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Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Cowboys defense doing plenty of talking

By Calvin Watkins

There was a lot of talking going on last weekend from the defensive side of the ball regarding the Dallas Cowboys.

It started with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli talking about Bruce Carter needing to toughen up and saying he doesn't coach confidence.

Then we had secondary coach Jerome Henderson saying everybody on the defense has to improve.

Matt Eberflus, the linebackers coach, said the strongside and weakside linebacker spots, with contenders Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman and Carter, are open.

Rod Marinelli
After not reaching the postseason for a third straight year, it could be playoffs or bust for Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys' coaching staff.
But the weekend wouldn’t be complete without cornerback Brandon Carr, he of the five-year, $50.1 million free-agent contract, saying he must take over the league.

The statements from these men are fine, of course, because people need to be called out and challenged.

Yet, many of the people doing the talking were part of a defense that gave up a franchise-worst 6,645 yards last season.

The Cowboys also gave up 2,056 rushing yards, ninth-most in franchise history.

You could say the coaches can only do so much from the sidelines and you might also comment about the players working within the scheme.

In reality, if the Cowboys' defense doesn't improve in 2014, several of the people doing all the talking won’t be around to collect Jerry Jones’ checks any longer.

You see, the head coach, Jason Garrett, is in a contract year. And while Jones doesn’t believe in lame-duck statuses -- calling it a politician's word -- if the Cowboys fail to reach the postseason for a fifth consecutive season, it’s very difficult to believe the same staff and defensive pieces will return.

Marinelli is a respected coach in this league but after last season’s debacle you begin to wonder if he’s lost his fastball.

Players love playing for him.

Listen to him talk and you want to play for him.

In a bottom-line business, Marinelli convinced the front office to sign free agent Henry Melton as the new three-technique defensive tackle while coming off a torn ACL.

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a free-agent signing who underachieved in Jacksonville, is another Marinelli confirmation.

Marinelli loves second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence's passion and measureables and has the hopes of inserting him as DeMarcus Ware's replacement at right defensive end.

And because of that there is an expectation for Lawrence to produce in his rookie year considering what the Cowboys gave up to get him, swapping second-round picks with the Washington Redskins and giving up a third to get him.

Of course, you expect Marinellis’ magic to continue with George Selvie (seven sacks from left defensive end) and Nick Hayden (16 quarterback pressures from defensive tackle) in 2014.

Selvie was signed in training camp when injuries began to pile up along the defensive line. Hayden was already here looking at a backup role until injuries forced him into the starting lineup.

Are Selvie and Hayden going to finally be productive players or just below average?

There’s the tricky situation at linebacker where Carter hasn’t been consistent while making the adjustment from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme.

Marinelli called Carter out the other day at Valley Ranch, but are you really calling somebody out who got benched for poor play during the 2013 season?

This whole thing isn’t mainly on Marinelli -- it’s on a lot of other people at Valley Ranch.

When the draft ended last week, the Cowboys were praised in many circles for how well they performed. It was about defense and seven of the nine picks were for Marinelli’s unit.

The Cowboys made football decisions for a change, bypassing the flash of Johnny Manziel at quarterback, and getting the substance of tackle Zack Martin.

Adding backups for middle linebacker Sean Lee (Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round), depth for the defensive line (Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh) and strong side (Will Smith in the seventh) along with a safety (Ahmad Dixon in the seventh) appear solid decisions.

None of it means anything if the main people on the defensive roster and men like Marinelli don’t make it work.

And while Jerry Jones is supporting the ideas of adding more playoff teams, the decisions made for his defense need to have substance in 2014.