- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cowboys reporters Calvin Watkins and Todd Archer break down the Cowboys, position by position, analyzing what the players did in 2013, what they can do in the future and what the team can do to improve the position in 2014.
Under contract: Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, Rod Marinelli, Bill Callahan, Monte Kiffin, Wade Wilson, Gary Brown, Derek Dooley, Mike Pope, Frank Pollack, Keith O’Quinn, Matt Eberflus, Jerome Handerson, Leon Lett, Ben Bloom, Joe Baker, Rich Bisaccia.
A look back: For the first time since he arrived as an assistant coach in 2007 Jason Garrett did not call the offensive plays. It wasn’t Garrett’s idea, but he had little choice in the matter. Owner Jerry Jones wanted Bill Callahan to do the job, so that’s how it went.
The Cowboys averaged 27.4 points per game but had their fewest yards in a season since 2005. For the final six games of the season Garrett asserted himself in the process, relaying the plays from Callahan to the quarterback. Garrett maintained Callahan called the plays throughout the season.
Defensively, it was a disaster for Monte Kiffin. The Cowboys’ move to the 4-3 could not have gone worse. Injuries depleted the defensive line and took their toll on the linebackers by the end of the season. Players counted on to have big seasons – DeMarcus Ware, Brandon Carr, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne – didn’t and Kiffin was unable to come up with any answers.
The Cowboys allowed the most yards (by a wide margin) and the second-most points in franchise history. Kiffin's return to the NFL after a run with his son, Lane, at Tennessee and Southern Cal, was a flop.
Special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia might have had the best season of any assistant coach. The special teams were better across the board in 2013 and he interviewed for the head coaching jobs with the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns.
A look ahead: Rod Marinelli has replaced Kiffin as defensive coordinator, although the Cowboys cushioned the demotion by naming Kiffin the assistant head coach/defense. Callahan has been replaced as playcaller by Scott Linehan, who is a Garrett confidante.
The Cowboys have denied teams from speaking with Callahan, which has not pleased Callahan and could lead to ill-will on the staff no matter how much the Cowboys try to put a smiley face on the situation. Callahan will return to coaching the offensive line full-time, which pushes Frank Pollack down the line after he did a good job with the group in 2013.
The Cowboys hope Marinelli can be as effective as a coordinator as he was in his three-year run with the Chicago Bears. He will need more talent, especially on the defensive line. He will need to be more creative than Kiffin as well. Players play hard for him and believe in his coaching, but the confidence of the entire group was shot last year. Having Sean Lee return from injury and players like Ware return to form, will help.
Kiffin will be around but mostly in an advisory role. Tight ends coach Wes Phillips joined the Redskins and was replaced by Mike Pope, a long-time veteran considered one of the best in the NFL. Assistant special-teams coach Chris Boniol also left.
A look out: The Cowboys have set up an interesting situation on the offensive side of the ball by hiring Linehan and demoting Callahan, but Garrett believes the transition will be smooth because the system remains in place.
But how well will Linehan and Callahan work together? Are there too many people involved in the offense with different agendas? It will make for interesting viewing.
On defense, the move to Marinelli should also be easy because the system remains. He should be more adept at handling the current game than Kiffin, who could not come up with ways to slow spread offenses.
But this year will be all about Garrett, who is entering the final year of his deal. The Cowboys gave him the authority to make the changes on the staff, and it’s up to him to make it work. He has been able to keep the players on his side despite three straight 8-8 finishes. They believe in what he says. Now the actions have to back up the words.