Cowboys’ Markquese Bell likely to return to safety in 2024

Cowboys’ Markquese Bell likely to return to safety in 2024

The experiment was born out of necessity and actually brought surprising results, for a while. But now it seems likely that Cowboys safety-turned-part-time-linebacker Markquese Bell will return to his natural position in the Dallas secondary for 2024.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News projected the switch in a piece last week, and the sentiment was echoed the same day by Patrik Walker, who covers the team from inside The Star. It’s not a breaking development, and it’s not even official, but it sure seems to be one of the more obvious moves to be made by new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Bell, who went undrafted out of Florida A&M in 2022, showed plenty of promise in five game appearances during his rookie season. He showed enough, in fact, that he became the latest Cowboys defender to be asked to moonlight at another position in Dan Quinn’s flexibility-above-all defense in 2023.

DeMarvion Overshown was lost in the preseason, and Leighton Vander Esch went down in Week 5. When the team didn’t bring in reinforcements from outside the building, the 6-foot-3-inch 205-pounder was tasked with taking on linebacker duties.

He did well, logging a top-10 defensive snap count and racking up 94 tackles to finish second on the team while lining up primarily at ‘backer. He also added four passes defended, three tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles, ending up with a top-20 PFF grade and a coverage score that made him fifth-best among all linebackers.

But Bell and the Cowboys’ undersized LB corps were exposed late in the season and especially in the playoffs. Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love said as much when he revealed that the Packers’ game plan in the wild card round was to pound the run game.

“I’m not trying to talk,” Love told Micah Parsons on a podcast, “but y’all[‘s] linebackers, you know? I think you had a DB playing linebacker.”

The Packers’ ground attack rolled for 143 yards that day. But that wasn’t an anomaly. The 2023 Cowboys allowed 125 rushing yards or more five times all last season, including playoffs. Three of those games were played Week 15 or later.

By the time the season was winding down, so was the novelty- and effectiveness- of Dallas camouflaging their safeties as linebackers.

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Now with Zimmer at the helm, Cowboys fans can likely expect to see a return to bigger bodies in the middle of the defense. Free agent signee Eric Kendricks weighs in at 232. Damone Clark and Buddy Johnson are 240 apiece. Even Overshown, the lightest of the team’s true linebackers, came in at 220 last year, a full 15 pounds beefier than Bell.

But Bell more than showed he can have an impact on the team moving forward. His skills will likely be put to better use in a talented safety corps that includes veterans Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson, along with promising youngsters Juanyeh Thomas and Israel Mukuamu.

While the Cowboys could stand to add to their linebacker numbers in the draft, the team seems well-poised to carry on at the safety position, even without Jayron Kearse (who is still on the free agent market). Bell’s admirable play at linebacker should help cement his spot on the roster, except now it will likely be in the position where he can not just hold his own but truly excel.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire