THE 2014 LINEBACKER BATTLE: Dallas Cowboys linebackers competing for starting spots | 2014 Dallas Cowboys roster
IRVING, Texas – A year ago at this time, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker corps seemed set in stone. With OTAs a week away and training camp on the horizon, that’s anything but the case in 2014.
THE EBERFLUS EXPERIMENTS: Defining Dallas Cowboys rookie LB Anthony Hitchens role means being tested inside and out
IRVING, Texas – Last Monday and Tuesday, Anthony Hitchens had to take final exams in sociology, earth science and sports promotion at the University of Iowa.
The first two days of the Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp have been a more difficult test.
“It’s just starting out, so of course it’s supposed to be,” the fourth-round draft pick said.
Hitchens (31) moved to inside linebacker after playing on the weak side at Iowa (pictured above), where he led the Hawkeyes in tackles his last two seasons. He now has to call the defenses, call the checks and communicate with the entire group.
BOYS BYE-WEEK BREAKDOWN: Sean Lee-less linebackers are an issue that the Texas-2 Defense must overcome
Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Breakdown
This article is part of a series. To see all related posts, click HERE. Enjoy!
Top Performer: Sean Lee
When you have a defense that has struggled like this Cowboys one has for games, it is hard to really find some bright spots in their play. You can say that Orlando Scandrick and Jason Hatcher are two players that come to mind but Sean Lee would be right there with them. Lee’s season didn’t start off as well as it needed to but after the Kansas City game, he has been consistent in the way he has played, even though there have been others around him that have not done the same. Lee leads the club in tackles, tackles for loss and interceptions which is no surprise.
What makes Lee so special, is his nose for the ball. There are very few players in this league that play with the smarts and the defensive awareness that he is able to show down after down. There were times when Sean Lee was the best defensive player on this team and that’s saying something when you also have DeMarcus Ware.
Need More From: Bruce Carter
When Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett made the decision to switch from the 3-4 scheme to 4-3, and knowing Bruce Carter’s game from his days at North Carolina and observations with the Dallas Cowboys, this switch should have been a perfect fit for him.
Carter hasn’t been as good as Lee in the way he has played, there is something just not right with what we have seen from him. Despite being 3rd on the squad in tackles, he hasn’t had those dominate performances running to the ball playing on the weak side in this defense. Now with Sean Lee out for at least two games, there will be pressure on Carter to make more plays, which he was able to do last season once Lee went down in the Carolina game. Remember what Sean Lee said about Bruce Carter when he said “There are things that Bruce can do athletically, that I only dream about.” Now is the time for Bruce Carter to step up and do those things that Sean Lee believes he can do.
Six-Game Forecast: Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Ebeflus needs to buy time
If this group is lucky, Sean Lee will only miss the Giants and Raiders contest before returning against the Bears. It appears that DeVonte Holloman is back in the mix and will work to get ready to face the Giants most likely on that strong side in place of Justin Durant, who also injured his hamstring against the Saints. Kyle Wilber who has played linebacker and defensive end during his career with the Cowboys. He will now go back to linebacker to add depth to the position along with Kyle Bosworth and Cameron Lawrence.
Without Lee in the lineup, it appears that Holloman, Sims and Carter would be the starters, unless something changes with the health of Holloman, then more adjustments would have to be made. What this group has to do, is do a better job of getting off blocks in the running game which was a huge issue against the Saints last Sunday. Since the Eagles game, these players have not been at their best when it has come to stopping the run and that has to change quickly despite their best player on the sideline for the next two weeks.
FEED THE FEVER: Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett spends nearly an hour with press
Editors comment: As you know, as Dallas Cowboys fans, we are in the offseason ‘dead zone’ period between the Super Bowl and the NFL Combine (and subsequent NFL Draft). This time of year is always a letdown for those of us with NFL (and particularly Dallas Cowboys) fever. Like you, I’m constantly in search of relevant news and information about America’s Team from leading sports authorities and trusted insiders. Today, Jason Garrett spent nearly an hour discussing a myriad of subjects regarding the evolution of the team going into the 2013-2014 season. I strongly advise you to listen to the video below. Over 50 articles (and speculation) have been published based on this press conference. As you would expect (and appreciate), there are a wide range of topics covered, including:
- Offseason coaching changes and insight
- Offensive delegation and evolution since 2010
- Advantages of returning to the 4-3 defense
- Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli defensive philosophy
- Upcoming play-calling changes and mechanics
- Anticipated turnovers and the game impact
- Fitting Dallas’ top-tier CBs into the new 4-3 scheme
- Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent legal issues
- Bill Callahan and Jimmy Robinson’s influence and role
- Ongoing collaborative relationship with Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones
Take the time to listen to the actual press conference and you’ll learn what changes are in store and what went into the decision-making process. Feed the fever!
Jason Garrett Press Conference 2-13 (Click HERE to watch video) Duration – 53:47
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media after a flurry of offseason coaching moves.
Editors note: The new coaches will have a press conference with the Dallas media on Thursday, February 14th at 11:00 am. The Boys Are Back blog will provide a post and link to that event when it becomes available.
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COACHES ROSTER: Meet the 2013-14 Dallas Cowboys coaching staff
There have been a number of changes in the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff over the offseason. Here’s an updated list of the assistant coaches and links for more detailed information on each of them. This page will be updated if any other changes are made.
DALLAS COWBOYS HEAD COACH
Jason Garrett was named the eighth head coach in Dallas Cowboys history on January 5, 2011. Garrett, who played for or worked alongside four of his predecessors, became the first former Dallas Cowboys player to become the team’s head coach.
DALLAS COWBOYS COACHING STAFF
|Offensive Coaches||Defensive Coaches||Specialty Coaches|
Asst. Head Coach/Wide Receivers
Strength and Conditioning
|To Be Determined
Tight Ends/Passing Game Coord.
Assistant Special Teams/ Kickers
Assistant Strength and Conditioning
Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
Assistant Offensive Line
Off. Quality Control/Wide Receivers
DEFENSIVE CONFIRMATION: Monte Kiffin verified switching defense to 4-3; his coaches set for new season
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.”
BACK-TO-BASICS DEFENSE: Rob Ryan’s lack of organization was his fatal flaw in Dallas
It was first from Jerry Glanville during one of those classic NFL Films moments when he uttered the phase to a referee after a call against his Oilers, “This is the NFL which stands for not for long if you keep making calls like that.” Whether you are a front office member like I was for 13 years or a coach in this league, it really can be for not for long. There are so many highs in this profession but there are also gut wrenching lows and you fully understand when you sign up for this job.
Rob Ryan was removed as defensive coordinator of this team Tuesday night by Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett in a move that was described as going in a different philosophical direction. Ryan is a proud man but this is the situation that coaches live with every day. In the case, the general manager and head coach were not happy and this was the best course of action in their minds. Was it the right move? That is up for debate because you can look at Ryan’s side for the number of starters he had to play without for the majority of the season and appalled how they managed to hold his defense together during a difficult time.
For Jones and Garrett, they can point to games where they did have a full squad of defensive players against Seattle and Chicago but were unable to win those games but I think it’s really much deeper than that. When Ryan was in line to take this job, I reached out to friends that I had with the Browns to ask them about Ryan and what he could bring to this team. The majority of the dialog was extremely positive but to a man the one area they focused on was his lack of organization and maybe this is his fatal flaw. There were reasons that Ryan always spoke how fortunate he was to have Matt Eberflus, Brian Baker and Ben Bloom to help him coach and to his credit, he was absolutely correct. They are outstanding coaches.
There is a side of me that believes that Ryan lost this job in the eyes of the general manager and head coach because there simply were times where he tried to do too much with this defense and the lack of organization got him in trouble. The scheme was more important than just lining up and playing. Every game was a track meet from the sideline to the field with Ryan trying to match personnel and I understand that is part of the game but there were times where you saw either too many men on the field or not enough. My gut tells me that the general manager and head coach want a simpler approach in how this team plays defense. It is more about how you can line up in your base front, get off blocks and tackle. It’s fundamental football and not about having seven linebackers on the field. You look at the Chicago Bears and how simple they play defense but also create turnovers. Again, the injury situation limits what Ryan can do but it’s a cleaner approach.
