Daily Archives: January 22nd, 2013

DEFENSIVE CONFIRMATION: Monte Kiffin verified switching defense to 4-3; his coaches set for new season

Ex-players recall Dallas Cowboys Monte Kiffin as a football junkie - The Boys Are Back blog

MOBILE, Ala. – The second day of Senior Bowl practices are underway, with several coaches and scouts filling up the grandstands at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett has addressed the media. It does appear the defensive coaching staff has been set.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin not only confirmed what we all expected in the team will be switching over to his 4-3 scheme, but said after meeting with several candidates, the defensive coaches are locked in.

“We’ve been trying to get our staff together and get the right players in the right place,” Kiffin said.

The biggest change will be defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who was the Bears defensive coordinator the last three years and has worked with Kiffin in Tampa Bay. But the Cowboys are also planning to keep linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson, two coaches who came with Rob Ryan from Cleveland.

The Cowboys are also expected to retain assistant defensive backs coach Joe Baker, assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett.

“It’s exciting,” Kiffin said Tuesday morning. “It happened really quick. We put together the staff and I think the staff is real important. The Joneses and Coach Garrett, they like certain people there they wanted me to interview. It was real good to put our heads together – Coach Garrett and myself. But there’s some real good coaches there right now. To bring in Rod Marinelli as our defensive line coach, he’s an icon.”

As for the offensive side of the ball, there are still holes to fill. The Cowboys will need to hire coaches for the running backs, tight ends and possibly wide receivers.  

RELATED: Jerry Jones says Cowboys won’t complete staff during Senior Bowl week

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he does not expect to complete the coaching staff before the Cowboys leave the Senior Bowl.

He said the Cowboys, who have assistant coaching vacancies in at least four positions – tight end, defensive line, running backs and special teams – are interviewing this week at the all-star game but that there is no deadline.

“No, not at all. We have no timetable pressures here,” he said after watching the South team practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, where the Senior Bowl will be played Saturday. “I don’t look for anything such as a finalization of decisions on staff while we’re here.”

Asked about Houston Nutt’s visit to Valley Ranch last week, Jones declined to comment but promised to talk more about staff decisions later in the week.

“It’s going to be real limited on staff because we’re not going to sum it all up for competitive reasons and negotiating reasons,” Jones said. “We just are going to let that come out as we make those decisions about adding any new staff members.”

PLAYER PUZZLE PIECES: How the Dallas Cowboys current personnel fit Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense

2012 dallas cowboys defense loses bruce carter to ir - the boys are back blog

A lot has been made about the Cowboys’ switch from the 3-4 defense to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, and rightfully so. Although a great defense ultimately comes down to talented players executing a well-crafted scheme, it’s not as if elite players can simply line up at any position and succeed. If the chances of success at a particular position are optimized at a certain height, weight and speed, it follows that getting farther from those ideal traits will lower the probability of succeeding.

Kiffin’s defenses have typically emphasized speed over size at most positions, and that’s certainly a plus for a Cowboys defense that seems as if it hasn’t kept up with the NFL’s pass-happy evolution. Still, the truth is that the best defensive coordinators tailor their scheme around their personnel.

Kiffin’s version of the 4-3 in particular, known as a 4-3 Under, could potentially accommodate the Cowboys’ personnel better than most other 4-3 schemes. One reason is the presence of the 1-technique defensive tackle. A 1-technique tackle shades the offensive center, nearly playing heads-up over the top of him like a 3-4 nose tackle. The other defensive tackle, the 3-technique, is typically a smaller player that almost acts as a large defensive end in the interior.

There are certainly areas where the Cowboys might have holes to fill, of course. To figure out just how far away Dallas might be from Kiffin’s “dream” defense, we’ve researched the height and weight of each defensive player for Tampa Bay from 2003 to 2008. Kiffin was the defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers during that stretch, emphasizing specific traits at each position. Below are the averages of each player on the roster at every position.

4-3 defense

1-DT: 6’3’’ 304 pounds

As mentioned, the 1-technique tackle is a strong presence in the inside, but he also has to be nimble enough to shoot up field.

Cowboys’ fit: Jay Ratliff (6’4’’ 303 pounds) matches Kiffin’s prototypical player at this position to a tee. The issue is whether or not the Cowboys can afford to continue to pay Ratliff the big bucks. Sean Lissemore (6’3’’ 303 pounds) also fits the bill.

3-DT: 6’2’’ 285 pounds

The 3-technique defensive tackle is much smaller than the 1-technique. Also note that, at an average of just 6’2’’, the 3-technique is shorter than the defensive ends.

