NFL Nation: Warren Sapp

TAMPA, Fla. -- I think John Lynch belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But I have to admit I’m partial.

I had the good fortune to cover the early part of Lynch’s career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I saw plenty of big hits that made the highlight reels. I also saw some big interceptions. Beyond that, I saw one of the nicest guys I’ve ever covered.

But personality doesn’t count in the Hall of Fame voting. If it did, Lynch would have no problem getting in. But the reality is he’s fighting an uphill battle. He made it to the final 15, but he may not make it any further when the voting takes place Saturday in Phoenix.

Safety just isn’t a glamour position in the eyes of the Hall of Fame voters. Only seven full-time safeties are in the Hall of Fame. Guys like Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson don’t count because they split their careers between cornerback and safety.

There hasn’t been a true safety selected since Paul Krause in 1998. And it took Krause, who is the NFL's career leader with 81 interceptions, more than a decade to get into the Hall of Fame.

If it was so difficult for Krause to get in, it probably will be even tougher for Lynch. The most important statistic for safeties is interceptions. Lynch had 26 in his career. That’s a respectable number, but it’s not a Hall of Fame number.

If Lynch is going to have any chance at getting in, voters will need to take a big-picture look at his career. They need to remember that Lynch, along with Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, were the key parts to a defense that was the best of its era. They need to remember that Lynch wasn’t a center fielder. He could play the pass, but his bigger role was to be a hitter.

Lynch was one of the hardest-hitting safeties in NFL history. But that might not be enough to convince the voters to put him in the Hall of Fame.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame class will be announced Jan. 31. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' John Lynch is one of 18 finalists.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lynch
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesJohn Lynch finished his career with 26 interceptions.
When I think about Lynch, two things stand out, and they're contradictory. On the field, Lynch was a vicious hitter (he once knocked out his own brother-in-law John Allred, then with the Bears). Off it, Lynch was one of the nicest guys I have ever covered.

So how could a guy be so nasty on the field and so gentle off it? I remember asking Lynch that when I was doing a story on him at the Pro Bowl one year. His answer was that he flipped a switch when he walked onto the field and became a different person, and that's why Lynch might end up in the Hall of Fame.

Being a nice guy isn't going to get Lynch into the Hall of Fame. What matters is what he did on the field, and he did plenty. Along with Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, both Hall of Famers, Lynch helped turn the Bucs from a laughingstock into a regular playoff contender.

When the Bucs unceremoniously let Lynch go after 11 seasons because they thought he was washed up, he went to the Denver Broncos and had four productive seasons.

He had 490 tackles, 26 interceptions, 13 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. Interceptions are the key stat for safeties, but Lynch's total doesn't stand out.

What stood out were the hits Lynch delivered. They didn't go unnoticed, as Lynch was selected as a finalist and is in his third year on the ballot. And those big hits should be the first thing voters think of when they're selecting this year's class.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers credit for finally getting something right.

The team has struggled through a 1-5 start and hasn’t made the playoffs since last decade. But Saturday, the Bucs made the best move they’ve made in a very long time.

McCoy
McCoy
They signed All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a seven-year contract extension worth $98 million. That makes McCoy the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, but he deserves every bit of it. He’s the best defensive tackle in the league and still has upside.

But McCoy is more than just a defensive tackle. He’s the leader of this franchise on and off the field. He recently has called himself out for not playing up to par and called the Bucs’ defense "soft." Those words mean a lot from McCoy because he has the résumé to back them up.

The McCoy extension is also a sign that coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht are going forward with their plan on how to build the Bucs. Smith has made it clear he wants to build a defense like the Bucs had in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

That’s when the Bucs had Warren Sapp at defensive tackle and Derrick Brooks at weakside linebacker. The new Bucs are in great shape at both of those positions with McCoy filling the Sapp role and Lavonte David drawing favorable comparisons to Brooks.

