Dallas Cowboys: Derrick Brooks

IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”
IRVING, Texas -- When is a strong-side linebacker really a weak-side linebacker?

It's all about the definition used by the Dallas Cowboys' new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Bruce Carter is a weak-side linebacker in Marinelli's scheme even if he is lining up on the strong side.

Wherever the three-technique plays, Carter will line up behind him.

"I think you see the blocking patterns the same all the time," Marinelli said. "That guy's covered up. Hopefully he's a heck of an athlete. Hopefully it's harder to get a hat on him, so the speed and all those things you're using in terms of the run game. Then you're seeing the same thing from the same position every time. I think that helps a man grow faster."

Marinelli did it with Lance Briggs with the Chicago Bears, lining him up behind Henry Melton. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did it with Derrick Brooks behind Warren Sapp. In the 4-3 scheme, the two most important players are the weak-side linebacker and three technique.

The Cowboys will be more of an "over" defense this year than last year under Monte Kiffin but there were times where Carter lined up behind Jason Hatcher.

"We have travel rules and that's how we travel," Marinelli said. "It can look like one thing to you. It'd be like the under tackle. Well, he's playing an over front but he's the under tackle. It's just the system, how we move them, and we try to make it ... . I use the word simple, where guys know exactly and they see the blocks the same. Everything's the same and you get comfortable. Once you're comfortable you really play fast."

The Cowboys also call their safeties different than most teams. Barry Church is listed as the free safety with J.J. Wilcox playing strong safety. Traditionally, the strong safety is the one who plays closer to the line of scrimmage, but that is Church's role and Wilcox is more the center field safety.

Words in Tampa sound familiar to Cowboys

January, 7, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys made the switch to the 4-3 scheme last year, they thought they had the pieces in place to make a smooth transition.

Nobody could have seen what happened to the defense in 2013, finishing last in the NFL.

Carr
Revis
But when Monte Kiffin was hired last January, we all tried to make the pieces fit, comparing the Cowboys players to what Kiffin had during his run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or what Rod Marinelli had with the Chicago Bears. DeMarcus Ware would be Simeon Rice. Jay Ratliff would be Warren Sapp. Bruce Carter would be Derrick Brooks. Sean Lee would be Brian Urlacher.

The secondary was an issue. The Cowboys had man-to-man corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and they didn’t really have a John Lynch at safety, but they liked Barry Church.

Kiffin told his guys to study up on what the Seattle Seahawks did defensively as a sign that they would not be a traditional Tampa 2 team.

Now that Lovie Smith has taken over the Buccaneers, the same comparisons are being made. Gerald McCoy will be Sapp. Lavonte David will be Brooks.

So who’s Darrelle Revis?

“We're a 4-3 team,” Smith said in his introductory news conference. “There's a reason why we have Tampa-2 associated to one of our coverages, but I just want you to know, especially [in reference to cornerback] Darrelle Revis, we don't play Cover-2 every snap. We have a place for a great cover corner that's physical and can do all things.”

Now Revis is better than Carr and Claiborne. I’m not making the player-for-player comparison. If he’s not the NFL's best corner, he is at least in the conversation, and he was coming off a knee injury. I’m making the style of play comparison.

But there was a frustration from Carr and Claiborne about the lack of man coverage the Cowboys were playing, especially early in the season. Players want to do what they do best, and too often they felt like they had to play off and soft in zone coverage.

So Smith might be able to promise Revis that he will be able to man his own island, but the proof will be when the games count, because coaches want to do what they know best.

That was part of the Cowboys’ growing pains in 2013.

Five Wonders: Season on line Sunday?

November, 19, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Refreshed off the bye week, Five Wonders is back and ready for action.

We'll start with this mini-wonder: Does anybody more than wonder whether the Dec. 29 meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium will be to win the NFC East?

I wonder it, but only if the Cowboys beat the New York Giants this week.

On to the wonders:

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Who will have a bigger impact in Sunday's game vs. the Giants?

