The Cowboys are apparently taking a very big risk this coming season. This draft they made the unpopular decision of waiting until the later rounds to draft any defensive players. Over the past few seasons, the defense has been spotty at best, with some flares of brilliance but more often than not, susceptible to the big play.
The Cowboys finished last season ranked 19th in total defense, giving up 355 yards per game. The squad also collected a dismal 16 takeaways in the 2012 season and yet they seemingly were content to draft only a safety in the third round, a corner in the fourth round, and a linebacker in the sixth round.
Two of those draft picks have recently changed positions. J.J. Wilcox played receiver for three of his college seasons only switching to safety in his senior season where he proved to be a physical tackler with good instincts. The Cowboys are expecting him to be a contributor this season in a transitioning defense under the leadership of new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Dallas is putting all their confidence in the switch from a 3-4 base defense to Kiffin's 4-3 defense. Without any huge free agency moves, due to the cap restrictions, the Cowboys are hoping that a healthy group of last year's defense, with a few additional pieces will flourish under Kiffiin's scheme.
This defense will be a much improved unit next year based on the play of these players:
1. Sean Lee. If Lee picks up where he left off before his injury last year and buys into the new scheme, the whole defense will respond.
2. Demarcus Ware. If Ware makes a smooth transition to defensive end, which he should, he will continue to torment quarterbacks and be a FORCE along the line of scrimmage making the rest of the D-line better as well.
3. Barry Church. The safety position has been weak for so long, and last year just when the Cowboys thought they had found their man, Church went down with injury. He needs to come back and play in the same way that allowed him to win the starting job last year.
4. Mo Claiborne. This guy can flat out play. Expect him to be even better this year and start creating a lot of turnovers.
If these players respond well to the new defense, this unit will be much improved next season and hopefully keep the ball in the hands of their offense more often than not.
Are the Cowboys making a gamble that Kiffin's defense will work with the same group of players from last year? Yes they are, but if they stay healthy, they have the talent to be an elite squad poised to make a playoff run.