It's time for the Dallas Cowboys to try Roy Williams at linebacker

Posted Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009  comments  Print Reprints

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Belichick didn’t mean to do it, but he stumbled across a hard Cowboys truth on Sunday when he basically said a player like safety Roy Williams is an NFL dinosaur.

“In the NFL, there were times when some of the safeties, particularly the strong safeties, fit more almost like linebackers than they did as defensive backs,” Belichick said at the NFL Combine over the weekend. “That has changed gradually, but now to the point your defensive backs either have to cover wide receivers or tight ends who are very, very good in the passing game. Not little guys that are running five-yard hook routes. Tight ends that can get down the field and make acrobatic catches."

And get open and beat tight coverage.

“The demands of that position have changed and I think that has changed the evaluation of it.”

The Cowboys are (again) contemplating what to do with their former Pro Bowl safety this off-season. They may cut him, but they may give him another shot ... again.

Based on what Williams has said he’d be willing to do, and on the truth of what Belichick said, here’s a suggestion - it’s time to try Williams at linebacker. Today’s NFL does not have room on a 53-man roster for the type of safety he has always been.

Safeties are supposed to be three-down players, and as a safety Williams has become viable on run-specific downs, but not third-and-long. That’s a pleasant way to say he’s a liability on passing downs.

Is this his fault? Partly.

Some of it is the evolution of the game has passed his strengths.

But today’s NFL wouldn’t be a good home for Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith, Steve Atwater or other pseudo linebackers roaming as safeties.

Today’s NFL has tight ends that are far more athletic and dangerous as receivers than ever before. Antonio Gates and Anthony Gonzalez can’t be covered by lumbering men.

Today’s NFL is all about the need of glorified cornerbacks as safeties, and that demand is only going to expand. The spread offenses that populate the Big 12 and an increasing number of college programs are coming to an NFL team near you. Maybe not this season, but those offenses are coming; the quarterbacks are seldom hit in those schemes. At this point, allow Williams to stay at 240 pounds or even “expand” so more and see what he has at outside linebacker. He can be a two-down player there and maybe it can work. What 2008 showed sans Williams from the Cowboys’ secondary is that he is really isn’t as bad as the evil media and the fans often claim. But it’s no reason to throw him a parade because he’s better than Alan Ball, Pat Watkins or Keith Davis. He’s supposed to be better than those players. Without Williams, free safety Ken Hamlin often had to be more of a traffic cop and school teacher than playmaker. The Cowboys need someone back there who knows what he’s doing, and can cover ground. Williams will turn 29 in August, and has seven years of NFL experience. Although his strength is closer to the line of scrimmage, he hasn’t sacked a quarterback since 2005. His strengths are tackling. What can’t work any more is Roy Williams at safety. Some of it’s his fault. Some of it is the reality of today’s NFL.

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