Dallas defense needs players most of all

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
11:00
PM ET
The Cowboys announced Tuesday night that Rod Marinelli will become defensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin, the man hired to fix the defense last year, was moved to assistant head coach/defense.

Kiffin's move is a demotion no matter how the Cowboys try to spin it. Coach Jason Garrett said Kiffin will be at every meeting and have a role in the defense.

That's a comfort.

Marinelli has a track record of success with Kiffin's 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme.

In three seasons with the Chicago Bears, Marinelli's defense finished in the Top 10 in total defense twice and forced 110 turnovers during that time.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithDeMarcus Ware had reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons before only managing six in 2013.
Yet, if the Cowboys don't improve the talent on the defense it won't matter who is calling the defensive signals in 2014, this defense will continue to be terrible.

The Cowboys defense regressed under Kiffin and it's not totally his fault.

DeMarcus Ware, the star defensive end, might be on the decline and some at Valley Ranch are wondering if it's worth keeping him around for 2014 after a six-sack season which saw him miss three games due to injuries.

Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is a free agent and expected to command big money on the open market. The other starters along the line, George Selvie (end) and Nick Hayden (tackle) are nice players, but not starters material. If the Cowboys can upgrade at those two spots in the draft, they would be smart to do so.

Stephen Jones, the Cowboys' executive vice president, said he's open to bringing back end Anthony Spencer, who is recovering from microfracture surgery.

Sean Lee, as wonderful as he is at middle linebacker, hasn't finished the last two seasons due to injuries. Bruce Carter and Justin Durant have been inconsistent performers at linebacker. Likewise for backup linebacker Ernie Sims.

Cornerback Brandon Carr was inconsistent in the final month of the season and it didn't matter if it was in man or zone coverage. Carr, a highly-paid free agent, seemed to play with less confidence as the season progressed.

Morris Claiborne lost his starting job to Orlando Scandrick at the other cornerback position. That was fine because Scandrick played well.

Claiborne is another story.

Health and poor play made you wonder why he was a first-round pick in 2012. This is a big offseason for Claiborne because if he doesn't play well, whether that's as a starter or in nickle packages, the pick will be labeled as a disappointment.

Safety Barry Church led the in tackles from the strong safety position but his partners at free safety, Jeff Heath and J.J. Wilcox looked lost at times. Heath didn't make enough plays on the ball and Wilcox's health and lack of command of the defense hurt him.

Depth was lacking for the Cowboys last season and they needed a late signing in Sterling Moore to replace rookie B.W. Webb at one of the backup cornerback spots.

Marinelli has plenty of work ahead of him this spring. There's the potential of defensive end Tyrone Crawford's return from a torn Achilles and maybe two or three draft picks who could make an impact.

Free agency isn't something the Cowboys are going to invest a lot of money in because they're tight against the cap.

So when these moves were finally announced on Tuesday night, I felt unless some new personnel was coming aboard, it doesn't mean a thing. Marinelli is a respected coach he got Hatcher to morph into a Pro Bowl season and Selvie and Hayden had solid seasons. But he was also part of the staff that was in charge of a historically bad defense.

"They’re absolutely aligned but there will always be some evolution that you have from guy to guy and year to year," Garrett said. "That’s part of the process of just going through everything. What we’re doing now is evaluating last year. We started our cut ups today and going through those and we’ll decide what was good for us and build on that and look at (what) wasn’t as good as we would’ve liked and decide what to do with that as we continue to grow and evolve."

If the Cowboys can't grow or evolve with their personnel, expect the same old stuff, again.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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