Quite often in the NFL and professional sports in general, big changes in coaching staffs or management are dangerous for returning players. The new crew comes in without loyalty to the previous cast and often look to reshape the roster according to their vision. But for the 2021 Dallas Cowboys defense, having a new defensive coordinator may be just what some of these guys needed.
For Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill or Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, the changes brought about Rod Marinelli's departure and Mike Nolan's one year in 2020 were not favorable. Drafted to play roles in the Cover 2 scheme that Marinelli deployed, they found themselves being asked to do new or different things that weren't ideal to their skill sets.
But with Dan Quinn replacing Nolan after that disastrous single season, the Cowboys' 2021 defense will be nearer to Marinelli's philosophies than what Nolan was trying to do. And while Quinn may have had a hand in acquiring new talent like Micah Parsons, Brent Urban, and others, he may also be intrigued by getting the holdovers from last year back to the things they're good at.
The Cowboys seem ready to embrace all of the healthy competition throughout their defense. They kept most of the previous prospects and even struggling players around to see what effect Quinn can have on them, but also weren't shy about adding more bodies and options at every position.
Take a guy like Hill, a 2019 2nd-round pick who's yet to find his groove. Trysten was flashing some good things before his season-ending injury last year but has yet to make a real name for himself.
It would be easy for Quinn to focus on free agent additions Urban and Carlons Watkins, plus rookies Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna, and leave guys like Hill or even Neville Gallimore on his mental back burner. And, to be real, there's no guarantee that he won't favor his guys over Marinelli or Nolan's.
But at least these players who've been with Dallas for a while are getting an opportunity to return to what they were either brought here to do or have already been successful doing. Maybe Leighton and Jaylon won't be able to fight off Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox in the long run, but they're getting a much better shot now under Quinn than they'd have had if Nolan was still around.
The defensive position battles in this upcoming training camp and preseason are going to be fascinating to watch. The Cowboys have made some big changes but didn't discard the previous talent, creating a competitive atmosphere that should produce some hardened talent for the 2021 season.
As long as Dan Quinn is the improvement at defensive coordinator that we think, the end result could be a dramatic leap forward in just a single offseason.