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• I wonder if the season is on the line Sunday against the New York Giants. The Cowboys would still be alive because of the state of the NFC East, but at 5-6 and reeling it would be hard to see a turnaround. They would have lost three of four and the only win came on a 90-yard drive in the final minute against the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys carry emotional baggage with them no matter how much Jason Garrett attempts to keep them in the present. Injuries have piled up again. Questions about the scheme have rumbled on both sides of the ball. There is a lot on the line this week. The Giants have won four in a row to claw back into the race after a 0-6 start. Their wins have not come against the best quarterbacks but winning breeds confidence and the Giants have confidence. Maybe the feeling comes from the 32-point loss to the New Orleans Saints before the bye, but the Cowboys sure seem fragile mentally right now as well as physically.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via Getty ImagesIf the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs this season, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien could be an interesting choice to replace Jason Garrett.
• I don't believe owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants to replace Garrett. I truly believe he wants Garrett to be the Cowboys' head coach for a long time. But if the Cowboys don't make the playoffs this season, it would not surprise me if Jones made a move. That would be four straight seasons without a playoff appearance. Jones can sell anything, but selling a status quo wouldn't be easy. One thing I don't wonder about is if Lovie Smith would get an interview. I believe he would. But here's another guy I wonder about: Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. I don't know all of the particulars of the buyout at Penn State, but O'Brien was tempted by the NFL last season. His background with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady gives him a plus, and how he has handled the mess that has enveloped Penn State gives him a few more pluses. His time running the Patriots' offense, however, means more to me. The Cowboys drafted Gavin Escobar to be more of a "12 personnel" team but the Cowboys have not been creative enough in getting people involved. They are running the same plays they did with Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett as the second tight end and they were not able to produce. O'Brien made the Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez package work well with Brady. Do I believe O'Brien would get an interview? I don't know any of it, but I would have him on the list. Not that Jones would listen to me.

• The Cowboys drafted Kyle Wilber with the idea that he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4. With the move to the 4-3, he was moved to defensive end. Now he is playing some outside linebacker again because of an injury to Justin Durant. I wonder if Wilber is a man without a position. When Anthony Spencer went down in training camp with a knee injury, Wilber got the first look and then saw Ben Bass take some of his snaps. Then it was George Selvie who took them later on. When DeMarcus Ware got hurt in the season, Wilber took over but then saw Jarius Wynn take over the starting spot. Wilber always was a tweener, but the coaches have yet to feel like he can handle the full-time duty. If they did, they wouldn't be moving him around so much, especially because the defensive end spot is much more valued in this scheme than strong side linebacker.

• I wonder if we'll see a more engaged Bruce Carter now that Sean Lee is out of the lineup. There is no other way to say it then this: Carter has been a disappointment this season. The Cowboys did not need him to be Derrick Brooks in this defense, but they needed him to be productive. He had two sacks in the first two games. He had a pass deflection and a quarterback pressure. He has just two pressures and a pass deflection in the last eight games. He has one tackle for loss. The weak-side linebacker spot is designed to be the playmaker in this defense. When the Cowboys lost Lee last year to a toe injury, Carter stepped up his game before an elbow injury KO'd him for the year. The Cowboys need that Carter and not the Carter that ended the New Orleans game. We can pick on just about everybody on defense from that game, but Carter was ready for that game to end sooner than it did.

Back in June I wondered if people were sleeping on just how effective Lance Dunbar would be when the season started. I pegged him in for 30 catches out of the backfield. I saw his speed and elusiveness as being a big part of a revamped offense. I was wrong. While not as big a disappointment as Carter, Dunbar has not been able to deliver on offense. He has four catches for 21 yards and 15 carries for 48 yards. Some of it is injury. Some of it is ball security. Some of it is scheme. Jerry Jones said he wanted to see Dunbar more involved. Bill Callahan said he would like to get Dunbar more involved. Sometimes there's just not enough of the football to go around. Dunbar has seen his role taken by Cole Beasley to a degree because of the use of the "empty” package. Maybe things change in the final six games, but I would be surprised.

Keyshawn wonders if pieces fit new D

July, 28, 2013
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OXNARD, Calif. – Keyshawn Johnson knows how good Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli can be after spending time with them in Tampa Bay.

He has a Super Bowl ring to prove it.

As Johnson, the former Cowboys wide receiver and current ESPN analyst, looks at the Cowboys defense, he’s not so sure the move from the 3-4 to the 4-3 will go seamlessly.

