Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker roster evaluation.
Starter: DeMarcus Ware – Ha! Do I really need to write anything here? My evaluation would look something like this: Superlative, superlative, mack-daddy, superlative, cream of the crop, superlative, superlative. Bad mo-fo, superlative, unblockable, da bomb, superlative, superlative, exclamation point. You the man, superlative, disruptive force, wrecking crew, superlative, cat-quick, superlative, he rocks, exclamation point.
Starter: Greg Ellis – After another turbulent offseason where Ellis wasn’t happy with his contract status and the drafting of Anthony Spencer, Ellis returned to the field after five games and had a career year. He was recovering from his Achilles tear through training camp and even hinted that he might retire. Once Jerry Jones gave him a little extra loot, Ellis became a force on the defense and paired with Ware to give the Cowboys one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league. Even Ellis realized after the season that Bill Parcells’ decision to move him to OLB was the correct one and in some ways resurrected, even elevated his career. He showed no ill-effects from his injury and played the game with a renewed vigor that belied his advancing age.
Ellis had always been a good pass rusher at DE in the old 4-3 system but was never able to crack the elite status. This year with his 12.5 sacks in roughly 12 games he finally reached the pinnacle of his career and was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl. He’s never going to be great in dropping into coverage as the OLB is sometimes required to do, but more than makes up for it with his pass rush and his play against the run. His time spent as a DE taught him the correct techniques of playing with leverage and shedding blockers to get to the ball. He’ll be pushed by Anthony Spencer for the rest of his career in Dallas but if he can continue to produce results like he did in 2007 he shouldn’t have a problem holding on to his starter’s role in 2008. I guess the only question with Ellis is will he be happy with his contract. Tine will tell.
Anthony Spencer – The Cowboys spent their first round pick on Spencer in the 2007 draft and he didn’t disappoint. Forced into action early in the year because of Ellis’ injury, Spencer showed the athleticism and the motor that made him a top-tier pass-rusher in the college ranks. He eventually gave way to Ellis - who played out of his mind as noted above - but still was a valuable reserve who the Cowboys sometimes inserted along with Ware and Ellis to create a pass-rusher’s paradise. Spencer is the future at OLB for the Cowboys but will probably spend another year working as a reserve behind the two veterans. It’s possible he could make a run at the starter’s role in training camp but Wade Phillips seems content to keep Ellis as the starter and let Spencer learn under him. Like all college DE’s that transition to OLB in a 3-4, Spencer had to learn to play standing up instead of with a hand on the ground. He needed to refine his technique in playing the run and dropping into coverage, something even the Great One, DeMarcus Ware, had to conquer in his rookie campaign. This year I would expect Spencer to show improvement in that area and flash even greater ability in 2008.
Justin Rogers – A late addition to the roster in 2007, Rogers never saw a lot of time in the regular defensive rotation. He was primarily a special teams player and performed fairly well in that role. With the trio of Ware, Ellis and Spencer ahead of him, he will be counted on for special teams play again in 2008.
Khari Long – He was signed late in training camp and the few times I saw him practice I thought he was pretty active and showed some nice skills. I’m not sure if that will translate to anything bigger for him on the Cowboys, but if he’s at training camp again this year, I’ll keep an eye on him.
Tearrius George – The Cowboys recently signed George from the CFL. He played his college ball at Kansas State and was with the Jets briefly before heading north to the CFL. Here’s a mini-scouting report on him before the draft last year and here’s his bio with the Calgary Stampeders.