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Aden Durde: Dallas Cowboys coach talks Micah Parsons, Sam Williams, four-man pressures and defensive coordinator speculation

Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Aden Durde, who was born in Britain, speaks to Sky Sports about defensive coordinator rumours, working with Micah Parsons, young pass rusher Sam Williams, his side's strength in depth and the four-man pressures sweeping the NFL

Aden Durde
Image: Could Aden Durde find himself in a defensive coordinator role in the coming years?

Aden Durde's primary agenda consists of his Micah Parsons-led Dallas Cowboys front conquering as the most potent, the most productive of its kind in the NFL - the rest will all fall into place.

'The rest' being prospective ladder-climbing, the number of rungs between him and a defensive coordinator post seemingly decreasing with every passing season.

As the annual NFL coaching cycle resumed this offseason and Dan Quinn's name naturally catapulted back towards the top of the market, fans and media alike pondered his potential successor as defensive governor in Dallas. Durde was a popular opinion.

The Cowboys were mid-playoff run at the time and their British defensive line coach, who worked under Quinn with the Atlanta Falcons, admittedly blind-eyeing speculation.

"To be honest I don't think about it at all, I'm not going to lie," Durde told Sky Sports. "The reason why I say that is because it's nobody I know talking about it, it's other people talking about it. Normally when you're talking about these things [hirings] we're playing [in the playoffs] so I just want to focus on what we have to do. I admit sometimes it gets hard but when you do that you're doing what you say you're doing, you're trying to achieve the goal you're aiming for at that time.

"Truthfully I just focus on the games because losing in the playoffs is not fun. I'm constantly trying to think about that."

Aden Durde
Image: Durde's defensive line has asserted itself as one of the most dominant in the NFL

It was confirmed on January 26 that Quinn would be staying put in Dallas for the upcoming season, pressing pause on talk surrounding both his future and that of Durde.

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For now, maximizing what may be perceived as a championship window for the Cowboys takes precedence. That is not to say the next rung has not crossed Durde's mind.

"You always think about it, you always think about moving forward," Durde continued. "But I really think to myself more about the work you do, there's so much to learn, you just keep pushing and keep learning because when the opportunity does come, if it does come around one day, you've got to be prepared to do it.

"For me every opportunity is my opportunity so that's the way I look at it. I've got to be prepared for everything, right now my opportunity is coaching the d-line for the Dallas Cowboys.

"It's one of the most fun times I've had in coaching so I want to carry on doing it."

The Cowboys saw their campaign end in defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs after they had blown away Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Wild Card weekend. The feeling is they are close, which made falling short all the more tough to take.

"It's hard, when you finish in the playoffs and don't necessarily get to where you want to go to it's very final so I think emotions are raw at that time," he said "But when you go back and reflect we did some really good things, it's just playoff football. I was really proud of my group of guys, I was proud of the defense and the way the defense played, they represented the kind of standard, just got to keep pushing forward."

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Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs

Durde's front gashed opponents with as much success and consistency as any team in the league last season, leading the way for a defense that ranked first in pressure rate and second in EPA/play.

Asked whether he takes more pride in such areas than in sack numbers, he points to the 'danger' of getting bogged down in stats. Durde takes pride in "earning the right to rush the passer" by way of stopping the run first, with the knowledge he has the edge-rippers primed to roar when given the green light.

"Once we do that we can go to work and I think if you look at those stats they show we can rush the passer, we've got to get to those opportunities to rush the passer," he said. "We know we have good players which helps."

Micah Parsons is a good player. Maybe the best in the league at what he does, in fact.

He led the team with 13.5 sacks and 41 pressures last season as he was deployed off the edge on a more full-time basis having spent his rookie year shape-shifting between the off-ball linebacker as which he had entered the league and fully-loaded quarterback hunter.

His efficiency in the trenches may have seen him drop into Durde's jurisdiction, but it has not drawn the line on work at the second level.

"I think that's more a question for DQ (Dan Quinn), but Micah's versatility is one of his gifts, one of his superpowers so he'll always be in different positions," Durde said of finding the balance in his usage.

"Even when he's on the ball there are times when he's off the ball, in the playoffs he was more on and off the ball so it's how DQ moves him around."

Durde hailed his continued willingness to learn and develop despite the immediacy of his ascent since arriving in 2021.

"He's very receptive," said Durde. "Like most players he wants to get better, so if you evaluate the game and look at the areas of the game they need to work on and can show proof of why they need to improve on those and then look at the game and let them talk about what they want to improve on and then create a plan then you're obviously getting it. He's a great kid, very receptive."

Behind a freedom to move Parsons around has been depth in production from those beside him, DeMarcus Lawrence contributing six sacks, 21 pressures and 65 tackles last season while 2018 fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong logged a career year with 8.5 sacks, 18 pressures and 33 tackles.

"Definitely, DA (Armstrong) has come along so much in the last two years and I think he's shown what he can be consistently in the league, he's laid down two real good years," said Durde.

"D Law (Lawrence) is an every down player and does a great job at that, he plays with a physicality and way that is rare at times, it's fun to watch. Dante (Fowler Jr) has had a great year, Osa (Odighizuwa) has had a great year. If we're dressing nine players they've all got to have the ability to play."

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Here's a look at some of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons' best sacks in his NFL career so far

Such has been the trend in recent years that the league again gravitated towards dropping six or seven men into coverage while operating with four and five-man rushes as a means to blunting the league's splash-play quarterbacks and the influx of off-script artists capable of creating outside the pocket.

Durde and Quinn are among those blessed with the personnel to follow suit. Flood the second and third levels, muddy the quarterback's field diagnosis, let the big men feast up front.

"I think you have to start with the premise that you have to be able to rush four guys, because if you can't then you have to be able to create pressure," said Durde.

"The ultimate thing in this league is how to create pressure up front, if you can't do that how are you doing it? Are you doing it through simulated pressures? Are you doing it through bringing five guys, six guys? But you want to have enough coverage, you want to slow down a guy's thought process by putting shell coverage and rotating and disguising it, how do you do that?

"If you can just rush it makes everything a lot easier because you can basically cover with more people. The premise is to start with that and work out if you can or can't. We've been lucky enough that we can, and we've got to keep doing it."

A component to that has been drawing on stunt efficiency as an occasional replacement for blitzing, Durde's cross-rushing having become a familiar theme to his unit's appearance.

"We stunt a lot, I think so especially on first and second down, especially because of how fast the football comes out," he added.

Behind Durde's line in the trenches Coach Quinn has tinkered and evolved the Cover 1 and Cover 3 presentations that inspired so much success during his time in Seattle. While the Cowboys have dialled up Cover 1 at the second-highest rate in the league over the last two seasons, there has also been a notable variation of late in his use of the Cover 2 looks that have swept the NFL.

Asked if it has been a conscious effort on Quinn's part to tap into the league's two-high movement, Durde insists "that's a question for him!".

"Playing Cover 1, Cover 2, it doesn't necessarily change how we play versus the pass, it may change how we play versus the run but not the pass," he says.

"You need to give your DBs a rest at times because if you're playing a lot of match defense then there will be times when you need a rest, 2 is a good way to do that sometimes because they're playing zone in that situation."

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Highlights of the Dallas Cowboys' clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Wild Card game

Durde's focus remains the frontline, on which he hopes to nurture and unleash another of the league's most impactful pass rushers in second-year defensive end Sam Williams.

Williams was drafted out of Ole Miss in the second round in 2022 before managing 22 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and one pass defense in 11 games as a rookie.

Durde has forecast a "huge leap" for the 23-year-old across the next season.

"Sam is a super talented kid, he's smart, he's ultra strong, I haven't been around as many players as strong as Sam," Durde said. "He's going to do well, he's just got to stick to the process, continue growing.

"He's why you coach, he's super fun to coach, I love him."

Williams closed out his final season at college with 57 tackles, 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass defense, off-field problems seeing him drafted later than might have once been the case.

"I think if you look at his athletic stats, he's super athletic and he had the production to match," added Durde.

"He played lots of different roles, he played in that Ole Miss style at the time which was that 3-5 stack so he was playing some 4i, we wouldn't play him in those positions so it was exciting to say 'okay if we put this guy outside, how are we rushing him?'.

"He's a development guy, he's raw, he went to JUCO (Junior College) so started playing football a bit late.

"To me, his ceiling is super high and we thought it was an opportunity to take a young guy and see him develop."

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