You can never have too many pass rushers. That’s Wade Phillips’ modus operandi, correct? Say what you want about the amount of influence Wade has on the Cowboys’ draft plans, but this draft haul has Wade Phillips written all over it. Jerry Jones and Tom Ciskowski have now provided Wade Phillips with a potent pass rushing arsenal.
In this year’s draft, Dallas went heavy on "attack players". Nearly all of the defenders drafted by the Cowboys this weekend are active, aggressive, disruptive players who are natural pass rushers. The Cowboys even added some guys with pass rushing skills at positions that this team has not traditionally used to attack the quarterback. One thing is for certain, there are not many coaches in the business better suited to incorporate all of these weapons into a scheme than Wade Phillips.
Wade Phillips’ new crop of pressure players, and how they may be used in Dallas:
Jason Williams, ILB, Western Illinois - 69th overall selection (3rd round) - When this pick came down, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock gushed about Williams’ speed and natural pass rushing skills. Williams is definitely a "fly to the football" type of linebacker, who caused 14 fumbles in his collegiate career. While Mayock had Williams tabbed as an outside linebacker in our system, Jerry Jones said that he will play inside. It looks for now as though Williams will play the nickel linebacker spot vacated by Kevin Burnett, while being groomed to eventually take over for Keith Brooking inside on a full-time basis. The Cowboys have not blitzed a great deal from either spot; having a player in that role with such a disruptive skill set just might spark ol’ Wade’s imagination. Either way, teams will have to at least respect the blitz when Williams is on the field.
Victor Butler, OLB, Oregon St. - 110th overall selection (4th round) - A converted college end, Butler will compete for a spot as an outside linebacker in Dallas. When I finally found a little footage of Butler, two things really stood out about his game. Butler seems to play with a fantastic motor. He’s extremely active, and chases a lot of plays down from behind. Butler also uses his hands and long arms to control blockers. Offensive linemen are rarely able to get into his chest. Butler registered 12 sacks as a senior, and should give Wade Phillips another option attacking off the edge.
Brandon Williams, OLB, Texas Tech - 120th overall selection (4th round) - Another end transitioning to linebacker, Williams is similar in a lot of ways to Butler. Williams is a bit more raw as far as using his hands, but is really great at turning the corner. Despite his below average timed speed, Williams can really get up field and will not allow his momentum to push him past the quarterback. While Butler is a bit more of a "wrap-and-spin" tackler, Williams meets ball-carriers with malicious intent. The drafting of Butler and Williams could possibly spell trouble for veteran Greg Ellis.
Sidenote: When thinking of Butler and Williams, think of Chicago Bears defensive end Mark Anderson. As a rookie in 2006, Anderson’s role was limited almost exclusively to passing downs. Anderson still tallied 12 sacks and was a major factor in the Bears’ success. Though the Bears run a different defensive system, the same principles apply. Butler and Williams are raw, but both are natural pass rushers. Both can be used as situational players until they have learned enough to be counted on on an every-down basis.
Stephen Hodge, S/LB, TCU - 197th overall selection (6th round) - It is unclear what Hodge’s role will be in Dallas. What is clear is that Hodge, like many of the Cowboy’s other selections, is an attacker. Hodge was a roving linebacker at TCU, and was frequently used as a blitzer. If he makes the team, Hodge will earn his keep on special teams. If there is a spot on the defense for him, it may be in the hybrid safety/linebacker role that the Cowboys created for Roy Williams a few years back. We’re only talking about a sub-package role that is more of a coverage position, but putting a pass rusher in that spot presents a different dynamic.
Mike Mickens, CB, Cincinnati - 227th overall selection (7th round) - Mickens has to be in this conversation based on the fact that he is just so damn violent. If you watch a Mike Mickens highlight tape you see a ton of collisions. While he is a good cover man, Mickens is the type of defensive back who lives for the big hit. Mickens would be a great option blitzing off the slot in the dime package.
The Dallas Cowboys lead the league last season with 59 sacks. The team now has more pass rush options than it ever has in Wade Phillips’ tenure. If the front three can be effective, this team now has endless rush options at the next level. It is even conceivable that DeMarcus Ware may finally get a play or two off next season.
It will be interesting to see how Wade Phillips will utilize all of his new toys. I for one would like to see DeMarcus Ware inside, isolated on a guard every once in a while, much the way the Giants do with Justin Tuck. It will be interesting to see how many of these guys Wade can get on the field at a given time. Coach Phillips’ 46 subset may have a different look as well. While this draft should improve a dismal special teams unit, it will also allow Wade Phillips to turn the pressure dial one more notch to the right.