Dallas Cowboys: Monte Kiffin

OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 10 of Dallas Cowboys training camp:


1) One way the Cowboys can improve their defense is to be considerably better against play-action passes.


Last year, they were awful.

Opposing quarterbacks passed for 1,088 yards, while averaging a ridiculous 9.0 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Before you start criticizing the cornerbacks, understand the linebackers and safeties usually bit so hard on the run fake they left the cornerbacks exposed. A cornerback forcing a receiver inside who doesn’t get the help he expects is always going to look bad.

With Rod Marinelli in charge of the entire defense this season, the Cowboys have changed how they’re playing and some of the coverages they're using in certain situations to be more fundamentally sound.

2) The combination of an improved offensive line and Scott Linehan’s creativity has running back DeMarco Murray poised to have a huge year.

You’re certainly entitled to criticize him for his inability to get through a 16-game season unscathed -- he’s missed 11 games in three seasons -- but Murray has a career average of 4.9 yards on 542 carries.

He was terrific last year with 1,121 yards rushing, 53 receptions for 330 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He’ll be 27 before next season and running backs notoriously become significantly less productive when they hit 30. As a player who’s had an injury history teams will be even more leery than usual when it comes to signing him to a long-term deal.

But if he puts up numbers this year as a 26-year-old in his prime should put up, then someone is going to play him whether it’s Dallas or some other team.

3) Jason Garrett has put together a diverse coaching staff, which can only help.

This isn’t about race, although the Cowboys do have four African-American coaches on their staff. This is more about age and pedigree.

The Cowboys have three coaches in their twenties, two in their thirties, 10 in their forties, including Garrett, five in their fifties, one in his sixties and two in their seventies.

Some members of Garrett's staff played in the NFL and some didn’t. He has some who played big-time college football and some who played for tiny programs. He has guys who were drafted and played in the Pro Bowl and guys who were role players.

What that does is allow the staff to relate to the players on several different levels.

Each player learns differently. Each player has a different background. The more diverse the coaching staff, the better the odds a player will find someone on the staff he can relate to -- even if it’s not his position coach.

Key number: 257

The Cowboys’ defense was on the field for 1,094 plays last season and 257 of them -- 65 runs and 192 passes -- gained 10 yards or more.

That’s 23.4 percent. Wow.

The 65 runs of 10-plus yards they allowed ranked second only to Chicago’s 84. Philadelphia (202) and Minnesota (200) were the only teams that allowed more pass plays of 10 yards or more.

The Tampa 2 scheme is designed to stop big plays because the safeties and linebackers are supposed to keep plays in front of them. The biggest indictment of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator is that he couldn’t get his players to play the scheme the way it was designed.

Player to Watch: Ron Leary

The third-year guard from Memphis missed much of the first two weeks with a strained hamstring, but Garrett said he didn’t think it would hurt him too much in the competition at left guard.

That’s an indication he'd prefer Leary to win the job. To do so, he’ll have to earn it because Mackenzy Bernadeau has been doing a good job in addition to his duties as backup center.

Leary plays with power and has a nasty streak the Cowboys like. He started 16 games last season and helped Murray rush for 1,121 yards.

He does a good job of anchoring in the middle of the line, making it difficult to pressure Romo up the middle

Camp preview: Dallas Cowboys

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Todd Archer examines the three biggest issues facing the Dallas Cowboys heading into training camp:

The health of Romo: Ever since he became the starter in 2006, how Tony Romo goes is how the Cowboys go. He is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, but he was able to do much more this offseason than he did in 2013, when he had a cyst removed. The Cowboys kept Romo out of any competitive drills in the spring in order for him to be fully healthy by the time they got to training camp. Using last year's camp as a guide, Romo did not miss a day of work, and the Cowboys don't believe he will need to be eased into the full practice load this summer either. Because a big part of Romo's game is his ability to move and create in open space, however, they will be cautious if there even hints of more soreness than just the aches and pains of training camp. All offseason, the Cowboys have not expressed any worry about Romo, who turned 34 in April, being able to return to form. He will get his first chance to show it on the practice fields in Oxnard, California. If he can play at a high level -- he had 32 touchdown passes and 10 picks in 15 games last season -- then the Cowboys should be able to contend for a playoff spot in a division that is not as strong as it has been in the past.