“I think they have two great defensive minds in Kiffin and Rod Marinelli, but there’s no Warren Sapp running out there,” Johnsons said. “There’s no John Lynch. DeMarcus Ware could be better than Simeon Rice. But can Bruce Carter be as good as Derrick Brooks? I don’t think so. Can anyone in the secondary be Ronde Barber?”

The scheme is good, but Johnson believes the players matter.

I think it’s a little bit of both but you have to have players,” Johnson said. “That’s the bottom line. If you don’t have that instinct and that guy, it doesn’t matter. Everyone else tries to duplicate the Tampa 2 scheme that they ran and Monte did for 15 years when his defense was in the Top 10 every year. But there’s no Hardy Nickerson running around here? Is (Sean) Lee as good as Hardy Nickerson was?

Allen, Magee enter camp same way

July, 19, 2013
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Will Allen is entering his 10th season and the Cowboys are his third team. Brandon Magee is an undrafted rookie.

They will arrive today in Oxnard not via the Cowboys’ charter flight, but by car because they have been in Southern California working out prior to the start of training camp. Despite their different resumes, they have the same feeling of anticipation.

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“You want to have that feeling and that’s what football is all about,” Allen said. “It’s about to be real. It’s about to happen. You get that little bit of anxiety and it’s exciting.”

Allen’s first camp was in 2004 with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers trained in Orlando.

“It was hot as crap,” Allen said. “I was a young rookie trying to figure it all out and it was fun and I learned a lot, but it’s all a blur right now. I remember being really hot.”

Allen and Magee don’t have to worry about that in Oxnard, where the high temperature for the next week is 70 degrees. Magee had been working out at Arizona State, where he said temperatures topped out at 115 degrees.

“That’s a walk in the park, weather-wise,” Magee said of the Oxnard weather. “But I know practice is going to be a lot harder.”

Allen and Magee share the same agent, Blake Baratz, and the veteran has passed on some sage words to the rookie the way the veterans in Tampa Bay, like Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Ryan Nece did for him in Orlando.

“Will has been a big influence one me,” Magee said. “He told me a little bit about what training camp is like, but I didn’t want to know too much. During the OTAs and the mandatory minicamp he was on me about practice, how you’re supposed to practice, how you’re not supposed to hit people, how to study the game and keep your body healthy. He’s been a big help to me.”

Allen, who signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys in the offseason as a free agent, will likely be with the first-team defense for the first practice next to Barry Church. Magee, who was guaranteed $70,000 as an undrafted free agent, will be fighting for a chance to make the team.

“It’s a great opportunity and it makes you a little bit more motivated and a little more determined,” Allen said. “I don’t let it distract me. I just want to stay focused day to day.”

Magee said he constantly carries with him the pain of not being drafted, but knows he will have to make his mark every day. Part of the reason he signed with the Cowboys was their track record with undrafted free agents, such as Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Church and Alex Albright.

“Everybody knows it’s harder for undrafted guys to make the team than drafted guys, but the Cowboys make it pretty equal for both to make the team,” Magee said. “I’m just happy for the opportunity, and when I get out there I can show maybe I can be the next Tony Romo in that group.”


GRAPEVINE, Texas – Linebacker Bruce Carter has heard one name over and over again since the Cowboys hired Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator.

“Everybody’s just been hitting me with it – Derrick Brooks, Derrick Brooks,” Carter said. "That's a good thing."

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Brooks was the prototype Will linebacker in the Tampa 2 scheme, as evidenced by his 11 Pro Bowl appearances during the 13 seasons he was coached by Kiffin on the Buccaneers. It’s certainly premature to put Carter in that class, but as was the case with Brooks in Tampa, Kiffin has inherited a young player with physical traits and instincts that make him a perfect fit to be a playmaker from the weakside linebacker spot in his scheme.

Carter might be the NFL’s fastest linebacker. He was clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a North Carolina pro day and ran down Atlanta receiver Julio Jones from behind last season. Carter blossomed into a sideline-to-sideline force as an inside linebacker in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme last season before missing the final five games due to a dislocated elbow.

Fully healthy again, Carter looks forward to flying around in Kiffin’s 4-3 like Brooks used to do. As soon as he heard Kiffin was coming, Carter started studying film of Brooks’ work from Tampa Bay’s days of playing dominant defense.