Looking back I will always be thankful for the opportunity to cover Ryan these last two seasons. He was always very honest to me and had time to answer questions about his dad’s “46” defense but this is a bottom line business and he even understands that. The general manager told you he wasn’t happy and no one took this seriously but I guess we will now. I will be interested to see in what direction he and Garrett go, but that is for another story.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
DEFENSIVE AFTERMATH: What ‘Philosophical Change’ means for Rob Ryan’s defensive assistants
IRVING, Texas – Trying to decipher what head coach Jason Garrett meant by going “in a different direction philosophically on defense” after Rob Ryan’s departure can be tricky.
The first way to take those comments is he might want to switch from the 3-4 scheme Ryan utilized during his short tenure in Dallas. Moving to a 4-3 might make some sense given the linebacker personnel, as well.
Jay Ratliff had been a dominant force at nose tackle, and despite not possessing the gigantic frame of most nose tackles, he managed to play the position and still create pressure. As the injuries pile on, though, a switch to a 4-3 could be helpful for him, not having to play directly on top of the center.
The likelihood of a possible switch could also depend on the team’s confidence in signing Anthony Spencer. If Spencer’s back, and IF he and DeMarcus Ware are capable of playing as pass-rushing defensive ends. If he doesn’t return, the Cowboys will have a few decisions to make about that spot opposite Ware, though that’ll be the case regardless of the scheme.
If it’s a 4-3, Sean Lee can play middle linebacker and Bruce Carter can play on the outside, while Alex Albright, Kyle Wilber or a new addition could try playing the other outside linebacker spot. If Spencer’s not back and the Cowboys still want to go 4-3, they could try Albright at end. Tyrone Crawford, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore could all get time at defensive tackle, alongside Ratliff. Clearly, more defensive tackles are needed.
This is all speculative, of course. It’s possible Garrett only meant philosophical changes regarding the members of the coaching staff.
Ryan’s already gone, and the status of the defensive position coaches remains in serious question. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson both worked with Ryan in Cleveland before coming to Dallas. The defensive coaching staff will need to re-interview with whomever the new defensive coordinator is to keep their jobs, and the position coaches will be allowed to interview for jobs with other teams in the meantime.
Odds are pretty good that the incoming defensive coordinator in Dallas would want to bring at least a few members of his own staff, so this would allow the current position coaches time to find work elsewhere with so many hiring’s and firings taking place so quickly right now around the NFL.
It’s possible Garrett referred to a complete staff overhaul and a scheme change when he made the comments about going a different philosophical direction. High profile defensive coordinators who run the 3-4 are still in the mix, as are those that run the 4-3, including veteran coach Lovie Smith.
Right now, it’s all speculative until further changes are made. But it’s clear with Ryan’s firing that a philosophical change likely means a significant overhaul going further than just the release of the defensive coordinator.
Editors comments: You could also interpret the ‘philosophical change’ to mean a change in the scheme … primarily reverting to zone coverage at inopportune moments and the subsequent third-down collapse we witnessed time after time.
Dallas does have the linebackers to allow for a 4-3 switch. However, they would need to add skilled defensive tackles to the roster. The DT’s listed above are young, up and coming players. They might have what it takes to make the switch successful, but Dallas should bring in a veteran or two to reduce the risk. Trying linebackers to fill this role won’t hold up during the long course of a game and 16 game season. Linebacker blitz packages could work, if they are supplementing an effective four-man defensive line.
Because of the salary cap, Spencer could become an expensive luxury. If he’s not re-signed, this could allow for a pass-rushing specialist to be added. Any of this can happen, if the Cowboys make the defensive coordinator hire quickly enough to put a plan in action (draft, free agency).
Lovie Smith’s ego may not allow him to take a demotion as a defensive coordinator. The NFL’s demand for defensively-minded veteran head coaches this year also makes the Smith hire unlikely. Let’s hope Jerry Jones has a man in mind that can take this roster and roll with it. There is a lot of talent that can be utilized by the right system.
FLASHBACK 2011: Dallas Cowboys can’t afford another repeat of McCoy’s historic performance
IRVING, Texas – It has been about 51 weeks, but the Cowboys haven’t forgotten.
Sure, so much has happened to this football since then and most of it hasn’t been memorable. And without a doubt, the Cowboys’ last visit to Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t a fun time, mainly because of one LeSean McCoy.
