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6/21/2006

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Talent Stockpiled at LB
Size and Depth Added


No position was bitten more by the injury bug last season than linebacker.
Not only did the Cowboys lose starters Dat Nguyen and Al Singleton for the entire season, but five linebackers ended up on injured reserve.

So it made sense to address the position heavily through both free agency and the draft.
With the signings of veterans Akin Ayodele and Rocky Boiman, followed by the drafting of Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter in the first round, consider the linebacker position addressed.
Now the Cowboys can only wait to see how it pays off.

Remember, this is only the second season for the Cowboys defense in the 3-4 scheme, and Bill Parcells has said in the past that making a complete switch can take as long as three years.
The Cowboys certainly added the right parts on the defensive line last year, getting Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. And the Cowboys made the first step in acquiring linebackers for the 3-4 by drafting DeMarcus Ware in the first round (11th overall).

This year, they took it to another level, especially in drafting Carpenter, who is the first Cowboys first-round pick to actually play linebacker in college since Billy Cannon (Texas A&M) in 1984.

Now just because Carpenter is a first-round pick (18th overall), don't expect Parcells to slide him into the starting lineup immediately. The Cowboys haven't forgotten about Singleton, who played eight games before a shoulder injury ended his season early.
Although a bit undersized, Singleton played well last season at outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, holding off Kevin Burnett.

But whether he cracks the starting lineup right away or not, all eyes will be set on Carpenter, who says he will be ready for anything.
"There's a lot of talented linebackers they have here and hopefully I'll be able to play opposite DeMarcus," says Carpenter, who will graduate this summer with a degree in business economics. "I think that's what their plan was, and I think I just have to come in, play well and hopefully live up to their expectations.

"I know they brought in a lot of guys and had a pretty solid linebacking corps last year," Carpenter adds. "So I'm just going to work as hard as I can and when the vets get in here I'll try to fit in with those guys and continue to work hard."
Being the first-round pick, Carpenter already has one job in place - being Parcells' personal water boy during practice this entire season. Each year, Parcells mandates that his first draft choice fetch him water during practice breaks. Carpenter has joined Terence Newman, Julius Jones and Ware in the Cowboys' lineage of well-paid water boys.

"They said it used to be bottled but I think he's gone to tap now," says Carpenter, who brought Parcells a fresh cup in each of the Cowboys' first three mini-camp practices. "The trainers and everybody, they get the order ready. I'm just the delivery boy."
However, unlike his three previous water boys, Parcells had some prior history with Carpenter, whose dad Rob played for him as a running back with the New York Giants in the early 1980s.
"I've always kind of dreamed of playing for him," Carpenter says of Parcells. "Growing up, I was always a fan of the team he coached for. Now to have a chance to play for him is almost like a dream come true.
"
As for Parcells, who has proven he prefers to sign former players, he pointed out that any coach would like to have Carpenter, whether his dad played for him or not.
"I like the player as an athlete," Parcells says. "He's a real pure linebacker."
Parcells needs his 3-4 linebackers to be versatile, and at 6-2 and 254 pounds, Carpenter appears to have the size and speed to stand up on the line of scrimmage against the run and drop into coverage on tight ends.

In college, Carpenter occasionally lined up at defensive end in pass-rush situations. He finished 10th on Ohio State's all-time sack list with 14.5. And the Cowboys also think Carpenter could move inside if need be, or if they should have the opportunity to put another speed-rusher on the outside.

"There's always things you have to learn, especially jumping to another level," Carpenter says. "You always have to refine your technique because the talent level is so much closer. There's not the disparity that some people enjoyed in college. Definitely refining your technique and learning a scheme inside and out - that's what I like to do early and learn what everyone's responsibility is.

"I did a lot of pass-rush at Ohio State. I did a lot of pass-dropping early in my career - in the flats and seams. Really, just trying to think of things that I didn't do a lot, and really I did a lot of things throughout this past season. I think it really helped me develop as a player."
For now, the Cowboys have Singleton and possibly Burnett to compete for the starting position. Burnett had an up-and-down rookie season last year, suffering three separate injuries that never put the second-round pick from Tennessee on track.
In fact, Burnett suffered a torn ACL in the final week of the season, forcing him to spend most of the spring and summer rehabbing the knee. However, Burnett is expected to be ready for the start of training camp on July 27.

One player who could figure into the mix at either inside or outside is Boiman, a four-year veteran who comes over from Tennessee.
The former Titan not only can play both positions, but is a standout on special teams, setting a Tennessee club record in 2002 with 30 special teams tackles.
And despite having both Ware and Carpenter on the outside, Boiman might have just as good a chance to win a starting job there as at inside linebacker, where the Cowboys return leading tackler Bradie James, who had 109 stops last season and also developed more of a leadership role in Nguyen's absence.

James will be teamed with Ayodele, who played outside linebacker for four seasons with the Jaguars, but will now move to inside linebacker.
"That's the position Harry Carson played when Carl (Banks) was playing and that is what we expect to be our high-producing, tackling machine, so to speak," Parcells says of Ayodele, but referring to his coaching days with the Giants.

"Because in the defense that we play, the 3-4, the teams really don't run to the weak side very effectively against the 3-4. There are not that many schemes that they employ versus the 3-4 on the weak side. So as a result, a lot of the plays are going away from that player and it allows him to run. He's going to get the opportunity to be in pursuit quickly a lot of the time and so anyone that is in that pursuit quickly is expected to produce at a high level. That's really where we're going to try to play him, where we played Harry and for a little while Pepper (Johnson), and Marvin Jones when I was with the Jets, guys like that who could run and hit pretty well.
"
The Cowboys should have some depth inside with Scott Shanle and Ryan Fowler, who both started inside after Nguyen suffered his neck injury, which eventually led to his retirement.
So the Cowboys have certainly provided themselves with options at linebacker. And considering how things turned out last year, they may need every one of them.

1 Comments:

  • At 2:50 PM, Blogger KLuciano said…

    If you were ever a fan or even hated Bill Parcells I came upon a great interview with him!!

    Hope you relished every moment like I did!

    http://nantucket.plumtv.com/videos/bill_parcels_plum

     

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