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How Dan Quinn uses versatility to make Cowboys' complex defense simple

The Dallas Cowboys have seen their fortunes turn around on defense under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who returns for a third season.

DALLAS — One of the qualities of the Dallas Cowboys' defense under Dan Quinn has been their complexity.

Quinn has been able to use a variety of pieces to put together a scheme that attacks and maintains its penchant for takeaways, leading the NFL in the category in each of the past two seasons, despite previous ability at creating turnovers usually not being an indicator of future success.

While there is a perception that the Cowboys' defense is "position-less," given linebacker Micah Parsons is just as likely to rush the passer as he is to drop back and double cover a receiver, the defensive coordinator explained the logic behind the way their personnel are deployed.

"I think with the amount of space plays that we have — a receiver that can be a runner, a runner that can be a receiver, a tight end that can be a receiver, a D-end that can play back or a safety that can play nickel — those perimeter type of people, I think, is changing that way," Quinn said. "Certainly we’re seeing that in college."

What the Cowboys look for in defenders are players with the ability to play dual roles.

The best example was rookie cornerback DaRon Bland from last season. Despite being trained to play outside in Dallas' scheme, the fifth-round rookie from Fresno State had to replace an injured Jourdan Lewis at nickel to cover slot receivers. The Cowboys had already discovered Bland's ability to play inside from having him learn dual roles.

"[Bland] was always behind the scenes doing it," Quinn said. "You don’t want to have somebody doing something for the first time in game week. Because then it could be difficult. They didn’t know all the ins and outs and where the problems are in a down.”

The ability to play dual roles doesn't happen as instantaneously as it did for Bland, who led the Cowboys with five interceptions last year. Being a year away from taking on the ability to play dual roles is also an expected outcome.

"Going through the process, we even tagged people we thought would have dual roles," said Quinn. "That doesn’t mean all of them will, but I do want to start that development."

Being able to have players suited for versatile roles is the underpinning of the Cowboys' complexity on defense. However, Quinn has shown the willingness to wait on that development, and to also find ways to utilize it.

Do you think the Cowboys will continue to trend upwards on defense in 2023? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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