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5/15/2005

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Cowboys Road to the 3-4!

We all know the Cowboys free agency and 2005 draft predicated what type of defense we were going to play in 2005 and the answer is the 3-4. Parcells stated that Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer has been working on the 3-4 ALL offseason, Parcells wants him to delve deep, really sink-in and soak up the makings of a 3-4. Zimmer has been holed up at Valley Ranch studying, analyzing, and configuring the 2005 defense. Zimmer comes from a football background, and has done some great things for the Cowboys defense, he's shelled out top level defenses year-in and year-out, with the exception of last year. Last year was plagued with injuries and inconsistent play on the defense, at times the defense could not stop anybody and at times they played like they did in 2004 when they had that #1 Overall rated defense.

Parcells is a defensive minded coach and was embarrassed with the defensive unit that was taking the field. Was it the absence of Darren Woodson? Sure some people say that Woodson's leadership was a key factor in the defensive meltdowns, and to some degree this is true, if you look at the games in the past, before the 2004 season, Woodson's absence impacted the defense. Last year the Cowboys tried to fill that void, but injury, uncertainty, and little confidence took its toll, along with a sputtering passing game the season seemed doomed.
Now came the offseason, change was coming in the form of the 3-4, the defensive scheme that has won Parcells countless playoff games, championship games, and the Super Bowl. Parcells went with the 4-3 for two seasons, and knew the Cowboys had to make a move to get the defense fixed. Parcells stated he needed to fix the defense. So far, he has done this with several key acquisitions in free agency. The Cowboys upgraded the cornerback spot with Anthony Henry, and added former NY Jets player NT Jason Ferguson. The signing of Ferguson was a very key pickup. The NT position is very key in a 3-4 alignment and the signing of Ferguson gave us an early indication that the 3-4 was coming.

Now came the NFL draft in April. Who would the Cowboys draft? Was is going the be Shawne Merriman, Mike Williams, Derrick Johnson? It appears the Cowboys had Troy States DE/OLB Demarcus Ware pegged all along. The Cowboys had studied him all season and gathered all the reports from their scouting dept, and the icing on the cake was Ware's performance at the Senior Bowl, he lined up against the best seniors and was virtually unblockable, this sealed the deal. The other defensive player the Cowboys managed to steal with the #20 pick was LSU's standout DE Marcus Spears.

Ok, so we drafted Demarcus Ware and Marcus Spears, we still could play a 4-3 as a base with these draft picks, then came our 2nd round pick...would it be a FS? We needed a FS, maybe even a WR or Tackle. No, the Cowboys opted to draft Tennessee's Team Captain OLB Kevin Burnett. Burnett was projected as a mid-late first rounder by some mock drafts and the Cowboys were able to snatch him up early in the 2nd round. At that #42 pick overall you could hear Cowboys fan's around the globe say "3-4 baby, we're going with the 3-4 all the way!" We now have the tools with the draft and free agency to make that alignment transistion to the 3-4.

So, will the 3-4 be the base defense for the Cowboys in 2005? Yes, the Cowboys will be using the 3-4 as the base, but we will see different schemes in changeup and special situations, we'll see some 4-3, and maybe a 4-6 in there on occasion.

Let's take an early look at who I have projected as the Cowboys starting 3-4 players:

DE: Marcus "Swamp Thang" Spears - the LSU standout rookie will start immediately and fills a void from our free agent bust from last year, Marcellus Wiley. Spears was a key draft pick because, he was really the only true DE that had the size to excel in the 3-4. Typically you want those front 3 to be bigger type players. Spears brings that to the table, he has the power to collapse the pocket, and can stuff the run.

NT: Jason Ferguson - Ferguson will anchor the 3-4 at NT and will do very well, Parcells knows what he brings to the table, after all he drafted him while he was at the Jets. The Pro Bowler brings bigtime game experience, power and leadership to the Dline. Ferguson specializes in run stuffing and draws double teams, he's a beast in the middle.

DE: Greg Ellis - at 271lbs. Ellis has less size than Ferguson and Spears who hover around 300lbs. Not to worry, Ellis has been an integral part of the Cowboys defense and his sack numbers continue to improve, he will do fine coming off the edge. He's athletic and has the technique to continue to make plays on the end.

OLB: Demarcus Ware - the speed, relentlessness, and playmaking abilities make him an instant impact player on defense. Ware was brought in to be in the QBs face all day. He has speed and can jump back into coverage if needed. Parcells has already made the comparisons to LT. Ware has Parcells full endorsement and that carries a lot of weight. Ware is coming onboard a pretty good defense and he will gain multitudes from the veterans.

MLB: Dat Nguyen - how much does Parcells value Dat Nguyen? TONS! In fact, when the whole Darren Howard trade rumors erupted, Parcells was adamant on not trading away Dat. Parcells loves the heart and play of Dat, its undeniable. Dat will man the MLB spot and will excel in the 3-4, Dat was very effective at MLB when he played at Texas A&M, and will continue to do so this year.

