What a difference a year makes. Although the COVID pandemic is still ongoing, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as it was a year ago, practically shutting down just about everything including the NFL offseason. The 2020 NFL Draft was forced to be held virtually and all offseason, in-person, practices were strictly forbidden. That left the entire league pretty much handcuffed as to how to prepare for the upcoming season, including the Dallas Cowboys.
Sadly the lack of a full offseason left the Dallas Cowboys at a pretty significant disadvantage. They were bringing aboard almost entirely new coaching staff after replacing Jason Garrett with Mike McCarthy. This new coaching staff was in uncharted waters. Not only did they have to familiarize themselves with the Cowboys roster, but also try to install their coaching philosophies and systems pretty much virtually.
Even for an experienced coaching staff who have been together for years this was a difficult task to take on. For the Cowboys, who basically look wiped the slate clean except for a few holdovers, it put them behind the eight ball from the start. In fact, no one was more impacted from lack of in-person practices than their new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
There’s no need to beat a dead horse here. By now we all know how bad the Dallas Cowboys defense was under Nolan last year. There are plenty of defensive stats to prove that point. They were bad, quite possibly one of the worst defensive units in the history of the league.
Unfortunately for Nolan he tried to do too much too early without having the benefit of a full offseason to install his defensive scheme. Things were bad from the get-go and it ended up putting his head on the chopping block at season’s end. Who knows if things would’ve been different had the pandemic not shut things down, but that’s neither here nor there now.
After firing Mike Nolan, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t waste any time naming Dan Quinn as their new defensive coordinator. He’s highly touted and thought of as a defensive coach around the NFL and has a Super Bowl ring to emphasize the point. There’s already high hopes he can help Dallas’ defense have a bounce back year in 2021 and having a full offseason to prepare and install his scheme will no doubt help matters, a luxury Nolan didn’t have.
It’s difficult to express how hard it must have been for Nolan to try to prepare his defense with no in-person practices. Installing a defense virtually via video chat is difficult enough, but not having players on hand to try to figure out who fits where best in his system basically put him in a no-win situation from the beginning. Luckily for Quinn, he doesn’t have to overcome those obstacles.
All of this is not to highlight Nolan’s failure as the Cowboys defensive coordinator last year, but to rather put an emphasis on how important all of these offseason practices are. Quinn, at least, gets the benefit of taking his hands-on coaching approach to the practice field and that’s something Nolan was never allowed. Who knows if things would’ve turned out differently, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
There are a lot of reasons to believe Quinn can help the Dallas Cowboys defense have a bounce back year in 2021, and having a full offseason will no doubt be a big part of that. It’s going to be really interesting to see how all of this plays out in the end, but for now we can at least find comfort in the fact everything around the NFL is basically back to normal.