“He was always around the ball,” Carter said. “He was always flying around. He was a playmaker. He was always in the right position at the right time. That’s something I want to do.”

Kiffin and the Cowboys are counting on it.

Sharrif Floyd can make Cowboys look foolish

April, 25, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – Got a sense of draft-day déjà vu?

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Did the Cowboys make the right move trading down in the first round?

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This feels a lot like 2004, when a prospect who filled a major need tumbled down the first round right into the Cowboys’ laps … and Jerry Jones decided to trade down instead of making what seemed to be a no-brainer pick.

That didn’t exactly work out for the Cowboys. Steven Jackson is still running strong after racking up 10,135 career rushing yards, more than doubling the career total of Julius Jones, the back the Cowboys selected with their second-round pick. They at least got good trade-chart value in that deal, although the production of Marcus Spears, the 2005 first-round pick they added, certainly didn’t justify passing on Jackson.

We’ll see whether defensive tackle Shariff Floyd makes the Cowboys look foolish. Widely considered a top-five talent, he fell all the way to the Vikings at No. 23 overall. Maybe Floyd, who only had 4.5 career sacks at Florida, was overrated in the pre-draft process. Time will tell.

The Vikings have benefited before from the Cowboys surprisingly passing on a potentially elite talent who would have filled a major need in Dallas. Remember Randy Moss?

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, the video of coach Jason Garrett in the Cowboys’ war room right after Jerry pulled the trigger on the trade would have caused censors to sweat. Garrett might offer the company line later, but he clearly didn’t appear to be pleased.

We couldn’t see new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whose Tampa 2 scheme requires a disruptive three-technique tackle, such as Floyd.

Kiffin has benefitted greatly from a Jerry trade-down deal before. The Cowboys dealt the No. 28 overall pick to Tampa Bay in 1995, turning it a couple of second-round busts (G Shane Hannah and RB Sherman Williams) and run-of-the-mill fourth-round tight end Eric Bjornson. The Bucs took linebacker Derrick Brooks and watched him make 11 Pro Bowls.
IRVING, Texas – Jerry Jones basically bought an ad in the NFL classifieds during Monday’s pre-draft press conference, sending out the message that the Cowboys could be in trade-down mode when they get on the clock with the 18th overall pick.

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That news was met with a lot of moaning and groaning from Cowboys fans.

How can you be adamantly against trading down if you have no idea what the offer might be or which players might be available? Folks just don’t trust GM Jerry.

Should they in this situation? Let’s look at the Cowboys’ history of trading down in the first round during the Jerry era.

1991 -- No. 14 overall (obtained from New Orleans – RB Leonard Russell) to New England for No. 17 overall (traded to Washington – DT Bobby Wilson) and No. 110 overall (DE Kevin Harris).

No. 17 overall (Wilson) to Washington for No. 20 overall (traded to Detroit -- DT Kelvin Pritchett) and No. 132 overall (Darrick Brownlow).

No. 20 overall (Pritchett) to Detroit for No. 37 overall (LB Dixon Edwards), No. 64 overall (G James Richards) and No. 108 overall (DE Tony Hill).

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These three deals have to be judged essentially as one. After all the wheeling and dealing was done, the Cowboys turned the 14th overall pick into a second-round linebacker who started for two Super Bowl title teams (Edwards), a third-round guard who never played an NFL game (Richards), a fourth-round defensive end who played 13 games in two NFL seasons (Hill) and a fifth-round linebacker who made 11 tackles in two separate one-year stints in Dallas (Brownlow).

This was a case of great value on Jimmy Johnson’s trade chart and essentially a push in reality. Russell ended up being a decent running back, rushing for 3,973 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career, and it’s not as if the Cowboys passed on a Hall of Famer who went later in the first round. Edwards contributed to three title teams, starting for two.

This deal would have been a steal if the Cowboys selected offensive tackle Erik Williams at No. 64 overall. They ended up drafting him six picks later.

1993 -- No. 29 overall (S George Teague) and No. 112 overall (Albert Fontenot) to Green Bay for No. 46 overall (WR Kevin Williams), No. 54 overall (LB Darrin Smith), No. 94 overall (RB Derrick Lassic) and No. 213 overall (LB Reggie Givens).