David is likely to get his contract extension after this season, and that will lock up the Bucs’ nucleus for the long term. Despite the team's record, Smith and Licht are going about things the right way. They’ve made sure their best player doesn’t get anywhere near free agency.

They still need another offseason of personnel moves to really be competitive, but the Bucs have made sure they’ve secured their main building block. McCoy is a leader on and off the field, and, if the Bucs can fill in some of the holes around him on defense, they can truly be like the Bucs of old.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Throughout his career in Tampa Bay, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has tried to follow in the footsteps of Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.

McCoy was at it again last week. Through various television shows, McCoy is familiar with the story of the 1996 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their turning point. Sapp and Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks love to tell the story.

McCoy
McCoy
It goes something like this: The Bucs were in their first season under coach Tony Dungy. They were off to a horrible start and were a laughingstock. They flew out to San Diego as a heavy underdog to the Chargers. As Brooks and Sapp watched television that morning, the announcers were making fun of the Bucs.

On the spot, Sapp and Brooks made a pledge to each other that the laughing had to stop. They went out and beat the Chargers that day. They finished the season strong and made the playoffs the following year.

McCoy used that story last week to get his teammates motivated for their game at Pittsburgh. The tactic worked as the Bucs pulled off an upset for their first win of the season.

"I talked to (linebacker) Lavonte (David) and a couple of guys and told them that story and I told them about Sapp and Brooks and the decision they made that day," McCoy said. "I told them that has to be us. Nobody's thinking we can win. This is the Terrible Towel, the historic Pittsburgh Steelers and no one is expecting us to win. Let's go out there and change that. People think we're the worst team in the NFL, that's awesome. Keep thinking that."

Like the 1996 team, the Bucs were at a low point before the Pittsburgh game. They were coming off a 56-14 loss to Atlanta. They were 0-3 under first-year coach Lovie Smith. McCoy said the Atlanta game fired up the Bucs.

"It definitely motivated us," McCoy said. "When we got those extra days off, we put it behind us. Besides being asked about it, nobody really brought it up. It was like 'We're 0-3. We were here last year. We can't keep allowing this to happen.' But it definitely was an eye opener. We were already 0-2 and then we went and allowed this to happen. We can't keep this going."

It remains to be seen if the Pittsburgh game really was a turning point for a young team. But that's exactly what McCoy sees it as and he said it's time to give Tampa Bay fans what they deserve.

"The fans just want to see a winner," McCoy said. "So going on a two-game win streak coming home, I personally believe we'll have a sold-out crowd. Baltimore coming in, that's a huge game, especially coming off a two-game win streak and coming back home? I would hate to be the opposing team because I know how crazy our fans are going to be. This league is a game of momentum. It's hard to stop anybody once they get rolling."

A turning point for the Buccaneers?

September, 28, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- It was only one win. But it might end up having an important place in history.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 27-24 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday might end up being a turning point in franchise history. A struggling young team went into a hostile environment and beat a team it wasn’t supposed to.

It looked an awful lot like the biggest turning point in franchise history. That was back in 1996 when first-year coach Tony Dungy took a struggling team out to San Diego. The Bucs pulled off an upset that day that Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks have referred to as the turning point that led to the team’s only period of sustained success.

Like Dungy’s team, this year’s version of the Bucs struggled early. The Bucs came into the game at 0-3 and were coming off a 56-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Around Tampa Bay, fans were starting to question whether coach Lovie Smith knew what he was doing. Despite the criticism, Smith stuck with his philosophy.

On Sunday, that paid off. The pass rush showed up for the first time all season, and quarterback Mike Glennon, playing for an injured Josh McCown, provided a spark for the offense. But Sunday might have had as much to do with the future as it does the present.

“I definitely believe in momentum," Smith said. “Sometimes nothing good happens until you just keep going. Once you get that momentum, you find a way to win. You have to experience it first. We didn’t know how to win."

Now, the Bucs know what winning feels like.

