Wed, 27 Oct 2021

Is Malik Hooker Ready For Playtime Opportunity

Dallas Cowboys
18 Sep 2021, 04:24 GMT+10

David Helman

FRISCO, Texas - It's buried under a host of other problems during what has been a trying week, but the Cowboys do have another problem spot brewing on their roster.

Behind the concerns about the right tackle situation and the losses at defensive end, there could also be some problems ahead at the Cowboys' safety spot.

Donovan Wilson has not practiced this week after re-aggravating a groin injury in the game against Tampa Bay. There's still a chance he could work his way onto the field, but that remains to be seen.

"If Donovan doesn't work in tomorrow's practice, then he will not be available for Sunday's game," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on Friday.

If that wasn't enough, Damontae Kazee was downgraded to a limited participant Thursday after injuring his thigh during the team's Wednesday practice. And that doesn't include the fact that Darian Thompson injured his hamstring last week and also won't be available.

Regardless of how they choose to play it, the Cowboys' safety depth looks likely to be tested against an explosive Chargers passing attack.

The obvious name to know is Malik Hooker, who has yet to make his Cowboys debut. The coaching staff raised eyebrows last week when they elected to make Hooker a healthy scratch against Tampa Bay, but McCarthy said the fifth-year veteran has come along nicely since the end of training camp.

"I thought Malik has had a really good week of practice," he said. "I think it really started last week, to see that he's comfortable with what we're asking him to do."

Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said this week that he expected Hooker to be active for this road trip. It'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys use him, particularly if Kazee is healthy enough to play. Both veterans tend to function more in the free safety role, but McCarthy said they can tailor things to fit the players they have available.

"We're not going to try to ask guys to do things that they're not going to have the experience or reps in," he said. "So, interchangeable however you tilt it, shell defense to one-high, so you take all those things into account."

Jayron Kearse figures to have a role, as well, and could potentially fill some duties in the box with his 6'4, 215-pound frame. Kearse played 40 defensive snaps last week, or 62% of the play total, so the coaching staff clearly has faith in him. With the losses at the position, it's also a good bet Israel Mukuamu will suit up for the first time in his career.

McCarthy was also asked Friday if Keanu Neal could play into the contingency plan. Neal spent his entire Atlanta Falcons career playing safety under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, but he has switched to linebacker since arriving in Dallas.

McCarthy didn't completely rule out the possibility, but he seemed to indicate that Neal's current job is already similar to his old one.

"Potentially, but I think we recognize he does that on some of those same responsibilities, particularly in some of those ancillary sub-packages that we have," he said.

Ideally, Wilson and Kazee will be available Sunday - or at the very least Kazee, if Wilson can't make the trip. Fortunately in this regard, the Cowboys have multiple options available to them if not.

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