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Cowboys 4-3 Defense: Which Players Are The Worst Fits?

As the Cowboys begin OTAs, reports are coming out about certain players who pundits think will excel in the new scheme. This begs the question: which holdovers on defense are least likely to excel? Who are the worst fits for the new scheme?

How will Alex Albright fit in the Cowboys new 4-3 scheme?
How will Alex Albright fit in the Cowboys new 4-3 scheme?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In a couple of recent reports from the Cowboys' OTAs, the mothership's superscout, Bryan Broaddus, claims that the new 4-3 defensive scheme will be awesome sauce for a couple of Dallas' holdover defensive players. Yesterday, in a recap post, he wrote that former inside linebacker Bruce Carter is a perfect fit for the OLB position Derrick Brooks handled in Kiffin's defense in Tampa Bay:

I believe this 4-3 defense will make Bruce Carter a star in this league. It's a perfect fit for his ability to make plays from the see a player that once he sees what is happening to him scheme wise, he is gone to the ball. Where Carter is going to surprise people will be his ability to rush off the edge and cause problems...There have been times where Carter has been a terrible matchup for a back to have to deal with because of his size and power...

This was, of course, music to Cowboys fans' ears. Doubly so, given Broaddus' "Scout's Notebook" from Tuesday's practice, in which he gushed over OLB-DE convert Anthony Spencer:

I thought he was the best defensive player on the field when they went against the first offense...There is explosiveness there that these coaches are going to take advantage of. He has a real understand of how to use pass rush moves as he is going up the field. No defensive linemen showed the quickness that he showed today. He is the type of rusher that leaves blockers reaching for him. He gives them no hitting surface and when a tackle can’t get his hands on the rusher, he is going to allow pressure and that happened several times today.

Again, good news for those of us who have been waiting to see whether actual events would correlate to the whirrings of our imaginations that began the moment we first heard of the intended schematic switch.

Indeed, I believe there are several players who will benefit tremendously from this scheme. Not only Carter and Spencer, but their running mates Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware are built to succeed dominate in this system. But there are several other players who I think will benefit. Both of the Cowboys' starting corners boast the physicality, coverage skills, and playmaking ability (read: turnovers) that Kiffin's defense requires. In addition, the team has several quick, undersized defensive linemen in Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass who, when asked to jet upfield at the snap, might find that to their liking. In short, I think the great majority of the team's former 3-4 defenders have the kind of game that will flourish in the new system.

This begs the question: which former stalwarts aren't built to succeed? Looking at the roster here in late May, I see two:

Sean Lissemore: Lissy has the right size (6'3", 303) to play defensive tackle in this scheme, and has been a versatile guy in the past, playing both the five technique and nose tackle in the previous scheme. Moreover, he's a high-motor guy who plays with a great deal of tenacity, working to the ball until the whistle. That said, I wonder whether he has the requisite skillset to succeed in this system. When he subbed in for an injured Jay Ratliff last year, Lissemore fialed to demonstrate the requisite strength to take on double teams, as the one technique must do. On the other hand, I don't believe he has the necessary quickness to play the three (or the one, for that matter).

Alex Albright: When Monte Kiffin somewhat cryptically proclaimed, in his first presser with local Dallas scribes, that there were a couple of players who stood up who would now be playing with their hands on the ground, my mind immediately went to two former college-defensive-ends-cum-NFL-linebackers: Albright and Kyle Wilber. My thinking was that neither can get into pass drops and close on the ball as quickly as this scheme requires. As a consequence, I assumed both would return to their collegiate positions. Indeed, Wilber has done just that; he'll serve as Ware's backup at RDE end this season.

Albright is a different story: the team is leaving him at linebacker, where it appears he'll compete for a backup position amidst a suddenly crowded LB depth chart. If you look at the profile of the players with whom he'll joust, you'll see that all of them are undersized (between 6'0" and 6'2" and 230-240 lbs) cat-quick types. The 6'5", 260 pound Albright seems lumbering by comparison. Will he be able to drop smoothly into coverage and swarm to the ball in the way his competition's college tape has shown it can? I'm very skeptical.

Don't get me wrong; I love both players and think both are exactly the kinds of guys ("RKGs"?) a good team needs to round out the roster. But even roster-rounders have to be able to execute the basic requirements of the defensive scheme, and I'm not convinced either of these guys can do that.

The shiny side of this penny? Both have enough versatility to impress a coaching staff that puts a high premium on multiple roles. Albright is a core special teamer (i.e., he may never have to play linebacker except in garbage time) who can also play tight end; Lissemore also plays teams, and may be able to play three positions on the line (all except the open-side RDE). Both are playing under "good" contracts. And, if they do get cut, 3-4 teams are likely to come a-callin': this time last year, former NFL executive Pat Kirwin penned an article in which he listed players at positions of depth that other teams would be delighted to snap up:

Keep an eye on the defensive line, where Dallas added Tyrone Crawford in the third round. A number of teams would love a shot at 2010 seventh-rounder Sean Lissemore if he were available.

One of the storylines I'll be eyeing from now through training camp...


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