OXNARD, Calif. – Camp is done.
The work isn’t.
Not by a long shot.
Especially on defense.
And unfortunately that’s exactly where we began this 3½-week venture here in training camp at the River Ridge Practice Fields with the Dallas Cowboys, isn’t it? Concerned, worried, perplexed – pick the adjective of your anxious choice – over this defense, the one that effectively did in the Cowboys in 2014, wasting what was a highly productive offensive performance at the feet of the franchise’s statistically worst defense in the 54-year history.
Go back and look, right? Stated it plain and simple back in mid-July what this training camp would be all about: Defense . . . defense . . . defense.
And here we are, 16 padded practices and one preseason game later, with the second one on deck 6 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens, and gosh darn it the Cowboys defense still is the big issue, and the reason is:
We just don’t know . . . yet.
And how could we? The injuries just seem to compound faster than any miniscule interest we all receive from the banks these days. One after another after another.
And I know the Cowboys talk all about the next man up, along with injury just provides opportunity, but let’s get real. Injury to front-line players doesn’t do anyone any real good.
Because as Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, he’s never one to express panic, actually allowed Thursday, the final day of training camp here in the daily, sunny 70-degree weather just off the Ventura Highway, “Those guys are starters for a reason, they are guys who play a lot for a reason, so as quickly as we can get those guys back it’s good for our team.”
For me, there were like three guys the Cowboys simply could not afford to lose on what they were hoping to be a “developing” defense. And the Cowboys lost all three:
Next second-round draft choice
Seriously, could you have picked a worse trio to lose for any length of time?
And this injury bug seems to be an epidemic with the blue shirts. You’re not going to see starting defensive tackle
There is a 50-50 chance you won’t see cornerback
There won’t be any
And wait, I’m not done yet. Remember this guy
Enough? Wait, there is more.
Another seventh-round choice, defensive end
These are just the facts.
So if you take all of this into account, how would you know if this defense is good enough to improve over last year’s abysmal performance? How would you know if say a Melton is good enough to replace Jason Hatcher? How would you know if fourth-year veteran
And who knows if veterans such as
So Garrett was not being defensive nor evasive after being asked where his defense is after these 3½ weeks of training camp, saying, “Well I still think we are trying to develop an identity on this football team, really throughout our football team, and on defense as well.
“You know one of the issues we’ve had on our football team is a number of our frontline guys haven’t been in the lineup on a consistent basis, and that’s really on all three levels, so hopefully we’ll get some of those guys back over the next couple weeks and give them a chance to start playing before starting the season against San Francisco.
“On certain days some guys have shown up, some parts of that defense have shown up, other days maybe not quite as good. We’ve been trying to make a personnel evaluation but some of those guys have been out of the lineup so it’s hard to make a blanket statement.”
The lingering reflection from those two practices against the Raiders this week was eerily similar to the defense’s biggest problem of last year: Not near enough pressure on the quarterback, and if you are able to watch Saturday night’s game, that right there should be your focus: Can the Cowboys make life in the pocket for Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor and maybe Keith Wenning uncomfortable?
That would immensely help a secondary depleted – for now – by injury, and in the long run help improve a defense that gave up 33 passing touchdowns last season, matching the most ever in franchise history. Keep an eye on the likes of
Let’s see if defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli plays a little more aggressively in this preseason game, possibly blitzing the likes of linebackers
Man that not until now are we mentioning the name of
But at this point, for those of us watching the past 3½ weeks of training camp, there would be more confidence in the quarterback’s surgically-repaired back then there is in this defense, and to me that’s a mouthful. I’ve seen Romo throw the ball, move around in the pocket. But I’ve yet to see all 11 projected defensive starters on the field at the same time.
And truth be known, I’m not sure after 3½ weeks of training camp the Cowboys actually know who all those 11 starters will be. This is a work in progress, a lot of moving parts, and brother aren’t you glad the season opener still is 23 days away, and that there still are three more preseason games to play to figure all this out instead of maybe having only two preseason games as some are inclined to insist is all that’s needed.
The camp stakes have been pulled up, but this defense has yet to develop any sturdy roots.