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Pick Your Starters -- Defense, 3-4 Edition

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Say it with me now, D-E-P-T-H. It's the one word that comes to mind as the optimistic news from mini-camp continues to roll in. ESPN's Len Pasquarelli reports that the Dallas coaches were highly impressed with seventh round pick Jay Ratliff of Auburn, especially as a DE in 3-4 sets.

Earlier, we discussed the base defense, and focused on the 4-3 front, which I think Dallas will play more of the time, at least early in the season. But what would a 3-4 front look like, and what would the rotations be? My early guess is that we would see these lineups:

  • LE -- Marcus Spears, backup - Kenyon Coleman

  • Spears gets to stay on the left side, where he played in college. Coleman, a 285 lb. power rusher, may be better suited to this formation than the 4-3.

  • NT -- Jason Ferguson, backup -- LaRoi Glover

  • Glover played NT earlier in his career at New Orleans. He would probably be the best pass rushing nose guard in a long time.

  • RE -- Greg Ellis, backup -- Jay Ratliff

  • The surpising emergence of Ratliff offers Dallas the opportunity to go at least two deep across the board. If Chris Canty is somehow ready for camp, this goes three deep, with Ratliff going to third string. That's a nice problem to have.

  • LOLB -- Kalen Thornton, backups -- Scott Shanle, Al Singleton

  • When you're in the 3-4, the OLBs have to play the tight end head up. You don't get to stack behind the linemen and run free. That's why Thornton and Shanle, who both go 245-250, get the nod over the game, but 228 lb. Singleton, who has played in speed-linebacker-friendly schemes like Tampa Bay's and Dallas' 4-3. I've seen some question Thornton as a starter, but he was probably one of the first 3-4 pieces Dallas secured last year. Parcells commented in training camp that he had talent, but limited his play in the 4-3 because he didn't want to make Thornton, "a square peg in a round hole." As the season went on and Dallas experimented more with 3-4 looks, Thornton got a lot more playing time, as a situational rusher and dropping into coverage.

  • ILBs -- Dat Nguyen and Kevin Burnett, backups - Bradie James

  • Nguyen, who played in this scheme at Texas A&M, has one spot locked down. James and Burnett will battle for the other. Given that Burnett got the best reviews of any rookie defender at the mini camp, I'm giving him the nod.

  • ROLB -- Demarcus Ware, backup -- Kevin Burnett

  • This is the position Ware was drafted to play. Parcells made an oblique reference to Lawrence Taylor, comparing Ware to "number 56" and to Willie McGinest, and there is no doubt he cannot wait to see if Ware can live up to the comparison.