When the Cowboys report to training camp next week in Oxnard, Calif., several questions will still need to be answered.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rowan Kavner, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp. The questions will vary in importance, with the most pressing topics getting brought up in the days closest to camp.
Today, the staff wonders how new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will improve the defense.
4) How much of a difference can Rod Marinelli make?
Rowan Kavner: I think sometimes people place the world on his shoulders, and he can only do so much. They want Marinelli to work magic, but in the end, the players have to be good enough. So, to answer the question, he can make a big difference, but I don't know if it'll be big enough to vault this defense into top 15 territory. He could, however, help work the Cowboys away from being the worst defense in the league. Maybe a top 20 defense is good enough to pair with an offense that has the firepower and line to be among the better units in the league. But for every George Selvie that Marinelli's helped out, there's another defensive lineman with potential that came through the Cowboys' organization one week and left the next. Marinelli has a knack for getting the best out of the talent he's been given, and I'm sure every defensive unit will love playing for him, but I'd temper expectations rather than assume he can work wonders with a largely unproven group.
David Helman: He's not going to turn the Cowboys into one of the league's elite defenses, but I do expect to see some kind of improvement with Rod Marinelli overseeing the entire defense. Obviously, the counter argument is that anything is an improvement from last in the league. We saw what Marinelli was able to do with a collection of ragtags on the defensive line last year, and that stands to improve significantly if the majority of those guys can stay healthy in 2014. Aside from that, the rumblings about playing more man coverage should play to the strengths of this team's defensive backs. Again, I don't think the Cowboys' secondary is going to be elite, but I do think Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are going to be improved this time around. The realistic expectation for this group is a small jump – say, the low-to-mid 20s, rather than dead last – which could help them make a playoff run. I think that's possible with Marinelli calling the shots. [embedded_ad]
Nick Eatman: It has to improve, right? Even without Ware, Hatcher and now Lee, you just don't expect this defense to be the worst in the league again. And a lot of that thinking stems from Marinelli. Another year in the 4-3 scheme should be beneficial to the entire group and Marinelli's structure and organization has to count for something. But let's not forget this – every time the defense did good things (and yes, there were a few of those moments), Marinelli would get the credit as the guy who's "really in charge." But yet, when the defense tanked towards the end it all went back to Monte Kiffin. It can't be both ways. If the defense is better, it means the staff has to be better, too and that starts with Marinelli.
Bryan Broaddus: If this Cowboys defense is going to improve, I believe it will be because Rod Marinelli took over from Monte Kiffin. Where Marinelli will be different in what we observed with Kiffin, is that he will play more to the strengths of the players on the field. The mistake that Kiffin made in my opinion was that he did not tailor the scheme to fit his players. Asking Brandon Carr to play as an off zone corner puts him in a terrible position. Having Barry Church play off the hash, in two deep does him no favors. Play Carr up tight and let him beat up on those receivers - that's his strength. Church needs to be down in the box, making every single tackle. A coach's job first and for most, is to put his players in the best possible position to succeed. Monte Kiffin was unable to make that work and from what I know about Rod Marinelli, he will not make that mistake.