Marinelli to the rescue: The Cowboys' defense was historically bad in 2013, and they enter this season without their all-time leader in sacks (DeMarcus Ware), last year's leader in sacks (Jason Hatcher) and their best playmaker (Sean Lee). Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator and will bring subtle changes in coverages, fronts and blitzes, but the core of the 4-3 scheme will remain the same as when that coaching duo was together at Tampa Bay. The Cowboys did not make any splash signings in free agency, but their most important was Henry Melton. If he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and play the way he did under Marinelli in Chicago, the Cowboys have a chance. Marinelli also plans to lean more on cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne in man coverage, but Carr and Claiborne have to play much better in 2014 than they did in 2013. There could be as many as seven new opening day starters on defense this season than in 2013, and it is up to Marinelli to make it work. He had more talent with the Bears when he was running their defense, but the players believe in what he is selling.

Plan of attack: From 2007 through 2012, Jason Garrett called every offensive play. In 2013, Bill Callahan was the playcaller, but he was forced to run Garrett's offense, and there were hiccups. Scott Linehan will be Romo's third playcaller in as many years, and he will have the autonomy Callahan did not have. The Cowboys are not changing schemes, but Linehan has brought on alterations to an offense that struggled on third down in 2013. Linehan leaned toward the pass in his time with the Detroit Lions, but he did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush last season. With the Cowboys, he has a better offensive line, better tight end (Jason Witten) and better running back (DeMarco Murray). The Cowboys aren't about to become a run-first team under Linehan, but they need to run more, especially when they have a lead in order to help end games, protect a defense filled with questions and protect Romo, who is coming off two back surgeries. Because Romo did not take any team or seven-on-seven snaps in the spring, they will need to play a little bit of catch-up in what each other likes and, perhaps more importantly, doesn't like in situational football. The Romo-Linehan relationship might be the most important the Cowboys have. They have to make it work.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

July, 4, 2014
7/04/14
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:

** The Rolando McClain deal
** The futures of Travis Frederick and Zack Martin
**The rebuilding of the defense
** The defensive coaches

 

Jerry Jones: Defense can't be worse

June, 18, 2014
6/18/14
11:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones is the eternal optimist, as we all know.

The Dallas Cowboys defense will be without DeMarcus Ware (offseason release), Jason Hatcher (free-agent defection) and Sean Lee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but the owner and general manager sees a defense that will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 when it finished last in the league in yards allowed.

Jones
Jones
Why?

"Because we were so bad last year, there's no place but up," Jones said.

So there is that. The Cowboys made modest moves in free agency with the signings of Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. They re-signed Anthony Spencer, who is not likely to be ready to start training camp as he recovers from microfracture knee surgery. They drafted DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round.

Mostly they are hoping for serious improvement from within.

The Cowboys finished 19th overall in defense in 2012. Injuries ravaged the defense by the end of the season, but that did not save Rob Ryan's job.

Last year the Cowboys made a scheme change, switching from the 3-4 under Ryan to the 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin. They did not make serious personnel additions (Will Allen, Justin Durant) and were hoping not only for improvement from within but scheme flexibility from players drafted to play in Bill Parcells' or Wade Phillips' 3-4.

It seemed as if the Cowboys thought 2013 would be better because it could not be worse than it was at the end of 2012, but Jones disagreed with the assessment.

"I can say it this year, we are better right now," Jones said. "And I think better on the field. We're certainly better on paper than we were at the end of the season last year. Not on paper at the beginning of the season last year, but on paper right now relative to how we ended up last year."

Rod Marinelli plans more man coverage

June, 4, 2014
6/04/14
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys made the move to the Tampa 2 scheme last year under Monte Kiffin, many people wondered how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick would fit.

The trio is viewed as better man-to-man corners than zone.

For a ton of reasons, the Cowboys defense was bad in 2013. Historically bad. The secondary was not up to snuff and the Cowboys could not affect the quarterback enough.

Out is Monte Kiffin as coordinator. In is Rod Marinelli, who has run largely the same system as Kiffin but with some differences. Marinelli used more single-high safety looks while with the Chicago Bears, than two deep safeties.

