Recently I took a look at the off season questions Dallas faced after the 2012 season, and how they attempted to answer those nagging issues. Today I will be doing the same on the defensive side of the ball. A whole new era is beginning and only time will tell if this is the path the team needs to embark on or not; but for now we will have to be content with a simple preview.
Fear not my fellow fans, football's just around the corner.
After a 2012 season where the Dallas Cowboys defense frequently looked like a team of five year olds trying to play tee ball, serious changes were in order. Out was the mastermind of chaos, Rob Ryan and his strategy of "takeovers"; in came Tampa-2 guru Monte Kiffin, and his theory of producing actual "turnovers". The Kiffin scheme also returns Dallas to a 4-3 defense and allows both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer to do what they do best. Both men will be pinning their ears back and rushing the passer this season. The Kiffin defense also has a proven track record of putting the coverage personnel in positions to make plays on the ball. In addition to bringing in Coach Kiffin to mastermind the defense, Jason Garrett also was able to secure the services of Monte's protege and former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach. For now the future looks bright for the Dallas-2 defense.
While it is all well and good to change schemes and the management team to run the defense, it still takes the right people to make the scheme a success. Dallas also made a few changes to the on the field types to help Kiffin achieve his goals for 2013. Lets take a brief look at what they have done.
Bringing the Heat
Although there have not been any major additions on the defensive line, this unit, now known as "Rushmen", will look much different. No longer a three man look, the Dallas defensive front now features Ware and Spencer as defensive ends, a position that each played in college. Inside, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher will man the tackle slots. This foursome will be charged simply with bringing pressure to the passer. No longer will we be frustrated while watching Ryan's "exotic" strategy waste the talents of the rushers. Outside of Coach Marinelli, the only additions to this group are Ben Bass, primarily a Dallas practice squad member in 2012 and veteran journeyman Nick Hayden. Sean Lissemore will also return as a key rotational player, and defensive end Tyrone Crawford should also see time inside.
Continuing the Tradition at Linebacker
Much like Penn State at the college level, Dallas has a strong tradition at linebacker, and the current group looks to be cut from the same cloth as the legendary backers that have gone before them. Sean Lee will once again man the Mike position and run the Cowboys defense. With his high football IQ, Sean is a natural leader for the team. Next to him at the Will is Bruce Carter, an amazing athlete. His athleticism will allow him to fit the role that Derrick Brooks played in the original Tampa-2 scheme. Both men have Pro Bowl type potential, and the drive to succeed. To join them and play the Sam position, Dallas brought in Justin Durant. He will be a solid tackler, and brings solid linebacker instincts to the position. Our own Dave Halprin took a look at what Durant brings to the team.
In addition to getting ready for the current season the Cowboys also looked at the future of the linebacker corps. The team brought in South Carolina Gamecock DeVonte Holloman as the sixth round draft pick. He projects as a special teamer initially, but has the potential to be the Sam backer of the future in Dallas. I took a brief look at him earlier this month.
A Wolfpack in the Secondary
With a new emphasis on generating turnovers, the Dallas defensive secondary stands to be the most improved unit on the team. Free agent corner Brandon Carr started to find his rhythm toward the end of 2012 and former first round draft pick Mo Claiborne now has a year's worth of experience in the league. This season we can expect them to play more of a press-bail technique where they jam the outside receiver initially and then drop back into zone coverage and play the ball. For both men this should result in more interceptions. Joining them in the secondary will likely be Barry Church, as he reclaims the starting role, and veteran journeyman Will Allen. Again Dave gave us the details on Allen.
During the draft, both this year and last, Dallas invested several picks. Returning as a "redshirt rookie" we have safety Matt Johnson. A personal favorite of BTB member and professional scout Birddog26, his appearance on the field is something fans highly anticipate. He is joined by 2013 picks J J Wilcox at safety and B W Webb as a corner. Under the tutelage of Jerome Henderson, the secondary coach, each of these men should see significant action. In the Kiffin designed Dallas-2, each of these players has the potential to become a star.
Although the disorganized defense of 2012 was an embarrassment, in many ways the answers, outside of a couple key staff changes, appear to be in house. A few additions were necessary, and going forward the team does need players, especially on the second team, to step up; however, for me anyhow, the answers are more clear on this side of the ball. I look forward to a return of a dominating defense in Dallas.