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Both of the second-round picks the Cowboys acquired contributed to two Super Bowl title teams. Williams was a quality punt and kick returner who started at receiver for the Cowboys’ last championship team, setting career highs with 38 catches for 613 yards and two touchdowns that season. Smith started all four of his seasons in Dallas.

Teague had a solid nine-year career, but he ended up spending most of that in Dallas anyway. Fontenot also lasted nine NFL seasons, making 81 starts. Lassic lasted 10 games, and Givens never played for the Cowboys.

Give the Cowboys a win for this deal, but it wasn’t lopsided by any measure.

1995 -- No. 28 overall (LB Derrick Brooks) to Tampa Bay for No. 41 overall (traded to Atlanta – DB Ron Davis) and No. 63 overall (OG Shane Hannah).

All Brooks did in Tampa Bay was go to 11 Pro Bowls, be named first-team All-Pro five times, win a Super Bowl and establish himself as one of the best linebackers of his generation.

Hannah started the Cowboys’ tradition of early-round offensive line busts, getting hurt in training camp and never playing a game in the NFL. They flipped Davis for a second-rounder (RB Sherman Williams) and fourth-rounder (TE Eric Bjornson), a couple of backups who combined for 10 career touchdowns.

This might be the worst draft-day deal the Cowboys ever made.

1996 -- No. 30 overall (Andre Johnson) to Washington for No. 37 overall (DE Kavika Pittman) and No. 67 overall (C Clay Shiver).

Pittman made 18 sacks in eight NFL seasons (10 in four seasons for the Cowboys). Shiver started 25 games, but that was evidence of how weak the Cowboys were at center, as he was out of the league after three years.

Johnson was a huge bust for the Redskins. He never played a game in Washington.

The Cowboys would have been better off staying put and drafting Texas product Tony Brackens in the first round. Brackens, picked No. 33 overall by Jacksonville, had 55 sacks and 27 forced fumbles in his eight-year career.

2002 -- No. 6 overall (DT Ryan Sims) to Kansas City for No. 8 overall (SS Roy Williams), No. 75 overall (CB Derek Ross) and a sixth-round pick in 2003 (WR Zuriel Smith).

A couple of Williams’ five Pro Bowl berths were reputation selections after his performance fell off, but he was a dominant force as a playmaking intimidator early in his career. That’s much more than you can say for Sims, who only had one more sack in his career than Williams did.

Ross looked like a steal when he had five picks as a rookie, but the character red flags that caused him to drop into the third round proved true. Bill Parcells got rid of him midway through Ross’ second season. Smith played nine games for the Cowboys, contributing primarily as a return specialist.

This was a good deal for Dallas, just not nearly the steal it seemed destined to be during the rookie seasons of Williams and Ross.

2004 -- No. 22 overall (QB J.P. Losman) to Buffalo for No. 43 overall (RB Julius Jones), No. 144 overall (TE Sean Ryan) and a 2005 first-rounder (DE Marcus Spears).

Spears was a serviceable player for the last eight seasons. Ryan was a nonfactor during his two years in Dallas.

But this deal comes down to Steven Jackson vs. Julius Jones.

The Cowboys decided, based strongly on the input of running backs coach Maurice Carthon, that there wasn’t much difference between the top back on the board and the backs who would be available in the second round.

Jackson has rushed for 10,135 yards and counting, more than twice as many as Jones ran for during his career. Jackson has accounted for 64 touchdowns, almost three times Jones’ total.

Oops.

2007 -- No. 22 overall (QB Brady Quinn) to Cleveland for No. 36 overall (traded to Philadelphia – QB Kevin Kolb) and a 2008 first-rounder (RB Felix Jones).

The Cowboys were tempted to pick Quinn, who they had in the top 10 on their board, but they opted to fully commit to a quarterback with 10 starts under his belt named Tony Romo. Considering that Quinn is with his fourth team and Romo just got $55 million guaranteed, it’s pretty clear that was the right call.

The Cowboys moved back into the first round to select OLB/DE Anthony Spencer, giving up third- and fifth-rounders to do so. No regrets there, with Spencer a solid player coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance and Kolb failing to make an impact in Philadelphia.

This deal would have looked like a stroke of genius if the Cowboys picked Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice or Jamaal Charles the next year. Alas, they selected an Arkansas alum to be a change-of-pace back. Felix Jones had some flashes of brilliance, but his Dallas tenure was a pretty big disappointment given the quality of backs picked behind him.

