IRVING, Texas — The safety valve for the Dallas Cowboys defense could be Brandon Carr — their $50 million cornerback.
Carr was the prized free-agent signee for the Cowboys, who wanted to improve their secondary. He has been everything they wanted at cornerback, but the Cowboys have needed him elsewhere. He has stepped in at safety, a position he hadn't played since high school a decade ago.
"If we get in trouble and don't have other options, we can say let's go back and do that again," coach Jason Garrett said. "We obviously want him to play corner. That's what we feel like he's best at. But to be able to do that with a guy to absorb an injury, that's a good thing to have in your hip pocket going forward."
The Cowboys (2-1) may need more of Carr at safety when Monday night against Chicago, even if only in passing situations.
Carr started at free safety Sunday in place of injured Gerald Sensabaugh (strained calf), who said he expects to be back in the lineup against the Bears. But even if Sensabaugh is back, starting strong safety Barry Church was lost for the season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon sustained in the 16-10 win over Tampa Bay when he started opposite of Carr.
"It's all about the team right now. We have corners behind me that can get the job done. We have four corners that could start for pretty much any team in the NFL right now," Carr said. "For us to all be on the field at the same time, to be able to give different looks, it could be hand full for teams this year. ....Wherever duty calls, that's where I'll be."
Of course, Mike Jenkins is still on the roster.
Jenkins, the former Pro Bowl cornerback who lost his starting role with the offseason additions of Carr and first-round draft pick Morris Claiborne, started at left corner against the Buccaneers when Carr moved to safety. Orlando Scandrick is the team's primary nickel corner.
Even though Jenkins skipped voluntary workouts during the summer to remain home in Florida while rehabilitating from offseason shoulder surgery, and is in the last year of his contract, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has repeatedly expressed his excitement about the defensive possibilities with skilled corners. Jones said he had no intention of let Jenkins go.
That decision can clearly pay off now.
Jenkins, who had disputed reports he asked to be traded, didn't play in the preseason and missed the opener before seeing action in nickel and dime packages in the second game at Seattle.
"It felt pretty good to get back out there. ... It was a long process for me coming back," said Jenkins, who estimates he practiced only about six times before testing his surgically repaired shoulder in a game. "I always want to be on the field. They did a great job getting all four of us (cornerbacks) on the field at the same time. "
The Cowboys signed free-agent safety Eric Frampton this week, but he has been primarily a special teams player in his five NFL seasons. He will likely fill that same role in Dallas with third-year player Danny McCray taking over a starting safety spot. Rookie safety Matt Johnson, a fourth-round pick, still isn't an option while recovering from hamstring and back issues.
McCray played defensively in the second half against Seattle after Church had a thigh bruise, and had five tackles. He played extensively in the secondary last week and was part of a career-high 11 tackles.
"His arc is a little bit like Barry Church's arc. He's a guy who came in here as a free agent and did more than probably any of us expected him to do and earned a spot on our team because of his special teams' ability and really emerged as a leader there," Garrett said. "And then has shown an ability to play on defense. ... We love how he plays and he's grown with each opportunity he's gotten to play on defense."
For McCray, he already saw adjustments in how he was used last week, when he played more on defense and less on special teams. He is looking forward to his opportunity to start, whether it's with Sensabaugh or Carr, who impressed him with the quick adjustment to safety.
"That just shows how much work he put in and how good of a player he is," McCray said. "Usually, if you're going to switch somebody from corner to safety, you give them a training camp, OTAs or something. They gave him maybe three days of full, full-tilt practices. He went out there and looked like a veteran out there. ... It showed what type of player he is."