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4/13/2005

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The "Okie" Pokey
By Brian Aust


While trying to dodge the post-SportsCenter, pre-slumber boredom that sneaks up on me most nights, I found my muse. Clare Danes, in mid battle with the female villain in Terminator 3, exclaimed, “Why don’t you just DIE, (expletive deleted)!”

There’s little pride in acknowledging my inspiration comes from a big budget “B” movie, but, Clare’s angst struck a chord. Every time I read speculation into the Cowboys moving to the 3-4 defense, I wish death upon that troublesome rumor.

Everyone calls the NFL a copy-cat league. So far this off-season, the Broncos, 49ers and Browns have lined up at the Xerox machine with the “Championship Blueprint” in hand. The Cowboys have been more timid in their approach, as if they think the machine might be out of toner.

Personnel issues underpin the organization’s reluctance. At the status-quo, the Cowboys don’t have the type of players that thrive in the “Okie” scheme. Even if the Cowboys use their top draft choices to flesh out a 3-4 roster, the team would likely hinge on proven players switching positions and inexperienced rookies making immediate contributions.

The addition of Jason Ferguson gave the Cowboys some flexibility along the line, but should the Cowboys want shift to the newest fad in defense, it would likely translate into position changes for some Cowboys staples.

LeRoi Glover, for instance, wouldn’t have a traditional tackle position to line up in. Since it’s unlikely that Cowboys would keep the perennial Pro Bowler on the bench, it’s possible he would move out to end. Physically, Glover can pass for a 3-4 end, but, asking a 10-year veteran to change style and technique does bring with it some risk.

Greg Ellis, at 6 feet 6 inches and 271 pounds, is too small to play end in the 3-4, and may be better suited to play outside linebacker. With a frame that mirrors New England’s Willie McGinest (6’5”, 270), Ellis would find himself with a host of new duties, including some responsibility covering the tight end.

No current Cowboy fits the mold of an “Okie” defensive end. Glover may be a band aid on one side, but, the ‘Boys would likely have to use one of their first round picks to fill the hole opposite him. LSU’s Marcus Spears and USC’s Shaun Cody are both considered to have ideal 3-4 size.

Most NFL gurus will acknowledge that the defensive line is the most crucial element to successful execution in a 3-4 alignment. After mixing and matching up front, the Cowboys would have do take a hard look at their line backing corps.

Inside linebackers in the 3-4 set have to be intelligent, instinctual and athletic. Dat Nguyen would likely handle his share of the load, even with is average coverage skills. Bradie James would be a candidate to play alongside Nguyen, considering he roamed the middle in college. James’ size would act as a good compliment to the undersized Nguyen, but his field awareness has been criticized. The Cowboys would be taking a risk moving James back inside after two years playing outside.

Assuming the Cowboys follow the 3-4 formula and conclude Ellis is too small to play end, he would fill the hole at strong side linebacker with Eric Ogbogu providing depth behind him. Al Singleton, physically on the small side, isn’t a good fit in the new defense. Kalen Thorton, a project player that has been mentioned in 3-4 talks around the Ranch, may get a chance to prove himself in the new configuration. Most likely, though, the Cowboys would address the weak side position through the draft. Both Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware are ideally suited to playing linebacker in the 3-4.

I bring these adjustment issues to the forefront for two reasons. The first is to pander to my self-indulgent need to make cheap reference to an all-time wedding dance classic. So, without further ado: You bring a draft pick in, you move a Pro Bowler out, you do the “Okie” Pokey and you turn your team inside out, and that’s what it’s all about (give yourself bonus points if you actually broke into song just now).

My final reason is to point out that switching schemes is too much, too fast, with too much risk – especially for a defensive unit that finished in the middle of the pack last year.

By sticking with the 4-3, the Cowboys keep their options open to address other needs with their two first round picks. Other draft day scenarios, such as trading for the Saints’ Darren Howard and trading out of the first round, are also made possible by sticking with the status quo.

So, for the love of God and his favorite team, let these rumors die.



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