Abram Elam's impact on the Dallas defense

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
6:00
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When you take a day off, some things are going to slip through the cracks, and in my case one of those things Thursday was the long-anticipated signing of safety Abram Elam by the Dallas Cowboys. Happened pretty much right after I went to bed Wednesday night, and since I pledged not to so much as tweet Thursday, I was left no choice but to ignore it.

[+] EnlargeAbram Elam
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireDefensive back Abram Elam provides flexibility in the secondary for new Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Fortunately, Bryan Broaddus at ESPNDallas.com did not ignore it, and he offers a nifty breakdown of what Elam is likely to do for the Cowboys' defense now that he's in the fold. Bryan says the schemes new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan are using in camp so far are exactly the same as the ones he used in Cleveland. He looked at tape from Browns games against New England and New Orleans and saw Elam as "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.

This was obviously important to Ryan and the Cowboys, as was the versatility of Gerald Sensabaugh in a defense that requires its safeties to be able to switch between the free and strong spots somewhat freely. Elam wasn't the kind of free-agent signing that's going to pull in the headlines (or, as you saw, get me out of bed to write about him). But he is the kind of free-agent signing the Cowboys needed to be making this offseason -- one who fits a specific need and can do it in a way about which the coaches feel good and confident.

People who worry about the Cowboys' chances this year because they haven't done much in free agency forget how many good players the Cowboys already have on their team. They're loaded on offense and will score tons of points. What let them down last season was a defense that underachieved and allowed the second-most points in the league. But that defense still has DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff and Mike Jenkins -- all of whom (except Ware) saw their play drop off in 2010 from where it was in 2009. Since none of them is especially old, it's reasonable to expect them to bounce back. Adding the right pieces around them, and bringing in a coach like Ryan to get the most out of them, could be all that's needed for a defensive recovery in Dallas. And a defensive recovery is all that's needed to vault them back into the playoffs.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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