- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Staff Writer
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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