The day Dallas Cowboys officially signed free-agent safety Malik Hooker, the defense — and specifically the secondary — had its best day of practice.
Two days after having the best practice of his career, according to team owner Jerry Jones, quarterback Dak Prescott tossed three interceptions.
Cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Trevon Diggs each got one and free safety Damontae Kazee, made a perfect read on the slant to Malik Turner and took it the house for a pick-6.
This was no contrast.
This was on brand and in keeping with the commitment the Cowboys have made to improve the defense in 2021.
Despite signing six free agents on defense and selecting eight defenders in the draft, including five defensive backs among all the new additions, enough is never enough when it comes to adding talent to overhaul a unit that’s coming off a season that set a franchise record for points allowed and gave up the second-most yards ever.
“I think it’s clearly an opportunity to add another excellent player,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said of the addition of Hooker. “We had a chance to bring him in and he’s completed his rehab. I think anytime you have a chance to just continue to build the competition on your roster, if it works out for both sides, you definitely have to take advantage of that.”
Hooker, the 15th overall draft pick in 2017 out of Ohio State, posted 124 tackles, seven interceptions, 11 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries his first three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
He tore his Achilles’ tendon two games into the 2020 season, and the Colts opted not to re-sign him.
Hooker visited the Cowboys during free agency in March, but two sides did not agree to a deal.
The team signed Kazee, the former Falcons safety who played four seasons for Dan Quinn, the new Cowboys defensive coordinator, when he was still in Atlanta.
Kazee is also coming back from a torn Achilles that also cut short his 2020 season. But so far so good. He said he is fully recovered and the Cowboys have been happy with his play so far.
The pick-6 against Prescott was a prime example of a player who has 10-career interceptions and the ball skills coveted by the Cowboys in hopes of improving a defense that struggled with takeaways much of the year.
The Cowboys also added safety Jayron Kearse in free agency and return third-year safety Donovan Wilson the mix.
Wilson emerged as a playmaker in 10 starts in 2020, when he recorded 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Wilson, who credits his ball skills to effort and just being around the ball, has been impressed by what he’s seen from Kazee.
“Oh, it’s big for us. He’s ballhawk,” Wilson said. “He likes to go get the ball and we just feed off his energy. Everybody in the secondary does.”
Hooker, who is also a free safety by trade, only adds to the competition at the position. And it gives the Cowboys more opportunities to match up against specific offenses and carve out roles for specific players, according to McCarthy.
The Cowboys have historically not invested in the safety position in the draft or free agency. They haven’t taken one in the first or second round since Roy Williams in 2003. They haven’t signed a big-time safety during free agency since Ken Hamlin in 2007.
But they have shown a commitment to doing whatever they could to improve the defense in 2021.
“I don’t see one area, not one, I don’t see one area that we haven’t addressed to try to improve,” owner Jerry Jones said.
Bringing in Hooker was part of that process.
There was a time in free agency when the team was deciding if it was going to sign Kazee or Hooker.
Well, how about both?