“This is just a step," Smith said. “We talk about quarters [of the season]. This is the last game of the first quarter. We have many seasons through the year. To be able to finish off this first quarter on a win and to have the opportunity to win was big."

It’s big because this season still has potential. If the Bucs continue to play like they did against the Steelers, they’ll have a shot at a successful season.

“It takes time," Smith said. “Any new program starting out, you’d like to be playoff-ready right away, but that didn’t happen. You’d just like to win a game right away, and that didn’t happen. It takes a little bit of time, but the guys have continued to work hard. Eventually things just kind of clicked a little bit. We still have a long way to go."

But at least the Bucs finally got on the right path.

Gerald McCoy hopes for quick return

September, 19, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. – On the day after a 56-14 loss to Atlanta, there was at least one small bit of hope coming out of One Buccaneer Place.

All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said he hopes he’s able to return for next week’s game at Pittsburgh. McCoy missed the Atlanta game with a broken hand. McCoy said he wanted to play, but it was in his best long-term interest not to.

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McCoy
“Of course I wanted to [play], but it’s a long season, and I’d rather my team have me in the long run than just for one game,’’ McCoy said. “There was a chance that if I played last night, I could’ve completely messed my hand up, and then needed surgery, which would put me out for good. I had to play it smart, but I’m working to get back.”

McCoy also took exception to talk from fans that Tampa Bay Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp kept right on playing through a broken hand.

“Let me clarify something, because I’ve seen some people trying to give me a hard time for missing the game,’’ McCoy said. “Everybody says Sapp played through it. But let’s get our facts straight. Sapp sat out a game, too. He missed a game in Minnesota , and then came back against Green Bay away, and had a pretty good game. So let’s get our facts straight, OK? Thank you.”

Gerald McCoy: Bring on the blockers

September, 1, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. – In last year’s meetings with the Carolina Panthers, there were times when Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was tripleteamed.

McCoy said Monday that he’d welcome a similar scenario when the Bucs host the Panthers in Sunday’s regular-season opener.

McCoy
McCoy
“I don’t care,’’ McCoy said. “It is what it is. Buffalo tried the same thing and you saw what happened. If they want to try it, they can go ahead. I’m not trying to play for myself. I play to get tripleteamed. I play so I make my teammates better. That’s one thing [Hall of Famer Warren Sapp] always talks about -- ‘Are you making the people around you better?’ That’s one thing he did. That’s one thing I’m working for. I want everybody around me to be great. It’s not about me. It’s about everybody around me.’’

The Bucs upgraded around McCoy in the offseason. They signed defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald as free agents. But McCoy sees another returning starter as being crucial to the defensive line.

“I think [defensive end] Adrian Clayborn is going to be the key for us up front,’’ McCoy said. “Everybody wants to say it’s Gerald, it’s about the under tackle. No. He has to make a transition from the right to the left and people are not expecting that to be a positive transition, going from his best side to a side he has to learn over a couple months. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. If he can get going, it’s going to change everything else.’’
TAMPA, Fla. – On a day near the middle of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith walked into his post-practice news conference and delivered a message.

"There's nothing really I can give you today," Smith said.

Smith wasn't being condescending or rude to the media. He simply was being truthful. Tampa Bay's camp hasn't had any major news or controversies. It has been downright boring at times -- but it beats the alternative.

We saw the other side of things last year, and it wasn't pretty. There was plenty of news and a ton of distractions. Former coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman were in the early stages of a feud that would end in divorce one month into the season. And it wasn't just Freeman who was having issues with Schiano's style. Numerous players had problems with Schiano's rigid ways and never fully bought into the coach.

That quickly caught up to Schiano, who was fired after two lackluster seasons. Enter Smith, who is the anti-Schiano in just about every way. Smith is calm and treats his players like adults, and you already can see the results of that. There have been no controversies.

