Dallas Cowboys: Can Rod Marinelli’s Defense Make Another Big Jump In 2015?


Two years ago, the Dallas Cowboys fielded the very worst squad on defense in the NFL, at least from a statistical standpoint. They allowed more yards per game than any other team in 2013, and the third-most in NFL history.

Last offseason, the Cowboys lost two key key members of their defense: veteran defensive end DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Sean Lee. Needless to say, there were dire predictions about how the team would perform in 2014 without them.

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Enter Rod Marinelli, who served as Dallas’ defensive line coach in 2013. Marinelli was promoted to defensive coordinator last season. Improbably, the ex-Marine crafted a group of no-name players into a credible defensive force.

In 2014, the Cowboys led the NFC in forcing turnovers with 31 (including 18 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries). They focused on the fundamentals, swarming to the ball and tackling effectively.

So, can Marinelli turn this defense into a Super Bowl-caliber crew this season? With some of the offseason acquisitions, expectations are high, and rightfully so.

The Cowboys selected cornerback Byron Jones in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He has been described as a freak athlete by veteran teammate Barry Church, who is projected to start as strong safety.

This description seems appropriate as Jones holds the world record for the standing long jump, at 12 feet, 3 inches. He also registered a 44.5-inch vertical jump, which is only half an inch off of the world record in that category.

Defensive end Randy Gregory was the team’s pick in the second round. He is expected to fill a pass rushing need, at least until the Cowboys’ other new threat, defensive end Greg Hardy, can hit the field. Hardy is currently appealing a 10-game suspension for conduct unbecoming to the league involving a domestic violence incident that took place back in 2013 as a member of the Carolina Panthers. A decision on the appeal is expected soon.

Beyond the new additions, the Cowboys recently extended the contract of veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Two other cornerbacks, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, hope to be able to shake off prior underperforming seasons and make a strong showing in 2015.

Carr was named as the fifth most overpaid player in the NFL by an ESPN analyst last week. Fans would love to see him prove that analysis wrong.

But Marinelli is perhaps the biggest asset of all. With over 40 years of coaching experience at every level, he is especially skilled at developing close relationships with his players. Particularly those on the defensive line.

This week, Marinelli was also named as the #1 defensive coordinator in the league by NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks.

Head coach Jason Garrett also spoke very highly of Marinelli:

"“I think that has a lot to do with his ability to coach these guys as well as he does,” Garrett told ESPNDallas.com last April. “He develops relationships with them. It’s not easy when you play for Rod Marinelli. It’s a hard days worth in a really good way. But I think when you’re asking guys to do a lot and demanding that guys do a lot, developing that relationship with them is an important piece to that. They understand that what you’re asking them to do is in their best interest and ultimately in the team’s best interest. Again, he has a great track record of guys at a lot of different levels, getting the most out of them. I think that has a lot to do with it.”"

Here’s hoping that the Cowboys can make another big jump on defense this year.

They have the raw talent, no doubt. They also have one of the best leaders around.

Next: Dallas Cowboys: Five Undrafted Rookie Free Agents That Could Make The Roster