The Wulf Den: Offseason Report Now that the offseason is fully underway around the league, I wanted to take a look at the happenings around Valley Ranch and the rest of the league. Specifically, there has been a whole lot of talk about the decisions that have been made by the Cowboys in regards to the coaching staff and personnel, as well as a growing energy as we prepare for the upcoming scouting combine. So let’s look at what has been done thus far, where the Cowboys stand at the moment, and what remains to be done. Coaching Staff For starters, I’m not going to get dragged into the argument about who fired who and who hired who, the unfounded speculation about Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones undermining Head Coach Jason Garrett, the rampant and ridiculous conspiracy theories that have surrounded the offseason thus far in regards to Garrett’s future with the team, or the asinine quibbling about who is actually going to be radioing in the offensive plays to Tony Romo next year. These topics have saturated the market despite having very little in the way of fact to support them, and point more to the need for sports writers to have something sensational to say and the gullibility or ignorance of the fans who listen to them than they do to anything remotely resembling the truth. Anyone who was listening to the press conference and interviews with a knowledgeable ear and an open mind heard all of these issues addressed clearly and to the point. Those who refuse to hear what they didn’t already want to believe aren’t going to be convinced no matter who says what. End of discussion. The changes that were made to the coaching staff were very significant, especially with the change to a 4-3 defense. Defensive Coordinator: The change from Rob Ryan and his version of the 3-4 defense over to Monte Kiffen and his patented Tampa 2 style of 4-3 is huge. And if the Cowboys saw the need to make that switch, they could not have picked anyone better than Kiffen. He’s one of the great defensive minds in recent history, and his passion is channeled not into sound bites for the cameras like his predecessor, but rather to “coaching up” his players with an understanding that if they don’t approach it the same way, they won’t be around long. Defensive Line Coach: The Cowboys pulled off a real coup by getting Marinelli to re-join Kiffen as the Defensive Line Coach. These guys work so well together, and have known one another for so long, that they can practically finish each other’s sentences. While coming across as a very amiable and soft-spoken guy, the word around the league from those who have played for him is that he is as intense as anyone they’ve ever seen, and pushes his players to have that same intensity. If that translates to the field, we might see solid, consistent pressure from the defensive front for the first time in years. Special Teams Coordinator: The tenure of Joe DeCamillis as the Special Teams Coordinator came to an end with his departure to Chicago, and as much as I like him personally, I have to say that I’m not upset to see him go. His special teams units simply weren’t special, and his comments about the 4-3 defensive scheme used in Chicago likely giving him better special teams players sounds more like an excuse than a legitimate reason—especially considering the Cowboys were switching to a 4-3 defense themselves. Rich Bissacia takes over, bringing 30 years of coaching experience including 11 seasons as an NFL Special Teams Coordinator. He is known as a fiery, passionate guy, and is expected to energize the special teams units. Wide Receivers Coach: With Jimmy Robinson moving into a different capacity with the organization and away from the day-to-day coaching, former Tennessee Head Coach Derek Dooley was hired to take over the duties of Wide Receivers Coach. While most of his experience has been at the collegiate level, he did coach Wide Receivers for the Miami Dolphins under Head Coach Nick Saban, and alongside then-QB Coach Jason Garrett. He should bring a fresh voice into the meeting room, as well as an approach that Garrett obviously appreciates. Tight Ends Coach: When John Garrett decided to pursue the opportunity to serve as the Wide Receivers Coach in Tampa Bay, the Cowboys decided to let him go to try to further his own career. In his place, former Assistant Offensive Line Coach Wes Phillips was promoted. Phillips has been around in a couple of different capacities with the Cowboys over recent years, and it appears universal with the coaching staff that his hard work and contributions to the team during that time made him more than deserving of the promotion. Running Backs Coach: Skip Peete was the first coach to be fired following the season, and considering the quality of the running game last year, that’s not a big surprise. Of course, not all of that was on the RBs, but I think a change was