Coach Bill Parcells was dejected and disillusioned after following up a 10-6 playoff season in 2003 with last season's 6-10 backslide.
Parcells simply took his anger out on the organization. He orchestrated wholesale changes on coaching staff, the scouting department, the roster and the Cowboys' defensive scheme in hopes making the Cowboys winners again.
The Cowboys spent $30 million in signing bonuses alone to acquire four starters in free agency, quarterback Drew Bledsoe, cornerback Anthony Henry, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson and guard Marco Rivera. Parcells used six of his eight draft picks in defense, led by first round picks linebacker Demarcus Ware and defensive end Marcus Spears, to help with the transition from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4.
The Cowboys are better, but they still have concerns heading into training camp. Here are three training camp goals:
1. Master the 3-4.
Conventional wisdom says the Cowboys will be better next year in the 3-4 than they are this year. Most of the players counted on to make the defense good are young rookies, like defensive end Marcus Spears and linebacker Demarcus Ware. Not to mention that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is in his first year running the scheme.
Another obstacle is the fact that this new scheme does not fit the skills of the two best linemen in last year's defense, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover and defensive end Greg Ellis. And neither is happy with his prospective new and diminished roles. Glover, a four-time Pro Bowler, will back up Jason Ferguson at nose guard. And Ellis, an undersized 3-4 end at 270, will see his snaps reduced considerably. Coach Bill Parcells must convince both that the new scheme is best for the team in short term and best for them in the long term. Yet, the Cowboys do not have the luxury of patience in getting all this together. They need to play well this year, as next year is not promised for the current regime.
Finding a comfort zone in the new scheme is the major focus of training camp.
2. Find a safety.
The Cowboys filled a number of holes on defense during the offseason, but one area they did not go to great lengths to shore up was at free safety, where they are looking for a replacement for the retired Darren Woodson.
Free agent signee Izell Reese will battle inexperienced holdovers Lynn Scott and Keith Davis for the job to start opposite strong safety Roy Williams. Reese is the favorite because of his experience, however he would be a stop gap answer at best. Reese, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Cowboys before signing with the Broncos, spent the last two years in Buffalo. Reese has 33 starts the past three years. However, he is not a guy that makes a lot plays of plays either with just eight career interceptions. His biggest benefit in Dallas is the experience that Davis and Scott lack.
Scott is a career backup at best. Davis is the wild card. He is a special teams demon who has a knack for being around the ball. Parcells hesitates to use him in the regular defense because he doesn't want to diminish his value on special teams. However, if Davis is the best safety, he will play. The Cowboys have free agent safety Damien Robinson on hold just in case no one emerges.
3. Find a right tackle.
The big hole on offense remains at right tackle, where the inexperienced mix of Torrin Tucker, Kurt Vollers, Rob Pettiti, Jacob Rogers and Ben Noll are battling for the job. The Cowboys are not high on either guy. Tucker started much of last season, but his struggles forced them to turn to Vollers late in the season. The Cowboys see Vollers as nothing more than a backup. Rogers was drafted last season to take over at right tackle, but was so disappointing that he never even got on the field. The rookie Pettiti has potential but he is still a rookie late round draft pick and Noll is a converted guard.
The situation is such a concern that the Cowboys are considering moving Pro Bowl left guard Larry Allen to right tackle. They are comfortable with their options at guard in place of Allen and would look at the move as an effort to get their five best offensive linemen on the field. Noll, who played well at guard last season, could figure into the mix for the vacated Allen as would Stephen Peterman, Tyson Walter and Andre Gurode.
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