Top 10 Stories to Watch at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp: No. 4 The Coaches
By Matthew Postins
RattleandHumSports.com gets you read for Dallas Cowboys Training Camp with a look at the Top 10 stories to watch the next few weeks.
Coaching stories to follow
Coaching is always a hot topic with the Dallas Cowboys, especially in a year in which most of the coaches on the staff are entering the final year of their respective contracts. Every coach is on the bubble every year, but in 2014 the success of the Cowboys’ coaching staff is more vital than ever, as owner and general manager could make moves after the season with little to no financial repercussions. Here are the five coaches that have the most to gain — and to lose — this season.
Jason Garrett. Well, this goes without saying. He’s the head coach. Ultimately, he pays the price if the team doesn’t perform. But this season Garrett, one could argue, has been given a little more rope to set his own course. First, Jones hired Scott Linehan to be the team’s new play-caller. Linehan and Garrett had a coaching relationship during Garrett’s time in Miami. Second, Jones spent another first-round pick on an offensive lineman, this time Notre Dame’s Zack Martin. On one level it was to provide added protection for quarterback Tony Romo. On another it allowed the Cowboys to further burnish an identity based on powerful offensive line play, which was much the same identity that the Cowboys had when Garrett was a backup quarterback in the 1990s. Now, Garrett isn’t making all the decisions, of course. But if he gets fired after this season you can bet many will reference that Garrett controlled his own destiny more this season than in any other.
Scott Linehan. Linehan has less to lose than Garrett. There is always a market for offensive coordinators and Linehan took the Cowboys job after running Detroit’s offense the past few years. There are two upsides here. First, as already mentioned, is Linehan’s tighter relationship with Garrett than last year’s play-caller, Bill Callahan. Linehan and Garrett, theoretically, should be on the same page more often. Second Linehan is used to working with explosive offenses. In Detroit last year he had quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Reggie Bush, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. So he should be able to manage ball distribution to players like running back DeMarco Murray, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, and tight end Jason Witten.
Rod Marinelli. Last year as defensive line coach Marinelli managed to get solid seasons out of some players that were considered damaged goods by other teams — Nick Hayden, George Selvie and Jarius Wynn, to name a few. But the defense as a whole was one of the worst in NFL history and it prompted Jones to elevate Marinelli to defensive coordinator, replacing his mentor Monte Kiffin, who is still on staff. Marinelli’s task this season, if it’s possible, is more daunting. He has to fix the entire defense and he has to do it without the top three defenders of a year ago — end DeMarcus Ware, now in Denver; tackle Jason Hatcher, now in Washington; and linebacker Sean Lee, who is done for the season after an injury. Most of the focus this offseason has been on the defensive line, in part because line play is key to the success of the Cover 2. Marinelli has to build on the one thing the Cowboys did improve on last year — creating turnovers — and improve how the Cowboys defend the run and the pass. Marinelli’s version of the Cover 2 is more aggressive, especially up front, and that means, potentially, less margin for error.
Michael Pope. Wanna talk credentials? Pope has them. A longtime New York Giants tight ends coach, Pope worked for both Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin and owns one more Super Bowl ring than Jones. He’s mentored players like Mark Bavaro, Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard. This guy clearly knows how to coach the position. Now, Witten isn’t in need of much coaching at this point in his career. But the Cowboys’ second-round pick of a year ago, Gavin Escobar, could clearly benefit from Pope’s vast experience and success. Developing Escobar is an important job in this organization, as Witten has fewer years ahead of him than behind.
Jerome Henderson. Henderson has a tough job on two tracks, and both are important. First, there is Morris Claiborne, who is headed for a crossroads of his career, many believe, in 2014. The Cowboys need more out of Claiborne this year and Henderson is the position coach that must push the former first-round pick in that direction. Second, the Cowboys are desperate for either J.J. Wilcox or Jeff Heath to grow into a starting strong safety. Henderson has worked with both players all offseason in the hope that he can accelerate their development. Should Henderson squeeze progress out of both problems that will go a long way toward helping the Cowboys improve their defense in 2014.