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Dallas Cowboys: Five Defensive Players in as Much Danger as Rob Ryan

Jason HenryCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2013

Dallas Cowboys: Five Defensive Players in as Much Danger as Rob Ryan

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    The news of Rob Ryan’s firing as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator sent minor shockwaves through the NFL. The Cowboys defense was average at best under Ryan’s leadership, and the team’s 2012 finish likely led to his dismissal.

    Team owner Jerry Jones said that things were going to get uncomfortable at Valley Ranch, and he has made two steps to ratchet up the discomfort.

    On Monday, Jones decided to part ways with longtime running backs coach Skip Peete. Dallas only rushed for 1,265 rushing yards in 2012, a number good enough for lowest in team history.

    But the waves were made with Ryan leaving Dallas. He was loud, boisterous, blitz-happy and brought a new bravado to the Cowboys franchise.

    Ryan’s bark was louder than his bite during his brief tenure in Dallas. The Cowboys finished 19th in defense in 2012, ranked 14th in the NFC with a -13 giveaway/takeaway ratio, and were 26th in total interceptions.

    His defense just didn’t make enough plays.

    Although things didn’t work out for the oversized coach, the defensive problems in Dallas weren’t all his fault.

    Injuries were a big problem, the Cowboys lost nose tackle Jay Ratliff, linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, safety Barry Church, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and a host of others. It was almost impossible for Ryan to put a strong group of starters on the field, so the defense struggled.

    In the end, Jones decided to rid the team of Ryan, not the players on the field. Just as Ryan’s job was vulnerable in 2012, there should be a number of Cowboys defensive players worried about their positions next season as well.

    Here are five players playing for their jobs in 2013.

Orlando Scandrick, CB

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    Scandrick was lost for the year with a broken hand back in November. With so many injuries for the Cowboys in 2012, Scandrick’s absence seemed to hurt because Dallas was so short-handed.

    But before the season and his injury, there was talk of Scandrick possibly losing his job. Dallas signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a $50 million contract and drafted defensive back Morris Claiborne.

    Those signs seemed to point to Dallas devaluing Scandrick’s worth. Because he hurt his hand this year, it’s hard to judge how his season would have gone.

    Even without having a full year under his belt, it’s pretty easy to figure out that Scandrick’s job isn’t safe. He signed a five-year contract extension forth $27 million in 2011.

    For that type of money, I’m sure Jones is expected a starter like performance. Unless Scandrick turns into a defensive animal during the offseason, he will not unseat Claiborne or Carr as starters in the defensive backfield.

    2013 is the year to prove himself, and if he can’t do that or remain healthy, expect to see Scandrick’s name on the back of another team’s jersey.

Victor Butler, LB (FA)

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    There is a caveat with Butler: He’s a free agent.

    The Cowboys may not choose to bring him back at all next season, but their injuries in 2012, as well as Butler’s expected low price tag, may entice the team to bring him back for another season.

    Butler was expected to have a breakout year in 2011 and 2012.

    We’re still waiting.

    In his fourth year, Butler recorded a career high in tackles and tied another high with sacks.

    He averages about three per season not playing full-time, but that may not be good enough for the Cowboys.

    During training camp, Aaron Schatz of Footballoutsiders.com said that Butler was one of the NFL’s top 25 prospects for 2012.

    I thought that he would challenge Spencer for more playing time, but that didn’t work out because Spencer turned into a monster on the field.

    If Dallas does bring him back or the short-term, it wouldn’t shock me to see Butler end up on the hot seat in 2013 if he doesn’t produce.

Mike Jenkins, CB (FA)

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    Jenkins will be an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to freely sign with another team. During this past offseason, Jenkins said that he wanted out of Dallas, but would do it quietly.

    The Cowboys didn't honor his request, and it's a good thing they didn't.

    Scandrick's injury allowed Jenkins to play the slot full-time, as well as some of the outside positions.

    Jenkins had a decently solid season, and with the Cowboys' injury scares of 2012, he may end up back in a Cowboys uniform.

    But he failed to grab an interception in 2012, and turnovers were a big flaw in the Cowboys defense.

    Personally, I hope that he remains a Cowboy. Dallas' injury report can't afford to lose him.

    In order for Jenkins to remain in Dallas, he'll have to show a lot more on the field. The Cowboys defensive backfield cannot be anchored by Claiborne and Carr alone. Jenkins will have to take on a bigger role for Dallas in 2012.

Jay Ratliff, NT

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    Ratliff signed a five-year, $40 million extension in 2011 with the Cowboys. He has been a force in the middle for Dallas since 2007, but some seem to believe that his reign may be coming to an end.

    He played all 16 games last year, but his sack total was down to just two and he recorded 28 tackles.

    This season, he played in six games, but was lost for the year with a sports hernia injury. 2012 may have just been an anomaly because Ratliff has been so dependable.

    But if his production slides again in 2013 or he’s slowed by injuries, the Cowboys will probably start to explore their options elsewhere.

Barry Church, S

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    Like the others, Church was signed to an extension, but his happened in 2012. Also, like the others, Church was lost for the year with a torn Achilles after just three games.

    I think Church needs 2013 to prove himself because Rob Ryan sang his praises so well this season.

    “That’s awesome, this guy and all you guys saw it, he’s going to be a superstar in this league.”

     

    Depending on what defensive coordinator comes in next, and what type of defensive scheme he installs, it will be interesting to see how well Church flourishes.

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