He plans on allowing Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne to play more man in 2014.

"These guys are really good man corners," Marinelli said. "They can go up and get you and press you. They really add something to the defensive package."

Bears cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings made the Pro Bowl under Marinelli, but their skill set is different.

"They were solid," Marinelli said. "They were good, but they were really good Cover 2 guys and physical, but they could play man also. These guys are like them a lot. They're really good outside man cover (guys)."

Last year Carr and Claiborne asked to play more man coverage but they didn't get to play it as much as they wanted. And they did not play it well enough to inspire confidence in the coaches to use more man coverage.

"We have to go out during practice and stuff like that and show those guys we're able to come back to the line constantly and line up man-to-man constantly, each and every play, to give those guys some comfort in us," Claiborne said.

So far in the organized team activities, Claiborne said the Cowboys have played more man.

"We've got three good corners that can go up and play with anybody," Claiborne said. "When you have those types of weapons on your team, you have to use them. I don't know how much man or what we'll actually be in, but I know we'll be in a good majority of it."

If they can play it well, then that will help Marinelli make adjustments with a pass rush that will be more about a committee than reliant on one or two players.

"You can add maybe a few more guys to the rush or you can buy some time for the rush," Marinelli said. "Those are all good things."

Insiders not high on Cowboys' offseason

May, 23, 2014
5/23/14
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have not had a flashy offseason by any stretch. Saying goodbye to the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, has been the headliner, and the team did not make a real bid to keep last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher.

I offered up an offseason wrap-up on Thursday, and the ESPN Insiders have put their touches on the offseason. While Mike Sando, Bill Polian, Matt Williamson, Louis Riddick and Field Yates combined to give the Cowboys a passing grade, only two teams did worse: the Carolina Panthers (C-minus) and Indianapolis Colts (D).

To read the league-wide grades Insider, you have to be an Insider, but here is what Sando wrote about the Cowboys’ offseason:

Analysis: The Cowboys had very little salary-cap flexibility through questionable long-term planning. They lost Ware as a result and appear to be no better off on defense, which could keep Dallas in a category with Washington among teams forced to win high-scoring games to contend.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
AP Photo/James D SmithThe Cowboys need a healthy season from pass-rusher Anthony Spencer.
"They really did not do enough to aid a defense that is just bereft of playmakers, especially on the front," Polian said.

Yates gave the Cowboys a B grade and lauded their discipline, but he did not offer an enthusiastic endorsement. The other graders weren't as positive. The GM consulted for this piece gave the Cowboys a C and lamented their lack of an edge pass-rusher. The GM pointed to Anthony Spencer's suspect health and said he thought Dallas would have preferred using its first-round pick on Ryan Shazier, who came off the board one spot earlier.

"They will have to outscore people with a 34-year-old quarterback coming off back surgery," the GM said.

The Cowboys' decision to draft an offensive lineman in the first round went over well. Williamson called Zack Martin the last piece of the offensive puzzle for Dallas. Riddick also loved that pick, but he still gave the Cowboys a C-minus.

"They followed their board and beat that whole drum on that," Riddick said. "Their expectations for Demarcus Lawrence in the second round are higher than what mine are, but other than that, the defense still has major problems at safety, they are banking on Sean Lee being healthy at linebacker and there are too many problem areas overall."
My analysis of the analysis: The Cowboys could have kept Ware by restructuring his contract again, but did not want to kick the salary-cap can down the street again. They also could have made him an offer in the Terrell Suggs neighborhood ($16 million guaranteed) but never made a proposal. They were simply ready to move on.

In essence they traded Henry Melton for Hatcher. Melton is younger but coming back from an ACL tear. If he can come back, then that signing was better than keeping Hatcher, who turns 32 in July and had one great season.

Despite the supposed salary-cap constraints, they could have gone after Julius Peppers and Jared Allen and paid them big money. That might have made the Insiders happy, but it would have hamstrung their abilities to keep Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant. That’s an easy call to make, so they went after low-cost, low-risk signings like Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye. Will any of them play better than Ware in 2013? That is their hope.

The Insiders also did not recognize the coaching changes. How much better will Rod Marinelli be than Monte Kiffin? I’d say that is a plus. I think Scott Linehan will be better than Bill Callahan on the offensive side of the ball. That is a plus.

