After the 2017 season ended, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett decided to make some wholesale changes to the structure of the Dallas Cowboys to avoid another disappointment, if 9-7 can really be called a disappointment. While offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli both remained with the team, much of the staff around them has changed. This series is meant to profile each coach, including the ones who stayed, and analyze how their presence will contribute to the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Today, we are looking at a longtime assistant with Dallas who will now be coaching the linebackers, Ben Bloom. Be sure to check out our other profiles below:
Since 2011, the Cowboys linebackers have been coached by Matt Eberflus. Led by Sean Lee, the linebacker corps under Eberflus had always been good, if not great (when healthy). Eberflus has left for a promotion running the defense in Indianapolis, though, and he’s succeeded by his longtime assistant Ben Bloom.
Like Eberflus, Bloom has been with the Cowboys since 2011. Prior to joining America’s Team, Bloom was a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns, where Eberflus coached linebackers and Rob Ryan ran the defense. When the Cowboys hired Ryan as their defensive coordinator, he brought Eberflus with him, who in turn brought Bloom to be the assistant linebackers coach. During his time in that role, he primarily worked with the outside linebackers. In 2011, the top two outside linebackers, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, combined for 25.5 sacks. In 2012, the duo put together 22.5 sacks.
At that point, Bloom had been known for his ability at teaching how to effectively rush the passer. He had previously served as the defensive line coach for Harvard in 2008, when the football team went 9-1 on the strength of a stout defense. Bloom adjusted in 2013, though, when Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense. Eberflus decided to stay with Dallas and learn the new scheme, and Bloom remained the assistant linebackers coach despite the focus shifting from pass-rushing to pass-coverage and run-stopping.
While the defense as a whole was historically bad, Eberflus and Bloom’s unit was still strong. Lee, specifically, was second on the team in tackles despite missing five games and he tied his career high for interceptions. While Bruce Carter struggled with the scheme change, Bloom was able to see some quality production from rotational players such as Justin Durant, Ernie Sims, and Kyle Wilber.
In 2014, however, Dallas reassigned Bloom to coach the defensive ends in an attempt to get their pass rush going. Marinelli was unquestionably the defensive line master, but Bloom had experience in being the assistant to a master in his time with Eberflus. With Bloom’s assistance, players like George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey, and Jack Crawford made quality contributions in the pass rush. The next year, though, saw the progression of DeMarcus Lawrence to the tune of eight sacks, a career best at the time.
For the 2016 season, Bloom once again saw a change in responsibilities. His title was changed to assistant coach/special projects, and it primarily consisted of consulting Jason Garrett on matchups and schemes for each individual game, analyzing game film and statistics to judge personnel group strategies, and offering suggestions on game management and situational football strategies for each game. He also assisted with special teams in-game.
Bloom has very much been an Eberflus disciple, and it was honestly a bit surprising he didn’t follow his mentor to the Colts. But during his time in Dallas, Bloom has cemented his value to this team. Like Eberflus, his willingness to learn a new defensive scheme is what helped him become a student of the game. With a master’s degree in education from the prestigious Tufts University, teaching has always been in his focus. Taking on the special projects role in 2016 and holding such a pivotal role in weekly game plans only honed those skills for him. Now that he’ll be a full time position coach with the linebackers, Bloom is prepared:
“Really grateful for the opportunity,” Bloom told SportsDay’s Jon Machota. “Thankful that the head coach and the front office and the defensive coordinator had the belief in me to promote me. I was confident because I knew I was ready. I’ve been preparing for this for a long time.”
Bloom will take over the linebackers with some changes to be made. First-round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch is expected to man the MIKE linebacker spot, where his athleticism and skill in coverage make him an ideal fit. Jaylon Smith, who appears to be getting closer and closer to his former self every day, is moving to the SAM linebacker spot, which allows him to attack the quarterback on the blitz more often, and Lee is Lee. He’ll be one of the best linebackers in the league unless an injury sidelines him. Bloom’s job is to do what Eberflus never could: have Lee’s backup ready to go.
Bloom’s background as a pass rushing specialist should specifically help out Vander Esch. One of the more common knocks on the Boise State product in the draft was his inability to disengage from blockers when playing the run. Most draft analysts seemed to concur that if he can fix that issue, he could become the next Brian Urlacher (someone Marinelli knows plenty about, by the way). When Bloom has coached defensive ends and pass rushing outside linebackers in the past, one of the key points of focus has been the ability to get physical with the offensive tackle at the point of attack and then disengage to make a move around them. Average pass rushers get held up by linemen because they can’t shed blocks, but Bloom’s track record, and his time spent learning from Marinelli and Eberflus, suggests that he can teach the ability to shed a block.
Disengaging from an offensive tackle is a different task from getting off of a guard, sure, but the general principle of it still holds. Bloom should be able to teach those kinds of techniques to the young rookie, and if it takes, then the Cowboys could be looking at a future star linebacker in the middle of their defense.
Additionally, Bloom’s pass rush background can help Smith, who is likely to get more blitz packages in 2018. Marinelli’s defense doesn’t blitz often, and new defensive passing game coordinator Kris Richard didn’t deploy too many blitzes in Seattle either, so when a blitz is called up, it’s important that it works. If Smith really is so much faster than last season, he should be a fearsome blitzing linebacker coming between DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving. While those two defensive linemen, and hopefully Randy Gregory, Jihad Ward, and Taco Charlton, will certainly keep a quarterback busy, sending Smith as an extra rusher would add a whole new dimension to this defense, and Bloom can help ensure Smith is highly effective in that aspect.
For years, Eberflus was the rising star of the Cowboys’ defensive staff. Many thought he was the successor-in-waiting to Marinelli, and if he had retired this offseason, Eberflus undoubtedly would have been promoted. Now, in many ways, Bloom is the new rising star. As a student of the game with experience in game-planning the last two years, it’s no stretch to imagine Bloom continuing to rise through the ranks. And who knows? Perhaps in two years we’ll be talking about Richard and Bloom in a similar way to Marinelli and Eberflus. But for now, look for Bloom to bring some significant development to this linebacker corps. He’s more than ready for the challenge.