FRISCO, Texas – It was only a weekend rookie minicamp featuring only 12 defensive players -- a combination of draft picks, signed rookie free agents and camp tryouts.
But two open practices provided a clear picture of new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's coaching style:
Quinn, who replaced Mike Nolan in January after six seasons as the Atlanta Falcons' head coach, spent time working directly with the four defensive linemen in camp: three draft picks (Osa Odighizuwa, Chauncey Golston and Quinton Bohanna) and undrafted tackle Austin Faoliu.
And when the rookies went to team drills Saturday, the 50-year-old coach jumped in at nose tackle for a couple plays until Bohanna returned from a tweaked shoulder.
"Coach Quinn looked good, looked like he was ready to get in there," Bohanna said.
D-Line is Quinn's background. That's where he played in college – Division II Salisbury University in Maryland – as a two-time captain from 1990-93. He's previously coached the position on four NFL teams: the 49ers, Dolphins, Jets and Seahawks.
In Seattle, where he also coordinated the famous "Legion of Boom" defense from 2013-14, Quinn cemented his reputation as a teacher with a spirited approach to coaching.
Moments like Saturday are why Quinn never really considered taking a year off when he and the Falcons parted ways in the middle of the 2020 season.
"The time on the field, that's the best part of the week for me in the preparation phase," he said during NFL Draft weekend. "I like teaching in the classroom, but the on-the-field work, the in-the-drill work. That part is priceless for me because you can give instant feedback to somebody about their technique, about where they're at. And having that energy, that's the best."
Quinn finally got that opportunity with the Cowboys last weekend. The coaches held virtual meetings with the rookies Friday-Sunday, following COVID-19 protocols, but practice provided a chance for one-on-one demonstration.
A major part of Quinn's job will be devising a role for first-round pick Micah Parsons, who will likely be a three-down linebacker because of his ability as a box player and pass rusher.
"I think DQ is a great coordinator, one of the best ones," Parsons said. "He gets his best players on the field and position to make plays and I have full faith in him."
Said Bohanna, who will compete for snaps at tackle: "He puts so much attention to detail in the small things."
That's the critical part of communicating a new scheme for a defense needing swift, major improvement. The Cowboys finished 23rd in total defense last year and allowed the most points in franchise history (473) while yielding the second-most rushing yards in franchise history (2,541).
"I love being hands-on with the guys. I'll be involved with the drill work with them. But I want to feel them, I want to know them," Quinn said. "The only way I can do that is to build those relationships with them and spend some time with them.
"The best part of coaching is really, for me anyway, is these connections. They're lifelong with players. I still keep up with guys that I coached in the '90s and the 2000s and last year. So, I enjoy that a lot and I'm looking forward to building some relationships with the guys here."