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Checking Out The Cowboys Coaching Staff (Part I)

Part I of a five part series detailing different aspects of the Cowboys coaching situation. Part I looks at the idea of coaching from a teacher's perspective and identifies potential weak links in the Cowboys coaching staff.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So here's a pretty embarrassing secret. I'm not draft guy. At all. It's probably my least favorite part of the offseason. I'll nominally follow coverage, I have my pet cats and I certainly have opinions on draft strategy, but the truth is I just don't pay that much attention to college football, and don't have the time to go to deep into learning about potential draftees. For better and worse, the draft is just not my thing.

Which is an issue this time of year, because there's not much going on besides the draft. It's too early to start speculating about next season, and last season has been rehashed to death. So what's a blogger to blog? It's a conundrum. Thankfully, as with most things, twitter held the answer. Earlier this week a conversation broke out on twitter about coaching...and since then I've had coaching on the brain. So over the next week I'll be examining five different aspects of our coaching staff, both looking back at last year and looking ahead to this season. We'll start with what I think is the most important part of coaching; teaching and developing players.

1. You Can't be Afraid to Coach:

The twitter conversation that I mentioned above centered around an interesting question; "What position group do we least trust our coaching staff to develop?" This is a topic that I love. I'm a big believer that Jason Garrett's biggest strength as a coach is his teaching, and that the idea of teaching and development is the central part of his coaching philosophy. He's built a coaching staff full of teachers. The recently departed Bill Callahan was one of the preeminent O-line coaches, not because of his schemes but because of his ability to teach his unit, and it appears that his successor, Frank Pollack, is cut from the same cloth. Recent hire Mike Pope made quite an impression with his unusual teaching tight ends. Matt Eberflus, Rod Marinelli, Derek Dooley; the coaching roster is full of guys who may not be wizards when it comes to scheme but have a great reputation for developing talent.

On twitter two potential weak links were identified, QB coach Wade Wilson and secondary coach Jerome Henderson. Jerome Henderson arrived in Dallas in 2012, the same year as Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. To say that neither developed under his watch is not an untruth. In fact, it could be argued that both regressed. Here are Carr and Claiborne's coverage grades from 2012 to 2014 according to PFF:

2012 2013 2014
Carr -0.1 -1.3 -9.3
Claiborne 1.0 -5.9 -5.0

As you can see both Carr and Claiborne got progressively worse under their time with Henderson. This is really striking in Claiborne's case. In 2012, his rookie season, he graded out as our third best DB in pass coverage. He logged 909 snaps, that number dropped to 522 in 2013 and a dismal 151 in 2014.

It's probably not fair to blame Henderson, at least completely, for either players decline. Carr is probably playing out of system, and injuries have done much to derail Claiborne. Also, other corners, such as Sterling Moore and Orlando Scandrick, have flourished under Henderson. Here are their PFF coverage grades along with snap counts.

2012 2013 2014
Moore -1.2 (102) 2.7 (87) 4.9 (752)
Scandrick 1.9 (339) 8.5 (1,118) 9.4 (885)

So do we hail Jerome Henderson for developing Moore and Scandrick, or blame him for the decline of Carr and Claiborne?

Wait a minute some of you are asking; where do Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox fit into the picture? Both were projects coming into the league, but it could be argued that right now they form the best safety tandem in the division (which is faint praise but still). Well that just adds a little more muddle to the picture as Joe Baker, the assistant secondary coach, is supposedly responsible for the safeties.

There is a similar problem when evaluating Wade Wilson. How much do we credit him for Tony Romo? Wilson arrived in Dallas in 2007, the same year Romo became a full-time starter. But Romo spent three years prior to that developing under Sean Payton and Bill Parcells. Our own McCool perfectly summed up the Wilson dilemma:

That's something to keep in mind as we argue about drafting a QB of the future. Can Wilson develop him? If the team doesn't think that Wilson can take a young QB and mold him, then we may go the Matt Shaub route and try to find a journeyman QB who is still young enough to progress but old enough that he doesn't have to be coached "from scratch".

Going back to the big picture, I think Dallas has done a great job of putting together a coaching staff that can bring in and develop young talent. While there are some question marks in Henderson and Wilson, by and large the staff is composed of proven teachers. And it's exciting to see how those teachers aren't just training the players, but the next generation of coaches. Rod Marinelli helped train Leon Lett. Frank Pollack is a Bill Callahan disciple, and appears to have taken former lineman Marc Colombo under his wing. Will any current Cowboy player be next in line?