Defensive roster analysis for the 4-3 transition

Now that the dust is settling from the defensive regime change at Valley Ranch let's take a look at the current roster and identify the 'holes' that need to be filled during the offseason. The change to the 4-3 significantly alters the position requirements, specifically along the defensive front and simply moving Ware and/or Spencer (if he is re-signed) to the line will not address the issue. Many on this site have pointed to the Giants as examples of what the defensive front should look like. The Giants use an active rotation of 7-8 players on the defensive front. Does anybody feel comfortable with the comparable depth on this team?

Using the current active roster, this is what our team looks like going into the offseason.

Defensive Lineman (8-9 required)

  1. DeMarcus Ware (DE)- Ware was not his normal self last year. Hopefully this can be fully attributed to injury, however there were numerous games where he was unable to set the edge, whether streaking upfield and taking himself out of the play or crashing down and letting the play develop around him. This was most evident in the Washington games but occurred with alarming regularity in several other games as well. From a pass rush perspective he seemed to rely almost exclusively on his speed rush with an occasional stunt with Hatcher thrown in. DeMarcus has been a great player for years, however there is some concern with asking a 31 year old to start playing with his hand on the ground and take the additional pounding at DE.
  2. Jason Hatcher (DT 3-tech)- Easily our best lineman last year. Could probably play at DE as well, but given the makeup of the current roster will be locked into the 3-tech position. Does not have the size or temperament and plays to high to work at the 1 tech DT.
  3. Jay Ratliff (DT)- Have seen Rat slotted as the starting 1-tech DT in the 4-3 scheme, but I think it is time to recognize that Rat may not be a full time contributor any longer. To be sure injuries slowed him this past year, however the past several years have shown a decline in productivity. Rat's cap number is huge, but releasing him results in negligible savings and quite frankly we need bodies on the DL. If healthy, he could provide some interesting situational pass rushing possibilities. We need to face the sad truth, there is not a complete 1-tech DT on this roster.
  4. Tyrone Crawford (DE)- Assuming Spencer isn't resigned and a replacement is not drafted/signed, this is our new starting DE opposite Ware. Crawford showed flashes last year and I like him, but he looks alot better coming in on the second team rotation.
  5. Sean Lissemore (DT)- Will probably back up both DT spots and while not dynamic, he won't embarrass himself either.
  6. Ben Bass (DE)- Development backup DE at this point in his career
  7. Marcus Spears (DL)- Probable cap cut as we actually save some money by cutting him. Winner of the widest behind on the team award, but has never been able to hold the point for whatever reason.
  8. Ikponmwosa Igbinosun (DL)- Strictly developmental player. Think practice squad.
  9. Robert Callaway (DT)- Has the size, but has not shown the ability to handle the 1-tech.
  10. Brian Price (DT)- 'Hail Mary' reclamation project, but most likely a camp body.
  11. Monte Taylor (DE)- Camp body

DL Summary:

Based on the synopsis above, I count 5 current players I would feel comfortable as part of a DL rotation. The possibility still exists that Spencer could be re-signed, however that still leaves 2-3 available positions on the DL, including a true 1-tech. Let's remember the Colts and Bucs didn't make their Superbowl runs, playing this same defense until they found someone to anchor the middle of their respective DLines. In addition the Cowboys have not suffered from a lack of 'edge' rushers in quite some time. Frankly our downfall has been that nobody has been able to collapse the middle and opposing QB's simply step up and out of harms way from our edge rushers.

As an aside, I really like Spencer and feel he was our defensive MVP this past year. He has consistently played like a pro, always doing what has been asked of him. For those naysayers who point out this was a contract year, let me point out that the year prior was a contract year as well and other then not putting up the gaudy sack numbers he was equally effective. I'm just not sure with the salary cap situation where it is that we can afford to retain him. It's a really scary picture if can't however.

LB (6-7 required)

  1. Sean Lee (Mike)- Lee is perfect for the 4-3 and if healthy should see multiple Pro-bowls on the horizon.
  2. Bruce Carter (Will)- As with Lee, this defense could be a perfect fit, allowing him to wreck havoc on the weak side.
  3. Alex Albright (Sam)- This is a leap of faith, but Albright has shown decent range and has the size required for the position. He appears to be intelligent and has been around the ball when on the field.
  4. Orie Lemon (ILB)- Exclusive rights free agent. Has shown flashes and I think he has a chance to stick.
  5. Kyle Wilber (OLB)- Hopefully will be able to learn the nuances of the Sam position and/or at least have another year or two to develop
  6. Dan Conner (ILB)- Expected cap casualty. Doesn't fit the new system and the team saves some money.
  7. Caleb McSurdy- Camp body. Lack of game speed was exposed during pre-season prior to injury.
  8. Brashton Satale- Camp body
  9. Cameron Sheffield- Camp body

LB Summary:

I'm a huge advocate for re-signing Ernie Sims to a reasonable contract. Sims showed last year that he has the range and ability to play the Will (not sure he has the size to play Sam). His signing would actually strengthen two positions as he could allow Bruce Carter to move to the middle if Lee happens to miss time or need a breather.

If you are a believer that Albright can handle the starting role, things appear relatively set if Sims is signed. However if you subscribe to the theory that Albright cannot handle the load, we have to add another 'need' to the list.

DB (9-10 required)

  1. Brandon Carr (CB)- Many derided the defensive change due to the CB types we have acquired over the past couple years. I do not have any concerns about the ability of either Brandon or Mo. I think both of them will play fine and that we will be pleasantly surprised. The concern if you will is with the amount of resources allocated to the position when CB is not usually a 'luxury' item in the Tampa 2.
  2. Mo Claiborne (CB)- I'm not entirely sure why many people expected a 'top' defense this past season. We were after all starting a rooking CB at one of the hardest positions to learn. RR routinely rolled help to Mo's side of the field and while Mo acquitted himself quite well in my opinion, I expect to see the true development this coming year.
  3. Barry Church (S)- Hard to get a good read on Church as he went down so early last year. He is clearly not a speed merchant, but seems to have good instincts and has always been around the ball. Think he has a chance in the new system, but leery of him and Sensabaugh together.
  4. Gerald Sensabaugh (S)- Always appears to play 'stiff' and is not good in man to man. Has been saddled with below average running mates the past several years, so we haven't really gotten a good look how he can perform in a zone where he can trust his partners will be in the correct location. This would be a location to upgrade from my perspective.
  5. Orlando Scandrick (CB)- Will probably be able to adjust to the new scheme. Has speed to burn and we all know about his contract.
  6. Matt Johnson (S)- Team must like him as they refused to put him on IR until forced. Haven't seen enough to tell what we have, but will hope for the best.
  7. Sterling Moore (CB/S)- Fits the 4th corner/dime safety role and can also play special teams.
  8. Micah Pellerin (S)- Not holding my breath for any miracles here, probably a camp body.
  9. Vincent Agnew (CB)- Camp body with an outside shot at making the team.

DB Summary:

Starting CB seem set and in good hands. Expect Mo to progress in his second season and the only concern is the amount of resources sunk into the position handicaps our ability to upgrade other needs. Safety, however is still a major question mark and needs to be studied further. It's possible the current players can pick up the system, but not at all a certainty.

In conclusion, I'll leave you with the following points to ponder:

  • I count 3 DL, potentially 1 LB and 2-3 DB holes. We also have acknowledged deficiencies at backup RB, WR3-4 (depending on Miles contract situation), , G, T, C and TE3. The Cowboys currently have 6 draft picks and precious little cap room depending on who is re-signed/re-structured.
  • The change to 4-3 also affects how special teams are put together. By definition there will be more heavies on the roster, which doesn't always translate into special teams ability/availability.
  • Most projections have us essentially substituting Alex Albright for Kenyon Colemen (one of our best run defenders last year). Not sure how that translates into a 'better' run defense.
  • This defense will be better next year, simply by lowering the number of injuries and the progression of Mo and Crawford. It would get better if Juan Castillo was defensive coordinator, so please let's temper our enthusiasm for the regime change.
  • Jerry will be in front of the media spelling out how 'he' fixed the defense, made the team better and generally improved the universe.
  • This is my first post on any blog. Have lurked on this sight for 3 years and finally decided to join the fray so be gentle.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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