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2014 Is A Clean Slate For The Cowboys Defense

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The Cowboys defense can, in part, erase last year's performance with a great training camp. Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images.
The Cowboys defense can, in part, erase last year's performance with a great training camp. Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images.

Is there an unforeseen force out there that can save the Dallas Cowboys defense from another awful season in 2014?

The Cowboys quest to achieve a new defensive identity and rotation has cost them an outdated coach, a franchise legend and a top playmaker. Subsequent logic says the defense will be even worse than last year’s, but stats say that is nearly impossible probability-wise. Emerging from those changes and benchmarks, however, is one truth – 2014 is a perfect year for a clean-slate approach on defense.

I mean, who doesn’t appreciate and get motivated by the prospect of a fresh start?

The biggest quality of this year’s defense that plays into that notion is youth. Whether you believe injuries were a major or minor factor in the worst defensive season in franchise history, they obviously played some role. Using 20 defensive linemen over 16 games and seeing starting defensive backs and linebackers battle recurring injuries ensured, at the very least, that the chemistry would be limited all season. Execution is another story entirely, but the point is that last year’s core rotation never had a big window in which to gel and improve that execution.

Ok, so being young doesn’t necessarily equate to staying healthy. Any player can incur a mild to severe injury on any moment of any play. But it does generally correlate to faster recovery times. And more importantly, it enables a team in serious need of a makeover – like Dallas – to start right away. There’s no prior scheme to unlearn for most of the Cowboy starters and backups – they’ve either been in the Dallas system or no NFL system at all. And if you believe that passing on a safety in the first round was a good call, then you have to be very happy with the positions the team addressed with its defensive picks. In other words, the preliminary work of the rebuilding process is all but finished

Training camp is going to be so vital this year. The progress of DE Demarcus Lawrence will and should be ruthlessly monitored – he needs to be ready to start come September. While LB Anthony Hitchens is reportedly transitioning to middle linebacker to compete with Justin Durant, he’s certain to be a rotation player whose progression is equally newsworthy. Simulating real-time speed of play in camp is less justifiable after Sean Lee’s injury, but it’s crucial for the rookies’ development.

Still, at that level and at the positions of edge rusher and inside linebacker, you’d think their game is based as much on pure reaction as anything else. To beat the speed, they have to know the speed. Youth can help with that as well.

The Cowboys were at least smart enough to hand Rod Marinelli the job four months before the draft. Hopefully, they were also wise enough to listen ardently to his input. But who knows?

Let’s not forget that the NFC East surprises us every year, that Marinelli is one of the best around, that history favors the likelihood of a better season and that the offense looks nasty. A new-chapter mentality within a young, eager group of players and veteran coordinator could translate into a surprise performance that contributes to, say, a 9-7 record.

Don’t bet on it if you’re a fan. But don’t write it off, either.