Cowboys’ fit: This position in particular is difficult to project for the Cowboys. Jason Hatcher could potentially play any position along the defensive line, although at 6’6’’ 305 pounds, he’s much taller and heavier than the typically short, light tackles Kiffin has used in the past. Tyrone Crawford (6’4’’ 285 pounds) will probably play defensive end, but he also could have some versatility.

DE (Strong): 6’3’’ 279 pounds

Kiffin has typically used a very large, bulky player to man his strong-side defensive end position.

Cowboys’ fit: If there’s evidence that the Cowboys could let Anthony Spencer walk, this might be it. At 250 pounds, Spencer doesn’t come anywhere near matching the profile of Kiffin’s past ends. As mentioned above, Crawford checks in around this size, but his pass-rushing ability is a question.

DE (Weak): 6’3’’ 267 pounds

On the weak side, Kiffin’s defensive ends have been relatively close to the same size as the typical 3-4 outside linebacker.

Cowboys’ fit: DeMarcus Ware will play this position, although even he is listed at only 254 pounds. Ware shouldn’t have much of a problem adjusting, however. Alex Albright might need to transition to this position as well at 6’5’’ 260 pounds.

MLB: 6’1’’ 232 pounds

The “Mike” linebacker in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense has to have the ability to turn and run, so it’s no surprise that they’ve averaged only 232 pounds.

Cowboys’ fit: At 6’2’’, 245 pounds, Sean Lee is a bit oversized compared to the average 4-3 middle linebacker. He’ll often be asked to run downfield when tight ends run vertically, but Lee should be up for the challenge.

WLB: 6’1’’ 224 pounds

At only 224 pounds, the average “Will” linebacker in Kiffin’s defense must have the speed to run sideline-to-sideline.

Cowboys’ fit: Like Lee, Carter is “oversized” for the 4-3 at 240 pounds, but it really shouldn’t matter. As one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, Carter won’t have a problem transitioning to the 4-3. He could potentially play any of the three linebacker spots, giving the Cowboys plenty of flexibility heading into the draft.

SLB: 6’1’’ 235 pounds

As the biggest of Kiffin’s linebackers, the “Sam” is still smaller than all but one linebacker the Cowboys had on the roster in 2012, Ernie Sims.

Cowboys’ fit: Assuming Carter plays the “Will,” the Cowboys may have a hole to fill here (and vice versa if Kiffin uses Carter as the “Sam.” If Dan Connor (6’2’’ 242 pounds) ends up starting for Kiffin, he’ll almost assuredly play this position and Carter will play the weak side.

CB: 6’0’’ 193 pounds

Due to Kiffin’s emphasis on Cover 2, his cornerbacks don’t turn and run in man coverage as much as in other defenses. Playing near the line, they need to be able to press and play the run, meaning they’re typically tall, although perhaps not as heavy as many believe.

Cowboys’ fit: Although there are questions about how Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can transition to Kiffin’s scheme, I think they’ll be just fine. Carr has great size at 6’0’’ 210 pounds, and it isn’t as if they’ll be in Cover 2 every play. Even at 5’11’’ 185 pounds, Claiborne isn’t that far off from Kiffin’s prototypical cornerbacks over the years.

S: 6’0’’ 207 pounds

Since Kiffin generally plays with two-deep alignments and dares offenses to run, his safeties don’t need to be excessively big, but rangy.

Cowboys’ fit: The Cowboys could have an issue here since starters Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church are both at least 212 pounds and don’t necessarily excel in deep coverage. Kiffin has made it work with big safeties like John Lynch in the past, however, but the ’Boys still might need to look for a faster safety of the future in this upcoming draft.

We so often hear that teams need to find “their guys” that fit into their particular schemes, and that’s true; certain players are tailored to play in specific ways. However, the job of any coordinator is to mold their scheme to fit the skill sets of the current personnel. It’s certainly preferable to have a roster full of players built for a particular scheme, but creating that is a whole lot more challenging than slightly altering the scheme to fit the most talented players on the team.

When all is said and done, the success of Kiffin’s tenure in Dallas will be determined by how well he can manage this delicate balancing act, acquiring “his” guys while still being flexible with his scheme to accommodate what he already has.

PLAY-CALLER DUTIES: Jerry Jones hinted that changes may be underway regarding offense

Dallas Cowboys coaches Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan - The Boys Are Back blog

MOBILE, Ala. – It seems the Cowboys are one step closer to naming a new play-caller next season.

Owner Jerry Jones said he’s always insisted on keeping Jason Garrett as the play-caller throughout Garrett’s tenure as head coach, but he could see the positives of a switch and hinted that change could be coming soon. Jones didn’t specifically state Bill Callahan would be the new play-caller, but all indications seem like that will be the case if a switch is made.

