The Dallas Cowboys had an unusual offseason when it comes to their personnel. Rarely does a team who just finished 13-3 let four key contributors to their defensive backfield walk during the very next free agency period.
It’s even rarer that a team lets veterans such as those walk, and feels better about the rookies they’ve brought in to replace them.
This is exactly how the Cowboys, and the majority of their fans, feel about the turnover in the secondary over the last few months. Dallas has gone out with the Brandon Carrs, Morris Claibornes, Barry Churches, and JJ Wilcoxes of the world and in with Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods, to name a few.
While much of the world outside of Cowboys Nation views this turnover as a sign of instability or uncertainty, the Cowboys know exactly what they have done. As owner Jerry Jones spoke to during the NBC broadcast of the Hall of Fame game, Dallas has finally found players which fit what their current defensive coordinator wants to do.
Rod Marinelli (or Monte Kiffin for one year) inherited the 2014 Cowboys secondary. He did not draft Morris Claiborne, or sign Brandon Carr, or ask for the general manager to find players which could be utilized primarily in man coverage. This was the work of his predecessor, Rob Ryan.
Ryan wanted the Cowboys to be a blitz-happy team in their front seven, with the corners able to remain sticky in man coverage on the back end. The entire Ryan family subscribed to this aggressive style of defense, one which Marinelli and the Cowboys have completely moved away from over the last three seasons.
Now, the transformation is just about complete. By allowing veterans to walk and drafting defensive backs which better fit Marinelli’s zone coverage-happy scheme, the Cowboys have changed their defensive identity. Even the returning players in the Dallas secondary, specifically Anthony Brown, represent this shift in defensive philosophy.
While the Ryan’s are defined by the 46 defense, Marinelli is defined by his early work under Monte Kiffin with the Tampa 2. No, the Cowboys don’t run Tampa 2 as often as some might suggest, with Marinelli shifting to a single high philosophy, but it sounds like the Cowboys will still value the zone coverage schemes this year.
With Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Xavier Woods lurking deep and ball-hawking corners like Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis underneath, the Cowboys secondary is shaping up to be a dangerous unit for years to come.