Cowboys targeting ‘bigger bodies at the inside’ to fit new defensive scheme


The Dallas Cowboys brought in an old friend in former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to assume that position once again in the wake of losing Dan Quinn, who was named the new head coach of the Washington Commanders, in February.

Will McClay, the Cowboys’ vice president of player personnel, is all-in on getting players that fit Zimmer’s scheme.

“As we begin this process, it’s a little different scheme,” McClay said Thursday at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine. “We’re looking for big, athletic football players. Finding guys that have those little nuances that [Zimmer] has. It’s been great for us to spend time with the coaches and hear them talk to players and communicate, so we can get a better feel for what that is as well.

“I think we’re probably going to look more so at those bigger bodies at the inside, stopping that. We’re always looking at linebackers. That’s a position that in free agency and in the draft that we’re going to have to look at because we want to add more players there.”

As for the defense that Zimmer inherits, Dallas surrendered just 187.4 passing yards (fifth in the NFL), 112.4 rushing yards (16th), 299.7 total yards (fifth) and 18.5 points (fifth) per game last season. It was the second consecutive season that the Cowboys were fifth in opponent points per game. Dallas went 12-5, winning the NFC East before losing to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC wild-card round.

Cowboys off to quiet offseason. Will free agency be a disappointment?

Dallas is currently over the cap and has a bevy of impending free agents on both sides of the ball, including defensive linemen Dorance Armstrong and Jonathan Hankins and defensive backs Stephon Gilmore, Jayron Kearse and Jourdan Lewis. As far as the draft is concerned, the Cowboys own the No. 24, 58 and 87 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Zimmer was most recently the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from 2014-21. He was previously with the Cowboys as an assistant in some capacity from 1994-2006. Meanwhile, McClay has been with the Cowboys in some capacity since 2002 and has been their vice president of player personnel since 2017.

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