The Dallas Cowboys’ move back to the 4-3 defense is music to Leon Lett’s ears. He’s going to get a chance to teach what he knows.
“In a 3-4 you did more of a read-and-react. This is more of a react-on-the-run – rush the quarterback and then react to the run on the way to the quarterback,” he said last week as the Cowboys’ assistant coaches met with reporters. “Kind of the same thing I did as a football player, so I’m kind of used to it, and I’m looking forward to teaching it and coaching it.”
Lett collected 22.5 sacks and 229 tackles in a 10-year career with the Cowboys, twice making the Pro Bowl. He played at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds.
“I think we have players all across the board that have the instinct for that defense,” Lett said. “DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore – I think all our guys can adapt and play this 4-3 scheme. They’re fast, they’re quick, they’re big, they’re athletic, and that’s what you need.”
Lett was retained as assistant defensive line coach, and he’ll get a chance to work with respected NFL veteran Rod Marinelli, who is now in charge of the Cowboys’ defensive line.
“We just have to get them to adjust to a different technique,” Lett said. “In a 3-4 scheme, you were a little bit more two-gap, head-up. We’re going to get them to shade on the shoulder and penetrate and get up field. So I’ve been talking to Coach Marinelli about that, and we’re looking forward to retraining the guys in that scheme.”
Lett said it was the focus on penetrating into the backfield that made the position fun for him when he played.
“Some guys just love to play the 3-4, head up, but the 4-3 is more about a penetrating, we-get-to-eat-first type of deal. That’s what we’re calling it. We’re at the front of the food chain.”
Jason Garrett might give up play-calling duties to Bill Callahan. Then, again, maybe he won’t. Both Garrett and Callahan spoke to the media this week, but it remains a mystery about who will actually call the plays for the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas tight end Jason Witten said it’s not about who calls the plays, but how they are executed. The Cowboys were sixth in total offense last season, but they were only 15th in scoring.
“I think more’s been made of that than probably needs to be as far as a player’s perspective just because it’s all about execution for us,” Witten said Friday night in Fort Worth. “We’ve got to execute those plans better. We’ve got good plays, and we’ve got some good players, but we’ve got to do a good enough job of executing time and time again. That’s where I focus is on as players, I think, and that’s where it needs to be moving forward.”
The Cowboys offense is expected to look much the same as it has since Garrett became the offensive coordinator in 2007 regardless whether he or Callahan is calling the plays.
The Cowboys hope to run the ball better. They were 31st in rushing, with a franchise-low 1,265 yards for a 16-game season. They need to protect it better, too, having turned it over 29 times, and they want to score more points in the red zone (25 touchdowns in 49 red-zone trips, ranking 20th in the league).
“We just need to do a better job of scoring and taking care of the ball collectively and not putting ourselves in those situations where we’re having to come from behind,” Witten said.
Witten will have a new position coach after six seasons with John Garrett. Witten had 554 catches for 6,110 yards and 30 touchdowns the past six seasons, an average of 92 receptions for 1,018 yards and five touchdowns. He set an NFL record for a tight end with 110 catches in 2012.
But John Garrett departed for Tampa Bay to become the Bucs receivers coach, and Wes Phillips was promoted from assistant offensive line coach. Phillips is the son of former Dallas head coach Wade Phillips and was retained by the Cowboys after Wade Phillips was fired.
“I am excited for Wes,” Witten said. “I think Wes breaks that label of ‘I got in because of my dad.’ He’s proven he’s a good football coach. He’s a young, fiery guy. John was a guy was near and dear to me. I think what we were able to accomplish over the last six years is special. He pushed me every day, and as good as he was as a coach, he was a better man. But Wes has been in the receiving end. He’s also been on the line. I think he’ll be a perfect mix. I’ve enjoyed working with him. I think we share a lot of the same beliefs as far as how you prepare and attack a game plan. So I’m looking forward to that opportunity.”
The Dallas Cowboys have hitched their wagon to Tony Romo. Owner Jerry Jones has made that abundantly clear.
Romo, however, will be 33 years old in April and is in the latter half of his career. That fact brings a sense of urgency to Dallas to win sooner than later. It also forces the team to think about the future.
“You would like to have a young guy to try to bring along, certainly,” quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson told ESPN Dallas/Fort Worth’s Calvin Watkins.
The Cowboys last selected a quarterback in the 2009 draft when they took Stephen McGee in the fourth round. Isaiah Steinback was a fourth-round pick in 2007. Those are the only two quarterbacks drafted since Romo joined the team in 2003. McGee is gone.Kyle Orton is the No. 2, but he isn’t in the long-term picture. Nick Stephens is a practice-squad player and isn’t in the mix either.
The early talk of the 2013 draft is how it offers a weak quarterback class. We’ll see how that plays out, but there aren’t many high-end prospects worth the risk of an early pick. But a middle-round quarterback could certainly develop in the time it takes Romo to play out the extension he’ll get soon.
By comparison, the Packers drafted five quarterbacks between 2002 to 2008 when Brett Favre had entered the latter stage of his career. Craig Nall, Ingle Martin and Brian Brohm didn’t pan out. Matt Flynn didn’t play much, but he earned a big free-agent deal from Seattle. They hit on Aaron Rodgers.
Tom Brady is example No. 1 of how a late-round pick can mature. The time to search for those guys isn’t when you’re desperate for a quarterback; it’s when you’re secure in the position.