OXNARD, Calif. — When the Dallas Cowboys hired Dan Quinn as their defensive coordinator, the jokes wrote themselves.
What better guy to come in and run a defense that gave up 5.9 yards per play in 2020, tied for eighth-most in the NFL, than the coach who oversaw the Atlanta Falcons' 28-3 collapse to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI?
However, that was Quinn the head coach. Quinn the defensive coordinator is an entirely different experience. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks, who haven't been to so much as an NFC Championship Game since he was their defensive coordinator from 2013-14, their consecutive Super Bowl qualifying seasons.
The Cowboys are seeing that same energy Quinn had in the middle part of the last decade resurface on the gridiron at River Ridge Playing Fields on Oxnard.
"Dan is bringing the swagger back," defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. "That's what we need in this place: swagger, that pep in our step and that swagger with our movement. So, I feel like Dan is doing a good job bringing that formula back."
While the Cowboys will deploy multiple, hybrid schemes, the philosophy is a throwback to what Dallas ran when Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator from 2014-19, according to Lawrence: "go straight forward, attack people, and play relentless defense."
Quinn's straightforward approach allows the Cowboys front seven to attack, not waste time reading and reacting.
"He really allows us to play," defensive end Tarell Basham said. "He doesn't make things too complicated, and he really tries to simplify things as much as possible. And he puts people that he knows can do things in the position he knows they can do them. So, he's making the game easy for us so we can play and have fun."
Quinn also fits into what coach Mike McCarthy believes in empowering the players, pushing a share of the responsibility on the roster in an effort to take ownership of the team's direction during the regular season.
"I would say he puts responsibility on you," cornerback Anthony Brown said. "He holds you accountable a lot. He's not taking no for an answer and he's not taking no half-assing and you just got to come to work everyday, be consistent, like I said, and he wants you to work. He wants you to put your heart in. He wants you to put it on film. So, that's what I love about him: very detailed, and that's what I like about him."
Although Quinn will be sitting in the booth during games, not on the sidelines like most coordinators, his presence is still felt on the practice field, where the 50-year-old leads drills.
Said Basham: "He's real hands-on. He'll get out there with the pads and do the drills with you. You'll see him breaking a sweat himself. I really appreciate that in a coach. I really do appreciate that in a coach."
At Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the communication between Quinn, McCarthy, the staff, and the players may have a few hiccups.
"It's just working on the little things," said McCarthy. "Dan's done a certain way. Frankly there's some call sheets of mine that he's looked at from an offensive perspective. So, just to get that part organized. Obviously he has a ton of experience calling the game and what he wants to do. But it's just more the language, the communication, the operation. So, this will be great for us to have four games to have the mechanics."
After four preseason games to work out the kinks, the Cowboys should be ready to go Sept. 9 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I feel like Dan Quinn knows what he's doing," said Basham. "I feel like they brought in the right guys. I feel like we got some of the right guys already here. And I feel like the way that we're coming together collectively as a group, it's going to be hard to stop us. You see the energy and the excitement the team brings out here in practice. Imagine what it's going to be like on game day."
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