The Cowboys were trounced that night in Philly, 34-7, and McCoy was the biggest reason. He was also the fastest, the quickest, most elusive and most dominating.
While the Eagles aren’t exactly playing at a high level this season – entering the game with the same 3-5 record as the Cowboys – let’s not forget about 2011. The Eagles weren’t exactly setting the world on fire when these two teams met in Philly last year. In fact, they were a dismal 2-4 when the Cowboys showed up. But, the Eagles made it pretty clear they were going to get McCoy involved.
It turned out to be a good plan, considering McCoy totaled 200 all-purpose yards, including 185 on the ground, the sixth-highest single-game total in Eagles history.
In the rematch at Cowboys Stadium on Christmas Eve – a game that turned out to be one of the more meaningless regular-season matchups ever, McCoy rushed for just 30 yards on 13 carries as the Eagles won 20-7.
This year, McCoy ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing with 623 yards, but has only two touchdowns. He’s also dangerous out of the backfield with 30 catches for 148 yards and three scores.
“I think he’s outstanding,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “He has such great lateral quickness, such great elusiveness, speed, ability to get to the edge, ability to break tackles. He just makes so many great runs over and over again. It will be a challenge for us to corral him, get a lot of people around the ball and tackle him to the ground. That’s what we need to do.”
Seems to be harder than it sounds.
“You have to stop ‘Shady’ McCoy,” defensive end Jason Hatcher said. “He’s one of the top five backs in the league. He’s slippery. He cuts and plays like Barry Sanders. He’ll cut it all the way across the field to get yards.”
Linebacker Bruce Carter, who is coming off a 10-tackle game against the Falcons last week, said his experience on special teams might come in handy when facing a guy like McCoy, who is not afraid to change directions, especially in the open field.
“We just have to be disciplined, especially with our ends and outside linebackers,” Carter said. “You have to set the edge. He’s always got a counter move where he can cut it back. He can go the distance the other way. What (linebackers coach Matt Eberflus) told us, every play is like a kickoff return. You just never know.”
The Cowboys need Carter to be effective inside, especially with the injury situation at the other linebacker spot. Sean Lee is out for the season after undergoing toe surgery two weeks ago. His immediate replacement, Dan Connor, missed last week’s game with a stinger and hasn’t practiced in full this week. Second-year pro Orie Lemon suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on injured reserve.
The Cowboys have signed veterans Ernie Sims and Gary Guyton off the street the last two weeks.
HAPPY TRAILS COWBOY: Jason Garrett describes difficulties of player cuts
Months of practices and four preseason games all culminate in one final cut day, which 22 Cowboys players won’t survive.
That time is 8:00 p.m. Aug. 31, and it’s a day that head coach Jason Garrett called one of the worst for a player or a coach in the NFL.
“I think what makes it difficult is the work that they put in,” Garrett said. “Most of our coaches and administrators are former players. They understand the commitment these guys have made. Anybody who’s been around our football team for the last month or so has seen the commitment these guys have made.”
Garrett, the offensive or defensive coordinator and a position coach all talk to the released player and try to explain why the decision was made, provide them constructive coaching and thank them for their effort. Afterward, their time as a Cowboy is finished.
Dallas has been plagued with injuries throughout the preseason, which could force them to go deep at some positions and light at others. Garrett said it’s not always the 53 best players, but the 53 players who give the Cowboys the best chance to win. No official announcement on the final roster will be made until Friday.
Garrett said the draft picks will get every opportunity possible to show the reason they were selected, but there are other players worthy of a chance. The Cowboys have a history of turning undrafted free agents into top talents, including Eastern Illinois’ Tony Romo and Monmouth’s Miles Austin.
“If you have an attitude that it doesn’t matter where players come from, it matters what they do when they get here, I think you’re more able to find some of those guys,” Garrett said. “That’s been our approach. We preached that to our players from Day 1.”
Garrett said it warms his heart to think about the commitment the Cowboys players made in the offseason to fulfill their dreams.
“We have a lot of discussions about who we should keep, what we should do with different players, what role he might have and might not have, so those are difficult discussions,” Garrett said. “What makes it hard is, in a lot of ways, many of these guys’ dreams have come to an end or have changed.”