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Carpenter and Ellis: dilemma at linebacker

Good stuff in the DFW S-T this morning. Charean Williams has two articles chocked full of Cowboys goodies. So let's get to it with the first article,
which talks about Bobby Carpenter and Greg Ellis.

I've been thinking about this since the season ended and will talk more about it when I review the LB's in my roster evaluation series, but right now we have a little dilemma, what to do about Greg Ellis and Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter came on strong during the last stretch of the season and put together a couple of nice games. He started to show the ability that we thought he had when we drafted him in the first round last year and appeared to get his confidence going which allowed him to use his natural ability. The one thing that stood out most as a problem last year - besides confidence - was strength, he just didn't appear to have the NFL strength that you need. He had a hard time disengaging from blocks and getting rid of the offensive player. He needs a strong initial pop with his arms that knocks the blocker off balance so he can pursue the ball carrier. Hopefully, one year in the league and a solid weight training program will improve that.

Greg Ellis has another kind of obstacle to overcome - the dreaded Achilles tendon tear. Before the injury, Ellis' transition from DE to linebacker was one of the surprises of the season. Don't forget, before training camp no one was sure if Ellis could handle the responsibility of getting into coverage against smaller, quicker receivers and backs. But once the season got going, he proved to be very adept at all phases of the OLB's responsibilities in the 3-4 defense. Now, he has to fight back from injury and age to regain his former status. Only time will tell how effective he will be.

So what's Wade Phillips to do in a situation like this? Apparently he'll emulate what Bill Parcells did last year in training camp and see what Carpenter's got in terms of playing inside as well as outside.

"I want to start this off-season putting Bobby outside and inside and try to get a feel for exactly where he needs to have an opportunity to play, because he is a talented player," Wade Phillips said. "He's big and can run and is smart. You just kind of look for fits, where people should fit in and give them an opportunity to play."

It's hard to predict how this will turn out. Playing inside would more than likely mean backing up either Akin Ayodele or Bradie James. Ayodele is a player who vastly improved over the course of last year, when he finally became comfortable in the 3-4 defense and with playing inside after playing outside previously in his NFL career. James, on the other hand, had a below average season, mainly because he can't cover and was the weak link in the nickel package. Perhaps Carpenter might see time in the nickel replacing James if he plays inside, while also spelling Ellis outside if Ellis returns healthy enough to hold down the starter's role.

Update [2007-3-29 12:34:8 by Grizz]: What I should have made clear at the end of the above paragraph was accomplished by tbone and Cowboys81 in the comments. I left the paragraph with an implicit suggestion instead of an explicit explanation – and that was if Greg Ellis is not 100% ready to go, and with that injury it’s still a risky proposition, then Bobby Carpenter would almost assuredly start at OLB. [END UPDATE]

And how is Ellis doing in his recovery?

The news is better in Ellis' attempt to return from the torn left Achilles' tendon that sidelined him for the final seven games of last season.

Coach Wade Phillips said Ellis is starting to run, and the Cowboys are cautiously optimistic that he will be back harassing quarterbacks next season.

I guess we really won't know how this will all shake out until camp in San Antonio. But it's always better to have too many options than not enough.

In the second article, Wade Phillips discusses the role model for Ken Hamlin in Dallas this year.

"At San Diego, we brought in Marlon McCree last year," Phillips said. "...Besides being a good player, he could get everybody in position and help everybody anticipate things. We see Hamlin doing the same thing for us in Dallas and also playing free and in the middle. Everybody knows Roy Williams needs to be close to the line of scrimmage and do his thing going after people. [Hamlin] gives us a chance to do that."

This seems to be a recurring theme when Phillips or Jerry Jones discuss Hamlin, and one that shouldn't be dismissed. Roy is not a vocal leader on the field and Pat Watkins was a rookie with little confidence, so he didn't take control of the secondary alignments either. Hamlin is a vet with experience, and should do a much better job of QB'ing the defense.

Finally, the article discusses the new playbook under Jason Garrett. It's going to be bigger - I wonder what JJT will write about T.O. with that thought in mind - but the most important part of Jerry's quote on the subject to me is the part about Tony Romo.

For starters, new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will have a bigger playbook.

"For better or worse, we will have a bigger repertoire of plays," Jones said. "I've been on teams that we had too many plays, and it was not a plus. But I think this will be. Frankly, a lot of it will hinge on Romo's understanding of how to give us some of his talent and his ability to improvise, while protecting the ball."

(ed. - emphasis mine)

Yes, exactly what I've been whining about. Romo needs to be creative and use his natural ability to improvise, but only within the context of protecting the football. Ball security is job #1 for Romo this year.

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