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BTB Mailbag: What Does Each Defensive Lineman Bring To The Table?

Rabble and O.C.C. respond to one of our readers' BTB Mailbag questions.

Ken Bishop has good quickness and even better hair
Ken Bishop has good quickness and even better hair
Rick Yeatts

From Robert Bolyard: "What is each defensive lineman's best skill or attribute?"

This question was sufficiently intriguing for both myself and O.C.C. to take a stab at it. I decided to start off with a review of the specific positional requirements; the Cool One will follow that up with specific takes on each of the 17 defensive linemen currently on the Cowboys' roster.


Rabblerousr: An interesting question, Robert. I'm going to begin by considering what the Monte Kiffin/ Rod Marinelli defensive system asks of its defensive linemen. First, a review of the "under" front that is one of the Tampa-2's essential schematic staples. The "under front" shifts the entire defensive line away from the offense's strong side. In the under front, the strongside end lines up over the strongside offensive tackle's outside shoulder, and one defensive tackle - the 1-technique - is shaded directly over the center as a de facto nose tackle. The other, usually more athletic, tackle plays a 3-technique, lining up in a more traditional DT position in the B gap just outside the weakside guard's outside shoulder. The team’s best pass rusher, the weakside end, is thus free to rush from the far outside edge of the offensive line.

The Kiffinelli system places its defensive linemen in ideal positions to generate penetration, disrupting both the running and passing games. To do this, all the defensive linemen need to share a key trait. Allow me to refer you to Kiffin's global statements on "Defensive Team Philosophy" from his 1998 Tampa Bay Buccaneers playbook. There are ten of these, one of which is directly pertinent to today's discussion:

5. Quickness: The quicker the defense, the harder it is for the offensive team to score. It only makes sense [that] if your defense has overall team quickness the better the opportunity to swarm and gang tackle. The best of both worlds is size and quickness, but if something has to give, take the quickness.

The Kiffinelli scheme favors defensive linemen who fire off at the snap before rival O-linemen can set to defend them. In short, they don't need mammoth size to hold up opposing OLs, because D-linemen are by them before they can get their bodies on them. You can't hit what you can't catch, right? That's why we aren't likely to see a big, space-eating DT manning the middle of the defense; as Kiffin says, "The best of both worlds is size and quickness, but if something has to give, take the quickness."

In short, the common trait all defensive linemen in this system must share is quickness. It has taken a couple of years for the Cowboys to churn the defensive line roster after making the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3. When Kiffin and Marinelli got to Big D, you may recall, the D-line featured players like Sean Lissemore, who were built to play the 5-technique 3-4 defensive end position. Lissemore has good quickness, but his game was more about power; he was essentially a tall DT playing DE. A square peg in a round hole in the new system, he was dealt to San Diego at the end of training camp.

Now, the Cowboys have a D-line depth chart filled with guys who have good quickness and the ability to penetrate and make plays in the backfield. Which ones will emerge? That's likely to be training camp's primary story, and one that will bear constant scrutiny. For more on the individual linemen, I'll turn you over to O.C.C.:

O.C.C.: We haven't yet seen every defensive lineman practice so far, but I took a stab at answering that question in the table below anyway.

Cowboys Defensive Linemen
Status Name POS Best Attribute Best Skills
Starter DeMarcus Lawrence RDE Healthy Hand movements, toughness; able to make you quickly forget about the draft-day trade.
Terrell McClain
1-tech Healthy Disruptive and powerful, can penetrate from the 1-tech position
Henry Melton
3-tech Healthy Attacking, disruptive 3-technique
George Selvie LDE Healthy Explosive quickness; ability to prove doubters wrong
Backup Jeremy Mincey RDE Healthy DE/DT versatility; knows how to play in a Super Bowl
Nick Hayden 1-tech Healthy Steady, down after down player, proven ability to play in 16 games
Ben Bass 3-tech Healthy Quickness, DE/DT versatility
Tyrone Crawford LDE Healthy Mobile, mismatch player who can play all three downs; purported ability to "shock a lot of people" in 2014
Depth Martez Wilson
RDE Healthy Speed & quickness, 3rd down pass rusher
Ken Bishop
1-tech Healthy Power; awesome dreads
Davon Coleman
3-tech Healthy Versatile, high-motor player, has a nose for the ball
Ben Gardner
LDE Healthy Great effort, physical, doesn't take plays off; can bend time and space with just his mind
Others Dartwan Bush
RDE Healthy Gives great effort, plays with solid technique
Caesar Rayford
RDE Healthy Kick blocker on special teams
Chris Whaley 1-tech Could become healthy Will redshirt on IR
Amobi Okoye 3-tech Has a chance to be healthy First step; deep knowledge of Ninja Turtles
Anthony Spencer LDE Might become  healthy Likely to start season on PUP, former Pro Bowl pass rusher


There you have it folks - an early look at what each of the defensive linemen bring to the table. Determining which of these many candidates emerges over the course of the preseason will be fascinating business.

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