Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett spent a good part of his Monday news conference talking about the defense.
He gave injury updates. He gave individual evaluations. He tried to focus on the improvements, not the setbacks, the defense made in the second preseason game. And he issued the following warning for those already seeing another disaster on defense:
“I don’t think you want to draw all your conclusions,” Garrett said. “You want to recognize who we have and you want to evaluate those guys individually and see how it all fits together.”
It’s too early to tell if the defense will be as historically bad as it was last season. It’s a unit that has been lacking several expected starters, namely cornerbacks Brandon Carr (personal issue) and Morris Claiborne (right shoulder) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (groin).
Also gone from the mix have been role players such as nickel cornerback Sterling Moore (groin) and defensive tackle Terrell McClain (ankle).
Those five should be ready for the regular-season opener against San Francisco on Sept. 7 and Garrett hopes to see all of them in the preseason at some point.
In the meantime, though, Garrett and his staff are looking at the players they have and making the necessary adjustments to fortify the defense as best as possible.
Among his notable observations:
• Rolando McClain impresses. The linebacker had a favorable showing in his first game action since 2012. He led the team in tackles with six and forced a fumble that went out of bounds. Garrett said the team would start giving McClain first-team reps at middle linebacker, sliding Justin Durant to the weak side and Bruce Carter to the bench.
“[McClain] is certainly warranting an opportunity to compete for one of those spots in there,” Garrett said. “At the end of the day, we need to find our three best linebackers and our best combination of those guys to start for us in base.”
• Early stops. On the Baltimore Ravens’ first possession, the Cowboys forced a punt. On the second, they forced the Ravens to settle for a field goal. J.J. Wilcox came through with the big hit that series, breaking up a pass from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith on a third-and-2 play.
“We did a good job on third downs, getting off the field,” Garrett said.
• Young tackles shine. Rookie Davon Coleman started in place of Melton and affected a couple plays, getting pressure on Flacco once and assisting on a tackle. Zach Minter, signed two days before the game, had a more eye-opening game. On consecutive plays, he had a tackle for loss and then forced a fumble on a sack. Minter finished the game with four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.
“We talk a lot about opportunities or great opportunities to show they belong and [Minter] certainly took advantage of his the other night,” Garrett said.
• More line talk. Garrett said there is no clear-cut No. 2 right defensive end behind Jeremy Mincey. Tyrone Crawford and Martez Wilson have gotten snaps there, and Kyle Wilber is used there in nickel packages.
As far as the left end spot, Garrett said he was pleased with George Selvie’s preseason debut. Selvie made two tackles, but was also subject to a questionable roughing the passer penalty.
• Secondary depth. With Carr, Claiborne and Moore out, the Cowboys got another extended look at their young cornerbacks. B.W. Webb and Tyler Patmon each made plays and drew some praise from Garrett. Terrance Mitchell got beat a couple times.
“We played some man coverage and really isolated those guys to see how they’d respond to it,” Garrett said.