Amid the tranquility, players are singing the praises of Smith. The coach brings back memories of Tony Dungy, who guided the Bucs to their first era of sustained success. That's no coincidence. Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay and has an approach similar to Dungy's.

People already are comparing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks. Smith's hiring has brought enthusiasm to a fan base that hasn't had much to be excited about in recent years. But that fan base has pleasant memories of what things were like in the Bucs' glory days.

On several occasions, Smith has said that one of his goals is to make the Bucs relevant again. If things go according to Smith's plans, the Bucs might be boring, but they'll be good.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Smith is known for being a defensive coach, and he has some good ingredients to start with. McCoy and David were All-Pros last year, and they play two of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense Smith is bringing back to the Bucs. McCoy and David give Tampa Bay a nice start, but some other players are going to have to come through. The coaching staff believes strong safety Mark Barron is ready to be a star. If some role players come through, this could be a very good defense.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoug Martin is back from a shoulder injury, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all of the load in a deep backfield.
2. Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.

3. After using their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs have one of the biggest receiving corps in the league. Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5. They're going to present coverage challenges for defensive backs.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The offensive line hasn't looked very good in the preseason, and that's a huge cause for concern. The Bucs are especially thin at guard. All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team after not being able to recover from a toe injury. That leaves four guys without a lot of experience vying for two starting spots. Oniel Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards have been rotating at the guard spots, and two of them will emerge as starters, unless the Bucs bring in some help from the outside.

2. Smith went out on a limb when he signed quarterback Josh McCown as a free agent and immediately named him the starter. McCown, 35, has been a backup most of his career, but he did play well in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went out with an injury. McCown threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. It's too much to expect him to keep up that kind of pace, especially with an unsteady offensive line. Smith, who coached McCown in Chicago, believes he can be successful over the course of a full season. But that's something McCown has never done.

3. Smith's philosophy is to play great defense and be efficient on offense. That worked well enough to get Smith to a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. But that philosophy might be antiquated. The league has become quarterback-driven. The Bucs are in the same division as New Orleans' Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. McCown and this offense might not have enough firepower to stay competitive in the division.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McCoy has had an outstanding training camp. He consistently has gotten into the backfield as a pass-rusher and has been stuffing running plays. But it remains to be seen whether McCoy's excellent play is simply the byproduct of the weakness at the guard spots.
    [+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounVincent Jackson, in his third season with the Bucs, will have a third starting QB throwing to him.

  • The chemistry between McCown and Jackson has been noticeable. In addition to the offseason program, the two spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working out at a local high school.

  • The Bucs have gotten almost nothing out of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers since taking him in the second round in 2011. But they are trying something new with Bowers this year. They're going to use him inside at defensive tackle in obvious passing situations.

  • The Bucs have high hopes for sixth-round draft pick Robert Herron. But don't look for the receiver/return man to get a lot of playing time early on. Herron has had ball-security issues in camp. He needs to hold on to the ball if he's going to earn playing time.

  • Herron will make the 53-man roster. So will Jackson, Evans and Chris Owusu. Eric Page also probably will stick thanks to his return skills. That probably leaves one spot to be filled from a group of receivers who have shown promise in training camp. Tommy Streeter, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton all have shown flashes, but at least a couple of them won't make the roster.

  • Hamstring injuries have kept cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins out for a big chunk of training camp. But there's a flip side to that, and it's positive. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has gotten a ton of work with the first team and has looked good. Banks didn't have a great rookie year. But his performance in camp probably will keep him in the starting lineup.
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In his 24-minute Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, Derrick Brooks thanked dozens of people from every stage of his career.

There were plenty of emotional moments, but one stood out to me: when Brooks thanked the late Lee Roy Selmon, the first draft pick and the first Hall of Famer in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Lee Roy set the standard, and we’re just trying to walk the path he set for us," Brooks said.

Selmon was much more than a football player. He was elegant, classy and heavily involved in the Tampa Bay community long after his playing days were over. Selmon left this world too soon, and he left a void in Tampa Bay.

