Football School, Part 1: An Intro to Jamaine Winborne

Cowboys Nation is pleased to introduce our first chat with new defensive analyst Jamaine Winborne. Winborne played both cornerback and safety for the Ravens, and got to rub elbows with some very talented secondary players.  He was also tutored by a coach who will be familiar to older Cowboys fans. Today, Jamaine gives his bio and a basic background on NFL defensive philosophy.

Cowboys Nation: Tell us a little bit about your pro career.

Jamaine Winborne: I came out as an undrafted free agent [from the University of Virginia].  I signed with the Giants [in 2004].  I has some issues that I was still rehabbing at the time.  I could not make it through the team’s first mini-camp.  The doctors checked me out and told me to go back to school and continue rehabbing.

I came back at the start of camp and signed a contract.  I started playing corner, but I had played safety my last seven games at Virginia.  I played the best I could and then my reps were cut as camp went on.  I was released on the final cut.  I spent about 4-5 weeks home when the season started.  I tried out for a lot of teams, I went to Denver, I worked out for the Texans.  I worked out in Baltimore and that’s where I ended up signing.

The first person I met when I walked into the locker room was Deion Sanders.  I can’t tell you how that made me feel.

CN:  I was going to ask you about him.  I looked at your record and your Ravens squads.  Did you play with Chris McAllister too?

JW: Yes.

CN:  And you obviously played with Ed Reed.

JW:  Yeah.  Ed’s a good guy.  I played with a lot of good corners when I was there.  I played with Samari [Rolle].  I played with Dale Carter.  I played with Will Demps.  I played with Dawan Landry.  With so many corners there I didn’t know how long I would stay but I stuck it out.    Hey, I got to play with a couple of Hall of Famers.  It was an honor to play with guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

CN:  Who was the coordinator when you arrived?

JW:  Mike Nolan was the coordinator when I first got there, then Rex [Ryan] took over.

CN;  That’s useful.  I got my hands on a presentation Rex and his assistant Mike Pettine made from that time explaining how they played defense, so a lot of the materials in that will probably come up.

JW:  I know Pettine.  He’s another UVA guy.

CN:  Who was your position coach with the Ravens?

JW:  That was Dennis Thurman.  He played with the Cowboys for a while, didn’t he?

CN:  Yes, he did.  He was a Tom Landry draftee. He was an 11th round pick one year, back when the draft was 12 rounds, and he stuck.  He played for a long time in fact.  He wasn’t the fastest guy, but he was smart.  His coaches then were saying that he could be a future coach, and they turned out to be right.

JW:  It’s ridiculous what I learned from that guy.  His mind … he showed me the game at an entirely different level.  I had good coaches in college, but there was stuff he told me I should know and I was saying, “wow!  How is it possible to know these things?”  He saw the game differently.  Going from playing close to ten years to coaching, you see it differently.

He’s a good guy.  He was fun to be around, but when it was time to work, he was all business. He’s going to do a good job for the Jets up there.  [Thurman is Rex Ryan’s new defensive coordinator.] They’ll be okay.

CN:  Let’s move to football. People get a sense of play calling a lot more on the offense side of the ball.  They talk about a coach winning or losing the game, but they focus most of the time on offense. Give us a sense of play calling and game planning on the defensive side of the ball.  How many different schemes does a team install in a given week?

JW: You game plan every week.  There are two processes that you go through.  You have training camp where they put in everything.  That’s the foundation, you get pieces of everything.

Then you go through the exhibition games and the regular season.  When you get to the regular season, you know the basis of the defense, but it changes every week based on who you’re playing.

You might have a version of cover-2 that you run, but it you’re playing a team in your division, or you’re playing a quarterback like [Tom] Brady, who watches the game, sometimes they know what you’re going to do before you’ve even shown what you’re going to run on a specific play.

