OXNARD, Calif. — On the fifth day of Dallas Cowboys training camp, we have found a scapegoat for the shortcomings of their 2013 defense. Meet Monte Kiffin.It won’t be his fault, but he has all the characteristics of the ideal fall guy should this season go south and the owner not want to fire the head coach.Hired after defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired, Kiffin is equally full of color and humor as his predecessor but has the unenviable task of improving this defense immediately while installing a new scheme that usually takes two full off-seasons.Coach, Godspeed.Kiffin is another example of a good, veteran coach who is like anybody else — he needs players, and in this case, time. Right now it does not look like he has enough of either. The Cowboys think their window is now, and it might be. On offense. It’s not on defense.“It takes time to get the system down. We don’t want to approach it that way,” Kiffin said. “It’s a rebuilding program and we ain’t got time to build.”Kiffin may be older, but at least he has been listening to his owner.The Cowboys were a 3-4 defensive team since Bill Parcells made the switch in 2004. It didn’t take hold until about 2006, when he had acquired enough of the types of players who are better suited for that scheme.To switch back to the 4-3, which the Cowboys had run for more than a decade under Dave Campo and Mike Zimmer, is going to require at least one more off-season worth of player acquisitions to find the ideal body types.A lot has been made of Kiffin’s age — he’s 73 — but that number is irrelevant. Can he do this job?The word out here in SoCal on Kiffin from his days as the defensive coordinator at USC is not flattering. The rap is that his defenses were exposed, and neutered by the likes of Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA.Don’t buy it. USC was crushed by NCAA sanctions and a reduction of scholarships, and everyone was thrashed by the likes of Oregon.“We should have played better, there is no doubt about it,” Kiffin said. “The probation hurt USC. It catches up with you at depth. We needed to play better.”Kiffin’s job here is harder than the one he had at USC. And, much like his days at ’SC, he has little to no depth to play with. This is a precarious group that desperately needs a visit from the good health fairy every single day.Don’t buy Jerry Jones’ opening-camp comments that he “likes the numbers” the team has at defensive linemen. Anybody can have numbers. If the numbers aren’t good enough, who cares?The Cowboys don’t have the ideal-sized interior defensive tackles for this system; they had one, but Josh Brent screwed that up.Tyrone Crawford was developing into a nice, versatile interior lineman, but he’s out for the year with a torn Achilles. Now that he is out for the year, Crawford will become the second coming of Bob Lilly.They don’t have any proven players at the safety spot, and haven’t for years.They are crossing their fingers that players such as Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Jay Ratliff all stay healthy.What they do have are a pair of potentially nasty pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, the latter of whom is already hurt but should return before the start of the season. They have legit cover corners in Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. And, if Carter and Lee actually do stay healthy, they should flourish in this scheme; Carter especially.The good news for Kiffin is that this defense made so few meaningful plays last season he should immediately look like a genius compared to the wild-haired, big-mouthed, highly entertaining but ultimately ineffective Ryan.Kiffin may come off like some wacky old guy, but this is not some dummy. Lord knows he has made it perfectly clear he does not want to retire. He knows what he is doing. He is like every other coach in the NFL — he needs a few more players, and just a little bit of time to put things that fit in their right place.He may not have enough of either, which is why he’s the perfect fall guy.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof