Call me crazy, and I’m sure many of you will, but that’s how much of an impact I believe Rod Marinelli will have as defensive coordinator, along with some key additions to the defensive line through either the draft or free agency. If you read recent columns by me, then you know I was calling for exactly what happened. I said that Monte Kiffin should be placed into some type of “consultant” role and that Marinelli should then be moved up to defensive coordinator. Naming Kiffin as assistant head coach for defense, with no daily role in game planning or coaching, seems close enough to being made a “consultant” to me.
The cover two defense Kiffin ran and the modified version Marinelli ran in Chicago both have success predicated on a good pass rush. So, the first order of business for this team will be to get some help on the defensive line. Some mock drafts have the Cowboys selecting a safety in the first round. That’s not the route I would necessarily go, but I guess it fits that “best player available” philosophy. Either way, defensive line help can be found throughout the draft. That makes me feel confident the Cowboys will be able to improve the pass rush through the draft. In addition, the Cowboys will be able to sign free agents on a limited basis.
Let’s explore that last statement. Even though they are somewhere like $30 Million over the salary cap, the Cowboys will rework contracts, as they always do, to get under the cap and even have limited funds to sign a free agent. Some of this “spending money” will also come from cutting players whose production doesn’t match their salary. Miles Austin comes to mind. I am sure some feel they should keep Austin if he agrees to a lower salary, but that’s nonsense. If he can’t stay on the field, it doesn’t matter how much you lower his salary. It’s time to move on. The cut in pay might apply to DeMarcus Ware. I am convinced by what I’ve seen the last couple of seasons that his career is winding down, but he could still be a good “spot” player at the right price.
When we talk about available free agents that also includes the Cowboys own Anthony Spencer. The Cowboys kept him on the team the last two years by applying the franchise tag, which was quite expensive for an injured player unable to take the field last season, except for part of one game. The good news is with Spencer recovering from major surgery, he might now be less attractive to other teams and, as a result, more affordable for the Cowboys.
That situation mirrors the one with a Bears defensive lineman that played for Marinelli in Chicago, Henry Melton. Marinelli took this college running back and turned him into a premier defensive tackle, but he was hurt most of the 2013 season, which might have lowered his asking price just enough to allow the Cowboys to afford him, especially if he desires to be reunited with his former coach. Neither of these players have a history of being injury prone, so they should be able to be relied upon once they are well.
Now that we have covered what the Cowboys can do to increase the talent on the defensive line, let’s look at the difference coaching will make. As mentioned earlier, the defensive line did not pressure the opposing offenses enough. That being said, this defensive line over-achieved, as exemplified by the performances of former castoffs George Selvie and Nick Hayden, along with many other players shuffled on and off the roster in 2013. Marinelli will now be able to impact the whole defense with his style of coaching that seems to get the absolute most out of the players. What this means in practical terms is that players some are ready to call a “bust” such as cornerback Morris Claiborne, linebacker Bruce Carter and safety J.J. Wilcox will redeem themselves under the tutelage of Marinelli.
The defensive scheme will make a difference too as Marinelli applies tweaks to make this defense look more like the one he had in Chicago. You know, the one that led the league in take-aways and scoring in 2012. There will be much more press coverage by the corners than Kiffin seemed willing to employ and more single high safety coverage, rather than the two deep safety coverage exemplified by the cover two defense. It never made sense to me to try to make these cornerbacks zone coverage specialists when they were signed for their ability to press the receiver and the Marinelli scheme will fix all of that.
You can tell me I’m wrong, but as far away as it might seem now, neither of us will know for sure until the 2014 season gets under way and I’m betting on Marinelli’s history of success.