The Cowboys could not answer all of their offseason questions, but they did have a “smart” offseason, and in the NFC East they should be able to compete.

Monte Kiffin: 'I'm really fired up'

May, 17, 2014
5/17/14
11:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Monte Kiffin walked off the practice field with a sunburn and a smile Friday afternoon.

Kiffin, the 74-year-old man demoted from defensive coordinator and given the mysterious title of assistant head coach/defense this offseason, wanted to make it clear that he’s not moping around Valley Ranch.

Kiffin
Kiffin
“I’m really fired up,” Kiffin said after the Dallas Cowboys' first day of rookie minicamp. “I’m not down one bit. I’m really not. I can’t coach that way. I wouldn’t stay here. If I didn’t feel right, I knew I wasn’t going to contribute and it wasn’t going to be a good situation, I promise you I would have moved on. I like it here.”

Kiffin, who is considered one of the great defensive coordinators in NFL history because of his work with the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, obviously didn’t like the results from his first season in Dallas.

The Cowboys ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense. Injuries were clearly a big part of the problem, but the Dallas brass determined that the Cowboys would be better off with longtime Kiffin lieutenant Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator, demoting Kiffin as delicately as possible.

Now, Kiffin’s role is essentially to do whatever he can to help Marinelli dramatically improve the Dallas defense.

“He’ll lean on me, but I know what my place is and that type of deal,” Kiffin said. “I just come to work every day and it’s a good situation. I’ll just put it that way. I’ll be fired up. I’ve got to be fired up when I coach now. I can coach some ball now.”

Kiffin will be in the coaches’ box during games, serving as the eyes for Marinelli, who will call the defense from the sideline.

Marinelli insisted that Kiffin also would have a significant role in creating the game plan each week. Kiffin said he’ll watch as much film as he ever has, continuing a work ethic Marinelli said demands respect.

"Shoot, are you kidding me? I just love watching tape," Kiffin said, laughing when asked whether he'd work fewer hours this season. "I really do, man."

It might be difficult for Kiffin to work under another defensive coordinator. That’s not the case now because of his relationship with Marinelli, who appreciates his former boss putting his pride aside.

“He’s all about winning,” said Marinelli, who worked under Kiffin as an assistant for a decade. “Of all the things he’s accomplished in his career, which is a lot, this might be the best thing he’s done. All the wins, the Super Bowls, all those things ... . Every guy hits a bump in his life. Instead of going in the tank, man up. That’s exactly what he’s done.”

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 25, 2014
4/25/14
1:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss the Cowboys possibly taking a safety in the first round, why Caleb Hanie was brought in, drafting a cornerback in the first round, Rod Marinelli’s ability to adapt and Tony Romo as a free agent.

Part 2 of the mailbag will be delivered on Saturday. If you have a question, fire one off to me via Twitter (@toddarcher).

Away we go:

.

Chat recap: Cowboys can't bank on health

March, 27, 2014
3/27/14
11:30
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- We had a nice spirited chat for about an hour on Wednesday in which we touched on many subjects.

Click here to go through all of the questions, but the highlights are:
But there was one subject I wanted to touch on a little more.

Rico (Jersey): Yo Todd, what can the 'Boys do to help with the amount of injured players they seem to have every year?

Todd Archer: Well, hope to have better luck would be one way. To me it was a little disconcerting to hear Stephen Jones say the Cowboys will be better on defense in 2014 than 2013 because they will be healthier. Will they? I thought injuries were the reason they were bad in 2013 and they would be better in 2013 because of it? You can't bank on health. The Cowboys will have 8-10 players hurt this year again and will have to deal with it by getting more players.

Now if I can go a little deeper here. Few things infuriated fans more last year than the high number of injuries. Or the supposed high number of injuries. The Cowboys had 12 players suffer a hamstring strain during last season, which was near the top of the league.

I get asked what the Cowboys can do to prevent injuries, and I just don't think there is an answer. They have a nutritionist that works on their diets. They go through all of the proper protocols in their strength and conditioning program. Their athletic trainers are considered among the best in the NFL. Could things be tweaked or changed some? Sure. But I don't know that there is some sort of revolutionary training technique the Cowboys can use to assure themselves that injuries will not happen.