You have to change up a lot of stuff.  If you’re playing a veteran in your division, there’s not a lot you’re going to throw at him that he doesn’t know. What you can do is disguise. What you can also do is mix it up. Say, in one situation you’re going to play cover-2 but you deploy in cover-3.   Put a corner in the safety’s position.  Or you have a safety coming down and playing what the outside linebacker would be doing in that scheme normally.

You can’t give them the same looks that you show every day.  You might give a coverage and throw a different type of blitz than you normally run off that coverage.  He might be expecting this when he sees the safety down, or if he sees a corner up, he expects that this is the coverage that we’ll be in.

I know we had plays where we would line up the safety with the outside backer on one side and another ‘backer on the other side, the quarterback would know we were blitzing, so maybe now, this time, we don’t blitz.  Maybe we take the Mike backer and put him in the middle of the field.

CN:  It sounds like much of the time you’re not just scouting the other team, but you’re scouting yourself.  You don’t want to make yourself too predictable.

JW:  Exactly.  Especially when you’re playing within your division.  Coaches may change, systems may change, but if the team’s core is the same, the players don’t really change year to year.  They have the same tendencies.

Sometimes you can run the same defenses every week. It’s just a variation.  I know for us [with the Ravens] we had so many variations, we could run six different defenses out of one basic defense. But that means you had to know what your teammates were doing.

As a safety, I had to know what techniques the linemen were playing, what the linebackers were supposed to do.  I know there were times when I played an X-backer, which is something like an outside linebacker or a safety, but other times you were playing a middle linebackers role  Other times you had to cover receivers out of the slot.  Once you learn everything, it all fits together.  If you have to play either high or low in a coverage, you know when to play high or low.

I see stuff now, it drives me crazy, because I played for a really good defense, so there’s lot of things we just didn’t tolerate.  And I watch guys, some who make a lot of money, continually make the same mistakes that we would not have tolerated in Baltimore.

It’s these little mistakes that you see as a player.  Not that I would do better, but knowing what I see and having been around it, it’s just amazing some of the stuff you see.

CN:  Bad fundamentals?  Bad techniques?

JW:  Yeah.  And these are starters.  1st string and 2nd string guys.

Next:  Jamaine walks us through football’s basic coverages.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • Scott

    Whoa! This is intriguing. I hope you will press Jamaine for players names and examples of their mistakes made. This will help CowboysNation readers to rate the talent level on the roster so that we (some of us anyway) can have something concrete to base our team-confidence upon. Keep it coming!

  • oskieoskie

    I remember when the Cowboys’ secondary of Cubby Walls, Ron Fellows, Michael Downs and Dennis Thurman was known as “Thurman’s Thieves.”

    We could use some of that thievery back there now.

  • CS Elliott

    When is the Cowboy’s rookie mini camp and who is eligible to participate (besides the draft picks and rookie free agents)?

    • Steven Van Over

      Any rookie that has graduated can attend rookie camps. For an example, Matt Johnson last year had to miss the first part due to his schools graduation date.

      Practice squad players are also eligible as well as additional QB’s (as needed I believe). So guys like Ronald Leary will be there, May 10-12th.

      Camp schedules are available via the 2013 schedule link in top right of every page, pasted link below also 🙂 This is you came to the right place.

      • CS Elliott

        Thank you!

        • Steven Van Over

          One bit of bad news, as you got me researching, Matt Johnson somehow was accredited one pension year, as he was on the active roster so much, ergo he will miss this rookie camp this year also. My personal thoughts are not available on this matter due to Google filters. *&*%*&()*_)(^^%%&*(

  • jarhead

    we forgive you.

  • Yuma Cactus

    Wow, Raf. The quality of experts you have assembled is impressive. Not sure any other private, team specific site is even in the ballpark with CowboysNation. Can’t wait for Oxnard.

    • WA_Cowboy

      I will second this comment. Thanks, Raf.

      • sidarc

        3rd. A lot of info disseminated from these sights tend to skew heavily towards the offensive side of the ball. I Appreciate hearing about hearing about the crazies just as much.

        • sidarc

          – 1 hearing, lol