Kevin C. Cox
At his press conference earlier this week defensive line assistant Leon Lett talked about the switch from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense, the impact that would have on the players and which players would likely transition well.
After the recent round of press conferences given by the Cowboys coaching staff, most of the headlines have been garnered by Garrett, Kiffin, Callahan and Marinelli. And while their pressers have dominated the Cowboys coverage and have provided some entertainment value, they were also somewhat lacking in terms of real information.
So it was with great delight that I stumbled over Leon Lett’s presser. Lett is the assistant defensive line coach and he was quite forthcoming with his answers. So much so that I decided to transcribe the entire interview.
Question: How does the current personnel fit the new 4-3 scheme?
Leon Lett: "I think we have the guys that can play this 4-3 scheme right off the bat. Up front we have some pretty good athletes, some pretty good football players."
"We just have to get them to adjust to a different technique. In a 3-4 scheme you were a little bit more two-gap, head-up. Were going to get them to shade on the shoulder and penetrate and get up field. So I’ve been talking to Coach Marinelli about that and we’re looking forward to retraining the guys in that scheme."
Q: Do you feel like the biggest work in this defense is on the defensive line because you’re going to a four-man front?
LL: "Yes it is. In a 3-4 you did more of a read-and-react; this is more of a react-on-the-run. Rush the quarterback and then react to the run on the way to the QB. Kind of the same thing I did as a football player, so I’m kind of used to it and I’m looking forward to teaching it and coaching it."
Q: It sounds more fun from a players perspective. Is it?
LL: "I think it is. Some guys just love to play the 3-4, head up, but the 4-3 is more about a penetrating, We-get-to-eat-first-up-front type of deal, that’s what we’re calling it. So we’re at the front of the food chain."
Q: Do the players have the instinct for that type of defense?
LL: "I think we have players all across the board that have the instinct for that defense. DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore – I think all our guys can adapt and play this 4-3 scheme."
"They’re fast, they’re quick, they’re big, they’re athletic, and that’s what you need."
Q: How does their size compare to the ideal size?
LL: "We may be a little bigger in some areas. Height-wise, and weight, so we’ll have to see, but we have the athletes to do it."
Q: How big of an adjustment will it be for Spencer and Ware to have their hand on the ground?
LL: "Looking at those guys over the years we’ve always said, "They just look like 4-3 defensive ends that adjusted and adapted to playing outside linebackers." So I think they’ll adjust really easy to it."
Q: Do you feel more comfortable coaching this scheme because you played it?
LL: "I do. This is something that I’ve been looking forward to, so it’s going to be a great opportunity for me."
Q: Will there be hesitation among the players to the scheme change?
LL: "The first day that we hired Coach Marinelli and we said we’re going to a 4-3 style of defense, the other guys got excited. That’s what they want to do. They feel like they can play this style of defense. I think they’re looking forward to it. they have the willingness; we’ll get it done."
Q: Is it a simpler defense overall?
LL: "I don’t know if it’s a simpler defense. It’s more of a "play fast" defense for the defensive line up front as opposed to just reading a guy and reacting."
"We’re going to take it to ‘em. So we’re going to make them react to us."
Q: How do run-stoppers like Spears and Coleman fit into the 4-3?
LL: "I’m not sure. Marcus Spears is a great athlete. Kenyon Coleman is one of the best defensive linemen/runstopper in the league in my eyes."
"A football player is a football player; a defensive lineman is a defensive lineman. You can put them head-up; you can put them in a shade; you can put them wherever and just tell them to go get it. And that’s what those guys can do."
Q: Will it be easier for the younger guys to transition?
LL: "Yeah. I think a guy like Tyrone Crawford who was just in college two years ago, he’ll probably adjust really quick. He was used to playing this style of defense."
"We’ve got some other younger guys that played the 4-3, so they may be more used to it. We had to push them and work them hard to get them used to that two-gap, so we have to get them back."
"We have to get them a little bit slimmer; they put on some two-gap weight, so we’ve got to get them back down to a little sleeker 4-3 style."
Q: Is Hatcher a guy you like for his versatility as a DE and DT?
LL: "Hatch can play across the board. We’ve got a couple of guys that I feel can play across the board in this defense - they can play end, interior linemen, it doesn’t matter. I think we have several guys that can do that."
Q: Who are the other ones?
LL: "Lissemore is one of those guys that has position flex. Of course Tyrone Crawford; Ben Bass; DeMarcus. Several guys that can play across the board."
"I don’t think DeMarcus will want to go down and play nose tackle – but I think he could if he wanted to." [Grins and ends interview]