definitely needed. Ironically enough, the first position opened was the last filled, with Gary Brown taking over the job. Brown not only played in the league, but has coached on various levels including most recently as the Running Backs Coach with the Cleveland Browns. In that capacity, he not only worked with Lawrence Vickers, but helped Peyton Hillis and Jerome Harrison have successful seasons as lead backs despite their relative lack of success in other places. Assistant Offensive Line Coach: With Wes Phillips being promoted to Tight Ends Coach, the Cowboys went to a Bill Callahan connection and brought in Frank Pollack, who played for Bill Callahan at Northern Arizona. Pollack comes to the Cowboys after one year with the Oakland Raiders, and with an additional 5 years of experience in the same role with the Houston Texans. With the current state of the offensive line in Dallas, both Pollack and Callahan have their work cut out for them. Regardless of who you believe was making the decisions at Valley Ranch in regards to these coaching decisions, you should at least be able to admit that these were some very good hires. The level of experience and success is excellent, and there is a nice mix of young rising coaches with older, more grizzled ones. I think it also important to point out that the Cowboys retained some young dynamic coaches in Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus and Secondary Coach Jerome Henderson. I will also be interested to see how Assistant Defensive Line Coach Leon Lett will be able to contribute on a different level now that he’ll be coaching a similar style that he used as a player. The Roster QB – Tony Romo will get a contract extension sooner rather than later as the Cowboys need cap relief prior to the start of the new league year. Despite his critics, Romo is one of the primary reasons that the Cowboys were even able to finish the season at .500, and shows no signs of fading. I expect the deal to extend his contract another 4-5 years. Back-up Kyle Orton is under contract for two more years, so I see little need for another arm other than as a camp body. Having said that, pay attention to QB Tyler Bray during his workouts. Dooley coached him at Tennessee, and may have some inside knowledge about his ability. There's no way I see them using an early pick on him, but if he starts sliding, it could get interesting. RB/FB – DeMarco Murray is the starter, and there’s little doubt that Lance Dunbar is going to have a role of some kind next year. After that, it’s up in the air. Free agent Felix Jones won’t be back, and there are too many questions about Phillip Tanner after he didn’t take a step forward last season. The Cowboys could choose to find a relatively inexpensive option in free agency, such as Peyton Hillis, who played for Dallas’ new RB Coach in Cleveland, and would be following the same lead blocker in Vickers. I won’t be surprised, though, if the Cowboys do in this draft what they did when they picked Marion Barber and DeMarco Murray, and target a RB in the 3rd or 4th round. Stepfan Taylor from Stanford or Jonathan Franklin from UCLA are possible targets in that area. TE – Witten simply had the best year receiving of his career…or of any other TE, for that matter. He’s simply the best in the business. James Hanna came on towards the end of the season, and will have every opportunity to take over the #2 TE job. The Cowboys will want to bring in another TE, though, especially one that can block effectively. Andre Smith and Colin Cochart are on the roster, but I’m not sure either is the answer. Someone like Michael Williams of Alabama in the 5th round would be a solid choice. WR – Unlike last season, we enter this offseason knowing who the #3 receiver is. Whether he’s designated that way or not, Dwayne Harris earned the job, and it was obvious by the end of the season. Dez had an excellent season, and even Austin’s season wasn’t as bad as many thought initially. They also have some young guys who should be able to contribute going forward in Cole Beasley, who showed some playmaking ability last year, and Danny Coale, who was effectively red-shirted this season. Add in a young veteran speedster like Anthony Armstrong, and I can’t see the Cowboys taking a receiver in the draft or free agency, and likely will fill out the numbers they need at the position with undrafted rookies. OL – Everyone expects Doug Free to be canned and designated as a June 1st cut for salary cap relief. And if that happens, I won’t be surprised. By the same token, though, it won’t surprise me if they restructure his contract, significantly lowering the non-guaranteed portion of the deal and pushing the bulk of it into the future, and then letting him compete for the starting RT job with Jermey Parnell. Not saying it’s what I’d do, mind you…but it wouldn’t surprise me. If they decide to release him, they’re going