Draftniks have noticed a new term that has appeared in the peculiar draft book vernacular of bubbles (means having a big butt), 'tweeners, long-striders and high cut players -- wave players. This refers to players who are not good enough to be every down players, but who can effective members of a rotation. For example, "he could be a good wave tackle for a team."
The term originated with the early '90s Cowboys, who won titles in '92 and '93 with a young defensive line that went nine deep. Outside, starters Charles Haley and Tony Tolbert were kept fresh by veteran Jim Jeffcoat and project Tony Hill. Inside, the Cowboys had an amazing five tackle rotation. Led by starters Russell Maryland and Tony Casillas, it also featured the talented but inexperienced Jimmie Jones, Leon Lett and Chad Hennings.
Coach Jimmy Johnson and line coach Butch Davis told the linemen that they would only be playing 25-30 snaps each, so there was no reason to pace oneself. The Cowboys had the equivalent of two hockey lines, and would send them on the field in flat-out shifts. By the fourth quarter, opposing offensive lines were worn out while their Cowboys counterparts were still fresh.
Cowboys fans will be pardoned if they don't reflect on those teams today. With two days of intense defensive front seven drafting, Bill Parcells and personnel chief Jeff Ireland have given the Cowboys the flexibility to be the NFC equivalent of the Patriots -- a team that can play multiple fronts and dictate to opponents. What's more, the three defensive ends and two linebackers at the core of the 2005 draft class give Dallas real front seven depth for the first time since 1993.
The more panicked fans on the draft threads have been wondering what will happen to veterans LaRoi Glover and Greg Ellis, now that the 3-4 is the new defense of choice? Since they are productive team leaders with cap-friendly contracts, perhaps the better question might be, how much more effective will they be now that they have help?
Right now, the Cowboys have 4-3 options they could only dream about last year. If you put a depth chart together on April 24th, the starting line would be Marcus Spears at left end, LaRoi Glover at the three-technique tackle, slant-tackle Jason Ferguson and right end Greg Ellis. Spears, sight unseen, can only be an upgrade over the outmatched and equally outspoken Marcellus Wiley. Ferguson is a solid improvement over the willing but inexperienced Leonardo Carson.
Where Dallas had two solid starters and a lot of crossed fingers in 2004, they now have a solid four man starting front. What's more, they now have the athleticism and numbers to rotate their top four. Last year Ellis and Glover were constantly worn down by the fact that there were no players of quality to spell them. When the Cowboys put their best four rushers on the field, Ellis would move inside with Glover to make room for ends Eric Ogbogu and Kalen Thornton. Ogbogu, while game, is a journeyman best known for his acting role on an apparel ad, ("we must protect this house!") and Thornton was an undrafted free agent.
When Dallas now goes four wide on third down Ellis can take a breather, as rookies Demarcus Ware and Chris Canty will get solid reps. Glover will get help inside from Carson and from Spears, whom many teams projected as a 4-3 tackle because of his size and quickness.
When Dallas lines up in a 3-4, it will now find numbers in its linebacking corps, as Ware and Thornton give the Cowboys the size, speed and power to hold the perimeter. The Cowboys still have Al Singleton rookie Kevin Burnett to play the outside positions in a 4-3. Inside, Dat Nguyen will man the pivot in the standard 4-3 base, but will share the middle with Bradie James and Burnett in a 3-4 scheme. Add gamers Scott Shanle and Kevin O'Neill to the mix and Dallas finds itself with size and numbers for the first time since '93, when quality players like Godfrey Miles and Darrin Smith were too green to crack the starting lineup.
The wave is back. It's too much to expect that every one of the new rookies will be effective immediately, but if only some of them are, Dallas can go back to those devastating rotations that eroded offensive lines and overwhelmed quarterbacks a decade ago.