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Taking control: How the departure of veterans has empowered the Cowboys staff

The youth movement in Dallas has been well documented, and this is an effect we may have overlooked.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA
Kris Richard is just one coach who may have more control now.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If you have watched the Amazon series All or Nothing about the Dallas Cowboys, one thing that may have stuck out were some awkward moments with the assistant coaches. In particular, there were times when Derek Dooley seemed to defer to Dez Bryant in meetings, leaving a real question of who was really in charge of things.

That is never a good thing. And Bryant was not the only veteran that may have had too much influence on things. Jason Witten apparently told the staff when he was going to leave the field (basically never) on offense. And recent comments by the defensive backs indicated that there was a possible lack of discipline in the secondary.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said while the technique is a change for the defensive backs, he thinks it will have the most impact because of how much Richard drills the details into the players.

”That’s a huge change,” said cornerback Anthony Brown. “Last year we didn’t have a set technique, it was pretty much do as you please, whatever makes you comfortable. ....That’s helping us be patient and it’s really helping our feet. ...

”Whenever we press man and we come up to the line, our first thought in our head is to get that kick-step.”

Of course, the departure of Bryant and Witten has been much discussed, and another veteran, Orlando Scandrick, left the defensive backs room. Scandrick was also another outspoken player. And the coaches involved with some of these decisions have also been replaced, by passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach Kris Richard, wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal, and tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier.

There may be more connecting the changes in the roster and the staff than we might realize at first glance. Coaches who had lost some control over things were replaced, and the likely suspects who were, shall we say, somewhat less receptive to coaching are now gone.

That immediately empowers the new members of the staff to take charge and put their stamp on things. It also may help Scott Linehan, now that he no longer has two entrenched veterans who demanded to be big parts of the offense.

There were a lot of other factors involved in the departure of the players mentioned, but this was likely a part of the decisions save for Witten, and especially in Bryant’s case. It certainly makes it easier to enact changes that are designed to correct some of the flaws from last year.

Richard has been touted as possibly the most important new coaching hire, but the addition of Lal and offensive line coach Paul Alexander may be just as crucial. And clearing out some possible obstacles in players who insisted on doing it their way just fits in with that. (Alexander has been praised for his ability to work with the individual strengths of his players, but that is very different from letting the players dictate their own use.)

It also should be noted that it is easier for a new coach to come in and assert himself than for one who looked like he was pushed around a bit to reestablish that authority. The returning players would have remembered that, and perhaps been tempted to push back a bit themselves. Now that is not a factor.

Early reports from the OTAs indicate that things are going the way the staff wants them to so far, and the players seem to be responding. The way the defensive backs are picking up the new techniques has already been noted, and Lal is making similar inroads with his emphasis on precise route running. It is worth noting how Lal has praised rookie Cedrick Wilson for his ability to learn things quickly, which may mean he has a better chance to make the 53-man roster than his draft position might indicate.

The term “addition by subtraction” has been bandied about for the wide receivers, and that may also be true to an extent for the cornerbacks and tight ends. More importantly, the changes the team needed to make after the disappointment of last season now look to be easier to accomplish.

While this may seem a bit of an optimistic take, or trying to convert lemonade into blue and silver Kool-aid, it also realistically takes into account the actual moves that have been made this offseason. We are a long way from knowing if they will be successful, but those early indications are encouraging.

At the moment, the new coaches seem to be doing a very good job. The loss of some key veterans was concerning when it happened. But those exits from Dallas may have been just what the team needed to move forward.

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