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August 13, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive back Barry Church (42) stands on the sideline during a break in the action against the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter at O.Co Coliseum. The Cowboys defeated the Raiders 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Dallas Cowboys Defensive Preview Part 2: Linebackers and Defensive Backs

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) and cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) tackle New Orleans Saints receiver Lance Moore (16) at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Part 2 of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys Defensive Preview. This is the second of the three-part Series detailing the positions and expectations of the Dallas Cowboys defense. In Part 1 found here__ we discussed the change from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense. We discussed Monte Kiffin and his defensive philosophy and how it will fit the Dallas Cowboys. Finally, we took a detailed look at the Defensive Line and their expectations. Now let’s look at the back 7 of the defense…

Linebackers

The Linebacking Corps is headlined by soon to be Pro-Bowlers, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. The Kiffin defense relies on very athletic playmakers at the WILL and MIKE LB spots. Sean Lee at MIKE will drop back into deep coverage from time to time (Primarily in the Tampa 2) and will need to execute his assignments while disguising his intentions. The better he can disguise his intentions the more opportunities for plays he will see.  Lee is very smart and very instinctive. If he can stay healthy he could finally be regarded (league-wide) as one of the very best middle linebackers in the NFL. But that’s a big “if”.

Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter (54) tackles Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson (33) at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Carter at the WILL spot will see his share of plays too. The WILL is actually considered the playmaking LB in Kiffin’s system. Derrick Brooks made it famous with his timely sacks and game-changing interceptions over the years in Tampa Bay. Bruce Carter is one of the most physically gifted LB’s in the NFL. All he needs is an opportunity and a clean bill of health. He has both. If he can stay healthy in 2013 he could be even better than Sean Lee.

The final LB spot is currently held by Justin Durant. The SAM should be seen as the least important of the LBs in Kiffin’s system. The SAM will leave the field when the nickel corner enters (and dime obviously). The SAM also exits when when the Cowboys run a Bear defensive front (a pass-rush front of 5 linemen 2 of which are LEO rushers). An explanation can be found here.

The depth at LB is fairly solid. With 2 potential stars (maybe even All-Pros) at MIKE and WILL it’s obvious their must be a fall-off in talent. With that said there is still talent behind the starters and it could be useful in limited work. But if Carter or Lee misses substantial time, this unit could find themselves in big trouble.

Aug 18, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) celebrates after intercepting a pass in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 18, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) celebrates after intercepting a pass in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerbacks

The Cowboys are highly skilled at cornerback and have very high expectations for their top 2 starters in 2013. Brandon Carr is in year two of his Cowboys tenure and while he did well in 2012, more is expected of one of the top paid players at his position. The good news is Carr is physical and likes to play the ball. Those are two things Monte Kiffin loves for his CBs. Carr should have plenty of opportunities to make plays in 2013. It’s just up to him if he can take advantage.

If it’s possible, Morris Claiborne has even higher expectations in 2013. Drafted at #6 last year Mo was seen as one of the best CB’s since Deion Sanders. Clearly no one expects another Deion (perhaps ever), but they do expect a playmaker. Mo has fantastic ball skills and if he can ever gain confidence in the system, he could be a star in this league. Unfortunately Claiborne spent most of the preseason injured and hasn’t been able to get comfortable in Kiffin’s coverages. In order to succeed in Kiffin’s coverage you need to be able to disguise your intentions. Claiborne hasn’t proven he can do that. Expect a slow start for Mo in 2013 but plan on his play improving as the season progresses.

Orlando Scandrick is the team nickleback once again. At this point we all know what kind of player Scandrick is. He’s never going to be a star but he’s not going to be a bum either. He rarely makes plays and rarely gets burned. He’s usually an inch away from making a play. Sadly that inch matters all too often. B.W. Webb is learning the position and is the heir apparent to Scandrick. Hopefully Webb will not need to contribute too much (besides in Dime Coverage) in 2013 and will use this year to learn and build confidence.

Safety

The Safety position is in dire straits. That’s not being overly dramatic either. Barry Church is the only proven answer at safety and even that statement is debatable. Despite Church’s very limited experience, he is the key to the secondary. He doesn’t have the tangibles you would like to see at safety but his instincts and knack for the ball make him an easy fan favorite. What happens next to Church is really the biggest question mark.

With Will Allen starting it’s easy to be unenthused. Allen’s not terrible but he projects much better as a backup than a starter. Rookie J.J. Wilcox has the most upside but being a rookie (not to mention he only played safety for 1 year in college) and asking him to jump into a starting role right away maybe a little far-fetched. If he keeps progressing during the season, it’s reasonable to think he could be a starter at some point this year.

If the depth chart holds true and Dallas doesn’t make any last minute changes, the players behind them are no more than Special Teams guys. Jeff Heath looked ok in the preseason but hey, that was preseason. Gonna have to see him against some starting NFL players before believing in him.

If something happens to Barry Church the safety situation could be disastrous in 2013. Barring a trade help is not on the way. The NFL has some good top-level talent at Safety but as whole the league is thin. Many teams are looking for help at safety meaning the Cowboys must pray for help within.

Sunday Morning is the 3rd and final installment of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys Defensive Preview. In part three we will put it all together as set some expectations for this new-look defense.

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Reid on twitter @ReidDHanson

Tags: B.W. Webb Barry Church Brandon Carr Bruce Carter Dallas Cowboys Jeff Heath JJ Wilcox Justin Durant Morris Claiborne Orlando Scandrick Sean Lee

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