to have to get an OT either in the draft or in free agency. On the inside, whether or not they tender Costa as a restricted free agent may come down to the health of his back. If it’s something that is going to be an ongoing concern, I can see them letting him walk. Other than that, they almost have to take a young guard or center in the draft. Bernadeau could potentially be a replacement for Costa if he’s allowed to leave, and Ryan Cook is a solid back-up at both interior positions. But they need some young blood there, and I can’t see them depending on David Arkin or Ronald Leary to step up and get that done without hedging their bets. I’ll be shocked if they take a guard in the first round unless Chance Warmack somehow falls to them at #18. A more likely choice would be someone like Barrett Jones or Larry Warford in the second round. DL – The biggest question here is whether or not Anthony Spencer will be retained. If he is, then the Cowboys don’t have to get anyone in order to line up and play next year. Now that’s not to say that they wouldn’t love to add a pass-rusher like Ziggy Ansah or an interior force like Sheldon Richardson to the mix…but they wouldn’t be forced to do so. If Spencer isn’t re-signed, they almost have to go get someone who can start opposite Ware at DE, and that would likely be a high draft pick. Unlike many people, I don’t believe Ratliff will be released despite his bone-headed actions. Instead, I think they’ll restructure his contract to help with salary cap relief. One roster question will be Marcus Spears. He’s bulked up for the 3-4, and has been predominantly a run-stopper in his career. If he can’t play the 1-technique DT position, he may not have a place on the roster. It wouldn’t be huge cap savings, but every little bit helps when you’re $20 mil over. LB – To me, the biggest question here is depth. And if they decide to play Alex Albright as a DE instead of the SAM linebacker, the depth gets even thinner. Lee and Carter will start, and going in I’d expect Albright and Wilber to compete for the starting SAM spot. But who will back-up Lee and Carter? Dan Connor is still on the roster, but he could easily be a cap casualty. That would leave Caleb McSurdy, who spent his rookie season on IR, and Orie Lemon, who got some time and played fairly well before ending up on IR as well, as your only returning back-ups. They could help this situation out by re-signing Ernie Sims, who I thought played very well last year. But if Albright doesn’t stay at the SAM, they may have to bring in someone besides Sims as well either in free agency or the draft. DB – Whether you like him as a player or not, the Cowboys missed Orlando Scandrick when he went out for the season. And they missed Barry Church even more. With Scandrick’s return, the starters being set with Carr and Caliborne, and a youngster in Sterling Moore stepping in and playing fairly well, the Cowboys don’t have to make a move at CB. Having said that, I won’t be surprised if they use a mid-round pick on a developmental corner. As for safety, a lot will depend on how well Church is able to recover from his Achilles injury. They’ll also be getting Matt Johnson back, another rookie who essentially red-shirted last season. But there’s a lot of questions there, and Danny McCray showed that, as a starting safety, he’s a great special teams player. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys take Kenny Vaccaro with the 18th pick if he falls that far. I’d love to see Kiffen call Ronde Barber and convince him to sign with the Cowboys for a year to provide veteran leadership and experience in the system, but it’s a pipe dream. ST – The biggest need here is to re-sign L. P. Ladouceur. The guy is just automatic, and I don’t care if he costs a little more than some unproven youngster. Bailey and Jones will be your starters again, and the continuity they’ll have with the retention of Kicking Coach Chris Boniol will only help them. The Rest of the Story As we head to the Combine, be wary. There are always players that show up and explode onto the scene with their physical prowess. But for every guy who turns out the way J.P.P. did for the Giants after doing all of those back flips--or even the speed that rookie DT Dontari Poe put on last year before having a decent season in Kansas City--there are dozens who show blazing speed or explosiveness and get elevated on draft boards only to bust because it doesn't translate to the field. The answer: don’t buy the hype. All of these guys have been in training since the end of the season to be able to impress at the Combine, and many will put up their personal bests there. But if you want to know what you’ll get if you use a pick on them, pay more attention to what comes out of the team interviews and their game film. If you do, you’re going to be in a better position to rate players accurately come draft time. Cheers!