NFL: Cowboys need safeties with takeaway ability
By Gerry Fraley
The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Cowboys’ safeties and San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin shared an accomplishment last season.
Each had one interception.
Franklin, it should be noted, is a 317-pound nose tackle. That the Cowboys’ safeties combined could not produce more interceptions than then ponderous Franklin offers compelling evidence that this club could use an upgrade at both positions.
Their safeties tackled well last season and played good coverage against tight ends. Strong safety Gerald Sensabuagh may have lost an interception or two because he played most of the season wearing a cast to protect a broken left thumb.
Sensabaugh, who had the lone interception, was productive against the run but had problems when teams forced him to cover wide receivers. Free safety Ken Hamlin is smart and savvy, but he has only one interception in his last 35 games, including playoffs. Alan Ball showed promise when used in place of an injured Hamlin.
Patrick Watkins has carved a niche as a special-teams player but seems to be viewed as insurance at safety rather than a candidate to start. A wrist injury slowed Mike Hamlin’s development as a rookie.
What the Cowboys should do
More takeaways from the safeties would help the Cowboys’ offense as much as the defense. The offense dealt with poor field position most of the season. There will be sentiment to look into Darren Sharper, but O.J. Atogwe is the better player at this stage. Given their desire to tread carefully in this market, the Cowboys are more likely to find a safety in the draft.
The safeties rarely were even in position to come up with takeaways. As a group, the safeties were credited with a combined 13 passes defended in the regular season. Free safety Darren Sharper had 15 passes defended and nine interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns, with Super Bowl champion New Orleans during the regular season.
Player. . .Team . . .Comment
x-O.J. Atogwe . ...St. Louis ....Prototypical free safety with 24 takeaways in last three seasons.
x-Melvin Bullitt ....Indianapolis .....Big hitter; excels on special teams, too.
Nick Collins ........Green Bay .......Free safety, with 13 interceptions in last two seasons.
Darren Sharper ....New Orleans .....Looked every day of his age (34) in Super Bowl.
Roy Williams .......Cincinnati ........Limited by injuries to seven games in last two seasons.
x—Restricted free agent