The Dallas Cowboys clearly needed to make some serious changes to the secondary this offseason. It is comforting to know that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett finally realized that the secondary needed to be upgraded if they wanted to succeed as a football team. The overhaul needed an influx of talent, but some players already on the team also had to be cleared out of the way.
Terence Newman was released after spending his entire career in Dallas. Newman was a good player during his prime, but he never lived up to his lofty draft expectations when the Cowboys drafted him with the 5th overall pick in 2003. The Alan Ball experiment also appears to be ending as he still remains a free agent. Also gone is journeyman Frank Walker who spent the 2011 season as a fill in when injuries decimated the depth chart at cornerback.
In free agency the Cowboys were connected to the two marquee cornerbacks available on the market. Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan led the 2012 free agent class at cornerback. The Cowboys decided to sign Carr and in theory went with the younger player with a higher upside. It was a very smart football decision that instantly upgraded the roster.
Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, it appeared that cornerback was still going to be a priority, but few expected what was to come next. In classic Jerry Jones fashion, he traded up eight spots to secure the best defensive player in the draft. LSU phenom Morris Claiborne has the potential to become one of the best at his position, but perhaps the most important move in the secondary comes in the form of a new coach.
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Dave Campo and his contract expired this past offseason. It was time for the two to part ways, but I do want to make sure Campo gets his salute on here. Over the years he may have lost his touch as a football coach, but he was always a hard worker who had a lot of passion for the game. I have a lot of respect for Campo as a coach and person, but it was just time for him to go. It's sad because this was a man of high character and he probably never earned the respect from his players after Pacman Jones swiped him during an episode of "Hard Knocks".
His secondaries lacked ball skills and awareness, especially when turning back for the football. Perhaps it was the technique he coached, focusing on the wide receiver instead of the football. Maybe it was the lack of talent on the roster, but for whatever reason his secondaries never generated a lot of turnovers.
I tip my hat to Campo and I wish him success at the University of Kansas where he will be defensive coordinator. Many blame him for a lot of the secondaries problems, and he has a lot to do with it. I just want people to know that this was a man who dedicated his life to football. He deserves to leave Dallas with some dignity and respect.
The man replacing Campo looks like the right man for the job. Jerome Henderson has a good football background and he has experience in the NFL. Henderson spent eight years in the NFL as a cornerback, so he knows what it takes to play at a high level in the league. His coaching background and credentials are pretty impressive. He spent two years coaching the New York Jets. During his time there, he coached some kid named Darrelle Revis.
When Eric Mangini took his talents to the Cleveland Browns, Henderson followed. In Cleveland he coached T.J. Ward and Joe Haden. Ward and Haden have very quickly become top players at their respected positions. Take a look at this video of Henderson showing how he coaches Ward and Haden techniques. The focus on catching the football and playing smart football is a welcomed addition to the Cowboys. Dave Campo clearly lacked to teach his defensive backs ball skills, but that is going to change with Henderson
Jason Garrett knew what type of coach he was getting when he went ahead with the decision to bring Henderson onto the coaching staff.
"His reputation is outstanding," Garrett says. "When you talk to people about the up-and-coming defensive coaches, secondary coaches in this league, Jerome Henderson's name is on the top of all those lists. He has a great feel for communicating. I think he has a great feel for understanding what a player goes through, because of his playing experience, but also has a great understanding of scheme and technique, and can convey that to the players."
When Henderson first arrived in Dallas, his comments immediately caught my attention. His approach and hunger for the game are the type of intangibles we look for in players, but it's great knowing that the coaching staff share the same type of mentality.
"I'd like to have a secondary here that just grinds on teams," Henderson says. "You consistently play with good technique, good discipline, effort, intensity, with good intelligence. And teams are going to make plays on you through the course of the game because they're highly paid and they're highly skilled as well, but over the course of the game, your discipline, your focus, your technique, your study hopefully will allow you to make more plays. I hope that I have a team of DBs that will play that way – they just fight every play, tooth and nail."
We should expect to see more man to man coverage on the outside while the safeties focus on shutting down the middle of the field. Rex Ryan runs a lot of "Cover 0" in New York because of his premier cover cornerbacks. It wouldn't surprise me to see Rob Ryan begin to run more Cover 0 coverage schemes in Dallas with two premier cornerbacks now. Having press capability should also generate more "Cover 1" coverage with either Brodney Pool or Gerald Sensabaugh playing over the top. For more information on the Ryan 3-4 defense, check out this link with a breakdown on the presentation on the 3-4 defense. My boy rabblerousr will be covering more of the X's and O's coming soon, so be on the lookout that.
Carr and Claiborne will make life easier for the safeties, now they can focus on generating interceptions. Henderson's coaching should elevate everyone's game in the secondary. In 2011, his Browns unit was the 2nd ranked pass defense.
Passion and enthusiasm are very evident in Henderson's coaching style. For starters, he is excited about coaching with Rob Ryan again, but he is also thrilled about the talent he is inheriting in Dallas.
"i'm just excited to be here in Dallas," he said Saturday after one of the practices at Valley Ranch. "It’s been a great offseason so far. We made some really good additions to the secondary, to our team. I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m excited to get in here and start working with the guys and getting my hands on them as far as starting to teach them how we want to play this year and what our new philosophy will be and our thought process as we play."
"I'm just excited to start working with the guys."
In the interviews Henderson has conducted, he carries over a point Jason Garrett is always preaching, competition. When I watch this video, I can't help myself but smile. Henderson is an easy guy to like, but what he stands for makes a lot of sense for a good football team. Hard work is a must, but you also must be smart and get into that playbook.
Henderson talks about "situational" football in this video. That hit home for me because I believe the Cowboys haven't played good situational football the past couple of years, especially under Wade Phillips. The only thing that may prevent Henderson from staying with the Cowboys organization for an extended period of time is that he is going to be due for a promotion soon. A former player who is a great football coach should get his shot as a head coach or defensive coordinator. Everything I have seen from this guy in just a few short months gives me the impression that he is head coach material.
The right type of mentality is finally going to be implemented into the culture of this defense.
"The mentality we’re going to try to build is that we fight; we scratch, and we claw, no matter what the situation," he said. "It may not be pretty all the time, and it’s not going to be perfect. But the one thing you know – and this is our expectation, and this is what we’ve been talking about – is this group will play smart, and they will compete, down in and down out."
The addition of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne vastly upgrade the personnel in the secondary, but the addition of Jerome Henderson was just as important. It's early, and he has yet to have success with the Cowboys, but I would be utterly shocked not to see Henderson have great success in his first year as the Cowboys secondary coach. It will be interesting to see how Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick play under Henderson. Both are very talented, and with the right technique they could take the next step.
Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan are making all of the right moves this offseason. If you are not excited about this secondary for the first time since...well I don't know when, then you need to take notice of the changes taking place in Dallas.