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Cowboys still have questions to answer about level of talent at safety

The safety position remains a problem area for the Dallas Cowboys even as they’ve attempted to upgrade the ability of the defensive backfield over the offseason.

DALLAS — Training camp for the Dallas Cowboys is now fully underway, with three practices already in the books. If you’re following along at home, or if you’re attending camp in California, you are probably tuned into the early findings.

The first reports have been encouraging for many parts of the team. On the offensive side of the ball, the return of Dak Prescott has gone well so far. Ezekiel Elliott has looked svelte and ready for a rebound season. CeeDee Lamb has been fantastic in what could be a breakout campaign. Dalton Schultz has impressed in his bid to retain the starting tight end job. And the offensive line appears to be in good shape with the return to health of tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith.

It’s no surprise that the early buzz has tilted toward the offense as it is expected to be Dallas’ best unit in 2021.

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Flipping things around on the defense and the early accounts have been favorable for rookie Micah Parsons as a catalyst in the middle that the team lacked last season. The other top rookie, CB Kelvin Joseph, has been impressing folks as well. As for the veterans, Randy Gregory appears to be off to a great start.

However, not everything has been positive for the maligned defensive group. While there is healthy competition in the secondary, and the cornerbacks have been performing well, the safety position is still in a state of disarray. The Cowboys were two days into camp when they decided that they needed to call in reinforcements.

Former Indianapolis Colt safety Malik Hooker – although not signed yet – is expected to agree to a deal with the Cowboys as soon as the COVID-19 protocols are met. It might just be a coincidence that a good veteran like Hooker was still available and healthy as camp began, yet it feels like the team hasn’t been happy with what they’ve seen from the position and decided that they couldn’t wait any longer to make a move.

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Former Cowboys scout and analyst Bryan Broaddus tweeted his concerns about the position early in camp, confirming that things are looking messy in the defensive backfield thus far.

That’s not a ringing endorsement for the perpetual problem child position in Dallas. The issues shouldn’t be surprising, regardless. The Cowboys signed Damontae Kazee in free agency to help the position but didn’t feel the need to draft a true safety despite several opportunities to do so in April.

The closest that Dallas came to bolstering the position in the draft was by selecting cornerback Israel Mukuamu in the sixth round to convert to safety. The Cowboys might be regretting that decision now.

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On day three of camp, the defense replaced Kazee in the starting rotation for another free agent safety, Jayron Kearse. Thought of as more of a special teams addition this offseason, Kearse garnering first-team reps is noteworthy.

The Cowboys are just a few days into camp and the pads haven’t come on yet. It's far too early to make any definitive judgments or panic.

However, the timeline for everything is curious, especially considering that the Cowboys passed on Hooker after meeting with him in Arlington as free agency began several months ago. It’s possible that Dallas kept tabs on Hooker throughout his rehab from the torn Achilles tendon injury that he suffered in 2020 and they now deem him healthy enough to sign.

Either way you look at it, the point is clear, the Cowboys don’t feel comfortable with the safeties that they have right now. The position continues to be a weak spot on the roster and the organization hasn’t taken the glaring hole seriously for a long time. Trying to bring in a suitable option after a few days in training camp isn’t a good sign that they’ve gotten it right this time, either.

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Still, addressing it now is better than the alternative and the Cowboys might just be moving pieces around in camp to see who fits best. This is the time to test everyone on the roster. Currently, the depth chart at safety has Donovan Wilson and Kazee as the starters. Behind them are veterans Kearse, Darian Thompson, and Steven Parker, with rookie Mukuamu and undrafted free agent Tyler Coyle further down on the list.

Even if the Cowboys had liked their group of safeties as camp began, signing Hooker is a smart decision. For a team that’s had trouble finding good players at the position, no stone can be left unturned.

The safety watch is on, again.

Do you think the Cowboys have enough talent and depth at safety ahead of the 2021 season? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.