But now that void is being filled. Brooks is as close to Selmon as you can get. Of course, Brooks was a tremendous football player. But, like Selmon, Brooks is so much more. Brooks now is the biggest icon in the Tampa Bay region, but he wouldn’t like hearing that. That’s because Brooks is especially humble.

That was best demonstrated when Brooks asked all his Buccaneers teammates who made the trip to Canton, Ohio, to stand and be recognized.

“Please stand up and let me bow and salute you guys," Brooks said.

Brooks had plenty of help. But, perhaps more than anyone, Brooks was responsible for turning around a dismal franchise.

“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers [were] the team that invented losing," said ESPN’s Chris Berman, who served as the master of ceremonies.

Brooks was drafted in 1995 by a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1982. Joining forces with coach Tony Dungy and teammates such as Warren Sapp, Hardy Nickerson, John Lynch and Ronde Barber, Brooks ushered in the most successful era in franchise history. The Bucs became regular playoff contenders and, eventually, Super Bowl champions.

Brooks last played in 2008, but he’s more visible than ever. Brooks founded a high school in Tampa, does all sorts of charity work and works as the president of the Tampa Bay Storm.

“As a servant leader, I just want to do the best I can to make something better when I come into touch with it," Brooks said.

Brooks always has made the things he comes into contact with better. Selmon started that path, but now it’s Brooks’ turn to follow in the footsteps.

Buccaneers to invade Canton

July, 31, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers credit for knowing how to properly celebrate a Hall of Fame induction.

The Bucs are taking a contingent of about 200 staff members to Canton, Ohio, for the second consecutive year -- this time for the induction of Derrick Brooks. They did the same thing last year when Warren Sapp was inducted.

Any employee who was a staff member during Brooks’ final season (2008) was invited, along with a guest. The team has chartered a flight that will leave Saturday morning.

Co-chairmen Bryan, Joel and Ed Glazer will lead the contingent. Coach Lovie Smith, who was the linebackers coach early in Brooks’ career, will make the trip. The Bucs aren’t practicing on Saturday.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The Bucs, who had their practice abbreviated by lightning Friday, got their first full workout of camp in Saturday evening and the results were predictable. There was good and bad. No series summarized that more than a couple of plays near the middle of practice. On one play, quarterback Josh McCown threw an interception to strong safety Mark Barron. On the next play, McCown bounced back and hit Vincent Jackson with a perfectly thrown ball. Coach Lovie Smith said he expects the team to be more precise when it puts on pads for the first time on Sunday.
  • Speaking of first practices, Saturday marked the true debut of rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He missed the offseason program due to NCAA regulations and was very limited in the rookie minicamp by a foot injury. But Seferian-Jenkins said his foot is fine now and he practiced with no limitations. After missing so much time, though, Seferian-Jenkins might be a little behind the other tight ends – Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker. “He’s playing catch-up,’’ Smith said. “But he’s catching up.’’
  • It’s usually tough to get players to talk about specific goals, but defensive end Michael Johnson broke that rule of thumb. Johnson set one goal for himself and one for the entire defense. He wants to get back to double-digit sacks like he had in 2012 with Cincinnati. He also said the Bucs want to have the best defense in the league. Those two goals kind of go hand in hand. There’s been a lot of talk about how defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David compare to Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, who were the cornerstones during Tampa Bay’s glory years. But a lot of people forget the Bucs didn’t fully get over the top until they got Simeon Rice as an outside rusher. If Johnson can make an impact anywhere close to what Rice did, the Bucs could end up being a very good defense.
  • I came into camp very skeptical about Tampa Bay’s depth at wide receiver after Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. But I’m starting to warm up to this position group. No one stood out, but guys like Tommy Streeter, Solomon Patton, Russell Shepard, Louis Murphy, Robert Herron, Lavelle Hawkins, Eric Page, Skye Dawson and David Gettis each had some bright moments. I think one of those guys will step up and claim the No. 3 job. That may be all the Bucs need because I’m not anticipating a lot of four-receiver sets from this offense.
  • Read into this whatever you want, but Jamon Meredith worked as the first-team left guard and Oniel Cousins worked at right guard. After the departure of Carl Nicks, I think the Bucs still are trying to figure out what they’re going to do at guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards get some looks with the first team.
Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears were a consistent contender because they played strong defense. The coach will try to get the same result with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the ingredients are there for that to happen.

