Coach’s Corner: Kris Richard Brings Changes to Cowboys’ Defensive Backfield
When defensive backs coach Kris Richard left the Seahawks to join the Cowboys’ staff this offseason, he brought change to The Star. What change, you ask? Read on, and we’ll tell ya!
The differences extend beyond position changes, such as Byron Jones moving from safety to cornerback. Richard favors bigger cornerbacks, guys with the height and arm length to match up physically with NFL receivers that seem to get taller and longer each successive season.
The fact is that big receivers, like Julio Jones and AJ Green, can out-jump smaller cornerbacks, as well as out-muscle them in bump-and-run off the line of scrimmage. So as receivers get bigger, so must cornerbacks. The personnel department’s approach to scouting/evaluating cornerbacks is now reflecting that approach to cornerbacks: bigger is better.
But the Cowboys have one cornerback on their roster who is the exception to the ‘bigger-is-better’ rule: Jourdan Lewis.
Lewis, who is now entering his second season, is only 5’ 10”, 195 pounds. However, according to Coach Richard, what Lewis lacks in height and weight, he makes up for in one very important quality.
“It’s his tenacity as a football player,” Richard says of Lewis. “He’s tenacious. He’s committed. He’s aggressive. He just battles. He has awesome ball-combat skills. He’s a guy you can count on to fight each-and-every down. I think you can attribute that to his physical toughness and mental toughness. He has the want-to. He just wants to compete.”
Richard has a challenge during OTAs and Minicamp when it comes to “competing”. NFL rules do not allow contact or hitting or tackling during OTA and minicamp practices. All drills must be non-contact which makes it tough to teach young DBs “ball skills”.
“It’s a conversation,” Richard admits. “We have to eliminate collisions when we’re out here for OTAs. Right now, it’s about learning coverage and executing our assignments. If the ball is in-the-air and we can catch it, we catch it. But the ‘combat’ kind of stuff will come later when we get into full pads and full-contact drills.”
Because OTAs and Minicamp are non-contact, the focus in on fundamentals. The coaches spend the majority of practice time teaching ‘technique’. One of the changes that Richard has brought to the Cowboys are changes in technique.
“Fundamentally, we’re a bit different,” he notes. “We’re doing different things at the line of scrimmage. Coverages are coverages; we’re not going to re-invent the wheel. There are only a certain amount of coverages you can run in the NFL. We know that. We understand that it’s about the execution of those coverages. But, technically speaking, there are some things that we have tinkered with, things I’m more familiar with from my past that we’ve used to have success throughout the years that I’ve been coaching. The guys are doing a really great job of buying into the technique and executing and paying attention to the fundamentals.”
During OTAs, Byron Jones has been working at first-team right cornerback as he makes the move in 2018 from safety back to his original position of cornerback. Jourdan Lewis has been working in the slot as the nickel corner. And the player at first-team left cornerback is Chido Awuzie.
Coach Richard is very excited about Awuzie who is entering his second season. Awuzie, who was the last year’s 2nd-round draft pick, really came on strong toward the end of the season. But the early portion of his rookie year was derailed by a hamstring injury. But now that he’s had a full spring to work in the team’s offseason conditioning program, Awuzie is looking good in OTAs.
“I know that Chido has done a fantastic job of having himself prepared to go for OTAs,” says Richard.
“He’s well aware of the injury issues he had last year, it was all new to him. He’d never had issues in the past. We fully anticipated that he’d recover. He has, and he’s done a really good job of taking care of his body.
“As for soft tissue injuries, that goes to Jim Maurer and his athletic training staff as well as Coach Woicik and his guys on the strength & conditioning staff working with the players in the weight room. It’s also about us being professional. A lot of times, as young players, we miss the point about being in the best shape we can possibly be in. Sometimes we rest when we should be working, so when we come into camp, we’re not fully prepared.
“That’s what it’s going to be about: us helping Chido and other young players nurture their bodies as well as nurture them as men, so that they become the professionals they want to be. At this point in time, soft tissue issues are about professionalism, to an extent. This is a tough sport. We train hard, we work hard, and we play hard. Tough guys get sprains and strains and muscle pulls. It happens all the time. But we have to make sure we’re available. That’s the biggest part of professionalism: being available.”