In a recent sitdown interview with local media, Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy confirmed the bulk of his rebuilt staff, including new secondary coach Maurice Linguist, who’s bolting Texas A&M for the NFL ranks.
Linguist, a Texas native, announced the news Monday on his Twitter account.
Linguist played defensive back for Baylor from 2003-06, notching 93 combined tackles, three pass breakups, three interceptions and two forced fumbles across 42 career appearances.
As a coach, he’s bounced from Minnesota to Mississippi State to Iowa State before landing in College Station on Jimbo Fisher’s staff.
The Aggies finished 41st among 130 NCAA programs in passing yards allowed in 2019, ceding 209.5 yards per game through the air.
Linguist inherits a talented but severely underachieving Cowboys secondary which might undergo a makeover this offseason, as star cornerback Byron Jones and starting safety Jeff Heath are scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency.
Linguist replaces former secondary coach/passing game coordinator/de facto defensive coordinator Kris Richard, who was released from his contract (read: fired) last week — one of several Jason Garrett-era holdovers dumped by McCarthy.
After three seasons in the Pacific Northwest, ascending as the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning coordinator, Richard took his talents to Dallas. In 2018, he was hired to be the team’s DBs coach, reporting to play-caller Rod Marinelli. His power within the organization eventually rose, and his title increased, as Marinelli adopted a hands-off approach, grooming Richard as his successor.
Under Richard’s instruction, the Cowboys finished 10th in pass defense this past season, surrendering 223.5 yards per game. The team recorded only seven interceptions, however, and its secondary defenders accounted for just five picks: two each for safety Xavier Woods and cornerback Jourdan Lewis, and one for CB Chidobe Awuzie.
The Cowboys have also hired former Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris, 45, who turned coach in 2012 and served as the Kansas City Chiefs’ assistant secondary coach/defensive assistant from 2013-18. McCarthy said he’s “still working through specific roles” for Linguist and Harris, per the team’s official website.
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McCarthy Has New Approach to Dallas Defensive Scheme
During his time with reporters, in the interview referenced above, McCarthy explained the system to be installed by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Nolan has long been a proponent of a 3-4 scheme, whereas the Cowboys ran a 4-3 when Marinelli and Richard called the shots.
But, to this regime, titles don’t matter. The proper pieces do — above all else. What a concept.
“Really, 3-4 and 4-3 defense is how you’re identifying the player profiles,” McCarthy said, per the team’s official website. “I feel like player acquisition and coaching instruction is a two-way street. I think if you have a system of defense where you need a certain player to fit your scheme, you’re limiting your personnel department.
“We know what a Dallas Cowboys football player looks like. The length, the athletic ability. Let’s get as many good football players as we possibly can. It’s our job as coaches to make sure our scheme boundaries are plenty wide enough to fit any excellent football player into our program. That’s always been a philosophy of mine on offense and that’ll continue to be so on defense.”
McCarthy, though he danced around the topic, revealed Dallas will remain a four-man front, with DeMarcus Lawrence at defensive end and Robert Quinn (an impending free agent) or, perhaps, Michael Bennett bookending him. The tackles are question marks as incumbent starters Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods, too, are heading to the open market.
McCarthy correctly noted, however, that the Cowboys will deploy nickel as the unofficial base defense, same as most NFL teams do in today’s pass-happy, offensively-oriented sport. This means a lot of burn for linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, provided he’s healthy.
“We’re a sub defense because we’ll play it 80-85 percent of the time,” he said, via The Athletic’s Jon Machota. “But we’re a four-man line defense.”
Dallas will aim to improve on a unit that finished 11th in points allowed (20.1 per game) and against the run (103.5 yards per game) and 19th in sacks (39). No club recorded fewer interceptions (7) than Dallas, who also ranked 15th in forced fumbles (14).
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL