As the Dallas Cowboys head into the 2020 season with the most talented team running back Ezekiel Elliott has been a part of, there is one question clouding the proceedings.
What’s up with the secondary?
Unlike every other unit on the team where there are a host of proven difference-makers, reservations abound in the secondary.
The Cowboys are expected to have three new starters in Sunday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Rams. And the only holdover from a year ago is strong safety Xavier Woods, who is nursing a groin injury and might not play.
The others are Anthony Brown and rookie second-round pick Trevon Diggs at cornerback and Darian Thompson at safety. The backups include veteran safety/cornerback Daryl Worley, cornerback Chido Awuzie (a former starter who is nursing a knee injury), cornerback Jourdan Lewis (ankle), rookie fourth-round safety/cornerback Reggie Robinson, cornerback C.J. Goodwin and safety Donovan Wilson.
The questions and lack of experience explain why the Cowboys signed 12-year veteran Brandon Carr to the practice squad on Sunday and likely will sign him to the active roster for the Rams game.
Carr, 34, who has played the last three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, is coming in cold with no training camp but he is a savvy and reliable veteran who can play cornerback and safety.
So questioning the secondary is valid.
But to say the Cowboys lack confidence in the secondary is invalid, especially when it comes to Diggs.
Consider him a question mark followed by an exclamation point.
In the eyes of owner Jerry Jones, the excitement and anticipation of what Diggs could become is palpable.
Diggs is a former high school receiver who became a standout cornerback at Alabama. He has the ball skills and game-breaking ability not seen in Dallas since the days of Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
Jones has been gushing about Diggs since breathing a sigh of relief that he was still available on the second day of the NFL draft after taking receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round.
“When we evaluated the cornerbacks, there were four players you could use a first-round pick on,” Jones said recently. “The one we liked was Diggs. He was a receiver in cornerback’s clothing. That was big. Almost unanimously, we said if Diggs is still there (in the second round), he was the pick. Diggs is the ball hawk. It was a relief once we got Lamb that Diggs was still there.”
Jones was sold on Diggs’ ability to play the ball that he honed over the summer working with his brother, Stefon Diggs, a receiver with the Buffalo Bills. All they did was work on receiver routes.
The Cowboys are grateful to have a cornerback who can run with receivers and knock down passes as Brandon Jones did the past two years. But they let Jones walk in free agency and he signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Miami Dolphins.
“But what if you had one who could play the ball as well as run with receivers?” Jones asked rhetorically. “He can play that ball. We are seeing it every day in every practice. He believes the ball is as much his as the receivers and by the way, it is.”
Diggs took advantage of more reps following an injury to Awuzie to secure the starting spot at left cornerback. As Jones said, he has been everything the Cowboys expected with tight coverage on the team’s top receivers, batted balls and interceptions.
Quarterback Dak Prescott has taken notice.
“He’s a great player. Very athletic,” Prescott said. “When the ball’s in the air, it’s just as much his as it is the receiver. He’s a special player.”
How does Diggs describe himself?
“Big. Physical. Fast. Quick,” Diggs said. “It’s kind of like I’m a receiver playing DB, I think. I can run routes too. I’m running the routes as a DB like a receiver, so … I know when to break down and things like that.
“I watch (video of) Deion Sanders every day. I watch (Arizona Cardinals star) Patrick Peterson every day. I’m trying to get my game like theirs.”
He’s still unproven heading into his first game, but Diggs could be on his way toward answering a lot of questions for the Cowboys.
©2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram