This is a must, and there are several different dynamics at work. In hindsight, it’s questionable whether the front office spent enough time fully analyzing Roy Williams as he was departing the University of Oklahoma. Did they really feel they had the perfect spot for him when they drafted him #8 overall in the 2002 Draft? Five years removed, the questions abound, and shortcomings are being scrutinized under the microscope.
This is not a “bust” declaration for Roy Williams. He’s not a complete flop, nor is he ready for Canton enshrinement. Far from it on both accounts. Roy Williams is a football player, and there’s always room in the NFL for a born-to-be baller. The writing was on the wall early in his California childhood. He was destined to play the game on its highest level. The questions are more along the lines of fit and mold. Does he fit the Cowboys’ scheme, and is he surrounded by complimentary talent effective enough to mask his shortcomings? The Cowboys must hone in on this matter and in relative short order. They cannot go another year without having alternative solutions.
The knee-jerk reaction and common response is to simply make Roy a linebacker. The only problem with this simple solution is it’s simply not that simple. Simple, enough? To be blunt, they can’t make Roy a designated LB. Inside or outside. 3-4 or 4-3. As good as Roy is, he would get eaten for lunch as a traditional linebacker, especially at his current size. If a hand-down or stand-up rush end/LB, offensive tackles would devour him. If inside, offensive linemen would chew him up at the second level. Before the Dexter Coakley and Tom Jackson rebuttals come flying in, stop and think about Roy’s attributes. He plays best without assignments and when asked to sniff out the ball. Point of explanation here, the sniff out statement does not apply to tackling Shaun Alexander or playing the deep ball. His best ball, especially in college, came when freelancing.
In the NFL, the game is all about specific assignments and specialists. Freelancing rarely enters the professional vocabulary, and if ever surfaced, it means a team completely has its doo-doo together up front. Roy’s greatest contributions would come as a high school or collegiate monster back. The position can also be referred to as a rover. The bandit back is rarely seen in pro ball, especially on an every-down basis.
So, again the question needs to be asked, is Roy Williams miscast or a misfit as a NFL defensive secondary player?
The immediate and natural answer is “no,” but you really have to investigate which involves comparing him to other NFL strong safeties. Before pulling comparative names, let’s agree on a couple of safety dynamics needed in today’s NFL. NFL offensive coordinators are continually looking for match up advantages, and it always starts with getting safeties isolated with different personnel groupings and formations. Strong safeties are well known for their ability to support the run defense, but the truth is, all safeties in the League need to be able to cover and play the run. Even more critically, they have to line up on wide receivers or super backs and cover them. Sounds like a walk in the park, doesn’t it?
We’ll all admit Roy does some things better than others, but let’s focus on his glaring deficiency, defending the deep ball. He has two major shortcomings when asked to provide deep third assistance. One is speed, and you can’t coach speed. You can train to hopefully gain speed, but it can’t be taught. Technique? Yes. Taking seconds off the stop watch? No. By safety standards, Roy is not fleet of foot. Never has been, and probably never will be. In isolation, with no secondary assistance, this will always pose a problem. Speed usually beats brawn and brute force most of the time.
The second obstacles are read and react. If an offensive coordinator, why not run play action passes all day long? Roy, more than most, has a propensity to bite on the run. A fake dive or hand off has his feet moving forward as if a seventh sense. Replay after replay shows him trying to change directions and play catch up. If the chased is an unchecked or reroute failed TE or WR, the speed issue is back in play. Roy does not have adequate cover or closing speed. One can only hope the free safety breaks assignment or is in an area to assist. With the uncertainty plaguing the Cowboys at free safety, that’s a whole other matter for a different day.
Roy has had game-changing moments, and those need to continue. He’s made Pro Bowls (even though this year’s selection was half comical), and that needs to continue as well. His recent contract extension makes him impossible to package or trade. It would be financial suicide for the organization. A roster move of this nature would trigger an immediate a $10-11 million salary cap hit. The Cowboys have so darn much money tied up in their secondary that they’re virtually handcuffed from an early round Draft selection or big splash free agent. Asante Samuel? Think again.
The alternatives are not attractive. Changing or implementing schemes for an individual player is not only unheard of, it would asinine. Formations can be altered, but not entire schemes or defensive philosophies. This is still a team game, and one player does not completely change the scenery or chemistry.
To complicate matters, the rumor mill has dedication and weight room habits being called into question. Not being there first hand, this is virtually impossible to substantiate, but if one of the supposed leaders (albeit a silent one) is giving a half-hearted preparatory effort; problems will surface whether they’re perceived or actual. That, the Cowboys do not need. Parcells has always chided and called attention to Roy’s weight, so maybe there is some solid truth to the physical deficiency. Excessive weight will certainly impact foot speed. Extra pounds have nothing to do with biting on play fakes, but it certainly factors into trying to cover ground against a burner. Maybe this chiding should evolve into a formal “call out,” especially if it will get the attention of the player.
With a bevy of observations noted, what are the solutions?
This is a problem for the Cowboys’ staff (which is dwindling by the day) to address head on. Something has to change, and it has to change pronto-like. If trying to mold a championship caliber defense, giving up the home run ball (repeatedly) needs to be completely extracted from the profile, especially if Parcells’ style of play continues in Dallas. Tight, keep-it-close contests tremendously reduce the margin of error. With no scoring buffers or distance margins, you can’t let a late game, deep ball decide the contest.
Ask Sean Payton if he knew the point of exploitation in the Cowboys’ defense. Sure, he had an advantage in that he practiced against this squad for years at Valley Ranch, but periphery danger comes in the form of film. Once exposed, projectors run non-stop in opposition complexes. The sharks circle and it becomes a virtual feeding frenzy. Payton pried (wider) an all-ready open can of worms. The book is out on Roy Williams. It can be traced back years. Early on, he was extremely fortunate to have a wily and savvy vet named Darren Woodson riding shotgun. Woody was the king when it came to hiding deficiencies.
Reality says the Cowboys may have let the collegiate highlight reels get the better of them when drafting Williams. Big plays may have clouded their technique assessments. All this being said, everyone loves Roy Williams the person and the “big hit” specialist, but questions rapidly mount as to this ability to play quality, game in and game out, safety. Questions the Cowboys need to get answered, and quickly.