When Bill Parcells coached, injuries were down, in part I believe, because players feared being hurt under Parcells. They might have had an ache or a pain, but they wouldn't let that stop them from getting on the field. Sometimes that can be a detriment, of course, but it builds a toughness to a team.

As I said in my answer it is disconcerting to hear Stephen Jones say the Cowboys will be better on defense in 2014 because they will be healthier. Injuries cost Rob Ryan his job after the 2012 season. Injuries earned Monte Kiffin a promotion (wink, wink) in 2014.

Hoping players will be healthy is not the smartest way to go about building a roster. Will the Cowboys lose so many defensive linemen in 2013? Probably not, but what if that injury bug hits the offensive line? They lost linebackers Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Ernie Sims and DeVonte Holloman at different points last season. What if they lose Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Barry Church this season?

Every time the Cowboys have talked about injuries since the season ended, they prefaced their comments with, "It's not an excuse, but …" And it's not an excuse, but every team has injuries. The good teams persevere and move on. The good teams' next-man-up philosophy works because they have quality depth.

Quality depth is brought about with solid drafting and good free agency work in an offseason over the course of time.

It just seems like the Cowboys approach to injuries is always a glass half-full when it should be a glass half-empty so they are prepared for the inevitable rash of injuries that can make or break a season.

With tweet, Wade Phillips lacked context

March, 7, 2014
3/07/14
1:30
PM ET

IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips has the second-best winning percentage of any coach in Dallas Cowboys' history. Better than Tom Landry's. I think Phillips might know that.

On Thursday, Phillips tweeted this:



And later followed up with this addendum:



Like most things with Phillips, he lacked context.

When Phillips took over in 2007 as head coach, he inherited a team from Bill Parcells that was ready to win. QB Tony Romo was going into his first year as a full-time starter. The defense had DE DeMarcus Ware at his best. WR Terrell Owens was putting up big numbers.

The Cowboys went 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC. Phillips was the perfect antidote to Parcells and the players responded. Well, they did to a point. The Cowboys were not the same after beating the Green Bay Packers to move to 11-1 and effectively clinch home-field advantage.

They got lucky to beat the Detroit Lions the following week. They lost two of their last three games, but they were in shutdown mode against the Washington Redskins with nothing to gain from a win.

Other than momentum they had lost.

The Cowboys lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round at Texas Stadium, and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.

That's basically when the Romo narrative started. Maybe you heard that Romo went to Cabo during the wild-card weekend. Did it affect the outcome of the Giants' game? Of course not, but the perception machine was rolling, and has been rolling ever since.

SportsNation

Which coach would you rather have?

  •  
    64%
  •  
    36%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,740)

You can track most of the Cowboys' woes to that lost opportunity. If they simply beat the Giants and make the NFC Championship Game, things would be different. Could they have beaten the Packers for a second time at Texas Stadium? It's the best what-if of the Romo era.

In 2008, the Cowboys acted as if they were predestined to not only make the playoffs but win the Super Bowl. Go back and watch the "Hard Knocks" episodes, and you see a team full of itself. They finished 9-7, missed the playoffs and were a mess late in the season.

Phillips could not pull it all together and looked inept as he attempted to deal with the fallout from the Adam "Pacman" Jones' incident. Phillips earned a reprieve in 2009 when Dallas posted an 11-5 record, won the NFC East title, and recorded a playoff win -- but that was the high point.

The Cowboys went 1-7 to start the 2010 season, including an embarrassing home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a gutless loss to the Packers (45-7) the following week. After that game, Jerry Jones made the switch to Garrett, and the Cowboys are 29-27 since and have not made the playoffs.

Garrett did not inherit a team ready to win the way Phillips did in 2007. By the time Garrett took over, the Cowboys were growing old on the offensive line, and there were too many people (especially those in offices at Valley Ranch) who believed they had the best talent in the league.

The head coach of the Cowboys has tremendous sway with Jones. The Cowboys did not take Randy Moss in 1998 at least in part because then-coach Chan Gailey didn't want Moss.

