questioned about taking over the defense, "We'd never gotten away from my defense" even though Stewart wore the defensive coordinator title.
That's one. No. 2 makes more sense to me: The Cowboys have become more athletic on defense. They no longer have to hide the deficiencies of their strong safeties, especially in coverage. Gerald Sensabaugh can run, but so can some of the other guys they are working back there, too, almost all seemingly capable of playing either safety position, and without Ken Hamlin there on Tuesday (out this week on personal business), telling the difference between free and strong was difficult.
And quite interesting, at least to me, without Hamlin there, the free safety actually was seen making plays on the ball. Twice Ball, taking Hamlin's place on the first-team defense, broke up passes down the field. Even Brown was active in pass defense, also breaking up a couple of passes. Plus, that doesn't even take into account the draft choices, DeAngelo Smith and Michael Hamlin, who will give Pat Watkins a run for his money.
Then there is cornerback. Anthony Henry wasn't a liability. But the Cowboys did have to protect against his lack of speed, mostly playing him off the line of scrimmage in zone coverage. Now there will be more speed at right corner, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick battling for the starting spot, and thus more speed on the nickel and dime defenses since both will be on those change-ups. That means not automatically playing two safeties deep in passing situations if those guys have success in coverage.
Next, and this does not take into account what will happen on running downs, but Spencer for the veteran Greg Ellis gives the Cowboys a more versatile athlete at the strong outside linebacker spot. While Ellis did a heckuva job transitioning into the 3-4, he wasn't near as athletic as Spencer. You'll see.
You get the idea?
"We never would do that last year," James said of all the movement the defense was showing. "(Phillips) was still learning the personnel. We can do different things with Bobby (Carpenter) and Spencer and D. Ware."
Said Terence Newman, suddenly the second oldest starter on defense (turns 31 in September) to the going-on 34-year-old Keith Brooking, "Everybody can play, everybody can run."
Phillips the head coach, though, was not as happy as Phillips the defensive coordinator. With the defense really mixing up schemes and blitzes, the Cowboys offense struggled mightily, especially with the depleted wide receiver corps. Occupational hazard.
But he just had to be pleased with the defense, even if this was sort of a lab exercise, experimenting to find out who is capable of doing what and what might work and what doesn't.
"Things we ran today are fairly complicated and we didn't make many mistakes today," said Phillips, who did suggest the possibility of playing more man coverage this year. "Play a little more man and maybe more blitz stuff.
"We're a pretty good pressure team with all the movement we have."
Again, remember you still have to play the run, and if you remember, it was the inability of the Cowboys to play the run that doomed them in the crushing loss to Baltimore, that final game played at Texas Stadium which rendered the season finale to utmost importance.
Also remember, blitzing is no defensive panacea. You still have to get there, and when you don't, well, let me add this cautionary tale. On one of these schemes with the Cowboys blitzing and mixing up coverages, there was Ware, not rushing but running as hard as he could for nearly 30 yards straight down the middle of the unoccupied field chasing of all people, Felix Jones. Needless to say, no contest.
Secondary coach Dave Campo, standing way down field, was the only man behind Felix, and he wasn't wearing a jersey. Even he had to chuckle, knowing for whatever reason that occurred had to be fixed.
Because no matter everything else, that there was no mirage.