BTB Mailbag: Who's Manning The Strongside Defensive End For The Cowboys?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

What do the Cowboys do if Anthony Spencer doesn't return in 2013? One of our readers wants to know our options there and along the rest of the defensive line.

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On to this post's question!

When you evaluate this roster for potential FA holes and draft targets, how do you project players positions for the new 4-3 scheme? There has been a lot of talk about who is a 1 gap or 3 gap and who would be the strong side DE if Spencer leaves. Take Hatcher for instance, is he a 1-gap, 3-gap, or SDE? - Specific

Archie: When I begin to evaluate the players for our new 4-3 scheme, I do my best to look at the athletic ability of that player and incorporate their positives and negatives into their new role. Most of our personnel has the skill set to play in the 4-3, especially our linebackers. Jason Hatcher has been the best defensive lineman on this team for the past few years and I believe he can play anywhere he wants. He's big, strong and he's a great athlete. He could thrive at defensive end because of his size and pass rush ability, but he would be a force on the inside. He can be really good at the 3-technique where he would attack and disrupt, but he also has the size and strength to anchor as the 1-technique.

Rabble: This is, to me, the most difficult offseason question to answer. This is not to say that it's the most difficult for the Cowboys to answer; rather, it's the hardest for people outside the locker room to gauge. Let's begin with what we know: DeMarcus Ware will be the RDE, the "open side" 4-3 defensive end. That's it.

Other than that, the only other certainty is that Jason Hatcher will start somewhere on the defensive line. Beyond these two, the Cowboys have a slew of defensive linemen who aren't obvious fits. If they don't re-sign Spencer, as your questions supposes, then they would probably go into free agency with a starting foursome that looked something like this: Crawford, Ratliff, Hatcher, Ware.

I'm basing this on three suppositions: First, that Hatcher told the media that Kiffin will likely play him at the three technique (with DE being the other possibility); Second, that Crawford played the strongside end at Boise State, and possesses the combination of strength and pass rush the position requires; Third, that you want your best players on the field, so Ratliff mans the One-tech.

At first glance, Ratliff and Hatcher might appear to be poor fits at these DT positions. But consider further: the One-technique's responsibility is to command double-teams and to occupy two blockers. This is, in fact, what Ratliff has been doing, and doing well, for several years. The Three-tech needs to beat the weakside guard one-one one, and Hatcher has proven to be the Cowboys best pass rushing D-lineman of late, so it stands to reason that he'll provide more pressure and penetration than any other candidates.

If this lineup makes you nervous, you share my feelings. I know a lot of folks are proclaiming that Dallas must fix its O-line first; to my mind, however, it's the D-line that has the most questions. Given that the men currently on the roster provide good depth and adequate position flex, one good FA pickup and a high draft pick might just alleviate those concerns.

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