Dan Quinn talks Parsons, Cowboys’ front 7 through first phase of training camp

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From the moment Dan Quinn arrived in Dallas he has been commended by those close to the team for his infectious passion for football and clear plan for fixing one of the league’s worst defenses. The good news for Quinn is that he doesn’t need to get the Cowboys to the top of the defensive ranks, as just getting to league average would be a massive improvement upon 2020.

Quinn has been very hands-on while installing the defensive scheme and teaching new techniques, which has allowed him to get a good gauge of his new players and their progress this offseason. During Friday’s media session the former Atlanta Falcons’ head coach gave positive reports on numerous defenders who will need to have solid seasons for Dallas to achieve its goals.

Linebacker continued to be a main topic of conversation, which was expected as many viewed the position as Dallas’ most competitive and intriguing entering training camp. The other group that will play a massive role in improving the rush defense, the defensive line, received the second-most attention.

Leighton Vander Esch

Credit: AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

Returning starters Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith didn't play up to their own standards in 2020, but according to Quinn the duo is working hard to have a bounce back season,

"From the linebacker standpoint for Jaylon and Leighton both, I felt their intensity from the offseason about what they wanted to improve upon. I see that carrying over into their work. They're both very intentional about what they want to get better at. I've definitely seen that come on the field."

Quinn would elaborate on his thoughts regarding each linebackers offseason starting with Vander Esch.

"I've been really impressed by him. It's not just the speed. It's the technique that he's using, trusting where he's at, what to do. I knew in the offseason that he was going to work hard on his tackling."

Jaylon Smith

Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

Quinn later turned his focus to Smith, noting his physical improvements and a change in how he is being used.

"One things that has jumped out to me is I feel like his stride extension has improved. I feel every bit of his speed. There has been a couple of plays where he was flying. He is working extremely hard and he is closing. Vroom. You feel that speed. That is one of things that I have seen. We are blitzing him more. I think he is a physical player. He has always had a run and hit factor to him. That is something I looking forward to seeing come to light for him."

Smith and Vander Esch alike seem to be motivated, not discouraged, by the newly added competition to their role.

Micah Parsons

Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have used Parsons all over the defense in his first training camp, showcasing the versatility that helped make him the Cowboys first-round selection this season. However, a week ago Quinn noted that he didn't want to put too much on the rookie's plate. When asked if he is paring back the amount of new techniques and concepts they are exposing the young Nittany Lion to, Quinn gave a detailed response,

"No paring back. It’s challenging on all rookies, not just Micah but the first wrap through. That’s why we’re almost near the end of our package and the responsibility for me and the staff is to make sure even that gets pared down some. We’re moving into the next few weeks and by the time the next few weeks come, it gets a little sharper, a little more in focus and a little clearer which things we can do really, really well. As coaches you have a pretty big umbrella you start with when you do the install. You may need this for a contingency plan. You may need this at the end of the game. You may need this. Some of them are one-offs, but it’s still volume for the install. For the things you have every single week, more reps, more reps, more reps. That allows you to play fast and fast and fast, again and again and again. It’s part of the process, going through it."

Keanu Neal

Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

As soon as Dallas brought in Quinn to run the defense, many predicted Neal would make the move with his former head coach. Neal was Quinn's very first first-round selection in Atlanta, and he had success early before injuries' derailed two of his last three seasons. Neal was always an extremely physical safety, and he's now embracing those strengths of his game as he transitions to linebacker in Dallas. Quinn noted Neal's work ethic, and his familiarity with the defensive scheme and his not-so new role,

"I’m proud of the work [Neal's] put in. He’s very intentional about his improvement, about his technique, and he’s off to an excellent start at linebacker. He’s played a number of the positions when he was in Atlanta. We just tricked him and didn’t call him a linebacker. “Nah, you’re a safety.” But he was playing linebacker then. I never told him he was a linebacker, but he was a linebacker, you know? The “just likes” help with him “Hey, this is just like a call that you had” or “This is something that you’ve built on from before.” He’s been off to an excellent start with that. Just not playing the deep half of the field, which he did some, but he played down in the box quite a bit, so it’s not so foreign for him."

Neville Gallimore

Credit: AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

Another competitive position in this year's training camp is defensive tackle. The first-team rotation is still unclear, but sophomore 3-technique Neville Gallimore is making serious strides and may have the inside track to the starting role.

“We’ve talked about in the past, the guy that takes the jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Everybody that has covered football for a long time, that happens. Some are bigger than others. Some are two to three. But this is the trajectory that you want a player to go to, and that’s what I’m seeing from him. He’s lighter than he had been. That was by design by us. But I feel his strength, I feel his get-off, I feel his up-field movements, so he’s off to a good start. I would say he’s one of the players you see ready to take the step, ready to take the jump. He’s really putting out effort to do that.”

Gallimore making the Year 2 leap Quinn describes is precisely what this Cowboys defense needs. A standout defensive tackle is something Dallas' defenses haver lacked for years now.

Tarell Basham

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Basham is one of the more under-the-radar players whenever fans discuss this Dallas defense, but it's clear Basham's efforts and abilities have been noticed by the staff. Quinn praised him for two things which appear serious points of emphasis for the new defensive coordinator; versatility and effort.

"He [Basham] has impacted us for sure. When you have people who are uplifting, who can bring that, it rubs off to others, there’s no question about it. What I’ve seen so far from him is versatility. I could see him having a role where he plays on third down both at end and tackle. On first and second down we see him as a D-End. He’s going to have a special teams role. Sometimes the role players that make up a team have critical roles to help play winning football and I think Basham is a clear example of a player who can play winning football and add to the team. We’re excited about what he’s brought so far. He’s a very versatile guy. He really is."

Chauncey Golston

Credit: AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker

One of three Cowboys' third-round picks in 2021, Golston is yet another versatile defensive end who Quinn can line up in multiple fronts. Golston is yet to particpate in training camp with a hamstring injury. However, the former Hawkeye made his mark on the coaching staff in the offseason programs before the club traveled to camp. Quinn had this to say about Golston's absence in Oxnard,

"I think as a young [player], anytime you miss there is going to be an impact. The good news side of him is this is a really a bright guy who, through the practices in the spring, we did play him at a number of different positions. I would say mentally, from the playbook, he’s in good shape. But the thing that all young players need is reps and time and experience. When it’s ready, we’ll get him back and work him into that. I was very encouraged about where he had stopped in the spring. So not to have him for awhile is a bummer, but I do know he is coming back, so that’s a good thing. When he does, we’ll make sure we get him in there every step of the way. Mentally, he’s good, but there’s nothing like playing."

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