The Dallas Cowboys have a serious position battle going on during mini-camp for the starting strong safety spot. Third-year pro Barry Church and free agent signee Brodney Pool have already been vying hard for the job and the competition just got even more intense as 2012 fourth-round draft pick Matt Johnson arrived at Valley Ranch on Thursday, signed his contract and impressed Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
Johnson attended Dallas’ rookie mini-camp in May, but had to return to Eastern Washington to finish his senior year, which caused him to miss the majority of the Cowboys’ full mini-camp. However, he made the most of his first day on the field with his veteran Cowboys teammates and made it clear he’s not going to settle for a backup role.
“It was good to see him,” Garrett said. “He had a good rookie mini-camp with us and then he hasn’t been with us the rest of the off-season. One of the things we were attracted to him about when we drafted him is he just seems like a heady football player, an instinctive football player. And just the short exposure we’ve had of him on the practice field, you can see that.”
Dallas has struggled to find a suitable replacement at strong safety since Darren Woodson retired in 2004 and there will be yet another new starter at the position in 2012, regardless of who wins the job.
Johnson’s football intelligence is his greatest weapon in his battle for the starting spot and Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Thursday that will allow the rookie to contend for the job even with his missed time. Johnson is a tremendous athlete as well, but his intelligence gives him an edge over Pool and Church, although the former has played in Rob Ryan’s system before.
Dallas now has three suitable candidates for the strong safety position, which was a major weakness for the team in 2011. While Church is the early favorite to win the job, Johnson could easily have a strong training camp and preseason to make a strong push as well. With a veteran like Pool there to push both youngsters, the Cowboys certainly won’t be any worse at the position than in recent years.