This was still a solid deal for Dallas.

Cowboys think they're built for a 4-3

February, 28, 2013
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This scouting combine story from Todd Archer tells us that the Dallas Cowboys were planning a switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense even before the 2012 season ended. According to coach Jason Garrett, they believe they have the right kind of personnel to make the switch:
"You just go through all those scenarios and at the end of it we felt good about, 'Hey, we can do this and it won't take us three years to do this,'" coach Jason Garrett said. "And we certainly want to continue to add pieces to it and make that defense better, but we felt good about the flexibility and versatility of the guys we already have."

Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli agreed with Garrett's analysis after they joined the staff. They used players such as Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Brian Urlacher as frames of reference for DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.

Well, yeah. I mean, if all of those guys at the end of that sentence play like all of the guys at the beginning of that sentence, then yeah, the Cowboys will really have something. But there are some "ifs," and most of them are tied to health. For instance, I think Lee can be a brilliant playmaking middle linebacker in a 4-3. But he has to stay on the field, and he's had trouble doing that. And then there's this later in the story from former Cowboys exec Jeff Ireland, comparing Ware to Cameron Wake, who moved from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 end last year for Ireland's Dolphins:
"We felt like when Wake was in a three-point stance he probably was a better rusher than he was in a two-point stance," Ireland said. "I don't know that about DeMarcus. I'd have to study that, but I'm sure he's equally efficient in a three-point or two-point stance, so I don't think it will be that tough."

Ware is a very interesting part of all of this. Again, I don't think it's a question of his ability to perform effectively in a 4-3 but rather his ability to hold up physically while playing closer to the ball and mixing it up more directly with bigger offensive line bodies. Ware has shown some signs the past couple of years that his body could be beginning to break down, and if that is a trend and not an aberration, then a move like this isn't going to help with it.

This transition to the 4-3 is one of the very interesting stories of the Cowboys' offseason, so we'll continue to examine it as it goes along. I think they have the right kinds of players to pull it off, but a lot depends on who goes, who stays and who shows up to play it once the salary cap is straight and free agency and the draft have settled.

Monte Kiffin moves on from college

January, 13, 2013
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The Dallas Cowboys' new defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, is the Godfather of the Tampa 2 defensive scheme.

In college he wasn't considered that.

Kiffin's last three seasons at USC didn't go so well, especially his final one. USC finished 7-6 overall and lost five of its last six games. But Kiffin's defense allowed 39 points to Arizona and 62 to Oregon.

Overall, the unit finished 40th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 24.3 points per game. One more thing: The unit finished 60th in total defense at 394.0 yards per game.

Did the game pass Kiffin by?

"I just think the wear and tear of college," said former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, who played for Kiffin at Tampa. "He's a football junkie. You spend 20 hours a week on football. (The downward spiral) started to show on the defensive performance in USC. It takes a level of time in this defense to get good. It's simple but a lot of reps."

What they're saying about Monte Kiffin

January, 11, 2013
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The Cowboys made it official when they announced Friday that Monte Kiffin would become their new defensive coordinator. Here's what people are saying about the hire.

  • Former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks to ESPNDallas: "If he didn't feel he could get it done with Dallas, and some of the personnel, he wouldn't have taken the job. However, I do know with their current roster, just looking at the size of players and the style of play that we played in, there's going to have to be some changes in terms of who they bring in to do what and a different mindset. Monte in the past, he's not been what I would call an aggressive coordinator in terms of his play-calling. He believes in discipline football, simplifying it, everybody knowing what you've been doing. Very similar to what Chicago is doing now."

  • Kiffin in a statement released through the team: "I came away from the interview process with Jason (Garrett) with a feeling that Dallas is the right place to be. He has this team headed in the right direction. They’re close, and I am confident that there are quality pieces in place for us to be able to get the job done."

  • Garrett in a statement released through the team: "I know Monte from spending time together with him with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had a chance to see him coach up close on a day-to-day basis. His ability to teach everything -- from the smallest fundamental details to the big picture of the overall defensive scheme -- was always very impressive to me."
  • A look at Monte Kiffin's defensive stats

    January, 10, 2013
    1/10/13
    5:08
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    IRVING, Texas -- From 1996 to 2008, Monte Kiffin ran one of the best defenses in the NFL, finishing in the top 10 in total defense in 11 of his 13 years.

