The Dallas Cowboys’ offseason is essentially over, with only a rookie developmental program remaining before players report to training camp in July. After a truncated offseason in Mike McCarthy’s first season, things returned to mostly normal for his second campaign.
McCarthy and his staff never had a chance to fully implement everything cleanly last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. With so much turnover on the staff, an already rough transition was compounded by a lack of in-person tutoring as the whole world went virtual.
A new year brings new hope. This offseason has gone much smoother, which even allowed McCarthy to cancel the final minicamp practice before the giving the team off until training camp. As it’s a wrap on the organized team practices, let’s look at where the Cowboys stand now, as opposed to where they were when they ended a disappointing 2020 season. Here’s a look at what has changed.
It took just one season for the Cowboys to know Mike Nolan wasn’t the answer for the defense. Hiring Dan Quinn as DC is the biggest change in the Cowboys from last season to now. Quinn brings with him a track record of success but he has inherited a unit which was one of the worst in team history. Things have gotten off to a positive start under Quinn, where players seem to like his hands-on approach and communication skills. https://twitter.com/JoriEpstein/status/1402336027302412289?s=20 Talk is cheap of course and we’ll see just how much of a difference Quinn can make. If he marginally improves the Dallas defense in 2021, it will go a long way to getting the Cowboys back to the playoffs.
Commitment to rebuilding the defensive line
The Cowboys were doormats against the run last season, giving up almost 160 yards a game on the ground. That was next to last in the league and something had to be done. Dallas needed to finally address their lack of size and skill on the interior of the defensive line. Adding one of the best stoppers in the league, Brent Urban, was a great start. The Cowboys backed that move up by selecting run-stuffing DT Quinton Bohanna in the sixth round out of Kentucky. https://twitter.com/PFF_Cowboys/status/1388585158966595584?s=20 The team took last year’s porous results seriously and addressed a major issue. Using resources on space eating, run-stopping defensive linemen is a big change for the Cowboys.
Adding speed and athleticism to the defense
The Cowboys lacked both traits, especially at linebacker, so the team went out and drafted some of the fastest athletes available. Both first and second-round selections Micah Parsons and Kelvin Joseph recorded sub 4.4 40-yard dashes at their pro days and have great athleticism for their respective positions. Speed was something McCarthy was looking for when the draft arrived, and he got it with Dallas’ top two selections. Meanwhile, fourth-round pick Jabril Cox has the movement ability to play an important role for the team. The Cowboys needed an athletic LB to cover the freaks of opposing offenses and Cox will fill that void.
The early results from 2020 weren’t great and that was before the Cowboys lost quarterback Dak Prescott for the season in Week 5. The team was hit hard by the injury bug long before Prescott went down, and it started early in the campaign. Dallas lost their starting bookend offensive tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, for 30 of 32 games. Collins never suited up and Smith was lost after Week 2. In addition, the Cowboys saw their starting center Joe Looney and all-world RG Zack Martin both miss time. The offense also lost starting TE Blake Jarwin to an ACL tear in Week 1. On defense, Leighton Vander Esch missed four games because of a broken collarbone in the season-opening loss and then missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Veteran Sean Lee wasn’t available at the beginning of the year and second-year DT Trysten Hill played in just five games as well. In the secondary, almost everyone the team counted on missed time. Cornerback Anthony Brown missed six games, Chidobe Awuzie missed eight, Jourdan Lewis missed one, and perhaps the most productive CB, rookie Trevon Diggs, missed four with a foot injury. At safety, second-year pro Donovan Wilson missed two games because of groin injury and Xavier Woods missed a game as well. Off his horrific injury, Prescott should be ready to go when training camp opens and his OTs are reportedly in great shape for the season to help their QB lead the team. https://twitter.com/GehlkenNFL/status/1397970963321524226?s=20 Jarwin is also on target to return when the regular season begins. No one can predict injuries, but if the Cowboys have some better luck in that department, it should be a drastically different year. We’ll find out if these changes make for a better season, but the Cowboys did not stand pat. They set out to change their fortunes in 2021 and the hope is all the adjustments pay off. You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi