OXNARD, Calif. -- The Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff did a disservice to their cornerbacks last season.
With Monte Kiffin making the defensive calls, the Cowboys primarily used zone coverages, rarely allowing their cornerbacks to play press man. That was a source of internal friction last season and will change with Rod Marinelli as the defensive coordinator.
"We've just got to be smart with it, but I've got great, great confidence in our corners," Marinelli said despite the fact that Brandon Carr has yet to report to camp due to his mother's death and Morris Claiborne has missed the past few practices due to knee tendinitis. "Unbelievable confidence. Those guys are really good players. You have to play to your strength. I think that's our strength."
The hope is that Carr and Claiborne will benefit by playing the more aggressive, physical style after struggling last season.
The Cowboys made major investments in those two in 2012 -- signing Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal and trading up to select Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. They believed that they could be in-your-face, shutdown corners. According to Pro Football Focus' grades, Carr ranked 58th and Claiborne 88th among 110 corners who played at least 25 percent of their teams' snaps.
"Those guys were press guys coming out and they've shown over their careers that they're good press corners," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "I think when they get a chance to do that, they're pretty good at it."
Claiborne publicly complained about playing too much zone last season, making the comments on his radio show after a particularly poor Week 4 performance in a loss to the San Diego Chargers. Carr kept quiet about the scheme, but the Cowboys have acknowledged that he was frequently victimized by poor game-planning from coaches and execution by teammates.
Orlando Scandrick, who is trying to hold on to the starting job he won over an injured Claiborne last season, is the one experienced corner the Cowboys have who is as comfortable playing zone as press man.
"It's up to me to execute the coverages that we play," Scandrick said. "I don't believe in those excuses that we play too much zone, we play too much of this. We need to execute the coverages they call. They're calling it for a reason."
Marinelli will call more press man for good reason.