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    Galloway & Company discuss the possibility of Monte Kiffin replacing Rob Ryan as the Cowboys defensive coordinator.

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    The Buccaneers’ trademark was the ability to make game-changing plays with game-changing players, like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Simeon Rice and Ronde Barber.

    In Kiffin’s 13 years as Tampa's defensive coordinator, the Buccaneers averaged 39 sacks, 19 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries a season.

    Since Jerry Jones took over the Cowboys in 1989, the Cowboys have had only three seasons in which they had more than 19 picks, five seasons in which they had more than 12 fumble recoveries and six seasons in which they had more than 39 sacks. Four of those sack seasons came after the switch to the 3-4 and the arrival of DeMarcus Ware.

    For far too long, the Cowboys have not been able to take the ball away on defense, regardless of who the coordinator was. They didn’t do it under Rob Ryan and couldn’t do it under Wade Phillips or Bill Parcells.

    Turnovers and sacks change games.

    Points matter most.

    The Bucs allowed more than 300 points in a season three times with Kiffin as coordinator (and that’s taking into account returns for touchdowns). Since Jones took over the Cowboys, they have allowed more than 300 points in a season 15 times.

    Kiffin has not coordinated an NFL defense in four years. He will be 73 in February.

    If he turns out to be the Cowboys' next defensive coordinator, the only numbers Jones will care about will be interceptions, fumbles and sacks and points allowed; not age.

    Opposing voice: Ronde Barber

    December, 17, 2011
    12/17/11
    10:30
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    TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber must look around at his current teammates and say, ‘Who are these guys?

    In his 15th season, Barber is by far the most tenured player on the NFL’s youngest team. He is the link to the Buccaneers’ glory years when he, Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Derrick Brooks were savaging offenses for a long time under coordinator Monte Kiffin.

    Barber has started more consecutive games (196) than any cornerback in NFL history. He has played in 221 straight games, the second-longest streak in the league among active players. He is Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in interceptions with 43 and leads the team this year with three.

    “I’m going to keep going to at least these three games and then see what’s next,” Barber said. “I’m not sure how long I could go. As long as they want me and as long as I want them and I can still do it and I’m still productive, I’ll keep doing it.”

    Tampa Bay’s seven-game losing streak has bothered him, but not to the point where it will drive him out of the game.

    “I try not to get emotional about the record or what not,” Barber said. “Obviously it comes into play. It’s definitely food for thought, but I’ve been coming to work and it’s been like this a lot … I’m choosing to continue to play. It pays the bills and feeds my family. I appreciate that. It’s meticulous. I’ve got a lot of work to do week in and week out and I enjoy that on Sundays with wins. It’s been a little frustrating not seeing the rewards of it this season, but it doesn’t change my manner and approach to what I do.”

    Five-star: Felix Jones will have a big day

    December, 15, 2011
    12/15/11
    9:05
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    Five-star question: Will Felix Jones, who has one run of 10 yards or more in 44 carries on the road, match or surpass that total this week in Tampa?

    At the beginning of the season, I thought this was the season Felix Jones would breakout and become a true No. 1 running back. It didn’t quite happen, obviously, but now he gets another chance with DeMarco Murray out for the year with a fractured ankle.

    Count me in again on Jones, which means he will have at least one 10-yard carry Saturday at Tampa Bay.

    The Jones from the New York Giants’ loss looked a little different to me. He had 106 yards on 16 carries and found a blend of patience and urgency that he might have picked up by watching Murray succeed. He won’t bowl tacklers over like Murray, but he can slither around tacklers and make sure he doesn’t get tackled for losses.

    Tampa Bay offers the perfect recipe for Jones to succeed. This is not the Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch defense of years ago. This defense is allowing almost 140 yards a game on the ground. This defense allows 4.6 yards per carry. This defense has allowed 19 rushing touchdowns.

    This defense will give Jones a chance to break some long runs … or at least runs of 10 yards.

    Jones had four of them against the Giants (three for 11 and one of 26).

    There is no doubt he has one Saturday. In fact, I think he’ll match his New York total.

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