“Theoretically, when (Garrett) doesn’t do as much of the offense as he’s been doing, that means he’s going to do more with the overall team,” Jones said. “He has never felt that that wouldn’t work (well) and possibly better. The insistence that he called the plays as well as be head coach was me.”

Allowing Garrett to hand over the play-calling duties elsewhere would give him the opportunity to work in other areas of the team more extensively. Jones said Garrett’s ability to focus more on every aspect of the team could be helpful.

“The advantages of a walk-around head coach, one that doesn’t specifically spend every day making game plans, is he can spend more time looking at the overall picture, not only on game day, but for us as we look throughout the week on a game week or we look throughout the season when we’re in the offseason right now,” Jones said. “Jason’s very involved, will be just as involved in who we draft, who we bring in in free agency.”

Jones said Garrett’s always been on board with making whatever change necessary at play-caller. Garrett also told reporters he would be comfortable and would welcome that switch, as well as the addition of Callahan in that role, though he didn’t specifically say if or when that would happen.

Jones emphasized he’s always wanted Garrett to be a head coach and play-caller, but he’s also realized there’s another way to do it. There are also various degrees of changes that could be made regarding the preparation of the game plan, implementation of the game plan and the specific duty of calling the plays.

“It’s very likely that we’ll have, with the way we’re going to be structured, some additions to the philosophy in what we’re doing offensively,” Jones said. “Even though Bill Callahan, let’s say, has been here one year, we’ll have some new things. That’s not out of plan there. That’s not out of the possibility that we would have been doing it with him remaining, technically, where he’s been in the past. We’re talking degrees more than anything the way we look at it. Rest assured, this would not be being done if our head coach Jason Garrett wasn’t absolutely all in.”

Jones said Callahan could incorporate some elements of the old Raiders’ offense he coordinated, if he becomes the play-caller. That could mean more of a West Coast style.

“If Bill Callahan has more influence, if he does, then you will see more of some of the things that have worked for him in his coaching career,” Jones said. “You expect that, and that will be a plus for us.”

Jones stressed that the direction of the team shouldn’t be misinterpreted. He said the changes are a coordinated effort and are being built upon, and Garrett’s a focal part of those decisions. He said the changes shouldn’t be seen as a step back for Garrett, but a step forward.

He also said differences of opinion can ultimately lead to a step in a better direction. Jones thought the Cowboys would be in a different position right now after a couple seasons with Garrett at the helm, but the owner said Garrett’s put things in place that the team can build off of. He said the team is keeping the good parts and moving on to improve the other parts, one of which appears to be at play-calling.

“If we make a change there, it will be more of a concession on my part to go forward with a different procedure as to how we put the offense out there,” Jones said. “After two and a half seasons with Jason as head coach, we need to do some things differently. We are not, and I know our fans are not, but I’m not, Jason’s not, we’re not at all satisfied.”

SOURCE: Jerry Jones press conference at 2012-2013 Senior Bowl

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones press conference - The Boys Are Back blog

Jerry Jones press conference (Press HERE to watch video)

Jerry Jones speaks about play calling duty, Bill Callahan, and Jason Garrett.

SENIOR BOWL: Former USC safety T.J. McDonald recalls Monte Kiffin’s energy, dedication

MOBILE, Ala. – Former USC safety T.J. McDonald knows when Monte Kiffin’s around.

The calling card Kiffin left around his office and the football facilities at Southern California gave him away. That calling card also symbolized the countless hours he dedicated to football during his three-year tenure with the Trojans.

Former USC Safety Recalls Kiffin’s Energy, Dedication - The Boys Are Back blog

“He’s got these coffee cups in Styrofoam cups,” McDonald said. “Anywhere you go in the building, you start seeing those Styrofoam cups, you know Monte’s not far. He’s somewhere close.”

Those cups could be found all over the place at any and all times of the day. Football enveloped Kiffin’s mind, and McDonald could sense it. If Kiffin’s 13 seasons as a successful NFL defensive coordinator didn’t immediately earn a player’s respect, his passion for the game and energy he provided did the job.  

Kiffin stayed across the street from the school, walking over to his office early in the morning and leaving late at night, according to McDonald. That allowed plenty of time for the safety to enter Kiffin’s office and pick his brain about plays or schemes.

“Whatever the case may be, I could go up to that office, and he’s going to be there with the remote in his hand, sitting the same way,” McDonald said.

More than anything, McDonald enjoyed being around his defensive coordinator, even if it was just to talk about the game in general. It was easy to love him as a coach, because he could see the passion and dedication Kiffin gave to football.

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