Right now the biggest story to come out of the Dallas Cowboys preseason is beyond a doubt the performance by one Dak Prescott. There is good cause for that, but less commented on is the play of the team’s defensive secondary. The defensive backfield might not be the strength of this year’s squad but it appears to have made tremendous strides since last season. For a team that has some serious question marks on defense, that improvement should be even better news that the effort being put in by the backup quarterback.
There has been little change to the personnel that make up the back side of Rod Marinelli’s defense, at least the portion of the defense that takes to the gridiron. The team is now getting more production out of the same key pieces that were on the roster in 2015. The biggest change has shown up in the improvement of former first-round draft choice Morris Claiborne, but the corners have looked much better from top to bottom this year.
The big change came in the coaching staff. Former defensive secondary coach Jerome Henderson departed for the Atlanta Falcons. The team promoted safeties coach Joe Baker to fill his shoes and they hired Greg Jackson to replace Baker. A large share of the credit for the improvement in the Dallas secondary should be directed towards these two men.
Baker proved his value to the Cowboys last season by taking rookie safety Byron Jones under his wing and guiding the first-round draft pick’s development. Jones progressed quickly under Coach Baker’s tutelage and he finished fifth on the squad in tackles while also leading the defense with 12 pass break ups. This was done while he was filling holes at an assortment of positions.
Now Baker is responsible for doing the same thing for the entire corps of defensive backs and they are responding to his efforts. Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are proving to be night and day different from what they were a year ago, and the down roster players like Josh Thomas have shown great strides since we last saw them perform. Coach Baker seems to be reaching his charges in a way that his predecessor did not.
Greg Jackson has been focused on the continued development of Byron Jones and elevating the play of Barry Church, Jeff Heath, and J J Wilcox. In that regard he has not seen quite the success that has been noted among the cornerbacks, specifically with J.J. Wilcox, but Byron Jones has looked as good as ever. As the play at cornerback continues to improve Jackson and his quartet of safeties will stand to be the beneficiaries.
Nobody expects the Cowboys to be a defensive juggernaut in 2015, but there is beginning to be some signs that the defense will not struggle the way some are expecting. A team that has proven in the past to be susceptible to an aerial assault has made headway toward rectifying its weakness. The secondary has come a long way in a very short time. In the (paraphrased) words of Robert Frost they may have miles to go before they rest, but thanks to the efforts of the new coaches in the secondary the first part of the journey has well begun.