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Pick Your Starters -- Defense

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It's time to take stock of the impressive turnover the Cowboys have undergone this offseason. By adding eight rookies to the four free agents signed in March, Dallas could see its starting 22 turnover by as much as 33% this year.

Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram offered his projections for the starting 22 today. I'd like to focus on the defense, where the most change will occur.

Last year, the Cowboys ended the season with this lineup:

  • DE - Greg Ellis, DT - LaRoi Glover, NT - Leonardo Carson, RE - Marcellus Wiley

  • SLB - Al Singleton, MLB - Dat Nguyen, WLB - Dexter Coakley

  • LCB - Terrence Newman, SS -Roy Williams, FS - Lynn Scott, RCB - Nate Jones
  • Hill assumes the Cowboys will play a base 3-4 and will have at least five new starters, with Jason Ferguson replacing Carson at nose tackle, Demarcus Ware taking Marcellus Wiley's place and standing up as an OLB, Marcus Spears replacing Glover as a DE, Bradie James taking the departed Dexter Coakley's place and Anthony Henry starting at right corner.

    I disagree with the basic premise of this foundation. The Cowboys may shift between 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, but given the experience levels of their personnel, I think they will move as slowly as possible, meaning they start the season in the same base 4-3 we're used to.

    That does not mean, however, that the changes will not be extreme. Barring any major injuries, here's the lineup I see on opening day in San Diego, with new starters in bold:

  • LE - Marcus Spears, DT - LaRoi Glover, NT - Jason Ferguson, RE - Greg Ellis
  • The experiement Mike Zimmer aborted last summer is tried again, with Ellis finally getting his shot at right end. Spears stays at left end, where he played in college, thus shortening his learning curve.

  • SOLB - Al Singleton, MLB - Dat Nguyen, WOLB - Kevin Burnett
  • Bradie James will get the first shot on the weak side, but he's been very slow to pick up the pro game. Burnett was more productive as a collegian than James, and if he's got more saavy, he'll get the job.

  • LCB - Terrence Newman, FS - Lynn Scott, SS - Roy Williams, RCB - Anthony Henry.
  • Scott is playing on borrowed time here, but I'm not ready to pencil in Justin Beriault sight unseen. Don't rule out a veteran pickup just before the season if the kids both stumble. Remember, the '92 Cowboys gave Ray Horton almost half a season before they threw in the towel and traded for Thomas Everett.