Dallas Cowboys

Free agent departures put Byron Jones into Cowboys’ leadership role

Byron Jones’ only career interception came on a Hail Mary attempt by the Buccaneers.
Byron Jones’ only career interception came on a Hail Mary attempt by the Buccaneers. kbouaphanh@Star-Telegram.com

Byron Jones has started only 27 games in two years. Yet, the Cowboys already are asking the free safety to become a leader in the secondary.

“You look around, and it’s like wait a minute, I’m one of the guys with the most experience back there,” Jones said Sunday night at the team’s 13th annual Taste of the NFL to tackle childhood hunger. “You’ve got to step up to the leadership plate really quickly.”

The Cowboys lost safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox and cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency. The four played in 275 games, with 224 starts, as Cowboys.

“When I came in, they had so much veteran presence in there,” Jones said. “Within an instant, I’m the veteran presence now. I’m the guy who’s played a lot of football in that room. For me, it’s an opportunity to be a leader. But we’re excited to take these young guys in. We’ve got a lot of good, young DBs in there, so we’re excited.

Orlando Scandrick actually is the most experienced returnee to the secondary with 58 starts in nine seasons. But the Cowboys put Scandrick on the trading block during the draft. The team then drafted four defensive backs – cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in the second round, cornerback Jourdan Lewis in the third round, safety Xavier Woods in the sixth round and cornerback Marquez White in the sixth round.

“It means they care about the position,” Jones said. “We’re excited for the new competition. We’re welcoming in the new guys. But we’re here to compete. We’re all here to compete for a job. Obviously it’s a team environment, but we’re competing too.”

The Cowboys drafted Jones in the first round for his playmaking abilities. But in two seasons, he has only one interception and that came on a Hail Mary.

The Cowboys had only nine interceptions last season as a team.

“Making plays to me is my big focus, and that’s the big thing in the defense is taking the ball away from the offense,” Jones said. “That’s so huge for the entire game, and that’s what we’re trying to focus on right now.”

Jones said as part of his plan to make more plays All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee has invited Jones to watch film with him.

“We’ve already talked about having film sessions together and everything to work that in, so I’m not just looking at film and aimlessly looking,” Jones said. “I’m actually looking for specific things that are going to help me.”