them the angles. It gives them the angles. Get us somebody that is young. Don’t worry as much about experience as you have in the past. Get us some young players with instincts and let us go from there with them.’”

Believe it or not, that actually passes the smell test, given Kiffin’s Tampa Bay track record.

When Kiffin arrived in Tampa in 1996, the Bucs had precious little experience at safety. Their strong safety had six starts in the previous three seasons of his NFL career. Their free safety started three games as a rookie the previous year.

John Lynch, a third-round pick in 1993, ended up establishing himself as one of the elite strong safeties in NFL history, playing in nine Pro Bowls. The Bucs filled free safety with a handful of mid-round picks and low-priced free agents during Lynch’s Tampa Bay tenure, finishing top 10 in both major defensive categories every year but Lynch’s first full season as a starter, when they were 11th in yards allowed.

Kiffin’s history of making the most out of medium-level investments at safety offers no guarantees, of course. It does, however, provide legitimate proof for those inside Valley Ranch who insist that there’s no need to panic about the Cowboys’ safety situation.