Padded practices have commenced and things are getting real for the Dallas Cowboys. The team has been grinding away this week building up to the padded practices that started on Wednesday. As the week has progressed and the players have gotten their feet under them, one theme has seemed to prevail thus far. The talk out of Oxnard is that the defense is flying around making plays and playing with some confidence.
To be polite, the defense won Tuesday. They picked off Dak Prescott three times, highlighted by a Damontae Kazee pick-six. “When y'all drop this interview, tell them, 'Cowboys defense,' Kelvin Joseph says, 'Airplane Mode,'" the rookie said. "You can't throw. No fly zone."— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) July 27, 2021
We all expect this offense to be one of the leagues best, and that is Dak Prescott and the rest of the teams expectation as well. However, the majority of questions on this team lie within the defensive unit. Not too many around the league have a pulse on what to expect from a unit that struggled mightily in 2020 and the feeling coming into the season wasn’t overly positive. Its safe to say the success of this team will be decided by the performance on that side of the ball. As practices have rolled on and the more notes and tidbits of information from beat writers and reporters on the ground have been spread out to social media, it’s encouraging to see that there seems to be a defensive unit that is playing with a swagger. Dan Quinn has the ‘Boys playing assignment football and his coaching style has put the unit in a system that allows for them to play confidently and fast. That has resulted in the unit flying around the practice field making plays, collecting pass break ups, interceptions, and making it difficult for the Cowboys high octane offense to operate.
#Cowboys DT Neville Gallimore says the defense is starting to establish its identity.— Mark Lane (@therealmarklane) July 28, 2021
"Guys are just on the same page," said Gallimore. "Guys are locked in. We're starting to believe in ourselves and believe in each other."
Granted it’s early, and full pads are just getting going, but to see the defense playing and speaking with a bit of confidence is a breath of fresh air after last year’s disaster. The influx of talent and competition to the defensive side of the ball, plus the addition of Quinn and a normal offseason program could help raise the bar of expectation for this Cowboys defense.
S Donovan Wilson on practicing in pads tomorrow: "Yeah, they like to joke around and say the “Underwear Olympics” but tomorrow we put the pads on and get to fly around and get to make some contact out there."— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) July 27, 2021
With the addition of Malik Hooker to the safety room there are finally resources at a position mostly ignored by the team brass. The return on investment could be a big one if Hooker stays healthy. That, of course, is a big question mark for him, but when he is on the field he is in the upper echelon of safeties in the league. One could suggest his presence alone may have inspired his new teammates as Damontae Kazee had his best day of camp to date, coincidently on the day Hooker was roaming the field in street clothes watching. Players want to play, and that sounds elementary, but when you add a player to a team that can take playing time from another competitor, the good ones take it personally and in return look to unlock another level to elevate their game.
Damontae Kazee was a ball hawk at San Diego State, a ball hawk with the Falcons. And now he’s caught his first INT of training camp with the Cowboys. Defense had a day. Practice now over. pic.twitter.com/AY7G3SzdRe— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) July 27, 2021
The Cowboys spent a lot of capital in this years draft on the front seven and with the development of this year’s rookies, combined with a leap from the second-year players, and all important bounce-back seasons from a couple of veterans in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, we could potentially see a different side of this defense, one that can stop the run.
Jaylon Smith, Micah Parsons and the Cowboys linebackers pic.twitter.com/JMsD981JsK— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) July 25, 2021
This team simply cannot win by playing the run at the level they did last year. Being more stout in the run game has been a focal point and the addition of size and length is a direct result of that way of thinking.
As camp progresses we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. There is still much work to be done and many hurdles to leap before we are in week one versus Tom Brady and the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, it is encouraging to see the defense speak glowingly of their new defensive coordinator and see the same praise be heaped upon the unit, too.
Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs doesn’t hesitate when asked about DC Dan Quinn: “I love the way he coaches. … You want to play for someone like that.” pic.twitter.com/7mHv7hWtFH— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) July 25, 2021
Only time will tell where this defense’s ceiling is, and one could assume that how far this team will go will hinge upon that height as well. However, as training camp continues to roll on, it feels good to see the star of the show might be the defense for a change.