- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- The No. 32 would be on cornerback Orlando Scandrick's mind every day even if it wasn’t on his jersey.
There is no hiding the fact that the Dallas Cowboys ranked 32nd -- dead last -- in the league in total defense last season.
“The facts are the facts,” Scandrick said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s “Two-Point Conversion.” “We were the last-ranked total defense, so we can’t go anywhere but up from here, but that’s not going to change just by showing up. We’ve to have an attitude about us as a defense, and we’re going to have to play together. Playing together stops a lot of the things that happened that caused us to be the 32nd-ranked defense.”
The Cowboys lost three of their most productive defensive players from last season, releasing defensive end DeMarcus Ware, letting defensive tackle Jason Hatcher leave in free agency and seeing Sean Lee injure his knee in May.
However, Scandrick expressed confidence that the Dallas defense would be vastly improved in its second season playing a 4-3 scheme.
“I just think this year is going to be different,” Scandrick said. “I don’t know if I’m just an optimist, but I really feel that this year is going to be different. We have a different group of guys. We have some younger guys. We have a lot of guys who have a lot to prove. We have some younger guys who want to prove they can play in this league. We have some other younger guys who want to prove they can be starters in this league. I really think from the bottom of my heart that we have a chance to be a solid defense this year.”
As safety Barry Church put it, the Dallas defense “has a boulder on our shoulder,” thanks to their ranking last season.
Scandrick has had a chip on his shoulder since he slipped into the fifth round in the 2008 draft. He was once of those young guys who had to prove he could play in the NFL. In his seventh NFL season, he finally got the chance to prove he could be a full-time starter and is fighting to keep that role now.
At 27, Scandrick suddenly has the longest Dallas tenure among players in the defensive meeting room other than defensive end Anthony Spencer, who could start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
The departures of Ware and Hatcher, as well as the season-ending knee injury suffered by Lee, left a leadership void on the Dallas defense. Scandrick feels a responsibility to help fill it.
“It was tough to see those guys go,” Scandrick said. “I just think about when I came in and how those guys took me under their wing and how they looked out for me. I just think I owe it to the younger guys now to do the same thing. Like I tell them, I’m open to helping whenever I can.
“I think it’s also that I help my coaches when my coaches are trying to get a point across. Sometimes it’s easier to hear it when you hear it from a player. I’m just here to find ways to win. All I want to do is win, and all I care about is winning.”