MLB: Bradie James - last year James started a few games in Dexter Coakley's spot, but at times James seemed unsure and lost. In addition, the OLB spot demanded some outside coverage in the slot and James got ate up. James will move back to his true comfort zone at MLB where he played at LSU. The MLB position suits James better and right now this is his job to lose. By no means is this position a shoe-in for James, we're going to see fierce competition from Fowler and Shanle. For now though, James gets my nod.

OLB: Kevin Burnett - the defense is in need of more playmakers, and the drafting of Burnett high in the second round will bring that playmaking ability. Parcells loves leaders and team captains. Burnett was a two-time team captain at Tennessee; and now with the Cowboys, you'll see how that translates into success on defense. Burnett started out as a safety, but eventually moved to OLB. With Burnett the Cowboys get a true OLB that can go into coverage with the slot and in the flat, he'll take out the screen and the TE. Burnett is a big hitter, he's well rounded in coverage and can come quick with the outside rush. Couple an outside rush with Ware and Burnett and we're looking at a brutal arsenal on the outside rush.

CB: Terence Newman - Newman is coming into his third season, and this will be his second season with the controversial pass interference rule that was put in place last year. Newman will be adapted and will have adjusted well. I fully expect his shutdown game to resurface in 2005. The frontline pressure from the Dline and LBs will be there, and this will do wonders for the cornerbacks and safeties.

CB: Anthony Henry - the cornerback opposite Newman last year was a huge void and at times seemed like a circus carousel, going round-and-round with no resolve. Now comes the solild play of Henry, and cornerback coach Todd Bowles came along as well. The signing of Henry solidifies the starting corners for years to come. Henry will also excel in coverage and the aid of Roy Williams roaming around will help as well. The CBs have some added depth with the return of Hunter, Thornton, Frazier, Jones, and Reeves. Not to mention the Cowboys just added the Pro Bowl veteran Aaron Glenn. Glenn adds instant credibility and depth to the CB core.

SS: Roy Williams - we should see Roy Williams leadership role expand this year, the "horse collar" rule will not stop Roy from taking you out. Roy is a solid tackler and the biggest hitter in the league. Not only does Roy bring the pain he also brings the psychological factor. When you've been bitten by the big bad dog, you tend to stay away don't you, wouldn't you? The upgrades on defense will allow Roy to play closer to the box and allow him to destroy people at the point of attack.

FS: Keith Davis - its still early and we may see someone become available at the June cuts, but for right now, Keith Davis is the starting FS. Davis is more of the FS type player, a ball hawker, and he's proven to be a key playmaker on special teams. Parcells will harness this skill and give Davis a shot to start at FS. FS is probably the only weakness or question mark for the Cowboys going into camp in July. We'll keep on eyes on this.

Did we leave anybody out? Glover perhaps? No worries, Glover is a true playmaker on the defensive line, and his speed and technique is undeniable. You'll see Glover used as a transition player and situational. You simply cannot keep Glover off the field, and he will make plays. Worried about Glover in a 3-4 at NT? Don't be, Glover has stated several times in interviews that he is looking forward to the new alignment, but the 3-4 is nothing new for Glover, Glover started out his football career in a 3-4 and did quite well. Coach Parcells has always stated the same comments. Glover WILL be used and WILL be effective.

Rotation: In rotation, the depth is shaping up to be solid. DE Chris Canty is still recovering from his injuries, but is coming along well and could be ready for the early part of training camp. Before his injuries last season Canty was a highly rated player, and could be an absolute steal in the 4th round for the Cowboys. Canty has great size, long arms, and power to do same great things for the defense. In addition, we'll see Ogbogu in the DE rotation, along with the rookie JayRatliff from Auburn. Carson and Brooks could see some rotation time at DT/NT.

For the linebacker, we'll see Al Singleton move into a backup rotation role. I see Burnett taking over early on in training camp. In the rotation, you'll see Fowler, Shanle, and Thornton.

For the cornerbacks, you'll see Glenn, Frazier, Thornton, Reeves and Jones in rotation and in nickle and dime formations.

For the safeties, you'll see the rookie Justin Beriault in a backup role, most likely under Roy Williams and Lynn Scott for the backup role at FS. This area is still thin with lots of inexperience, We could see an addition here in the coming months in the form of a starting FS vet, or someone for depth purposes.

Your starting defense:
DE - Marcus "Swamp Thang" Spears
NT - Jason Ferguson
DE - Greg Ellis
OLB - Demarcus Ware
MLB - Dat Nguyen
MLB - Bradie James
OLB - Kevin Burnett
CB - Terence Newman
SS - Roy Williams
FS - Keith Davis
CB - Anthony Henry

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