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State Of The Cowboys: The Coordinators, The Two Most Important Men In Dallas

From now on, Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan will have more to say about how the Cowboys do this year than anyone else in the entire organization.

Rod Marinelli and fellow coordinator Scott Linehan hold Jason Garrett's future in their hands.
Rod Marinelli and fellow coordinator Scott Linehan hold Jason Garrett's future in their hands.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

I didn't plan things this way, but as I finally wrap up my look ahead at the Dallas Cowboys roster and staff for 2014, I am to my final chapter. And I realized as I was figuring out what I was going to say that I had left the most important part of the organization for last.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and passing game coordinator/offensive play-caller Scott Linehan are going to make or break the team this year. They have more to do from this point on with whether Dallas wins or loses than any player, the rest of the coaching staff, or the entire Jones family. Most of the talent acquisition has already been done (we hope, since we don't want another revolving door situation similar to last season's defensive line). Now it is time to select the regular season roster, which Marinelli and Linehan will be deeply involved in. But the really important part is after the players are chosen. That is when the two coordinators/play callers decide how to use their players.

Think about how close the Cowboys came last year, and what went wrong. How often did the comment threads here light up with virtual screams to run the ball and run out the clock? How many complaints were there about using a couple of natural press coverage corners like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in zone all the time? How often did it just seem that the people calling things on both sides of the ball did not react properly to the situations they faced? And how many of you fully endorsed the decisions to replace Monte Kiffin and Bill Callahan as the men managing the game?

No one else is going to be able to do more to fix the issues that resulted in another 8-8 disappointment. No one. The players have to depend on their teammates in executing every play. Jason Garrett has, whatever his motivation, stepped back and let go of the reins. Now it is going to be up to Marinelli and Linehan to call the plays, to select the personnel packages, and to put the pieces in place. They both have a crucial role, yet each has a unique challenge.

Marinelli has much more to do during training camp. He has more questions on defense than Rihanna has Tweets with revealing selfies. Right now, he has perhaps three players that he can say are certain starters for week one, Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick. Every other position is still unsettled due to players coming back from injury or just having some pretty wide open competition. The starters and backups need to be winnowed from the 90-man roster (which now has at least one vacancy with the overdue release of Kyle Orton and his rum-soaked neckbeard).

Figuring out who to keep and what mix of positions to use for the defense is going to keep Marinelli and his defensive assistants up very late on a lot of nights until the final cuts are made. It is not going to be easy with so many new and relatively unknown players to deal with. They have to be on guard against the camp warrior who will fade in real games. Experience and youth have to be balanced against one another. Above all, the staff has to find the players who best fit the needs of Marinelli's scheme, particularly those Rushmen who were so disappointing after injuries both real and faked for purposes of getting out of a contract had decimated the talent pool in 2013. Once the players are selected, there is also the job of getting them fully trained in the way to execute the defense. Here, Marinelli will be relying heavily on his assistants, but he is still the one setting the priorities and making the final call on who is ready and who is not.

While the defensive line is perhaps the most crucial job as far as selecting the roster (although linebacker might well be even more vital to get right with the loss of Sean Lee), the secondary is probably going to be the place where Marinelli's ability to call and manage the defense in games has to be a major step up from 2013. While there is certainly a need for players like Morris Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath to improve their individual play over last year, it is going to be on Marinelli's shoulders to use them and all the defense in a manner that maximizes their chances to succeed. This appeared to be one area that Kiffin clearly fell down in last year, and may be the main reason Marinelli now has the coordinator's job. Getting the right people on the field in the right situation and with the proper alignment called will have as much to do with how much the defense improves as the individual talents of the players - probably more.

Linehan has fewer concerns about who he is going to have on the roster. Most of his starters are set, with left guard the only real position to decide. Even that is down to three players who each have starting experience. There are several backups to sort out and the usual questions about how to allocate positions (again, the Orton cut will have to be taken into account, and how many quarterbacks the team carries will create a ripple effect throughout the depth chart), but those are nothing beyond what any team with established starters has to deal with.

No, the key is how well Linehan can use the weapons he does have. Already in the OTAs and mincamp, there are indications that he has some very specific and interesting ideas for using Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar, and Gavin Escobar. He seems to want to make things less predictable while forcing the defense into more unfavorable match-ups. But the biggest challenges for him will be extending drives and using the clock properly. Too many times last season the Cowboys were unable to keep leads because they failed in those two things, and the closest scrutiny for Linehan is going to be how he handles those parts of his job. There is still a certain amount of criticism of Garrett's game management, but most of that is now Linehan's responsibility.

2014 is widely seen as a decision year for Jerry Jones regarding Jason Garrett's tenure. It is interesting that the head coach has, to all outward appearances, placed the vast bulk of the responsibility for his own future in the hands of his two main coordinators. Based on all reports from earlier this year, the two men he is trusting so much are also the two men he wants in those jobs. It is a an expression of confidence in the coaches he chose, and perhaps in his own judgement, to do things this way. But now, his fate, as well as the success of the Cowboys in 2014, is clearly in the hands of Marinelli and Linehan.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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