David
McCoy
McCoy
Smith inherited some special talent in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. Both are just reaching their prime. Smith has compared McCoy to Warren Sapp and David to Derrick Brooks. Sapp and Brooks were the keys to the defense during Tampa Bay’s glory days. The Bucs believe McCoy and David can fill the same roles in the new generation and that a strong defense will help make the franchise relevant again.

McCoy and David are going to be good for years to come and they form a strong foundation. But the Bucs will need some complementary players to come through for this defense to be really good. Defensive end Michael Johnson was brought in as a free agent because the Bucs believe he can bring pressure from the outside. If he does, that’s only going to help McCoy and Clinton McDonald in the middle.

A strong pass rush will only help a secondary that has good potential, but hasn’t hit it yet. Alterraun Verner was brought in to be the No. 1 cornerback, but the Bucs need Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to step up as the other cornerback and nickelback. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron have talent and can form a nice tandem.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster is going to get a chance to play a more significant role than he has in the past. Foster will call the defensive plays and be asked to drop into coverage more than he did in his first three seasons.

This defense will be the key factor in determining if Smith’s regime will succeed. The offense can be average, but the defense has to be special.
IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

May, 23, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • When Dez Bryant might sign an extension.
  • Lance Dunbar’s roster spot with the addition of Ryan Williams.
  • The team’s best free-agent pickup
  • The state of the defensive line.
  • The best of the undrafted receivers.

Look for Part 2 of the mailbag on Saturday.

Away we go:

Rod Marinelli a difference-maker

March, 18, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- In Rod Marinelli, the Dallas Cowboys believe they have one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL.

He might be a pretty good recruiter, too.

The Cowboys' ability to land free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton was a lot about the contract, a lot about Melton possibly wanting to play at home and a lot about Marinelli.

Marinelli
Melton
"I'm excited to come back home and work with Rod [Marinelli] and get back to my Pro Bowl form," Melton told ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins.

Melton developed into a Pro Bowl defensive tackle under Marinelli with the Chicago Bears from 2010-12. Melton had 15.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl after a six-sack season in 2012. He also had 71 tackles and nine tackles for loss with Marinelli as his mentor.

He might talk softly, but Marinelli has a way of forging relationships with defensive linemen. He did it with Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He did it with Melton and Julius Peppers with the Bears. He did it with Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys were forced to use 20 defensive linemen in 2013 and were one game away from making the playoffs. Marinelli was able to make it work to a certain degree with guys such as George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Jarius Wynn, Corvey Irvin and Frank Kearse.

He never had Jay Ratliff or Tyrone Crawford. He had Anthony Spencer for 34 snaps in one game. He was without Ware for three games and Hatcher for one.

Melton becomes the third defensive linemen to join the Cowboys as a free agent. Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys last week.

Mincey was unable to meet face to face with Marinelli because of the coach’s schedule, but they were able to talk on the phone. Mincey was coached with the Jacksonville Jaguars by Joe Cullen, who coached under Marinelli with the Detroit Lions.

"Genuine and a believer," Mincey said last week. "He believes in what I believe: going out there and giving your all and trusting the process and seeing what happens. You never know what’s going to happen, especially with a bunch of guys who are hungry, who are dedicated and motivated for a larger purpose."

The job is not over. The Cowboys concluded a visit with Jared Allen on Tuesday, and the veteran could be the next one added to the Marinelli mix.

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