On that premise, the 2008 draft -- with Dallas' two first-round picks -- was a mess because the Cowboys didn't even attempt to re-sign those first-rounders (Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins) when their contracts expired. The 2009 draft was a colossal failure in part because Jones was convinced that it could be a "special-teams draft," which is as ludicrous as the "draft for backups" the team had when Barry Switzer was the coach in 1995.

This is not in defense of Garrett. He has made plenty of mistakes on the field and in the draft.

Phillips has had a tremendous career in the NFL that has spanned decades. He is a terrific coordinator, but is he in the same conversation as guys like Dick LeBeau, or even Monte Kiffin? I'm not sure a Phillips defense scared offenses the way LeBeau's defenses in Pittsburgh and Kiffin's defenses in Tampa Bay did. Phillips was a good head coach but could not get his teams in Denver, Buffalo or Dallas past a certain point.

Phillips knows his resume inside and out. He can cite team stats and all the Hall of Famers he has coached.

He can claim his tweet was more about the number of games he and Garrett have coached, but it looked more like a passive-aggressive shot at the guy who replaced him, and a way for him to remind everybody of his record.

By the way, his winning percentage is .607. Landry had a .605 winning percentage.

Jones: Experience around Garrett a plus

March, 5, 2014
3/05/14
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas – Just as a reminder, Jason Garrett is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys even if he will no longer be as involved in his specialty (offense), while spending more time in the defensive room in 2014.

But owner and general manager Jerry Jones has made it seem as if Garrett has needed training wheels to be a head coach far too often.

Garrett has three former NFL head coaches on his staff in passing game coordinator Scott Linehan (St. Louis Rams), defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli (Detroit Lions) and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan (Oakland Raiders).

He has two more college head coaches on his staff in receivers coach Derek Dooley and assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia interviewed for two head coaching vacancies in the offseason (Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns).

“He encourages and welcomes and seeks out the idea of having those experienced head coaches involved,” Jones said from at the recent NFL scouting combine. “You add that to Monte Kiffin and we have a staff of resources to Jason that are really impressive. For Jason’s future, to have these head coaches, these people who’ve go the experience in what they’re doing, Mike Pope included, this is the greatest way in the world to put into Jason’s computer great head coaching experience.”

Sorting through Cowboys' draft needs

March, 4, 2014
3/04/14
1:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- As Jerry Jones spoke on his bus from the NFL scouting combine recently, you could hear the Dallas Cowboys' owner and general manager go through a checklist when talking about draft needs.

He said drafting a corner “could be stacking it up,” too much with Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne. He said tight end would not be a position of need with Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar. He said “not necessarily” wide receiver, either. The Cowboys like DeMarco Murray a lot, but “that doesn’t mean we won’t bring in another potentially very competitive running back in at all.” He said a strongside linebacker would not be much of a need because of its lack of importance in the 4-3. He mentioned liking what they have at safety but would not rule out a draft pick.

What does it all mean in early March? Not much.

The question was about drafting solely defensive players considering how much help the Cowboys need on that side of the ball.

“We’ve got to be careful foregoing a really top offensive lineman,” Jones said. “I’d head scratch about that, all things equal, same quality.”

The follow-up question was specifically about defensive line help.

“It’s certainly where we were almost bankrupt last year in terms of what we had personnel wise,” Jones said. “As you’ve noted and I’ve mentioned, I thought that was our strength going into the season. And by the way, I was up here talking to Monte Kiffin earlier and Monte was talking about how [Anthony] Spencer, how we were doing with [Jay] Ratliff not out there, but how well we were playing at Oxnard in that defensive front. That was without Tyrone Crawford, who got hurt the first day. Still we were creating some havoc out there and we, of course, really lost that. But that is certainly an area of need. I’m not being evasive, but don’t discount a good offensive lineman that is high on your board.”

That was twice Jones mentioned an offensive lineman. The Cowboys have hit on their past two first-round picks on the offensive line in Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick after not previously drafting one in the first round in the Jones era.

Just something to note.

Jason Garrett taking his talents to defense

February, 24, 2014
2/24/14
10:00
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Garrett has always been an offensive kind of guy.

He played quarterback. He coached quarterbacks. His reputation was made as the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 2007-10. He continued to call the plays as head coach from midway through the 2010 season to the end of the 2012 season. With Scott Linehan on the staff in 2014, Garrett is out of the offensive game planning.

