When it came to the Cowboys defense in 2011 not much could be counted on except for allowing fourth quarter leads to disappear. There are big changes coming for the defense in 2012 as the Cowboys focused on rebuilding the secondary this off season.
The Cowboys were very aggressive in free agency this off season. Their first signing was cornerback Brandon Carr from Kansas City who will replace Terence Newman who was released. They then signed linebacker Dan Connor from Carolina and safety Brodney Pool from the Jets. Connor looks to do battle with Bruce Carter for other inside linebacker position next to Sean Lee. The Cowboys also decided to franchise Anthony Spencer, who will play the 2012 season without being offered a long term deal. In the draft they went heavy on the defensive side of the ball. In a move that surprised everyone the Cowboys traded up eight spots and grabbed cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU. They also drafted defensive end Tyrone Crawford, linebackers Kyle Wilber and Caleb McSurly to go along with safety Matt Johnson. Time will tell if any of these draft picks will work out, but excitement is high and fans can’t wait to find out.
Looking at the new Cowboys secondary, Brandon Carr and Morris Caliborne take over at the corners. Adding to the depth at cornerback is Mike Jenkins who is trying to come back after off season shoulder surgery. Word out of Cowboys camp is that Jenkins would like to be traded, but Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have made it clear that it’s not an option, at least not right now. Orlando Scandrick returns as the slot corner, but may face some competition from Jenkins once training camp starts if Jenkins is cleared by doctors to practice. The Cowboys were 23rd in passing defense in 2011 and opposing receivers seemed to have their way with the Cowboys on a weekly basis. Hopefully with all the changes to the secondary it will mean better coverage and more success.
At safety Gerard Sensabaugh comes back after signing a contract extension. At the other safety spot it looks to be a battle with Brodney Pool and Barry Church. The Cowboys are also hoping that fourth round draft pick Matt Johnson from Eastern Washington can add some excitement to the safety position and hopefully develop into a starter.
As with any defense that plays the 3-4 alignment the Cowboys are stocked with linebackers. First and foremost they have DeMarcus Ware who seems to get better and better every season. On the other side is Anthony Spencer, with Victor Butler and Alex Albright as the backups right now. Add in the newest linebacker Kyle Wilber who the Cowboys selected in the fourth round from Wake Forest and looks to contribute this season. Inside will be Sean Lee who had a breakout season in 2011 and has become the team leader. Next to him is anyone’s guess at this point. Bradie James and Keith Brookings are gone and the Cowboys are looking to see who will step up to replace them. Bruce Carter is now fully recovered from knee surgery, but can he get back to where he was in college before the injury? Dan Connor was brought in and would like nothing more than to start alongside Lee who he played with in college at Penn St. Orie Lemon adds depth as well as rookies Caleb McSurdy from Montana and Adrian Hamilton from Prairie View A&M.
Up front is where it should be interesting since there doesn’t look to be many changes compared to 2011. Jay Ratliff will be the man in the middle once again with Josh Brent backing him up. Jason Hatcher will most likely start on one end and as far as the other end it looks to be up in the air right now. Marcus Spears is still in the mix along with Sean Lissemore, Kenyon Coleman and Clifton Geathers. Add in rookie Tyrone Crawford from Boise State and the Cowboys have a lot of competition when it comes to the defensive end position.
What it comes down to is that the Cowboys secondary has been rebuilt with youth and speed as Carr and Claiborne take over. With an improved secondary hopefully that will also create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the front seven and more turnovers. The defense should benefit from a full training camp learning Rob Ryan’s defense which was not possible last year due to the lockout. The Cowboys believe they have improved the defense and have corrected the issues that hurt them in 2011. Now it’s time to move forward and see if they are right.