New coaches shaking up Cowboys defensive secondary

Aug 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys assistant secondary coach Joe Baker during the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys assistant secondary coach Joe Baker during the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Will coaching changes improve a Dallas Cowboys defensive secondary that ranked dead last in total takeaways in 2015?

In January, the Dallas Cowboys lost their defensive secondary coach of the last four years, Jerome Henderson, to the Atlanta Falcons. In the wake of his departure, a month long search culminated in the promotion of his assistant. Joe Baker, to the position.

Baker, who was a wide receiver at Princeton University when now Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was a college quarterback, joined Dallas back in 2012 as an assistant secondary coach with a focus on their safeties.

Baker started his NFL coaching career in 1995 with the Jacksonville Jaguars as their assistant special teams coach. He went on to coach for the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before joining the Cowboys. Baker has mainly been a defensive secondary or linebackers coach during his time coaching in the pros.

In order to fill Baker’s void, the Cowboys looked to an old NFC East foe to become the team’s new safeties coach. Greg Jackson played safety in the NFL for 12 years after being drafted by the New York Giants in the third round of the 1989 NFL Draft. Jackson won a Super Bowl with the Giants in 1991.

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Jackson was the assistant defensive back coach for the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons before rejoining head coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of Michigan to become their defensive backs coach last year.

Both Baker and Jackson are now being tasked to reshape a defensive secondary in Dallas that ranked a respectable fifth in passing defense in 2015. But this is also a group that was responsible for grabbing just five interceptions last season, ranked dead last in total takeaways in the NFL and finished with a disappointing 4-12 win/loss record.

This offseason, the Cowboys re-signed former first round bust corner Morris Claiborne to a one-year deal. And veteran cornerback Brandon Carr agreed to take a pay cut to remain on the squad as well.

After missing all of last season due to a knee injury, veteran corner Orlando Scandrick is expected to return to the mix as well. And last year’s first round selection, Byron Jones, is expected to make the permanent transition from corner to free safety, replacing a spiraling J.J. Wilcox in the starting role.

The Cowboys also have a handful of young players looking to make the team and possibly try to make an impact on the upcoming season. With the current coaching changes, this is a great opportunity for some of these talented players to impress.

One of those possible breakout players is sixth round selection Anthony Brown out of Purdue. Brown has good size ( 5-11, 192 lbs) and exceptional speed (4.35). Possessing a fourth round grade by the Cowboys during April’s NFL Draft, new coach Jackson was surely familiar with Brown’s work as an opponent in the Big Ten.

Brown’s progress came up over the weekend as a possible reason as to why the Cowboys opted to release both third-year cornerback Terrance Mitchell and Brandon McGee late last Friday. But according to one insider, those releases likely have more to do with this team’s coaching staff raising it’s standards.

"“There are several corners getting an opportunity to play in the nickel role, so I wouldn’t read too much into that,” responded Bryan Broaddus on the team’s official site about the possibility that Brown’s progression as a rookie spurred the release. “As far as Mitchell, they tried him at a couple of different spots and it just wasn’t going the right direction. Remember that there is a new coach in charge of the cornerbacks – so just keep that in mind when we see the makeup of this secondary going forward.”"

Mitchell was one of only two Cowboys cornerbacks to actually grab an interception last season. But the former seventh round pick out of Oregon has struggled with inconsistency the last two years as a pro. And it’s likely that fact, more than any other corner’s progress, that cost him the 24-year old his job in Dallas for the second time.

In addition to cutting Mitchell and McGee, the Cowboys added journeyman cornerbacks Isaiah Frey and Dax Swanson to their roster on Monday. With Scandrick likely on the bench during this week’s mini-camp, Dallas should get an extended look at their two newest additions.

The Cowboys coaches as shaking up their defensive secondary, defining very early on what they want to see from these defenders. I’d expect more moves from this group this offseason as they prepare to be more competitive come September.

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