Garrett
Garrett
In his make or break year, the former quarterback will spend most of his time with the defense in 2014, according to Jones.

“The thorough indoctrination in that will really advance his cause being the head coach,” Jones said.

Because of his offensive background, Garrett could not give up all of the responsibilities. His trust in Linehan helps make that easier this year, so now he will spend time with Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin.

“Jason with Monte and the staff over there that we've got and his capability of understanding anything that we want to put down there, plus … with an offensive perspective on defense, the way he would attack the defense, his focus on defense is going to make him better.”

The transition to walk-around coach that Jones has talked about before with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells would seem to be complete.

“He's the boss,” Jones said. “The deference to him is critical by his coordinators of Monte, so he can have the knowledge, the experience with those guys that he wouldn't get if he were a graduate assistant or if he were one of the assistants. He can sit there and ask the total picture or he can ask the specifics of a picture. This is all predicated that you've got to have an intelligent, capable person to do what I'm talking about. In Jason, we've got it.”

Mike Pope had influence on Jason Garrett

February, 23, 2014
2/23/14
10:00
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Garrett’s background has played a role on the composition of his Dallas coaching staff.

Of the coaches brought in after he took the job on a full-time basis in 2011, offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan, running backs coach Gary Brown, secondary coach Jerome Henderson, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack did not have a previous association with Garrett.

New passing game coordinator Scott Linehan worked with Garrett for a year with the Miami Dolphins. Derek Dooley got to know Garrett when he was an assistant coach at SMU and worked together for a year with the Dolphins. Garrett spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he got to know Rod Marinelli, Monte Kiffin and Rich Bisaccia. Assistant secondary coach Joe Baker was Garrett's teammate at Princeton.

Tight ends coach Mike Pope is the latest assistant in which Garrett dipped into his past.

Garrett was a backup quarterback with the New York Giants when Pope coached their tight ends.

“He’s really as good a coach as I’ve been around in my career,” Garrett said. “I saw him up close and personal with a lot of different guys, established players and young players and he’s a great friend. He’s a great addition to our staff and [Jason Witten] is the kind of guy who’s always trying to get better. Each and every day [Witten] comes in he’s always looking for ways we can help him, how he can help himself become a better football player. That’s why he is the player he is. To add Mike Pope to the mix and having a different perspective on how he gets coaches, I think Witt’s really excited and I know Mike Pope is as well.”

Pope’s main task, however will be to develop Gavin Escobar, but Garrett begs to differ slightly.

“I can go in my office right now and pull out his Saturday night tip sheet for the tight ends for four years with the Giants that I would fall asleep with in my bed that was 25 pages long and in Pope’s handwriting,” Garrett said. “He and I have known each other a long time. He’s a great coach. His track record speaks for itself. He’s worked with different kinds of tight ends, veteran tight ends. He’s worked with young guys, he’s developed guys who were college free agents. The fact that we have an investment in Escobar and have a young guy in James Hanna, we feel those guys will benefit, but Witt’s going to benefit as well.”

Marinelli sees huge role for Monte Kiffin

February, 22, 2014
2/22/14
3:00
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Monte Kiffin is with the Dallas Cowboys at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this weekend, but he is in a far different role than he was in a year ago.

Kiffin carries the Cowboys' assistant head coach/defense title after Rod Marinelli was promoted to defensive coordinator.

Coach Jason Garrett said Kiffin will be involved in practices and meetings, and he will be with the coaches on game day. On Friday, Kiffin declined to speak with reporters.

“Huge role,” Marinelli said of Kiffin. “He'll be in there every day with us, film, working drills all those things. What a tremendous resource and great coach. Great coach. I've got great respect for him.”

The Cowboys had the worst-ranked defense in the NFL last year in Kiffin's return to the league after a four-year run in college football.

Marinelli's defense is almost the same as Kiffin's defense.

“With me it's always about coach and player relationships,” Marinelli said. “It’s never just on the player. It's always on the coach and player about executing. And it's something each coach, each of us, looks at hard and you look at yourself. How do we get this thing better in terms of doing the little things? Our system is about doing the little things right. So we look at ourselves as teachers. No. 1, how do we become better teachers? How do we get the information across and keep developing these players.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES