Earlier this week I started the pointless but fun exercise of trying to predict who will be on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster. My crystal ball told me that the front office and coaches would keep 24 players on offense. The team will also carry three specialists (a punter, long snapper, and place kicker), so that leaves 26 players for newly hired defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s squad.
The big news of the offseason was the sacking of Rob Ryan and subsequent hire of Kiffin, who ushered in the return of the 4-3 defense. Kiffin is best known as the innovator of the “Tampa-two” defense, and was most recently the defensive coordinator at USC. He left So-Cal with a bad taste in his mouth after getting towel whipped in the nutsack by Oregon in a 62-51 loss.
Now at age 73, he will forgo a life of bingo dobbing and time-share vacations in lieu of leading the ‘Boys’ mediocre defense. Last year’s injury-plagued unit gave up 355 yards per game (14th most in the NFL), 25 points a game (9th), and was tied for the fewest amount of turnovers.
So what does General Monte have to work with to improve on the Big Robowski’s defense? The draft provided some depth and the team signed a couple of interesting free agents. But aside from those few players, the brass is hoping that a scheme change and fewer injuries will make all the difference.
Let’s examine the tools in Monte’s box:
Matt Johnson: Last year’s fourth round pick was hurt all season but the coaches love him. I’m predicting he’ll grab the starting job in camp.
Will Allen: The former Steeler is a very Garret-era signing: A league average player who has just as much chance to start as he does getting cut.
Barry Church: The team showed faith in him by signing him to a 4-year $3.9 million contract with a $2.5 million signing bonus, after he tore his Achilles’ tendon.
J.J. Wilcox: The third round pick has only been playing safety for one year, but he’s freakishly athletic.
Danny McCray: He’s a special teams ace but nothing special on defense.
Brandon Carr: He makes a lot of money for a guy who only made three interceptions last year. In his defense, he’s more of a physical bump and run guy and Rob Ryan didn’t use him that way.
Morris Claiborne: The front office gave up a lot to get him last year and he took his lumps. He also showed a lot of promise at times, and a year under his belt will only make him better.
Orlando Scandrick: ‘Lando neither offends nor thrills me. But he’s good enough to make this team.
B.W. Webb: The small school standout was a game-changer in college. Upon being drafted in the fourth round, he instantly became the fastest guy in the ‘Boys’ secondary. He also returns kicks. Keep an eye in this guy.
Sterling Moore: He acquitted himself well after being plucked off the Patriots’ practice squad last year. And he’s only 23.
Dustin Harris: He’s more of a kick return specialist.
Sean Lee: If he can stay healthy, he’s one of the league’s best. The Bruce-Lee combo could dominate for years to come.
Bruce Carter: See above.
Justin Durant: Another Garret-esque signing. At least Lion’s fans were sad to see him go.
Brandon Magee: If you believe the front office, they had him graded as a fourth round talent, but stayed away because of his injury history. If he stays healthy (broken record), he has the talent to start.
DeVonte Holloman: The team’s sixth rounder is a stud. He’s a converted safety with a mean streak. I really like this guy, so he’ll probably be the first cut.
Alex Albright: He played well filling in for Bruce-Lee last year. And he has the added bonus of having played defensive end in college. Garret loves versatility.
Defensive Ends (4):
DeMarcus Ware: He’s still a great player, but not the force of nature he used to be.
Anthony Spencer: Was last year a fluke? Probably.
Kyle Wilbur: The converted LB has a chance to play with his hand on the ground, which is all he’s really good at.
Ben Bass: Don’t roll your eyes at Bass, he turned a lot of heads at training camp last year before, yep, he got hurt.
Defensive Tackles (5)
Jay Ratliff: The man is a China doll, but he’s one of the best in the business when healthy.
Jason Hatcher: It’s a contract year for the former third round pick.
Tyrone Crawford: It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the switch from the 3-4. He’s built for being a 3-4 end.
Sean Lissemore: Another of last year’s walking wounded was signed to an extension and then immediately broke down.
Brian Price: The one-time second round pick of the Bucs is coming back from a career-threatening pelvic injury he suffered a few years ago. If he pans out, this could be the signing of the year in the NFL. The former UCLA Bruin dominated in college and he’s the perfect fit for Kiffin’s D.
So there you have it. Just for giggles, I’m predicting that this defense stays healthy and improves dramatically. They’ll go from awful to the upper tier of mediocre.
The Cowboys will go 9-7, using a lot of their young players. They’ll be a fringe playoff team that could be dangerous if a few things break right.
Don’t expect a Lombardi trophy this season, but this roster is turning over quickly.
Yes, Romo is gonna Romo, and Jerry is gonna Jerry. That being said, this promises to be a fun year of watching a very athletic team.