Dallas Cowboys Defense Never The Same Since Darren Woodson Retired


When the Dallas Cowboys announced that they hired former Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett (the cat) as a defensive assistant-defensive line coach,  it got me thinking about Leon Lett’s playing days.  Back then, Dallas had one of the best defenses in the league.  Charles Haley, Jim Jeffcoat, Ken Norton, Darren Woodson – players with heart that played with passion and purpose.  Remember Ken Norton’s famous line – “Dallas Cowboys defense…UNCONSCIOUS!”

Back then, the two most important pieces of those Cowboys defenses were Charles Haley and Darren Woodson.  Charles has been recognized by being inducted into the Cowboy’s Ring of Honor.  I’m sure Darren Woodson is next.

Darren Woodson played 12 years for the Dallas Cowboys, holding court in the secondary.  Woodson was always known as a hard hitting linebacker coming out of Arizona State.  It is interesting to note that our own former coach, Dave Campo, scouted Woodson the ‘linebacker’ as a Safety in waiting.  So I guess Ol’ Campo should get a shout out for that.  I was in agreement when Dave Campo’s coaching contract wasn’t renewed and he left to become the defensive coordinator at Kansas,  but Campo was an integral part of those great Cowboys defenses of the 90’s and early 2000’s and deserves some credit for that.

Darren Woodson had something the up and coming Dallas Cowboys desperately needed – swagger.  Woodson was one of the best Safeties in the league, considered by many the best Safety the Cowboys ever had.  He was a feared –  hard hitting player, as good at covering the run as he was covering wide receivers.  Darren Woodson holds the Cowboys career tackling record.  We didn’t need a slot corner like we do now, because Woodson was the best cover DB on the team – the best cover back on the team – a safety!  In looking back on Woodson’s career, it was the last bit that made me see how much Darren Woodson meant to the Dallas Cowboys defense,  and how we have yet to be able to replace his presence on the field.  That’s like 9 years.  It took less time to find Tony Romo as a suitable quarterback to replace Troy Aikman.

Imagine what a difference a player like Woodson would make on our defense now.  A player that made everyone around him better.  Look what Woodson did for Roy Williams (the Safety).  Williams was a perennial pro-bowler while csharing the backfield and learning from Darren Woodson.  We couldn’t necessarily tell until after Woodson retired, but he clearly molded Roy in his likeness as far as hard hitting.  Roy Williams lived off reputation for a couple more years without Darren, but ultimately showed that Darren Woodson made Roy Williams look good. When Darren Woodson retired, Bill Parcells said at the time that Woodson ‘certainly earned my respect’.  High praise from someone who doesn’t give it often.

In recent years, Darren Woodson has spoken about his days playing in Dallas.  He openly acknowledges, for example, that the Dallas Cowboys secondary rewarded each other for interceptions, sacks and hard hits.  They weren’t called bounties then (I guess the difference is when it’s run by the defensive coordinator?).

He also thinks that team leadership comes through actions not theatrics or speeches.  He said it was about preparation, about the top guys and role players understanding their roles on the team.  A leader, to Woodson, is someone who is well respected within the locker room, leading by example.  It’s not always the QB that has that role, intimating that all the top guys in his playing days – Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Charles Haley – would get on someone who was out of line, but also role players like Daryl Johnston would get on guys too.  The leadership thing seemed to be about respect and leading by example.  The current dallas Cowboys team could use some of that.

Over all, I think the thing that has yet to be replaced – above the hybrid linebacker-corner-safety – that left with Darren Woodson, is respect.  Respect for the game.  Respect of the role each plays.  Respect for the top guys that are leading by example, but are not commanding respect.  And respect for each other.  I would say discipline as well, but Jason Garrett is trying hard to re-instill that in this team.  Perhaps when Garrett talks about having the ‘right kind of guys’ on the team, he means guys like he was surrounded by in his playing days.  After all, Jason Garrett was Darren Woodson’s team mate.  So was Leon Lett for that matter.  Maybe, like Lett, we could try and get Darren Woodson to come back as a coach.  Maybe he could bring back some of what these ‘wanna be’ up and coming Dallas Cowboys desperately need – swagger.  Swagger and a little team respect.

Artie Cappello