The newest look heading into Cowboys camp will be on the defensive line, as the change to the 4-3 means the team will now use four lineman in the trenches.
This differs vastly from the 3-4 used over the past seven seasons, as the defense will drop a linebacker, and add another to the line.
Superstar pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will play with their hands on the ground for the first time in their careers, as they were originally drafted as 3-4 outside linebackers out of college. However, the scheme switch is definitely positive for the Cowboys.
Ware and Spencer will no longer have to defend the pass and carry several responsibilities as they did with the intricate scheme of Rob Ryan. The dynamic duo can produce headaches for opposing quarterbacks in Monte Kiffin’s scheme, as their only job is to rush the quarterback and have a knack to find the football. For those two, that’s simple.
Beware RG3, Eli, and Vick.
It was evident that Ware and Spencer often experienced fatigue during games last season, and I believe this is from guarding the pass, often tasked to keep up with the likes of LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris in Ryan’s scheme. This will now no longer be a concern.
The only new concern here with the 4-3 scheme switch is that there isn’t much disguise anymore, and opposing teams will know where Ware and Spencer are coming from in the pass rush. With Ryan, the Cowboys were able to create mismatches leaving the duo one-on-one with running backs and tight ends. Ware and Spencer will now battle with offensive lineman on every play, which definitely can be a rougher game. I don’t think it will take a noticeable toll on the two.
Kyle Wilber and Tyrone Crawford, 2012 draft picks, will backup Ware and Spencer. There will be no camp competition at the end spots here. Crawford and Wilber will just have to show coaches they are adequately able to spell the two veterans.
On the interior line, I don’t feel there will be much competition here either. The spots at tackle will belong to Jay Ratliff, Sean Lissemore, and Jason Hatcher. Although questions won’t come from competition, questions are a plenty for this group.
Ratliff missed 10 games in 2012; can he stay healthy? The switch to the 4-3 means he won’t face as many double-teams, and possesses a better chance to not get dinged up. For Hatcher, he has played defensive end his whole career and will now make the switch the tackle. Can he do so quickly?
Learning a new position or returning from injury can be difficult, but line coach Rod Marinelli is perhaps the best in the business. This is a man who transformed Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp in Tampa Bay, and also ran the vaunted Chicago Bears defense. The task of transforming Hatcher will come easy to him, and Cowboys fans have a reason to believe he can return Jay Ratliff to Pro Bowl form.
And lastly, Lissemore faces questions about his size. He will have to show he can be a stopper in the trenches, as he isn’t necessarily the biggest nose tackle. But I think he can do just enough to get by.
The Cowboys defensive line seems well suited for the scheme switch in general.
I expect a Simeon Rice type season for Ware, and also expect him to challenge Michael Strahan’s sack record, as he’s coming back healthy and gets to solely focus on rushing the quarterback.
Anthony Spencer will once again come to perform, as the team and his agent have decided to halt talks on a long-term extension. Essentially, Spencer will be playing for his next contract, so he will have to be as good or better than he was last season. It could be his last season with the ‘Boys.
Kiffin’s scheme and Marinelli’s coaching will help this unit experience a rebirth, somewhat of a facelift in 2013.
It should be exciting to see, Cowboys fans.